Instant antiques

7th January 2005 at 00:00
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

Price pound;73.50 annual subscription

PFP Publications

67-71 Goswell Rd

London EC1V 7EP

Tel: 0207 9542321

ICT for Teaching Assistants

By John Galloway

Price: pound;15

David Fulton Publishers

Tel: 020 8996 3610

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

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today