By exhibiting ten legendary personal computers and their relevant documentation, the K-Way Gallery’s target is to tell the story of the Software Revolution which tool place taking between the seventies and the eighties.
It was not only a technological revolution but also a cultural one, and Steve Wozniak, expert in informatics and co-founder of Apple, during the auction in which Marco Boglione knocked down the Apple 1, declared:
“When I first designed the Apple 1 I wanted to help a bunch of other people that were minded like myself that we could improve society.
A better communication, get the world out organize the things better, have educational superior, do the calculation for a company, financial calculations, we were gonna empower the individual over the big guy and I wanted it to happen so badly…
I gave this computer away, I gave away the licence, no copyright, no listings, and then Steve Jobs came and said he it was interesting why don’t we start a company to make some money and I said: fine!”
For Wozniak’s official declaration, go to www.basicpress.com/woz, now please have a look at these ten machines, which along with Apple 1, between 1975 and 1985, have contributed to the world’s change transforming informatics from a science for few to technology for all.
WELCOME TO THE K-WAY GALLERY
HOMAGE TO THE SOFTWARE REVOLUTION
In just ten years, between 1975 and 1995, due to technological development, a real cultural revolution took place, totally modifying the way people worked, communicated, lived. Before that, informatics was just considered a tool for a “niche” of users: computers were heavy and grey monolithic units, only few hyper specialists could use them and knew how to do it. Referring to this Thomas Watson, IBM Chairman declared back in 50s: “I think there is world market for 5 computers”.
Instead, from 1975 to 1985, thanks to the birth of companies like Apple, Microsoft, Commodore and Sinclair, sales went from zero to almost 10 million computers per year: a true computer literacy and computers became light weight, colorful and easy to use, in just a single word: popular!
The software revolution took place due to the miniaturization of components (microchips) combined with the imagination and the passion of some young people, driving this world.
THE AGE OF REVOLUTION
January 1975. On the cover of the review called Popular Electronics the following incredible news appeared: “Project breakthrough! World’s First Minicomputer Kit to Rival Commercial Models...” This was actually referring to the ALTAIR 8800, invented by Ed Roberts, the first computer in history that was designed using just one microprocessor (Intel 8080) and whose market price was really affordable: single parts could be purchased at only 395 Dollars whereas the price of the assembled version was equal to 495 Dollars. It was somehow new: thousands of amateurs and informatics addicted, mainly young people, were flashed by such news.
A lot of them reserved and bought the machine, whereas others started wondering about the potentials of that machine being programmed. Among that group, Bill Gates – a nineteen year old boy, together with his friend Paul Allen wrote the first BASIC programme, setting up Microsoft, and starting the software industry. The revolution of 1975 led not only to revolution in technology but also to revolution in society. ALTAIR did not offer great opportunities: no keyboard and no monitor were provided, but its success on the market showed that the world was ready for the age of personal computers.
THE HOLY GRAIL
Apple-1 was named the “Holy Grail” of modern informatics. It was a kind of dream machine for many people, hard to find and even more to get. In 1976 only 200 units were produced (150 were withdrawn from the market) and today, on the whole planet, only a few units of exemplars are traceable. The myth of Apple-1, went beyond its limited production: its historical importance lies in the technology that his young inventor Steve Wozniak, then assisted by Steve Jobs, introduced during its project step, in the first months of 1976.
As a matter of fact, despite being sold as a simple motherboard with assembled microprocessors (MOS 6502), a 4 KB RAM Memory, a ROM and few other components, Apple-1 was the first computer in history to be provided with a connected monitor and keyboard. That was definitely a revolutionary change in perspective: by simply using these two devices, for the first time, users could quickly and friendly interface the machine.
1977 was key for informatics. In April Apple presented its second model, Apple II, while in summer PET 2001 by Commodore and the TRS-80 by Tandy were introduced into the market.
These three revolutionary and compact computers started the second generation of personal computers. Assembled machines, presented in a design and sophisticated case, whose software was ideal for business, games and entertainment.
