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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...

Tandon

November 1991

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...

Acorn

December 1985

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 ...

Acorn

August 1989

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...

Apple

May 1984

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 ...

Digital Research

November 1985

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 ...

Micronet

June 1985

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...

Elliott

4th July 1962

Trad? Not the Elliott 503!

The Elliott 503 was built by Elliott Brothers, a British computer company, as a much faster but software-compatible evolution of the 803 mentioned in the advert. 250 "803" machines were built, of whic...

ACT/Apricot

April 1985

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...

Sinclair

November 1987

The new Sinclair has one big disk advantage

Hot on the heels of the Sinclair 128K +2 Spectrum, released in August of this year, came the +3 version, which had the same slightly-non-standard 3" floppy drive that Amstrad used on its other machine...

Sinclair

March 1985

Turn your Spectrum into a Spectrum+ for just £20

1985 was the beginning of the end for Sinclair, at least as far as Uncle Clive was concerned. The company's "next generation" QL, launched in January 1984 but not actually available until April of tha...