...to not see any laptops in here. Any computer historians know which was the first computer to feature the hinged screen lid and built in keyboard design that we all know and love?
Personal computing may have originally been more ‘computing’ than ‘personal, but that changed in the late 1970s in the US and, in the UK, during the early 1980s. In the first part of ‘A History of Personal Computing on 20 Objects’, we saw how computing went from maths gadgets to first mechanical, then electromechanical and …
I used a GRiD when I was about 5 - my dad brought it home from work for a weekend.
I remember being quite awed by it at the time, and compared to the big case of the Apple ][e I was used to with a gigantic box of a monitor on top, it was futuristic looking.
That said, I was only 5 or was pretty awed by anything technological at the time anyway.
Then, 3 years later my dad came home and set up a Mac on the dining room table and I spent all weekend drawing bitmap pictures in MacPaint and wondering why anybody bothered with keyboards and command lines
I still have a GRiD (an 110x Compass - the original model) as well as a later GRiDCase (which ran MS-DOS as well as GRiD-OS). The Compass WAS awesome - it had absolutely no moving parts - neither disk (bubble memory for permanent storage), nor fans (convection from the mag-alloy case for cooling), had 1Mb of RAM (when IBM were saying no one would ever need more than 640kb), OS and most apps in PROM, a fully graphical interface, a proper pre-emptive multi-tasking operating system in GRiD-OS (based on iRMX), and IEEE488 (HP-IB) and RS232 interfaces. All for a bargain entry price of £5,000 in 1983!
The original specs were DoD-inspired - it had to capable of being dropped and run over by a truck without damage, however, when NASA first used it to augment the 60s/early 70s computing designed into the Shuttle, they failed to anticipate that the no-moving parts convection cooling didn't work so well in zero-gravity! Later models included a fan...
"(when IBM were saying no one would ever need more than 640kb)" actually IBM never said that, and its extremely unlikely given the Big iron they build that they would.
Bill Gates is the visionary, who also though the internet would never amount to anything useful, that gave us that insightful comment.
You can see a lot of the computers mentioned in Parts 1 and 2 of this article in the National Museum of Computing, located at Bletchley Park (www.tnmoc.org). I went there on a trip with Reading BCS, and spent fascinating hours going through all the computers, from a working Colossus replica to a surface computer implementation of the BBC's Doomsday project.
"Luggable", because the things were so damned heavy, there was more lugging than carrying, hehehe. Now that I recall, my dad had one of those. We also had an Epson QX - 10. But, that Epson was mire of a desktop, tho the thin body made it easy for him to take it with him and use it on lunch breaks at work. Cannot recall wgat became of the Osborne, though.
I'd have put Apple's most recent serious innovation as the iPhone. Whilst it wasn't the first touchscreen smartphone, the UI certainly blew away all the competition, and it has certainly defined the look and style of pretty much all smartphones since. The iPad wasn't anywhere near as interesting by comparison; did it really sell well because it was 'tablet computing done right', or because it was an Apple product?
the PalmPilot should be... that is where tablet computing began for me..
fair enough, then the Apple Newton should be there too because "that is where tablet computing began for me" and three years earlier than the first Pilot too
but it's all academic. the Psion Organiser is the grandfather of all of these, and that is in the article
quote: "I'd have put Apple's most recent serious innovation as the iPhone. Whilst it wasn't the first touchscreen smartphone, the UI certainly blew away all the competition, and it has certainly defined the look and style of pretty much all smartphones since."
I'm guessing it's because putting an iPhone just underneath the Simon would invite all sort of unwelcome comparisons; the Simon has a rectangular touchscreen whose UI is a grid of icons, has rounded corners, can make phone calls... and was released in 1994, 13 years prior to the iPhone.
Remember that the HX-20 also had two other really innovative peripherals in a portable:
• a speech generation unit
• a brail generator
Its younger brother the PX-4 was used for F1 timing systems (all coded in assembler and hijacking the barcode input for timing beams, by yours truly)
Epson also produced the QX-16 desktop on which I could run the same programs under DOS or CPM!
