Instant antiques

Merlin John looks back misty-eyed to the heyday of the beige box

I once worked with a journalist who was mad about his Osborne portable PC.

It was the mid-1980s and his eyes lit up as he described the changes it heralded. He was right, of course. Trouble was it looked like a cross between a fitter's toolbox and a sewing machine case. Just flip the lid and it became a keyboard, splayed out before a tiny screen flanked by floppy disk drives.

It might have been more impressive had I not already encountered an Apple Mac. A local Islington burglar clinched it with his testimonial: "I couldn't draw at school, but I drew a car in 10 minutes with that. It's mental." Ah, the empowerment!

Now I can discover the human stories behind these antique trail-blazers in Gordon Laing's excellent book Digital Retro - a painstaking odyssey through 20 years of innovation, from hobbyists in garages to corporate behemoths, from minimal productivity with lashings of potential to professional, industrial and life-changing proclivity.

Each of the 40 PCs featured gets two double-page spreads with superb photos interspersed with dip-in texts as helpful for a straight read as coffee-table serendipity.

Gordon Laing is a rarity. He can out-nerd any anorak, yet has excellent communication skills. His four-page history of computers is a miracle of precis and all that most people would ever need to know. In fact, Digital Retro is so good I broke the first rule of book reviewing - I actually paid for it.

The ICT Co-ordinators File

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PFP Publications

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David Fulton Publishers

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Digital Retro: The Evolution and Design of the Personal Computer

By Gordon Laing



Gordon Laing is a freelance journalist, former editor of Personal Computer

World and a contributor to TES Online

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