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Natural Science
NATS 1700
Zbigniew Stachniak

Lecture 10. Computer at home and the per- sonal computing paradigm Informal and unedited notes, not for distribution. (c) Z. Stachniak, 2011. Note: in cases I were unable to nd the primary source of an image or determine whether or not an image is copyrighted, I have specied the source as unknown. I will provide full information about images and/or obtain reproduction rights when such information is available to me. Introduction: microcomputers for home Volume manufacturing of microcomputers for commercial markets began in 1973. Microcomputers were primarily employed as embedded control systems (e.g. French Micral) but also as data processing units for business, research, and educational applications (e.g. Canadian MCM/70). It was not before late 1970s, when general purpose microcomputers were manufactured in hundreds of thousands of units per year. This sudden de- mand for microcomputers was caused, in part, by the introduction of mi- crocomputer hardware and software capable of supporting small business operations and computer literacy programs. In 1977, Commodore introduced its all-in-one PET 2001 computer aimed at business while Apple Computer unveiled its Apple II which would soon attract a lot of attention from nancial analysts and planners due to the popularity of the VisiCalc spreadsheet program developed for that computer by Personal Software Inc. A VisiCalc machine, i.e., an Apple running Visi- Calc software, demonstrated that a microcomputer could be an eective, personal productivity tool that did not require any computer hardware or programming skills from its user. 1 Fig. 1. Commodore PET exhibit during Vintage Computer Festival, 2004. Photograph by Z. Stachniak. But the main reason for the marked increase in microcomputer sales was the invention of a new consumer electronics gadget the home computer. Since 1977, a number of computer, semiconductor, and consumer electronics companies had begun to manufacture rudimentary but complete microcom- puters for home applications and started to sell them in large quantities through chains of large department stores, dedicated computer stores, and, in some cases, through manufacturers own retail outlets (for instance, by 1979, Tandy Corp. sold over 100,000 of its small TRS-80 Model 1 computers through its vast North American chain of outlets). 2 Apple Computer, Atari Inc., Commodore, Tandy Corp., and Texas Instru- ments were among the rst companies to oer home computers but they were soon followed by numerous other rms, some of which had no prior experi- ence with digital hardware manufacturing. Fig. 2. A Timex Sinclair TS-1000 home computer ad in Science Digest, October 1982. 3 At the core of the home computer concept there was an assumption that a computer at home should serve the needs of all members of a family regard- less of their knowledge of computer hardware or software; in fact, none was assumed essential for the home utilization of microcomputers. As opposed to hobby computers, the home computer hardware was not sup- posed to be tampered with; all that a user had to do was to connect the power cord and peripherals via clearly marked ports and to locate the on/o switch. As for software, all major home computer manufacturers provided a variety of application programs and at least one programming language, mostly BASIC, in accord with an educational doctrine which expected an educated individual to be uent in at least one programming language. The BASIC programming language was easy to learn, easy to use, and could run on machines equipped with small amounts of memory. Computer hobbyists rejected the home computing paradigm outright and considered computers for the masses a consumer electronics product doomed to failure, a solution looking for a problem. However, the consumers reaction proved otherwise. By 1980, there were over 120,000 Apple IIs while Tandy sold over 175,000 of the TRS-80 microcom- puters. The sales of tiny Sinclair ZX-80 and ZX-81 computers introduced in 1980 and 1981, respectively, reached 400,000 by 1982! In the same year, there were over 800,000 small Commodore VIC-20s world-wide. Sales reached the one million mark in early 1983 when Commodore was shipping its VIC-20s at the rate of 100,000 units a month. In 1983, two other manufacturers joined the one million club: both Texas Instruments and Apple Computer shipped over one million of their TI-99/4A and Apple II computers. In 1984, there were over 2 million Apple IIs and, perhaps, even more Commodore 64s, arguably the worlds most successful small computers. 4
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