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It's weird to see something from your childhood displayed as an ancient cultural artifact. Here at the newly refurbished Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, I'm standing over a glass case that houses the Commodore 64, the same machine I begged my parents to buy me for Christmas in 1983. Compared to today's …

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Pint

Title! Shaken not Stirred

My first 'computer' loved it too bits literaly

programmed lighting sequencer using it's A to D converters and blew it up big time!

well I was only 16

Still there's a place in my heart for the Commodore 64

It had very clunky keys though! much better than a ZX or any other Spectrum junk

It must be the beer!!

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Junk

They were ALL junk, relatively speaking, but they all had a similar impact. It's just bizarre that Ye olde Commodore versus Spectrum argument still exists even today.

My ZX81, ZX Spectrums (Spectra?), Acorn Atom, Amstrad PC1512 and Commodore Amigas represent an amazing legacy and it's good that computing history is being preserved like this.

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Sinclair Research...

.. made better machines than Commodore back in the day.

All about Head Over Heels, Back To Skool & Jack The Nipper.

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Err.. different not better

I was always more in the 65xx, 68xx camp than the z80 camp (Just didn't like it) but different strokes for different folks. Ah the old 8-bit days....

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Re: Sinclair Research...

Maybe, maybe not.

Anyway, the exhibit has a ZX-Spectrum and ZX-80 as well if that's your preference.

Although sadly not a BBC Micro.

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WTF?

No BBC Micro?

Surely ARM and their history should be a feature of this museum. As well as the BBC and eduction side of things. A huge part of the IT history and culture of UK. I would happily donate my BBC B+.

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Sinclair Research

Well I had a Science of Cambridge Mk14 but that was the only Sinclair machine I had. 6809 man for many years with a homebrew Forth system that still runs albeit with a virtual screen/keyboard/disk drive in recent years.

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N2

BBC

& theres a few still running in schools now!

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Gold badge

Better?

Define better?

The Spectrum had the software and much easier more powerful basic, the Spectrum had a faster CPU, the Spectrum had some talented games designers working on games for it. But that's where it ends.

The Commodore 64 had a better hardware design, a dedicated tape deck and disc drive (official ones, not after market). It had custom video and sound chips with proper sound and inverse video. It had two joystick ports built in.

The sound chip in the C64 was better than the arcade games of the day. Maybe not in terms of channels and it didn't have proper sample playback (samples could be produced though), but it had proper synthesis with envelopes and filter, not just crude square, and noise waves.

Spectrum vs C64 all comes down to software. The Spectrum was cheap and so attracted more developers at first, although the C64 caught up.

What is pretty telling is that the C64 never got massively upgraded through out its life. Sure, Commodore did the C128 and the C64C, but the C128 was never really a replacement for the C64 and the C64C was just a MK2 to reduce production costs.

The Spectrum was upgraded a few times, Spectrum plus (keyboard upgraded), Spectrum +2 and +3. Sinclair went bust and had to be bought out by Amstrad. Commodore went bust but that was in the 1990s, not the 1980s.

I've bought numerous Spectrums second hand and the failure rate is massive, only one I've bought actually worked and that crackled a bit. So their hardware design or components are pretty bad.

Every C64 I've bought has worked, even the ones which have looked a bit battered.

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DJV

@Lord Lien

Sinclair BASIC was arguably better when compared to the C64 (I have to POKE WHAT to get hi-res graphics?!?!) but reliability-wise they were far inferior. I should know, at the time I was working in an electronics repair shop and the number of dead Spectrums being returned around Christmas 1983 was astounding.

I also bought a Sinclair Cambridge calculator in the early 1970s (the prebuilt version, not the kit). It lasted less than 2 years before it popped its clogs, however I've still got a Commodore SR-1800 scientific calculator from a year or two later (1975, if memory serves) - I stuck some batteries in it just yesterday (first time in about 5 years) to see if it still worked - it did!

