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IBM Hardware

IBM's PC Junior Turns 30, Too 178

McGruber writes "Like the Mac, the IBM PC Junior first went on sale in late January 1984. That is where the similarities end — the PC Junior became the biggest PC dud of all time. Back on May 17, 1984, the NY Times reported that the PC Junior 'is too expensive for casual home users, but, at the same time, is not nearly powerful enough for serious computer users who can afford a more capable machine.' The article also quoted Peter Norton, then still a human programmer who had not yet morphed into a Brand, who said that the PC Junior 'may well be targeted at a gray area in the market that just does not exist.'' IBM cancelled the machine in March 1985, after only selling 270,000 of them. While it was a commercial flop, the machine is still liked by some. Michael Brutman's PCJr page attempts to preserve the history and technical information of the IBM PCjr and YouTube has a video of a PC Junior running a demo."
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IBM's PC Junior Turns 30, Too

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  • ...end? (Score:4, Funny)

    by QilessQi ( 2044624 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @11:12AM (#46090681)

    That is where the similarities —

    Also the sentence. :-)

  • by billcarson ( 2438218 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @11:22AM (#46090759)
    The keyboard was horrible, yes, but that was fixed within months (I think people could swap the keyboards for free?).
    But for the money you got a lot more than the other home computers: a floppy drive, a computer that had a real
    operating system, 128K of RAM!, compatibility with most PC applications, etc. Plus this was the computer that made
    the Sierra Adventure games shine! (the enhanced graphics and sound made Leisure suit larry a lot better looking than its PC counterpart).
    The BIOS interrupt changes may have caused some problems (the keyboard was mapped to the NMI, so you couldn't
    touch it while transfering files f.i.) or compatibility issues, but that was only of minor concern at the time.
    I still don't consider the PCjr a poorly engineered machine. There were better contenders in that category (some of the Franklin PCs, for instance)
    • by MightyYar ( 622222 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @11:26AM (#46090809)

      I think people were most offended by the artificial limitations. Most computer companies were pushing their hardware to its limits in order to stay competitive, and here comes a PC with nice hardware that is artificially gimped to protect the more expensive products. It's one thing to be limited by engineering - quite another to be limited my marketing. With a typical product, you can subjectively debate the relative value - but in this case, marketing handed you a concrete, objective list of items that you were not getting for your money.

      • by DrXym ( 126579 )
        Reading the spec of it, it doesn't seem that bad for the time, but it just didn't do anything people wanted from a computer and became obsolete as 16-bit home computers appeared. I think more likely that it managed to alienate the two groups of prospective buyers at the price point. People who wanted an actual PC were disappointed by a crappy PC-a-like which couldn't run much software and came with a sucky keyboard. And consumers who wanted a home computer baulked because the Commodore 64, Atari 800, ZX Spe
        • by swb ( 14022 )

          But with all that documentation you could fix anything that broke and people would still be driving 1980s era IBMs because they just worked.

      • by Nelson ( 1275 )

        IBM and Intel rocked that model for another decade, if you look at the PS/2 line up, half of them were very nearly obsolete when they were released. Intel had it's SX chips..

        What kind of reality distortion field do you think that team had? I don't mean this in an offensive way but the Mac was demonstrated and announced at nearly the same time, (with it's own "SX" style 16bit bus 32bit chip...) People talk about the Apple reality distortion field but I can't imagine what being on the PC Jr. team mus

        • by hawk ( 1151 )

          The mac's 68000 chip, though, was the same generation as the 8086.

          Intel went from 8 to 16 bits, while motorola put 32 bits inside the 16 bit package at a time neither *had* a 32 bit bus available. They also indicated the expansion path (extra register length, etc.) that a fully flushed out 68k would have.

          The 68k pushed what could be done, while the SX were deliberate limitations

      • And the limitations were obvious. They *could* have just had a price reduced version of the PC, more plastic and less metal, less memory in a base system but still expandable, slower clock speed, etc. Then it would have been fully compatible but not in competition with the business PC. Instead the clones did this just a year or two later, and it was the clones who turned the PC into a dominant standard and not IBM.

