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Recommended books on classic computing history?

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I just started reading Commodore: A Company on the Edge, and I'm looking forward to Atari: Business is Fun.

 

What other books on classic/home computer companies are worth a read?

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Who says Elephants can't dance (IBM)

followed by

Thinkpad a different shade of blue (IBM)

 

Apple Confidential v 2.0 (Apple)

followed by

Steve Jobs (Apple)

 

all 4 recommended

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Back when I was researching the early days of computing, I remember seeing "The Soul of a New Machine" but for some reason I passed on it. You're right, I should probably read that one.

 

I've read a lot of books on the early days, such as "The Computer from Pascal to Von Neumann," all the stuff by Steven Levy, a book on microprocessors that mostly focused on Intel (I don't recall the book's title), and a whole slew of others that I don't really remember (it's been 15+ years since I read most of them). Mostly it was stuff about ENIAC, etc. And more general stuff like "The Mythical Man Month." But I was never able to find much about the microcomputer era, beyond stuff about Apple and some stuff about Atari as well as videogames in general.

 

I'm surprised there's not more out there about the early days of home computing. I see there's one about TRS-80 but from the reviews I'm not sure it'd be worth reading. I wish there were more about TI 99/4a, Timex/Sinclair, Coleco Adam, and some of the other now-forgotten players in the market.

 

I see there's one about Fairchild, but I don't know if it says anything about the Channel F. (I know, it's a console, but ...)

 

Ah, well. Maybe Curt & Marty's book will inspire folks to write about those other companies.

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Speaking as a librarian (and former archivist), one of the challenges to writing business history is the lack of source material.

 

Curt has managed to acquire a very signficant private collection of Atari materials, but it is very dobutful that similar collections (public or private) exist for most of these other companies. Thus a (potential) historian is limited to publically-available materials -- corporate annual reports, coverage in the trade press, and things like catalogues and advertising materials. Interviews with former staff may be a useful source, but it is a matter of identifying them, locating their contact information, and then their general ability to remember/willingness to talk about things from 30+ years ago.

 

Businesses generally have little use for the historic record. For example, many years ago, I wanted to do an MA in history focussing on a local business that was (then) close to 120 years old (it is oldest firm in its industry, the oldest local company still in business, etc.). Current management had no idea that their firm was so old, much less its historical signifigance. A few years previously, virtually all of the older (pre-1980s) records were systematically destroyed to save space. Consequently, a history of the company longer than my 2-page synopsis will never be written because there simply are no records.

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That's true. I guess I'm spoiled by all the Disney history stuff that's out there (Disney being my other hobby). Of course, in that case Walt's brother Roy Disney actually kicked it off while he was running the company (after Walt's death) by hiring Dave Smith to act as corporate archivist. So it's definitely a special case.

 

I wish we had something like the Walt's People series for the videogame and computer industries. It's a series of hefty books filled with interviews with the folks who worked with Walt Disney. Great stuff, and since there's a multitude of interviews (I think it comprises 12 volumes now, with one new book appearing every year), you can sort of triangulate between different people's opinions.

 

In the Atari world, we're lucky Curt took action to save so much primary source material, and that he and Marty were able to conduct so many interviews for their books.

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I enjoyed THE HOME COMPUTER WARS by Michael S. Tomczyk. You can find a PDF of it thru Google.

 

Thanks! I just grabbed a copy.

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I recommend the TImeline from Bill Gaskill. It really gives you a indeep look into the history of the Texas Instruments Home Computer and its relations to its competitors.

 

It's still being updated.

 

The version I own is 115 pages. There was once a version with color pics which was around 200 pages. Since it's a copyright text I can't publish it here.

 

The versions on the web are way outdated:

http://99er.net/hist1.html

http://99er.net/hist2.html

http://99er.net/hist3.html

http://99er.net/hist4.html

 

or

 

http://chung.yikes.com/~leonard/mirrors/ti99/timeline.html

 

Then there is "The Orphan Chronicles" which is available for download here:

http://pergrem.com/tibooks/

 

Furthermore you need to read Home Computer Wars.

