Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Home Computer Era

In the early 1980s there were so many kinds of computers before IBM killed off all the diversity with their IBM PC. This was a shame, especially since the microcomputer industry was only 5 years old and there wasn't a rich computer culture yet. The PC stopped the innovation in its tracks. Before the IBM PC small computers were usually called home computers.

It was wonderful that you could usually buy a 250 page book for the computer of your choice. That book would tell you everything... EVERYTHING about the innards of the machine. You could bend the computer to your will. These days you have no idea what's going on in the machine. As a programmer you deal with the Windows API, or with the Java SDK platform.

Sometimes I wonder how hard it would be to create a new computer simple enough to master it all the way down to the bits. The operating system would be very small and simple, and the machine could be programmed in BASIC, Forth, and assembly language. The code for the whole thing could be open sourced. Perhaps there wouldn't be a way to make money with such a product, but it would be fun. :-)

To get a feel for what this time was like, watch this YouTube video of Steve Wozniak relating his experiences growing up and designing the Apple computer. Great stuff!

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