Provided with keyboard and possibly connected to either monitors or simple TV screens, first appeared in houses and offices.
The market really crashed on them, and in very few years million units were sold. PET 2001 was even advertised on Playboy and it was the first item by Commodore to be sold as a personal computer. Such company eventually became the leader in 80s providing the market with products such as the VIC20, the C64 and the AMIGA.
LET’S MAKE IT NICER
At the end of 1976 Steve Jobs first realized that the domain of informatics was entering a new age.
Despite Apple-1’s excellent sales figure, Jobs decided not to sell it on the market anymore, asking his friend and partner Steve Wozniak to design a new machine.
The young U.S. businessman was convinced that besides being just a hobby, computers could create a new type of market, devoted not only to DIY electronics but also to programming and developing potentials. After some months, on April 16 - 1977, the Apple II was presented, Jobs insisting on it being compact and coming in an appealing plastic case.
The Apple company was the first to exit standard circuits and to present its products on magazines and best selling newspapers, using the slogan: “Apple II is the computer that’s ready to work, play and grow with you”.
In July 1978 Apple presented a floppy drive where data could be saved and stored, whereas in February 1979 the first management software for the new machines was introduced on the market, its name was VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet program (similar to Excel) which became popular in the offices all over the world.
GIANTS ARE APPROACHING
People who worked in the domain of informatics between the end of 70s and the beginning of 80s, got familiar with the following statement: “Until IBM was not directly involved in the market of personal computers, this technology was considered secondary and not seriously effective”. On August 12 – 1981 the giant of U.S. informatics introduced its first compact machine.
That was the moment when also the most sceptical people had to admit that the world of informatics was entering a new age, passing from the age of big to the one of small processors. Model 5150, known as IBM PC, is currently considered as the father of a software dominating powerful family, the one of PC and compatible PCs. Such machines were Intel microprocessor based, opposed to Macintosh machines. Microsoft was the company that most benefited from IBM’s appearance on the personal computer market, as Bill Gates signed a supply contract for MS-DOS, IBM’s operating system. Only in the first year IBM, thanks to its extremely organized business network, sold 200,000 units.
In 1984 IBM launched its first portable, a 5155 monitor provided model, with two floppy drives and an integrated keyboard. Its whole weight almost reaching 14 kilograms.
COMPUTERS SOLD AT SUPERMARKETS
Commodore 64 (known as C64) was the best selling model of personal computer throughout history.
Produced from 1982 to 1993, it sold over 2 million units on a year basis. As of today, the C64 stands as a symbol for all young people who lived in 80s. Anybody played and/or programmed at least once, using a C64 computer.
This figure would be enough for this machine to be counted as a star in the sky of informatics, but C64 was also a newly conceived machine, above all for its light weight, easy use and basic programming. Similar to its VIC20 predecessor, out in 1981, the C64 business outcome was due to the outstanding marketing strategy it was distributed through.
For the very first time, computers were sold in supermarket, discount stores and toy shops.
THE FIRST MADE IN EUROPE MACHINE
At the very beginning of the software revolution, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum was the first European computer to be seen as a business competitor of U.S. products, made by Apple and Commodore. This tiny technology advanced jewel was more affordable, light in weight and extremely compact vis-à-vis its similar competitors. Similar to the C64 and the Apple II, the Spectrum could process colourful graphic designs and sounds, providing the BASIC language to people playing and programming activities.
The Spectrum was not Sinclair’s first personal computer; as a matter of fact at the beginning of 80s, the above mentioned British company, working in the domain of electronics, launched the ZX 80 (1980) and then the ZX 81 (1981), two special and innovation based machines. But it was only thanks to 1982 Spectrum that Sinclair’s company reached an incredible success selling millions of computers all over Europe.
The British company differed from its competitors also for the use of new original devices, such as ZX Microdrive units: data storage systems on tape, similar to the Stereo 8, being very popular in those years.
