Digital Retro - The Evolution and Design of the Personal Computer Hardcover – 4 Oct 2004
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Full of pictures and descriptions of classic machines, a fascinating trip down memory lane. -- PCW Magazine, January 2005
The book is packed with glossy photos and reams of fascinating trivia. -- What Laptop, February 2005
From the Back Cover
The late Seventies to the early Nineties was a completely unique period in the history of computing. Long before Microsoft and Intel ruled the PC world, a disparate variety of home computers, from an unlikely array of suppliers, were engaging in a battle that would shape the industry for years to come.
Products from established electronics giants clashed with machines which often appeared to have been (or actually were) assembled in a backyard shed by an eccentric inventor. University professors were competing head to head with students in their parents' garages.
Compatibility? Forget it! Each of these computers was its own machine and had no intention of talking to anything else. The same could be said of their owners, in fact, who passionately defended their machines with a belief that verged on the religious.
This book tells the story behind 40 classic home computers of an infamous decade, from the dreams and inspiration, through passionate inventors and corporate power struggles, to their final inevitable demise. It takes a detailed look at every important computer from the start of the home computer revolution with the MITS Altair, to the NeXT cube, pehaps the last serious challenger in the personal computer marketplace. In the thirteen years between the launch of those systems, there has never been a more frenetic period of technical advance, refinement, and marketing, and this book covers all the important steps made on both sides of the Atlantic. Whether it's the miniaturization of the Sinclair machines, the gaming prowess of the Amiga, or the fermenting war between Apple Computer, "Big Blue," and "the cloners," we've got it covered. "Digital Retro" is an essential read for anyone who owned a home computer in the Eighties.See all Product description
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The images presented are very sharp and clear, but on some machines the colour and contrast are a bit washed out. In the case of the Spectrum, for example, you could be left with the impression it was dark grey rather than jet black. This may be because the 'black slab' design of so many of the machines makes it hard to reveal detail without reducing contrast, but I have seen better pictures of the Spectrum elsewhere. All the photos are large & detailed however, and the machines shown are all in showroom condition.
My final niggle is that there are no photographs to remind readers - many if not most of whom probably never saw more than one or two of these in operation - what these relics showed on screen in day to day use. From the dot-crawl haze of most Sinclair machines on ordinary TVs (No FST either, 14 inch portables of course!) to the mysterious green on black glow of more 'serious' computers, to the variously blocky, colour clashing, purple, or upmarket RGB displays, what came out the business end of these machines is surely a necessary compliment to such an exercise as this? Especially when many of the items in the book have onboard displays, it's a shame they are all 'off'!
It's a lovely book - in a not very crowded genre - that anyone who has any interest in electronics, design, games platforms or valiant commercial flops will appreciate, but it simultaneously gives the impression that only the surface has been scratched, once you start to count all the machines that you remember which don't appear.
In addition, Gordon Laing has done a lot of legwork, interviewing many of the pioneers behind the machines and in the process, digging out lots of new and interesting facts about how these computers were conceived and developed. We hear about the triumphs and disasters, the struggles and the sucessess - which sadly, none of the players were able to capitalise on and make their machine the de facto standard for home computing (a certain Mr Bill Gates would eventually take that prize...)
The design of this coffee-table book means you can read it from cover-to-cover or dip into sections that take your fancy. You might think that a book like this would only appeal to old computer nerds wanting to trek along the road to nostalgia, but you'd be wrong. My teenage sons were mesmerised by the old computers and Laing's writing style really brings the subject to life.
Even if you're only vaguely interested in computers, you should check out this book - you won't be disappointed and I bet you'll see computers in a new light as a result.
The photographs give a real feel for what these machines were like (judging from the ones I used to own), and the brief commentaries bring them into even shaper focus.
It's a coffee table book, but expect the coffee to go cold. Absolutely wonderful.
This is a book set before that time. The pioneer days of computers when 'Gates' was a word prefixed with the word 'Logic' and not 'Bill'. When programmers knew what a clock cycle was and could wield a soldering iron.
Gordon Laing tracked down the creators of the computers that stretched imaginations and upon which a whole new industry was born. In some ways this book is the credits list for that age, so if names like Jay Miner, Adam Osborne, Steve Furber or Shiraz Shivji don't mean anything to you they should and you should get this book to find out why.
It's beautifully designed and laid out too, which makes it great to read but means it's not very commuter train friendly.
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A real blast down memory lane, I owned a lot of the hardware featured in this book - I only wish I hung onto...Read more