History Problem with a Friend

I’m having problems with a friend of mine - he thinks that the internet came about thanks to the invention of MS-DOS, and he thinks that the Apple 1 wasn’t the first real home computer. I’ve been trying to get him to watch the Nerds 2.0.1 documentary, but he keeps dodging it. I’m hoping that this site might be able to convince him that he may be wrong. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Haha - “first real home computer” sounds like it would be very difficult to pin down! Before trying to nail down any kind of “first” you need to be very careful about what it is you mean. And even then, half a dozen people will come along and tell you what you should have meant!

I’ve always found it more rewarding to mention things in positive terms: this thing was interesting because of this aspect, and this other thing was interesting because of this other aspect.

Otherwise it’s like arguing who’s got the best parents.

Also, it’s not usually fruitful to go down the rabbithole of persuading someone that their story is some alternate reality compared to the story you would tell. Better to tell your own story. One could talk about Arpanet, or one could talk about the Web, or one could talk about any number of interesting things in between.

Don’t argue - just share the joy!


Oh, boy, getting someone to change their mind is a topic much bigger than retrocomputing. Rare is the person who is persuaded by facts and/or new evidence. I’ve heard one effective strategy is to get agreement on common ground (e.g., personal computers were definitely a thing when the IBM-PC game out) and then expand from there in a personal way (actually, I heard something about Radio Shack having a computer out at least a year earlier which makes me wonder if the IBM-PC was the first).

Mind you, pretty much any discussion of firsts ends up boiling down to splitting hairs over specific definitions. It’s a good starting point but I think the best destination is an examination of the relevant human activity. It gives a better understanding and reflects reality. The large number of “what was the first X” questions is my pet peeve about the Retrocomputing StackExchange site . There’s never any exact answer; progress is messy and uneven. Generally it ends up that the “first” was reached by several people at nearly the same time. And months or years before that there were a whole bunch of things that were really quite close yet get ruled out on technicalities. And then you find a decade earlier somebody had actually done it but it was obscure so does a first even count if isn’t widely acknowledged by the world? [please don’t try to answer that question :slight_smile: ]

I take the MS-DOS to Internet connection as a lack of wider experience with computing and networking. I mean, if you used a DOS box hooked up to a LAN talking to other DOS boxes and then one day someone gives you a special “internet-thingy” connection to talk to DOS boxes in other buildings/cities it sure would seem like it was made for DOS. And those other computers must be DOS boxes, right? What else could they be?

Maybe a good exercise would be to sit down with your friend and play a game of naming all the different types of computers and networks. Then delve into where all of them could have possibly come from. If you can get down to Hawaii’s connection to Ethernet and how the entire telephone network may have been a giant side-quest then I think you’ll be in good shape.

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Regarding the Internet and operating systems, if there was ever a close pairing, it was Tenex and ARPAnet, when most of the ARPAnet nodes were PDP-10s. And this was roughly 10 years before MS DOS and the PC. And even then, when MS DOS became available, it wasn’t particularly the platform of choice for browsing software. You may make a point for Windows 95 and 98 as a major contribution for popularizing the WWW, but this is another story. (However, at this time, the Internet was typically running on SUN boxes and most professional sites were designed on Macs,)

Regarding “first real home computer”, I’m not so sure. What does it take to consider a box full of electronics a “real home computer”? I guess, it should have been available at some quantity and it should have been accessible to common hobbyists at a reasonable budget price. So, personally, I’d rule out any kits (still very specialist audiences) and rather look for some readily available, packaged products with some kind of established distribution channel. Which directs our attention quite automatically to any of the “Trinity of 1977”. Further, I personally would make a point for the various aspects – consumer friendly packaging, affordability, accessibility through distribution channels, and some idea of why it may be worthwhile or interesting enough to have it at home – coming together in a single product that may be recognized as “oh, this is this home computer thingy everybody is talking about”, was more of a gradual process. Maybe, the first real home computer, i.e. a computer not intended for scientific, business or educational use, but entirely focused at home users and enjoying some distribution at quantity (and, by this, recognition), was the VIC-20?

(E.g., we could still consider the TRS-80 a product targeting mixed audiences and use cases and that Tandy’s first real home computer was the CoCo, when there was also an established line of business machines, like the Model III and Model IV.)

My source of information about the beginnings of the internet is the PBS documentary “Nerds 2.0.1,” which doesn’t look at all like what my friend says happened. He tends to balk when I try to get him to watch it. I think the biggest problem is that both of us tend to think we’re smarter than we think we are.

Also to cloud the issue, a HOME computer often ment some sort of gaming product, thus a APPLE II would apply but not CP/M system
from 1978.

I would put home computer as ‘Affordable to the average person’ - what that price point is debatable. The Apple2 and TRS computers all came about in the late 70’s/early 80’s but their target were electronics enthusiasts.

If the definition is ‘The computers that launches the Home computing revolution’ then the Commodore 64 is the #1 seller.

