The BBC Micro – the machine which, along with the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, epitomised the British home computer boom of the early 1980s – was launched 30 years ago tomorrow. Unveiled on 1 December 1981 as the Model A and Model B, the BBC Micro would go on to sell over 1.5 million units before the last of the line was discontinued …
Many happy returns BBC Micro!
I was a ZX81 and Spectrum owner myself, but the BBC was a fine machine and I remember it fondly from my school years. I particularly enjoyed playing Elite and Castle Quest in the computer room during lunchtimes (never did manage to get past that f*cking spider in CQ though…).
In the early 90’s I worked at one of the companies that had manufactured the bare PCBs for the BBC (BEPI circuits in Galashiels). On some BBC mainboards you may find the text “Bob’s board” printed in the white legend ink. I was told that this was done by one of the nightshift silk-screen operators dicking about with the production negatives. Eventually ‘Bob’s’ handiwork was found, but not before a few batches of PCBs had been shipped to Acorn. :)
Related stories: The IBM PC is 30 (12 August 2011)
Interesting (to me anyway) that the PC is a few months OLDER than the BBC Micro!
I was one of the Vic20 "odd folk"
While the BBC models A and B got computers into school, they started a relationship with Acorn that ended up causing considerable problems for the teaching of computing by the end of the 1980s. This was because the government mandated that schools buy the successor to the BBC, the Archimedes, at a time when other computers were more appropriate. Business had largely standardised on IBM compatibles, and in the music world the Atari ST was king. When I did music at Sixth Form college, the music department had a shiny Archimedes with no MIDI interface or sequencing software, so it was literally never switched on. Friends who were doing computing courses at tech college got to learn programming on DEC terminals connected to a VAX, but only because it had been donated to the college - the business computing suite was full of BBC model Bs.
"the government mandated that schools buy the successor to the BBC"
I think you'll find that the Local Education Authority was the part of the hierarchy of government who decided what the money should be spent on, and our LEA heavily favoured the not-quite-IBM-compatible RM Nimbus range, which meant that the school was still stuck with archaic 80286-powered DOS boxes when they could have had a lot more mileage with Archimedes machines. Not that this stopped various departments from going their own way, anyway, without the subsidy and cushy bulk purchase pricing, of course.
The Archimedes versus IBM-compatible debate revolved around whether schools should be training children for jobs (typically secretarial stuff), potentially using "what offices and businesses use". The insistence on such "training", particularly on specific applications, is a complete red herring: even spreadsheets on the BBC Model B weren't fundamentally different from the reigning DOS-based (and later Windows-based) ones, and you can easily argue that various applications for the Archimedes were only really matched a few years later in the Windows era, particularly the desktop publishing stuff. So, people using an Archimedes might have been better prepared for "business" by the time they entered the workplace, according to the logic of the "train the children" crowd. But, of course, the goalposts can always be moved.
Personally, although a fan of the Acorn machines, I believe that the government should have supported a non-proprietary standard for computing, but I guess this would have been too ideologically advanced for the era.
A soft spot for the RML 380Z
The first computer I got to use at school was a VideoGenie, essentially a clone of the TRS-80 with built in tape deck. But I progressed to the 380Z pretty quickly, and that's where I learned how to program, including Z80 assembler - the software front panel on the 380Z was a great toy for that sort of thing.
I played a bit with the BBC Micro, but it never really appealed to me so much; perhaps it was the thought of having to learn a different assembly language which put me off a bit; to my teenage self, the Z80 with its handy instructions like DJNZ seemed so much more powerful than the 6502 in the Beeb. And, well, the 380Z just looked like a proper computer, with that big case and a key to turn it on and off.
That said, the BBC was certainly very popular with those just a couple of years younger than me, who started out on it.
Somewhere I still have a box of discs with CP/M 1.4B for the 380Z.
The 8-bit 1980s dream machine?
More like the 1980s broken dream machine. BBC owners were crying themselves to sleep at night because their parents didn't buy them the Speccy or C64 they wanted. Even the geeks at school laughed at BBC owners.
The geeks at your school, were they all in the 'special' class that you attended?
Yet another story
"Others sold their current machines and took on paper rounds to finance the rest of the purchase price."
