Four Generations Of Personal Computing
All information herein is the view of the author. Use at your own risk, no warenty of any kind is provided.


This is my view on the generations of personal computing. This is a view formed based on experience combined with the influence of other computer geeks over time. There is significant overlap in time between these generations of computing, with some of the first and second generation still hanging on (which is the seed for the upcoming fourth generation).

There have been many ways to catagorize generations of computing, most of them based on marketting views. This catagorization is based on the view of usability as seen by the groups of Computer Geeks with which I am directly familiar.

Even though they overlap two of the generations listed, I do not list buisness computing or Gamer Computing, as these are just outlyers as seen from the view herein.

The sections of this document are one for each of the generations as I see it.

  • Early Hobiest Computing.
  • Home Computing.
  • Lost Importance Computing.
  • Future Return of Real Computing.

Early Hobiest Computing:

From the later 1960s there started a trend of single user computers, a very good trend. Early examples being smaller Mini-Computers setup for single user applications. These machines were the begining of a great age in computing, an age where the user is in charge, and able to do as they wish with there computer (without the control of the Sysadmin interfering). It also marked the start of a very great age of hobbie programmers.

At first the systems were only affordable to a small group of coputer geeks, though by the mid 1970s this changed radically. The mass availability of single IC CPU based personal use computers came to be around 1974/1975, and the age of hobby computing really took off. Most systems were kit computers, or CPU trainers that were enhanced. Though the user had the power to modify there computer for there needs, as well as write there own programs without the restrictions of the big systems SysAdmin. This was truely the age of computing independance, most users constructed there systems from kits, or plans in magazines.

Durring this age of computing machine code ruled, with some BASIC interpreters apearing as a side note. Hand assembly slowly gave way to Monitors that had built in Assemblers, then full blown assemblers later. It was as common to see code printed in Machine Language as to see BASIC or Assembly Language listings. This is one of the greatest ages of computing. Thankfully a shread of it continues to this day, as it is needed for the future.

The solutions for display devices, and user input devices were many. There was yet to be a standard way of doing either, the CRT did slowly win as the final output device, though even that with different controller concepts. Everything from TV-Typewriter type devices on to full framebuffer devices, with just about everything in between. It did not take as long for the QWERTY Typewriter style keyboard to catch on for user input.

This age continues with new kit computers, machine language monitors, simple Assemblers, and stripped back BASIC implementations. There are even those that still build computers from components, sometimes as far as doing multi IC TTL Style CPUs in the nature of the small Mini-Computers that started this generation (now much more affordable).

It is important that this age never dies, as it holds the key to keeping the usability of computers going into the future. It is also the base that holds up the Home Computing generation, which also continues.

Home Computing:

As the kits gave way to the pre-made systems sold in mass retail stores, the world of computing went from pure computer hobby computing to home computing. Home computing is marked by users that may use some commercial software, though just as much enjoy writing there own software. It is also marked by Computers that come with a keyboard, and video display controler built in, and had a nice case, as well as usually either a built in BASIC interpreter or the ability to load and run something like CP/M with included programming tools (usually including BASIC and Assembler).

Most of these machines have the BASIC interpreter in ROM, as well as some form of OS in ROM. A lot of them also include a mini-assembler and macine language monitor combination in ROM.

In general there is usually some form of mass storage suport, either tape on earlier examples, or later Disk, and still evolving.

This generation continues, with people still using simple systems that are still user centric and easy to program for. This is a very important age, and another that must never die if we wish to see usable computing into the future.

Lost Importance Computing:

This age is marked by the use of computers by people that could care less about how they work. People that allow the software vendors to rule there computers, giving back control to the virtual SysOps of today. This is also the generation of computing that will look things up on there handheld computers, or desktops, or laptops, and have no idea what a network is (even thogh they are using the internet). This is a truely dangerous and scary generation of computing, one that I will never join.

Thankfully there are signs that some of the younger generation is begining to see the problem, and some of them are returning to Home Computing or even Hobbie Computing. This is good hope for the future, and the basis of the upcoming generation.

Future Return of Real Computing:

This generation is just getting started. It is marked by users that are sick of the miss-use of computers, and are going back to the means of computing that mark the Hobby and Home Computing Generations. These are users that have the advantage of a huge amount of easily available information about the history of computing, and how to get back to the roots and undersand computing. They are the ones that are actually getting things back into order, building new generation kit computers, writing there own ROM code and OS for there custom designed computer, or for Personal computers. Enjoying usable computing the way it should be.

It is great to see articles about young programmers working with HW and OSes without restrictions. It is extremely good to see information about young people designing and building TTL CPUs for fun. It is even great to see young users interested in kit computers. And it is a releaf to see young users of actual home computers (not the messed up systems are common today).

This generation is just getting off the ground. If we hope to see good Personal Computing evolve into the future, this is the generation that must grow, this is the generation that will have to replace the older members of the first two generations. This generation will also take the place of the first two generations later in time. Ideally this generation will grow to mostly suplant the negitive generation of Lost Importance Computing, as using a tool is always best if the tool is understood.


A few articles in my documents are aboug views, this included. This is information that I wish to share with the world, and get out of my system. It is hoped that maybe it will lead more to think about there usage of computers.

On this article, I see the first, second, and fourth of these generations as very good things for personal computing. The third one is the great downside, and unlikely to last too long. Thankfully the three good generations are all here to stay, especially as the fourth gets more into it (which will naturally bring more of the first two back).

This should also help to understand why I still use RISC OS, and am not bothered by only being able to get connected to the Internet on occasion.