OPEN THE “WINDOW” AND A LET A NEW BREEZE IN
At last! From that moment on, using computers became extremely easy. At the beginning of 1983, after Apple Lisa’s launch, informatics entered a new age, the one of mice, cursors and windows. Unfortunately the revolutionary computer, created by Steve Jobs and designed by a group of smart Apple engineers, due to its outstanding innovations was actually overpriced, being sold at almost 10,000 Dollars, and only few people could afford it, thus turning the project into a sound business flop.
The graphic interface and the mouse were not invented either by Jobs or by Apple, but by some researchers from Xerox, namely Alan Kay, Butler Lampson and Chuck Thacker.
This newly conceived interface had been used on the Xerox Star computer since 1981.
But Xerox, whose real domain was photocopiers, was not interested in developing and promoting such project. While visiting Xerox’s labs back in 1983, Steve Jobs realized that this new technology could be the future of informatics, and decided to use it for the projects his company was carrying out: 1983 unlucky Lisa project and 1984 unexpectedly successful Macintosh.
THE PERFECT MACHINE
128k Macintosh is the father of the popular well known Apple family, still on the market and known as Mac. This very first model which was launched in 1984 marketed by Ridley Scott’s advertising campaign, is at the basis of the philosophy of future coming models: great care in its design, not superfluous elements, efficient operating systems and a great power of elaboration. 128k Macintosh was offered in an elegant case, with monitor and disk (all-in-one). Cables are few and well marked so that users cannot confuse them. Moreover Jobs wanted this computer to be quite, with no cooling fan system, as he considered silent machines to be modern. Similar to the Lisa machine, Macintosh offered a window and cursor based operating system (MAC OS) to be simply operated by a mouse, perfectly exploiting a 128 KB RAM, two times more powerful than the one of its competitors on the market. Thanks to a more affordable price vis-à-vis the Lisa, equal to about 2,500 Dollars, the Macintosh machine turned out to be a success, and millions of units were sold. At the highest production peak, a computer unit was manufactured every 27 seconds.
THE UNBEARABLE LIGHTNESS OF SOFTWARE
All personal computers would be useless (hardware) units unless being provided with the right software. In 1975 Bill Gates actually understood this idea, eventually founding the Microsoft company and producing the first operating systems and programmes for personal computers. The first were based on ‘string command’ operating systems: users had to know a kind of language to interact with the machine. At the beginning, the DOS (Disk Operating System) by Apple, Microsoft and Digital Research shared the market. In 1981, by signing the contract with IBM, Microsoft won over its competitors, thus becoming a synonym for the concept of software.
In 1985 the Microsfot Windows was launched: it was a graphic interface allowing a more immediate interaction with the machine by using a mouse, a cursor and windows. Apple, claimed for its creation: as a matter of fact a similar system, MAC OS, was presented few years before on the Lisa (1983) and Macintosh (1984) machines. Microsoft and Apple’s rival positions started and developed in this very period. From that moment on software – operating systems, programmes and games – increasingly gained importance in the domain of informatics, only in the latest years, thanks to the new multitouch technologies, hardware is achieving a more centered position, even if software programmes (now named “App”) are actually pulling the market and attracting users.
Second half of the Eighties. Mac and above all the IBM compatible/Windows succeeded in controlling the market of personal computers, making all other brands disappear.
End of the Eighties. Telematics was increasingly introduced and used, by exchanging data between computers using phone wires. Internet started to appear.
- 1991 Tim Berners-Lee from CERN introduced HTTP: the HyperText Transfer Protocol. The World Wide Web, started as a scientific community tool and then from 1993, it was opened to all users.
- 1994 Nescape Navigator, the first graphic browser in history entered the market. Browsers being used to visualize the contents of web sites.
- 1995 Internet Explorer entered the market, being Microsoft’s response to the success of the Netscape Navigator browser. In the same year Microsoft launched Windows 95.
- First Zero Years. Thanks to the creation of Wikipedia (2001), Facebook (2004) and Youtube (2005) the Web 2.0 was born. Users took an active role in sharing information and knowledge on the web.
- 2010 Apple launched the iPad, a new generation of personal computers, more oriented to digital surfing and entertaining, with a new multi-touch based interface.