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Happy

Atom

As I recall they do have an Acorn Atom, but it's not on display.

OTOH The National Museum of Computer at Bletchley Park here in the UK has a whole 'classroom' exhibit full of working BBCs, including a Domesday project machine.

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No Beeb...

There's a reason for that... The Beebs all still work!

Well both my two do! Including the one I put into a flight case and turned into a disco light sequencer with a load of triacs... Unlike the earlier poster I didn't blow mine up, although I did trip out the electrics once RCCD's became common, I'd forgotten the triac tabs were connected to the neutral and I'd earthed the heatsink!

It's funny to see the author writing so lyrically about the computer revolution in '83... It started 3 years earlier in the UK. Back then we had more home computers per capita than any other nation on earth...

ZX80,81,Spectrum,Orac,Jupiter Ace, Dragon, Acorn Atom, BBC Micro... Fond fond memories.

How did it all go so wrong?

Now does anyone want a Tatung Einstein? I seem to have a couple kicking about!

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Happy

Did you mean....

Oric...? I still have my Oric 1 and an Atmos knocking around, along with my C64c, disk drives Star LC10 printer and about 6 amigas.

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VERY minor correction

Orac was off of Blakes 7. The micro was Oric. I had an Oric-1. (And a Spectrum. And a BBC B eventually)

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FAIL

One out of three is bad

Ah, yes, better Spectrum games like Head Over Heels and Jack the Nipper ... both of which were available for the C64 and, if memory serves, were written on the C64 and converted to the Spectrum.

Oops.

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Ah, the Speccy-vs-C64 flame war

It's good to know some things never change :)

The key thing about the Spectrum is that it was cheap - far, far cheaper than the C64 (£175 vs £399). It also had a more learner-friendly BASIC and the one-key token system (e.g. press "j" and the word "LOAD" would appear on screen) saved memory, allowing people to write bigger BASIC programs (i.e. the "LOAD" keyword above would only occupy 1 byte, rather than 4) - an important consideration when you've only got a few thousand bytes to play with.

(Admittedly. new users then had to get their head around the token system before they could start playing with BASIC...)

However, Sinclair simply weren't geared up to handle the demand and had severe issues with both quantity and quality. Having recently been browsing through some ancient Sinclair User mags (thanks World of Spectrum!), I suspect a major factor was the fact that Sinclair used an outsourcing model: they had a handful of engineers who dreamed up the IP and then contracted with external companies to do the actual manufacturing, with all the issues around quality control and production rates this implies.

Another problem was that Sinclair generally tried to do things on the cheap - the microdrive being a case in point. It was far, far cheaper than a floppy-disk drive, but it was never particularly reliable - and even then, it took a long time for it to be mass-produced *and* initial production levels were very low: for the first few months, the only way to buy one was if you were on the "early ZX Spectrum adopter" list held by Sinclair, which they worked through in chronological order.

There's also the infamous story about a manager at TI using a bunch of memory chips as landfill for his drive - they held 16k in two 8k banks, and one of these banks had failed testing. Sir Clive heard about this, negotiated with the manager, dug up his driveway and used the memory chips in his computers, with the non-functional bank disabled...

(outsourcing issues, production problems, using hardware which has part-failed testing - it all goes around and comes around, doesn't it?)

However, the biggest problem was that Sinclair simply chewed off too much: Sir Clive wasn't particularly interested in computers other than as a revenue stream (as per Steve Jobs, he had zero interest in gaming) and ploughed lots of money into projects such as portable mini-TVs (the vacuum tubes had a tendancy to explode), electric bikes (the Sinclair C5: nuff said) and a business computer: the QL, which was rushed out and plagued with issues - early models had to have a dongle plugged in to bypass some of the ROM issues! Though it did serve at least one purpose: Linus Torvalds cut his programming teeth on a QL...

