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BBC Micro Creators Reunite In London

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the getting-the-band-back-together dept.

Television 213

mustrum_ridcully writes "This week some of the original creators from Acorn Computers who developed the BBC Micro home computer are coming together again at the Science Museum in London to discuss the legacy of the computer fondly known in the UK as 'the Beeb'. This news is being carried, of course, on the BBC. The BBC Micro sold some 1.5 million units and helped fund Acorn's development work on the Acorn RISC Machine processor — also known as the ARM processor used today in countless mobile and embedded devices."

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Ahh, I remember it well... (3, Funny)

h4rm0ny (722443) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805250)

20 GOTO 10

(stupid lameness filter objecting to my caps)

Re:Ahh, I remember it well... (5, Informative)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805276)

GOTO? If you had a BBC Micro, you didn't need GOTO or GOSUB. BBC BASIC had support for named procedures, pointers, structured IF/THEN/ELSE, and inline assembler. Quite advanced for its day, really.

Re:Ahh, I remember it well... (1)

h4rm0ny (722443) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805294)

Hey - I was eight, okay? :) There was a way of disabling the Break key as well so that the teacher couldn't stop it without flipping the power switch, but I can't remember how you did that. Mainly we used it for playing "Kingdom" when we could smuggle the floppy disk in. And let me tell you back then, when we bought a floppy disk, it really was floppy!

Re:Ahh, I remember it well... (2)

Rufty (37223) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805670)

*fx247,76 (break key now causes a crash)
*fx101,1 ( disable all keys other than break)

Re:Ahh, I remember it well... (1)

LordSnooty (853791) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805990)

The Break key also had a screw which you could tighten to prevent pressing... a low-tech solution which I've never seen anywhere else.

Re:Ahh, I remember it well... (1)

ZERO1ZERO (948669) | more than 6 years ago | (#22806188)

That reminds me ... "Break-Shift-Break" was that not some kind of key press to auto-load from the floppy or something?


Re:Ahh, I remember it well... (1)

jimicus (737525) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805338)

BBC BASIC had support for named procedures

Only after version 2, IIRC. Mind you, I've never seen a BBC micro with version 1 fitted.

Re:Ahh, I remember it well... (2, Informative)

Ed Avis (5917) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805380)

My BBC had BASIC 1.0 and it supports named procedures fine. It lacks EQUB and similar assembler directives, which makes it a pain to include literal byte values or strings in your assembly language programs. These were added in BASIC 2.0.

Re:Ahh, I remember it well... (2, Informative)

ajs318 (655362) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805448)

No, BASIC 1 had named PROCs. BASIC 2 introduced OSCLI -- a command for issuing MOS commands through BASIC without resorting to low-level hackery -- and OPENUP -- a new file mode (update). (Actually, it introduced OPENIN, an input-only file mode, but BASIC 1 already had an OPENIN which actually, in defiance of documentation, opened files for update: the token for OPENIN on BASIC 1 became OPENUP on BASIC 2, and OPENIN got a new token of its own.)

Anyway, a backward GOTO addressed to a destination line which would be visible on the same screen is perfectly acceptable. And deep down inside, every processor architecture supports unconditional jumps.

Re:Ahh, I remember it well... (1)

RupW (515653) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805396)

GOTO? If you had a BBC Micro, you didn't need GOTO or GOSUB.
OK then :-p


Memories (1)

julesh (229690) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805262)

While I was always a Spectrum guy at heart, I do have fond memories of my school's BBC "B"s. You always got the feeling that they were _real_ computers. I mean, they had operating systems and everything...

Re:Memories (1)

steevc (54110) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805644)

We Beeb owners looked down on Spectrum owners. We were far superior with our proper keyboards and solid build quality. We did envy some of their games, even if the Speccy could only do two colours per character block.

I wrote loads of little programs on my Beeb, including a simple Mandelbrot. I liked playing with graphics. Unfortunately those programs are all lost now. I had them on cassettes that got dumped some time. I upgraded mine from a 16KB Model A to have 32KB. Never got a floppy drive, so had to load games like Elite from tape. Had fun with various other games too.

I sold my Beeb in the mid-90s for about 30 quid including the tape deck and my games. I wonder if it is still out there. I kind of miss it.

Re:Memories (1)

Stooshie (993666) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805934)

Try this: []

Not quite the same but you can experiment to your hearts content (and change the machine between A, B and Master.

Re:Memories (1)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805992)

I inputted a mandelbrot generator for spectrum (before i could code my own..)
I left it running for 24hours to produce a stunning black and white basic initial bug.

