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Home computer

The home computer is a consumer-friendly word for the first generation of microcomputers (the technical term that was previously used) that became common during the 1980s. The home computer became affordable for the general public due to the development of the silicon chip based microprocessor and as the name indicates, tended to be used in the home rather than in business contexts. This breed of computer largely died out at the end of the decade (in the United States) or in the early 1990s (in Europe) due to the rise of the IBM PC compatible personal computer.

In a manner resembling the expansion of new animal forms in the Cambrian period, large numbers of new machines of all types, including such exotica as the Forth-based Jupiter ACE appeared on the market, and disappeared again. A few types remained for much longer, some, such as the BBC Micro and Commodore 64 still having a devoted following. However by the end of the decade most were squeezed out between the IBM compatible Personal Computer and the newer generations of video game consoles because they each used their own incompatible formats. The IBM revolution was caused by the 1981 release of the IBM PC (5150).

Many of these computers were superficially similar, having a usually very cheap-to-manufacture keyboard integrated into the processor unit and displaying output on a home television. Many used compact audio cassettes as a (notoriously unreliable) storage mechanism since floppy disk drives were very expensive at the time. Cheapness was the order of the day for most of these machines.

Almost all computers employ an operating system (OS) which acts as an interface between the operator and the computer's internal hardware (memory, CPU, etc). Home computers most often had their OS, of which one part was usually a BASIC interpreter, stored in one or more ROM chips. The term software commonly denoted application programs sitting 'above' the OS to perform a specific task, e.g. wordprocessors or games.

As many older computers have become obsolete it has become popular amongst enthusiasts to enable one type of computer to emulate another via the use of emulation software. Thus, many of the operating environments for the computers listed below can be recreated on a modern PC.

The home computer was commonly based on 8-bit microprocessor technology, typically the MOS Technologies 6502 or the Zilog Z80. During the early to mid-1980s a large variety of 8-bit home computers were designed and marketed. These were then gradually supplanted by the PC and its competing 16-bit (Motorola 68000-based) home/personal computers appearing from 1984 onwards.

See also