And the EHT-10, a hand-held with integral printer option (much loved by traffic wardens in Westminster in the late 1980’s, and by the Concorde baggage loaders)
Ah... life was so much simpler when a ROM disassembly was you bible!
I've heard of a bunch of people using an HX-20 at a restaurant. When it was time to pay, they secretly rolled up the note in the printer. As the waiter came, they pressed the button and the printer spit out the note. They had a hard time getting their money accepted. :)
Also, this is yet again one of those lazy articles. Everybody knows those old computers, and no one talks about the slightly more exotic ones back then, like the Canon Cat, which proved Apple and Microsoft wrong, by providing a user interface which was simple, efficient and powerful.
Dude. The Spectrum was not wedge shaped, unless you had an Interface 1 attached. I admit that it was lower at the front than the back, but that was because of a step in the case, bringing up the rear of the case to the same height as the top of the keys.
The ZX81 was wedge shaped, but did not have rubber keys.
We weren't a rich family, so we couldn't afford a C64. I did talk the parents in to buying me a Vic-20 though. That's how I worked on my programming skills... guess that $99 investment back in 1984 or so did pay off eventually. I still have the VIC-20, tried to power it up last year. Alas, the power supply was completely dead (and epoxy filled, so no troubleshooting available), and after figuring out an alternative, the video did not come up. Poor thing...
I'm not into those, so just the other day gave away a power supply for one of those. There were lots of Vic-20s made and despite being very collectible, they're still not too expensive. The 5150s are starting to really go up in price though. I've seen them hit several grand, though mostly just a few hundred. Anyway, hang on to your old stuff. You'll be glad you did.
The tune from Radar Rat Race (Vic 20 cartridge game) is forever imprinted in my head...wish it wasn't!
As another one who could not afford the C64 at the time, I ended up with a Commodore Plus/4. That should be on the history list as it had a built in word processor, spreadsheet and database thingy. None of them were very good though.
I might be off base, but to my understanding the Archimedes was pretty much limited to the UK. It did give us Virus the game, much like the BBC Micro gave us Elite - that's the extent of what we non-Brits knew about these.
But yeah, the C64, ZX Spectrum, Amiga, Atari ST and even the various MSX compatibles would have been incluced in the list by Johnny Foreigner.
In a way, agree that the 64 didn't really need to be there. It was a good computer and certainly sold plenty of units, but it broke no new ground. I'd be more likely to put an Apple II in there. As for the Amiga, this was a fairly ground breaking system and one that, like the Archimedes, could have been much better than the IBM offering if only the marketing had been right. Both were very versatile and powerful for their day, but each got sidelined into its own niche, the Acorn in education, the Amiga in gaming, both suffocated off the market as IBM and Microsoft went for the proverbial jugular. Even Apple almost failed because of that.
As for the Pet, there always seemed to me to be a standing battle between the various CBM Pets and the Apple II. I always liked the look of the Pet, with the monitor design and (on some models) the built in tape drive, but I also liked the Apple II with its flip up back end. Pity both were so bloody expensive in the UK!
In the UK the Amiga was the shiz.
Frankly for £400 notes, it smoked the apples and IBMs of its day and if you liked parallax scrolling and shallow game play shadow of the beast was your man.
68000 and numerous specialised processing units killed the competition, now it's clear that symmetric multi cores arent the way forward with moores in mind, the Amigas design philosophy may prove more important than even the genius arm of the Archimedes.
What a piece of extra-ordinary crap that delighted and amazed me. I went onto the zx81 and the spectrum.
All of them were flimsy, prone to crashing due to poorly constructed ram expansion packs and power leads, but my god, between them and the many other personal computers available in the 80's they unleashed thousands and thousands of programmers onto the world.
I spent countless hours hunched over these lumps of plastic with ridiculously bad keyboards, punching in line after line of machine code from a magazine. The frustration at the program not working, only to be informed in the following months magazine that there was a critical bug didn't deter me.