I was awestruck but the lag was a killer.

Good but Dull (4, Insightful)

gsslay (807818) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805290)

IMHO, the Beeb always seemed a bit dull. It was what you used at school, when you had to peck through dull basic programs under the watchful eye of teacher.

At home is where you had a ZX Spectrum, and where you had free reign and did the real inventive programming.

The Beeb was probably the better machine, but the speccy was where the real fun was.

Re:Good but Dull (3, Insightful)

mccalli (323026) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805342)

IMHO, the Beeb always seemed a bit dull. It was what you used at schoo...At home is where you had a ZX Spectrum, and where you had free reign and did the real inventive programming.

Extrapolation: the machine you had at home was the fun one. True whether Beeb, Spectrum, C64...whatever.

I had friends with Beebs and enjoyed messing around with them. I had a Spectrum 48k myself and enjoyed messing with that (wireframe vector graphics in Spectrum BASIC anyone? Anyone? No, didn't think so...). I also moved to the C64 and enjoyed messing with that.

It's whatever you got free reign on, not what the specific platform was.


Re:Good but Dull (1)

h4rm0ny (722443) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805474)

Well there might be some truth to that... but the Spectrum had RUBBER KEYS!!!! Compete with *that* BBC Micro.

Re:Good but Dull (2, Informative)

Mike McTernan (260224) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805488)

wireframe vector graphics in Spectrum BASIC anyone? Anyone? No, didn't think so...

Uh? Don't you remember the CIRCLE, PLOT and DRAW commands? Sure they were slow (I can remember watching as large circles were drawn clockwise to the screen), but they were there.

Examples are here: []

Re:Good but Dull (1)

mccalli (323026) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805700)

Uh? Don't you remember the CIRCLE, PLOT and DRAW commands? Sure they were slow (I can remember watching as large circles were drawn clockwise to the screen), but they were there.

I certainly do - I actually wrote a vector graphics game in BASIC on the Spectrum. Wrote it the day after being taught vectors and matrices at school - it was a reakky, really simple plane racing game where you raced around two towers.

And it was awful. Terrible. Appalling. Speed? I'd heard of it...

Not knocking the Spectrum, just sometimes people who don't know better, ie. the me of the time, start writing code where Code Should Not Be(tm).


Re:Good but Dull (1)

Constantine XVI (880691) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805552)

Extrapolation: the machine you had at home was the fun one. True whether Beeb, Spectrum, C64...whatever.
I'd have to second that. When I was in (American) grade school, we had Macintoshes which would obviously kick the ass of our Packard-Bell IBM clone at home; yet I always remember the "fun" stuff (QBASIC, Wolf3D, Warcraft) happening on the 386 at home.

Ah, the days when GOTO made sense...

Re:Good but Dull (1)

chthon (580889) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805732)

I wrote a small CAD(rafting) program on my Spectrum (in 1986 or 1987). It used an array to hold a list of objects, and you had to position the pointer using the cursor keys, and there were commands to begin or stop lines, and you created polygons by issuing a key press which made the last point of the previous line the starting point of the next line.

I did never really use it, because I had no possibilities to print or plot my results, and frankly drawing on a 256x192 screen is very coarse. But it was a nice programming exercise.

Re:Good but Dull (1)

Mindwarp (15738) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805828)

The best thing about the Beeb was the amazing number of expansion ports on it. The number of electronic circuits I built and hooked up to the User port... Now THAT'S entertainment!

Yes, I was that sad kid.

Cue *Kids nowadays don't know...* and *Get of my lawn* comments in 3.... 2.... 1....

Re:Good but Dull (1)

lenski (96498) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805946)

Yup. I started with a Digital Equipment PDP-8/L and it will always be my first.

Beginning with FOCAL, no less! It's where I learned the value of "interrupt service". Wonderful experience. The results are, literally, history. I am sure that machine and nearly all others like it are long gone now.

I don't really miss it much, surprisingly. Life moves on, and technical life moves on ever more quickly.

Re:Good but Dull (1)

68K (234318) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805978)

> wireframe vector graphics in Spectrum BASIC anyone?

Definitely: I had to complete some 2D/3D graphics routines as part of my University studies in 1996 and my Atari ST died on me. I completed the coursework on my Spectrum while my Atari was being fixed.

