On a recent attic cleaning expedition, I encountered a box of Scientific American magazines from the late 70s. Each magazine is full of computer advertisements that provide an interesting peek back at the beginning of the computing industry. In this gallery, I will show you what I found.
Originally published in April 2011.
Images compiled by Greg Shultz for TechRepublic
Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.
... is the ad for one of the first IBM Portable PC's that graphically demonstrated just how portable it actually was. As I recall, the ad featured a sumo wrestler with a "portable" slung over his back! Now THAT was truth in advertising!
It's interesting to me to see the word wrap and graphic technology they had at that time. The computers might have been small, but they did wonders for typesetting and graphic display. See if you can find some newspapers from the 60s and compare. The difference is astounding, especially when you look at the amount of time that went into it. Better quality at a lower cost. And it just keeps getting better.
I was looking for the TI 99-4 and TI-99-4a. These were home computers using the 8080 processor. They advance to the TI-PC using the 8080 but fell out of the market as Apple and IBM Grew. The TI-PC was sold to some former TI'ers and became Compaq.
Archive computer dual Z80's running an early version of DBase with a 5MByte hard disk 1979. the owner actually set up a database for people to phone in and find where and who had particular items for sale. Unfortunately before it's time. Had a Lisa 1983 was a magic machine with a 10 MByte hard drive SCSI, dual twiggy floppy drives and a daisy wheel printer to print graphics, multiple strikes of the period. Cost more than Gold but worth every penny. The Lisa was a revelation in the world of PC's. Also had a Wang word processor with dual 8" hard sectored floppies and an industrial strength daisy wheel printer. Not to mention all the rest, TRS 80, Apple I, Apple II, Apple GS (still going), Atari, Commodore 64 with colour screen, Tandy colour II 16KBytes,Tandy II, Tandy III, BBC, Macs, not to mention all the Olivetti's, Adler's, PDP's, the list just keeps getting longer. In the 70's used to maintain a PDP-8/E at a mine site underground 3 monthly. So much grit and rubbish had to pull everything out of the case and high pressure water clean the boards and floppy drives, also had a 12" hard disk fully sealed 1 MByte I think, rinse with DM water and oven dry for 48 hours @ 60 deg C, before reassembly. Never failed to restart. A miracle. In service for 10 years before upgrade.
In 1978 I was in the Navy and stationed in Misawa, Japan. I tried to order an Apple but couldn't. Can't recall exactly why; possibly trade restrictions. Anyways, while shopping one day I passed an electronic shop with an Apple II in the window. I inquired and found that it was a clone. I couldn't tell the difference! So, I came back another time with $1,200 and bought one. I was handed a plastic bag of chips, components, Japanese instructions and schematic. I couldn't read the instructions and didn't have a background in electronics, so I checked out some electronic books from the library. Long story short, I built it and it ran first time... I subsequently installed a CP/M card and programmed in USCD Pascal. I can say with more than 30 years of programming, the art of programming has long passed. Programmers of today really know very little about it.
I bought an Atari 800 computer in 1980, the first reason why was it's Atari Basic was almost the same as the HP Basic from the HP Time sharing Mainframe I used in High school. I'd get joked about wasting my money. But to me these Trash 80's, Crapple II's, and Pet computers that was at the Vet's more than at your home. These rich boy toys could only dream of playing Star Raiders that you killed Klingon Battle Cruisers, Cylon Base stars, and Tie Fighters with your photon torpedoes and on your own home TV and in real time and making you hope your shields lasted. Now days even my upgraded 128K of memory is small compared to just one color screen frame memory used today. And 3.58MHz clock rates, compared to the 1.4GHz on my Dell today. Those were the caveman days of home computing.
One of my first sysadmin jobs was the care and feeding of a roomful of these beasties at.. Perkin-Elmer! (The original company, not the EG&G rename). They were robust, no-frills, FORTRAN workhorses we used for our optical measurements and design work. Of course, within a few years, the 386 and 486-based PC's could run rings around them.