Anyway, it was the cost of these failed ventures which killed the company and led Sinclair to sell it's IP (and name) to Amstrad, where the Spectrum enjoyed a fairly long and respectable lease of life, despite competing with Amstrad's own CPC range of home-computers.

On the subject of hardware upgrades: there weren't actually that many, as Sinclair was ploughing all of their money into other ventures. There were a few tweaks along the way to fix problems or reduce manufacturing costs (issue 1/2/3, +2A) - and some of these tweaks impacted backwards compatibility - but the main models were:

1) 16k/48k: released at the same time (and the 16k could be upgraded to 48k)

2) 48k+: same hardware, new case

3) 128k+: same case as the 48k+, more memory and a dedicated soundchip

4) 128k +2: Amstrad's first Spectrum: same as the 128k+ but with an integrated tape deck

5) 128k +3: Same as the +2, but with an integrated (and proprietary - shoulda learned from the microdrive!) disk drive

All told, there's essentially just 2 models of hardware - 48k and 128k - and the 128k models only came about because Sinclair's Spanish distributor redesigned the 48k Spectrum to get around a local tax law: Sinclair simply picked their work up afterwards. Meanwhile, on the "mainstream" Commodore side, you had the C64, SX-64, C16, the C plus/4, the C64GS (a "console" which only took cartridges) and the C128, which shoehorned in a Z80 co-processor.

There's another point in the Spectrum's favour: because it was so cheap and used so few components, it was an ideal subject for cloning and/or home assembly. As a result, there were literally millions of knock-offs produced, especially behind the iron curtain; two popular Russian variants were the Scorpion and Pentagon, which were still being produced long after both the C64 and Spectrum had stopped being commercially viable in the west. All told, it's highly likely that the total number of Spectrum "compatibles" is far, far higher than the total number of C64s...

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Happy

cpc464 vs everything else flame war

It's great that our consumer bias has not abated in over 25 years, and the flames of fanboism still burn as hot as ever.

Can say the Amstrad cpc464 was home computing nirvana in '84. Unbeatable specs, bundled monitor, and Locomotive basic was the best and fastest out here.

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Ooops

Yes, I typo'ed Oric into Orac... The one was a home computer from the 80s, the other a sarcastic perspex box from 80s TV.

Anyway, how can you guys forget the BBC vs Spectrum arguments. Sir Clive printed some wonderfully biased comparison adverts which had Acorn (manufacturers of the BBC) sent the advertising standards at him on several occasions.

Personally I thought there was no competition, the Beeb had hardware sound, graphics, I/O ports etc. The Speccy basically tried to do everything in software. A neat trick, but very cheap cheap, and not the sort of thing you can really pull off properly with a <4Mhz CPU!

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CHM

I've been to the museum several times, and will be back in a couple of weeks when I'm in

the Bay Area again. Highly recommended for all geeks/nerds, as is Bletchley Park

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Weirdness

I guess it feels weird because the pace of change in computing has been so fast when examined in the context of other technological advances. For example, the development of the rifle from musket to Kalashnikov took some 400 years, whereas a similar rate of advance has taken place in computing over a mere century, which is only just outside of a lifetime.

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I know how he feels . . .

I know exactly how Gavin Clarke feels.

Not long after we were married - 35 years ago - my wife and I found ourselves in the National Motor Museum at Beaulieu. To my amazement, we went round a corner and I found myself face to face with Mk 1 Scammell Scarab ( a light three-wheeled articulated tractor unit ) . In my surprise, I blurted "I learnt to drive artics on one of them."

To which my beloved replied "Darling, what's it like to know you learnt to drive on a museum piece ?"

I don't go back as far on computers as a Commodore 64 though.

Chris Cosgrove

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Me too :(

My moment was seeing an ICL 29 Series mainframe being recommisoned as a museum piece at TNMOC. That's the machine that I first got paid to write code for, having cut my teeth on the Research Machines computer at school and the Dragion 32 at home..

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Bah!

