Avoiding the Chasm

January 14, 2006

Thirty Years of Sharing

Filed under: Media, Software — vextasy @ 2:05 pm

The January 2006 edition of Dr Dobbs journal runs an article entitled Dr Dobb’s Journal @ 30 in which Michael Swaine tells the history of the development of the magazine from its birth in early 1976 as Dr. Dobb’s Journal of Computer Calisthenics & Orthodontia to its current form. The magazine was conceived at the point in time where the prospect of building or owning a personal computer became a financial reality for many hobbyists and the excitement that accompanied it was easy to sample.

A number of hardware vendors began turning out microcomputer kits which consisted of:

  • A simple CPU, such as Intel’s new microprocessor chip developed for the calculator market.
  • A storage device which might be a fixed or floppy disk, a magnetic or paper tape or more commonly a cassette recorder.
  • Some form of I/O device which, given a suitable interface, might be a teletype or even a keyboard and display but other times was little more than a set of dip switches and lights.

The concern among the hardware vendors was that people would not find an application for the hardware and so the marketers of the time declared that their use was “limited only by your imagination”.

In common with other electronic and computing magazines of the late 1970s and early 1980s, the journal retained a hands-on hobbyist feel even as more and more business application began to fill the non-editorial and classified pages. The emphasis was on sharing information to further extend the boundaries of what could be achieved on a limited budget – the journal even published a 4K BASIC language implementation in hex to key into the Altair.

In the 1980s, magazines commonly published listings as part of an article or in an appendix. When the computer games craze began, it was common to return from the newsagent with a fresh copy of a favourite computing magazine and begin the process of keying in pages of BASIC listing in the hope of playing what most modern teenagers today wouldn’t recognise as a game. Often the listing would contain a printing error and the following edition of the magazine would print the corrections required to make the game run.

Over the decades the journal published volumes of source code, ranging from byte-saving coding tricks for the 8080, Steve Wozniak’s floating-point routines for the 6502, Lawrence Livermore Labs BASIC, John Starkweather’s PILOT, implementations of PASCAL and FORTH, the full source code for an 8080 kernel, a portable screen-oriented editor and, very importantly, two C compilers and the beginnings of a toolset in C. All of these tools were freely available for the use of its readers.

Almost thirty years ago Jim Warren, the incumbent editor, wrote:

It is this open sharing that particularly delights me…We must all do what we can to encourage it. The sharing of ideas…allows us to stand on one another’s shoulders, instead of standing on one another’s feet…So continue to share your ideas, and continue to share your excitement.


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