Do Android and the iPhone Herald the Return of Micro-computing?

Screenshot of Atari BASIC, an early BASIC lang...
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Once upon a time, when the earth was young, strange people who had an inter­est in comput­ers were engaged in the hobby of micro-comput­ing. Tech­ni­cally the modern PC is a micro-computer, but it’s not a term that’s commonly used any more.

Apart from obscure termi­nol­ogy, there is a funda­men­tal differ­ence between what the hobby­ists in the 80s were doing and how most of us use comput­ers now.  Most micro-computer enthu­si­asts programmed. These days BASIC is consid­ered a simplis­tic language, but for amateur program­mers trying to harness the limited power of 80’s micros, it was perfect.

One of the differ­ences of course was that all comput­ers came with a language for free which made it easy to exper­i­ment.  But I think the most signif­i­cant one was scale. Early micro­com­put­ers had memo­ries of 48Kb or 64Kb.  That limi­ta­tion meant that programs had to be compact and only one program­mer was needed to write them. Graph­ics and sounds were equally restricted. Hard­ware limi­ta­tions created an envi­ron­ment where the hobby­ist program­mer was able to produce soft­ware in their home that was as good or better than the “profes­sional” soft­ware houses.

Of course those days are long passed. Now you need a movie sized budget to create hit soft­ware. Perhaps that results in better, more sophis­ti­cated programs, but for tinker­ers like me the barri­ers put between modern comput­ers and their users are frus­trat­ing and disap­point­ing.

Enter The Smart Phone

Which brings us to today and the rise of the smart phone. These devices already have memory and graph­ics that put my ZX Spec­trum and Amiga 1200 to shame. But the hard­ware restric­tions are tight enough to allow a solo program­mer to compete. And best of all the devel­op­ment envi­ron­ments are read­ily avail­able. Suddenly people can tinker and exper­i­ment again at no cost.

The app stores are packed with special­ized programs main­tained by an enthu­si­as­tic hobby­ist and offered at little or no cost.  This is what the share­ware and public domain scenes used to look like before busi­nesses took over.

I’m not ideal­is­tic enough to think this state of affairs can last. But I’m getting a real old-school vibe from the smart phone scene at the moment and I’m loving it.

About Eoghann Irving

Overly opinionated owner and author of You can get updated on his posts directly on the blog here or through the usual social networking suspects. What? You expected me to say something interesting here? That's what the blog posts are for. Eoghann has often wondered if people read these little bio things we have to fill out everywhere on the internet and, assuming they do, why?