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PC Software Essentials

Alright, so I have been wanting to do this for a long time, and have just recently found the discipline to actually do it. I have created a software essential’s list of programs that I recommend PC users download. I have received questions from lots of people over the years asking me “what kind of software do I need to load on my computer?” So, with this list, I can just point them to it and they can read it at their discretion. Plus I don’t have to repeat myself all the time!

This list is a work in progress, but it contains a list of my recommended software programs, as well as some advice on using the computer. I hope to continue updating this list and making changes to it as I receive comments and suggestions. So without further ado, I give you my software essentials!

My Computer Chronology

A big part of my life is consumed by computers, both through work and recreation. I have been familiar with them in one shape or another most of my life, whether it be playing video games, word processing, or programming. I love working on them, even if it involves doing work, and I don’t get tired of using them. Computers are incredible in their ability to do complex tasks, and to do them quickly.

I use to watch Doogie Houser, M.D. on tv, and at the end of each show, Doogie would type entries into his diary on the computer, and I was always so fascinated by how fast he could type those out and how fluent it was. And also how cool it was. Typing on a computer keyboard was definitely something for me.

Before Doogie, though, I was playing video games, either on my Atari or NES. As with most things in my life, it doesn’t take long before I start wondering how something works. I was one of those kids that use to play with Legos you see, so I was always taking things apart and trying to figure them out, breaking down their complexity and building them back up in my little child-size brain.  I have always been that way, it’s part of who I am. I could honestly sit in my room by myself and put lego bricks together for hours, and be perfectly content (although my wife doesn’t appreciate it when I do that now……..just kidding).

While video games were entertaining to me (and still are), I found it equally interesting to know how Mario or Pacman moved across the screen. It was just amazing to me, and I didn’t even have a clue how these machines were able to project little men on the TV.

So, sometime early on in my childhood, computers got an early hold on me. Ever since then I have used one in some shape or another. And over the years, I have used quite a few that left it’s mark in my life.

My first "computer", the Atari 400.

The very first computer I was introduced to was the Atari 400. I remember this computer from my early childhood, as my mom and dad purchased it around the time I was born to play video games on. And man did we play video games on it. Everything from Miner 2049er, River Raid, and Joust, to epic titles such as  Donkey Kong, Pacman, Qbert, and many others. We had the joystick and paddles both, and it was great. My mom use to spend loads of time on this playing Miner 2049er, and she was good at it. I will sit there and watch her play it, and I never was as good as her. The special thing about the Atari, to me, is the cartridge-based software loading system, and the weird keyboard that didn’t really have keys as you might expect, rather they were more like tap sensors or something.

The Atari 800XL, my second Atari.

In addition to the Atari 400, we also acquired an Atari 800 from a local flea market in Redding, CA. Along with the 800 came a light pad which was really cool because you could play games that required you to color in things. Also, it came with a tape drive as well, which I was never able to get working. It also came with some newer joysticks, with one joystick having the equivalent of a “turbo” button on it, which was really cool and always seemed to get switched on during an intense battle in Asteroids.

This Atari resembled more of a modern looking keyboard compared to the 400, so I tried doing some typing on it. This particular Atari we bought came with a bunch of cartridges with it, and one of those cartridges was a BASIC programming language cartridge. I put the cartridge into the Atari, and to my disappointment, it only brought up a blank blue screen with nothing going on. No action whatsoever. No moving critters or spaceships flying, just a blank blue screen with a cursor blinking. Little did I know at the time that what I was looking at was a glimpse of what my future would bring, and all I knew was it was disappointing to look at, and I couldn’t jerk the cartridge out quick enough.

So the Atari was my first “computer” if the Atari would be considered a computer, which it is. However, what many people considered to be a modern computer were the IBM-compatible PCs of the day. So, in 1988 my dad made a purchase at Montgomery Ward. This computer was the first PC computer we owned in our house, and every time I try to explain this computer to some one, they don’t believe me that such a setup actual existed. This computer was the Headstart LX-CD.

A Headstart III-CD, the successor to the Headstart LX-CD.

I honestly could not find a picture of an actual Headstart LX-CD on the internet anywhere, but I was able to find a picture of it’s successor, the Headstart III-CD, which looks almost identical. The LX-CD did in fact have a CD-ROM on it, which included Grolier’s Encyclopedia, as well as a host of other applications and video games. Harrier was a fun game I enjoyed playing on it, as well as Infiltrator. My dad also bought an assortment of 3.5″ floppy discs with various programs and games on them. He even learned that you could drill a hole in the corner of the single-density floppy discs to make them a double-density disc, capable of a whopping 1.44 MB. Pretty cool huh? I thought he was crazy at the time that he was doing that but it was years later before I actually realized what he was doing.