The family dog or cat brushing past the ram expansion pack ending up with the loss of 5 hours work? Well, start again.
The tapes not loading or saving properly, the discovery that the cheapest tape deck you could get with the highest tinny sound was far better than an expensive one. Cheap, nasty, frustrating and ultimately, a whole lot of blood, sweat tears and eventually, fun.
So, what do I do now?
Well, I spend countless hours in front of a screen being frustrated by html, css, php, postgres for a living.
30 years later and the only thing that's changed is it's faster, more comfortable and the hardware is a damn side more reliable.
Long live the memory of the ZX80, but don't expect me to ever use one in anger ever again, even as an emulator :)
>30 years later and the only thing that's changed is it's faster, more comfortable and the hardware is a damn >side more reliable.
But now the operating system, programming language and frameworks are
"Cheap, nasty, frustrating and ultimately, a whole lot of blood, sweat tears and eventually, fun."
It was not just a vogue. It was necessary to push computing performance forward. If there had not been RISC architectures at the time, then I believe that computing history would have been different, and would probably not be nearly so advanced as it is now. Not that this is all to do with the ARM. MIPS, SPARC, Precision Architecture and POWER all had their parts to play in frightening the CISC manufactures into pushing performance up.
The transistor budget for the ARM 1 was, I believe, 25,000 transistors. At the same time, the 80386 had a transistor budget of 275,000. In these days of billions of transistors per die, it is easy to forget the fabrication limitations of the day.
If the ARM had been a CISC architecture, it would either not have competed with other processors in the market, or would have been too complex for a small organisation like Acorn to have been able to develop and produce. It's very existence was conditioned on it being a RISC processor.
The fact that it was a 32 bit architecture, used ridiculously low amounts of power, and still beat the pants off a 80386 processor in performance were the reason why it's descendants are still around now.
Yes. I did think that while I was writing it. Maybe I should have said "If the processor now known as ARM had been a CISC architecture...".
Regards to Fred, Jim and Sheila from the 6522, 6845 and the rest of the chips especially the Ferranti ULA.
The idea of tablet devices goes way back, some of us have been waiting for viable technology since the 90s. The problem has been no more complex that the power/performance/weight characteristics and the solution has been time and hard work by lots of people, its not just about headline grabbers.
I recall a long conversation in 2006 on the topic and the consensus seemed to be feasibility for mass market tablets would be around the Intel 22nm node so somewhere between 2011-2013 when the devices would start to take off. The assumption was a continuation of Intel dominance over CPU. Where we got it wrong was not expecting the early use of ARM in the 2010 iPad which was certainly an early game changer. Thats an interesting thing about history, some fairly inconsequential causes can make for big effects. The what ifs - would Apple have waited a year instead of launching the underpowered but fun iPad 1 if Jobs was not so conscious of his own health and mortality? IMO iPad is mainly interesting because it jumped the gun, and most significant by raising the game in the Intel/ARM wars.
After 30 years in the business, I've found crystal ball gazing is usually pretty obvious, just look at what drives the hardware parameters and consider what is pleasant to use. Look beyond this years gadget and the flavour of the month.
Fun to see the retrospectives. How about some future looking topics?
It could be worse.
What do you mean worse? Lots of us won't compromise - regardless of the noise. The model M is still made by Unicomp and the old ones are much used. I'm typing on a 1984 model M right now. I actually have a number of them stashed away in case this one wears out - but it's still as good as new. I thought I was prudent, but I'm probably just a hoarder.
I suppose the teletype could be worse, never tried one, but the manual typewriters we all learnt on were definitely unmanageable by modern standards. After all these years I recently thought I'd give my 1940's Underwood a try and was seriously considering using my elbows. I'm glad Underwood didn't make a mouse - you'd probably need an assistant.
The old IBM PC keyboards were fun to fix/clean, after removing all the keys and sliding the keyboard "sandwich" apart all the springs and components that made the clacking noise went all over my workbench....
