Home Computer: Computer revolution hits home

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The Independent Online
WHEN the history of the twentieth-century comes to be written it may well be that the most important revolutionary figure is not Lenin or Mao but Ted Hoff. For it was Hoff who, in the early Seventies, as an electronics engineer with a small Californian company called Intel developed the microprocessor - the computer on a silicon 'chip'. Ted Hoff's progeny, in the form of programmable consumer goods - from microwave ovens through video recorders and compact disc players to personal computers - are now knocking at the door of almost every home in Britain.

Year by year, computers get more powerful and less conspicuous. In the mid-1970s, it took rack upon rack of printed circuits filling entire air-controlled rooms, to deliver the same computing power as the modern desk-top personal computer upon which this article has been written.

The question is no longer should we or will we have computers at home, but when and in what form. Will they be desk-top computers familiar from the office? Or will they be multi-purpose 'all-in-one-systems' combining the ability to play games with an information centre, camcorder editing suite, music player and home office?

Personal computers are now indispensible tools for small businesses, from shopkeepers to doctors, lawyers and other professionals. Local solicitors do not need computers so they can consult an electronic database of legal decisions and precedents - that is what books are for - but for the mundane business of keeping their accounts up to date and writing letters to their clients.

In technology as in life, the greatest fear is fear itself. Nobody needs to know how the electronics of a computer works to use one, any more than they need understand how microwaves work to use an oven, or the principles of light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation (laser) to listen to Beethoven or Madonna on compact disc.

You do need to know what goes where, what the bits are called and which buttons do what. You will need to know where to buy equipment and how much to pay. How to set it up and interpret instruction manuals. Where to get help if things go wrong or you get lost.

The Home Computer Page is for people who look on buying a computer in the same way as buying a vacuum cleaner, VCR or washing machine. They know they need them, but to use, not to enthuse over. We aim to make it as easy and as simple to choose a computer and software as it is to buy a car.

We will judge computer equipment in human terms: can I write letters with it? Could I run a small business with it? Could I produce a newsletter that looks professional? Could it help the children with their school work.

Anyone who can skirt the pitfalls will find computers are useful. They can also be a lot of fun.


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