The Rise of Home Computing (users)

User Stories: How ordinary folks used home computers to create extraordinary things.

The story of two billionaires spawned from microcomputers

Everyone knows the story of Microsoft and Apple. But microcomputers were also used to spin off many other software companies. Here are two examples:

  • Ken and Roberta Williams started Sierra OnLine in 1979. Ken wanted to develop a FORTRAN compiler for the Apple II. But instead, Roberta convinced him to help make “animated adventure games” (using the new-to-market Apple Graphics Tablet). Ken had determined a way to get multiple colors on the Apple II even in “hi-rez”, and so they called their first series of games “Hi-Rez Adventures.” Their “big break” came in 1983 when IBM commissioned them to create a launch title for the IBM PCjr: King’s Quest. King’s quest was initially a “self booter” but after the PCjr platform flopped a year later, Sierra was able to port the “once exclusive” title to other platforms: Tandy, Apple, Atari, Macintosh, and re-release to older systems as a proper MS-DOS launched title. Years and many titles later, Sierra was “forced” to agree to a billion dollar consolidation sale, eventually being acquired by Activision. [ read about this in the 2020 book Not All Fairy Tales Have Happy Endings: The rise and fall of Sierra On-Line ]
  • Michael Singer started Personalized Programming in 1978. He had never used a computer before, but was intrigued by the TRS-80 Model 1 sold at Radio Shack. He was familiar with the challenges of accounting, having run a small construction company. So he wrote his own software to help manage with that. By word of mouth, he was then asked to develop a medical management system. Teaming up with a couple other individuals, they developed The Medical Manager, and promoted during Comdex in Vegas in 1981. Years and many updates later, Blue Cross Blue Shield abandoned their own internal system in favor of using Medical Manager. Michael was “forced” to agree to a merger around 1999, for about $1.3 billion, becoming part of WebMD. [ read about this in the 2017 book The Surrender Experiment: My Journey into Life’s Perfection ]

  • Sid Meier: SimCity, Civilization
  • Richard Garriott: Ultima series, Ultima Online

If you know of any other great software development stories (such as music studios, legal firms, or any line of business) that began with the use of microcomputers with an origin between 1975-1984, please share a comment about it. Especially software or business that started from an Altair 8800, Sol-20, or any of the Trinity.

Leave a Reply