A while ago I ran across a book entitled Collectible Microcomputers on eBay. Apparently it is an aid to the computer collector, giving some technical details on quite a large variety of computers (over 700 made between ’71 and ’93). Rather than eBay it used, I put it on order with Amazon…but it’s been a few months now with no sign of shipping—might be time to go back to eBay for this one.
Discovering this book made me wonder if many other books dealing with vintage computing are presently in print. So the next time I was in the bookstore, it occurred to me to see what was in the shelf in this regard. I ended up with a copy of Tracy Kidder’s The Soul of a New Machine in my hand. A scan of the back and a few early pages revealed it to be a chronicle of the building of a minicomputer within the Data General Corporation. Though intriguing, it seemed a little before even my time in computing, so I set it down. It was only two weeks later that, in an unrelated conversation, a co-worker of mine, our DBA down at the office who used these Data General machines years ago, suggested it as an interesting glimpse of computing history. I couldn’t pass after that.
I am mostly through the book and would definitely recommend it to anyone with an interest in the early(ish) days of computing. Though I did not own a computer until ’82, I find the tale thoroughly engrossing and a fascinating account. The book tells the tale of the Eagle project at Data General, which was a crash-effort to revamp their Eclipse minicomputer line, taking it from 16 to 32-bits, in an attempt to out-do DEC and their recently launched VAX “supermini.” Being a computer programmer myself, it is with great envy that I read of these bold, early days where every development could so drastically shape the course of the fledgling industry. One wonders if those involved were aware of just how big a role they were playing in shaping the course of the modern world.