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Home computers were a class of
microcomputer A microcomputer is a small, relatively inexpensive computer with a microprocessor as its central processing unit (CPU). It includes a microprocessor, Computer memory, memory and minimal input/output (I/O) circuitry mounted on a single printed ci ...
s that entered the market in 1977 and became common during the 1980s. They were marketed to consumers as affordable and accessible computers that, for the first time, were intended for the use of a single nontechnical user. These computers were a distinct market segment that typically cost much less than business, scientific or engineering-oriented computers of the time such as those running
CP/M CP/M, originally standing for Control Program/Monitor and later Control Program for Microcomputers, is a mass-market operating system An operating system (OS) is system software System software is software designed to provide a platform f ...
or the
IBM PC The IBM Personal Computer (model 5150, commonly known as the IBM PC) is the first computer released in the IBM PC model line and the basis for the IBM PC compatible IBM PC compatible computers are similar to the original IBM PC The IBM ...

IBM PC
, and were generally less powerful in terms of
memory Memory is the faculty of the by which or is , stored, and retrieved when needed. It is the retention of information over time for the purpose of influencing future action. If s could not be remembered, it would be impossible for language, r ...
and expandability. However, a home computer often had better
graphics Graphics () are visual The visual system comprises the sensory organ A sense is a biological system A biological system is a complex network which connects several biologically relevant entities. Biological organization spans several s ...
and sound than contemporary business computers. Their most common uses were playing
video game#REDIRECT Video game A video game is an electronic game that involves interaction with a user interface or input device such as a joystick, game controller, controller, computer keyboard, keyboard, or motion sensing device to generate visual f ...
s, but they were also regularly used for
word processing In linguistics Linguistics is the scientific study of language A language is a structured system of communication used by humans, including speech (spoken language), gestures (Signed language, sign language) and writing. Most lang ...
, doing homework, and programming. Home computers were usually sold already manufactured in stylish metal or plastic enclosures. However, some home computers also came as commercial
electronic kit An electronic kit is a package of electrical components used to build an electronics, electronic machine, device. Generally, kits are composed of electronic components, a circuit diagram (schematic), assembly instructions and often a printed circ ...
s like the
Sinclair ZX80 The Sinclair ZX80 is a home computer Home computers were a class of s that entered the market in 1977 and became common during the 1980s. They were marketed to consumers as affordable and accessible computers that, for the first time, were ...

Sinclair ZX80
which were both home and home-built computers since the purchaser could assemble the unit from a kit. Advertisements in the popular press for early home computers were rife with possibilities for their practical use in the home, from cataloging recipes to
personal finance Personal finance is the financial management Financial management may be defined as the area or function in an organization which is concerned with profitability, expenses, cash and credit, so that the "organization may have the means to car ...

personal finance
to
home automation Home automation or domotics is building automation for a home, called a smart home or smart house. A home automation system will monitor and/or control home attributes such as lighting, climate, entertainment systems, and appliances. It ma ...
, but these were seldom realized in practice. For example, using a typical 1980s home computer as a home automation appliance would require the computer to be kept powered on at all times and dedicated to this task. Personal finance and database use required tedious
data entry Data entry, a person-based process, is "one of the important basic" tasks needed when no machine-readable version of the information for planned computer-based analysis or processing is readily available. Sometimes what is needed is "information ...
. By contrast, advertisements in the specialty computer press often simply listed specifications, assuming a knowledgable user who already had applications in mind. If no packaged software was available for a particular application, the home computer user could program one—provided they had invested the requisite hours to learn
computer programming Computer programming is the process of designing and building an executable computer program to accomplish a specific computing result or to perform a particular task. Programming involves tasks such as analysis, generating algorithms, Profilin ...
, as well as the idiosyncrasies of their system. Since most systems shipped with the
BASIC BASIC (Beginners' All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) is a family of general-purpose, high-level programming language In computer science Computer science deals with the theoretical foundations of information, algorithms and the ar ...

BASIC
programming language included on the system
ROM Rom, or ROM may refer to: Biomechanics and medicine * Risk of mortality The risk of mortality (ROM) provides a medical classification to estimate the likelihood of inhospital death for a patient. The ROM classes are minor, moderate, major, and ex ...
, it was easy for users to get started creating their own simple applications. Many users found programming to be a fun and rewarding experience, and an excellent introduction to the world of digital technology. The line between 'business' and 'home' computer market segments vanished completely once
IBM PC compatibles IBM PC compatible computers are similar to the original IBM PC The IBM Personal Computer (model 5150, commonly known as the IBM PC) is the first computer released in the IBM PC model line and the basis for the IBM PC compatible IBM PC c ...
became commonly used in the home, since now both categories of computers typically use the same processor architectures, peripherals, operating systems, and applications. Often the only difference may be the sales outlet through which they are purchased. Another change from the home computer era is that the once-common endeavour of writing one's own software programs has almost vanished from home computer use.


Background

As early as 1965, some experimental projects, such as Jim Sutherland's
ECHO IVECHO IV, or ECHO 4 (Electronic Computing Home Operator, or Electronic Computer for Home Operation) is a prototype of a home computer developed by Westinghouse Electric Company, Westinghouse Electric engineer James Sutherland in the mid 1960s (1965-19 ...
, explored the possible utility of a computer in the home. In 1969, the Honeywell Kitchen Computer was marketed as a luxury gift item, and would have inaugurated the era of home computing, but none were sold. Computers became affordable for the general public in the 1970s due to the mass production of the
microprocessor A microprocessor is a computer processor where the data processing logic and control is included on a single integrated circuit An integrated circuit or monolithic integrated circuit (also referred to as an IC, a chip, or a microchip ...

microprocessor
starting in 1971.
Early microcomputers Early may refer to: History * The beginning or oldest part of a defined historical period, as opposed to middle or late periods, e.g.: ** Early Christianity ** Early modern Europe Places in the United States * Early, Iowa * Early, Texas * Early B ...
such as the
Altair 8800 The Altair 8800 is a microcomputer A microcomputer is a small, relatively inexpensive computer with a microprocessor as its central processing unit (CPU). It includes a microprocessor, Computer memory, memory and minimal input/output (I/O) cir ...

Altair 8800
had front-mounted switches and diagnostic lights (nicknamed "
blinkenlights Blinkenlights on the NSA's FROSTBURG supercomputer from the 1990s. Blinkenlights is a neologism for Blinkenlights#Actual blinkenlights, diagnostic lights usually on the front panels on old mainframe computers, minicomputers, many early microco ...

blinkenlights
") to control and indicate internal system status, and were often sold in kit form to hobbyists. These kits would contain an empty
printed circuit board A printed circuit board (PCB) is a laminated sandwich structure of conductive and insulating layers. PCBs have two complementary functions. The first is to affix electronic components An electronic component is any basic discrete device or ...

printed circuit board
which the buyer would fill with the
integrated circuit An integrated circuit or monolithic integrated circuit (also referred to as an IC, a chip, or a microchip) is a set of electronic circuit 200px, A circuit built on a printed circuit board (PCB). An electronic circuit is composed of indiv ...

integrated circuit
s, other individual electronic components, wires and connectors, and then hand-
solder Solder (, or in North America ) is a fusible metal alloy An alloy is an admixture of metal A metal (from Ancient Greek, Greek μέταλλον ''métallon'', "mine, quarry, metal") is a material that, when freshly prepared, polish ...

solder
all the connections. While two early home computers (
Sinclair ZX80 The Sinclair ZX80 is a home computer Home computers were a class of s that entered the market in 1977 and became common during the 1980s. They were marketed to consumers as affordable and accessible computers that, for the first time, were ...

Sinclair ZX80
and
Acorn Atom The Acorn Atom is a home computer Home computers were a class of s that entered the market in 1977 and became common during the 1980s. They were marketed to consumers as affordable and accessible computers that, for the first time, were int ...

Acorn Atom
) could be bought either in kit form or assembled, most home computers were only sold pre-assembled. They were enclosed in plastic or metal cases similar in appearance to
typewriter A typewriter is a mechanical Mechanical may refer to: Machine * Mechanical system A machine is any physical system with ordered structural and functional properties. It may represent human-made or naturally occurring device molecular ...

typewriter
or
hi-fi High fidelity (often shortened to Hi-Fi or HiFi) is the high-quality reproduction of sound. It is important to audiophile An audiophile is a person who is enthusiastic about high-fidelity High fidelity (often shortened to Hi-Fi or HiFi) i ...
equipment enclosures, which were more familiar and attractive to consumers than the industrial metal card-cage enclosures used by the Altair and similar computers. The keyboard - a feature lacking on the Altair - was usually built into the same case as the
motherboard A motherboard (also called mainboard, main circuit board, or mobo) is the main printed circuit board A printed circuit board (PCB) is a laminated sandwich structure of conductive and insulating layers. PCBs have two complementary functions. ...

motherboard
. Ports for plug-in peripheral devices such as a video display,
cassette tape The Compact Cassette or Musicassette (MC), also commonly called the tape cassette, cassette tape, audio cassette, or simply tape or cassette, is an analog magnetic tape Magnetic tape is a medium for , made of a thin, magnetizable coating ...

cassette tape
recorders,
joystick A joystick is an input device In computing, an input device is a piece of equipment used to provide data and control signals to an information processing system, such as a computer or information appliance. Examples of input devices include ...

