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Little Computer People. The context of home computing.

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Little Computer People

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Little Computer People

The context of home computing

Computers, as an invention have been around for a lot longer than people think. With Babbages ‘Difference Engine’ and the concept of using binary (open/shut, or zero and one) being created as far back as the 1820s computing as a idea have been around longer than cars, planes and even telephones.

However much as people like William Gibson and Bruce Sterling would have loved the idea that computing carried on after Babbage’s idea (see their book, surprisingly called ‘The Difference Engine’ for more details) the concept of binary processing was ‘lost’ as far as research and development went and it wasn’t until over 100 years later that these ideas were picked up again.

It wasn’t until the 1950s that computing, thanks to the likes of IBM and UNIVAC building on the valve and vacuum tube concepts of Babbgage’sinitial idea.

It wasn’t until the 1930s that research in electrical binary processing by the likes of KonradZuse and his Z1 and Professor John Vincent Atanasoff’s ‘ABC’ machines became a significant area of research and development.

With the development of the transistor as a far more effective way of processing electrical signals computers slowly became a viable form of processing data using the newly developed Silicon Chip and magnetic core RAM for storage.

The TX-O (Transistorized Experimental computer) was demonstrated back in 1956 at Massachusetts Institute of Technology was one of the first machines to use these technologies.

The Micro-Chip

The invention of the microprocessor, a machine which combines the equivalent of thousands of  transistors on a single, tiny silicon chip, was developed by Ted Hoff at Intel Corporation in the Santa Clara Valley south of San Francisco, California, an area that was destined to become known to the world as Silicon Valley.

Corporate mainframe Computers ran on digital tapes and were coded in rudimentary languages such as Fortran.

Developers and researchers like Steve Russell and the team at MIT saw the potential for other areas for computing creating the first ‘computer game’ in 1962 – which was called Space-War


A Hobby for the home

It was not really until the 1970s that computing moved away from mainframes systems into rudimentary home based kit form for hobbyists and enthusiasts, sitting comfortably next to CB radios and self assembly separates for Hi-Fi systems

The Altiar

The MITS Altair was the first 8080 based  kit microcomputer. It was first introduced in the January, 1975 issue of Popular Electronics magazine as a construction project.  Although not the first available microcomputer, it was the start of the industry


The Apple II was the first true PC. Factory built theApple II was also the first personal computer capable of colourgraphics and easy modem operation.

The Apple II was based on the Apple I created by Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs in 1976

Apple II

Early in 1977, Jobs and Wozniak founded Apple Computer, Inc., and in April of that year introduced the Apple II, the world’s first personal computer. Based on a board of their Apple I design, the Apple II, complete with keyboard and color graphics capability, retailed for $1290. (now about £800)


In 1981, IBM introduced its own home system the ‘IBM PC’. The PC was a milestone as it proved that the computer industry was more than a current hobby fad, and that the computer industry was in fact a necessary tool for the business community.

The first languages

Pioneers of computing for a home market cobbled together operating systems and hard coded games and applications on machines such as Mark 8- Altiars, Apple 1, IBM 5100 or Commodore Pets.

Using rudimentary programming languages such as ‘BASIC’ these hobbyists created the first ‘file-sharing’ and open source language – basically allowing other users and coders to add and amend the code that was developed. Languages such as ‘Tiny-BASIC’ became ‘Jersey-BASIC’ as coders adapted the initial programming languages to their own ends.

While many where happy to share and build up this community there were some who saw these hobbyist coders as ‘thieves’ one such person was a Mr William Gates who saw his fledgling company ‘Microsoft’ not doing as well as it should as his initial code for his own ‘flavour’ of BASIC was being adapted and shared amongst these developers without his company getting acknowledgement and more importantly money for their idea.

Other more notable milestones

1971 - Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney create the first arcade game called ‘Computer Space’

Atari releases Pong, the first commercial video game to be releases in the arcades and at home on November 29, 1972.

The game Tetris is first released in the USSR June 6, 1984.

Designed and programmed by AlexeyPajitnov the game ran on nearly every home system and was one of the first ‘ports’

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