The Amstrad PCW

My First Serious Computer

My love affair with computing properly began when I was in the sixth form in the late 80s and took up word processing as one of my subjects. I fell in love with both the machine and the program called WordStar which allowed me to create, edit and print documents as though by magic. Before that, I had only used a humble typewriter.

It was no surprise that as soon as I had a job and could afford it, I bought my own word processor. It was an Amstrad PCW 8512 and to me it was the most marvellous piece of kit ever. The Amstrad PCW series was a range of personal computers produced by Amstrad. When first launched, the cost of a PCW system was under 25 per cent of the cost of almost all IBM-compatible PC systems in the UK. Because of this, PCWs became very popular in the home and small office markets and convinced even technophobes to use computers.

Many described the Amstrad PCW as “the bargain of the decade” and rightly so. For under £500, I had a complete computer system including a monitor which also housed the CPU, RAM, and floppy disk drives, and a printer was also bundled with it (my model had a dot matrix printer). On the software side, the package included the LocoScript word processing program, the CP/M Plus operating system, Mallard BASIC and the LOGO programming language.

MicroDesign 3: a powerful desktop publisher for the PCWI spent many happy hours creating beautiful word processed documents but I did not stop there. While some critics dismissed the PCW as “just a word processor”, it could do other things as well with third party software. Many applications were written for the PCW including spreadsheet, accounting, database, and other programs. My favourite was MicroDesign 2 (and later, MicroDesign 3), a powerful desktop publisher which produced results that I thought was only possible with an Apple. MicroDesign certainly fuelled my creative side: one of the things I produced with it was a monthly family newsletter which I sent to my relatives abroad.

Hardware manufactures also saw the potential of the PCW and produced add-ons for my beloved machine. Among other things, I bought an external hard drive, a hand-held scanner (called ProScan from the makers of MicroDesign), and I replaced the noisy dot matrix printer with an all-singing, all-dancing Hewlett Packard Deskjet 500. That was it – I was hooked on technology and there was no turning back.

To this day, I remember the Amstrad PCW 8512 with great fondness. I still miss it despite the fact that the computers that I have now are many times more powerful and sophisticated. The PCW was my first love in the computer world and I will never forget it. If The Chronicles of Narnia gave me hunger and passion for more fantasy novels, the PCW triggered my addiction and craving for gadgets.