joystick
s, and (later) disk drives were either built-in or available on
expansion card Modern EEPROM chip suitable for storing expansion card configuration electronically In computing Computing is any goal-oriented activity requiring, benefiting from, or creating computing machinery. It includes the study and experimentati ...
s. Although the
Apple II series The Apple II series (trademarked with square brackets as "Apple ][" and rendered on later models as "Apple //") is a family of home computers, one of the first highly successful mass-produced microcomputer products, designed primarily b ...
had internal expansion slots, most other home computer models' expansion arrangements were through externally accessible 'expansion ports' that also served as a place to plug in cartridge-based games. Usually the manufacturer would sell peripheral devices designed to be compatible with their computers as extra cost accessories. Peripherals and software were not often interchangeable between different brands of home computer, or even between successive models of the same brand. To save the cost of a dedicated monitor, the home computer would often connect through an
RF modulator An RF modulator (or radio frequency modulator) is an electronic device whose input is a baseband signal which is used to modulation, modulate a radio frequency source. RF modulators are used to convert signals from devices such as Portable med ...
to the family television, TV set, which served as both video display and sound system. The rise of the home computer also led to a fundamental shift during the early 1980s in where and how computers were purchased. Traditionally, microcomputers were obtained by
mail order Mail order is the buying Trade involves the transfer of goods from one person or entity to another, often in exchange for money. Economists refer to a system A system is a group of Interaction, interacting or interrelated elements that ...
or were purchased in person at general electronics retailers like
RadioShack RadioShack, formerly RadioShack Corporation, is an American retailer Retail is the sale of and to s, in contrast to , which is sale to business or institutional customers. A retailer purchases goods in large quantities from , directly or ...
.
Silicon Valley Silicon Valley is a region in Northern California Northern California (colloquially known as NorCal) is a geographic and cultural region that generally comprises the northern portion of the U.S. state of California California is a U.S ...

Silicon Valley
, in the vanguard of the personal computer revolution, was the first place to see the appearance of new retail stores dedicated to selling only computer hardware, computer software, or both, and also the first place where such stores began to specialize in particular platforms. By 1982, an estimated 621,000 home computers were in American households, at an average sales price of US$530 (). After the success of the
Radio Shack RadioShack, formerly RadioShack Corporation, is the trade name A trade name, trading name, or business name is a pseudonym used by companies that do not operate under their registered company name. The term for this type of alternative name is ...
TRS-80 The TRS-80 Micro Computer System (TRS-80, later renamed the Model I to distinguish it from successors) is a desktop microcomputer A microcomputer is a small, relatively inexpensive computer A computer is a machine that can be programmed ...

TRS-80
, the
Commodore PET The Commodore PET is a line of personal computer A personal computer (PC) is a multi-purpose computer A computer is a machine that can be programmed to carry out sequences of arithmetic or logical operations automatically. Modern comp ...

Commodore PET
and the
Apple II The Apple II (stylized as apple ] '') is an 8-bit home computer">8-bit.html" ;"title="'') is an 8-bit">'') is an 8-bit home computer and one of the world's first highly successful mass-produced microcomputer products. It was designed primari ...

Apple II
in 1977, almost every manufacturer of
consumer electronics Consumer electronics or home electronics are electronic Electronic may refer to: *Electronics Electronics comprises the physics, engineering, technology and applications that deal with the emission, flow and control of electrons in vacuum ...
rushed to introduce a home computer. Large numbers of new machines of all types began to appear during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Mattel Mattel, Inc. () is an American multinational corporation, multinational toy manufacturing and entertainment company founded in January, 1945 and headquartered in El Segundo, California. The products and brands it currently produces include Bar ...
,
Coleco Coleco Industries, Inc. was an American company founded in 1932 by Maurice Greenberg as The Connecticut Leather Company. It became a highly successful toy company in the 1980s, known for its mass-produced version of dolls and its s, the dedicat ...
,
Texas Instruments Texas Instruments Incorporated (TI) is an America The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country primarily located in North America North America is a ...
and Timex, none of which had any prior connection to the computer industry, all had short-lived home computer lines in the early 1980s. Some home computers were more successful – the
BBC Micro The British Broadcasting Corporation Microcomputer System, or BBC Micro, is a series of microcomputer A microcomputer is a small, relatively inexpensive computer with a microprocessor as its central processing unit (CPU). It includes a micr ...
,
Sinclair ZX Spectrum Sinclair may refer to: Places * Lake Sinclair Lake Sinclair is a reservoir, man-made lake in central Georgia (U.S. state), Georgia near Milledgeville, Georgia, Milledgeville. It is operated by Georgia Power. The lake was named after Benjamin ...

Sinclair ZX Spectrum
,
Atari 800XL The Atari 8-bit family is a series of 8-bit home computers introduced by Atari, Inc. in 1979 as the Atari 400 and Atari 800 and manufactured until 1992. All of the machines in the family are technically similar and differ primarily in packaging. T ...
and
Commodore 64 The Commodore 64, also known as the C64 or the CBM 64, is an 8-bit In computer architecture In computer engineering, computer architecture is a set of rules and methods that describe the functionality, organization, and implementation ...

Commodore 64
sold many units over several years and attracted third-party software development. Almost universally, home computers had a
BASIC BASIC (Beginners' All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) is a family of general-purpose, high-level programming language In computer science Computer science deals with the theoretical foundations of information, algorithms and the ar ...

BASIC
interpreter combined with a
line editor In computing, a line editor is a text editor A text editor is a type of computer program A computer program is a collection of instructions that can be executed by a computer to perform a specific task. A computer program is usually writ ...
in permanent
read-only memory Read-only memory (ROM) is a type of non-volatile memory used in computers and other electronic devices. Data stored in ROM cannot be electronically modified after the manufacture of the memory device. Read-only memory is useful for storing sof ...
which one could use to type in BASIC programs and execute them immediately or save them to tape or disk. In
direct mode Direct mode, also known as immediate mode is a computing term referring to the input of textual commands outside the context of a program. The command would be executed immediately and the results printed on screen, in contrast to programming mode ...
, the BASIC interpreter was also used as the
user interface In the industrial design Industrial design is a process of design A design is a plan or specification for the construction of an object or system or for the implementation of an activity or process, or the result of that plan or specificati ...
, and given tasks such as loading, saving, managing, and running files. One exception was the
Jupiter Ace
Jupiter Ace
, which had a
Forth Forth or FORTH may refer to: Media * ''forth'' magazine, an English-language Irish Internet magazine * ''Forth'' (album), by the English alternative rock band The Verve * ''Forth'' (album), by the American progressive rock band Proto-Kaw * Rad ...
interpreter instead of BASIC. A built-in programming language was seen as a requirement for any computer of the era, and was the main feature setting home computers apart from
video game console A video game console is an electronic device that output Output may refer to: * The information produced by a computer, see Input/output In computing, input/output (I/O, or informally io or IO) is the communication between an information pro ...
s. Still, home computers competed in the same market as the consoles. A home computer was often seen as simply as a higher end purchase than a console, adding abilities and productivity potential to what would still be mainly a gaming device. A common marketing tactic was to show a computer system and console playing games side by side, then emphasizing the computer's greater ability by showing it running user-created programs, education software, word processing, spreadsheet and other applications while the game console showed a blank screen or continued playing the same repetitive game. Another capability home computers had that game consoles of the time lacked was the ability to access remote services over telephone lines by adding a
serial port In computing Computing is any goal-oriented activity requiring, benefiting from, or creating computing machinery. It includes the study and experimentation of algorithmic processes and development of both computer hardware , hardware and so ...

serial port
interface, a
modem A modulator-demodulator, or simply a modem, is a hardware device that converts data from a digital format, intended for communication directly between devices with specialized wiring, into one suitable for a transmission medium such as telep ...

modem
, and
communication software Communication software is used to provide remote access to systems and exchange files and messages in text, audio and/or video formats between different computers or users. This includes terminal emulators, file transfer programs, chat and insta ...
. Though it could be costly, it permitted the computer user to access services like
Compuserve CompuServe (CompuServe Information Service, also known by its initialism CIS) was an American online service provider, the first major commercial one in the United States – described in 1994 as "the oldest of the Big Three information services ...
and private or corporate
bulletin board systems A bulletin board system or BBS (also called ''Computer Bulletin Board Service'', ''CBBS'') is a computer server running list of BBS software, software that allows users to connect to the system using a terminal program. Once logged in, the user c ...
to post or read messages, or to download or upload software. Some enthusiasts with computers equipped with large storage capacity and a dedicated phone line operated bulletin boards of their own. This capability anticipated the internet by nearly twenty years. Some game consoles offered "programming packs" consisting of a version of BASIC in a
ROM cartridge A game cartridge, usually referred to in context simply as a cartridge, cart, or card, is a replaceable part designed to be connected to a consumer electronics Consumer electronics or home electronics are electronic Electronic may refer ...
. Atari's
BASIC Programming ''BASIC Programming'' is an Atari Video Computer System (later called the Atari 2600) cartridge that teaches simple computer programming using a dialect of BASIC. Written by Warren Robinett and released by Atari, Inc. in 1979, this BASIC interp ...
for the
Atari 2600 The Atari 2600, originally branded as the Atari Video Computer System (Atari VCS) until November 1982, is a home video game console A home video game console is a video game console that is designed to be connected to a display device, suc ...

