Vintage PC Gallery opens
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TNMOC gets personal, interactive and fashionably retro
The key personal computers that have led the digital revolution in Britain are on display in a new interactive gallery at The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) at Bletchley Park.
The new PC Gallery, officially opened on 7 May 2009, exhibits 50 personal computers (PCs), many of them on interactive display. They date from the 1960s to the present telling the stories of the development of hardware and software, and the ongoing miniaturisation from luggables to handhelds.
The earliest model on display, dating from 1965, is a PDP8 from the USA, the first mass-produced computer. The exhibition then focuses on the heyday of British computing and includes working models of the BBC B micro, the Dragon 32, the Sinclair ZX80, the Amstrad PC1512. With the rise and rivalry of the IBM PC and the Apple Macs throughout the 1980s, the story then moves on to operating systems and software. The 1990s see the rise of the luggable becoming portable and then the handheld.
“The PC Gallery is an excellent demonstration of how The National Museum of Computing can develop given sufficient funds,” explained Kevin Murrell, a director and trustee of TNMOC. “We used to display some of this equipment in a classroom-type environment and it was one of the most popular elements of the museum. Now these machines are displayed in an interactive gallery surrounded by reminders of the world events and social context of their time. It really brings home how far and how quickly computing has moved on and that we still are in the midst of an astonishing revolution, the pace of which is almost beyond comprehension.
“We have been keen to celebrate the British contribution to computing. In America, the development of personal computing is often seen as a battle between IBM and Apple, but in Britain the story was quite different with many small entrepreneurial companies breaking new ground in the late 1970s and early 1980s.”
Curating the PC Gallery has taken several years and painstaking research. One of the most difficult devices to find was a working Sinclair ZX80 in good condition. A device that the Museum is still searching for is a Sinclair MK14, the first home computing kit that went on sale in 1977 for £40. TNMOC would like to hear from anyone who can help.
The development of the PC Gallery has been made possible by support in recent months from PGP Corporation, IBM and Hewlett Packard. Two other major galleries are being planned for later this year and ideas about a gallery on supercomputing are being formulated.