That was me - had a ZX81, wobbly ram pack and thermal printer and sold the lot. Saved up for a Model B with paper round money. 30 years later I'm still designing software, the BBC is up in the loft and the Elite poster (and an Aviator one) is on my wall.
Big vote for Aviator - tying to get the Spitfire under the bridge, by my fav was Cholo where you had to wander around as a robot and log onto other robots and take them over, one was a coke machine if I remember correctly - probably why Im a network engineer now..
Were usually Spectrum owners vs everyone else except the beeb owners
The beeb owners were universally hated by everyone because their parents were able to afford one
<<<learned his programming on a 2nd hand ZX81 with no keyboard :-( ... and lived in septic tank with 14 siblings
Astonishingly well designed
Considering how hurried the design process was, the Acorn/BBC microcomputer was an astonishingly well designed piece of kit, especially from an OS/BASIC perspective.
The BASIC manual is probably the best manual I've ever read. It's still on my bookshelf - I can't bring myself to chuck it.
I had to wait a good year or more before we could afford a BBC B, but it was worth the wait and a great investment.
I vaguely remember various arguments at school but at the end of the day and the spectrum or Comodore were better gaming platforms, but having the Beeb was best if you wanted to program, having a decent BASIC with Functions and Procedures from which it was little effort to us e PASCAL or to move on to VB many years later. They also allowed you to use assembly language within basic as I recall.
Imagine the shrieks of protest
From AO and the anti-BBC faction on here if the Corporation announced a similar project today. The BBC Micro might have been priced for middle-class kids, but it really has to be amongst the finest things the BBC have ever brought us.
BBC B got me into IT
It was my secondary school having a room-full of BBC B's that got me hooked on computers (and changed my eventual career path)
Not being able to afford a BBC at home, I opted for a C64, but learn both varients of BASIC.
My parents would leave me in the home computers isle in the supermarket whilst they did the weekly shopping, and return an hour later to see what I'd written. "Look mum I've written a database". So frustrating not being able to save it to tape and having to start over the next Saturday!
Having written my GCSE and then A'Level computer studies projects in BASIC on the Archimedes I eventually pursuaded my parents to combine several birthday and xmas presents to buy an A3000 for home.
After a short stint working for Acorn themselves in the 90's, it's nice to see the tech live on in the form of ARM that lies at the heart of practically every smartphone on the planet.
Ah, the memories...
The memory of being at school and looking over someone elses shoulder at these machines. I was fascinated. The only problem being that I wasn't in a high enough maths set to be allowed to touch one. The result was that I didn't go near a computer for over 20 years. I wonder how many others had a similar experience and to this day still avoid PCs like the plague?
I wanted one, but got a ZX81 instead.
The BBC micro arrived at school when I was in the sixth form. During lunch-times we used to play the Acornsoft games Planetoid, Snapper, Arcadians and Meteroids - all very good rip-offs of well known arcade games. In fact Snapper had to be re-designed due to it being an almost perfect version of Pac-Man and Atari (who had the rights to the home computer versions) complained.
I really wanted a BBC Micro, but could only afford a ZX81, but my plan was always to buy one, until a friend persuaded me to buy a C64 instead, which eventually led to a career in computer games.
I still hold the BBC in very high regard, for being such an awesomely powerful machine, which gave birth to some landmark games, including Elite. Pity it was so expensive though.
What the article doesn't mention is the BBC's operating system. Unusually for most micros of the age, which mostly consisted of a CPU and some RAM in a box with just enough Basic to let you write programs, the BBC actually had one. It was simple and elegant and very modular: the OS ROM lived in the top 16kB of address space, then you had a paged bank of application ROMs living in the next 16kB section, and the bottom 32kB was shared RAM.
Application ROMs could consist of standalone utilities, proper applications (like the excellent BBC Basic, or word processors like Wordwise or View), file systems (like the fast and simple DFS, the slower but much more sophisticated ADFS, the network file system NFS, etc), and so on. The OS would seamlessly page from one to the other, so an application ROM could make file system calls which would get delegated to the currently selected file system even though they both lived in the same place at the same time. It was even possible to open file descriptors to more than one file system at a time and copy from one to the other!
