A long time ago, in a Glasgow far, far, away…

25 years sounds like a really long time. A quarter of a century sounds even longer. Yet, that is how long it has been since PCalc 1.0 was released.

Date: Wed, 23 Dec 92 17:41:10 GMT
From: thomsonj <thomsonj@dcs.gla.ac.uk>
Subject: [*] PCalc 1.0 Submission

Enclosed is a binhex file containing a submission for your archives.
PCalc is a neat simulation of a programmable scientific calculator.

I sent an email to the Info-Mac archive moderators that evening, and it turned up on FTP mirror sites around the world a few days later.

It normally travelled on floppy disks. The web did not yet exist.

PCalc was my first ever application. I started writing in the summer of 1992 and it took me around six months to get it into a state where I was happy to show it to the world. Some of that code still runs today, deep at the heart of the machine.

That is both amazing and terrifying.

Don’t get me wrong. I haven’t been writing PCalc constantly for 25 years. I wrote DragThing, which was the go to app launcher on the Mac for a good decade. I had a day job. I went to work for Apple on the Finder and Dock. I wrote a Twitter client for cats. I wrote one of the most excessive About screens in recorded history.

In short, I’ve lived.

But I keep coming back to PCalc. In a way, it’s the surprisingly devoted child that’s supporting me in my old age.

Thanks to everybody who has bought a copy over the years and made that possible, or put something into the tip jar.

If you want to read up the origin story in detail, you can do so here. You can even hear me talk about it below.

It doesn’t seem all that long to me since the 20th anniversary. So it seems entirely feasible that PCalc will make it to 30, as I hopefully make it to (almost) 50.

And yes, I will port it to the AR glasses and the car.

See you around, kid.

Author: James Thomson

Indie iOS / Mac developer, maker of PCalc and DragThing. Occasional writer, conference speaker, and podcast pundit.

20 thoughts on “A long time ago, in a Glasgow far, far, away…”

  1. Congratulations James! There is a cadre old-ish fogies that remember when Stanford’s Info-Mac repo (and our UMich mirror) was the place to be and binhex was the transport format of the day. I’m a couple of decades older than you but was a DragThing user then and still am now! You’ve a lot to be proud of .. keep up the good work.

  2. Congratulations on making it to 25 years! I remember the earliest version as I was an administrator for a Mac BBS and we purchased the Info-Mac Archive on CD-ROMs to share with our users. I can’t remember the first version I registered, but I think it was in the nineties sometime in the 2.x stream via Kagi.

    After all of this time from the LC II to the iPad Pro (10.5) I have today, PCalc has been my go to calculator.

    Thanks for continuing to develop it and tweak it!

    Cheers, Chris W.

  3. I no longer use PCalc on my Mac, as my last license for it was from the Classic OS era. It was initially paid for by Apple via pack-in with some models, with one upgrade fee out of appreciation. (For the record, I switched to an obscure app called MathPad. That app never made it to Intel.)

    But PCalc was the first app I paid for when the iOS app store opened, and I’ve happily used it on my iPod touch and iPads ever since, even adding a tip to the jar when it was first added. Even thought the current app has little to no relationship to its original incarnation, at least from a UI standpoint, it gives me a good nostalgic feeling that this app survived the turbulent technology changes over the decades Apple product users have been exposed to. It even out lasted the infamous “Missile Command” clone that worked from the 128k Macs to early OS X, while Carbon was still targetable.

    Now, if I can only find a copy of that old QuickClips CD-ROM that used to come with the QuickTime Starter Kit, and the nostalgia will be complete.

  4. Congratulations James. You do fine work.

    But I am especially liking DRAGTHING….I use it numerous times a day an would hurt if it was missing.

    Have Great Christmas and Wonderful New Year!!!

  5. Technically the web did exist in ’92, but practically no one knew about it yet.

    I regret I didn’t discover PCalc until iOS. My early Mac calculator memories involved the Calculator Construction Set from Dubl-Click that allowed you to build your own; I saved for quite a while to be able to afford that.

    Congratulations on 25 years. May RPN always rule.

  6. Congrats, James – I remember us writing about PCalc in MacWEEK oh so many years ago. It was always a lovely app (as was DragThing, my go to launcher for years…)

  7. I’ve heard about PCalc but never tried it. Any chance you could extend the sale till New Year’s? Travel and being away from the Mac prevents me from buying it (Apple doesn’t provide a way to buy apps from elsewhere, much to my chagrin).

    1. Sorry, I’ve already extended it once beyond the time I’d planned. Agreed that it’s really annoying you can’t just buy an app on the web and have it download onto your machine automatically – even Sony can do this!

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