Before PCs
Digital Soup
Small Systems
Early Software




Digital Soup

Mainframe computers were the unchallenged kings of commercial data processing from the 1960’s. But by the early 1970’s a new product category was emerging. Amateurs in garages and start-up businesses were experimenting with the latest micro-processor development to build more modest computers for home and small business. They were never even considered as a challenge to real computers - rather they were seen as little more than terminals or toys.

And in the early days that was a pretty accurate view. In 1975 the leading personal computer was the Altair 8800. It sold in the USA for $395 - but that was just a self-assembly kit that included Intel’s 8080 processor and 256 bytes of memory but no keyboard, monitor or storage devices. Meanwhile Apple was producing similar kits but had plans for bigger things. The Apple II launched in 1977 as a readymade PC - with 6502 processor, two 16kb chunks of memory, keyboard, monitor with graphics and the Basic language in memory. This moved the game from hobbyists to offices even if the US price of $1,298 was a bit steep for cassette storage computer. Apple was rapidly followed by masses of other companies selling their own, incompatible versions of the personal computer.

This lead to a market fragmented into dozens of unique operating systems and software applications. A digital soup of competing platforms grouped together as Small Systems ...

Despite the early emphasis on electronic hardware the need for useful software soon became a key driver. When Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston produced VisiCalc they set software in a new direction - providing solutions to a whole family of requirements under the control of the end user. In 1995 Byte listed VisiCalc in its 20 most important software products since the start of PCs. And is how the IT world looked then through its Early Software ...












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