This is the story of how we went from 1970, when no-one had a computer in their home or office, to today, when computers are everywhere. It’s a colourful tale, and the author tells it in a highly readable style backed by impressive research. It’s all there, from the development of the microchip and the first hobby computers to the entry of IBM and the rise of Microsoft, Apple and the Internet. If you were there then it’s a real trip down memory lane; if you weren’t, it’s an eye-opener to see just how ‘Wild West’ the early microcomputer industry really was. Some illustrations would add to it, but the quality of the material makes it an excellent read nevertheless.
Although this book ends up dealing mainly with PC compatibles and Apple computers it does also cover the pre-micro period of mainframes and batch computing, timeshare etc.. The chapters are not truly chronological but rather each chapter deals with a certain topic and as a result the same information can (to some extent) appear in more than one chapter, which makes for a rather disjointed feeling at times as we seem to jump back to an earlier point in the story. The period of the home computer before the IBM compatible PC is rather skipped over, with only passing reference to the plethora of home computers of that time. I feel that too much time is spent on the Apple v Microsoft "battle" and political issues created by this. Most personal computer users are home users too and I feel that too much of the book deals with "high end" (ie priced beyond the means of the home user) machines and business uses rather than recreational use, with virtually no mention of the importance of the computer games market in driving the development of the PC. All that said, I found this a fascinating, well-informed and insightful book and well worth reading.
It's easy to underestimate just how much personal computing (including access to the internet) has done for us. Yet so many jobs have been transformed - mine as writer certainly has - as has everything from the sheer access to information to the ability to play immersive games in the personal sphere. Matt Nicholson, a long time IT journalist, takes us on the fascinating journey of the development of the desktop personal computer, from the earliest kit computers, through Sinclair Spectrums and BBC Bs to the IBM PC (with its many descendants) and the Apple Mac.
Nicholson tells the story at just the right level, bringing in all the key players and technologies and giving a real in-depth feel to his discussion of the technology, business and politics of the many decisions that left us with the personal computing landscape we have today. From the rise of Microsoft to Apple teetering on the knife-edge of disappearance before it found its way with a new generation of machines, if you are interested in computing this is an excellent account. I've read all the personality-based books on the early developments, that focus almost entirely on the likes of Gates and Jobs, but this achieves a much better balance between the people and the details of the technology (as long as you are techie-minded).
The only thing I really wasn't entirely happy with was the ending. Nicholson decided not to follow personal computing into the laptop/tablet/smartphone era. There's no mention, for instance, of Chrome and only passing references to iPhones and iPads. I think that's a shame, because it's still part of the same revolution, but I can understand him wanting to stick to the very specific rise of the desktop computer. Even so, the actual last few pages end very suddenly without a nice tie-up. Otherwise the whole thing is excellent, particularly surprising as this appears to be a self-published book, but it has clearly been well edited. The only thing that sets it apart is that for some reason self-published books never get the text layout on the page working quite as a well as a properly typeset book. But it's no real problem.
There is one proviso to this review, including those five stars. This is a book that could have been written for me as an audience. I started programming IBM PCs in 1984 (the year the Mac launched). I had the second PC AT in the UK, on which I lost two hard disks in 6 months, so Nicholson's comment 'it soon became apparent that there was something wrong with its 20 Mb hard disk, as users started reporting that it was prone to crashing and losing data for no apparent reason' hit me between the eyes. I was heavily involved in the introduction of Windows and my first ever paid piece of writing was a review of the launch version of Excel for Windows. This is so much a history of my early working life that I can't help but be entranced by it. If you have embraced your inner computer geek you should find it equally enjoyable, but it might not work as well for someone with less of an in-depth interest in the topic.
So - if the thought of finding out why IBM was so tardy bringing in the 80386, what happened to products like Borland Sidekick and Visi On, the real story of the demise of CP/M, whatever happened to OS/2, Microsoft's U-turn in embracing the internet and far more, click away (because surely you shop online) and buy this book.
Matt Nicholson has chosen an interesting time to publish a history of the personal computer: the facts surrounding the rise of the PC are sufficiently well established that its story can be clearly told, but the demise of the PC is too current to permit a reflective discourse.
Wisely, Nicholson avoids this trap, concentrating instead on the three decades from the early 1970s in which PCs moved from a pipedream to being centre-stage in everyday life and work.
Nicholson is a journalist and this book is proper journalism. The story is big enough not to need sensationalism and is presented here as it happened, in a clear and breezy style with plenty of detail and a welcome lack of guess-work, navel-gazing or theorising.
To be clear, ‘When Computing Got Personal’ is about the PC business – the complex and evolving relationships between IBM, Microsoft and Apple is a constant theme, with supporting roles played by the usual suspects. It’s a story I thought I knew pretty well, but Nicholson’s depth, breadth and perspective provided plenty of food for thought and kept me engaged at all times.
This is a great read for anyone sitting at a desktop computer, wondering how it got to be what it is. You’ll need a certain familiarity with IT to keep up, but in return you’ll get a hold on one of the most important histories of the past fifty years.
This book is not only well written but also quite compelling. It's a 'true adventure" with the heroes flexing their intellectual muscles and, thinking the crap out of their competitors. It's so easy to forget it was less than 30 years ago that windows was introduced to the world. 64 mb hard drives you could wheel about on castors. The first 1 gb hard drive in a pc! I thought when I turned it on all the lights in the factory would dim. And today we just take exponential technological innovation for granted. This book is an important historical record of our times. Read it, I guarantee you will count it time well spent.
This is a book about business, about strategic marketing, and about technology. Many business books have isolated case studies that happen over maybe 5 years, but what we see here is how things have played out over 30 years. The way we now go about our work and our home life has been totally influenced by these events, these successes, and these failures. The author is a technical journalist so he knows how to pull out the significant steps on that road, not just the technology, but also the companies, the brands, and the personalities. Interesting, entertaining, and for some of us, somewhat nostalgic.
Increasingly, people have "computer facility" with no real idea of where their computer came from. And of some of the tricks and accidents on the way. This is an excellent history of where the personal computer came from - and perhaps you'll learn something that comes in useful while surfing the next innovation wave - or whatever what is replacing plain old programming is called. Recommended.
A fascinating insight into the history of the personal computer. How did Steve Jobs and Bill Gates create Apple & Microsoft? Who "borrowed" what idea from whom? I have worked with computers for 30 years, and this has been a wonderful trip down memory lane. Ah, my old IBM 1520 & 1640, not to forget the commodore Vic20. They are all here!
I'm just a novice & some of it is above me, but I love the stories of the early days of PC's , how different it could have been if Xerox had realised just what they had created, but allowed Bill Gates & Steve Jobs & others to freely take their ideas .