Where do I begin? I saw an adv. for Altair 8800 and was almost orgasmic. Then, came the Imsai. I bought one and thought that God should move over for I became his partner. Enough hyperbole. I soldered that thing up with the most expensive ic sockets (EMC) and proceeded to save coins to afford extras. I bought Godbout memory in 2 KB boards and all sorts of other stuff. I was in Heaven. I started out programming with the front panel switches, which, of course, were binary. I just can't describe the feeling that I had when the front panel lights began blinking, progressively from off to on. Later, I got an Teletype, ASR 33 and got a BASIC interpreter on punched paper tape. Life was fabulous. That tape allowed me to learn BASIC. Then, I had to get some or one program in BASIC. I did and was untouchable. Later, came a Kansas City Standard tape drive. Oh, I forgot, before all of this, instead of watching the data go by on the front panel of the Imsai, I got a b/w monitor and I am being close to running out of superlatives. Then, after all of this, are you listening, came the biggy of all time: I traded my life for a dual pair of Shugart, 8 inch floppy drives. Now, I am not exaggerating, late at night/early morning, when I was using those beasts, when the heads would load, I fear the neighbors in the next apartment would awaken. Acquisitions went on and gaining knowledge followed suit and so I was beyond redemption. I had my share and perhaps yours, too but I somehow wanted to express my prowess to the girls. How do you let them know that you are a datameister without them labeling you for all-time, a sicko? You just learn to keep your mouth shut. Well, I could go on but won't. There is so very much more. I think that I have bored you by not properly conveying the ecstasy that I have experienced. Before all of this, there was "ham radio" 73
My Dad had a Shap MZ 80 K with integrated cassette deck. They bizarrely "squared up" the keyboard so A was directly under Q etc. rather than offset. 2 minute to load Space Invaders of a cassette. I learnt about peeking and poking, BASIC. Check one out here; http://www.computinghistory.org.uk/det/2867/Sharp-MZ-80K/
I had a KayPro and thought it was like something out of a science fiction story. It was so compact, so portable, so easy to use. . .I wrote dozens of articles and stories on it and kept it for six years before bowing to the power of Microsoft. So, all these ads seems quaint by today's standards, so Model-Tish. But just be aware that the hi-tech items we salivate for today are tomorrow's antiques. That was the point of a recent item in my Thinking Out Loud blog, http://marperl.blogspot.com/, where I posted on March 26: on "Beyond Kindle": Don't get too comfortable with your Kindle. Just as the oral tradition gave way to scrolls of papyrus and parchment and individual manuscripts became outmoded by the mass production of books via Gutenberg's printing press, so too will the Kindle someday be obsolete. In the works: TouchDown--Just place your nose right up to the palm-sized unit's face and imbibe everything from War and Peace to Love Story in just seconds. InGest--Yes, you knew it was coming--your favorite titles in a tiny white capsule. Swallow and enjoy. StoryTeller--Not sure how this one got in, but apparently there is an idea afoot to have family and friends gather around a hearth and allow one of the members in attendance pull out an actual book and begin to read it to the group. Way too far out!
the Morrow Designs S-100 bus computer systems. In a day when so many affordable machines were largely hobbyist and games playing devices, George Morrow introduced a true business system, one of the first available with bundled business grade software (good old Personal Perl), and what was in its day a lightning fast bus.
We used an Apple 2 as data logger in an F27 aircraft in the early 1980's. It replaced a ROLM Mil-spec'ed rugged computer with 64k of program memory, and tapes for storage. The program start address was set by switches, and the "go" button pressed to start logging. Someone had pasted a photocopy of an IBM advertisement on the Apple, which (in part) read, in big letters: "Honestly, have you ever seen anyone on a plane using a computer?" How times change!
I was an early adopter and bought a TRS-80. Shortly after graduating from MSU. I think it was the original 4K system and then "expanded" to 16K. You had to plug the DIP chips into the motherboard. It's been a long time since we measured the memory in Ks instead of Ms or Gs.
Thanks, this is super-dooper article. Having lived thru this era (and before) has been an interesting experience. However, I still miss the warm glow of filaments and the tinny sound of an electro-dynamic 12" speaker whose field coil assisted with filtering the 350 volt DC plate voltage on an old upright floor console Zenith all-band radio..... Dave
Check out the model's head badly transplanted into the near right of picture #3. Before Photoshop, we made people better looking with scissors and paste :-)
We shouold appreciate what we now have, these ads are a great reminder of where technology has gone. Our smart devices are nuclear compared to back then. Wow, $22K for a terminal with 449KB of ram! Almost seems illegal, lol.
TI dominated in thi late 70's and it was a race between IBM and TI...but then we know what happened and who won. But I bought my first computer as a TI and then had to hire someone to run it, just to do family budget. 2nd computer was Apple II...so then we had games!