The OS system call API was fast, capable, well-documented and sufficiently abstract to allow some really neat things: the Tube second processor interface allowed system calls to be executed via RPC from a *completely different computer*. Tube second processors really were CPUs in a box; no I/O other than the connection to the BBC, no ROM other than the RPC stub. So you got 64kB of RAM and maximum perforfmance, with all the fiddly I/O overhead handled by the BBC itself, now acting as a dedicated and extremely capable I/O processor.
And the Tube wasn't limited to 6502s --- they also made Z80, 32016, 68000 second processors, all using that same system call interface. Even the ARM chip, now a juggernaut taking over the world, started life as a second processor connected to a BBC micro!
(I don't believe they ever tried system call RPC via Econet, but it would have been an interesting experiment.)
It's a shame that Acorn's master plan fell through. After the Electron debacle, they regrouped and produced the BBC Master, which was an excellent machine in many ways but not a patch on the machine that *could* have been. With better marketing, we could by now be using BBC-descended multiprocessor systems instead of PCs...
"I don't believe they ever tried system call RPC via Econet, but it would have been an interesting experiment."
You could do system calls over Econet - it's described in one of the manuals - but you probably wouldn't want people on your network to know about the possibility.
Yes, too true.
Econet security was almost non-existent.
You could have your BEEB as a privileged station, which enabled you to do all sorts of things like peek at the screen of another station on the network, or even remote control other machines. Tremendously useful in a teaching environment.
The only problem was that the only thing that marked your station out as privileged was a single bit in a particular memory location of your machine. It was easy to poke (well, use the ? operator) this byte, and hey presto, your system became privileged. Yes, we know you did it frequently, Gary Partis, wherever you may be.
Unfortunately, being on a privileged station, you could then do all sorts of bad things to the file server (yes, Econet Level 3 allowed you to have a hard disk based fileserver on the network), so we had to warn the lecturers not to keep their assessment marks on the file server.
Putting together the computer appreciation BBC micro lab we had at Newcastle Poly in the early '80s was one of the most fun things that I ever did in my working life, and as of last year, my BBC Model B with an Issue 3 motherboard, serial number in the 7000's and BBC Basic 1 in EPROM is still working (it's missing the OSBYTE, OSWORD and OSCLI keywords, amongst other things)
BTW. Anybody know where to get double-sided single density soft sectored 5.25" diskettes from? Mine are shedding oxide, and many are unfortunately unreadable.
I remember my parents replacing my obsolete ZX81 with a Toshiba MSX one Christmas. Buying a new format to avoid the warring factions of the existing ones turned out not to be the best idea.
I got a super-double rare thing! With Obsolescence built out!
My first computing contact with the Beeb was at an institute of higher education which had a large teacher-training facility. They were fitted out with some nice kit, including a bunch of fully-loaded Beebs. Many happy hours were spent chasing down the bugs in type-in listings and many many more when the phenomenon called 'Elite' came out. That caused a few people to look in my direction in the library whenever a sonic inferno of laser fire bellowed out of the speaker.
But I digress, for my very first computer purchased with my own money was the mythical but real Enterprise 64!
I read about this in 1984 in the great magazine 'Your Computer'. Having got over the initial excitement of owning a ZX81, I was beginning to look more closely at specifications and this machine seemed to have the lot. I was torn between lusting after that and a Sinclair QL, but the Enterprise amazingly made it out in 1985 so I got mine.
Apart from the sexy looking case with built-in joystick and colour-coded keyboard (That last feature was rumoured to have been copied by the earlier releasing Amstrad CPC series.) It featured some interesting later work of one of the Acorn Atom designers, Nick Toop, in the form of the very advanced for that time 'Nick' ULA chip for the video system. I messed about with the 'Dave' soundchip, which was not quite as advanced as the C64's SID chip, but certainly more 'custom' than the Yamaha AY-3-8910 seen in most of the other computers of that era and it included "s-s-stereo sound!" (If anyone ever saw the TV commercial for the Enty?)
Software availability was limited, mostly mail-order through their own software label and a lot of those had a distinct whiff of Speccy port. There was the rare game like 'Sorcery; where it showed it could do better though. It also played a mean 3-D Starstrike.
Sad to say, the parent company went bust after a year, the remaining unsold stock went to live in Hungary, where it did rather better with a long-lived and still reasonably active user community if you care to look for it. The current thing seems to be getting enhanced ports of some of the new generation of Amstrad CPC games to it.
