I began using computers professionally in the late seventies, as an NC Programmer at the Aurora Pump Company. At first, this consisted of writing source programs in the APT language, offline on a Friden Flex-O-Writer, then using a timeshare dial-up account on a mainframe somewhere to compile the file into actual NC code. Within a few months of my landing the job, we switched to the Compact II language, using Teletype terminals to timeshare on the MDSI mainframe, via GE-net.
This timesharing business was very expensive, and within a year we were able to justify the purchase of an MDSI "System 1", an on-site Data General micro-computer customized and optimized for Compact II NC programming. Still no CRT, but a Teletype terminal connected locally. We did have a Hewlett-Packard B sized plotter with which to check our tool paths, a luxury beyond compare. Also, the DG micro had dual floppy disk drives, so we no longer had to store our source code on punched paper tape. Note that these were 8-inch floppy drives. The capacity was 160k, as I recall. High-tech indeed, for the times!
I stayed with Compact II through two more companies, ending up at Continental Container Systems in W. Chicago, IL. They were running on a DEC 1170 mainframe, using VT-52 terminals. This was my initiation into the VMS operating system, which I still love dearly, and use every day.
In 1987, Continental (later Close-Tech) went to CAD/CAM in a big way, investing in an 8-seat Unigraphics installation. We used the old McDonnel-Douglas twin-CRT workstations.. what monsters they were. The vector-graphics main CRT was really nice, though. Indeed, I still miss that feature! Though I positively hated UG at first, it turned out to be great for my career. It became an industry-leading package, and the market for UG specialists remains very strong.
When I went to Smith+Nephew Richards (now S+N Orthopaedics) in 1990, I found a then state-of-the-art VAXcluster system consisting of VAX micros and workstations, running VMS (yippee!). It was a bit tough to get used to the DEC 100 workstations, after the MD gear, but after a few months I came to love it, and it was a joy using that system. Alas, in mid-1998 we installed a Windows NT network, and though the VAXcluster network is still in place, our workstations are DEC 500As running WinNT, and we can access the VAXes only via Telnet. They are used mainly as file servers now, and are scheduled to be eliminated by the end of the year. :-( However, it now looks like that will be pushed back to Q2 of 2000, or possibly even 2001. I hope so, as I'll feel truly lost without VMS!
Note on 27-Jan-2001; we are still using the VAX/cluster system in this, the new millenium. <grin> They've been saying it'll be gone "any day now" for 2-1/2 years. The new NT-hosted (Java Script based) DNC system is the pitz... <BIG grin>
Note on 31-Aug-2001; Well, the MIS Dept. finally pulled the plug on our VAXcluster network in July of 2001. I still consider the Win NT OS a giant step backwards, compared to VMS. Sort of like owning a Ferrari, but trading it in on a Ford Taurus, 'cause Fords are more popular. :-( I miss VMS so much that I may just have to add a VAX to my home LAN. Hey, you can find 'em on e-Bay for a song, sometimes, so who knows? :-)
Now despite, or more likely because of my early adoption of computers professionally, I was late to adopt them at home. I had the attitude of "Hey! I have to use the %#&$ed things all day at work. Why would I want one at home?". However, upon joining Continental in 1984, I finally had access to IBM PCs, and I changed my tune pretty quick! I went through a series of dogs; a Timex-Sinclair, a miserable Zilog-powered thing called an Interact, and a VIC-20. While I did find the VIC-20 moderately useful, the former two machines were a waste of time and money.
Finally, in early '87, I bit the bullet and acquired a 286 clone. I discovered modeming (via Fidonet) in the late-80's.. and I've been hooked ever since! I soon had to move up to a 386 with VGA graphics, as the 286 just couldn't provide what I wanted from a PC. That 386, a clone made by the now defunct (I think) EPS company, was one really tough PC, and I stayed with it until '97. Actually, I still have the thing; though I sold it at one point, I ended up getting it back about a year later!
I bought a Compaq Presario 4814 in '97, and while it was great to finally have a real PC, that machine has been a mixed blessing. Overall, it's been a good PC. Even today, it does everything I really need to do, and about 80% of what I want to do. The thing is, my machines frequently look like this, and the Presario is a right bastard to upgrade and expand. For the average user, it'd be a great PC, but it's not for the hobbyist. The main drawback, for me, is that it wants nothing to do with alternate OSes. It does fine with Win9x and DOS/Win3.x, mind you. But Windows NT? Linux? BeOS? Forget it!
But I'd be remiss if I didn't mention my second "Real PC". An IBM Aptiva 2137-E16, I bought it in mid-'98, when Karen finally took the Home PC plunge and needed her own computer. This machine is the polar opposite of the Presario 4814, being an absolute dream to upgrade and expand, and to just generally tinker with. It not only runs DOS/Win3.x and Win9x, but also does a fine job with Linux and Windows NT, too. For anyone in the market for a hobbyist PC, I heartily recommend an IBM Aptiva! Indeed, the highest praise I can give it is to say that, after I gave the machine to Bobby and Cassie, I missed it so much that I acquired another Aptiva, a 2137-E84, on e-Bay. You can read about that one on my Home LAN spec page. It hasn't quite lived up to my expectations, yet I recently bought another e-Bay Aptiva, a 2137-E16 which is an exact clone of my first Aptiva. These machines have the absolute best case design in the business, IMHO. You need no tools to pull the covers, and all the slots and bays are readily accessible. Heck, even the DIMM slots (the machine accepts 512 Mb max) are a breeze to access. I'd planned on installing WinNT and Linux, and making this E16 a backup 'net server for RoadRunner. But considering the great case, I may just pick up a 'value priced' motherboard / processor bundle, say a 1 GHz Celeron, and upgrade the old girl...
Finally, I should mention a couple of cheap used computers which support my Linux and WinNT experimentation. An AST Bravo (486/50) and a Compaq DeskPro 590 (P1/75), they have proven to be real workhorses. Indeed, the former is currently used 24 x 7 x 365, as the 'net gateway server for my 5-node LAN.