Luxury! We *dreamed* of havin' 2900 series computer wi' it's namby-pamby VME.

We 'ad t' mek do wi' a 1901T runnin' GEORGE II. If y' used too much o' the 16k word memory, bloody thing wud go Illegal X an' throw a wobbly when it tried t' load delete bootstrapper, bangin' on t'lid o' Westrex Console Typewriter wi' print drum an' rattlin' lid somethin' fierce.

Aye, them were the days an' no mistek!

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Headmaster

Plug for Bletchley

Just a reminder about the National Museum of Computers at Bletchly Park http://www.tnmoc.org that not only has the first computer I owned (a BBC) but the first calculator (A Sinclair Scientific and, Lord Lien, the build quality was rubbish) a black board slide rule just like we had at school etc etc.

Pedant bit ,your sub-editor has let you down; for Sir Maurice Wilkes, "Sir Maurice" or "Wilkes" is acceptable but never "Sir Wilkes".

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Home computers at Bletchley

Another plug for Bletchley, where I experienced something like the author, seeing my old friend the Dragon 32 on display. Mr Gates (or MS) wrote the interpreter for that too, as some readers may recall from the wake up message: "Microsoft Basic Color Interpreter 1.0", copyright 1982.

The London science museum had a Cray 1 on display recently. I recognized it immediately from a photograph in the 1978 Guinness Book of records, where it was listed as the worlds fastest computer.

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Headmaster

@Nick Kramer : OK, but....

...Bletchley's a mercury problem to resolve first!

;-)

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Happy

the leo

glad the LEO has got a mention, I loved learning about that back in 'o level computer studies' , how amazingly forward thinking of the company , the fact they were 'a tea room' which felt so 'archaic' but they had grabbed the modern age by not only buying ,but creating computers is such an amazing yet hardly talked about story.

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Joke

Do you know why the British don't make computers anymore?

Because they couldn't make them leak oil like their cars.

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Linux

VIC-20 saved my life

Well, maybe a slight exaggeration, but in 1983 Yorkshire, I couldn't get a job. We scraped up the cash for a VIC-20 (couldn't afford a C-64) and I reckon working on that at all hours of the day and night saved me from going stark bonkers.

Should have said that in t' python voice "we used to dream of commodore-64" "There were 164 of us living in 1byte o' memory in middle o' t' keyboard"

Still, that silly little Vic-20 gave me what I laughingly call a career in IT.

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FAIL

Sir Wilkes?

That's not how knighthoods work...

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Unhappy

the newly refurbished Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California missed a real treat

regarding the commodore legacy....

the newly refurbished Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California , or indeed any other progressive Museum around the world really missed a real collective treat recently (scattered to the winds now.), and perhaps a potential bigger loss to the definitive modern electronic world history with all the revisionist tabloid press never giving it any coverage....

it's such a shame,but such is life, you snooze you loose , and now potentially people will never get to see and perhaps look and inspect first hand at these innovations for the time, and be able to copy their thinking and the mindset behind them when people look back for inspiration and realise we can CANDO that too.

Davehttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dave_Haynie#The_set-top_revolution and

Carl http://www.sassenrath.com/carl.html wont be here forever , then all you have are their web page/old BBS scraped text insights to try and re-create these for the future modern era.

http://www.rebol.com/cgi-bin/blog.r?view=0491#comments

Cleaned Basement - Original Amiga Prototypes

Carl Sassenrath, CTO

REBOL Technologies

22-Oct-2010 18:29 GMT

"I cleaned out the basement recently and came across all kinds of original Amiga prototypes, including an original A1000 black box (what I used to develop the Amiga Multitasking kernel, 1984) and original CDTV prototype (what I used to develop the Amiga CD-ROM set-top box, 1990.)

I should mention that the main reason I was keeping most of this was for prior-art computer HW/SW patent proofs (because Amiga and CDTV were ahead of the curve.) If I were a collector, I'd probably sell on EBay, but who has that kind of time?