My original machine was sold on for a pittance a while back, but I did score a non-ludicrously priced eBayed replacement a while back and there is an emulator, so I'm happy.
I'm now typing this compacted history on a Mac. I first saw the Mac Classic at around that time on show, and considered this to be the ultimate in unattainable dreams back then.
The great divide
Certainly in the period until 1984 the divide in the schoolyard was between the Speccy and the BBC. But it's also true to say that the Dragon, Oric, Atari 8 bits and other weird and wonderful machines also had their fans. And in education/science people also forget the venerable Commodore PET (a machine I was still coming across in use in the early 90's).
You then had the C64 arrive in the UK in 1983 followed by the Amstrad CPC in 1984. These two machines quickly knocked all of their competitors out of the home market with the Speccy remaining the top seller followed by the C64 and then the CPC.
Between these three machines they pretty much had the market sewn up by 1986. Amstrad made the smart move of bundling CP/M + with the CPC 6128 which made it an attractive option for software houses to port their professional apps to. While the Beeb could run CPM you needed to spend even more money on the Z80 co-processor on top of the disc drive and monitor. And probably some kind of RAM expansion come to think of it if you had one of the 32k models.
If Acorn had nailed the cost down the Beeb might have found itself in more homes. But it took Alan Sugar to give the world a 128k machine with a decent monitor and a built in disc drive for the same price as an already elderly looking BBC with a measly 32k. Yes the Electron was cheaper but it was pretty awful.
no mention of OS0.1
Had my EPROMs replaced when the 8271 disk interface was installed...
Why do I have to put something in the body?
Those chips were a bugger to get hold of... and cost a fortune if you could. If I remember rightly pretty much obsolete even before the BBC appeared!
The Atom disc unit used the same chip.
I remember first using BBC B's in primary school, the first school had one but then I moved to a better school and they had about 10 even a couple of master's I think. That's when I really got into computers and used to play on them at school at every opportunity mainly interested in programming. I remember going to book shops and buying books with games and programs you typed out.
I never had one at home but I think I was about 7/8 and my parents got me a commodore 64 for christmas. Still liked the Acorn's at school and then by the time I got to secondary school the Archimedes was out, we had various ones, A300's, A400s, computer suite full of A3000s even some A5000's which was probably the last ones they bought. My parents then got me an A3010 from Dixons one christmas. Most people at the time were getting Amiga's but I preferred the Acorn's.
I had started programming in assembler on the C64 (although not particularly great mind you) and eventually started programming on the Acorn. I wouldn't say I was the best but I was better than the IT teacher we had at school and I remember fixing an Econet problem which he struggled to fix for weeks.
I eventually got an Acorn Risc PC which was the last computer they made but upgraded to a Castle Iyonix PC when they took over the Risc OS operating system but that has since died but i've still got a Risc PC in the attic.
Still I suppose if it wasn't for Acorn there wouldn't be ARM and I bet there's at least one ARM chip in just about every house in the world.
The Acorn Electron was my very first computer. I loved it to pieces, especially playing Kourtyard and RavenSkull.
In fact, I still have the same one I was given all those years ago on display at home. I am also a keen user of the Acorn A7000+ running RISCOS4!
I nearly had a BBC-B 2nd hand. Drove about 40 miles in response to an advert having spoke to the owner on the phone, got there and he had 'just' sold it. I was a little annoyed!!
Ended up with the speccy.
But the article has invoked a few memory cells, do I recall having the ability to download software on a Saturday morning on the computer show,? was it via teletext or from a flashing square in the corner of the screen or both?
Ahh, Saturday mornings, Robinson Crusoe, dubbed foreign children shows that just stopped at the end and cutting edge computers.
Funny hearing the old war stories....
Funny hearing all the old war stories above.
30 years on the BBC vs Spectrum vs C64 debate is still going on lol.
As well as being a proud to own of a BBC B, I had access to a lot of machines as I worked in a computer shop at the time. The only within a 25mile radius and saw just about every home computer that ever hit the UK.