Atari 2600
was one of these. For the
ColecoVision ColecoVision is a second-generation home video-game console developed by Coleco Coleco Industries, Inc. was an American company founded in 1932 by Maurice Greenberg as The Connecticut Leather Company. It became a highly successful toy company ...

ColecoVision
console,
Coleco Coleco Industries, Inc. was an American company founded in 1932 by Maurice Greenberg as The Connecticut Leather Company. It became a highly successful toy company in the 1980s, known for its mass-produced version of dolls and its s, the dedicat ...
even announced an expansion module which would convert it into a full-fledged computer system. The
Magnavox Odyssey² The Magnavox Odyssey 2 (stylized as Magnavox Odyssey²), also known as Philips Odyssey 2, is a Second generation of video game consoles, second generation home video game console that was released in 1978 in video gaming, 1978. It was sold in Eu ...

Magnavox Odyssey²
game console had a built-in keyboard to support its C7420 Home Computer Module. Books of
type-in program A type-in program or type-in listing was computer source code In computing Computing is any goal-oriented activity requiring, benefiting from, or creating computing machinery. It includes the study and experimentation of algorithmic proce ...
listings like
BASIC Computer Games ''BASIC Computer Games'' is a compilation of type-in computer games in the BASIC BASIC (Beginners' All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) is a family of General-purpose programming language, general-purpose, high-level programming languages wh ...
were available dedicated for the BASICs of most models of computer with titles along the lines of ''64 Amazing BASIC Games for the Commodore 64''. While most of the programs in these books were short and simple games or
demos DEMOS (Dialogovaya Edinaya Mobilnaya Operatsionnaya Sistema: russian: Диалоговая Единая Мобильная Операционная Система, ДЕМОС, lit=Interactive Unified Portable Operating System) is a Unix-like oper ...
, some titles such as ''
Compute! ''Compute!'' (), often stylized as ''COMPUTE!'', was an American home computer Home computers were a class of microcomputers that entered the market in 1977 and became common during the 1980s. They were marketed to consumers as affordable an ...
''s
SpeedScript SpeedScript is a word processor WordPerfect, first released for minicomputers in 1979 and later ported to microcomputers A word processor (WP) is a device or computer program that provides for input, editing, formatting, and output of text, of ...
series, contained productivity software that rivaled commercial packages. To avoid the tedious process of typing in a program listing from a book, these books would sometimes include a mail-in offer from the author to obtain the programs on disk or cassette for a few dollars. Before the Internet, and before most computer owners had a
modem A modulator-demodulator, or simply a modem, is a hardware device that converts data from a digital format, intended for communication directly between devices with specialized wiring, into one suitable for a transmission medium such as telep ...

modem
, books were a popular and low-cost means of software distribution—one that had the advantage of incorporating its own documentation. These books also served a role in familiarizing new computer owners with the concepts of programming; some titles added suggested modifications to the program listings for the user to carry out. Applying a
patch Patch may refer to: Places * Patch, St. Louis, a neighborhood in St. Louis, Missouri * Patch, Gwbert, South Ceredigion, Wales People * Patch Adams, a.k.a. Hunter Adams (born 1945), founder of the Gesundheit! Institute * Alexander Patch (18 ...
to modify software to be compatible with one's system or writing a
utility program Utility software is software designed to help to analyze, configure, optimize or maintain a computer. It is used to support the computer infrastructure - in contrast to application software, which is aimed at directly performing tasks that benefit o ...
to fit one's needs was a skill every advanced computer owner was expected to have. During the peak years of the home computer market, scores of models were produced, usually as individual design projects with little or no thought given to compatibility between different manufacturers or even within product lines of the same manufacturer. Except for the Japanese
MSX MSX is a standardized home computer architecture, announced by Microsoft and ASCII Corporation on June 16, 1983. It was initially conceived by Microsoft as a product for the Eastern sector, and jointly marketed by Kazuhiko Nishi, then vice-pre ...

MSX
standard, the concept of a
computer platform A computing platform or digital platform is an environment in which a piece of software Software is a collection of instructions that tell a computer A computer is a machine that can be programmed to carry out sequences of arithmetic or ...
was still forming, with most companies considering rudimentary BASIC language and disk format compatibility sufficient to claim a model as "compatible". Things were different in the business world, where cost-conscious small business owners had been using
CP/M CP/M, originally standing for Control Program/Monitor and later Control Program for Microcomputers, is a mass-market operating system An operating system (OS) is system software System software is software designed to provide a platform f ...
running on
Z80 The Z80 is an 8-bit In computer architecture, 8-bit integer (computer science), integers or other data#Uses of data in computing, data units are those that are 8 bits wide (1 octet). Also, 8-bit central processing unit, CPU and arithmeti ...
based computers from Osborne,
Kaypro Kaypro Corporation was an American home and personal computer manufacturer based out of San Diego in the 1980s. The company was founded by Non-Linear Systems (NLS) to compete with the popular Osborne 1 portable microcomputer. Kaypro produced a li ...
,
Morrow DesignsGeorge Morrow (January 30, 1934 – May 7, 2003) was part of the early microcomputer industry in the United States. Morrow promoted and improved the S-100 bus used in many early microcomputers. Called "one of the microcomputer industry's iconoclasts" ...
and a host of other manufacturers. For many of these businesses, the development of the microcomputer made
computing Computing is any goal-oriented activity requiring, benefiting from, or creating computing machinery. It includes the study and experimentation of algorithmic processes and development of both computer hardware , hardware and software. It has sci ...

computing
and
business software Business software (or a business application) is any software Software is a collection of instructions Instruction or instructions may refer to: Computing * Instruction, one operation of a processor within a computer architecture instructi ...
affordable where they had not been before. Introduced in August 1981, the
IBM Personal Computer The IBM Personal Computer (model 5150, commonly known as the IBM PC) is the first computer released in the IBM PC model line and the basis for the IBM PC compatible IBM PC compatible computers are similar to the original IBM PC The IBM ...
would eventually supplant CP/M as the standard platform used in business. This was largely due to the IBM name and the system's
16 bit 16-bit microcomputer A microcomputer is a small, relatively inexpensive computer with a microprocessor as its central processing unit (CPU). It includes a microprocessor, Computer memory, memory and minimal input/output (I/O) circuitry mounted ...
open architecture Open architecture is a type of computer architecture In computer engineering, computer architecture is a set of rules and methods that describe the functionality, organization, and implementation of computer A computer is a machine that can ...
, which expanded maximum memory tenfold, and also encouraged production of third-party clones. In the late 1970s, the 6502-based
Apple II series The Apple II series (trademarked with square brackets as "Apple ][" and rendered on later models as "Apple //") is a family of home computers, one of the first highly successful mass-produced microcomputer products, designed primarily b ...
had carved out a niche for itself in business, thanks to the industry's first Killer application, killer app, VisiCalc, released in 1979. However the Apple II would quickly be displaced for office use by IBM PC compatibles running Lotus 1-2-3. Apple Computer's 1980 Apple III was underwhelming, and although the 1984 release of the
Apple Macintosh The Macintosh (mainly Mac since 1998) is a family of personal computers designed, manufactured, and sold by Apple Inc. (originally as Apple Computer, Inc.) since January 1984. The Macintosh 128K, original Macintosh is the first successful m ...

Apple Macintosh
introduced the modern
GUI#REDIRECT graphical user interface The graphical user interface (GUI "UI" by itself is still usually pronounced . or ) is a form of user interface that allows User (computing), users to Human–computer interaction, interact with electronic devic ...
to the market, it wasn't common until
IBM-compatible IBM PC compatible computers are similar to the original IBM Personal Computer, IBM PC, IBM Personal Computer XT, XT, and IBM Personal Computer/AT, AT that are able to use the same software and expansion cards. Such computers were referred to as PC ...
computers adopted it. Throughout the 1980s, businesses large and small adopted the PC platform, leading, by the end of the decade, to sub-US$1000
IBM PC XT The IBM Personal Computer XT (model 5160, often shortened to PC/XT) is the second computer in the IBM Personal Computer The IBM Personal Computer (model 5150, commonly known as the IBM PC) is the first computer released in the IBM PC model l ...
-class white box machines, usually
built in Asia and sold by US companies
built in Asia and sold by US companies
like
PCs Limited
PCs Limited
. In 1980
Wayne Green Wayne Sanger Green II (September 3, 1922 – September 13, 2013) was an American publisher, writer, and consultant. Green was editor of ''CQ Amateur Radio, CQ'' magazine before he went on to found ''73 (magazine), 73'', ''80 Micro'', ''Byte (maga ...
, the publisher of ''
Kilobaud Microcomputing ''Kilobaud Microcomputing'' was a magazine A magazine is a periodical literature, periodical publication which is printing, printed in Coated paper, gloss-coated and Paint sheen, matte paper. Magazines are generally published on a regular sche ...
'', recommended that companies avoid the term "home computer" in their advertising as "I feel is self-limiting for sales ... I prefer the term "microcomputers" since it doesn't limit the uses of the equipment in the imagination of the prospective customers". With the exception of Tandy, most computer companies – even those with a majority of sales to home users – agreed, avoiding the term "home computer" because of its association with the image of, as ''Compute!'' wrote, "a low-powered, low-end machine primarily suited for playing games". Apple consistently avoided stating that it was a home-computer company, and described the
IIc
IIc
as "a serious computer for the serious home user" despite competing against IBM's PCjr home computer.
John Sculley John Sculley III (born April 6, 1939) is an American businessman, entrepreneur and investor in high-tech startups. Sculley was vice-president (1970–1977) and president of PepsiCo PepsiCo, Inc. is an American multinational corporation, mul ...

