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When Computing Got Personal: A history of the desktop computer

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This is the story of how a handful of geeks and mavericks dragged the computer out of corporate back rooms and laboratories and into our living rooms and offices. It is a tale not only of extraordinary innovation and vision but also of cunning business deals, boardroom tantrums and acrimonious lawsuits. Here you will find some of the most intelligent and eccentric people y This is the story of how a handful of geeks and mavericks dragged the computer out of corporate back rooms and laboratories and into our living rooms and offices. It is a tale not only of extraordinary innovation and vision but also of cunning business deals, boardroom tantrums and acrimonious lawsuits. Here you will find some of the most intelligent and eccentric people you could hope to meet, including wide-eyed hippies, subversive students, computer nerds, entrepreneurs, hackers, crackers and financial backers. Some lost out and some became millionaires, but all played a part in transforming our world.


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This is the story of how a handful of geeks and mavericks dragged the computer out of corporate back rooms and laboratories and into our living rooms and offices. It is a tale not only of extraordinary innovation and vision but also of cunning business deals, boardroom tantrums and acrimonious lawsuits. Here you will find some of the most intelligent and eccentric people y This is the story of how a handful of geeks and mavericks dragged the computer out of corporate back rooms and laboratories and into our living rooms and offices. It is a tale not only of extraordinary innovation and vision but also of cunning business deals, boardroom tantrums and acrimonious lawsuits. Here you will find some of the most intelligent and eccentric people you could hope to meet, including wide-eyed hippies, subversive students, computer nerds, entrepreneurs, hackers, crackers and financial backers. Some lost out and some became millionaires, but all played a part in transforming our world.

30 review for When Computing Got Personal: A history of the desktop computer

  1. 4 out of 5

    Brian Clegg

    It's easy to underestimate just how much personal computing (including access to the internet) has done for us. Yet so many jobs have been transformed - mine as writer certainly has - as has everything from the sheer access to information to the ability to play immersive games in the personal sphere. Matt Nicholson, a long time IT journalist, takes us on the fascinating journey of the development of the desktop personal computer, from the earliest kit computers, through Sinclair Spectrums and BB It's easy to underestimate just how much personal computing (including access to the internet) has done for us. Yet so many jobs have been transformed - mine as writer certainly has - as has everything from the sheer access to information to the ability to play immersive games in the personal sphere. Matt Nicholson, a long time IT journalist, takes us on the fascinating journey of the development of the desktop personal computer, from the earliest kit computers, through Sinclair Spectrums and BBC Bs to the IBM PC (with its many descendants) and the Apple Mac. Nicholson tells the story at just the right level, bringing in all the key players and technologies and giving a real in-depth feel to his discussion of the technology, business and politics of the many decisions that left us with the personal computing landscape we have today. From the rise of Microsoft to Apple teetering on the knife-edge of disappearance before it found its way with a new generation of machines, if you are interested in computing this is an excellent account. I've read all the personality-based books on the early developments, that focus almost entirely on the likes of Gates and Jobs, but this achieves a much better balance between the people and the details of the technology (as long as you are techie-minded). The only thing I really wasn't entirely happy with was the ending. Nicholson decided not to follow personal computing into the laptop/tablet/smartphone era. There's no mention, for instance, of Chrome and only passing references to iPhones and iPads. I think that's a shame, because it's still part of the same revolution, but I can understand him wanting to stick to the very specific rise of the desktop computer. Even so, the actual last few pages end very suddenly without a nice tie-up. Otherwise the whole thing is excellent, particularly surprising as this appears to be a self-published book, but it has clearly been well edited. The only thing that sets it apart is that for some reason self-published books never get the text layout on the page working quite as a well as a properly typeset book. But it's no real problem. There is one proviso to this review, including those five stars. This is a book that could have been written for me as an audience. I started programming IBM PCs in 1984 (the year the Mac launched). I had the second PC AT in the UK, on which I lost two hard disks in 6 months, so Nicholson's comment 'it soon became apparent that there was something wrong with its 20 Mb hard disk, as users started reporting that it was prone to crashing and losing data for no apparent reason' hit me between the eyes. I was heavily involved in the introduction of Windows and my first ever paid piece of writing was a review of the launch version of Excel for Windows. This is so much a history of my early working life that I can't help but be entranced by it. If you have embraced your inner computer geek you should find it equally enjoyable, but it might not work as well for someone with less of an in-depth interest in the topic. So - if the thought of finding out why IBM was so tardy bringing in the 80386, what happened to products like Borland Sidekick and Visi On, the real story of the demise of CP/M, whatever happened to OS/2, Microsoft's U-turn in embracing the internet and far more, click away (because surely you shop online) and buy this book.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Dan Cohen

