Priming the Pump: How TRS-80 Microcomputer Enthusiasts Helped Spark the PC Revolution by David Welsh and Theresa Welsh takes you back to the largely unknown origins of personal computing. Personal computers grew out of a hobbyist movement in the 1970s, as some began experimenting with the new microchips, building their own computers. Kit computers appeared, available from small mail order companies, but the computer that brought a wider audience to personal computing was the TRS-80 Model I, introduced by Tandy Corporation in August 1977. It was the first complete mass market, off-the-shelf microcomputer that anyone could buy for $599.95. And it was available at 3500 Radio Shack stores nationwide.
Introduction of the TRS-80 meant, for the first time, anyone could experiment with software and affordably use word processing, spreadsheets, accounting, database and other applications… except for one thing: there weren’t any programs. So, of necessity, new computer owners became programmers, and enterprising individuals working in basements and garages created the software everyone wanted. Many of them had never done any programming before.
The authors were part of a community of entrepreneurs who sold software for the TRS-80. Besides telling their own story, they also collected stories from key innovators from that era, including some who had never been interviewed before about their contributions to computing. The technology that originated with these amazing microcomputer pioneers went on to change life in fundamental ways and their stories are the heart of this book.There were programmers who created fabulous games like Dancing Demon, Microchess, Oregon Trail and the Scott Adams Adventures; there were rivals who created five different Disk Operating Systems for the TRS-80 and one man’s fight with Tandy over who owned the code; there were scam artists who offered products that were too good to be true, and brilliant visionaries who were first with software features later “invented” by big companies with more money but not more talent.
The authors relate how Don French, a computer hobbyist who worked for Radio Shack at the time, suggested to his bosses that they capitalize on the latest craze, home-built computers. Radio Shack took a chance and hired young Steve Leininger away from Silicon Valley and told him to build a machine they could sell cheap. Working alone in an old saddle factory in Fort Worth, he built the first TRS-80; its total development costs were less than $150,000.
Author David Welsh was one of those self-taught computer-buyer/programmers. He created a word processor, Lazy Writer, and, working with his wife Theresa, sold copies worldwide to enthusiastic fans who were eager to ditch their typewriters. This was before Microsoft was a household word, when software was new and exciting and everyone was learning. Software generally had only one author, and programmers were proud of their work; some became stars. David and Theresa Welsh, who lived through it all, have captured the defining moments and excitement of this era, with the untold stories from the microcomputer pioneers whose efforts and love for their “trash-80” helped spark the PC revolution that followed.