John Sculley
denied that his company sold home computers; rather, he said, Apple sold "computers for use in the home". In 1990 the company reportedly refused to support joysticks on its low-cost
Macintosh LC The Macintosh LC is a personal computer designed, manufactured, and sold by Apple Inc., Apple Computer, Inc. from October 1990 to March 1992. Overview The first in the Macintosh LC family, the LC was introduced with the Macintosh Classic (a repac ...

Macintosh LC
and
IIsi 250px, Macintosh IIsi rear showing ports and optional Ethernet card with 10base2, 10baseT and AUI connectors. The Macintosh IIsi is a personal computer designed, manufactured and sold by Apple Inc., Apple Computer, Inc. from October 1990 to Marc ...

IIsi
computers to prevent customers from considering them as "game machines". Although the Apple II and Atari computers are functionally similar, Atari's home-oriented marketing resulted in a game-heavy library with much less business software. By the late 1980s, many mass merchants sold
video game console A video game console is an electronic device that output Output may refer to: * The information produced by a computer, see Input/output In computing, input/output (I/O, or informally io or IO) is the communication between an information pro ...
s like the
Nintendo Entertainment System The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) is an 8-bit In computer architecture, 8-bit integer (computer science), integers or other data#Uses of data in computing, data units are those that are 8 bits wide (1 octet). Also, 8-bit centr ...

Nintendo Entertainment System
, but no longer sold home computers. Toward the end of the 1980s, clones also became popular with non-corporate customers. Inexpensive, highly compatible clones succeeded where the PCjr had failed. Replacing the hobbyists who had made up the majority of the home computer market were, as ''Compute!'' described them, "people who want to take work home from the office now and then, play a game now and then, learn more about computers, and help educate their children". By 1986 industry experts predicted an "MS-DOS Christmas", and the magazine stated that clones threatened Commodore, Atari, and Apple's domination of the home-computer market. The declining cost of IBM compatibles on the one hand, and the greatly increased graphics, sound, and storage abilities of fourth generation video game consoles such as the
Sega Genesis The Sega Genesis, known as the outside North America, is a 16-bit History of video game consoles (fourth generation), fourth-generation home video game console developed and sold by Sega. The Genesis was Sega's third console and the successor ...
and
Super Nintendo Entertainment System The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), commonly shortened to Super NES or Super Nintendo, is a 16-bit 16-bit microcomputer A microcomputer is a small, relatively inexpensive computer A computer is a machine that can be progr ...

Super Nintendo Entertainment System
on the other, combined to cause the market segment for home computers to vanish by the early 1990s in the US. In Europe, the home computer remained a distinct presence for a few years more, with the low-end models of the
16-bit 16-bit microcomputer A microcomputer is a small, relatively inexpensive computer A computer is a machine that can be programmed to carry out sequences of arithmetic or logical operations automatically. Modern computers can perform gener ...
Amiga and Atari ST families being the dominant players, but by the mid-1990s even the European market had dwindled. The Dutch government even ran a program that allowed businesses to sell computers tax-free to its employees, often accompanied by home training programs. Naturally, these businesses chose to equip their employees with the same systems they themselves were using. Today a computer bought for home use anywhere will be very similar to those used in offices – made by the same manufacturers, with compatible peripherals, operating systems, and application software.


Technology

Many home computers were superficially similar. Most had a keyboard integrated into the same case as the
motherboard A motherboard (also called mainboard, main circuit board, or mobo) is the main printed circuit board A printed circuit board (PCB) is a laminated sandwich structure of conductive and insulating layers. PCBs have two complementary functions. ...

motherboard
, or, more frequently, a
mainboard A motherboard (also called mainboard, main circuit board, or mobo) is the main printed circuit board A printed circuit board (PCB) is a laminated sandwich structure of conductive and insulating layers. PCBs have two complementary functions. ...
—while the expandable home computers appeared from the very start (the
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Apple II
offered as many as seven expansion slots), as the whole segment was generally aimed
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, few offers were priced or positioned high enough to allow for such expandability. Some systems have only one expansion port, often realized in the form of cumbersome "sidecar" system, such as on the
TI-99/4 The Texas Instruments TI-99/4A is a home computer released in June 1981 in the United States. It is an enhanced version of the less successful TI-99/4 which was released in late 1979. The TI-99/4 and TI-99/4A are the first 16-bit home computers, u ...
, or required finicky and unwieldy
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s to connect the expansion modules. Sometimes they were equipped with a cheap
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membrane
or
chiclet keyboard A chiclet keyboard or island-style keyboard is a computer keyboard The technology of computer keyboards includes many elements. Among the more important of these is the switch technology that they use. Computer alphanumeric keyboards typically ...
in the early days, although full-travel keyboards quickly became universal due to overwhelming consumer preference. Most systems could use an
RF modulator An RF modulator (or radio frequency modulator) is an electronic device whose input is a baseband signal which is used to modulation, modulate a radio frequency source. RF modulators are used to convert signals from devices such as Portable med ...
to display 20–40 column text output on a home television. Indeed, the use of a television set as a display almost defines the pre-PC home computer. Although dedicated
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composite
or "
green screen Chroma key compositing, or chroma keying, is a Visual effects, visual-effects and post-production technique for compositing (layering) two images or video streams together based on colour hues (colorfulness, chroma range). The technique has be ...
" computer displays were available for this market segment and offered a sharper display, a monitor was often a later purchase made only after users had bought a
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floppy disk
drive, printer, modem, and the other pieces of a full system. The reason for this was that while those TV-monitors had difficulty displaying the clear and readable 80-column text that became the industry standard at the time, the only consumers who ''really'' needed that were the power users utilizing the machine for business purposes, while the average casual consumer would use the system for games only and was content with the lower resolution for which a TV worked fine. An important exception was the
Radio Shack RadioShack, formerly RadioShack Corporation, is the trade name A trade name, trading name, or business name is a pseudonym used by companies that do not operate under their registered company name. The term for this type of alternative name is ...
TRS-80 The TRS-80 Micro Computer System (TRS-80, later renamed the Model I to distinguish it from successors) is a desktop microcomputer A microcomputer is a small, relatively inexpensive computer A computer is a machine that can be programmed ...

TRS-80
, the first mass-marketed computer for home use, which included its own 64-column display monitor and full-travel keyboard as standard features. This "
peripheral A peripheral or peripheral device is an auxiliary device used to put information into and get information out of the computer. The term peripheral device refers to all hardware components that are attached to a computer and are controlled by the co ...
s sold separately" approach is another defining characteristic of the home computer era. A first time computer buyer who brought a base C-64 system home and hooked it up to their TV would find they needed to buy a
disk drive Disk storage (also sometimes called drive storage) is a general category of storage mechanisms where data is recorded by various electronic, magnetic, optical, or mechanical changes to a surface layer of one or more rotating disks. A disk drive is ...
(the
Commodore 1541 The Commodore 1541 (also known as the CBM 1541 and VIC-1541) is a floppy disk drive which was made by Commodore International Commodore International (other names include Commodore International Limited, or just simply Commodore) was an A ...
was the only fully compatible model) or Datasette before they could make use of it as anything but a game machine or
TV Typewriter The TV Typewriter is a video terminal that could display two pages of 16 lines of 32 upper case characters on a standard television set A Sony Wega CRT television set A television set or television receiver, more commonly called the television ...
. In the early part of the 1980s, the dominant
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microprocessor
s used in home computers were the
8-bit In computer architecture, 8-bit integer (computer science), integers or other data#Uses of data in computing, data units are those that are 8 bits wide (1 octet). Also, 8-bit central processing unit, CPU and arithmetic logic unit, ALU arch ...
MOS Technology The metal–oxide–semiconductor field-effect transistor (MOSFET, MOS-FET, or MOS FET), also known as the metal–oxide–silicon transistor (MOS transistor, or MOS), is a type of insulated-gate field-effect transistor The field-effect trans ...
6502 The MOS Technology 6502 (typically pronounced "sixty-five-oh-two" or "six-five-oh-two") William Mensch and the moderator both pronounce the 6502 microprocessor as ''"sixty-five-oh-two"''. is an 8-bit In computer architecture In computer ...
(Apple, Commodore, Atari,
BBC Micro The British Broadcasting Corporation Microcomputer System, or BBC Micro, is a series of microcomputer A microcomputer is a small, relatively inexpensive computer with a microprocessor as its central processing unit (CPU). It includes a micr ...
) and
Zilog Z80 The Z80 is an 8-bit In computer architecture In computer engineering, computer architecture is a set of rules and methods that describe the functionality, organization, and implementation of computer systems. Some definitions of archite ...

Zilog Z80
(
TRS-80 The TRS-80 Micro Computer System (TRS-80, later renamed the Model I to distinguish it from successors) is a desktop microcomputer A microcomputer is a small, relatively inexpensive computer A computer is a machine that can be programmed ...

TRS-80
,
ZX81 The ZX81 is a home computer Home computers were a class of microcomputers that entered the market in 1977 and became common during the 1980s. They were marketed to consumers as affordable and accessible computers that, for the first time, we ...

