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Home Computer Designations of the Late 1970s: A Feature Article

So, do you think today's computing landscape of desktops, laptops, notebooks, smart phones, tablet computers, and netbooks - among other designations - is confusing? Imagine a computing landscape with no particular point of reference outside of mainframes and terminals. That's exactly what it was like in the world of personal computing from the mid-1970's to the start of the 1980's. The terms "laptop" and "notebook" were still several years away, with "portable" computers describing those systems you carried about like an overstuffed suitcase and ran off of AC power (like the Osborne 1 [1981], Compaq Portable [1983], or the Commodore SX-64 [1984]), a form factor many of us more accurately refer to today as "transportable" computers.

In any case, continuing along the same line of thinking started with my blog post, "Do you know what and when the first recognizable modern day personal computer with BASIC was?", or my related segment on Armchair Arcade Radio - Episode 1 (and with which I will pursue a somewhat similar theme in Episode 2), I thought I would describe how the 1979 book by noted writer Steve Ditlea, Simple Guide to Home Computers, classified the personal computing landscape of that time.

First off, in Part I, Home Computer Fundamentals, under Chapter 1, The Home Computer Revolution, it calls the Altair 8800, the "world's first home computer". In Part II, Choosing a Home Computer, and specifically Chapter 7, it starts off with "Programmable Video Games" (which is the name of the chapter). The systems he designates as programmable video games (and in the last part of the chapter refers to them as "starter units") are the "Odyssey2 Computer Video Game System", the "Bally Professional Arcade", "Cybervision 2001", and the "VideoBrain". Ditlea calls the Odyssey2 a "price breakthrough", though it's arguable to me if the North American version of the Odyssey2 ever really qualified as a computer in the traditional sense. It does in fact offer a very nice Computer Programming cartridge - which is mentioned in the book - but never any ability to save your output. If it qualifies under that scenario, then the BASIC Programming cartridge for the Atari 2600 would also make that console a computer, albeit even more primitive than what was offered on the Odyssey2. At least in the case of the Atari 2600, though, Spectravideo did eventually come through in 1983 with the CompuMate add-on, which not only added a keyboard and a reasonable BASIC, but the ability to save your data to tape.

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Quick and Casual Look at the APF M/MP1000 and Imagination Machine

The APF M1000 (MP1000) is a game console first released in 1978. Less than a year later, the Imagination Machine computer add-on was released for the console. By 1980, just as the positive reviews were starting to roll in, APF, who made a name for itself with calculators and home Pong clones, went into a rapid decline and the systems onto the clearance circuit. (Some photos below the video... Note that the video had to go to Vimeo because of a YouTube incompatibility. If you want the HD version of the video, head to Vimeo.)

Armchair Arcade: Quick and Casual Look at the APF M/MP1000 and Imagination Machine from Bill Loguidice on Vimeo.

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Notable Entertainment Software for US Home Computers, 1976 - 1979 Launch Systems

BETS (1980) for the Commodore PET: While many games for Commodore's PET computer were purely text-based, some, like Randall Lockwood's BETS (1980), seen here via the VICE: PET emulator, implemented comparatively excellent visuals and animationsBETS (1980) for the Commodore PET: While many games for Commodore's PET computer were purely text-based, some, like Randall Lockwood's BETS (1980), seen here via the VICE: PET emulator, implemented comparatively excellent visuals and animationsAs part of the editing process for my upcoming US home videogame and computer entertainment systems history book, I've been logging the software I mention in each section. I thought it might be interesting to list the software I'm mentioning in the book for the 1976 - 1979, computers section, which I just finished going through. Most of these are the cream of the crop or notable titles.

How many of the following are you familiar with?

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