The second garage revolution

As a child of the 80s and 90s, I often look back fondly at the computers back then. Commodore 64s, Spectrums, Amigas, Amstrads, Ataris, Acorns, and a raft of consoles all bring back memories of what many people refer to as the golden age of computing.

When you look back to this period of computing, it is interesting to note how homebrew much of it was. Many computers were available in both kit and pre-assembled form, and their creators were often very small companies housed in a garage or equally damp-ridden hovel that kept costs down. Also mixed into the recipe was rampant, bounding, steaming, virtually pornographic incompatibility. These computers we so incompatible that they barely knew the meaning of the word compatible.

When you look back, the level of success had by these homebrew hackers was pretty astonishing. Many of these early computers went on to massive popularity, and even the more esoteric examples had strong followings that eagerly mailed off their paychecks to get a whole 3MHz of bone-crunching computing power.

The point I am making here is that there are some pretty strong parallels between this golden age of computing and what is happening to Open Source. Here we have a collection of intelligent, motivated individuals who are turned-on by cool technology and take a pure and honest approach to their inventions. This applies to both the early computer hackers and today’s free software hackers. From garages around the world, people are doing awesomely cool things and redefining the rules in a market increasingly wrapped up by single large vendors. Back then, the early computer hackers battled the big computer corps, and today the same thing is happening in the software world as free software finds its place in the industry.

Interestingly, back then…the hackers won. They did shift units, they did make money, they did get recognition. Back then the people with the knowledge in their heads were successful. I think we can learn many things from what happened then, and it just goes to show that if you put the right people in front of a problem, you can tick all the boxes and be successful.

  • http://www.qdh.org.uk Karl Lattimer

    Good point well made ;)

  • chris procter

    Interesting that the biggest homebrew hardware success, Apple, is now routinely hated and reviled by todays “homebrew software” people as one of the big computer corps

  • judah

    Hmm. I have also thought about the “golden age of computing” and what transpired. I can see your point about the Open Source community. However, it IS mostly software that is being created. Neuros is a good example of a hardware company trying to be Open Source..

    I would really like to see some form of Hardware leap that comes from a garage. Something that doesn’t come from a huge corporation, but hardware hackers that hangout on the weekends. We need something like a new Amiga. A computer or a set of new chips that will make computers interesting again on a different level.

    Currently, the new “many core” chips that Intel is producing only gives us more computing horse-power. It really isn’t revolutionary.

    I do miss the “golden age” of computing. I had the most fun on my c64 and Amiga. It was fresh and new. It felt like the wild-west back then. Nowadays, it feels like I have shackles on my feet and I’m draggin’ the old ball and chain.. :lol:

    When will the next hardware revolution happen and what will it entail?

    and onto something completely unrelated..

    Now Playing? Bathory – Hammerheart ! :mrgreen:

  • numpty

    Difference is, anyone could pick up any of those old machines and learn how to program. The barrier is so much higher these days. :neutral:

  • jono

    numpty – I disagree due to one issues, documentation. Back with those old machine, most people programmed in BASIC, which was fairly simple, but there was little documentaton, and less of a support structure – now we have more books, user groups, magazines etc.

  • Allix

    I think numpty means that software is a lot more complex than it was in the “golden year of computers”. Programs were alot smaller , meaning less lines of code generally. Graphics were just 2d then and now its 3d which is a lot harder mathmatically.. One last observation, users as well as programmers have ambitions, ideas, needs, wants and literaly dozens of other considerations that did not exist back then.