Rise of Home Computing (footnotes)


Some interesting trivia about the poster:

  • The texture at the bottom represents silica sand, which is refined into silicon that is used to manufacturer microprocessors
  • The top row represents the stages of data-storage media throughout that decade. Fan-tape, punch cards, and 9-track tape were developed in the 1960s, but continued to be in use during the early 1970s. In 1972, the 8″ floppy disk was developed, along with the QIC (quarter inch cartridge) that has more capacity than standard audio tapes. The 5.25″ floppy disk media was technically developed in 1976, but suitable and affordable disk controllers were not available for a couple years later. The next disk media as the 3.5″ format in 1983. Re-call also that these disk formats also each went through the “single-sided”/”single-density” to “double-sided”/”double-density” transitions.
  • 1975 was also when the first dedicated “the computer store” (arrowhead co.) opened its doors. Some critics state that the Apple-1 was neither impressive nor significant in 1976, which is probably a valid point. However, what is pertinent is that MOS/MITS wanted to assert themselves by requiring retailers to carry only their products. The mere existence of other brands (such as Apple) motivated these retailers to resist MITS demand, rather than repeating the “vendor-lock” thinking that the grassroot microcomputing industry was trying to steer away from.
  • “Pong” from 1972 is not listed because it was purpose-built arcade machine, and there is a long story with Magnavox suing Atari over that “Pong” concept. Instead, we chose to list the Odyssey, because on the technical side it demonstrated the idea of connecting a gaming/simulation machine to a standard television. We take such things for granted today, but this did involve some electronic-wizardry to pull off (in terms of the graphics, or character generator, technology to do so in an affordable way).
    NOTE: The home version of Pong that many people may be familiar with was sold through Sears stores starting in 1975.
  • The 1973 Micral N did become expandable into a complete computer system (with screen, disk drive, keyboard). Some may forget that the French colonized Vietnam for many years, before the US Vietnam War. The hardware designer of the Micral N, Truong Trong Thi, was a French-Vietnamese citizen that conducted his education in France.
  • The MCM/70 was an APL only system, but was compact enough to fit under the seat in an airplane. But it had a single-line screen, which is much easier to build (in terms of the electronic components necessary, thus enabling the machine to be so compact).
  • The TK-80, MMD-1, KIM-1, and Apple-1 collectively represent “that moment” of the arrival of single-board computing. By simplifying the construction process (less chips, one movement), this reduces the cost to manufacture. This, to me, if the “Model T” moment of microcomputer: the single board didn’t define computers or the idea of them, but it radically improved the efficiency in which they could be built. There were many kits and persons capable of making single board computers, but these four stand out.
  • The 1977 DC Hayes and 1978 PETUNIA are used to present the idea of expanding the capability of the system. DC Hayes helped standardize the way in which modems interact, and the PETUNIA is (roughly) one of the first “sound cards” for a microcomputer.
  • The DC Hayes modem led to the introduction of the world’s first BBS, WRCBBS in Chicago (followed shortly thereafter in California). The BBS software was written in assembly on an IMSAI 8080 that hosted the connections.
  • The 1979 Apple “Graphics Tablet” is amongst one of the first tablets available for microcomputers, but the idea of manipulating screen objects (and drawing) using a pen comes from a demonstration that was a decade earlier.
  • The 1981 OSBORNE-1 is the first “luggable” computer. Although, the IBM 5100 did have a brown leather carrying case option. But I did want to list the OSBORNE as a place to open the discussion about the sad saga of CP/M.
  • The 1982 ColecoVision does seem out of place, especially since the Atari 2600 was far more popular. And indeed, the Atari 2600 does deserve a spot, that would be next to the Commodore PET in 1977. But the reason the ColecoVision is included is because it is along the “Z80” microprocessor line. While Zilong didn’t dominate the desktop computer market, they did find their niche in other products. Also, the ColecoVision here is a follow up to the Odyssey (not in direct lineage, but in terms of the concept of home-video game units becoming mainstream to consumers). .
  • The Tandy 1000 is listed instead of IBM PC 5170 AT in order to depict how clones had quickly disrupted IBMs’ business. The general style and form of the desktop home computer thus fully being established, the “clones” largely represented refinements to that original basic formula. The 5170 would have been nice to include, since the Intel 80286 is represented. COMPAQ isn’t represented, since their first clone didn’t arrive until 1985.
  • The reason the poster stops at 1984 (aside from just being a practical size-of-paper constraint): home computing didn’t change much after 1983. The overall form of the desktop computer was set, and everything afterwards was incremental improvements on the same theme (faster processor, larger mass-media storage, higher resolution graphics) for about the next 15-25 years. Some of the next major innovations would be digital networks, reliable solid state media, and (eventually) reliable USB. But the overall form of a detachable keyboard, “CPU box”, and screen remains unchanged.

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