    A well-written book on the history of personal computers. It covers the early homebrew and kit phase and subsequent commercialisation, the development of the home and business markets, and the various "wars" over buses, operating systems, browsers, etc. It also looks back at some of the developments that preceded and enabled the subsequent personal computing technology - for example, the work at Xerox PARC. It also covers some things that aren't really specific to personal computers but somehow A well-written book on the history of personal computers. It covers the early homebrew and kit phase and subsequent commercialisation, the development of the home and business markets, and the various "wars" over buses, operating systems, browsers, etc. It also looks back at some of the developments that preceded and enabled the subsequent personal computing technology - for example, the work at Xerox PARC. It also covers some things that aren't really specific to personal computers but somehow fit the story - for example, the open software movement. For me, it was an excellent trip down memory lane - I must have read many articles and reports by the author when he was covering all this as a journalist. So, for me, it was a very enjoyable read. Some of the detail may not be quite so entertaining to someone who didn't follow some of this at the time, but the book is an easy read anyway so that shouldn't put you off.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Paul Knighton

    Excellent coverage of history both UK and US of personal computing - 1970s to 2000s. Lots of anecdotes and personal profiles of people, hardware, software, aspirations, academic and commercial drivers for research and development plus many commercial off-shoots. Very well written. Really enjoyed the real mix of technical and personal. Only blip (for me) was the at length minutia of the period involving PC 86/286/386/Bus enhancements etc. Recommended.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Markus Kirschner

    Most of the content about Apple, Commodore and Microsoft was already known to me, but the parts about British Sinclair and Acorn and Open Source and Linux was very interesting. I was eager to hear also about Amstrad and Acorn Archimedes but they were never mentioned. Reliving my childhood in the 8ies as a computer kid and young adulthood in the 90ies as a software developer while reading the book was a nice experience.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lee

    All computing, no personal. This book felt like it was written by an engineer, rather than a human. It was just a list of facts told sequentially, without any story. Some of those facts were interesting, but without a narrative, it was hard to put anything together and see what it meant. Read 50%.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Joshua Wright

    This was a very informative book, and indefinitely got me ready for informatics class. The book spent a good amount of time articulating the states of mind of the founders of the computer industry. I read it twice, and I found it useful.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Vuk

    Exactly what title says Books nicely sums history of personal computing. Has a lot of non standard English words (at least for non native) so it took me a bit more time to finish it. Anyways, nicely written and I recommend reading it.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Kevin Furr

    Good engaging read, focused on the modern era -- the rise of PCs and the Internet, Jobs and Gates etc. Along the lines of "Fire in the Valley" and the library of Apple/Jobs books. Having read a shelf full of these books, the question was, would I learn anything new? The answer is YES, Mr Nicholson does manage to tease out details and anecdotes I had not encountered before, in a very engaging narrative. As an example, while necessarily US-centric based on the subject matter, the British author do Good engaging read, focused on the modern era -- the rise of PCs and the Internet, Jobs and Gates etc. Along the lines of "Fire in the Valley" and the library of Apple/Jobs books. Having read a shelf full of these books, the question was, would I learn anything new? The answer is YES, Mr Nicholson does manage to tease out details and anecdotes I had not encountered before, in a very engaging narrative. As an example, while necessarily US-centric based on the subject matter, the British author does go out of his way to recount key events in the UK. If you're into this genre, this is a worthy addition. Note the title, it does indeed focus on the history of the DESKTOP PC ... and so only tangentially mentions developments around laptops, smartphones, tablets etc. I listened to the audio book, but quickly decided there was enough interesting detail I'd want to revisit and retain that I ordered the paperback to keep on hand.

  9. 4 out of 5

    John Hart

    A great telling of the history of the personal computer. My favorite part is the coverage of graphical user interfaces (GUI) for MS-DOS prior to the release of Windows.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Doran

    Really good, short but comprehensive overview of the personal computing revolution. Follows the essential threads of the times and doesn't just focus on the well-known big names of today. Really good, short but comprehensive overview of the personal computing revolution. Follows the essential threads of the times and doesn't just focus on the well-known big names of today.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Ken

    I love reading about the history of computers and Matt made reading easy and enjoyable. I did think he hurried the ending of the book. I also disagree with his conclusion.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Walker

    This book had great insight that I knew very little about. I was amazed how many of the products that I take for granted today originally came about. Great read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Niras Leahcim

  14. 4 out of 5

    Abelardo Duarte

  15. 4 out of 5

    Dax Collins

  16. 4 out of 5

    Graham

  17. 5 out of 5

    Andrew Brooke

  18. 5 out of 5

    Simon

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jesse Anderson

  20. 5 out of 5

    Andrius

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ken Finegan

  22. 5 out of 5

    John

  23. 4 out of 5

    Michael

  24. 5 out of 5

    Namhyung Lee

  25. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Neese

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sean

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mr Joshua M Johnson

  28. 4 out of 5

    richard pagani

  29. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Chase

  30. 4 out of 5

    Armando Paz

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