The list seems endless but from memory:
- Sinclair ZX81
- Sinclair Spectrum
- Commodor Vic 20
- Commodore 64
- MSX (cant remember which brand)
- Oric (I got one in the loft)
- Dragon (got a colour one in the loft)
- Jupiter Ace (no-one could use as it used Forth - made out of yoghurt cartons)
- Tandy TRS80 (friend had one years before BBC - it was cool)
- Kapro (a CPM Compaq clone - a portable.... errr luggable computer)
- Atari ST
- Commodore Amiga (cool machine, I really ought to have had one of those)
- Acorn Archimedes
- Apple Clone ( we left that alone)
- Amstrad (there were a few)
I probably missed some real obvious machines... happy days..
The BBC Micro was solid with an excellent keyboard. And that's all. In the harsh language of technical specs, it was gainsaid by systems costing literally half the price. What the BBC Micro did have however, was the entire resources of a broadcasting coorporation at its disposal.
Result ? A torrent of free advertising unequalled in history. In early 1982 there were only 3 TV channels in the UK, two of which were controlled by the BBC. Both carried "The Computer Program","Making the Most of the Micro" and "Micro Live". Although well made, these were indeniably 30 minute infomercials for the BBC Micro. Radio 4 played its part with The Chip Shop, and TV news programmes often features "stories" centred around the BBC Micro.
Other manufacturers could not afford a 30 second advert on ITV.
As the article says "Acorn went from a company with a turnover of less than £1m in 1979-80 to revenues of more than £20m within two years. That paved the way for Acorn's September 1993 flotation on London's Unlisted Securities Market, a process that made Chris Curry and Herman Hauser millionaires."
Nice. But isn't advertising supposed to be illegal on the BBC ? And didn't the hapless viewers pay for those adverts with their license fees ? And didn't the same viewers pay again for the huge DoI subsidies to Acorn ? And then pay again the princley sum of £400 for the end product, which they had already paid for to be built and marketed ?
Other manufacturers, without help, were able to outsell the BBC Micro on merit alone.
In hindsight, the literacy project should have been aimed squarely at the mass of the population, not at schools. The chosen system should have been a cheap-as-chips device for everyone to program at home. It should not have ened up as a hyped product with premium pricing.
It's a great design for teaching literacy though
The BBC cost so much because of the impressive software and hardware engineering, the massive array of interfaces around the back and a modular design to the hardware, even inside the box. As stated in the article, the BBC is also significantly faster than most of its competitors in pure CPU terms — twice as fast as the C64, for example.
So it's a fantastic machine all around for teaching computer literacy. There are lots of ways to interface to it, the internal logic isn't sealed inside a single ULA and the operating system is an actual operating system, logically divided and well written.
It's main failing in the wider market, other than price, was that the video display was far too greedy for the available RAM. The OS takes something like 3.5kb for normal use, then often you lose a bit more to the disk filing system, so if you subtract another 20kb for any of the three highest storage display modes you're looking at trying to fit your entire programme into something like 8 kb. Compare that to the 41.25 kb available for user code on the cheaper Spectrum. You could hit the BBC's CRTC directly to invent your own video mode that gives you more space (eg, Elite reduces the width of the display, if I recall) but then you're definitely buying yourself problems when you come to do the Electron port.
"In the harsh language of technical specs, it was gainsaid by systems costing literally half the price."
Nonsense. Sure, other systems had more RAM than the original BBC Micros, and there were different aspects of those systems that may have been better in some way or other (hardware sprites, for example), but if you compare the architecture of the BBC Micro and the peripherals, none of the competitors come close. To take an example, the C64's disk expansion was regarded as a joke in comparison to those available for the BBC - even the initial 100K per single-sided disc implementation that was in routine use across the nation from the start - and the less said about Sinclair's post-cassette storage strategy, the better.
Amstrad did deliver a "next iteration" product that was cheaper and had better headline specifications, but that's what you get when the economies of production have kicked in and you've hired away the people who've done it once before. Those products paled in comparison to the actual "next generation" products that became available not too long afterwards, anyway.
"What the BBC Micro did have however, was the entire resources of a broadcasting coorporation at its disposal."
I don't disagree with this, and I don't think public institutions should be partnering with private businesses in this way. I would be very much against this happening again, which is why I tend to criticise various deals with proprietary software and services companies when the Beeb wants to roll out some service or other. The Beeb should be promoting and implementing open standards and solutions.
"Other manufacturers, without help, were able to outsell the BBC Micro on merit alone."
