> While the processors are simple, making non-trivial programs is hard, because the machines as a whole have lot of limitations, making programming very intricate, compared to more modern systems (say, 16-bit 80x86, but I guess even Amiga and so on).
Programming in those time was an art. Now some people have 32 GB of RAM and they are not able to use it efficiently.
> If the target it challenge for the sake of challenge, then nothing makes those machines special, I mean, one can code directly in machine code if that's the intention :-)
I've seen OS's that at 20 MHz and 4MB RAM did things that Windows, Linux or MacOSX cannot do today with 1000 times more resources. It is really a shame.
Because that was all the processor was doing. No virtual memory, no disk, no IO, no graphics. Just feeding the DSP data on one side and NAT routing on the other.
Under the same line conditions, the PII running windows was useless running at 450Mhz. Mouse would barely respond, keyboard was lagging, screen wouldn't update.
Like you said, depending on what you are trying to achieve, you can perform near miracles on confined hardware if you have confined demands.