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8-bit glory relived

Hot on the Web

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on February 8, 2002
(Issue 2006, Planes, Trains and Automobiles)

It's a slow Monday night, I've cancelled the cable TV (if you're going to cash the checks, then don't send me an overdue notice – and if you are going to be incompetent, then at least be polite about it) and am still waiting for the satellite dish to be installed.

So I'm rather desultorily surfing the Web, not really looking for anything in particular, just sort of hoping something interesting happens across my monitor ...

Retro Review

Expecting an old 8-bit computer hand such as your loyal correspondent to resist a site touting itself as "Today's Magazine for Yesterday's Computers" is like expecting Imelda Marcos to skip a shoe sale: not going to happen, okay?

There are a lot of sites dedicated to orphaned systems out there: C-64 sites, and Apple ][ sites, and Atari and PET and Tandy sites.

But what's been lost in the 20 years since the 8-bits ruled the PC world is that sense of larger, shared community that once tied together users of the various platforms. In the days before the current Windows vs. Mac rivalry, there still existed magazines that aimed to serve the entire home computing industry – outfits like Byte and Compute and others.

Each issue would have a section devoted to the major platforms, but there would also be articles of interest to everyone – reviews of the latest printers and monitors and modems. And even the software reviews were generally of interest to everyone, as the popular titles, at least, would eventually be published for all the major systems.

And so seeing that there's a nostalgia magazine aimed at all of us veterans of the early days of the PC revolution is somehow gladdening to my old Atarian heart. They've just published their first issue, and from their Web site you can view a sample article – a nice overview of the differences between the original Sinclair ZX Spectrum and the later Timex-Sinclair models of the same line.

There's also a solid list of links to other sites dedicated (and devoted) to older systems.

The Home Computer Museum

I thought I had a pretty good set of links to obsolete computer support sites, but The Home Computer Museum had slipped past me. Run out of Germany, the site is nonetheless all in English – the host, Stefan, explains that he thinks English will be understood by most of his international visitors.

Anyway, this site is stocked with photos and links of 8-bit and other orphaned systems. It's particularly strong on Apple, Atari and Commodore systems – including such rarities as the Commodore Plus-4, the Apple Lisa and the Atari ATW Transputer. Great links to other sites, updated fairly often – if you're a computer history buff at all, you'll spend hours here.

Dedicated to (what else) the Commodore 64, is built around sharing games for the venerable 8-bit (64K of ROM and RAM combined) machine. There is a link to a C-64 emulator for your PC, so you can download the games and play them. Lots of screen shots of the games – good for stimulating the memory and reminding you of those seemingly simple games that nonetheless entertained for months and kicked your butt to boot.

Similar to and run by the same team, is more oriented toward supporting the C-64 community – to serve as a meeting place for folks who either still have their C-64 or at least still have great memories.

Old Computer Mags

There are, minimally, hundreds of sites devoted to documenting old computers (thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands, would be a more accurate guesstimate) – harder to find are sites dedicated to preserving old computer magazines.

Not really an archive, Old Computer Mags does feature high-resolution scans of the covers of some 11 different publications. These magazines were focused on systems like Atari, the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and Commodore systems, and were apparently all British. Be nice to have the full contents scanned in as a true historical archive – but that would raise sticky copyright issues.