Last month, on something of a whim, I wrote up an introduction and guide to working with the TRS-80 Model 100, one of the first ever “notebook” computers, released in 1983. The Model 100 was something that had always interested me, and I thought I would share some of my experiences with getting software installed on it, and maybe introduce this nearly 30 year old piece of hardware to a new audience.
Much to our surprise, the Model 100 guide quickly became one of the most popular pieces the site has ever run, completely dominating the site traffic in March. Clearly there is a lot of interest in this device, but why? We’re talking about a machine that’s older than many of this sites readers (and indeed, a few of the writers).
To try and get to the bottom of the Model 100’s continuing popularity almost three decades after its release, we spent some time talking to John R. Hogerhuis, a key player in the Model 100 community. John’s unique perspective gives us an inside look at this extremely dedicated and knowledgeable community.
The Powerbase: John, thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for us. Why don’t you start by telling our readers a little bit about yourself?
John: First of all Tom, thank you for your initial introduction to the Model 100.
I’m happy to answer your questions, and gratified at the interest in the Model T and our community.
I grew up fascinated by computers. I had a TRS-80 Color Computer, and later a Tandy Coco 3 (still have the Coco 3). I learned to program by reading books and typing in BASIC program listings which, once upon a time, appeared in hobbyist computer magazines. I went on to get a degree in computer science from Cal State Fullerton. After working as a programmer I went back to school and got my MBA with a focus on entrepreneurship. I make my living by doing contract software development.
I’m married and have three kids which get most of my free time. What is left goes to reading and my retrocomputing hobby, primarily Model T discussions and projects.
The Powerbase: How are you involved with the Model 100 community?
John: I run the mailing list and the Bitchin100.com web site and wiki. I write and maintain software for the machine and share it with my friends in the community. I try to maintain the friendly list culture that has developed over the years on the mailing list. Via the list and private email, I work with other folks across the globe to encourage new projects and assist with testing and development when I have spare cycles.
I am the author of DLPilot, LaddieCon, HTERM, and TBACK.
HTERM is a terminal program that implements hardware flow control, UTF-8 character set mapping, and baud rates up to 76800bps. It is my first major bit of 8085 assembly, with some of the code (a perfect hash function for the UTF-8 mapper) generated by a Perl script. My current goal is to add Zmodem support to it.
TBACK is a command line swiss army to manage a Model T’s RAM file system without having to install a disk service on it. Very much a work-in-progress.
HTERM and LaddieCon are available in source form via Git repositories hosted at Bitchin100.com. TBACK is not currently shared other than with those who have asked to see it.
The Powerbase: Between the mailing list, Wiki, and your Model 100 software projects, it seems pretty safe to say you are a serious devotee to this nearly 30 year old computer. What’s kept you interested for so long?
John: Well I didn’t actually own a Model 100 until about 2004. As a Coco kid, I salivated over Model 100 ads in the magazines and Tandy catalogs. I thought it would be great to use at school. But at several hundred dollars, it wasn’t affordable to me. But as an adult, via Ebay, I found I could get my dream machine for $50.
The Model T is a unique computer. It’s lightweight, rugged, and gets 20 hours of battery life on off-the-shelf AA’s. Think about that: what machine can claim that today? Drop an iPad from a few feet and it’s not likely to work well any more. Only recently are we seeing general computing devices like the iPad that are instant-on and come with built-in productivity applications.
That said, it’s got a sprinkler computer for a brain. It was underpowered when it was still being sold by Tandy. DOS machines with much more memory were widely available soon after the Model 100 was introduced. But I believe it’s the combination of a tight, well architected and integrated system that made it and make it so useful despite specs that today make it uncompetitive with scientific calculators on raw specifications. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Type in a BASIC program, and EDIT the whole program or a line of code… it pops it open in the TEXT editor. Pop open the TEXT editor and select some text… you can then use the PASTE key to dump it into another file or into a terminal prompt. Create a list of phone numbers in the TEXT editor… you use the ADRS program to search for a given name and then have the modem dial the phone.
In addition to the excellent design of the machine, I am fascinated by the way that the Model T is a forerunner of other equipment. The next truly portable device in my mind was the Palm Pilot. That died out and now we are seeing new true portables in the form of the smart phones and tablets. But the Model T was the blockbuster product of its day, especially with journalists who depended on true portability, instant-on and appreciate its incredibly good keyboard.
Another big feature of the Model T for a hobbyist is its small footprint. I can put it away when I’m not using it, or carry it anywhere in the house if my workbench is cluttered with another project. My Coco is stuck on my rack, it really doesn’t get much use just because of the amount of gear you need in one spot to use it effectively. I can pull out the Model T, get my retrocomputing fix, and then put it away.