    • by Sique ( 173459 )
      Hm... I wouldn't call DOS a "real operating system", because all it operated was the disk drive. Everything else had to be done in the program itself.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by billcarson ( 2438218 )
        DOS was more than just some FAT routines. There was a program loader, driver model (albeit a very naive one), system services (I/O, etc.), basic system tools (format, debug,, etc.).
        For what PCs were at that time, it was probably the best you could whish for.
        • by Nimey ( 114278 )

          Apple ProDOS had most of that, albeit it was 8-bit.

          • Crikey, I remember running OS/2 level 1 on a CoCo 2 and having device driver, memory management and i/o subsystems far more advanced than pretty much any other home computer; all on an 8 bit processor with 64k of RAM.

        • Not really a full operating system though. More like a big set of system libraries and some utilities. Given the underpowered CPU it had and the severe memory limitations you could argue they couldn't do better. But you can quibble with that too. The PC DOS utilities were very underpowered from what they could have been, limited because it was assumed they were all loaded off of floppy disks. DOS was essentially derived from ideas of CP/M and it shows, it was never intended to be more than a dumb progr

      • by geekoid ( 135745 )

        I wonder what the D stood for..almost like it was a system for operating a disk...
        Oh well, I guess that's been lost to time~

    • , 128K of RAM!,

      I was too young to use computers then. Was that enough for everyone?

    • by Archangel Michael ( 180766 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @11:52AM (#46091011) Journal

      The PCjr has the distinction of the first IBM PC to be able to use more than 640k, due to the weirdness of the Video BIOS location. The anomaly is also the reason why people had to buy programs that said "PCjr Compatible". If I recall, my Dad's PCjr could address nearly 768k, without a Memory Manager doing funky stuff to jam TSR's into the space between 640k and 1mb.

      AHhhhh good times!

    • I thought that the keyboard was pretty good if you didn't know how to touch-type, it helped you not mash keys. Once you knew where the keys were, then it would just slow you down.

      All I ever did with the PCjr was LOGO, for which it was a better platform than the Apple II. It was the first PC I used, though. Later, I was given an IBM PC with a 30MB HDD and an ISA card that brought it up to 448k RAM and added a RTC. Fancy!

    • We got our PCjr in 1985 some time. It did not have the infamous chiclet keyboard that was so reviled. It was still a condensed keyboard [] with no function keys, however.

      The lack of function keys definitely made office and productivity software written for the PC more difficult to use since it became a two key press. The keyboard didn't work well with combination presses with the Fn key, either, so you often had to press Fn, wait a moment, then press the key that corresponded to the key you wanted. It was

      • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

        about 2000.
        but a 486 in 1990 must have been horribly expensive.

        I still remember the finnish computer catalog from around 1990. it only had 386dx's as the higher end though. but the point is, it still had 8086's as well and 286's - so the price range was from around 10 000(lowish end monthly salary) fim to 100 000 fim(some sort of a car).

        now imagine buying a computer for 300 bucks vs 30000 - sure you can do it but you're really going to be just piling up a bunch of expensive extras to hit the mark and not go

    • The keyboard was horrible, yes, but that was fixed within months (I think people could swap the keyboards for free?).

      As proof that computer companies have always blindly followed in the footsteps of other computer companies and repeated their UI mistakes, the following computers preceded PCjr's bad keyboard design:

      When the PC/jr came out, the Commodore 64, Commodore Vic 20, Apple II series, Texas Instruments and Mac computers all had decent keyboards but IBM decided to reinvent keyboards

      • I wonder how many people who once hated one of those keyboards that had poor tactile feedback now type away merrily on their phone and pad touchscreens?

    • no, it did NOT run the normal IBM PC apps that were popular and desired, the people who could afford the thing tried to run their business apps on it. and most games looked aweful on it

    • It would not run the IBM office suite of programs and was artificially limited on RAM. 'Running most PC applications' is not good enough.

      The original "chiclet" style had tall, hard plastic keys which made touch-typing virtually impossible and a better keyboard was offered, but not for free.