I'm going to pack it all up into my Chevy and take it over the AmiWest tomorrow (Sacramento, CA). I'd be happy to autograph, certify it, date it; you decide. I've kept all this stuff buried for almost 20 years. It's time for someone else to do something with it.

Some of what's included:

Original Amiga prototype (With Exec 23.002 ROMS and write-protectable RAM expansion board), but NOT functional because does not have the Amiga chips in it.) Although Dale and RJ have the first running Amiga prototypes with wire-wrapped towers, this box was the first to say "hello world" when I got a very early prototype "Exec" (kernel) to boot on it for the first time in 1984.

An original Amiga prototype keyboard in a black wooden box (hand made by the hardware team.)

Some original prototype Amiga chips... that Jay, Dave, Dave, and Glenn worked on, but had a few problems.

My original CDTV development board (1990) that I used to build and test the CDTV OS, drivers, libs, etc. Although it does not look like much, oddly, this is one of my most valued possessions because it represented a solid year of my life where we had so much fun building CDTV. This card plugged into the side of an A500 and was originally hand built by Don Gilbreath, hardware designer of CDTV.

Various prototype CDTVs... in various stages of splice and hack.

Three Amiga CDTVs, brand new in the box. Factory sealed.

A CDTV/CR ("Cost reduced"). One of very few ever made.

One CDTV Professional (CD1500) new in the box, and one with a box that's opened. This is a kit containing extra features to enhance your CDTV. Not sure how many were made.

The original CDTV prototype wireless mouse (the pre-production proof, ~1991.)

A CDTV wireless trackball/controller. I'm not sure if these were ever sold.

One CDTV Genlock card (that fits in the video slot). Extremely rare. I don't know if I'm the only one that has one of these or not!

Several DCTV CDTV Video cards (fits in video slot). This rare card produced higher quality video output for CDTV when encoded using Digital Creations video encoding technique. This (along with CD-XL) was the secret to how we could show full color NTSC motion video running off a CDTV around 1991! I'll never forget the first CD-ROM multimedia show where Intel Corp. was showing NTSC black and white video, and we were running beautiful color.

An Amiga Spellbound (CD32) hardware prototype system on plywood board. Includes the debug board.

An AA3000 (A4000) hardware prototype system on plywood board.

Two of my Amiga 500s, signed for collectors. One of these I used for testing the CDTV OS by plugging in the card above to the side bus.

A pile of Amiga Guru's Guides #1, Interrupts (the only issue), that I'm willing to autograph.

A lot of other stuff too, but I've got to figure out what I've got here...

PS:

Very sorry about the late notice... I just decided this morning. Like I said, I'm not much of a collector and I need the space for my ham radio station (KB6ZST).

I'll be keeping my first Amiga A1000. Now that I cannot part with. What a great computer!

I've got several boxes of old SigGraphs, SigPlans, and OOPSLA publications (ACM) from the 1980s and 1990s. I left ACM in mid-90's. Not sure what to do with all this stuff.!"

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Go

Room to expand?

Given the speed at which bleeding-edge technology can become obsolete junk in this field, I do hope the museum has plenty of room.

They should probably buy an iPad now.

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Sorry

But the C64 does not deserve its place in the museum,

Having said that, the basic it had should have been in a museum in 1983

poke poke poke poke poke peek poke poke peek poke poke peek peek poke all to get the sound chip to emit middle C for 1 second

Arrghhh no wonder I got a MTX 512 (free cookie for the maker... without looking it up on t' internets)

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What other...

computer was available, at the time, for the price, that could handle three simultaneous voices for electronic music, with only about 38K available to program with?

And, of course, programs were available to make things easier. You know, software, that stuff you buy for your computer now to make things easier.

Commodore died for the same reason that Studebaker died: they didn't see where their market really was, and their marketers dragged the brand down the drain. (This is also the reason Microsoft dominates software: Gates is a geek who's good at marketing and working with marketers.)

