Speaking as a grade-school kid when I sat down at an Apple II I had 5 ways of doing things on the machine.
1- I could program in Applesoft Basic.
2- I could program in Assembly/ML.
3- I had tape storage capability the day I bought my console home.
4- I could boot DOS and have access to disk commands.
5- I could insert any arbitrary disk and play something.
But the neat part was that I could go back and forth between all 5 modes of those things without turning off the power or even hitting reset on some occasions. I say some because in the case of copy-protected disks with non-standard DOS, #5 suddenly became a single play-only cartridge-like experience.
And the documentation was simply awesome. It brought all of it together! It was so well written that I swear the author was right beside me narrating and answering my questions. An imaginary teacher if you will. Keep in mind I was a kid at the time. The technical manuals were that good! The system came with 4 of them to start, about 200 pages each. And 70+ page pictorial step-by-step guide on how to wire everything up and complete a getting-started tutorial. I only got confused about needing an RF modulator because I skipped the quick-start guide! heh..
By the next day I knew the lay of the land. Ram, Rom, Cpu, software, hardware, firmware, I/O, and how the memory map defined it all. This was more important than the Puritans and Pilgrims and a bunch of dead men with funny names and clothes. And I'd often read Apple II stuff as opposed to doing useless homework. And it was a good choice! The correct choice! I learned concepts and skills that serve me well to this very day. Practical methodologies and knowledge that put a roof over my head.
When I had a question the answer was in one of those manuals. And an explanation of why it was the way it was was given too! This seems to be a lost art for consumer electronics nowadays. It's like they wanted you explore and experiment back then. This excellent documentation helped transform a single-board hobbyist's computer (not all that different from a KIM-1 or RCA COSMAC VIP) into a consumer product for home and business.
Unfortunately for me the TI-99/4a was a different experience, a limited experience. With the TI-99/4a I could only play cartridges. The machine seemed closed up and I couldn't find any documentation on how to do anything. I had questions and didn't get answers. It's like Texas Instruments didn't want me to get inside and play. So I had a hard time maintaining interest. it was frustrating at best. I felt like I was living in a tube, a straw, and having to suck things to make things not suck.
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