A history of the microcomputer industry in 300 adverts
In a private room at the Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago in January 1977, Commodore launched the world's first complete "personal computer" - a microcomputer that for the first time could be taken out of the box, plugged in and used by regular people without a soldering iron. Soon Tandy and Apple joined in, and by the end of the 1970s, they - and hundred of other companies - were selling thousands of microcomputers a year. And it might have gone on like this until Sinclair in the UK, and then Commodore in the US, launched a range of affordable home micros at the start of the new decade which changed everything.
The market exploded from tens of thousands of machines a year to millions, as famous 1970s names like Cromemco, IMSAI, Nascom and MITS were swept away. Micro companies were suddenly worth $1 billion dollars and their employees were millionaires. Hundreds of companies launched hundreds of machines, with 900 mostly-incompatible systems appearing in the 1980 "Guide to Small Business Systems". Price wars were started, old scores were settled and companies were destroyed. 8 bits made way for 16 and 32 in the space of a few years. The video games market surged and then collapsed in on itself, taking out Atari and Coleco. For a while Britain led the world in manufacture and adoption, with 80% of all computers sold in Europe being sold in the UK.
Then the 8-bit market reached saturation and more companies imploded - Sinclair was sold for its name and assets only, Acorn almost didn't make it and a raft of also-rans fell by the wayside - Camputers, Dragon Data, Elan, Oric and Jupiter Cantab to name but a few. Even big names like Timex and Texas Instruments were burned. Of the near-200 companies in these adverts, only 17 remain, of which 15 are the BASFs, Sanyos and Yamahas for whom micros were only ever a sideline. None, including Apple, survives as a pure computer company.
Meanwhile, the sleeping giant that was IBM launched its 5150 at the end of 1981 and watched as it slowly but inevitably over the next few years became the standard. Other companies cloned it, copied and improved it and soon the only game in town was the IBM PC. From the latter half of the 1980s, every micro company and its dog was building generic beige boxes. The "wonder years" were over.
This collection of over 300 adverts attempts to tell something of that story...
The Aviator - One man's fight to save his home town
The image above is a scan of the pre-press version of the advert and is used with permission. © Acornsoft Ltd 1985 This particular advert appeared as an A2 poster inside June 1985's PCW and came from ...
The new IBM Personal System/2. Marry into the future without divorcing the past.
By 1986, IBM seemed to be suffering, possibly from the rise of the clones of its original IBM 5150 (the "PC"), but possibly also because it had slowed down product releases in the PC market it had cre...
"What will you do with 12-year-old programmers when they reach 16?"
This is an interesting advert, in the form of its implied message, from a company that controlled much of the UK Schools' IT hardware market until it finally bailed out of PC sales in June 2014. It re...
The Atari Portfolio - the power of a PC in the palm of your hand!
Sometimes considered as the very first true IBM-compatible portable and originally known as the PocketPC, but eventually christened the Portfolio or Folio (depending upon source) specifically for the ...
"New Amiga 500 - Now other home computers are just toys"
The original Amiga, or A1000 as it came to be known, nearly didn't make it when it launched in 1986, as Commodore was going through some major financial problems whilst its potential saviour machine w...
Der Schnellste PC der Welt - Tut's Auch
This advert from German magazine Der Spiegel continues a frequently-visited meme of microcomputer advertising - that of wheeling in some celebrity with sometimes only a tenuous connection to micros in...
BBC External Services
This advert seems to represent the end of a period of retrenchment for Acorn following a difficult year which had seen it bailed out by Italian company Olivetti back in February. For most of the year ...
The Archimedes A3000
The A3000 was an update of the original Archimedes - also known in at least some parts of the press as the ARM - which had been launched in 1987 and which first started shipping to dealers in early Au...
Introducing Macintosh. What makes it tick. And talk.
Famously introduced by an Orwellian Ridley Scott-directed advert at the 1984 Super Bowl and billed by Steve Jobs as "the fastest and most powerful computer ever placed in the hands of a large number ...
Here's an up-front saving on the Tandy 16K Colour Computer 2
Here's a festively-themed advert for the second version of Tandy's Colour Computer, or "CoCo". With £20 off coz it's Christmas, the CoCo was available for only £99.95 - only £320 in 2021 money. Still ...
Introducing the new and improved IBM PC. From £49.50
Much has been written about how CP/M, the pioneering, multi-platform operating system written by Gary Kildall and his company Digital Research - originally known as Intergalactic Digital Research and ...
The BBC Master Compact: Think of it as a down payment on your child's future uniform
The BBC Master Compact was an entry in the BBC Master series, which in turn was produced as the follow-up to the BBC Model 'B' Micro. It was designed jointly by Acorn and design consultants David Morg...
Micronet 800: Nice password, shame about the identity
With an advert containing a theme still relevant to a modern audience - pointing out that "your special identity number and personal password the valuable key to a huge database" - Micronet 800 was a...
4th July 1962
Trad? Not the Elliott 503!
The Elliott 503 was built by British computer company Elliott Brothers, a subsidiary of the Elliott Automation Group, as a much faster but software-compatible evolution of the 803 mentioned in the adv...
A beginner's guide to the best in business computers
ACT had carved out a briefly-successful niche in the UK with its Apricot range of micros, several of which touted their "Sirius" compatibility, rather than the usual IBM. However, when the company lau...