You, and perhaps even the author, forget that having to support the BBC Micro was a burden on Acorn. Even though resources were made available to roll out a lot of software and solutions around the BBC, Acorn had to support a much wider range of software than the competitors on hardware that also had to support a much wider range of applications. You might not have cared for 80-column displays, teletext, networking, decent storage options, second processors, and all that, but that's what had to go into the box.
Sure, for some people 256x192 graphics with primitive attribute-based colouring was enough, and maybe the "one size fits all" approach where you end up delivering more than the customer needs in most cases (contrary to your opinion) was a mistake, but the alternative at the time would have been to marshal a bunch of different projects from different vendors and get them to deliver something that supports interoperability in an age where "proprietary advantage" was the mantra. Take a look at MSX to see how well that went.
"In hindsight, the literacy project should have been aimed squarely at the mass of the population, not at schools."
Sinclair aimed his products at the masses and did get bottoms on seats. Whether the Spectrum could have supported the breadth of ambition that the Computer Literacy project had is another matter. You can blame the commercial unattractiveness of the BBC Micro on its gold-plated beginnings, but insisting that it lacked merit is incredibly narrow-minded.
To reply to those rather good rebuttals of my first comment above:
"The BBC also the best BASIC and was the fastest machine of the bunch even though there were other 650x machines."
The speed of its interpeter was a selling point, but the fastest BASIC at the time was Locomotive basic, as incoorporated on the Amstrads. Locomotive also featured real time interrupts and windowing among other programming esoterica. For exactly half the price of a BBC.
"You might not have cared for 80-column displays...". You could have 80 columns for £400 (BBC) or £200 (Amstrad again).
The BBC was a likeable machine. In hindsight though, all the connectivity hardware was perhaps a mistake. I guess they thought that computer literacy would be all about electronics. Very laudable, but electronics can be learned more effectively with some breadboad and a few cheap components. The computer buying public was more interested in programming, games and business applications than in soldering up an interface for a Turtle.
By 1984 Acorn should have brought out a Model C with a crushing spec for £200. But they didn't. Result ? We now have to listen to Alan Sugar on The Apprentice instead of Chris Curry.
Re: Nice Keyboard
""You might not have cared for 80-column displays...". You could have 80 columns for £400 (BBC) or £200 (Amstrad again)."
An 80-column display was just one item on a long list. The Amstrad CPC did well to copy the bitmapped graphics modes of the Beeb, and the disk-based models were also a good idea, although the Hitachi 3" format was a huge mistake. But as I noted, the Amstrad had a lot less asked of it, the benefit of joining the party knowing what everyone else was wearing (having been introduced a good two years after the Beeb), and the benefit of using what had become pretty established technologies at costs much lower than at their introduction. It was merely a "next iteration" machine. Sure, that made it competitive against the Beeb, but it doesn't undermine the significance of the Beeb at all.
"By 1984 Acorn should have brought out a Model C with a crushing spec for £200. But they didn't. Result ? We now have to listen to Alan Sugar on The Apprentice instead of Chris Curry."
Yes, the Electron should have been a Beeb with more focus on the bottom line and less on risky innovation, if possible.
But you have to put up with Sir Alan more because of his later efforts than getting the CPC out there, even though that may have been part of what made him. In fact, if you want an exercise in strategy by hindsight, you (or the author) might want to look into the rumours that Acorn had been considering getting Amstrad to do a low-end Archimedes, maybe even trying to negotiate a deal. In the end, we got the A3000 which was a more expensive machine, but had that deal gone through you might have had Sir Alan turned up to 11 on your media radar, so maybe you don't want to consider such a scenario after all.
used even into the 90s
I remember doing my Standard Grade Computing (1995-1997) on a BBC MIcro, the last year they were used at my old school - loved using it.
Can still remember finding out you could program sounds on it, and getting detention for playing The Imperial March when the teacher came in. Happy Days.
That was a proper course, not the office skills one they teach now.
I disagree your summation of the BBC. It was a good machine if you take into account of what it included.
Its almost like the Xbox vs PS3 comparison. The BBC came with a lot more as standard and the quality of the equipment was superior when compared to all the other mainstay machines, this drove the cost. I don't know many Spectrum owners who hadnt blown up their machines. C64 faired better but not as reliable as the BBC.