So - talking of CP/M as some are, no mention of the Sirius S1, that ran CPM? No Mention of Commodore PET's either.. :0(
The Sharp PC-1210 predated the Psion Organiser by ~4 years. The TRS-80 PC-1 (relabeled PC-1211) was released shortly after the PC-1210 and was most likely the first widely available handlheld (the Sharp models were hard to find in stores, at least in the US).
The TRS-80 PC-2, PC-3, and PC-4 were also released before the Organiser.
No minis, because it's a history of personal computing. I don't know about the others you mention, but you'd have had to be a power-hungry millionaire with good air conditioning and plenty of space* to use an early VAX as a PC.
* now I think about it, is there any other kind of millionaire?
No no, the point is that they went from Zuse, Colossus, Eniac, Leo & Dec: hardware that could only be afforded by nations and the biggest companies to the desktop. But there was a decade where the average Joe couldn't afford a computer, but the medium company where he worked would have a Wang 2200.
In my first job as engineer I had a Wang 2200 with just 1 terminal. So it really was a personal computer.
When I started to work in IT, we were still replacing Wang 2200 with 4-8 terminals with a PC network and that was frequently used by small to midsized engineering firms with 4 to 20 employees. That was about 25 years ago.
Ah, the niakwa fingerprint. And the horror when the floppy got lost ! ! !
A decent Compaq with 386 processor and 640k would set you back around € 5.000. An extra € 1.000 for the full 1MB. An extra € 1.000 for a 287 coprocessor. Remember when you weren't supposed to want a coprocessor because you already had a 386 so what more could you want?
And if you want a 13" screen, that would cost an extra € 1.000.
And the margin on this hardware was 40-50%.
Looking back, developing software was just an excuse to sell the hardware. And most of these smaller software companies got stung when the PC became widely available and cheap.
I remember IT fairs where the visitors were packed shoulder to shoulder and they could only move forward when they guy in front of them would. And he wouldn't because he was staring in awe at your mouse and 16" color monitor.
And back at the office he would be working on a monochrome mini terminal. Probably shared by 4 colleagues.
I'd like to have seen the Atari ST in here for no other reason that it was the first reasonably priced computer to have a MIDI port and a way to do something useful with it. There were a *lot* of STs floating around recording studios in the late 80s and I'm sure that the pop music of the time would have sounded very different without people being able to noodle around a sequencer and drum machine on their 'tari.
My wife still uses a 2004-vintage hx4700 iPAQ to check her incoming e-mail and calendar entries. It sits in a dock cradle, permanently powered, running a program that displays upcoming appointments on the home screen. She can walk past, tap the screen with a fingernail to wake it, glance at what's coming up and walk on. Much quicker than powering up a laptop, even from sleep, or using one of many iDevices.
It syncs with Google Calendar over WiFi, but to make that work securely I had to install a custom firmware so it could talk WPA2 with my router. HP's own firmware was never happy with WPA2. Heaven knows what I'm going to replace it with if it ever gives up the ghost, or WPA2 is rendered obsolete by a more secure protocol.
Now I come to think of it, at 8 years it's currently tied in second place for the longest continuously used computer I've owned. Joint second is a ZX Spectrum I got in 1983 and sold in 1991.
First place goes to a BBC Master, bought by a friend in 1986, given to me in the early 1990s and used to put title cards on VHS videos right up to 2000. 14 years.
I just got a 4th gen iPad. It's lovely, but I can't imagine I'll be doing anything useful with it in 14 years.
Nice to see an Organiser in this list, but a little dismissive to suggest that Psion "shifted away from organiser functionality" with the Series 3 / 5 / 7.
While it's true that the general purpose programming environment was a boon to those of a creative inclination, the Psions' real strength lay in the Data and Agenda applications built into SIBO and EPOC. To this day Agenda remains the most useful and efficient Personal Information Manager I've used on any platform. And I've used many.
