September 11, 2006

Good old days

Someone recently pointed me to , a Web site dedicated to old French computer magazines from way back when.  The creators of this web site took hundreds of magazines from the time, scanned them and made them available for all to see.

Talk about a trip through Memory Lane...  Going through these old magazines that taught me the very first things I learned about computers was quite an experience.


The oldest one for me is L'Ordinateur de Poche, which started in 1981 and covered "pocket computers", as they were called back then (HP 41, TI 57-58-69, and later, slightly more powerful devices such as the PC-1211).  The pages are replete with endless listings of code that definitely qualify as language machine today but which, back then, were considered the state of the art in terms of expressivity.

I remember typing in a lot of these listings which, most of the time, contained reams of "DATA" lines with dozens of numbers per line.  Sometimes, getting one of these wrong meant the program would not start at all, and you'd have to double check every single line.  After BASIC, I slowly started understanding assembly language (helped in that with my various HP calculators) and how these two languages could be used together to create the best of both worlds.

But the real fun started with my Amiga, circa 1986.  A couple of years later, I started writing articles for the main Amiga magazine in France, Amiga News (which we had to rename A-News after a few issues because Commodore sent us a cease and desist.  It was pretty obvious to us that Commodore felt that we were competing with their own magazine, Commodore Revue, which we ended up outlasting).  If you are interested by additional trivia on A-News, read my interview by the creators of the Web site.

My first in-depth article was the complete disassembly of the SCA virus, which appeared on the Amiga in 1987 and is widely recognized as the first "public" computer virus that impacted hundreds of thousands of people.  If you are not impressed with these numbers, keep in mind that back then, we had no networks and no hard drives.  That's right, the virus was communicated through floppy disks...

I remember being absolutely stunned by the listing I uncovered, mostly because while I appreciated the technical excellence of its author (it fit in less than 512 bytes), I just couldn't figure out why he wrote this piece of code in the first place.  What was the point, really?  I just didn't get it, and to me, it was just an intriguing idea without much future.  How wrong I was about that...

At any rate, you can see the entire disassembly here (in French, sorry).

I continued my trip by thumbing through more reviews and it was quite interesting to see the various discussions about the future of the Amiga.  Windows was, of course, seen as the main competitor, but it was not rare to see OS/2 being mentioned as a very viable option as well...

Still, the Amiga community was very fanatic and didn't take criticism lightly.  When Windows 95 finally came out after numerous delays, it didn't take me long to realize that while Windows 3 was most likely inferior to the Amiga Dos, Windows 95 had definitely leapfrogged everybody else and that the days of the Amiga were numbered.


Posted by cedric at September 11, 2006 03:26 PM

Ca ne nous rajeuni pas! ;-)


Posted by: Thomas Landspurg at September 11, 2006 11:46 PM

Ouaip, L'ordinateur de Poche. Ca rappelle des vieux souvenirs... Je crois que j'ai garde les premiers numeros de Micro-Systemes dans un carton. Une fois de plus, la solution evidente s'impose: il faut scanner tout ca.

Posted by: Francois Rouaix at September 12, 2006 08:06 AM

"endless listings of code that definitely qualify as language machine today"

Language machine/Machine language:

It's amazing how quickly one can slip into habits of another language's grammar merely by reading (thinking) it.

Posted by: bpo at September 19, 2006 08:21 PM

That virus is certainly not optimal. Why using using addi.w instead of addq.w? And the bsr could have been made a bsr.s.

It could have been shorter :)

Posted by: Laurent at September 28, 2006 08:39 AM

Je me disais aussi: "Cedric Beust... Cedric Beust... hm... j'ai l'impression de connaitre ce nom."

Bah oui... une partie de ma mémoire ou il est question de yéti, de Matt Dillon et de Bitmap Brothers c'est réveillée ;)

Posted by: danulk at October 5, 2006 11:54 PM

There are now some issues from Creative Computing online. These were great mags: type in a few lines of machine code (as you point out), hook up your tape recorder to your Apple, and you could have about 10 seconds of AC/DC's 'back in black' (remember, we're talking a 48K machine here) emanating from your tinny Apple II speaker. Dazzling.

Posted by: Robert Jones at October 20, 2006 07:57 AM
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