I am unable to use many of the computer systems that I have because I own little or no software for them. There is a free source of public domain software available for many of these systems that is close at hand: the Internet. Most people access the Internet through a modern computer of some sort, using a GUI-type interface. This makes finding classic software easy. It makes downloading the software easy. But using the software is another story.
A lot of software originally written for popular classic computers can be downloaded and run on emulators on fast IBMs, Macs, Amigas or Ataris. But what if you don't want to use a newer PC? What if you want the programs to run on their actual machines? What if, like me, you have computers that never quite caught on in the popular computing circles of yesteryear? Unless you are blessed with a semi-modern set-up for one of these old machines, you will have to spend a little money to get them up to a standard that a PC can understand. Or you could choose the route that I did with my Commodore 64.
Recently, I had the urge to try some software on my Vic-20 (see the Vic-20 article in this issue). Since there are boatloads of Vic software available at many FTP sites, I figured I could use a 1200-baud modem with a communication program on my C-64 (the 64 uses the same disk format as the Vic). As fate would have it, I had the worst terminal programs ever created for the 64. Two could only be used at 300 baud, and the other was able to connect to a local BBS at 1200, but it kept putting garbage on the screen (not related to non-ANSI compatibility). I was unable to get a better terminal program, of course, because I couldn't download. The solution was to shell out cash.
I got what I needed from Creative Micro Designs, a C-64 dealer (http//www.cmdweb.com). Here is what I purchased: a 64 terminal program called NovaTerm 9.6, which features an 80-column mode when used with a 128 in 64 mode; and a cartridge that features its own standard, fast, 9-pin serial port. With these two items, I am now able to connect to the Internet via a shell account at 56,000 baud! I am able to use e-mail and the Web with two Unix favorites: Pine and Lynx. My 64 has new life. It enables a greedy person such as myself to get all the software I could ever imagine!
This exercise in insanity can be used as an example for just about any classic computer. Any box can get online with enough initiative. An issue of The Arcadian, a newsletter for the Bally Astrocade, talks about a group of computer hackers in 1980 that dropped some people's jaws. Seems that most people back then used Apples to connect to the then-popular online service The Source. In a chat area, people were comparing systems. When the Bally Users' Group announced that they were connected via a Bally, a rigged-up keyboard and modem, the others thought it impossible to connect such a toy. Little has changed since then. Tell someone that you use a Commodore 128 to access the Internet, and the remark will either be, "A what?" or "Impossible!" So go get the software and hardware needed to connect your classic boxes to the Internet. It takes some work, but you will thank yourself later (plus people's blank stares provide great amusement).