      The design limited the expansion, memory and speed of the system. For instance, with no DMA capability, the keyboard is disabled when accessing the floppy drive. Even worse, the serial port will drop data when the floppy
    • ahhh yeah...the RAM!!

      i remember...i taught my high school best friend (who currently now works in IT) how to create a DOS Ramdrive with "all that memory" in order to really speed up this billing program he used for his lawn service.

      to his credit, from groking how the scripts worked and gaining an interest in computers, he ended up leaving the wonderful wacky world of lawn care and became (i believe) an IT security professional.

      incidentally, he got the machine as a hand-me-down from his dad, who actually wor

      • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

        RAM disks were great on the Mac Plus too. Saving directly to floppy disk was gruesome and time consuming. Same goes for the other platforms of the day.

        • by Pope ( 17780 )

          Yeah! As I noted below, I'd use my PCjr's RAM disk to run Infocom adventures at lightning speed :) Beats waiting for the non-DMA floppy to access for every fargin' command you typed...

    • I bought one soon after the new keyboard was issued. You didn't have to send back the old keyboard as a trade, you could just keep it or throw it away.

  • Fond memories (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bayoudegradeable ( 1003768 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @11:23AM (#46090769)
    Dot matrix printer, Wizardry, Ultima IV (I think?), MicroLeague Baseball, Flight Simulator. A 12 year old that didn't know better sure enjoyed his PCJr
  • I bought one second-hand, circa 1986. It had the later, non-chiclet keyboard, and a Tecmar 256K expansion. I modded the Tecmar board to 640K and then it was functionally the equivalent of an XT with CGA graphics. Enjoyed it for a couple years before trading up to an Amiga 1000. Prior to Windows 95, I think most any PC was at a disadvantage in the home market.

    • Thanks for mentioning this. I worked at Tecmar in that era, we had a lot of great add-on products and made a lot of money on expansion boards, graphics cards, tape drives, etc.
  • I had one growing up. I learned a little basic using it. I was all of 10 or 11... played King's Quest on it. Wireless keyboard!!!

    Not having access to other computers at the time I never realize how big of a joke/flop it was considered until I was older. I don't think i was harmed by the use of the Jr. Funny thing is that most people I have talked to that make fun of it never touched one.
  • Had one. Liked it. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Speare ( 84249 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @11:38AM (#46090897) Homepage Journal
    I had one, and I really liked it. It lacked DMA on the floppy drive so things were a bit slower during a file load or save. It only had one bay. Otherwise, it was basically the same as the PC (my dad had a low-serial-number model 5150). It had a couple more graphics modes than the standard VGA, enabling a lot of games to use 16 colors rather than 4. Nobody I knew ever used the "sidecar" bus for anything worthwhile.
  • The name PC jr made you think it was a cheaper version of the IBM PC. It was built for a completely different purpose, and a different architecture. People saw it as a crippled PC, instead of a home computer better than most.
  • PCjr and the Crash (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Pentomino ( 129125 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @11:52AM (#46091013) Homepage Journal

    I attended a panel of veteran video game programmers from the Phoenix area a few years ago. They asserted that the PCjr had a greater role in the video game crash of 1984 than people realize. Many software companies bought into IBM's hype that the PCjr would dominate the market, and put a lot of resources into PCjr development, and ended up going bankrupt when the PCjr failed.

    • Doubt it. There were a handful of decent games provided on cartridge from Imagic and some games that took advantage of PCjr specific video or sound, like Kings Quest and MS Flight Simulator. That level of interest does not indicate an entire industry was hoodwinked.

      Spinaker's educational games for pre-schoolers were terrible and they deserved to go out of business on their own merits. ;-0


    • The video game crash was in 1983, look it up on Wikipedia.
  • by clickclickdrone ( 964164 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @11:55AM (#46091039)
    I know it wasn't a seller but that's a bit harsh.
  • by Marrow ( 195242 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @12:06PM (#46091135)

    Didn't IBM basically consider the entire PC product a commercial flop? Was it ever considered a success (ie profitable)? I thought they considered it a commercial loser, but a foot in the door for their larger boxes.

