Micro Men

Have you seen Micro Men yet?

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00n5b92

If, like me, you learned to program by typing out lines of BASIC on a Sinclair ZXx, an Acorn Micro or Commodore machine, then you’ll love this story of the rivalry between Clive Sinclair and Chris Curry as they battle for supremacy in the early ’80’s micro market.  If you are too young to remember those days (for example you may be one of my Computing class who is reading this rather than getting on with your homework, you know who you are, and it’s due in by Thursday) then watch it anyway and marvel at how primitive those early machines were.

What struck me whilst watching was how much of a dead end the first home computers were.  Although many machines were sold, nearly all of them were used for playing games.  Only a few people put the micros to their intended use and learned to program on them (Incidentally, I remember paying £10 for a book on Assembly Language, and another £30 for an Assembler on a ROM cartridge.  Nowadays, if you want to learn to program you can download a fully functioning IDE and access hundreds of excellent tutorials for free).

One question we never really asked back then was why did people need to learn to program anyway? The subject is no longer taught in schools, except as a specialism.  Ten years ago most people wanted a computer so they could learn how to use the internet or to word process.  Today even that isn’t really the case, and pupils are now  taught Flash animation or how to set up websites instead.

A few of us may owe a debt to those early machines, but what the world was really waiting for was the PC equivalent.  The trouble was that such a thing was too expensive, or at least more than people were willing to pay in those days.  It was down to Alan Sugar to produce the AMSTRAD word processor, the first reasonably priced machine that bore some resemblance to today’s computers.

Anyway, watch the program.  It’s funny and poignant, full of the sense of missed opportunities.  I can’t help thinking the world would be a much geekier place if Sinclair and Curry had worked together instead of fighting (and geekness, of course, is a good thing).

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