IBM PC is 30 today

IBM announced its new machine, the 5150, on 12 August 1981, 30 years ago today. This computer established the IBM-PC standard that became basis for modern computing. It became the industry standard.

IBM PC article

Microsoft article

Can You Do Real Work With the 30-Year-Old IBM 5150?

IBM PC ‘standard’ – wikipedia

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7th March 2011 – ZX81 30 years old

Monday 7th March 2011 marks the 30th anniversary of the launch of the ZX81, considered by many to be the first ‘home’ computer and certainly one of the machines that spurred the growth in microcomputers during the 1980s.

The ZX81 was a home computer produced by Sinclair Research and manufactured in Scotland by Timex Corporation. It was launched in the United Kingdom in March 1981 as the successor to Sinclair’s ZX80 and was designed to be a low-cost introduction to home computing for the general public. It was hugely successful and more than 1.5 million units were sold before it was eventually discontinued. The ZX81 found commercial success in many other countries, notably the United States, where Timex manufactured and distributed it under licence. Unauthorised clones of the ZX81 were produced in a number of countries.

[Source: Wikipedia article, linked below]

Find out more using the following links: article information and more detailed article
Wikipedia article – some excellent detail

Also see about the ZX80 with an article from History of Home and Game computers

Written by in: Links & Resources | Tags: ,

Developing this site

I haven’t had time to develop this site as much as I have wanted to, but it is slowly getting there. The plan is still to establish a resource that ICT students can use to help study the History of ICT. We’ve gathered together some of the memories of fellow teachers and I’m still keen to gather more.

The entire site is to be developed for fellow teachers and interested individuals to make use of. Thus all the content will be listed under a creative commons share-alike licence:

Creative Commons Licence is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

However, what I believe is really needed is some content about specific computers. When I originally started the site, I put together some links and resources for some of the early computers. What I now plan to do is put together specific pages for the following computers that I consider to be key to the development of computers today. Clearly even producing such a list has the potential to spark debate, but that is no bad thing.

What I plan to do is update this site with a section for each of the following. With each section will be a collection of games to test understanding of the information together with, if appropriate, a worksheet. That means the site can indeed be used for cover lessons too. I want the site to be a place where students can explore and discover some of the fun of early computing.

How much do you know about the History of the Amiga?
Play Walk the Plank to find out…

The list [of significant ‘home’ computers]:

MITS Altair 8800
Commodore PET 2001
Apple II
Acorn Atom
Sinclair ZX80
Sinclair ZX81
Commodore VIC-20
BBC Micro Model A / Model B
Commodore 64
Sinclair ZX Spectrum
Dragon 32
Apple Lisa
Oric 1 [Thanks to @thegreatgar for suggestion]
Acorn Electron
Apple Macintosh
Amstrad CPC-464
Atari ST
Commodore Amiga
Amstrad PCW
Acorn Archimedes

Is that a fair summary and appropriate list to be making progress with?

Written by in: Main site |

Vintage computers inspire next generation of scientists

Spectrum running Twitter

From: BBC News

More than 2000 retro-computing fans descended on Bletchley Park last weekend as The National Museum of Computing hosted Britain’s first Vintage Computer Festival.

Bletchley Park is best remembered as the main centre of Britain’s World War II code-breaking efforts, in which pioneering electronic, digital computers played a vital role.

More details also available at Hopefully this will become an annual event.


A further report also appeared on

The Year 2000 (from 1980 - zx81)

Photo Diary Britain’s first Vintage Computing Festival took place over the weekend at Bletchley Park, which was the perfect excuse to visit the National Museum of Computing, a recent addition to the Park site. All three are a tribute to the passion of volunteers – the state has only very recently saw fit to give any money to the historic site, and the Museum is a private venture.

The National Museum of Computing shows what can be achieved with enthusiasm and dedication. It’s nothing short of a scandal that while millions were spent on public relations consultants, or huge white elephants of arts centres, no money could be found for preserving the UK’s computing history.

Or perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise. It’s better placed to survive the cuts, it’s better to have knowledgeable enthusiasts in charge, rather than some leisure marketing consultant, and funds go on valuable exhibits, not funding applications.

Written by in: Main site,Memories |

Request for your computer memories!

As you can see from earlier posts this site has a number of aims but its primary focus was to provide an opportunity for students to complete ICT historical research. My feeling was that quite often students are left cover work that is either mundane in the extreme or simply not particularly interesting.

ZX Spectrum 48kb

With this site we’re trying to gather memories of current teachers or other individuals about their use of computers when they were younger. This could be the use of BBCs at school or programming the ZX Spectrum 48kb. This was real programming and students today simply don’t have such opportunities.

The hope is that we can build up a bank of personal reflections that students can then use for research into the history of ICT.

