Why the PC has no nostalgia for me as a retro-computer collector

I've been thinking a bit about the computer collection I have and how to streamline what's there. Over the years I've been blessed with folks that have given me all sorts of unique and interesting computers that I've cherished. Unfortunately some of them have also been in the "just stored" category. Many of them have been IBM-Compatible PC computers. I've come to realize that I don't have a lot of nostalgia for the IBM PC-compatibles for a number of reasons. But first, a bit of my computing history.

My first computers were the Atari 8-bit computers. My parents bought me an Atari 400 computer when I was in fifth grade. I was over the moon with that computer. I'd begged them for a computer (literally any computer would have done, including the janky Sinclair ZX-80 or VIC-20 machines). I didn't care. I just wanted to make computer happen. Over time they bought me an upgrade in the form of the Atari 800. Later I acquired an Atari 800XL and expanded the crap out of that machine with memory upgrades (256K!) and a Hard Drive (40MB!). Those upgrades lasted me through college, when I finally realized I needed something more.

During that time the IBM PC Compatibles were in full swing. New machines with faster processors were coming out almost weekly. My parents got a Compudyne 286 machine, but that wasn't really "my" machine. In high school we used IBM PS/2 Model 25s for programming using Pascal, but they never really intrigued me. The computers in college were 386 machines and were a means to an end for word processing, email, and what-have-you. They didn't have a personality at all. They were just DOS-based computers that were just there.

(There were also the Macintosh machines that I ran into from time to time. I adored the Macintosh and loved the interface, but I never got indoctrinated into the cult of Macintosh proper).

It wasn't until I got access to the Sun SPARCStations in college that I really glommed onto UNIX and an "alternative" architecture. The idea of a true multitasking OS that could support many users at once was appealing to me. I'd been running a BBS in college (in the most janky way possible, but that's for another blog post) and the idea that others could be using my machine while I was using it was appealing to me. I didn't like the command-line interface (ls? rm? bleh.) so I used aliases to convert those to more familiar DOS-based commands. In time, though, I succumbed to the beauty and simplicity of the UNIX command line. Also I liked how OpenLook (the window manager) worked on those machines. There was a certain elegance to the whole thing that I found appealing.

When I got a second-hand Compudyne 486 SX/20 and was introduced to Linux I knew my days of DOS were pretty much over. I tried the dual-boot dance for a while, but that was short-lived: UNIX and Linux were where I wanted to be.

Now, I do have some nostalgia for DOS-based games (Wing Commander 4, MegaRace, X-Wing, and most of what Apogee, Epic, and id Software were putting out as shareware), but at the time I used a 3DO to escape needing to have to figure out how much XMS and EMS memory I needed in order to make something work. Over time I didn't miss those games at all. And if I need the occasional hit there's always DOSBox ready to give me that nostalgia hit. But needing a separate PC to run those things? Hardly.

I realized that I didn't need to have a bunch of reminders about old DOS Programs that I no longer run or need. I have PC Compatible machines and they all run Linux. Linux is where my nostalgia really lies. The beige-boxes of the 1980s and 1990s aren't nearly as interesting as the other machines of the period. I'd rather invest time into rehabilitating old UNIX Workstations than in trying to piece together a Packard Bell machine to run Windows 3.1.

So I've let go of most of my PC stuff (save for the CD-ROMs of old games, which might come in handy someday). I don't miss them though. What I found with Linux was something greater than DOS / Windows 3.1 could ever be. Rather than fire up Turbo C or Turbo Pascal I can just fire up my favorite editor of choice and play with C code on my modern machine. And with places like GOG making Linux ports of some of the games of yore I can still enjoy a taste of some of these old DOS games. But my interests are more in the machines that I didn't have at the time (or should have purchased had I not spent stupid money on the Atari 800XL). And that's quite alright.

Nostalgia doesn't have to drive every decision we make. We can pull away from its siren song and let our present-selves dictate what is sill important to us.