Quiz - which of the 1977 trinity for you?

1977 was quite a year. We had Tandy’s TRS-80, Commodore’s PET, and the Apple II from, er, Apple. So, put yourself back to 1977, give yourself an age of 15 and a big cheque from a great-aunt, and ask yourself which one you want. You’ll get a bundle of peripherals and applications too, and some books.

Also from that year, HP’s amazing wristwatch calculator, the HP-01, Ohio Scientific’s 6502-based Challenger, Ward Christensen’s Xmodem, the Dragon Book on compilers, DEC’s 11/780, the first VAX, and the launch of Voyagers I and 2.

For more 1977 news, and much else besides, see Benj Edwards’ Vintage Computing and Gaming.


Oddly enough I did turn 15 in 1977 and 8 months later in 1978 while at school and a few mnths after first touching a computer, I was invited to evaluate those very three computers not just for our school, but for potential use in others in the region (Lothian/Edinburgh). We got all three in a classroom and myself and some teachers ran tests, wrote programs and generally chatted about the merits, good and bad points.

The Apple II won hands-down - mostly due to the colour (and high resolution) graphics and disk drive.

Today? It would still win for the same reasons. (also nice keyboard) and given the money that’s what I’d have had…


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I’d agree - with today’s head on, the Apple II had the edge, with the high-res graphics. At the time, I’d been struck by the PET’s design and all-in-one offering. But it quickly becomes obvious that that first keyboard, the calculator-style one, would never have been a pleasure to use. I can’t quite say why the TRS-80 didn’t have the same appeal, to me, as a design. I suppose it doesn’t look futuristic.

Ironically, the later Commodore models, the VIC 20 and C64, were quite like the TRS-80 – and compared to them, at least the color scheme of the TRS-80 looked futuristic. (I never understood this design decision of the company that had brought us the PET previously, even back then.)
Keyboard and graphics were probably the main propositions – and here the Apple II shined. However, together with a disk drive or two, it was prohibitively expensive outside the US.

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My dad was a teacher and some group had bought TRS-80’s for his school. So that’s where I started.

But Commodore had a deal for schools. I want to say “buy two, get one free”, but I don’t remember for sure. The end result was that my school system was pretty much all Commodore while I was there.

I did get to use an Apple II for a but, but other than the color, I was very unimpressed with it. The BASIC seemed very unpolished compared to Commdore’s or the TRS-80’s.

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I wonder if you were using Integer Basic on the Apple? Applesoft is to all intents and purposes the same as Commodore PET basic (both being variants of MS Basic) with nothing more than a few extra statements for the graphics stuff…


It’s possible. But after 30+ years, it’s hard to remember. 8)

I do remember that editing a BASIC program was much harder on the Apple than on the Commodore.

Right - editing :slight_smile:

Commodore added their own “Kernal” which did all the screen handling - as did all the other MS basic implementations - Apples was somewhat primitive, but you could copy lines, however until the //e which had up/down arrow keys, it was somewhat challenging… Most of us used something called PLE (or APLE - Apple Program Line Editor) to get serious stuff done.

But yes - on that aspect, the PET was somewhat better.

I am struggling to work out why we rejected the TRS80 thought - worse graphics than the PET and tape, most likely…


Being only 13 at the time, I had to use whatever the schools had and I think that the reason the schools went with PETs was the price.

I don’t believe that the Tandy ever gave schools a price deal. Apple came around some years later. But Apple’s “deal” was just a way for Apple to dump equipment that they couldn’t sell.

I’ve been thinking about this since it was first posted. It’s difficult to step back without current biases. I’ve never laid hands on a PET, but I really like it. I probably like the architecture more than either of the others. But that’s with 40 years experience under my belt. The first machine I ever used was a TRS-80 in school in 1979. I like it and would really like to get one for my collection, but I realize it is the least desirable of the three for a few reasons (at least to me.) So trying to place myself in the position of an eager and excited 15 year old at that time with lots of cash, I’ve been trying to think what would be most important. I finally came to the conclusion that the graphics would have done it. Some neat things can be done with the blocky graphics on the TRS-80 as well as the graphics characters on the PET, but “hi res” and COLOR! would have sold me, I think.
I will send the two Steves a check!

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I was 3 years shy of 15 in 1977 but I’d have to shamefully admit I’d pick the Apple ][ because of the high-res graphics.

