Scanning in geek history

Computer fan preserved decades-old ads and brochures from the dawn of the computer age and is now sharing them online. Images: Revival of the retro PC

Greg Sandoval Former Staff writer
Greg Sandoval covers media and digital entertainment for CNET News. Based in New York, Sandoval is a former reporter for The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. E-mail Greg, or follow him on Twitter at @sandoCNET.
Greg Sandoval
3 min read
For almost two decades, Jason Scott squirreled away thousands of pages of old advertisements, mailers and brochures left over from the genesis of personal computing.

Whether people see it as geek history or just junk, he now wants to share his stash with the world.

A computer administrator from Boston, Scott began posting photos from his extensive collection of software and hardware ads, circa 1970s-1980s, at Digitize.textfiles.com last week. Maybe Mac fans can't recall what that Apple II they considered so cutting-edge back in the mid-1980s looked like. Perhaps video-game aficionados forgot that Atari once pinned dreams of dominating the PC market on the now long-forgotten 1450 XLD computer.

old computer ads

Scott's site can jog their memory.

Why does a 35-year-old man haul old computer ads around with him for decades and then spends hours a day scanning photos of the stuff just to display on a Web site? What's the point?

Scott realizes that tomorrow is what counts in the tech sector. Nonetheless, in an industry where 2-year-old equipment can be considered obsolete, he sees value in tracking the evolution of the PC, which some analysts say has done more to alter modern life in the past quarter century than any other innovation.

"These pictures show you how far we've come," Scott said. "Advertisements are the historical facts that sometimes get lost, but this proves what the early days were like."

By preserving the images of these old ads, Scott intends to create a historical record. His other goal is just to allow fellow computer geeks to "ooh and ah" over the archaic equipment that fueled their childhood dreams.

For Scott and his peers, the photos represent the same thing that the Sears catalog meant for prior generations, when children would pore over the catalog's toy section and wish for electric trains and dolls.

"Pretty much every child has their dream catalog," Scott said Tuesday. "These ads from software and hardware companies promised to make our computers more powerful, and we thought that was cool."

Between the ages of 11 and 14, Scott sent away for every conceivable brochure and mailer dealing with computer software and hardware. He also tore out ads from magazines such as Compute, Creative Computing and Omni.

He stored everything in a box and saved it. Among his archives is a brochure for a 1981 computer game from Microsoft called "Microsoft Adventure." Also included are advertisements for the Orange + Computer, what Scott calls "an Apple II clone" marketed in 1984, and one for the Addram Elite, an IBM PC RAM Expansion by a company called Profit.

"This board, for example, would allow a modem and parallel printer to be hooked up simultaneously," according to the ad, "while enjoying the convenience of the real-time clock/calendar and up to 512 kilobytes (0.5 megabytes) of memory."

One has to remember that back then, some PC users had to reset the clock every time they booted up and 512K was considered an enormous amount of memory.

Scott says his favorite ads are the ones dealing with Atari computers. He asks himself what might have been had Atari, which now mostly makes video-game software, continued with its plans to enter the PC market.

"That was a cool company," Scott says. "The ads were saying, 'We're going to take over.' And they just might have."