ZX81
, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 128, Amstrad CPC). One exception was the Texas Instruments TI-99/4A, TI-99 series, announced in 1979 with a 16-bit TMS9900 CPU. The TI was originally to use the 8-bit 9985 processor designed especially for it, but this project was cancelled. However, the glue logic needed to retrofit the 16-bit CPU to an 8-bit 9985 system negated the advantages of the more powerful CPU. Another exception was the Soviet Elektronika Elektronika BK, BK series of 1984, which used the fully 16-bit and powerful for the time 1801 series CPU, offering a full PDP-11 compatibility and a fully functional Q-Bus slot, though at the cost of very anemic Random-access memory, RAM and graphics. The Motorola 6809 was used by the Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer, the Fujitsu FM-7, and Dragon 32/64. Processor clock rates were typically 1–2 MHz for 6502 and 6809 based CPU's and 2–4 MHz for Z80 based systems (yielding roughly equal performance), but this aspect was not emphasized by users or manufacturers, as the systems' limited RAM capacity, graphics abilities and storage options had a more perceivable effect on performance than CPU speed. For low-price computers the cost of RAM memory chips contributed greatly to the final product price to the consumer, and fast CPUs demanded expensive, fast memory. So designers kept clock rates only adequate; in some cases like the Atari and Commodore 8-bit machines, coprocessors were added to speed processing of graphics and audio data. For these computers clock rate was considered a technical detail of interest only to users needing accurate timing for their own programs. To economize on component cost, often the same crystal oscillator, crystal used to produce color television compatible signals was also divided down and used for the processor clock. This meant processors rarely operated at their full rated speed, and had the side-effect that PAL, European and NTSC, North American versions of the same home computer operated at slightly different speeds and different video resolution due to different television standards. Initially, many home computers used the then-ubiquitous Compact Cassette, compact audio cassette as a storage mechanism. A rough analogy to how this worked would be to place a recorder on the phone line as a file was uploaded by
modem A modulator-demodulator, or simply a modem, is a hardware device that converts data from a digital format, intended for communication directly between devices with specialized wiring, into one suitable for a transmission medium such as telep ...

modem
to "save" it, and playing the recording back through the modem to "load". Most cassette implementations were notoriously slow and unreliable, but 8" drives were too bulky for home use, and early 5.25" form factor drives were priced for business use, out of reach of most home buyers. An innovative alternative was the Exatron Stringy Floppy, a continuous loop tape drive which was much faster than a datacassette drive and could perform much like a floppy disk drive. It was available for the
TRS-80 The TRS-80 Micro Computer System (TRS-80, later renamed the Model I to distinguish it from successors) is a desktop microcomputer A microcomputer is a small, relatively inexpensive computer A computer is a machine that can be programmed ...

TRS-80
and some others. A closely related technology was the ZX Microdrive developed by Sinclair Research in the UK for their ZX Spectrum and Sinclair QL, QL home computers. Eventually mass production of 5.25" drives resulted in lower prices, and after about 1984 they pushed cassette drives out of the US home computer market. 5.25" floppy disk drives would remain standard until the end of the 8-bit era. Though external 3.5" drives were made available for home computer systems toward the latter part of the 1980s, almost all software sold for 8-bit home computers remained on 5.25" disks; 3.5" drives were used for data storage, with the exception of the Japanese
MSX MSX is a standardized home computer architecture, announced by Microsoft and ASCII Corporation on June 16, 1983. It was initially conceived by Microsoft as a product for the Eastern sector, and jointly marketed by Kazuhiko Nishi, then vice-pre ...

MSX
standard, on which 5.25" floppies were never popular. Standardization of disk formats was not common; sometimes even different models from the same manufacturer used different disk formats. Almost universally the floppy disk drives available for 8-bit home computers were housed in external cases with their own controller boards and power supplies contained within. Only the later, advanced 8-bit home computers housed their drives within the main unit; these included the TRS-80 Model III, TRS-80 Model 4, Apple IIc, MSX2, and Commodore 128D. The later 16-bit machines such as the Atari ST, Atari 1040ST (not the 520ST), the Commodore Amigas, and the Tandy 1000s did house floppy drive(s) internally. At any rate, to expand any computer with additional floppy drives external units would have to be plugged in. Toward the end of the home computer era, drives for a number of home computer models appeared offering disk-format compatibility with the IBM PC. The disk drives sold with the Commodore 128, Amiga and Atari ST were all able to read and write PC disks, which themselves were undergoing the transition from 5.25" to 3.5" format at the time (though 5.25" drives remained common on PCs until the late 1990s, due to existence of the large software and data archives on five-inch floppies). 5.25" drives were made available for the ST, Amiga and Macintosh, otherwise 3.5" based systems with no other use for a 5.25" format. Hard disk drive, Hard drives were never popular on home computers, remaining an expensive, niche product mainly for Bulletin board system, BBS sysops and the few business users. Various copy protection schemes were developed for floppy disks; most were broken in short order. Many users would only tolerate copy protection for games, as wear and tear on disks was a significant issue in an entirely floppy-based system. The ability to make a "working backup" disk of vital application software was seen as important. Copy programs that advertised their ability to copy or even remove common protection schemes were a common category of utility program, utility software in this pre-Digital Millennium Copyright Act, DMCA era. In another defining characteristic of the home computer, instead of a Command-line interface, command line, the BASIC programming language, BASIC interpreter (computer software), interpreter served double duty as a user interface. Coupled to a character-based visual editor, screen or
line editor In computing, a line editor is a text editor A text editor is a type of computer program A computer program is a collection of instructions that can be executed by a computer to perform a specific task. A computer program is usually writ ...
, BASIC's file management commands could be entered in
direct mode Direct mode, also known as immediate mode is a computing term referring to the input of textual commands outside the context of a program. The command would be executed immediately and the results printed on screen, in contrast to programming mode ...
. In contrast to modern computers, home computers most often had their operating system (OS) stored in
ROM Rom, or ROM may refer to: Biomechanics and medicine * Risk of mortality The risk of mortality (ROM) provides a medical classification to estimate the likelihood of inhospital death for a patient. The ROM classes are minor, moderate, major, and ex ...
chips. This made startup times very fast – no more than a few seconds – but made OS upgrades difficult or impossible without buying a new unit. Usually only the most severe bugs were fixed by issuing new ROMs to replace the old ones at the user's cost. Also, the small size and limited scope of home computer "operating systems" (really little more than what today would be called a kernel) left little room for bugs to hide. Although modern operating systems include extensive Application programming interface, programming libraries to ease development and promote standardization, home computer operating systems provided little support to application programs. Professionally written software often bank switching, switched out the ROM based OS anyway to free the address space it occupied and maximize RAM capacity. This gave the program full control of the hardware and allowed the programmer to optimize performance for a specific task. Games would often turn off unused I/O ports, as well as the interrupts that served them. As Computer multitasking, multitasking was never common on home computers, this practice went largely unnoticed by users. Most software even lacked an exit command, requiring a reboot to use the system for something else. In an enduring reflection of their early cassette-oriented nature, most home computers loaded their disk operating system (DOS) separately from the main OS. The DOS was only used for disk and file related commands and was not required to perform other computing functions. One exception was Commodore DOS, which was not loaded into the computer's main memory at all – Commodore disk drives contained a 6502 processor and ran DOS from internal ROM. While this gave Commodore systems some advanced capabilities – a utility program could sideload a disk copy routine onto the drive and return control to the user while the drive copied the disk on its own – it also made Commodore drives more expensive and difficult to clone. Many home computers had a ROM cartridge, cartridge interface which accepted ROM-based software. This was also used for expansion or upgrades such as fast loaders. Application software on cartridge did exist, which loaded instantly and eliminated the need for disk swapping on single drive setups, but the vast majority of cartridges were games.