Or another definition of home computer is first computer that can be plugged in to a home TV set. (eliminating the need for special monitors)

From the Original Apple2 sales pamphlet, the original Apple2 was primarily sold as a kit - and it wasn’t cheap.

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Another factor is are you from the USA or the UK?
The BBC micro computer is a good question.

I didn’t know that Apple even offered a board-only version of the Apple ][. However, I am sure that the bulk of their sales were completely assembled units.

And while electronics enthusiasts bought Apple ][ and TRS-80 computers it wasn’t at all a requirement. Both they and the PET could be operated perfectly well without the slightest electronics experience.


Not so serious contender for the first home computer: The LINC in 1965, while Mary Allen Wilkes was writing the system software at her parents’ home. :wink:

Depending on location as @oldben mentions plays a part. the Tandy/RadioShack systems never made it to Europe in any numbers and the Sinclairs/BBC others were never big players in the USA. Different histories defined by differing locations. I am pretty sure that there were also Eastern block computers that were also on the scene; but not known about to Western countries.

Ralph, a person can be super smart and yet ignorant. Intelligence and knowledge are different things.

In fact, a smart person interested in history can do a lot of damage by taking a few facts and coming up with theories of what might have happened that other people can’t refute.

Even though the Cringely Nerds 1 and 2 have their flaws, they are probably the least time consuming way for your friend to get educated.

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Eventually the most common computer found in people’s homes were the successors of IBM’s PC, but I would not call these “home computers”. A Sinclair Spectrum or a Commodore 64 would certainly deserve that label: they were designed and marketed for that purpose.

The 1977 “trinity” already mentioned here might qualify, but comparing how they ended up actually being used (contrast the TRS-80 Model I and the TRS-80 Color Computer, for example) I would consider voting on the 1979 Atari 400 and 800 as the first actual home computer.


The original Atari 8-bits are a good choice. Notably, they originated from plans for Atari’s next console generation – which may tell some about home computers in general, or, at least, the home computer market. (Similarly, the C64 had its origins in a console architecture – as seen in the Commodore Max.)

For a more “serious” use, the Ohio Scientific computers (Challengers) may be worth a consideration. These were not just enthusiasts’ machines, but also meant and bought to be “just used”. (While not exactly cheap, I’d consider the Challenger III [1977] a full fledged computer for home/home-office use, but more “home-computery”, than than, say, S100-bus machines.)

A machine which illustrates the “home computer dilemma” quite well is the Sharp MZ-80 (one of my favorites): Introduced in 1978, it was meant to exploit an established market. It was originally sold as a kit, but in considerably preassembled subunits. It was sold to home users, but to small businesses as well. With just the base unit (built-in CRT, cassette drive, keyboard, like the PET 2001), it was probably a home computer. However, there was also an IO extension unit for disk drives and numerous peripheral devices, including even a punch card reader, which clearly transcended home computer use. For a certain period, things were more in flux, and it took some time, until there were those well established and segregated market segments.
(One of the discriminators may be color RF output. While this was great for playing games at home, you definitely wanted a monochrome text display for any viable business use. However, the earlier Sinclair ZX computers, while BW only, were clearly home computers and the ZX80 even lacked serious capabilities for realtime video games.)

PS: And we may make a point in arguing that Atari considerably contributed to segregating these market segments by separating game consoles from a 8-bit computer line for home use, which was great for playing games, but was also (at least in the case of the Atari 800) suitable for more “serious” tasks (not that unimportant for justifying the [still considerable] expenses), as well.

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Some background on Ohio Scientific’s line - the first machine I owned was a Compukit UK101, an unlicensed copy of OSI’s Superboard, a single-board system which came after the original backplane based series:

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To change the question, I would rather ask 'What computer was first marketed to the HOME by means of ‘non-specialist media’

Which computer was first to be advertised on TV - that to me is a Home computer.

I suppose you saw the one hour video documentary in the thread about the first computer game? That’s very much the same kind of thing - every time you tweak the definition, you get a new answer.

As I bought my first computer, while still at school, before any television advert, and ran it at home, I’d use a different definition from you! (Before I bought my computer, which was a kit, I clubbed together with a couple of friends, and hired a PET for a day - also a computer we ran at home!)

hahah… I didnt grow up in the UK so TV is different… My family only got TV in 1980 and then 2 years later I got a ZX-80… it was awefull and moved to a ZX81 with 16K ram pack… then ZX spectrum.
In the conservative country I was in, TV’s were a work of evil so computers were pretty much left alone in the media. It was always the domain of the enthusiast/nerd!

The first Home computer can be anything… but I think its a personal story for everyone and there is no ‘definitive’ answer to the question. Mine is a Sinclair ZX-80 (I still own my ZX-81 and 48K now, proudly displayed on the wall)

Perhaps a generational answer… Kids in the 1960/1970 era might say Altair

No doubt the ZX80 was a game changer! Really affordable, and genuinely a usable computer. And with no custom chips - maybe the last popular machine that didn’t make use of gate arrays. 100k sold, apparently.

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