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Old 01 April 2009, 22:43   #20
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prowler's Avatar
Join Date: Aug 2008
Location: Sidcup, England
Posts: 10,299
Hi All,

Here at last is my review.

Digital Retro: The Evolution and Design of the Personal Computer
by Gordon Laing (Author)
ILEX (Publisher) 4 Oct 2004
RRP: £19.95
Source: Amazon

The book takes a detailed look at every important computer from the start of the home computer revolution with the MITS Altair, to the NeXT cube which marked the end of serious competition in the computer marketplace.

In all, 44 machines are covered. Before I read this book, I was familiar with just over half, either through using or emulating them, but only seven could I claim to have had much knowledge of or experience with.

The quality of the photography is excellent. You would need to have the machines lined up on the table in front of you to get a more vivid portrayal. This, coupled with a lively narrative which doesn't get bogged down in the technical details, captures their individual character and charm in a most compelling way.

The evolution of personal computing is described as the machines are presented in chronological order. The story is told, not only of the computers that battled for supremacy during this unique period, but also of the individuals and companies that designed and built them. It was fascinating to learn, for example, of what had happened to the chain of Tandy's UK outlets, or of the circumstances necessary for reverse engineering to be both successful and legitimate.

It is really no wonder that such revolutionary progress was made during the fifteen or so years covered by this book. This was a more innocent time when success could only be achieved, albeit with an element of risk, through innovation, investment and hard graft. It is interesting to note that the first companies to fall by the wayside were those who had made the decision to streamline their operations in response to financial difficulties, rather than borrowing to make up the shortfall. This invariably led to delays which meant that announcements of new models or peripherals would often be made long before actual products were available leaving customers feeling betrayed. Of course, once the industry had whittled down to a small number of players for whom success was assured, corporate greed and exploitation took over and progress has now slowed to the point where products are seldom ready before being released.

What I found most worthwhile about reading this book is learning a good deal more about machines I have neither owned nor used, but which I have nevertheless emulated, or can do so, on my PCs. For example, the 3-inch floppy drive used by Amstrad is IBM compatible, and can easily be driven by a standard PC floppy controller...
Now that's given me an idea.


PS. I had thought I might buy this book once I had read it and returned it to the library, but, because I had promised to post a review here, I probably studied it more thoroughly than I would have done otherwise, and it's all so clear in my mind that I don't think I'll need to buy it now.
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