PCs at home

From the introduction of the IBM IBM Personal Computer, Personal Computer (ubiquitously known as the PC) in 1981, the market for computers meant for the corporate, business, and government sectors came to be dominated by the new machine and its MS-DOS operating system. Even basic PCs cost thousands of dollars and were far out of reach for typical home computerists. However, in the following years technological advances and improved manufacturing capabilities (mainly greater use of robotics and relocation of production plants to lower-wage locations in Asia) permitted several computer companies to offer lower-cost PC style machines that would become competitive with many 8-bit home-market pioneers like Radio Shack, Commodore, Atari, Texas Instruments, and Sinclair. PCs could never become as affordable as these because the same price-reducing measures were available to all computer makers. Furthermore, software and peripherals for PC style computers tended to cost more than those for 8-bit computers because of the anchoring effect caused by the pricey IBM PC. As well, PCs were inherently more expensive since they could not use the home TV set as a video display. Nonetheless, the overall reduction in manufacturing costs narrowed the price difference between old 8-bit technology and new PCs. Despite their higher absolute prices PCs were perceived by many to be better values for their utility as superior productivity tools and their access to industry-standard software. Another advantage was the 8088/8086's wide, 20-bit address bus: the PC could access more than 64 kilobytes of memory relatively inexpensively (8-bit CPUs, which generally had multiplexed 16-bit address buses, required complicated, tricky memory management techniques like bank-switching). Similarly, the default PC floppy was double-sided with about twice the storage capacity of floppy disks used by 8-bit home computers. PC drives tended to cost less because they were most often built-in, requiring no external case, controller, and power supply. The faster clock rates and wider buses available to later Intel CPUs compensated somewhat for the custom graphics and sound chips of the Commodores and Ataris. In time the growing popularity of home PCs spurred many software publishers to offer gaming and children's software titles. Many decision makers in the computer industry believed there could be a viable market for office workers who used PC/DOS computers at their jobs and would appreciate an ability to bring diskettes of data home on weeknights and weekends to continue work after-hours on their "home" computers. So the ability to run industry-standard MS-DOS software on affordable, user-friendly PCs was anticipated as a source of new sales. Furthermore, many in the industry felt that MS-DOS would eventually (inevitably, it seemed) come to dominate the computer business entirely, and some manufacturers felt the need to offer individual customers PC-style products suitable for the home market. In early 1984 market colossus IBM produced the PCjr as a PC/DOS-compatible machine aimed squarely at the home user. It proved a spectacular failure because IBM deliberately limited its capabilities and expansion possibilities in order to avoid cannibalizing sales of the profitable PC. IBM management believed that if they made the PCjr too powerful too many buyers would prefer it over the bigger, more expensive PC. Poor reviews in the computer press and poor sales doomed the PCjr. Tandy Corporation capitalized on IBM's blunder with its PCjr-compatible Tandy 1000 in November. Like the PCjr it was pitched as a home, education, and small-business computer featuring joystick ports, better sound and graphics (same as the PCjr but with enhancements), combined with near-PC/DOS compatibility (unlike Tandy's earlier Tandy 2000). The improved Tandy 1000 video hardware became a standard of its own, known as Tandy Graphics Adapter or TGA. Later Tandy produced Tandy 1000 variants in form factors and price-points even more suited to the home computer market, comprised particularly by the Tandy 1000 EX and HX models (later supplanted by the 1000 RL), which came in cases resembling the original Apple IIs (CPU, keyboard, expansion slots, and power supply in a slimline cabinet) but also included floppy disk drives. The proprietary Deskmate productivity suite came bundled with the Tandy 1000s. Deskmate was suited to use by computer novices with its point-and-click (though not graphical) user interface. From the launch of the Tandy 1000 series, their manufacture were price-competitive because of Tandy's use of high-density ASIC chip technology, which allowed their engineers to integrate many hardware features into the motherboard (obviating the need for circuit cards in expansion slots as with other brands of PC). Tandy never transferred its manufacturing operation to Asia; all Tandy desktop computers were built in the USA (this was not true of the laptop and pocket computers, nor peripherals). In 1985 the Seiko Epson, Epson corporation, a popular and respected producer of inexpensive dot-matrix printers and business computers (the QX-10 and QX-16), introduced its low-cost Epson Equity PC. Its designers took minor shortcuts such as few expansion slots and a lack of a socket for an Intel 8087, 8087 math chip, but Epson did bundle some utility programs that offered decent turnkey functionality for novice users. While not a high performer, the Equity was a reliable and compatible design for half the price of a similarly-configured IBM PC. Epson often promoted sales by bundling one of their printers with it at cost. The Equity I sold well enough to warrant the furtherance of the Equity line with the follow-on Equity II and Equity III. In 1986 UK home computer maker Amstrad began producing their Amstrad PC1512, PC1512 PC-compatible for sale in the UK. Later they would market the machine in the US as the PC6400. In June 1987 an improved model was produced as the PC1640. These machines had fast Intel 8086, 8086 CPUs, enhanced Color Graphics Adapter, CGA graphics, and were feature-laden for their modest prices. They had joystick adapters built into their keyboards and shipped with a licensed version of the Digital Research's Graphics Environment Manager, GEM, a Graphical User Interface, GUI for the MS-DOS operating system. They became marginal successes in the home market. In 1987 longtime small computer maker Zenith Data Systems, Zenith introduced a low-cost PC they called the Zenith Eazy PC, EaZy PC. This was positioned as an "appliance" computer much like the original Apple Macintosh: turnkey startup, built-in monochrome video monitor, and lacking expansion slots requiring proprietary add-ons available only from Zenith, but instead with the traditional MS-DOS Command-line interface. The EaZy PC used a turbo NEC V40 CPU (uprated 8088) which was rather slow for its time, but the video monitor did feature 400 pixel vertical resolution. This unique computer failed for the same reasons as did IBM's PCjr: poor performance and expandability, and a price too high for the home market. Another company that offered low-cost PCs for home use was Leading Edge Hardware Products, Leading Edge with their Model M and Leading Edge Model D, Model D computers. These were configured like full-featured business PCs yet still could compete in the home market on price because Leading Edge had access to low-cost hardware from their Asian manufacturing partners Mitsubishi with the Model M and Dongbu Daewoo Electronics, Daewoo with the Model D. The Leading Edge Word Processor, LEWP was bundled with the Model D. It was favorably reviewed by the computer press and sold very well. By the mid-80s the market for inexpensive PCs for use in the home market was expanding at a rate such that the two leaders in the US, Commodore PC compatible systems, Commodore and Atari, themselves felt compelled to enter the market with their own lines. They were only marginally successful compared to other companies that made only PCs. Still later prices of white box PC clone computers by various manufacturers became competitive with the higher-end home computers (see below). Throughout the 1980s costs and prices continued to be driven down by: advanced circuit design and manufacturing, multifunction expansion cards, shareware applications such as PC-Talk, PC-Write, and PC-File, greater hardware reliability, and more user-friendly software that demanded less customer support services. The increasing availability of faster processor and memory chips, inexpensive Enhanced Graphics Adapter, EGA and VGA video cards, sound cards, and joystick adapters also bolstered the viability of PC/DOS computers as alternatives to specially-made computers and game consoles for the home.


High performance

From about 1985 the high end of the home computer market began to be dominated by "next generation" home computers using the 16-bit Motorola Motorola 68000, 68000 chip, which enabled the greatly increased abilities of the Amiga and Atari ST series (in the UK the Sinclair QL was built around the Motorola 68008 with its external 8-bit bus). Graphics resolutions approximately doubled to give roughly NTSC-class resolution, and color palettes increased from dozens to hundreds or thousands of colors available. The Amiga was built with a custom chipset with dedicated graphics and sound coprocessors for high performance video and audio. The Amiga found use as a workstation for desktop video, a first for a standalone computer costing far less than dedicated motion-video processing equipment costing many thousands of dollars. Stereo sound became standard for the first time; the Atari ST gained popularity as an affordable alternative for MIDI equipment for the production of music. Clock rates on the 68000-based systems were approximately 8 MHz with RAM capacities of 256 KB (for the base Amiga 1000) up to 1024 KB (1 megabyte, a milestone, first seen on the Atari 1040ST). These systems used 3.5" floppy disks from the beginning but 5.25" drives were made available to facilitate data exchange with IBM PC compatibles. The Amiga and ST both had Graphical User Interface, GUIs with windowing technology. These were inspired by the
Apple Macintosh The Macintosh (mainly Mac since 1998) is a family of personal computers designed, manufactured, and sold by Apple Inc. (originally as Apple Computer, Inc.) since January 1984. The Macintosh 128K, original Macintosh is the first successful m ...

Apple Macintosh
, but at a list price of US$2495 (), the Macintosh itself was too expensive for most households. The Commodore Amiga in particular had true Computer multitasking, multitasking capability and unlike all other low-cost computers of the era could run multiple applications in their own windows.


MSX

MSX MSX is a standardized home computer architecture, announced by Microsoft and ASCII Corporation on June 16, 1983. It was initially conceived by Microsoft as a product for the Eastern sector, and jointly marketed by Kazuhiko Nishi, then vice-pre ...

MSX
was a standard for a home computing architecture that was intended and hoped to become a universal platform for home computing. It was conceived, engineered and marketed by Microsoft Japan with ASCII Corporation. Computers conforming to the MSX standard were produced by most all major Japanese electronics manufacturers, as well as two Korean ones and several others in Europe and South America. Some 5 million units are known to have been sold in Japan alone. They sold in smaller numbers throughout the world. Due to the "price wars" being waged in the USA home computer market during the 1983-85 period, MSX computers were never marketed to any great extent in the USA. Eventually more advanced mainstream home computers and game consoles obsoleted the MSX machines. The MSX computers were built around the
Zilog Z80 The Z80 is an 8-bit In computer architecture In computer engineering, computer architecture is a set of rules and methods that describe the functionality, organization, and implementation of computer systems. Some definitions of archite ...

Zilog Z80
8-bit processor, assisted with dedicated video graphics and audio coprocessors supplied by Intel,
Texas Instruments Texas Instruments Incorporated (TI) is an America The United States of America (U.S.A. or USA), commonly known as the United States (U.S. or US) or America, is a country primarily located in North America North America is a ...
, and General Instrument. MSX computers received a great deal of software support from the traditional Japanese publishers of game software, but never garnered such support from publishers of productivity applications. Microsoft did, however, produce a special version of the BASIC programming language that ran under MSX.


Radio frequency interference

After the first wave of game consoles and computers landed in American homes, the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) began receiving complaints of electromagnetic interference to television reception. By 1979 the FCC demanded that home computer makers submit samples for radio frequency interference testing. It was found that "first generation" home computers emitted too much radio frequency noise for household use. The Atari 8-bit, Atari 400 and 800 were designed with heavy RF shielding to meet the new requirements. Between 1980 and 1982 regulations governing RF emittance from home computers were phased in. Some companies appealed to the FCC to waive the requirements for home computers, while others (with compliant designs) objected to the waiver. Eventually techniques to electromagnetic compatibility, suppress interference became standardized.