The BBC also the best BASIC and was the fastest machine of the bunch even though there were other 650x machines. The connectivity on the BBC was amazing. Printers , Harddrive, analogue controllers, etc.
For what the BBC was designed to do, it was the best thing out there. Yes it got an unfair boost because of the advertisement that the BBC gave it. So what? Good. Its a British company that ended up spawning the company ARM. Horaaah!!!
Disclosure - I'm a BBC B owner
Acron BBC Micro turns 30 and therefore so do I being a computer gamer
The BBC micro was launched 30 years ago. For many including myself in the UK, this will have been the first computer they ever owned (or had brought for them). We had an Atari 2600 before that, but this was the first computer. I have been a mainly 'computer gamer' ever since especially when Elite launched or I played my first flight sim about a spitfire gunning down UFO's. Yes, they both used line graphics to give the impression of a 3D world, but it was something I had never seen on a console of the time and was hooked. I moved on to C64's, Spectrums later and then finally PC's, but that is where my love affair of game on computers started.
So here's a glass raised to you BBC micro.
No mention about the connection with ARM the article. Acorn the people who made the BBC, well they had their issues, until they started (with others) what would become ARM holdings to sell their RISC chip designs. Yes, that ARM holdings, the ones that own the designs to the chips in nearly all mobile devices. So the BBC's innovative spirit live on in all IOS, Android and Windows smartphones / tablets and will soon be included as a CPU option for Windows. Not bad...
What I most saw on my BBC
BBC Computer 16K
> CHAIN "Elite"
Your volume control is now properly
set. Please wait while the first
program is loaded
The Atom was also available as a kit. A local shop bought them that way and I assembled a few for them.
The keyboard was a nightmare! Each key had two stiff springy metal wires that had to be located into corresponding holes in the PCB and then soldered in place. The keyboard was one unit and there were over 60 keys so that meant locating 130 or so wires AT THE SAME TIME. I remember discovering one wire had been squashed between the keyboard frame and the PCB after soldering up more than half of the damned things - not a good moment!
I think I assembled about 3 Atoms before giving up as they took far longer than what they were paying was worth.
I also remember upgrading a BBC A to a B for a customer of another local shop. However, it was a very early model with an inadequate power supply, which meant that the computer wouldn't work properly with all the extra chips in. So the whole thing went back to Acorn for a free (possibly?) upgrade.
A final BBC Micro, the A3000, was launched in May 1989. It was the last of the line.
Are there any still in active use anywhere? A better title would "BBC Micro would turn 30 if it hadn't died 15 years ago"
Never was a big fan. Not sure if that's because we used them at school, so associated it with school work, or just because I'd been using an Apple][ since I was knee-high to a snail, and two years before I got a BBC Micro to help with school projects, my dad had brought home an Apple Mac to work on, so the idea of the command line interface seemed prehistoric to me.
Apple Mac was '84
So by the time you got your BBC Micro it was at least 1986 which means that the Achimedes was just about to be launched and the world's first RISC desktop would arrive pre-dating Apple's PowerPC and causing a law suit.
BTW I love my 21 century Macs. In the 80s there was only one thing better than Apple kit for me and that was Acorn kit.
"Acorn's September 1993 flotation on London's Unlisted Securities Market"
"The Electron debuted in August 1983, just ahead of Acorn's flotation."
So the Electron debuted a mere 121 months before Acorn's flotation?
DARE DEVIL DENNIS
that is all
Re: DARE DEVIL DENNIS
Hell yes !!!
That tune's in my head now. Grrr! <shakes fist>
BBC Micro - best 8-bit computer of all time
Although Apple set the standard years earlier with the Apple II, the BBC Micro trumped it and all other 8-bit computers ever made by having the best hardware, OS and BASIC interpreter of its class. Sort of a "UK Mac" for the early 80's if you will and it wasn't until the Archimedes came out in 1987 that the technical prowess of the BBC Micro was finally beaten (yes, I tried an early Mac, but it felt quite straitjacketed even back then).
I helped out in a computer store in the early 80's and saw pretty well every type of 8-bit micro that was going then. Spectrum had the most games obviously, but its keyboard, graphics and sound were so poor as to be actually embarrassing to use. The Commodore 64 probably came closest in terms of hardware to the BBC, but was hugely let down by its poor OS, BASIC and utterly dismal disk system (so slow, that it was beaten by turbo tape loaders!).