If you’re willing please contact me via Twitter @andyfield. Full ‘ICT histories’ (not the best term – I agree) can be submitting the form below. If you’re willing I’ll then turn them into posts that students can use for their research:

(Had to remove the contact form due to spam but please do contact me via Twitter)

If you have any questions, do leave a comment. Comments will be added to the bottom of this post, whereas ICT memories will be used to form new posts.

Written by in: Main site,Memories | Tags:

BBC Electric dreams

An excellent BBC series that takes a family back to the 1970s and illustrates all the ‘developments’ in technologies as they spend one day in each year.

The related BBC website offers a useful interactive timeline feature where you can navigate through the signficant developments and discover images, brief video clips, information and additional details. Well worth exploring for some ICT history. An excellent resource in its own right as well as a companion to the interesting TV programme.


Development of this site…

I just wanted to share my plans for the development of this site. I’ve been very pleased to collect the memories and thoughts of a number of colleagues about their ‘history of ICT’. These mini-histories are great to read just on their own. However, my real aim with the site is to use such memories as a source for students to make use of.

One of my aims was to create a site that ICT teachers can use for cover. Yet I never really imagined this as a collection of worksheets or PowerPoint-based tasks. Instead I want to provide opportunities for students to look at the history of technology to support their own future learning.

With additional ‘mini-histories’ I hope to be able to setup student research and discovery tasks e.g. why are all these teachers talking about something called a Spectrum? What was the Spectrum? What on earth is 48kb? I believe that if students could be set research tasks like this when they have cover lessons it would be a far more productive use of their time.

Additionally, the site could of course be used for standard lessons too – but knowing the challenges of setting cover with little or no notice, having a ready-prepared website to send students to, knowing they have the potential to change their opinions and viewpoints about ICT, would be a positive step.

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Computer memories: Alan Parkinson

At my Comprehensive School in the late 70’s, we had a Chemistry teacher called ‘Doc’ Humphries, and at the back of his teaching lab was a locked cabinet which contained my first ‘real’ computer: an Apple II, which presumably cost a great deal of money. At the end of the school day, as often as possible, I would sit at the computer alone and as the cleaners came and did their jobs, I would type in lines of code, patiently creating classics like the Lemonade Stall game (not much call for those in Rotherham) I would be kicked out by the caretaker locking up.

Apple II

Apple II

In 1979, I started my ‘O’ level in Computer Science, and in addition to the theory on AND, NOT OR, logic gates and the internal workings of a hard drive, we needed some “hands on” keyboard time, so that we could learn the basics of Basic. Every week, on Wednesday afternoon, we would catch an ancient double-decker bus, retired from the set of ‘On the Buses’ by the look of it, and make the journey to a local college which had a mobile classroom with Research Machines computers. Black screens and flashing cursors, and slow progress ! The machines were networked in some way but I can remember more about the frequent indigestion of the teacher than the intricacies of the operating system.

I also made a monthly trip to a GT newsagent in an alley off Fargate in the centre of Sheffield, which sold exotic magazines (no, not that type) from around the world. I would spend an inordinately large sum of money each month on copies of OMNI magazine. This was published in America, and featured science fiction short stories alongside imaginings of future worlds. I read, and reread them…

I still have a folder of clippings from these magazines, and was really pleased to see a website which had images of them. I particularly remember this cover:



It was in 1980 that I saw this very print ad while returning from a coach trip to London to the Science Museum, and later that year, took delivery of a shiny white ZX80, with rubberised “keyboard” membrane, and various connections. I used the tape recorder which had previously been used to record the Top 40 from the radio to load and save programmes, which I copied from a book (which had quite a few errors as I discovered) It had 1Kb of RAM, and 4Kb of ROM. My current laptop has 4Gb of RAM !

zx80 advertisement

zx80 advertisement - click to enlarge

There was no sound, and the computer had integer basic: 10 divided by 4 was 2, as was 9 divided by 4 – it only dealt in whole numbers. If the volume settings on the tape were not correct, you could spend 25 minutes listening to the squeals of the tape only to discover that it hadn’t loaded… And of course, when you switched the computer off, everything you had done was lost as there was no memory. But what else was a young boy to do.

My brother had a ZX81, which was much better, and also had a 16K memory pack on the back. Luxury – even if you did have to be very careful not to move it or you’d crash the machine. The keyboard was slightly better than on the ZX80 too.
As an undergraduate I had access to a mainframe which filled a whole room. Using this necessitated the creation of a ‘batch’ of cards: a stack of punched cards, each of which represented one line in a program of instructions. To produce a basic line map representing the shape of a county would involve the production of hundreds of cards, and if even one was incorrect, the whole batch would be stopped, and another day would be gone. The batch was punched individually, then wrapped with a rubber band and dropped into a tray. The “program” was run overnight, and the next day, if you were lucky, you would find a print out on computer paper with the answer to a data run, or perhaps a crude map.