Reception and sociological impact

In 1977, referring to computers used in home automation at the dawn of the home computer era, Digital Equipment Corporation CEO Ken Olsen is quoted as saying "There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home." Despite Olsen's warning, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, from about 1977 to 1983, it was widely predicted that computers would soon revolutionize many aspects of home and family life as they had business practices in the previous decades. Mothers would keep their recipe catalog in Kitchen Computer, "kitchen computer" databases and turn to a medical database for help with child care, fathers would use the family's computer to manage family finances and track automobile maintenance. Children would use online encyclopedias for school work and would be avid History of video games#Gaming computers, video gamers. The computer would even be tasked with babysitting younger children. Home automation would bring about the Home automation, intelligent home of the 1980s. Using Videotex, NAPLPS or some sort of vaguely conceptualized computer technology, television would gain interactivity. It would be possible to do the week's grocery shopping through the television. The "personalized newspaper" (to be displayed on the television screen) was another commonly predicted application. Morning coffee would be brewed automatically under computer control. The same household computer would control the home's lighting and temperature. Robots would take the garbage out, and be programmed to perform new tasks via the home computer. Electronics were expensive, so it was generally assumed that each home would have only one computer for the entire family to use. Home control would be performed in a Computer multitasking, multitasking time-sharing arrangement, with interfaces to the various devices it was expected to control. All this was predicted to be commonplace by the end of the 1980s, but by 1987 Dan Gutman wrote that the predicted revolution was "in shambles", with only 15% of American homes owning a computer. Virtually every aspect that was foreseen would be delayed to later years or would be entirely surpassed by later technological developments. The home computers of the early 1980s could not multitask, which meant that using one as a home automation or entertainment appliance would require it be kept powered on at all times and dedicated exclusively for this use. Even if the computers could be used for multiple purposes simultaneously as today, other technical limitations predominated; memory capacities were too small to hold entire encyclopedias or databases of financial records; floppy disk-based storage was inadequate in both capacity and speed for multimedia work; and the home computers' graphics chips could only display blocky, unrealistic images and blurry, jagged text that would be difficult to read a newspaper from. Although CD-ROM technology was introduced in 1985 with much promise for its future use, the drives were prohibitively expensive and only interfaced with IBM PCs and compatibles. The ''Boston Phoenix'' stated in 1983 that "people are catching on to the fact that 'applications' like balancing your checkbook and filing kitchen recipes are actually faster and easier to do with a pocket calculator and a box of index cards". ''inCider'' observed that "companies cannot live by dilettantes alone". Gutman wrote that when the first computer boom ended in 1984, "Suddenly, everybody was saying that the home computer was a fad, just another hula hoop". Robert Lydon, publisher of ''Personal Computing'', stated in 1985 that the home market "never really existed. It was a fad. Just about everyone who was going to buy a computer for their home has done it", and predicted that Apple would cease to exist within two years. A backlash set in; computer users were "geeks", "nerds" or worse, "Hacker (term), hackers". The video game crash of 1983 soured many on home computer technology as users saw large investments in 'the technology of the future' turn into dead-ends when manufacturers pulled out of the market or went out of business. The computers that were bought for use in the family room were either forgotten in closets or relegated to basements and children's bedrooms to be used exclusively for games and the occasional book report. Home computers of the 1980s have been called "a technology in search of a use". In 1984 Tandy executive Steve Leininger, designer of the TRS-80 Model I, admitted that "As an industry we haven't found any compelling reason to buy a computer for the home" other than for word processing. A 1985 study found that, during a typical week, 40% of adult computer owners did not use their computers at all. Usage rates among children were higher, with households reporting that only 16-20% of children aged 6––17 did not use the computer during a typical week. It would take another 10 years for technology to mature, for the graphical user interface to make the computer approachable for non-technical users, and for the World Wide Web to provide a compelling reason for most people to want a computer in their homes. Separate 1998 studies found that 75% of Americans with Internet access accessed primarily from home and that not having Internet access at home inhibited Internet use. Predicted aspects of the revolution were left by the wayside or modified in the face of an emerging reality. The cost of electronics dropped precipitously and today many families have a computer for each family member, although shared desktop machines are still common. Encyclopedias, recipe catalogs and medical databases are kept online and accessed over the World Wide Web – not stored locally on floppy disks or CD-ROM. TV has yet to gain substantial interactivity; instead, the web has evolved alongside television, giving rise to the second screen concept. The HTPC and services like Netflix, Google TV (operating system), Google TV or Apple TV, along with internet video sites such as YouTube and Hulu, Cord cutting, may one day replace traditional terrestrial television, broadcast and cable television. Our coffee may be brewed automatically every morning, but the computer is a simple one embedded computing, embedded in the coffee maker, not under external control. As of 2008, robots are just beginning to make an impact in the home, with Roomba and Aibo leading the charge. This delay wasn't out of keeping with other technologies newly introduced to an unprepared public. Early motorists were widely derided with the cry of "Get a horse!" until the automobile was accepted. History of television, Television languished in research labs for decades before regular public broadcasts began. In an example of changing applications for technology, before the invention of radio, the telephone was used to distribute opera and news reports, whose subscribers were denounced as "illiterate, blind, bedridden and incurably lazy people". Likewise, the acceptance of computers into daily life today is a product of continuing refinement of both technology and perception.


Use in the 21st century

Retrocomputing is the use of vintage hardware, possibly performing modern tasks such as surfing the web and email. As programming techniques evolved and these systems were well-understood after decades of use, it became possible to write software giving home computers capabilities undreamed of by their designers. The Contiki OS implements a GUI and TCP/IP stack on the Apple II, Commodore 8-bit and Atari ST (16-bit) platforms, allowing these home computers to function as both internet clients and servers. The Commodore 64 has been repackaged as the C-One and C64 Direct-to-TV, both designed by Jeri Ellsworth with modern enhancements. Throughout the 1990s and 1st decade of the 21st century, many home computer systems were available inexpensively at garage sales and on eBay. Many enthusiasts started to collect home computers, with older and rarer systems being much sought after. Sometimes the collections turned into a virtual museum presented on web sites. As their often-inexpensively manufactured hardware ages and the supply of replacement parts dwindles, it has become popular among enthusiasts to emulator, emulate these machines, recreating their software environments on modern computers. One of the more well-known emulators is the Multi Emulator Super System (MESS) which can emulate most of the better-known home computers. A more or less complete list of home computer emulators can be found in the List of computer system emulators#8-bit systems, List of computer system emulators article. Games for many 8 and 16 bit home computers became available for the Wii Virtual Console.


Notable home computers

The time line below describes many of the most popular or significant home computers of the late 1970s and of the 1980s. The most popular home computers in the USA up to 1985 were: the
TRS-80 The TRS-80 Micro Computer System (TRS-80, later renamed the Model I to distinguish it from successors) is a desktop microcomputer A microcomputer is a small, relatively inexpensive computer A computer is a machine that can be programmed ...

TRS-80
(1977), various models of the Apple II family (first introduced in 1977), the Atari 8-bit family#Original 400/800 series, Atari 400/800 (1979) along with its follow up models the Atari 800XL, 800XL and Atari 130XE, 130XE, and the Commodore VIC-20 (1980) and the
Commodore 64 The Commodore 64, also known as the C64 or the CBM 64, is an 8-bit In computer architecture In computer engineering, computer architecture is a set of rules and methods that describe the functionality, organization, and implementation ...

Commodore 64
(1982). The VIC was the first computer of any type to sell over one million units, and the 64 is still the highest-selling single model of personal computer ever, with over 17 million produced before production stopped in 1994 – a 12-year run with only minor changes. At one point in 1983 Commodore was selling as many 64s as the rest of the industry's computers combined. The British market was different, as relatively high prices and lower disposable incomes reduced the appeal of most American products. ''New Scientist'' stated in 1977 that "the price of an American kit in dollars rapidly translates into the same figure in pounds sterling by the time it has reached the shores of Britain". The Commodore 64 was also popular, but a ''BYTE'' columnist stated in 1985: Many of the British-made systems like Sinclair's Sinclair ZX81, ZX81 and Sinclair ZX Spectrum, Spectrum, and later the Amstrad, Amstrad/Schneider Amstrad CPC, CPC were much more widely used in Europe than US systems. A few low-cost British Sinclair models were sold in the US by Timex Corporation as the Timex Sinclair 1000 and the ill-fated Timex Sinclair 2068, but neither established a strong following. The only transatlantic success was the Commodore 64, which competed favorably price-wise with the British systems, and was the most popular system in Europe as in the USA. Until the introduction of the IBM PC in 1981, computers such as the Apple II and TRS 80 also found considerable use in office work. In 1983 IBM introduced the PCjr in an attempt to continue their business computer success in the home computer market, but incompatibilities between it and the standard PC kept users away. Assisted by a large public domain software library and promotional offers from Commodore, the PET had a sizable presence in the North American education market until that segment was largely ceded to the Apple II as Commodore focused on the C-64's success in the mass retail market.


1970s

Three microcomputers were the prototypes for what would later become the home computer market segment; but when introduced they sold as much to hobbyists and small businesses as to the home. * June 1977: Apple II series, Apple II (North America), color graphics, eight expansion slots; one of the first computers to use a typewriter-like plastic case design. * August 1977: TRS-80, Tandy Radio Shack TRS-80 (N. Am.), first home computer for less than US$600, used a dedicated monitor for US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules compliance. * October 1977:
Commodore PET The Commodore PET is a line of personal computer A personal computer (PC) is a multi-purpose computer A computer is a machine that can be programmed to carry out sequences of arithmetic or logical operations automatically. Modern comp ...

