I've been to a lot of computer conferences over the last 30 years-- my first was the mainframe-oriented National Computer Conference in 1979, and I've probably been to 250 more since then-- but one of my favorites is also the smallest: the Vintage Computer Festival, hosted by Sellam Ismail.
Over the years at these conferences (a collection of my badges as of 1998 or so is shown here), and in my own life, I've seen and used an awful lot of computer hardware.
I'm surprised that some kinds of systems that were very popular in the past are hardly to be seen today--low-cost systems designed to connect to TVs, for example. Commodore sold millions of VIC-20 and Commodore 64 systems; the C-64 remains the best-selling computer model of all time... but the closest approach to these products today are things like Apple's Mac mini that don't really serve the same purposes or markets.
The Vintage Computer Festival (VCF) is really the only event that tries to cover the full history of the computing industry. There are usually three VCFs each year; the main one, another on the East Coast, and one in Europe.
The main show, which takes place November 3 and 4 this year, happens at the best place in the world for seeing the history of computer hardware (and some software), the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif.
I spoke at VCF 9.0 last year, describing the many ways in which computer technology has improved by roughly a million to one over the last 30 years. Speakers this year include Albert Hoagland, one of the original developers of the disk drive at IBM; Lee Felsenstein, designer of the Osborne 1 and other milestone microcomputers; Bruce Damer, proprietor of the DigiBarn Computer Museum; and many others.
VCF includes a great exhibition of vintage computers apart from the Museum's own collection. I'm looking forward to getting a good look at some of the more obscure but interesting microcomputers, such as the Canon Cat designed by Macintosh developer Jef Raskin, an IBM 1130 minicomputer, and a recreation in Meccano construction-set components of the Differential Analyzer, a mechanical analog computer from the 1930s.
The other great feature of VCF each year is a small but tightly focused marketplace where you can actually buy, sell, and trade vintage computers, software, and components with other collectors. I've spent significant money at VCF over the years...
Anyway, if you have any interest in this subject at all, and you'll be anywhere near Silicon Valley the first weekend in November, you don't want to miss this show. If you see me, stop and say hi!