Funnily enough my brother and I did get a TRS-80 Model III in 1980 when we were 15. We thought about the Apple ][ but it was vastly more expensive especially since it was practically useless without the disk drive. The Model III was a modest 16K and no drives. A key part of the decision was compatibility - we had one friend with a TRS-80 and the school had a few we’d been using for a year. And the budget wouldn’t be getting a separate monitor, either, so having it share the TV with Mom and Dad was quite unappealing.

In 1977 the choice might have been harder as none of the machines had floppy drives as an option yet. Working with cassettes is a huge tax on the fun to be had with a home computer. And, generally, it’s hard to look back at exactly what the machines were then as opposed to what they became later.

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My first experience with a home computer was a friend’s TRS 80, and since it was one of the few available in the backwoods of Pennsylvania, I probably would have bought one. Soon after, my high school bought and taught the Apple //, but there wasn’t any place near me that sold them. At my first job in the 80’s the store sold the Commodore 64, and when my boss wasn’t looking, I’d play with it.

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Hi Gordon,

I was in the Lothian/Edinburgh region around that time, living in Haddington and attending George Heriots.

I guess we were near locals, - I was 12 at the time


Hi Ken,

As I lived in Wester Hailes and Sighthill and went to WHEC the year it opened, it’s highly unlikely (for many reasons!) that our paths ever crossed. (Or did you ever go to Moray House on Thursday evenings?)

But maybe Herriots had Apple IIs and they subjected you to some old program I wrote called Transformation Geometry… :slight_smile:


Given that check in 1977, it would have been an Apple2. However, the equivalent of that check did not arrive until 1982, and it was not big enough to get an Apple with a disk drive … the C64 was the only home computer I could afford a computer plus disk drive system inside the size of the proverbial “one time check” when it arrived.

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A friend of mine was unlucky enough to be in a car accident, but it gave him the big cheque, in around 1982/3, and he bought into Acorn’s BBC Micro. For myself, I saved up from my paper round, got a top-up from my Mum, and bought a Compukit UK101 in '79. The Apple II remained out of reach for me, but at last I got the high resolution bit mapped graphics when I got a Beeb in 82/3 using funds from my student grant. And very educational it was too.

I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, and I still don’t know which one the 11 year old me would have chosen if just shown the 3 machines, and given a choice. I had the most exposure to the TRS80 because it was in all the stores.

But I was trying to think which one I would have chosen not knowing what I know now, and I can’t say.

I was a bit older and had some spending money, but not enough for the Apple that I really wanted. Got a Rockwell AIM 65 with one line led display and thermal printer, along with cassette tape for saving programs. Actually it may have been 1978 already. I lost the machine after a move, but I still have my HP67 from the same era.


The first microcomputer I used was an Apple II, at my school in 1981. This was certainly a lot better than the Timex Sinclairs that appeared in the lab a year later, but I felt, for no good reason other than loyalty to what I’d first used, that the Apple II was also far better than the TRS-80. (I didn’t know about the PET at the time, but I surely would have felt the same.)

But I’ve just had a careful think about this, admittedly in light of what I know now, and surprisingly, at least to me, the TRS-80 came out far ahead.

The Apple II would certainly was attractive for having colour and high-res graphics, and it also was by far the easiest to get started programming in assembly. Not only did it have the best low-level documentation and a built-in machine-language monitor, but it even came with a built-in, albeit simple, assembler!

But if I were sent back in time, or at least knew some of what I know now, there are a host of reasons why the TRS-80 wins.

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At the time, I really badly wanted an Apple ][ - but the cost was utterly prohibitive, especially with adequate RAM for HIRES mode. The really killer feature was the way split screen mode worked - you could type commands and see what you were typing, while the HIRES stuff you were plotting stayed in place.

Contrast with the TRS-80, where graphics and text were mixed together on the same screen. Sure, you could see what you were typing, but when you got to the bottom of the screen anything you were plotting would scroll up along with the text. So, that was kind of useless?

OTOH, for something like ASCII art, the Commodore computers were just the best. If you wanted to directly create pictures, the Commodore screen editor and graphics characters were awesome. But if you wanted to type in plotting commands to create graphics? The Apple ][ was the best.

At the time, I was interested in the latter.

Note that I haven’t even mentioned mass storage. Before I actually got a home computer, I didn’t even really think about mass storage. I thought of a computer as more or less a glorified calculator, which could make graphics. Logo captivated me. I thought it was okay to type in a computer program rather than load it from tape or disc.