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Headmaster

MTX = Memotech

As featured in "Weird Science".

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Perhaps you don't understand the word "museum"?

The C64 is a major player in the history of personal computers for selling ~20 million units alone - regardless of its merits or how it compares to other systems of the day. It's precisely the sort of thing that belongs in the Computer Museum.

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Czech Republic?

"LEO computers were exported to Australia, South Africa, and the Czech Republic - at the height of the Cold War."

Er, Czechoslovakia maybe? The Czech Republic sprung into existence on January 1, 1993 - well after the height of the cold war, and the distribution of LEO computers.

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Actually...

... It reappeared.

But at the time in question during the cold war it would have indeed been Czechoslovakia.

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ENIAC first????

Hasn't it been agreed by everyone outside the US that ENIAC was preceded by the all-electronic Colossus (which was also binary - something ENIAC wasn't)? The Zuse machines and the ABC preceded both, but contained mechanical components.

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It's an iffy one

Whilst I do agree to some degree, it's all about the definition. ENIAC was the first "general purpose" electronic computer because it was Turing complete whereas Colossus wasn't. However Colossus was the first fully electronic, programmable computer. So yes, depends how you define it really!

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Pieces of LEO

Can be found in the house I lived in in the 70s. Both my parents worked for LEO at one time or another - my mother was a programmer before I was born, and my father was a maintenance guy. When some LEO machines were decommissioned around 76/77, the aluminium honeycomb panels from the racks wound up as flooring in our loft.

Where's the memory lane icon?

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Pint

My first computer was a Little larger....

Unfortunately, my first computer was a Little larger--an IBM-360. Luxuries like the Commodore 64 didn't come until about 1 1/2 to 2 decades later.

...But the IBM-360 was hackable! In those days computer departments simply threw the used fan-fold paper printouts into the dump truck at the rear of the computing department. Enterprising nerds like yours truly used the printouts to get $-job info to hack with (back then the words 'hacker' and 'nerd' were still to be coined).

Hacking was never malicious--that thought never even crossed our minds. It's only purpose was to give us access to extra machine resources, time etc., and for quite a while it was very successful until, as always, some greedy f-wit stuffed it up by going to extremes: operators saw Hollerith card batches doing strange things!

>:-)

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Anonymous Coward

Even I've heard of LEO

And I'm no historian. I thought it was very famous indeed in computing lore.

I didn't know that they tea shop company then sold its computers to other big businesses.

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Hyperbole much?

"the tower helped establish Google as a search colossus whose thumb is now on the throat of the web and society"

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London science museum gets it right

They have an Acorn proudly displayed. Not only innovative (certainly the Beeb's capabilities), but for the early '80s, one of the best versions of BASIC around, certainly showed up the competition, plus built in assembler so none of this peek/poke rubbish.

I am writing this on an ARM powered mobile phone, as an ARM powered video recorder is doing it's thing. There's an ARM in my printer... All Acorn heritage. Any tech museum that omits this vital part of computer history is sadly lacking.

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WTF?

I demand a mention...

To the Amiga 1000!!!

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Pint

lest we forget...

The Amiga, which if not destroyed by management, we would all be using today.

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They all walked the plank and not in a quantum way

The amiga , atari st and all it's counter parts amstrad, commadore and even the early apple where all killed by piracy not bad management, our local street market use to have pirate software for sale openly from multipul vendors sometimes months before official release dates and not just games.

Even EMF who used the atari st because of its better midi port admitted to using less than legal music apps, so if even the people who could afford it where not buying the game was a bogey sadly no matter how bad board room decisions where.

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FAIL

Eh?

If software piracy can sink a hardware platform, how come there are still so many of those things that trace their history back to the IBM PC still around?

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Headmaster

At the height of the Cold War...

...no Czech Republic existed yet so LEO II could hardly be exported there.

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