I think that the BBC Micro was a perfect design for going into schools to replacing fairly doddering RM 380Z's and the like - its strength was indeed the OS and BASIC - the built-in assembler was a stroke of genius and you could actually develop commercial code on the same machine you ran it on (note that many Spectrum programmers - think Manic Miner and the like - used TRS-80's to code Spectrum games (downloaded via some clever add-ons) on because the Spectrum itself was a disaster to code commercially on.
The crying shame that was overpriced and never actually came down in price during any time in its production run, which ultimately was fatal to it. A drop of 100 quid would have probably doubled its sales. The Electron was horrendous - who wants a machine with no Mode 7 and half the speed of the BBC, especially when it was launched when pretty well everyone who wanted something in the BBC Micro range already had one.
I also felt Acorn were terrible at marketing - you'd hardly ever see ads on TV or print media for it, whereas Spectrum ads seemed to be everywhere. The Spectrum may have been significantly worse in almost all respects except the amount of RAM (the hardware was shoddy, it was slower, the OS and BASIC were simply dreadful), but Sinclair knew that once he got game developers on board, the cheaper machine would win out, even if it was basically a piece of junk.
My path went BBC Micro A, added RAM, added disk interface and disk drive, added speech chip, added sideways RAM (very handy for, er, running ROMs from disk)...then about 5 years later, jumped to the Archimedes A310, which I never bothered with a hard disk because it booted from ROM and 3.5" floppies were quick enough for me at the time.
Loved the Archimedes hardware, OS and BASIC again - a tour de force of engineering, the ghost of which lives on in most mobile phones as the ARM chip of course. Built-in assembler and a module loading system to add functionality, plus a reasonable WIMP for the time (perhaps not as good as the Mac's, but certainly better than GEM and Workbench) combined to make it a dream ARM development system.
It took many years of Archimedes use before a generic PC with Linux finally overtook it both in terms of speed and functionality - yes, I've never used Windows as a primary OS in all that time, though I do it run it via dual boot or VMs occasionally.
The 80's were the golden age of choice in the UK, but the 90's brought us the "one PC fits all" of Windows 95, the "nice but overpriced" of Macs and very little else (Linux really did take a long time to get the distros to be easy to install and use, but now they are technically by far the best OS to use, particularly if you are a developer).
@Richard Lloyd - I once applied (and was offered - I never took it up though) a job coding games for the Spectrum. The company used a whole load of Einsteins which they'd bought cheap. Yeah, no one used the Spectrum for actual programming!
Coding for the Spectrum
It's well documented that the Oliver Twins used an Amstrad CPC as did many other devs. It had the excellent MAXAM assembler, built in disc drive and the same processor. The Olivers used a link cable to see the results on their Spectrum.
The biggest advantage is that if your code crashed, you'd only crash the computer you had uploaded the code to. The CPC would stay running.
When Amstrad bought out Sinclair they released a Speccy with a proper keyboard and also a disc drive which made life easier for bedroom coders. But to say nobody used the Speccy for coding isn't strictly true as there are examples of code being pulled off of Microdrives for archiving even fairly recently.
Ah the joys of an external ZIF socket!
My first interaction with a 'Personal Computer'. I still recall it to this day.
Mid/late 80s, 5 years old, primary school. BBC Micro. I wasn't sure at the time *why* it was named after a TV station, especially as it did not share the logo.
2 games in particular stick in my mind:
- Grannies Garden, seems to have been an adventure game, I remember walking through a map and then it would enter a level.
- 'Pod', an interactive game with a tomato. You typed something like 'Pod can jump' or 'Pod can explode' and he would perform these actions. Unfortunately didn't respond to the ruder entries (or indeed typos).
The school kept them on, supplemented with the odd Mac in the late 80s for writing the school Newsletter, notes for home, other DTP tasks.
Few classrooms in the early 90s got RM Nimbus 386s with Win3.0. Microsoft Paintbrush seemed amazing at the time.
15 years later, found a BBC Master at a boot sale, has a 3.5" floppy drive in a PC-style (but otherwise empty) case, CUB monitor too. Sits in the loft collecting dust these days though.