The 1980s was a fertile decade for micro or personal computing (PC). Preexisting homebrew cultures in the US had created the foundation for an emerging PC market. Even publicly funded entities like the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) were Making the Most of the Micro.
The BBC Micro was, in fact, hardware and software that had been licensed from Acorn Computers Ltd. It was born out of the Cambridge computing scene in the UK, as well as Chris Curry’s link to Sir Clive Sinclair. Ironically, the face of the ZX Spectrum helped create the main competitor to Sinclair Research Ltd.
The boom and bust of the British PC revolution was dramatised in the BBC Four film Micro Men.
Proof of concept for the first PC came out of the US. The Altair 8800 was designed and built between 1974-75. It was sold in kit form and assembled by the user.
Traces of this do it yourself (DIY) ethos still applied to PC’s like the Amiga, which had its first system launch in 1985. In fact, DIY computing was still popular at a more general consumer level into the 1990s.
The freedom to modify and expand a system like the Amiga kept its hardware alive long after the demise of Commodore in 1994. For example, Amiga computers were still being used by NASA as a solution for processing telemetry data in 1999.
Open and Closed Developments
The home computing market was solidified in the 1980s. It was driven by open and closed business models for system development. Apple, Commodore, IBM and Microsoft are companies still remembered from that time. In the case of Commodore, this is long after bankruptcy was declared.
Ultimately, it was the more open distribution model employed by IBM and Microsoft that consolidated the PC market. It allowed for “PC clones” to be created from off the shelf components. Even Apple moved away from its own custom PowerPC based architecture in favour of Intel chips in 2006.
The future of personal computing is seen to exist through powerful mobile devices. RJ Mical – Director of Intuition for the original Amiga 1000 – put this into context at a Google developer conference. Smartphones used in 2014 were as, if not more, powerful than a PlayStation 2 videogame console.