While I was off being a dirty stop out last week, dear Auntie Beeb – BBC 4 to be precise – ran a programme entitled Micro Men. No, not a superhero tie-in or some quirky tribute to the Incredibly Shrinking Man, but partly facts based drama set in the early 80s, on the relationship between two of the UK’s leading computer manufacturers, Sinclair and Acorn…. and the men behind the companies. I won’t give you a capsule review; mainly because I’m lazy and should you wish to make up your own mind, it’s available on iPlayer. 🙂
I must confess that at the time, the history of what was going on passed me by. I was still at primary school and very far from the maddening crowds of urban living. I was more concerned with other fluff than the computer based arms race happening not so far away. Stuff like catching Battle of the Planets or wondering why the lads like Adam Ant, and not Bananarama. Oh well. 🙂
We had a Beeb: the BBC Model B. A 6502 powered machine with a whole 32KB of memory. We didn’t get a disk drive – and I mean a floppy disk drive at that – for another 3 years. Loading anything by tape took *ages*. That ooooo weeeek noise of the tape deck for 10 to 15 minutes. But… that’s what you were used to. There was no mouse, no Windows and no Internet (at least for the common man). You flicked the power switch and barr-beeepp, the *ahem* OS loaded up. You got a flashing prompt and that was it. Okay: CHAIN “”, hit enter and start the tape deck.
The model B seemed primitive by today’s standards, but it held my interest. In fact, it’s a good thing home computers were invented, because academically, I was pretty sh** at everything else! 🙂 Sports? Forget it, I’m a but a simple part-time trans person remember? Maths? Too complicated and English? Well, you needed a Rosetta Stone to read my handwriting. So computers it was. I suppose part of it was in my blood, my Grandad was an engineer and my Dad worked in radio electronics.
Watching the programme made me stop and think how far we’ve come in such a short space of time. 8, 16, 32 and now 64 bit machines with more memory that you would have thought possible. My first hard disk had 20meg of storage on it, you can’t even buy a memory stick that small nowadays. Just the other day I put a server in with 32 Gb of memory and the equivalent of 8 CPUs… *and* that may not be enough for the project! 🙂
Moore’s Law just keeps on paying out due to some awfully clever gents and ladies. Where will it all end? I wouldn’t like to say, although I’d wager that mobile telephones will get smarter and a lot more powerful than they are now. Maybe they’ll replace laptops and you’ll be able to hot-dock them into a flat screen and bond a Bluetooth keyboard to them. High speed WIMAX can’t come fast enough around here, that’s for sure. 🙂
At the end of the programme – and seemingly the end of Acorn’s big business – the show closed on a footnote. The rise of American companies like Compaq and Microsoft. IBM, the creator of the PC lead the charge and PC clones flooded the market. Finally, there was the mention of ARM. Acorn seemed to shift focus but stay in the chip market. What do ARM do? Only about 90% of the trade in mobile telephone based CPUs according to one statistic. Small world huh?
Where would we be without computers? For one thing, you wouldn’t be reading this and I’d be a lot worse off. Sh**, I might have to really work for a living. (Ed: scary thought!). Hats off to the computer boffins of the 80s and through to today…. wherever they make take us to. 🙂
[ Today’s lyric: The Devil You Know by Jesus Jones ]