By: Charles Bowen
The Web may be the ultimate celebration of our diversity, but there is at least one common ground. Everyone online is using a computer.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we all agree on the technology we choose for our cyberspace travel. There probably will always be separate camps for the Apple and the Windows people. But compared to computing’s “old days,” the Apple-Windows split is nothing.
When you take the long view of personal computing, you’re reminded that before The Great Shakeout of the 1990s, there were many more choices. You had your Atari folks, Osborne people, Commodore collective, the Trash-80 tribe, the Kaypro camp, the TI techies. Literally hundreds of bright, hopeful machines rolled out between 1979 and 1989. Most of them went under within a few years. But before they did, each machine had the distinction of being at least someone’s entry point into the brave new digital world.
Today that otherwise forgotten computer probably remains in a warm spot in that person’s heart as “My First Computer.” We’ve reached the point in our digital evolution in which old computers are remembered with the same grin and sigh that accompany memories of old cars, and it’s only fitting that a Web site becomes our museum.
The Old Computer Museum (http://old-computers.com) wants to be that special place. Through the good work — some might say the obsession — of a pair of globe-trotting friends, the Internet has the beginnings of a first-rate digital history reservoir. Thirty years ago, Thierry Schembri and Olivier Boisseau met in a pub in London. “They both were fond of computers and teddy bears,” says an online background. “They spoke for hours and finally concluded that teddy bears were not a particularly interesting hobby. So they decided to focus on computers.”
They left the bar and didn’t see each other again until 1998, when in a little French village, they met again at an old-computer collectors meeting. They learned that they were both developing sites devoted to old computers and decided to combine their efforts. Now more than 600 computers are documented in their online files, from the famous (Lisa, Timex Sinclair, TRS-80 Model I, Pet, PC Jr) to the seriously obscure (the Wavy 23, the Robie, the Dragon 65, the Microbee).
And journalists in a rush will appreciate how the guys have provided various paths into the information. Click on the “Museum” tab at the top of any page to reach the front door of the site. On the subsequent page, options enable you to browse the material by name of the computer, by name of company that made it, or by year of its release. (I’ve found the latter option especially interesting, since it lets you see what machines were contemporaries.)
For each computer in the database, the site has a brief description, usually a picture, links to related material, and a chart of technical information covering everything from manufacture, country of origin, and date of release to speed, CPU, basic ROM and RAM, color, sound, ports, and price.
Other considerations for using the Old Computer Museum in your work:
1. If you write about the site in your news columns, you might want to tell your readers they are invited to participate by writing an article for the site’s online magazine, create new questions for the quizzes in the “Fun” section, help translate texts, pointing out errors and so on.
2. The site also maintains an online “library” where you can find new books about old machines, video games, and related topics.
3. And for additional information about late, great computers, check out the site’s “Links” tab.