The first computer that I owned was an Amstrad PC 1640 HD20. This was second hand (my father’s company had some in a store room and wanted to clear the space). Mine had the EGA display and the 20MB disk replaced with a 40MB one (which, due to early FAT16 limitations, needed to be partitioned as an 8MB C: and a 32MB D:). I think mine had a NEC V30 CPU as well.
These machines came with GEM, which ran a lot better than Windows 3.0 on the same machine. I think GEM was the first GUI that I ever used, even before I had that machine. It had a vector-drawing program that kept me entertained as a very small child.
The first Windows installs the company had were as a result of buying a diagramming program program called Meta Design. The authors had come to the conclusion that bundling a copy of Windows 3.0 (possibly 3.1?) with their program was cheaper than licensing a set of GUI / print libraries for DOS. After a couple of years, Windows was sufficiently common that they could just stop shipping Windows.
Yes, in the UK, the Amstrad PC was a relatively large selling range, and opened the market for PC clone up completely. I had a PC1512 when I was a teen, (or rather my father’s company did too!). Because of their attention to cost they shipped with DR DOS and yes, GEM for at least the graphical displays. If I remember rightly, the PC1512 even though it had only a CGA compatible adapter on board, also had an entirely non-standard hi res mono mode for presenting GEM. So these machines were relatively common in the UK in the end of the 80s, and so was GEM as an interface, I remember enough third party software existing to get reviews in the local rags.
most interestingly I think, these machines also shipped with locomotive Basic 2, an iteration on locomotive software’s really rather excellent BASIC implementation that was fully integrated with GEM, and supported building evented gui apps in BASIC with extensions for mouse input and messages, apis for standard components and 2d drawing, presented with an IDE. It was pretty rudimentary, and I can’t remember much, we’re not talking smalltalk quality but it was fairly capable and I built several GUI programs, mostly paint and draw things. This was years ahead of any other simply available RAD environment, and it shipped free with the machine.
Here’s a video of someone using the supplied demo app. This was really pretty advanced stuff for commodity consumer hardware in 1986.
Mine didn’t have DR-DOS. According to the Wikipedia entry it came with both DR-DOS and MS-DOS 3.3 on floppy disks. Mine had MS-DOS 4.0 installed (so GW BASIC was the version I used) and I didn’t have the original floppy disks so I was running Windows 3.0 instead of GEM. I’m quite jealous of Locomotive BASIC. I didn’t do any GUI programming until I got a 386 a few years later and Visual Basic 2.0 (on Windows 3.11).
The display connectors, as I recall, were completely non-standard and used different connectors for all of the different models. When the EGA monitor on mine died, there wasn’t a good way of replacing it with anything else.
As a child (I would have been 10, I think, when I got the machine), my favourite feature of the machine was the fact that the keyboard had an Amstrad joystick port on the back of the keyboard. This used the same joystick connector as most 8-bit computers and mapped the two buttons and the 8 directions to key codes, so any game that worked with the keyboard and let you configure key bindings could be made to work with the joystick. It also had a volume control on the PC speaker so I could turn down the beeps if I wanted to play games before my parents woke up.