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.
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