    • Yes and no. As a product, it sold way, way more than they expected. It was a sort of pet internal project no-one really thought would fly. However, when it did...

      Later on, when it came to the PS2 range, I remember going to an IBM presentation. They were trying to get the same software running on everything from the PS2 PCs to mainframe with unified architecture for programming, GUI etc. Trouble was, the actual machines were too far removed from what was by then a booming and standardised architecture so o
    • Early on IBM made a lot of money off PCs. It made buckets of money from the original PC, the PC XT and the PC/AT. It was only after PCs became commodity items that IBM was unable to maintain their traditionally high profit margins.
    • Didn't IBM basically consider the entire PC product a commercial flop? Was it ever considered a success (ie profitable)?

      By the end of 1982 IBM was selling a PC every minute of the business day. Although the PC only provided 2-3% of sales. IBM found that it had underestimated demand by as much as 800%, and because its prices were based on forecasts of much lower volume, the PC became very profitable. By 1983 the IBU had 4,000 employees and became the Entry Systems Division based in Boca Raton, and the PC surpassed the Apple II as the best-selling personal computer.

      By 1984 IBM had $4 billion in annual PC revenue, more than twice that of Apple and as much as the sales of Apple, Commodore, HP, and Sperry combined. A Fortune survey found that 56% of American companies with personal computers used IBM PCs, compared to Apple's 16%.

      IBM Personal Computer []

  • They really were not that bad, but those "chicklet" keyboards were awful. Yes, they were way overpriced, but those people who had the cash, and were interested in buying one, were turned off by those terrible keyboards. IBM eventually started selling them with keyboards comparable to those on their PC, but it was too little, too late.

    • Re:Not that bad. (Score:4, Interesting)

      by hey! ( 33014 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @01:11PM (#46091803) Homepage Journal

      By the way, the video above shows the second generation keyboard. The infamous "chiclet []" keboard had no labels on the keycaps. The letter labels were on the surface of the keyboard between rows of keys, in order to permit overlays. That was a clever idea, but it wasn't going to fly in an era where mechanical switch keyboards were the norm.

      Of course today crummy keyboards are the norm; I bet the second generation PCJr keyboard beats what most people are using these days.

  • My dad bought it off my uncle, who apparently had buyer's remorse. They keyboard must have been the revision, because I don't remember any issues with it. Then again, I was about five, so what did I know?

    I learned to spell playing King's Quest I, which is still fond in my memories. My mom wrote down a list of the words I would need to interact with the (frankly, pathetic) parser in the game, and left it to me to remember and figure out which word was which and how to use them. We bought several other games
  • by rossdee ( 243626 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @12:34PM (#46091419)

    Whats so special about 30th anniversary? Is 30 some kind of magic number?

    I believe in western culture that 25th anniversary is a special celebration for married couples, (silver) and also 50th (gold)
    And some cultures have special significance of 15th bithday, and/or 21st birthday

    • by rubycodez ( 864176 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @12:53PM (#46091645)

      that's the magical median age when slashdotters leave their mother's basement

    • by dj245 ( 732906 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @03:22PM (#46093227) Homepage

      Whats so special about 30th anniversary? Is 30 some kind of magic number?

      I believe in western culture that 25th anniversary is a special celebration for married couples, (silver) and also 50th (gold) And some cultures have special significance of 15th bithday, and/or 21st birthday

      It is roughly a generation. I've gone back in my family tree about 20 generations and 30 years is just about the average difference between parents and child. Yes, even back in medeival times.

      I suppose you could consider it special because it means that people who grew up with computers of that era are now buying pocket supercomputers for their children.

  • Regards, Mike (yes, the one that owns the page referenced in the summary) ...

  • Raskins, Steve's , IBMs dream was a under $1000 reasonably powerful home PC. This was not really achieved until the 2000s thanks to Moores Law. And no one really celebrated this threshhold when it arrived.

    The $100 tablet with as much power as iPad is the equivalent dream. Its getting close, but not quite there here. Some are selling underpowered tablets under $200 and shooting themselves in the foot just like the PC Junior. But we'll get there soon enough.
  • by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <> on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @01:06PM (#46091761) Homepage

    The PCjr had three strikes against it right out of the box...