Commodore PET
(N. Am.), first Desktop computer#All-in-one, all-in-one computer: keyboard/screen/tape storage built into stamped sheet metal enclosure. Commodore press release. "The PET computer made its debut recently as the first 100 units were shipped to waiting customers in mid-October 1977." * In 1977 Compucolor, Compucolor II, although shipments did not start until the next year. The Compucolor II was smaller, less expensive than first model which was an upgrade kit for the company's color computer terminal, turning the Intercolor 8001 into the Compucolor 8001 and used the newly-introduced 5.25-inch floppy disks instead of the former 8-inch models. The following computers also introduced significant advancements to the home computer segment: * 1979: Texas Instruments TI-99/4, TI-99/4, first home computer with a 16-bit processor and first to add sprite (computer graphics), sprite graphics * 1979: Atari 8-bit family#Original 400/800 series, Atari 400/800 (N. Am.), first computer with custom chip set and programmable video chip and built-in audio output


1980s

* January 1980: Sinclair ZX80, available in the United Kingdom for less than a hundred pounds * 1980: Commodore VIC-20 (N. Am.), under US$300; first computer of any kind to pass one million sold. * 1980: TRS-80 Color Computer (N. Am.), Motorola 6809, optional OS-9 multi-user multi-tasking. * July 1980: TRS-80 Model III (N. Am.), essentially a TRS-80 Model I repackaged in an all-in-one cabinet, to comply with FCC regulations for radiofrequency interference, to eliminate cable clutter, and use only one electrical outlet. Some enhancements like extended character set, repeating keys, and real time clock. * June 1981: Texas Instruments TI-99/4A, based on the less successful
TI-99/4 The Texas Instruments TI-99/4A is a home computer released in June 1981 in the United States. It is an enhanced version of the less successful TI-99/4 which was released in late 1979. The TI-99/4 and TI-99/4A are the first 16-bit home computers, u ...
. * 1981: Sinclair ZX81 (Europe), £49.95 in kit form; £69.95 pre-built, released as Timex Sinclair 1000 in US in 1982. * 1981:
BBC Micro The British Broadcasting Corporation Microcomputer System, or BBC Micro, is a series of microcomputer A microcomputer is a small, relatively inexpensive computer with a microprocessor as its central processing unit (CPU). It includes a micr ...
(Europe), premier educational computer in the UK for a decade; advanced BBC BASIC with integrated 6502 machine code assembler, and a large number of I/O ports, ~ 1.5 million sold. * April 1982: Sinclair ZX Spectrum (Europe), best-selling British home computer; catalysed the UK software industry, widely cloned by the Soviet Union. * June 1982: MicroBee (Australia), initially as a kit, then as a finished unit. * August 1982: Dragon 32/64, Dragon 32 (UK) became, for a short time, the best-selling home micro in the United Kingdom. * August 1982:
Commodore 64 The Commodore 64, also known as the C64 or the CBM 64, is an 8-bit In computer architecture In computer engineering, computer architecture is a set of rules and methods that describe the functionality, organization, and implementation ...

Commodore 64
(N. Am.), custom graphic & synthesizer SID chip, chipset, best-selling computer model of all time: ~ 17 million sold. * Jan. 1983: Apple IIe, Apple II enhanced. Reduced component count and production costs enabled high-volume production, until 1993. * April 1983: TRS-80 Model 4, major upgrade compatible with Model III. Ran industry-standard
CP/M CP/M, originally standing for Control Program/Monitor and later Control Program for Microcomputers, is a mass-market operating system An operating system (OS) is system software System software is software designed to provide a platform f ...
, updated TRSDOS 6, 4 MHz speed, 128KB RAM max, 80x24 screen, 640x240 high-res option. In September the transportable "luggable" Model 4P unveiled. * 1983: Acorn Electron A stripped down 'sibling' of the BBC microcomputer with limited functionality. The Electron recovered from a slow start to become one of the more popular home computers of that era in the UK. * 1983: Sanyo PHC-25, with 16k of RAM, one of a number of Sanyo models * 1983: Coleco Adam, one of the few home computers to be sold only as a complete system with storage device and printer; cousin to the
ColecoVision ColecoVision is a second-generation home video-game console developed by Coleco Coleco Industries, Inc. was an American company founded in 1932 by Maurice Greenberg as The Connecticut Leather Company. It became a highly successful toy company ...

ColecoVision
game console. * 1983:
MSX MSX is a standardized home computer architecture, announced by Microsoft and ASCII Corporation on June 16, 1983. It was initially conceived by Microsoft as a product for the Eastern sector, and jointly marketed by Kazuhiko Nishi, then vice-pre ...

MSX
(Japan, Korea, the Arab League, Europe, N+S. Am., USSR), a computer 'reference design' by ASCII (company), ASCII and Microsoft, produced by several companies: ~ 5 million sold. * 1983: VTech Laser 200, entry level computer aimed at being the cheapest on market, also sold as Salora Fellow, Texet TX8000 & Dick Smith VZ 200. * 1983: Oric 1 and Oric Atmos, a home computer equipped with a full travel keyboard and an extended version of Microsoft BASIC in ROM. * January 1984: The
Apple Macintosh The Macintosh (mainly Mac since 1998) is a family of personal computers designed, manufactured, and sold by Apple Inc. (originally as Apple Computer, Inc.) since January 1984. The Macintosh 128K, original Macintosh is the first successful m ...

Apple Macintosh
is introduced, providing many consumers their first look at a graphical user interface, which would eventually replace the home computer as it was known. * April 1984: Apple IIc, Apple II compact. No expansion slots, and built-in ports for pseudo-plug and play ease of use. The Apple II most geared to home use, to complement the Apple IIe's dominant education market share. * 1984: Tiki 100 (Norway), Zilog Z80-based home/educational computer made by Tiki Data. * 1984: Amstrad, Amstrad/Schneider, Amstrad CPC, CPC, Amstrad PCW, PCW ranges (Europe), British standard before
IBM PC The IBM Personal Computer (model 5150, commonly known as the IBM PC) is the first computer released in the IBM PC model line and the basis for the IBM PC compatible IBM PC compatible computers are similar to the original IBM PC The IBM ...

IBM PC
; German sales next to Commodore 64, C64. * 1985: TRS-80 Model 4D: updated Model 4 with double-sided drives and Deskmate productivity suite. * 1985: Elektronika BK-0010, one of the first 16-bit home computers; made in USSR. * 1985: Robotron KC 87, Robotron KC 85/1 (Europe), one of the few home computers produced by the East Germany, East German VEB Robotron-Meßelektronik "Otto Schön" Dresden. * 1985: Atari ST (N. Am.), first with a graphical user interface (Graphics Environment Manager, GEM) for less than US$1000; first with built-in Musical Instrument Digital Interface, MIDI interface; also 1 mebibyte, MB random-access memory, RAM and 16-bit Motorola 68000 processor for under US$1000. * June 1985: Commodore 128 (N. Am.) Final, most advanced 8-bit Commodore, retained full C64 compatibility while adding
CP/M CP/M, originally standing for Control Program/Monitor and later Control Program for Microcomputers, is a mass-market operating system An operating system (OS) is system software System software is software designed to provide a platform f ...
in a complex multi-mode architecture * July 1985: Amiga 1000, Commodore Amiga 1000 (N. Am.), Original Amiga chipset, custom chip set for graphics and digital audio; computer multitasking, multitasking AmigaOS, OS with both GUI and command line interface, CLI interfaces; 16-bit Motorola 68000 processor. Initially designed as a game console but repositioned as a home computer. * 1986: Apple IIGS, Fifth and final model in the
Apple II series The Apple II series (trademarked with square brackets as "Apple ][" and rendered on later models as "Apple //") is a family of home computers, one of the first highly successful mass-produced microcomputer products, designed primarily b ...
, with greatly enhanced graphics and sound abilities. Used a 16-bit 65C816 CPU, the same as used in the
Super Nintendo Entertainment System The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), commonly shortened to Super NES or Super Nintendo, is a 16-bit 16-bit microcomputer A microcomputer is a small, relatively inexpensive computer A computer is a machine that can be progr ...

Super Nintendo Entertainment System
. * June 1987: Acorn Archimedes (Europe), launched with an 8 MHz 32-bit ARM architecture, ARM2 microprocessor, with between 512 KB and 4 MB of RAM, and an optional 20 or 40 MB hard drive. * October 1987: Commodore Amiga 500 (N. Am.), Amiga 1000 repackaged into a C64-like housing with keyboard and motherboard in the same enclosure, along with a 3.5" floppy disk drive. Introduced at the same time as the more expandable Amiga 2000. * 1989: SAM Coupé (Europe), based on 6 MHz Z80 microprocessor; marketed as a logical upgrade from the Sinclair ZX Spectrum.


See also


References


External links


Rune's PC Museum

Home of the home computer

Collection of old analog and digital computers
at Old Computer Museum
Computer History Museum
nbsp;– An online museum of home computing and gaming
HCM - Home Computer Museum

"Total share: 30 years of personal computer market share figures"
nbsp;– From Ars Technica
article on computing in the 1980s

Google Books link to ''A history of the personal computer: the people and the technology'' by Roy A. Allan

Home computer simulation written in Python
{{DEFAULTSORT:Home Computer Computer-related introductions in 1977 1980s fads and trends Home computers,