Home Computers: 100 Icons that Defined a Digital Generation, book review

Matthew N. Henry


Home Personal computers: a hundred Icons that Defined a Electronic Generation • By Alex Wiltshire • Thames & Hudson • 256 pages • ISBN 978 500 022160 • £24.95

It is unnerving to be consigned to history. Home Personal computers: a hundred Icons that Defined a Electronic Generation by Alex Wiltshire puts your reviewer firmly in that box. Of the a hundred computer systems glossily photographed by John Short, I’ve owned about fifteen, utilized about fifty, and was on the design crew for a person. At the time, each and every laptop in these pages was slicing-edge in some way – an fascinating stab at predicting, or even defining, the long term. Now they are gone, like bytes in the RAM.

This e book will be a really different working experience for different visitors, depending on when, or regardless of whether, their very own working experience of residence computing enters its timeline. Home Personal computers focuses on the glory several years of innovation, hope and failure among the 1970s and the nineties (or, in Intel time, from 8080 to 80386), pulling in a huge assortment of the popular and obscure. Publisher Thames and Hudson understands how to lay on a pictorial feast, and the pics are the book’s finest strength. Drawn from the collection of the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge, these are gallery-top quality pics of museum-top quality artefacts. 

The e book is somewhat less self-assured in its textual content. There is uneven duplicate enhancing: “At £39.95, the MK14 was more cost-effective than any other laptop on the United kingdom marketplace”. So it was, but four pages later we read through that: “At £79.95 for a kit and £99.95 for a pre-assembled model, at start the ZX80 was the least expensive laptop ever launched in the United kingdom”.

The pics are fantastically shot and seize the visible aesthetic of the residence laptop revolution – up to a stage. Like past residence laptop components art textbooks, these as Gordon Laing’s 2004 Electronic Retro, these are the laptop as sculpture: statues unearthed from historic situations whose present day context is the museum, the gallery – and yes, the art e book.


Image: courtesy of Thames & Hudson / Photography by John Short

But those people of us who lived through that revolution do not believe of these containers as containers. They had been alive, each with its very own quirks of seem and vision, each with its very own tactile experience of keyboard and circumstance. They whirred and clunked and buzzed, they picked like fussy eaters at cassette tape software, they had been blurry monochrome on the family’s 2nd transportable Tv set, or astoundingly vivid technicolor on a keep track of, glowing rainbows like you would never ever found ahead of.

And the software – residence computer systems ran software, that was their soul, their lifetime. You wouldn’t know it to seem at this e book, and most likely that’s mainly because it can be read through as a e book of the museum, the gallery, the context of useless antiquity. There is salvation: YouTube has the restorers working packages, prying and reviving, glorying in these programs as residing matters. The best use of this e book is as a sightseeing guidebook, a festival programme, that lists and describes locations to working experience, or stay functions to go and see conduct. Its focus on the static tends to make most sense this way, its lack of liveliness no loss.

Fewer excusable is the book’s fleeting engagement with the genuine technologies. No circuit boards, no real cure of the advancements in elements that fuelled the revolution. What was heading on below the hood not only points out and defines what was essentially happening, but it has its very own aesthetic – harder to grasp, most likely, but even much more worthy of examine as a result. Which is absent.

Satan in the detail


Sinclair ZX Spectrum 128: no inner speaker.

Photography by John Short  

But engineering in standard is not this book’s potent go well with. Despite the fact that frequently broadly appropriate, the aspects you should not often reflect actuality. To choose just a person topic – the Sinclair Investigation computer systems. Of the uber-iconic ZX81, the e book claims it could be expanded up to 64K RAM. Which is the tackle area of the Z80 processor, certain, but in no way matches how the system essentially labored. Sinclair only offered a 16K RAM pack – infamous for its wobbly connection – and though the third-get together aftermarket offered even bigger, anything much more than 32K required sizeable ingenuity, which brushed previous the 64K restrict anyway. And the ZX81’s masterstroke, the Ferranti ULA chip, is specified a bare point out as a neat expense-slicing work out. It was instead the 1st ULA in a customer products, and set the scene for a large growth in the marketplace for electronic products. 

The entry for the ZX Spectrum is similarly puzzling, seeming to claim that the components designer Richard Altwasser wrote the ROM, which essentially arrived from Steve Vickers at Nine Tiles, though the keyboard does not have ‘four or five’ shifting areas. And the ZX Spectrum 128 did not, as the e book claims, abandon the Spectrum’s beeper for a real speaker: the Spectrum’s ‘beeper’ was a real speaker, albeit small, though the 128 experienced no speaker at all, making use of instead the UHF modulator to perform seems through the Tv set set. And so on. 

You will find no stage in listing all the tech lacunae in the e book – just you should not use it as a reference work. Transferring quickly on from the engineering, the e book successfully reprises a ton of the typical myths of the period: the Sinclair/Acorn epic spat, Jack Tramiel’s adventures at Atari and Commodore, Apple’s ups and downs, and numerous of the other stories that delighted and mystified us all as the courageous new entire world fitfully unfolded. 

SEE: How to optimize the sensible business office (ZDNet exclusive report) | Down load the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

The choice of equipment is pretty fantastic, with a first rate smattering of exotica alongside a potent exhibiting of the mainstream. Of study course there are quibbles. No Radio Shack TRS-eighty Model a hundred, the 1st mass-marketplace actually transportable laptop and the past products Monthly bill Gates wrote code for? Is the Hewlett-Packard HP-eighty five, offered completely to HP’s marketplace of industrial engineering businesses, really a residence laptop? Reward factors for illustrations of the broad military of Eastern Bloc Spectrum clones, but factors deducted for ignoring the Amstrad Spectrums. 

Any one who devoured the pages of nineteen eighties laptop magazines, lusting immediately after each and each and every beast in the menagerie, will locate significantly here to revive the urge for food. And just like then, the best information is to love the pics and find out the real-lifetime working experience. Just you should not consider each and every phrase you read through.


Legendary: the 1984 Apple Macintosh 128K.

Photography by John Short   

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