All of the basic functions were right there and blindingly efficient in their implementation. And for those features not baked in, a third-party macro program to simulate key presses and a bit of OPL code and you could have new functionality programmed in within minutes. Try doing that on an iPhone.
Psion's downfall was in treating their devices as accessories to the computing experience rather than alternatives. Even on the later models with basic internet features like e-mail and web browsers, it was all about syncing data with desktop machines. And using mobile phones and modems with legacy serial and IR connections while everyone else's technology was evolving, although they may not have realised it, towards the integrated smartphone. The Nokia Communicators were a hint of the way things were going, but nobody really picked up the ball and ran with it.
If Psion had read the market better we could have had a colour EPOC machine in a Series 5 form factor with WiFi and cellular connectivity and Bluetooth for voice calls, beating the iPhone by several years. But alas it was not meant to be.
Even a recent attempt to resurrect the form factor misses the point by having it run on Windows XP :(
I've used the Commodore PET (at school), VIC-20, C64, Amiga 500 and Amiga 1200, but saw none of these then amazing machines listed, WTF!
The VIC-20 and C64 stomped all over Sinclair's Z80 rubbish; none of his amateurish stuff ever interested me.
The Amiga 500 and Amiga 1200 made the Atari ST look stupid, and kept me going into the age of cheap PCs.
If Commodore had not been so blinkered, they could have taken the Amiga much further, rather than getting side tracked onto consoles.
The Archimedes like the BBC B was WAY too expensive for what you got, so I never even considered them.
It is a crying shame that the nasty instruction sets and system buses of the Z80 and 'x86' CPUs were chosen instead of the 6502 and 680x0 family, fortunately the descendant ARM CPU now owns the mobile sector, and will hopefully soon be nipping at the heals of the x86 family, for the server sector.
In my opinion Microsoft and others are still catching up with ideas in the Amiga OS and software, and still haven't caught up in some areas! I have used GP Software Directory Opus since the Amiga and now on Windows machines, because it still blows away all other Directory tools, especially the pathetic Windows Explorer.
I have no plans to own any Apple hardware, the only Apple machine which ever impressed me was the Apple 1, the Macintosh was horrible, the rest is quite frankly over priced junk.
It's too bad Jack Tramiel of Commodore was such a greedy, megalomaniac scumbag, or it's arguable that we'd be using Commodore hardware specs and 68000 architecture instead of x86. Commodore almost had the whole deal back in the 80s, and it was mostly the divisive work environment and opposing viewpoints of what the "mission" should be that killed them. I think a history of Commodore should be required reading for any CIO that's considering making major changes. I see echoes of it in Microsoft, and ripples of it emerging at Apple these days without Steve Jobs to hold Apple on course. (not that Mr. Jobs would win any humanitarian awards in the grand scheme of things)
But it would be interesting to see what the computing environment and the world at large would have evolved into after a few decades if Commodore had made some better decisions. Forget going back in time and stopping the Kennedy assassination---go back in time and prevent Jack Tramiel from being such a dick.
Indeed. I've said it before, and I'll say it again, the Amiga was the best computer ever, when you compare it with what went before. It had a proper four channel sound synthesiser, could stick a good few colours on screen at a decent resolution (not counting the static 4096 colour HAM mode), and had hardware sprites and a 'blitter' to boot. I suspect younger readers will think the former is a fizzy drink and will have no idea what the latter is.
This was the only time I used a machine and was in awe of, I wanted one, but couldn't afford the £1000 odd the first Amiga 1000 cost. Even the Micro Live reviewer couldn't contain himself saying how stunning it was when reviewing it. The Atari ST I had shared the same sound-chip as the ZX Spectrum 128K (an 8-bit oldie, i.e. not very good) and no dedicated graphics hardware, the PC's as far as I can remember were still in the beeper (Soundblaster etc. came much later) and 16 colour EGA era.
Has there been such a big jump since? I doubt it.
The Amiga was one of the few that were genuinely ahead of their time. A history of personal computing without mentioning at least one of the Commodore machines is flawed!