So the Headstart LX-CD was a capable computer. It consisted of an 8088 Intel processor, that ran at 4.77MHz, but could kick in to turbo speed 10MHz (that’s more than double the clock speed). It had 768k of ram, and some kind of a weird DOS shell that resembled a pre-Windows era GUI. I remember it well, and I even had a mouse to navigate this shell. Mavis Beacon typing was available on this computer, and I wore that program out.

So we had this computer from 1988 all the way up till around 1994.  During that time I was too into playing video games that I didn’t pay much attention to the Headstart anymore. Plus we had just moved from Redding, CA to Telford, TN and trying to get over that shock was still the focus of my attention. Making new friends wasn’t easy, and plus people didn’t like me because I was from CA. Glad those times are over.

Anyway, back to the computers. The next computer my dad bought was a Dell Dimension i486 DX2 66mhz with Windows 3.1 and Dos 6.x on it. To this date, I considered this the first computer that totally captivated me and sucked me into the realm of computing. There were so many firsts on this computer.

The first “first” is Windows 3.1.  The first version of Windows that I could actually play some real games on like Wolfenstein and King’s Quest. Minesweeper kind of boggled my mind, and solitaire I found boring after a while. Microsoft Paint was particularly interesting, especially for showing off. Basically this computer was used for games, initially, but it wasn’t until AOL came along that I would begin a journey that would never end….

The second “first” was the internet. America Online (or AOL for those who aren’t in the know) was the gateway to the wonderful wide world of the internet for me. I cannot begin to tell you the feelings I felt when I first browsed the web, looking up anything I wanted to from Transformers to video game websites, and I mean you name it. Everything was all right there at your fingertips. I remember my first chatroom experience, which actual became an addiction for a few years (but I got over it). Being a kid, it didn’t bother me one big to give my mailing address out to some girl I was talking to so she could send me a love note. I remember when I actually received one in the mail, my parents were very concerned! I can’t recall the details, but I do remember that I had a card in my hand from some girl I met on the internet that she mailed to the house and that it even smelled like perfume. What an experience! From there, we switched back and fourth between Prodigy, Compuserve, and AOL for what seemed like forever because we would cancel right before our free trial was about to expire and switch to the other service. We eventually moved on to a local ISP (Washington County Online I believe it was called) and received some floppy discs for connecting, as well as a Chameleon web browser and some email client I cannot remember the name of.

The third “first” was upgrades. This was the first computer that we actually upgraded.  The first upgrade i remember was the upgrade to 8mb of ram from 4mb. This made a world of difference in boot times and game loading. However, it wasn’t until we upgraded the stock 2400bps modem to a 14.4K modem that I really began to notice the value of ugprading. Webpages were super quick to download…we’re talking a webpage loaded in less than 30 seconds!

Really though, the biggest upgrade made to this computer was the operating system. We upgraded to Windows 95, and it totally changed my perspective of how a GUI should function. The upgrade consisted of 13 floppy discs and about an hour or so to do the install. The concept of a taskbar and Start menu were very awkward to me at first, but I soon caught on and never looked back. I soon got involved in Star Trek and was quickly making webpages using either Microsoft’s Frontpage Express or Netscape Navigator’s web editing program to create LCARS-style websites with starships and what not. I also discovered IRC chat was an acceptable replacement for AOL chatrooms, which led to me discovering mIRC.

The fourth “first” was scripting/programming. Upon discovering mIRC, I quickly learned about automation of chat channel via bots. Thanks to some friends I had on the IRC channels, I quickly created my first mIRC script which reacted to in-channel text. If I were ever to pick a point in time where I actually started writing functional code that was useful, this would have been that time. This, I consider, to be my first programming endeavor. The first script I wrote responded to commands as if it were an LCARS computer on a starship, such as firing torpedos, phasers, etc. It was really cool!

I could go on and on about all the “firsts” I had with this Dell computer, but we’ll cap it there.  Needless to say I was hooked to computers, and I have ever since. I went on to purchase my own Packard Bell Legend Pentium 133mhz computer with a 33.6K modem in it, and I had that computer from 1997 all the way to 2000.  In 2000 I built my first computer by myself. It consisted of an AMD Athlon 1.0GHz “Thunderbird” processor, an ATI Radeon VE graphics card, and Windows 2000.  I built this computer in a full tower case, which I still own to this day, though not used as my primary computer case. I built several computers from that time forward.

So there you have it, a brief chronology events that led up to me being the nerd that I am today. I would welcome anyone to share their chronology with me as I love reminiscing on the early days of the internet. Do you remember your first time on the internet? Which ISP did you use? Did you ever upgrade from Windows 98 to Windows 98SE? Drop me a line in the comments.