    • Not cheap enough compared to the IBM PC.
    • Late to market and fighting an entrenched Apple II family in the comparable price range.
    • Too expensive compared to the VIC-20 and the C-64.

    Even without it's various technical and performance problems and unclear target market, it still would have had a tough time gaining traction.

  • We were using the PC Jr for Pascal in late 80s HS CS classes. They were completely adequate and had that distinctive higher end IBM look and feel. There were a bunch of terrible beige box PCs at the time and the IBMs actually looked ok and seemed to work fine for what we did.

    My favorite though was the Compaq luggable beast. About 40lbs in a suitcase form factor, the thing was a beast! Dad splurged for dual 5.25" drives and we eventually got a 30 MB 1.5 slot HDD. []

  • Got one back in 84 for Christmas IIRC. I ended up using it through to the end of my 2nd year of university, so a bit over 7 years. Of course by that time we'd maxed out the RAM & added a second external floppy. Best hack I had at the time: making a 360K RAM disk and copying the contents of any Infocom game floppies to it so they'd run lightning quick! Otherwise each command had to access the floppy, slowing everything down.

    Of course what I really wanted was an Amiga, but we couldn't afford it. :)

  • This computer has a lot of fond memories for me. Having grown up very poor, we couldn't afford something like this. My uncle gave us his old one so my mother could do word processing from home. I used it to play games all the time until the floppy drive died. After that, the only thing I could do on it was load up the BASIC cartridge. If I wanted to do anything on the computer, I'd have to program it first, and the moment the computer turned off lose it forever. I would get the computer magazines that

  • The PCjr was my first computer growing up. If it had a shortcoming it was only the existence of the PC. But before EGA came along it was the only way in the PC world, to enjoy 16 color graphics. Also, with a 3-channel speak it offered a better audio experience than you got out of the IBM PC's speaker. Ours came with two keyboards, the chiclet keyboard everyone complained about and a replacement with conventional keys. As a kid, I preferred the look of the chiclet keyboard, but the keys had too much travel f

  • by TagrenHawk ( 19856 ) on Tuesday January 28, 2014 @07:02PM (#46095565) Homepage

    October 31, 1985

    Three things of note that happened that day:
    1 - We got in a crash with a parked car while delivering newspapers.
    2 - My mom felt so guilty about crashing that she offered my brother and I the option to stay home from school "If we felt bad." (Yes, we both stayed home.)
    3 - My parents bought our first computer: an IBM PCjr.

    While I remember all three events with clarity, I don't think I would remember #1 & #2 quite so viscerally if the computer hadn't shown up that day. Having that computer in my house profoundly affected my life in ways that I probably don't understand.

    The first day we had the computer in the house, and didn't have the basic cartridge to run any programs, I would boot it over and over to "play" with the little man that would come out and place the key on the screen you had just pressed on the keyboard. I tried all sorts of combinations: multiple, concurrent key presses; speedy consecutive key presses; top left to bottom right; ... you get the idea. It seems silly now that I spent so much time on such a trivial task, but it was amazing to me to be able to press a key and see something change on the screen.

    When my cousin who worked at Bell Labs came over and programmed the first line of Beethoven's 5th symphony to play on the PC speaker using Basic, I was hooked. I tweaked his program over and over to change pitch and duration of each note, then revert it back.

    And Jumpman. Oh, Jumpman! My parents hated that we played that game so much because we would fight about it, but we would also sit and watch each other play for hours. Of course, it really, really ticked me off when I would play for 3 hours, set the high score, then my oldest brother would come along and blow away my score in one game. Resetting the top score matrix was a big no-no, but my fingers may have slipped once or twice...

    All in all, even if it was a failure as a system, it affected me and my career. I write code for a living because of that computer. I am not saying that I wouldn't have had the same experience with a Commodore 64 (which I owned for one blissful weekend until my Mom made me sell it back to the kid I bought it from because I only played Space Invaders even though I swore I would use it to write programs), but it all started with a PC Junior.

At work, the authority of a person is inversely proportional to the number of pens that person is carrying.