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I wish we had something like the Walt's People series for the videogame and computer industries. It's a series of hefty books filled with interviews with the folks who worked with Walt Disney. Great stuff, and since there's a multitude of interviews

 

 

You should check out Matt Barton's video blog, Matt Chat. He has done a lot of interviews with developers, game designers, and businessmen from the 80s and 90s. It's going to be an important part of the historical record.

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It rambles a little and isn't so much a history as a broader, slightly whimsical discussion of gaming that covers the past and what was the present at the time, but i found Joystick Nation by J.C. Herz to be a pretty good read and a quick search of Amazon shows lots of relatively cheap second hand copies right now. It taught me a few things about playtesting and made me smile for various reasons every time i've read through it.

 

David Sheff's Game over: How Nintendo Conquered the World isn't a bad read at all but even the covermount version i have costs ridiculous money at the moment! The account of the rights battle between Mirrorsoft and Ninty in particular reads a little like a cold war spy thriller.

 

i've just started re-reading Show-Stopper: The Breakneck Race to Create Windows NT and the Next Generation at Microsoft by G. Pascal Zachary which is, as the name suggests, about Dave Cutler and his team rocking up at Microsoft and producing the first iteration of NT, creating the hardware for it and getting the product to market.

 

Both Bruce Sterling's The Hacker Crackdown and Underground: Tales of Hacking, Madness and Obsession on the Electronic Frontier by Suelette Dreyfus (with a lot of research and input from Julian Assange who was one of the teenage hackers the book is about) are very good reads about computer counterculture and both are available freely from Project Gutenberg - here's direct links to Hacker Crackdown and Underground.

 

Someone's already mentioned Steven Levy's work but i'll just add a second "well worth a look" for Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, some of what's in there of a more personal nature probably needs to be taken with a pinch of salt but it's an interesting account and covers a broad range of people. i've read the first and second sections more times than i care to remember. A sample of the first section is also available from Project Gutenberg.

 

A long-term favourite of mine is The Cuckoo's Egg by Cliff Stoll, an account of finding a rogue user in the accounting logs of a VAX mainframe and what happened after that; i found out about it when UK broadcaster ITV ran a PBS-made programme called The KGB, The Computer And Me which is a docudrama - it can be found through [ahem] certain means on teh interwebs.

 

One i found cheap in the Amazon Kindle store (i've got most of the above on mine) is Nerd Story - Nerd Sex and Other Tales from the Great Computer Revolution, Bill Gervasi's personal account of life in the computer industry.

 

And a book i'd recommend people to avoid is Trigger Happy: The Inner Life of Videogames by Steven Poole which i found a very slow read, mostly because it's more worried about the semiotic thickness of a work than anything else. All very worthy i'm sure, but unless you're into that sort of thing to start with it's dull as ditch water.

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It rambles a little and isn't so much a history as a broader, slightly whimsical discussion of gaming that covers the past and what was the present at the time, but i found Joystick Nation by J.C. Herz to be a pretty good read and a quick search of Amazon shows lots of relatively cheap second hand copies right now. It taught me a few things about playtesting and made me smile for various reasons every time i've read through it.

 

David Sheff's Game over: How Nintendo Conquered the World isn't a bad read at all but even the covermount version i have costs ridiculous money at the moment! The account of the rights battle between Mirrorsoft and Ninty in particular reads a little like a cold war spy thriller.

 

 

Hehe I got that book (from UKs Arcade magazine), man it's hacked to pieces, whole chapters missing when compared with the released book. Better get the real version

GameOver_zps5f332ea5.jpg

 

Another good read is The HP Way: How Bill Hewlett and I Built Our Company, the founders of Silicon Valley

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If you include 90's gaming, than Masters of Doom is also a good read. It talks about how John Carmack & Romero went from being misfit nerds to being the rock stars of PC gaming...only to fall out and compete with each other. I like how the author humanizes the people, showing as genuses who happen to have flaws.

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I would like to add, "iWoz", By Steve Wozniak and "Adventures of an Apple Founder", by Ronald G. Wayne.

 

I also placed some links to "Out of the Inner Circle: A Hacker's Guide to Computer Security" and "Bit-by-Bit:An Illustrated History of Computers [Paperback]" over on the Apple I production numbers thread..

 

Also, "Out of the Inner Circle" was scanned to a PDF and can be found in a Post on the thread, "BYTE Magazine".

