Home Computing 22 Years Ago – Reminiscing

22 years ago my home computing experience was defined by myeldest brother’s Commodore 64, along with anold flat-keyboard Atari 400 (take a lookat that keyboard. Imagine spending hours typing inentire applications, your fingers pulsing in pain. Now imagineyour neighbour curiously pushing the button that opens thecartridge cover, an action which hilariously also turnsoff the power. That happens to be a very destructive act when youhave no persistent storage). Primary school computing consisted ofprogramming stick figures bouncing o’s on Commodore PETs.

These were pretty exciting times in personal computing, withseemingly endless potential, and a wide range of publications hadappeared to cater to the burgeoning market. One of the mostsuccessful of which was Compute!, amagazine that stood apart by being largely platform agnostic(versus the rags that catered to a specific zeal, advocating why,for instance, the Ti-99/4a was thegreatest computer ever).

I headed to the library monthly to read each issue, eager to seewhat new innovations were happening in the industry. These scansare from the February 1984 issue (if you’re price comparing withtoday, note that the CPI inflation since 1984 is 1.86x), one ofmany that I bought on eBay some time back to use as office wallart, as obviously this was a very shaping period of my life.

compute_february_1984_cover

Each Compute! issue featured one or more type-in game orapplication (as did most other home computing magazines), oftenported to several platform. Sometimes they were BASIC, while othertimes it was a BASIC loader followed by pages of machine language.Fun times, and I have a great memory of some of these games. I alsohave memories of spending hours typing in a game to have it lock upwhen we went to run it.

These type-in applications were actually my original motivationfor learning to program. My dream was to eventually submit my ownapplication, imagining the glory of having thousands of peopleacross the land typing my work into their computers. I wouldbe a hero to people everywhere!

compute_february_1984_broderbund

Of course the whole type-in fad faded before I had a chance forsuch illustrious glory. For a short while there was a standard forprinting programs as 2D barcode patterns, and with the appropriatescanner you could scan it right off the page. Neat idea, but sometechnical difficulties kept it from taking off.

Several trends seem obvious looking through this magazine.Educational software of all sorts was a huge market inthose days (and it seemed to be the greatest intended use for homecomputers), with Spinnakerbeing one of the largest vendors.

compute_february_1984_spinnaker

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And of course there were games. SSIwas a significant publisher of games, featuring several ads inevery issue. Though they originally started as a wargame company(hence the Strategic Simulations company moniker), they begangeneralizing into all sorts of (mostly terrible) games.

compute_february_1984_ssi

compute_february_1984_epyx

It’s also evident that the still struggling “everyone willbe a programmer” philosophy was strong. BASIC, forinstance, was intended as a language that everyone would use toachieve their computing needs — certainly not as the primarylanguage of many corporate developers — with the whole familywriting programs to do what they needed to get done.

compute_february_1984_basic

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CompuServe was the dominant pre-Internet, allowing users inseveral countries to communicate, participate in discussions, andeven play primitive multiplayer online games. Of course it wasinsanely expensive, so I stuck to local BBSs.

compute_february_1984_compuserve

And of course one of the most interesting sections of thesesorts of magazines were the mail-order shop ads (a trend thatreached its pinnacle with Computer Shopper several years late –800 pages, 99% of which were full-page ads).

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I hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane, or in many casespre-memory lane. I had to scan these images anyways, so I figured Imight as well share. I’ve stuck to ads — rather than actualmagazine content — to avoid copyright issues.