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The World of Personal Computers in the 1980s Was A Wacky, Wonderful Place

You can experience early video games and operating systems yourself through retrocomputing and ads

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Computers have been around long enough that retrocomputing is a thing. People take the time and effort to make new computers run old operating systems and programs, collect the older machines or even build retro-styled computers. 

In a beautiful essay, programmer and writer Paul Ford delves into the how-tos, the whys of retrocomputing along with the memories it stirs up for him, of his friend Tom who has just passed away. But the piece is also about a person growing up with computers and what computers might mean about the connections we make. Ford writes:

The typical story of technology is one of progress; your floppies get old and decrepit and you can’t see your old data, that’s basically your fault, and who wants to live in the past? But human networks often stick around for decades, half-centuries. People have been working on Smalltalk for more than 40 years, for as long as I have been alive. Just continually thinking about it, how to improve it, how to make it popular, how to get the world to acknowledge it. It binds them together.

If retrocomputing appeals to you, there are resources available online and people who are serious about this hobby. But Ford also cautions that this world is "scattered, chaotic, murky, and legally suspect," although, as far as he knows, "no one has ever been prosecuted for downloading twenty-year-old word processing software."

Along with the actual systems and machines themselves, there's another way to dig through the history of personal computers—computer commercials.

Vintage ads reflect how people thought and felt about things in a certain era—or at least how a certain group of people hoped consumers thought and felt. In early personal computer ads, there’s a conscious link to a sci-fi version of the future but also a push to convince you that these machines are fun: Just look at the excitement on this family’s faces! For people looking to take a trip into the past, here are some fantastic computer commercials:

An Apple II advertisement with a very processed voice-over:

Magnavox Odyssey, the "first commercial home video game," had you put translucent plastic sheets over your television screen to simulate color graphics:

A very futuristic ad for Amiga:

Only Amiga Makes it Possible:

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