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I really enjoyed Steve Jobs biography. I felt an excitement as I read it. He was a tyrant who never even learned to code. He got to where he was by working with the Woz who was a the true technical genius of the two. But it was truly his artistic vision that shaped the way we interact with even the most modern computer.

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Cuckoo's Egg is an excellent book. I need to get another copy. Jimmy Maher's Amiga The Future Was Here is pretty good too. And it isn't just history, he goes into some depth explaining how the machine actually worked.

 

S

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Actually, I believe that he did know how to code, he just chose to spend his time doing other things. For example, during the NeXTStep demonstrations, he would show people how to use Interface Builder...and when things went wrong he knew how to get back on track, and knew what it was he was showing people. You don't get that from a 10 minute briefing with your staff before a presentation. He understood what he was talking about.

 

I also have heard him talk about programming in Xcode and Applesoft BASIC over the years. There's a confidence there that you don't get from b.s.-ing, you need to at least some serious dabbling to get to that point.

 

Yes, at first Woz was definitely the technical genius. But even before his 1981 plane crash, he was starting to let other people design things and getting bored with Apple.

 

Jobs was definitely an ass to most people, especially during his first go-round with Apple. NeXT matured him; when he returned to Apple he didn't have to scream at people anymore. Or at least as much.

 

Jobs was good at seeing a good idea and polishing it to the point where most people thought the idea was great. It didn't matter if the idea came from somewhere else... look at the iPod and iTunes... products created elsewhere. Jobs saw them, bought the companies behind them, and then implemented them into the Apple universe. Most of the stuff that he did that to didn't succeed at first, but later versions did.

 

I really enjoyed Steve Jobs biography. I felt an excitement as I read it. He was a tyrant who never even learned to code. He got to where he was by working with the Woz who was a the true technical genius of the two. But it was truly his artistic vision that shaped the way we interact with even the most modern computer.

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Yes, at first Woz was definitely the technical genius. But even before his 1981 plane crash, he was starting to let other people design things and getting bored with Apple.

 

Woz was largely responsible for the best computer Apple ever made, the IIgs. Which was also the last computer Woz made for Apple.

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Stan Veit's History of the Personal Computer started out good. I was listening to it read by David Greelish on his podcast of the same name, but unfortunately, he stopped updating that podcast. The book is out of print and when I looked to get a used copy, the only ones I could find were on Amazon and over priced.

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One of my favorites is Fire In The Valley. The movie "Pirates Of Silicon Valley" was based on a mere chapter of this book, the one that chronicles the beginnings of Apple and Microsoft. However, the book goes all the way back to the beginning of personal computing, even before the birth of Intel and the Hombrew Computer Club.

 

Another one is Hackers, by Steve Levy. This one goes farther back, to the origins of the MIT AI Lab and The Model Railroad Club, all the way to micro-computers and the golden age of video games.

 

dZ.

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I really enjoyed Steve Jobs biography. I felt an excitement as I read it. He was a tyrant who never even learned to code. He got to where he was by working with the Woz who was a the true technical genius of the two. But it was truly his artistic vision that shaped the way we interact with even the most modern computer.

 

Something that Jobs said once that really impressed me, was in an interview for a PBS show called "Triumph Of The Nerds," in which you could sense his passion, and catch a glimpse of what must have been like to experience a true inspiring revelation.

 

He said he saw three things at Xerox PARC: local area networking (Ethernet), object oriented programming (Smalltalk), and the graphical user interface (GUI). However, he completely ignored the first two because he was so blindsided by the third. He said he knew instantly how the future would look.

 

Fast forward a couple of decades and all three have become major pillars of personal computing, but it was the GUI that conveyed the vision to the general public.

 

dZ.

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There's a nice Apple II history book coming out soon called Sophistication & Simplicity: The Life & Times of the Apple II Computer. It was supposed to be released on April 1st, but it still says that it has not been released.

 

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0986832278/ref=ox_sc_act_title_1?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER

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There's a nice Apple II history book coming out soon called Sophistication & Simplicity: The Life & Times of the Apple II Computer. It was supposed to be released on April 1st, but it still says that it has not been released.

 

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0986832278/ref=ox_sc_act_title_1?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER

 

I understand Dr. Weyhrich is doing some final editing and hopes to have it available early summer.

 

S

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