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Bill Loguidice's picture

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.

Bill Loguidice's picture

Photos from VCF East 4.0 2007 - Saturday Session - Vintage Computers and Commodore Engineers

Chuck Peddle on the Big Screen: VCF East 4.0 2007Well, I finally got around to posting the VCF East 4.0 2007 photos from the Saturday session on June 9, 2007. Unfortunately I was not able to find a single online photo sharing service (since I didn't want to kill bandwidth here at AA or on my personal Website) that met all of my needs, but Flickr took care of the album part of it all and Photobucket took care of the easily-embed-photos-on-here part (though I doubt I'll use it much as it's a lot of work to get it to display right).

Check out the full set of photos here. I'm still working with Bill Degnan of the MARCH club on getting the audio hosted, so hopefully I'll have that back up soon and easily accessible. Enjoy and don't forget to leave your comments here!

Matt Barton's picture

Book Review: "Stan Veit's History of the Personal Computer" (1993)

Stan Veit's History of the Personal Computer, authored by--you guessed it, Stan Veit--is a roughly edited collection of memoirs and editorials Veit wrote during his tenure as editor-in-chief of Computer Shopper. Veit's personal experience with personal computer history is tremendous. He was the first personal computer dealer in New York City, and got to know almost every early luminary in the industry on a first-name basis. He's one part technician (he can talk chips and boards with the best of them), one part salesman, and one part patron. In short, it's hard to find an author better qualified to take us on the journey from the Altair to the IBM PC. However, the book is not without its flaws--it's poorly organized, and the typos make your head hurt.

Bill Loguidice's picture

New Altair 8800 Kit Available

Altair 8800 ReplicaAltair 8800 ReplicaGrant Stockly has announced the culmination of an ambitious project to create perfect replicas of the infamous Altair 8800 -- widely considered to have officially kicked off the home computer revolution with the 1975 advertisement for the kit in Popular Electronics and relative buying spree it elicited. It's a switch-based computer with no display other than LED lights -- all programming was done by flipping switches on the front panel, with the big advantage being that you were programming the system about as directly as possible. Of course it established what came to be known as the S-100 bus (for expansion cards with 100 pin connectors) that could greatly expand the system's capabilities, from alternate input and output methods to various storage and subsequent OS integration (most popularly, CP/M). The S-100 bus standard lasted from the mid-1970's through to the early 1980's when more user friendly systems began to become more prevalent and powerful. Of course the Altair 8800 also begat many clones, including the more capable IMSAI 8080, released only about six months later and featured (in a greatly expanded form) in the popular 1983 movie, War Games, starring Matthew Broderick.

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