Evolution of the computer from the dark ages of the '70s

Mar 22, 2018 at 10:00 am by Warlord720

It was in the late '70s that I got into home computing.

I believe it was 1978 when I soldered together my first computer. I assembled two… a Sinclair ZX80 and a Heath kit. Both were DIY projects. One I remember as an ugly blue box that did next to nothing while the other looked like a futuristic calculator.

Some of our readers know of Clive Sinclair who not only brought us the Sinclair computer (later the Timex Sinclair… yes… Timex) as a man ahead of his time. He worked on flat screen TV’s when we were using huge CRTs. Back then the concept of a flat screened TV was incomprehensible based on the technology of the day. This is flat screen mind you… not thin screen. This was before LCDs and their cousins.

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A home network wasn’t on the radar for most of us as we didn’t know what a network was and the internet wasn’t even a pipe dream then. No dial in BBS (bulletin boards) either. If you were lucky you got some form of usable documentation with the computer. Usually you weren’t lucky.

Oh, you got documentation.  “Usable” was the keyword.

In fact, you got so much documentation with the original IBM PC that I’m still convinced to this day that IBM owned a major stake in the technical book printing industry.

IBM PC

I can remember exciting titles such as “BASIC,” “DOS,” the extremely useless but super geeky “Guide to Operations” plus the two-volume blockbuster: “Hardware Maintenance and Service.”

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Let’s not forget the ever-enticing “Technical Reference Manual.” I used to open that thing and just marvel at the geniuses that could actually comprehend its contents. It was crammed full of techno speak and righteous diagrams, robust flow charts and truly amazing schematics. No doubt birthed by the collective minds of wizards.

They just left out the part about actually operating the computer.

We didn’t let that spoil the party.

We had computers!

Real life computers!

And they didn’t take up an entire wall or room!

The anticipation of your first real in-home computer was palpable. The arrival of the IBM PC was a big deal. It wasn’t delivered to my doorstep. We had to drive a couple of hours to a bigger city that had the only PC shop for hundreds of miles.

You got a little bit of orientation at a showroom computer but that was merely a nice gesture. Let’s face it… you didn't know enough about the computer at this point to soak any of it in except maybe basic rote tasks like physically turning it on and booting it up.

HeathKit and Sinclair

By now you had made your decision in the pc wars as to what brand or type of technology you were going for. There were no standards and everyone and their dog had their own flavor of DOS, the prevailing operating system at the time. You could choose from Radio Shack or Texas Instruments to Ohio Scientific but IBM just seemed to legitimize the pc concept for a lot of us.

I was very proud when my DIY computers and the early IBM PC fired up but then it dawned on me. What now?

We had no choice.  We learned to write code… from BASIC to hardcore machine languages. I’ve always thought it ironic that BASIC was one of advanced programming languages of the time. Its name a misnomer for sure as it had to communicate with users on a human word level instead of cryptic machine language. In time useful applications started popping up from users that wanted more and needed more than just saying “Hello World” or “My name is Hal” (even though the latter was pretty cool at the time).

Today most of us pack more power in our phones than we did with those early computers. Tablets and smartphones may be spoiling us, but they’ve also enriched us. Technology now reaches deep into our lives to such a degree that our latest generation is rich with innovation and ideas for the future.

No doubt computer technology has been one hell of a ride so far.


M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord is an international award winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years.  M.D. is currently working on VR projects and characters. You can learn more about MD at his website


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