Larry Magid: It’s been 40 years since I wrote a manual for IBM’s first PC

Forty years ago this month, I started my first job in the PC industry. When I signed on, I thought I’d be writing a manual for a popular Apple II word processing program. Instead, I wrote one of the manuals for IBM’s first personal computer — the IBM PC.

Larry Magid (Gary Reyes / Mercury News)

My soon-to-be wife and I had recently moved to California from Northampton, Massachusetts, where I had just finished my doctorate in education. I had hoped to find a teaching job at Stanford or Berkeley, but in the middle of a recession, there were no openings in my field.

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My opportunity to write the IBM manual came as a result of a failed attempt to print out my resume to use in my job search. I wrote the resume in the EasyWriter word processing program on my Apple II, but when I tried to print it on my brand-new Epson MX-80 dot matrix printer, I couldn’t get the software to work with the printer. So, I called EasyWriter’s publisher, Information Unlimited Software in Kensington, a small town near Berkeley — for tech support.

The person helping me knew all about EasyWriter but nothing about my printer so on a call that lasted nearly an hour, I read him some of the codes from the Epson manual, and the two of us eventually figured out how to get the software to work with the printer. At the end of the call, I asked him what he did besides tech support, and he told me he was the founder and president of the small company. I immediately blurted out that I needed a job. He asked me if I was a technical writer. I didn’t admit that I had never heard that term, but I did say that I just wrote a technical dissertation, so he invited me to visit him to discuss working for the company.

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He hired me, and the next day I came back thinking I would go to work on a new EasyWriter manual for the Apple II.  Instead, I was led to a secret laboratory down the block where my boss undid the two locks on the front door, disarmed the security system and escorted me into a crowded and untidy room. On the table was a disassembled computer that didn’t look at all familiar to me. It was a prototype of what would months later become the IBM PC — the most influential personal computer ever made.

It was …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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