March 14, 2006 2:46 PM PST

Scanning in geek history

For almost two decades, Jason Scott squirreled away thousands of pages of old advertisements, mailers and brochures left over from the genesis of personal computing.

Whether people see it as geek history or just junk, he now wants to share his stash with the world.

A computer administrator from Boston, Scott began posting photos from his extensive collection of software and hardware ads, circa 1970s-1980s, at Digitize.textfiles.com last week. Maybe Mac fans can't recall what that Apple II they considered so cutting-edge back in the mid-1980s looked like. Perhaps video-game aficionados forgot that Atari once pinned dreams of dominating the PC market on the now long-forgotten 1450 XLD computer.

old computer ads

Scott's site can jog their memory.

Why does a 35-year-old man haul old computer ads around with him for decades and then spends hours a day scanning photos of the stuff just to display on a Web site? What's the point?

Scott realizes that tomorrow is what counts in the tech sector. Nonetheless, in an industry where 2-year-old equipment can be considered obsolete, he sees value in tracking the evolution of the PC, which some analysts say has done more to alter modern life in the past quarter century than any other innovation.

"These pictures show you how far we've come," Scott said. "Advertisements are the historical facts that sometimes get lost, but this proves what the early days were like."

By preserving the images of these old ads, Scott intends to create a historical record. His other goal is just to allow fellow computer geeks to "ooh and ah" over the archaic equipment that fueled their childhood dreams.

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For Scott and his peers, the photos represent the same thing that the Sears catalog meant for prior generations, when children would pore over the catalog's toy section and wish for electric trains and dolls.

"Pretty much every child has their dream catalog," Scott said Tuesday. "These ads from software and hardware companies promised to make our computers more powerful, and we thought that was cool."

Between the ages of 11 and 14, Scott sent away for every conceivable brochure and mailer dealing with computer software and hardware. He also tore out ads from magazines such as Compute, Creative Computing and Omni.

He stored everything in a box and saved it. Among his archives is a brochure for a 1981 computer game from Microsoft called "Microsoft Adventure." Also included are advertisements for the Orange + Computer, what Scott calls "an Apple II clone" marketed in 1984, and one for the Addram Elite, an IBM PC RAM Expansion by a company called Profit.

"This board, for example, would allow a modem and parallel printer to be hooked up simultaneously," according to the ad, "while enjoying the convenience of the real-time clock/calendar and up to 512 kilobytes (0.5 megabytes) of memory."

One has to remember that back then, some PC users had to reset the clock every time they booted up and 512K was considered an enormous amount of memory.

Scott says his favorite ads are the ones dealing with Atari computers. He asks himself what might have been had Atari, which now mostly makes video-game software, continued with its plans to enter the PC market.

"That was a cool company," Scott says. "The ads were saying, 'We're going to take over.' And they just might have."

See more CNET content tagged:
brochure, Apple II, Atari Inc., video game, Apple Computer

13 comments

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Atari broke my heart
I have the Atari catalog shown in this article and I remember how these XL units broke my heart. I had the original Atari 800, which was a cutting edge computer. I was hoping Atari's long promised new XL line would up the ante on Commodore's technology and be good look too (because admit it the C64 was one ugly machine). Then the first XL came out: the 1200, essentially an 800 in a new and unattactive package with a crippled interface. The rest of the line wasn't much better and the high end model, the 1450XLD was an enormous computer with a huge empty space where you could stick a second 5.25 floppy drive. The XL's black and white cases weren't so bad- it was those awful silver function keys. They showed the every fingerprint and they would even line up straight after just a few uses. When Jack Tramiel took over Atari shortly thereafter, his redesigned 8 bit machines- the XE's where no beauties but were much more handsome than the XL's. I still have a 130XE that works to this day.
Posted by randalllewis (29 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Typos
That should read: "They showed every fingerprint and would NOT even line up straight after just a few uses."
Posted by randalllewis (29 comments )
Link Flag
I loved the Atari
I started on an Atari 400 (flat membrane keyboard) and upgraded to a 1040XT.
Posted by Jim Harmon (329 comments )
Link Flag
more nostalgia
If you want more of this kind of thing:
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://atarimagazines.com/" target="_newWindow">http://atarimagazines.com/</a>
<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.cyberroach.com/analog/" target="_newWindow">http://www.cyberroach.com/analog/</a>
Posted by brian_p (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Memories...
Thanks for the article. Browsing the old ads brought back long forgotten memories of the hardware and software that occupied so many of my formative years (they also remind me why I never seemed to have any money at the time). I didn't realise my tech addiction had such deep roots.

I remember when my first generation 8086 IBM PC got its first "hard drive." A box the same size as the CPU arrived, in which there was a large slot that accepted the 12" Winchester disk that held a quite staggering 1 megabyte of memory. I remember turning to my colleague and saying "I can't imagine anyone ever needing more than 1MB. Another reason, perhaps, why I don't have any money.
Posted by JFDMit (180 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Star Trek Episode
There was a Star Trek episode where some digital beings hijacked the Enterprise and used it as a temporary storage dump for all of their planet's data. Sorry I don't remember the exact storyline as it was years ago, but I seem to remember a line where they mention the actual RAM capacity of the ship's computer. Does anyone know how much it was? I think it was in terabytes? The title of the Episode was something like "101101".
Posted by Mallardd (47 comments )
Reply Link Flag
630 KiloQuads ... Whatever the Hell Those Are!
The name of the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" episode you're talking about was "11001001", and the critters that used the Enterprise computer to store their planet's data were the Binars, with names like Zero Zero, Zero One, One Zero, and One One (not much of a population, but easy to look up in the phone book!). According to the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" Technical Manual, the memory capacity of that version of the Enterprise was 630 KiloQuads, whatever those are. Of note, Voyager was reported to have as much as 47 billion TeraQuads - talk about a memory upgrade!

OK, so Joe Blow is a Trekker (_not_ a Trekkie - those are dorks who are wannabe Trekkers! ;) )

All the Best,
Joe Blow
Star Fleet Lieutenant Commander (Retired)
The Federation of Planets
Posted by Joe Blow (175 comments )
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Atari Trivial
The old Atari factory in Ireland is now one of Dell's facilities.
Posted by ahickey (177 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Copyright Infringement - When will it stop?
He is in violation of the DMCA. Those photos are copyright and he is not paying dues to the owners.

This amounts to theft.

No mention of that in this biased CNET article.

If this is OK (to copy these pictures), then it is okay to copy music.
Posted by baswwe (299 comments )
Reply Link Flag
DMCA does not apply
You're probably right, the photos probably are copyrighted. Although I haven't visited the site, I suspect that the vast majority were created prior to the DMCA and are therefore not covered by it.

In addition, the original artwork was not digital - and therefore not covered by DMCA. The fact that they've been scanned into digital format by someone other than the copyright holder does not change this.
Posted by Jim Harmon (329 comments )
Link Flag
Sorry, no.
The material presented here is of a historical nature. None of the
machines or services or software referenced are being sold any
more and in at least three cases the companies referred to no
longer exist.

This fails pretty squarely in to the domain of fair use as the site is
only up for historical and nostalgic reference.
Posted by nightveil (133 comments )
Link Flag
Your argument is irrelevant
Even if these photos are protected by copyright law, the owner of the copyright has to prosecute the violator in the court of law, which has not happend yet.
The music industry, on the other hand, does prosecute on a daily basis.
Your argument is therefore irrelevant because it was never put to the test (of justice) in the first place.
Posted by booboo1243 (328 comments )
Link Flag
 

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