The storage medium we tend to overlook

What I continue to find so remarkable is that, you could take something that is printed on a piece of paper and get it to make your computer do something, like play a game.

I was watching another episode of my favorite computer show, Bits And Bytes, when a particular segment got me to thinking about data storage. This particular clip was talking about memory capacity and how a computer with 64K of RAM can only store about the same as a 32 page book. Then, the narrator made the statement that, although 32 pages doesn’t seem like a lot, a computer can do a lot more with it’s characters than what a book can do with them.

This then got me to thinking about how we used to distribute programs for our home computers, back in “the day”, before we had the all-powerful Internet. One of those ways was via printed books and magazines. What I find so remarkable is that, you can take something that is printed on a piece of paper and get it to make your computer do something, like play a game. Today, we generally think of disk or tape images to store our games and programs for our C64s and C128s. But you know, printed material was a very common form of storage for these classic machines, it just wasn’t as convenient as magnetic media. It also was probably one of the most cost effective ways of building up your software library, too (apart from “trading” with your friends). For the couple of bucks a typical magazine cost back then, you usually got a half dozen games/utilities to type in with every issue.

When you think about it, though, it’s probably one of the most secure and “future proof” of all of the storage mediums, as long as you’re not talking about data files (like SEQ or REL). It’s not going to degrade, like a floppy disk or a cassette tape. Even if you store disk images to an SD card, HDD, or DVD, there’s still the potential for those to develop read errors or get damaged from poor storage conditions. Yes, paper documents can get destroyed by things like water and fire, too, but it’s certainly more resilient in many ways to a DVD or floppy disk. Paper will also continue to remain readable (when stored properly) for generations without the need of any special device to read it. If you want to load up a game from one of your old floppy disks or cassettes, you better have a working floppy drive or datasette. D64s will also need a working SD2IEC device.

I suppose, if you wanted to, you could also back up your printed programs simply by scanning them into PDFs. You’d still need to have a device to read those electronic PDFs when you needed them. However, if you still have your copy of Compute!’s Gazette at hand, you can read that with nothing more than the glow from your 1701 monitor screen.

Okay, I know, having a printed LIST of you favorite C64 game isn’t going to be doable in most cases. But, this still doesn’t take away the amazement that I have for the fact that, with a few pages of code (aka text), you can still have a lot of fun with your Commodore computer. But there are some popular games out there that are LIST-able, like Sword of Fargoal and Crossroads 1 and 2. Not to mention much of the software published in Loadstar Magazine.

Take this word processor, Archetype, which I’m using on my C128 for example. I just need to press the RUN/STOP key and do a LISTing to the printer, and I have all that I need to use it on any C128… today or fifty years in the future (theoretically). Apart from having a working C128, I don’t require anything else… not even a disk drive or other storage device. Can’t say the same for, say, MS-Word or any software for a modern-day computer.

The same could be said for any of the thousands of games and programs for the C64 and C128 printed in any of the thousands of magazine or books that are out there in th world. To me, this is so cool! You can do so much with just a page or two of text. The Commodore 8-Bit machines are just so unique and accessible… there really hasn’t been anything like them, before or since.

Yes, I know, typing in a game or program every time you want to use it isn’t very practical. But it doesn’t change the fact that, for these wonderful 8-bit machines, paper is a storage medium. Heck, that’s all I had for the first six or seven months of becoming a C64 user. My parents could only afford to buy me the computer and monitor at first. I had to wait for my 1541. So, anything I wanted to do on the C64 had to be typed in.

Next time you think about retro storage devices and media formats, remember to give a nod to those often forgotten computer magazines and books; not to mention the good ol’ dot matrix printer. After the EMPs hit, they’ll probably be the only data storage devices that will still be working! 😉

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  1. It was the same thing with Radio Shack’s Color Computer. Default storage device was a portable cassette player with a tape inserted. A 10MB drive was a huge amount of space.

  2. Oh yes, back then, a 10MB hard drive was a lot of storage space. And pretty expensive, too! It was certainly a different era and way of thinking, when it came to computers. You sat looking at a command prompt and you had complete freedom as to what you were going to do next. Those were great days!

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