...."Memories, light the corners of my mind Misty watercolor memories of the way we were." Which was stuck with less than 1k of usable memory macines they weighted in at more than a 50 inch LED tv and tape decks to store code... lol
Who would think that Radio Shack would be a place for computers? Now with Best Buy, Fry's and even Wal-Mart in the computer game, is a whole different game buying a computer. 4k-16k of RAM??? OMG We are now at 1-3gigs of RAM, look at the size of the units.....HUGE!!! LOL
Much like the cars of the 50's and 60's, the computers then were new, exciting, and something you could "get your hands dirty" with both programming and hardware. Today's computers are powerful, but nightmares. Thanks for sharing the ads with us.
That was fun to remember. I still have my original 1984 Drexel University Macintosh and its owners manual.
The 2 Page Apple II add touts its Fully Socketed Motherboard. That was the ticket for me getting my Apple II. I worked at an Apple retailer in Denver (CW Electronics) and I worked in the repair shop which serviced the Apple II products that we sold. Some home brewer had connected an external floppy disk drive to a defective power supply that put line voltage on the +5V buss of the Apple motherboard; effectively frying every chip on it. It even blew a couple of the foil traces off near the PS. When I described the damage to Apple, they instructed me to ditch the motherboard & they sent us a new one. However because the Apple motherboard was "Fully Socketed" I was able to repair the board, pop the defective chips, and a buy all of the replacement parts at Poly-Packs & Digikey. I mounted the motherboard in an aluminum chassis and home brewed and Analog PS. I was then the proud owner of an Apple II (INIT HELLO) (SN# 12XX) Regards, Scott
I wonder if Apple's "Closed systems" are working now because of the "open network"... the device is no longer the thing that needs to be open - now it is the connection to data - which all devices have open access to. For the most part, Apple is as open to information from sources as anybody else, but they still take heat when their closed systems block that open flow - case in point is flash on the iPad.
*Sigh* There are times I really miss my Xerox 820 model 2. It was amazing what you could do with 64k and a little imagination... I wrote a muti-user, shared database system with email... in BASIC, that ran on two 5 1/4" floppies (and it had remote, dial-in access!) It was fun!
I am also one of the older people, who actually worked & developed systems, using the BOS operating system. developed on Xerox with twin 8" diskettes, tested on Panasonic (also 8" diskettes). how different now!
I starterd in IT in 1966. Thats 44 years ago so am very familiar with these ads from the 70s. Today's ads will look the same way in the next 40 years. Not so?
I am currently working on a Texas Instruments 961 21Trk, reel to reel tape drive, circa 1974! Value today approx. 10K! and takes several days to fix. Requires scope, meter and soldering iron to fix. Thank goodness for progress!
Oct 14th, 1981. I look at it occasionally to remind myself of the fun we had then. Opening it now to a TI Bubble memory data terminal! I love this start to an article " Imagine this: the year is 2006. You speak, and the machine across the room picks up your voice... and responds" The rate of change of technology is so much faster now than then though. Windows 8 on the cards before Windows 7 is mature, IPad 2 out so soon after IPad, etc.
Who can forget Compaq's first 'portable' computer ad with the lady effortlessly carrying the PC (that must have weighed at least 25kg) in mini skirt and impossable heels
I have a few more online, these are brochures though : http://www.oldcomputercollection.com/index.htm (go to Brochures on the left) There's quite a few more but I just need to scan them some time.
Here, I know it's not a "true" computer magazine, but it has scads of great ads from 50's - 2000's. You can browse each years "complete" catalog from front to back. Enjoy http://www.radioshackcatalogs.com/
Each IBM comparable began adding memory above 640K. Shook out into two approaches. You could have Expanded memory or Extended memory. Lotus 123 and other popular programs could use only one or the other. IT you had to run funny memory maps. or use software allocate memory. Why OH why did they chose two similar but incompatible names, Extended and Expanded. I could never remember one from the other. Usually guessed wrong.
TI are into micro-computers and chips. I was given a little usb evaluation board at a seminar they held a year or two ago. The board was less than one inch square, and had an amazing little chip in their MSP430... family which was only 2mm square, and did heaps!
How times have changed! When they wheeled the first 1-GB storage unit into the IBM computing center where my IT career began, we were simply in awe: "Wow! What are we going to do with a GIGABYTE of storage?" The other day, while rummaging through a tray of junk, I came across a 1-GB thumb drive, looked at it and thought: "Huh! What use is there for a 1-GB flash drive?"
Don't laugh.. (Or, don't stop laughing!) Have you reviewed the Library of books that came with MS Office 97?
I throughly enjoyed going through those catalogs especially the ones from when I was a kid and drooled over them like many others, being that back then there was always a big stack free on the counter to take home. I was and still am amazed how many specialty items they carried.