Today’s world of computing must be hard on young geeks. Modern computers are so easy to use that they’ll never be able to match the war stories of their 1970s and 80s counterparts, who can tell of how they used to save applications to audio tape on a ZX81, or how their MITS Altair didn’t have a mouse, or even a keyboard. But today’s propellerheads can at least read about the old days in books such as Digital Retro, a pictorial peek at the history of personal computing.
Few of us will have heard of all the pioneer computers featured in this work, but there will be others that you will recall fondly. Among these for me are the Sinclair ZX81, the Sinclair Spectrum, and the Sega Master System. Many others covered in this book – such as the Commodore PET and the Tandy TRS-80 – had me slavering down shop windows. “If only I had a Commodore VIC-20 my life would be complete,” I’d tell myself. Similarly, today I believe my life is in dire need of a 3GHz dual-processor G5.
The books’ photography is beautiful, and I assume from this that there still exists some very tidy examples of these computing dinosaurs. Included in the line-up are well-known models such as the Apple Lisa, the Amiga and the NeXT Cube. But also featuring are those computers that didn’t quite make the A-list: the venerable Grundy Newbrain, the Tangerine Microtan and the Dragon 32, the first ever Welsh personal computer.
Each picture is accompanied by a potted history. For example, I learned that Dragon was bought by a Spanish company after it went bankrupt in 1984, and 20,000 Dragon computers ended up in Spanish schools. The Sinclair QL, it turns out, was used by Linus Torvalds before he went on to invent Linux.
This book’s appeal is it offers something for computer fans of all ages. Older readers (like me) will enjoy a stroll down Random Access Memory lane, while young ’uns can learn how it used to be when performance was measured in single-figures, such as the 2MHz Altair with 1K of RAM. They don’t make them like that any more.