Workbench was so much better than the Macs gui in term of flexibility and speed even though both were developed around the same time.
Not to mention how many music genres came about simply due to the progression from Soundtracker/Octomed on the Amiga. Also the cheap CGI that it enabled thanks to the genlock stuff, which was used in films, overlays for weather forecasts and all sorts. The newtek video toaster and HAM never failed to impress anyone who saw it in action. Nasa used Amigas for space shuttle launch stuff too.
The Pet or Amiga (or both) should defo be on the list.
"...hardware sprites and a 'blitter' to boot. I suspect younger readers will think the former is a fizzy drink and will have no idea what the latter is."
Pah. Too easy. Tell me what coppers and bobs are, and I'll give you credit for obscure graphics terminology knowledge!
I agree with Furbian - the Amiga 1000 should be in here prominently. Owning a 32K 8bit BBC B in 1985, and going to a demonstration of the Amiga in Sydney, I was completely blown away by its capabilities. One part of the demonstration by Neriki (who made genlocks in Australia) had a photo of the Sydney city skyline in Deluxe Paint. Amazing enough to have a clear, detailed digitized image on a computer screen in 1985, but the demonstrator then erased a building from the skyline.
With amazing graphical capabilities, 4 channel stereo sound that the demonstrator compared favourably with a 1980s era Fairlight synthesizer, and a multi-tasking operating system, the Amiga 1000 was without doubt the first true epoch-making Multimedia computer. I'm at a loss as to why the Amiga is forgotten so much these days by computer historians and museums in general.
I have an original Amiga 1000, along with a bunch of 1980s-1980s computers (I also love Acorn computers, especially the BBC), and you can clearly see the purity of design of the whole machine. It made the Macintosh look primitive by comparison.
Since together they were the next step on the road to where we are now.
Both using the same processor and appealing to the same Market. One had the edge in graphics the other in music creation (out of the box).
Usable as was but still tweak-able/adaptable to spawn a thousand peripherals. I can confess to throwing money away at the video camera add on with it's filters to do colour image capture. The back up to VCR was more practical though.
One aspect fortunately not touched on is price. Although Amigas and the like were cheap compared to an IBM pc what the same money would buy today is beyond compare.
I had an Acorn Electron, and used BBC's in school, then Archimedes' in high school. I remember seeing my first PC and wondering where the mouse was! I think the Raspberry Pi is a direct descendent of the BBC - didn't Acorn sort of become ARM, which is what the Pi is based on? And the Pi's creator cited inspiration from the BBC machines he used as a kid. Superior Software (who made Repton) still lives - you can buy Repton games for iPad now...
Also, really nice to see the C64 has been reborn as C64x - a 64-bit Linux (Mint?) PC in the shape of a keyboard, just like the original C64. Even has the option to boot to a classic C64.
AmigaOS last updated? Two months ago.
I think I was really lucky to have been growing up at a time when computers were just simple enough that a 10-year-old could write machine code, while being just complex enough for that to be a worthwhile endeavour :)
I suppose the typical home computers have been left out as we've just had the 30-year anniversary articles, but I would have expected to see a Z88 there, which was more than a Psion Organiser, smaller than a tank (laptop of the times), and turned out to be successful enough to be considered mass-market.
I'm surprised that the Apple ][ /][+ is not listed.
While the earlier machines were hobbyist things, the Apple ][ had VisiCalc back in 1979.
I even remember IBM making what was effectively an Apple ][ on a board so that you could use
the peripherals that you had purchased for the Apple. Many of the games and business programs
existed on the Apple long before their equivalents came out on the IBM PC. IBM made the market
big, but Apple created the market via the spread sheet and the ability to do custom printing by
yourself at a fraction of the cost. One decent size print job paid for the printer + software, a few also
paid the cost of the computer.
I actually worked for a small company in the 90's that were using Apple ][ gs's with built in hard drives
and "accelerators" which could be hooked up via a special interface set up with a PC to transfer data
back and forth.
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