By now I had a ZX Spectrum, and was amazed with the colour and graphics. I remember playing Knight Lore until 3 in the morning instead of getting on with my work – there are Flash based versions of this online now, and it’s an incredibly frustrating game. BBC Micros were appearing in the computer rooms, and I programmed a “software suite” to handle and visualise weather data. I gained an ‘A’ in Computer Science for that, as well as learning a bit of Pascal.

About the time I started my PGCE course, with Computer Studies as my second subject (Geography of course being my degree) I had an Amstrad PCW 8256, with its Locomotive script and dot matrix printer, which must have churned out 40 000 pages by the time I traded up to my first real PC.

And now, my daughter gets frustrated at the time her DS games take to appear once she puts in the game cartridge…

NB: All reasonable offers considered for the items described above, most of which are in my parents’ loft.

Alan Parkinson
Secondary Curriculum Development Leader
Geographical Association

Image credits:
Apple II: Wikimedia Commons
Omni Magazine Cover:
ZX80 Print ad and image of computer:


Computer memories: Doug Belshaw

The full version of this ‘ICT history’ can be found on Doug’s blog.

BBC Micro

My Dad was Deputy Head of the high school (13-18) I eventually attended. I can remember him bringing back a BBC Micro that must have cost the school a fair chunk of cash. Given that the BBC Micro was discontinued in 1986, it couldn’t have been long after that he started bringing it home in the school holidays. I can distinctly remember having to type in lines and lines of code to play a game called Duck Hunt. There was no way for me to save it once I’d programmed it in, so there was more typing than playing going on! I don’t think it was exactly the same as this version for the Nintendo NES, but it was similar…

My Dad also brought an Acorn Computer back once, but as we had no games for it, we (my younger sister and I), didn’t really use it.

Nintendo NES

I was never allowed to have a games console, my parents being of the belief (quite rightly) that I’d just spend my life playing video games. One of my friends who I only saw outside of school time had a Nintendo Entertainment System, which was legendary – Super Mario and the like made me a frequent visitor to his house!

Amiga 600

As my birthday is very close to Christmas, I was in the fortunate situation of being able to combine the money that would be spent on present for me to get one ‘big’ present. Given that the Amiga 600, according to Wikipedia, went into production in 1992 and was discontinued in 1993, I must have received it for birthday/Christmas 1992. As a 12-year-old, I can remember going to Canterbury when we were on a family holiday and my parents buying Lemmings and Kick Off 2 for me. Although, theoretically, the Amiga 600 was a computer and a games console, I never did anything other than play games on it! ;-)

Sega Megadrive

Sonic the Hedgehog
Image via Wikipedia

Whilst I had my Amiga 600, another friend had a Sega Megadrive. This was my first experience of Sonic the Hedgehog and I found the graphics on it amazing – especially when the 32X add-on was released!

Compaq Presario Pentium 75

My Dad had brought home his 486DX-powered PC during the holidays during 1994 and 1995. It was upon this that I learned how to touch-type with a version of Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing that came free on the front of a magazine. Then – and I’m not sure how I managed to do this – I persuaded my parents to spend £1,500 in Bainbridges (now John Lewis) on a Pentium 75-powered PC. I think I promised that it would not only be a combined birthday and Christmas present for 1995, but for 1996 and 1997 as well!

I can remember playing Sim City 2000 and especially, the Secret of Monkey Island on this machine. My sister and I would return from school and be straight on the PC trying to figure out the next puzzle! I also had Sensible Soccer, a flight simulator, and some other games.

It was with this machine, however, and Windows 95 that I began to use the PC as a computer rather than a console. Before Freeserve, you had a choice between paying Compuserve or AOL around £15 per month on top of dial-up charges to access the Internet. My PC had a 28.8kbps modem – twice the speed of the previous 14.4kbps standard.

There was no way that my parents were going to pay this to allow me access to a resource they didn’t see as necessary to my education. I tried and tried and tried to persuade them, but when they didn’t agree I decided to take matters into my own hands. I used my Dad’s credit card to sign up for a 30-day Compuserve trial, and then used the Internet when my parents were not using the phone. This, of course, was slightly dangerous as, if they’d picked up the phone when I was online, they would have been able to hear the giveaway noises. I had to go to a phone box and pretend to be my Dad after about 29 days to cancel my (his!) Compuserve account, and make sure I wasn’t connected for longer than an hour. Billing was only itemised for calls over 60 pence, you see…

In 1997, as a 16-year-old, I was getting a bit fed-up of Windows 95. I’d read about Open Source Software and Linux in particular. Although by now I had a 56kbps modem and my parents allowed me online via Freeserve, downloading anything substantial over this connection speed was painful. I bought a book with a title something like Teach yourself Red Hat Linux in 24 hours. Despite the book that came with it, I couldn’t get Linux to work properly on my PC.

[Continues further on Doug’s blog]

Doug Belshaw

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