How to Buy a Computer
by Kevin L. Pehr
ST-Log invites all authors to submit essays for possible use in the Footnotes column. Submissions should be no longer than 1,500 words and may be on any aspect of Atari computing. Any style or type of essay is acceptable—opinion, humor, personal experience—but creativity is a plus. Submissions should be sent to: Footnotes, C/O ST-Log, P.O. Box 1413-M.O., Manchester, CT 06040-1413.
There are many possible reasons for buying a personal computer: You run a small business and all your competitors have one; you are a yuppie and all your friends have one; or you just think they're real neat.
Whatever the reason, be ready for some unpleasant times ahead. Choosing a personal computer is far more complicated and nerve-racking than choosing a house or a car or a spouse. Be prepared for condescending computer store clerks babbling incomprehensible jargon. Be prepared to spend weeks snapping and snarling at your friends and family as you agonize over the options. In short, be prepared to enter the world of high tech.
Which one to buy? The easiest method of deciding is to ask friends who already own computers which type they think is best. The answer is unequivocally an AtariApplelBMcompatibleCommodoreMacintoshgenuinelBM.
Product loyalty is fierce. People who simply smile and look tolerant if you insult their ethnic group, religion or football team will fly into a homicidal rage at the suggestion that their computer can't lick any other one on the block with one disk drive tied behind its back.
The crucial difference is the operating system, which is sort of the language the computer speaks. Arguing the relative merits of MS-DOS versus TOS as an operating system is like arguing French versus Swedish: It's all a matter of cultural preference.
Finally, some well-informed friend lets you in on a secret. (You know the friend I mean? "Four Eyes," the scrawny kid everybody made fun of in your junior high school class? The one who started his own computer company at age 19 and is now a multimillionaire?) He'll tell you that the most important thing is to get a machine that will run your software.
Software is to a computer what clothing is to a Barbie doll: It's not the initial investment that gets you, it's the hundreds of accessories. The problem with your friend's theory is that you probably don't have any software unless you already own a computer. After all, how many people have a complete prom gown plus accessories for Barbie before they buy the doll?
So there you are again, on your own, trying to decide on the ideal system for you. The best way really is the old "making a chart of all the pros and cons." You will need to do a little research for this.
First, go to your public library and read the last 12 issues of all the computer magazines. (This should take about a week, assuming you don't have to waste time working for a living.)
Then, down one side of a very large piece of paper list all the existing machines. Subdivide these by the different models available for each one such as Colonial, French Provincial and Scandinavian Modern. Subdivide further by number of "K" memory, configuration of disk drives and type of monitor. Across the top, list options on operating systems, number of expansion slots and number and type of interface ports.
Next, call every computer dealer within driving distance of your house (a WATS line can lessen the shock to your phone bill). This will enable you to fill in the boxes on your chart with notes about price, availability and whether it matches your living-room decor.
When you are through, you will have all the necessary information on a chart roughly 2,014 lines long by 185 columns wide from which you can easily select your best choice. As this is a little large to handle in your head, buy some database management software and plug your information into that. Any of the popular ones will do; just make sure it is one that will run on your own personal computer.