And yes, it was *slow*! :-)

Re:Good but Dull (5, Interesting)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805382)

When the BBC was launched (did anyone really call it a 'Beeb'? That's always meant the corporation, not the computer to me), they allocated a part of the teletext space late at night for transmitting programs. One of the optional things you could plug in let it read these and store them on disk or tape.

The real power of the BBC was the I/O capability. We used to plug all sorts of things into the 'user port,' and 8-bit I/O interface. You wrote an 8-bit value to a specific address and it would set the line voltages up or down for 8 wires, and you could get 8 one-bit inputs by reading from another address. My school had a 7-segment display connected to one, with each segment controlled by a different line. I remember spending a lunch break getting it to display 'nerry christnass' (you couldn't do an m with a 7-segment display). I also took one home to play with over one holiday and used it to control a scalextric set. The output was digital, so it would just toggle the power between 0 and full very fast, and it used light gates to know where the car was. It used a very simple algorithm where it would start the car going slowly and then try driving it faster in each track segment until it crashed.

Re:Good but Dull (1)

mccalli (323026) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805416)

When the BBC was launched (did anyone really call it a 'Beeb'? That's always meant the corporation, not the computer to me)

Yep, I did. And so did Beebug magazine [] .


Re:Good but Dull (1)

The Bender (801382) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805548)

So there were two of you then. I messed around with the thing for years, and that's the first time I've heard it. As far as I'm concerned, the "Beeb" is the BBC (corporation, that is).

Re:Good but Dull (1)

Ginger Unicorn (952287) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805612)

all the computer nerds i went to school with called it a beeb.

Re:Good but Dull (1)

Alioth (221270) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805872)

All of us called it the Beeb. I didn't know anyone who called it a 'BBC' in casual conversation. Typically, Beeb meant a model B. A BBC Master was just known as a 'Master'.

Re:Good but Dull (1)

clickclickdrone (964164) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805950)

Yup - that's exactly how I remember it - Beeb & Master.

Re:Good but Dull (3, Interesting)

jimicus (737525) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805414)

IMHO, the Beeb always seemed a bit dull. It was what you used at school, when you had to peck through dull basic programs under the watchful eye of teacher.

That was probably more the schools' fault than anything else. Back then your teacher was often a maths teacher who didn't really understand the computers so they did all they could - which generally amounted to "have the children type in this program line by line, they must get it all typed in right and must be punished for attempting to learn anything outside of what this program does" - and generally the program was something pretty simple like a 20-line guess the number game.

There was a thriving games industry back in the day, with much more than just the educational stuff available. Repton (similar programs existed on other platforms - Boulder Dash springs to mind) and Elite both started out on the BBC.

Re:Good but Dull (1, Funny)

montyzooooma (853414) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805556)

I had the distinction of getting chucked out of the computer room at school by a prefect because I wanted to program one of the BBC B computers when there was a Defender tournament going on.

Re:Good but Dull (2, Interesting)

DrXym (126579) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805420)

With the exception of Elite, most BBC games were pretty crap too. It probably had something to do with the trade offs between resolution and colours. Most arcade games had to drop into mode 2 but the poor horizontal resolution made them look squashed like the sprites had been sat on. The Spectrum wasn't exactly great for graphics but it was good enough, and more importantly it was much cheaper than the BBC and had more games. Acorn's own efforts to produce a home computer weren't exactly great either. The Acorn Electron was to the BBC Model B what the Commodore 16 was to the C64 - a total disaster. Aside from its graphics the BBC micro was impressive in hindsight. I recall our school actually had a file server and a network for its BBC micros. This is something hard to even imagine for an 8-bit micro.

Er? Stryker's Run? Repton? (1)

Animaether (411575) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805586)

Any of those games were perfectly good fun - and Stryker's Run even had a very decent musical score coming out of the 4 channel (3 melodic, 1 percussion) synth on a BBC Master 512k.

Not to mention that you could get BBC Micro magazine and write new games by copying them from the pages and experiment with them. open source games as far back as then. I remember when they added a CRC routine and CRC codes in front of each line so you could easily spot where you made a typo. Or if something didn't work, you could mail it to them and you'd get your own 'patch' code published and distributed that way.

Ahhh... fond memories of, among other, Clogger.

Don't get me wrong, they weren't the flashiest games, but they were more than decent and fun.

Re:Good but Dull (1)

Alioth (221270) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805618)

Actually, most games on all plaforms were pretty crap if the truth be known - which is a constant that continues to this very day.

There were many excellent games for the BBC Micro. Many were also available for other platforms. My favorites are Thrust (multi platform, but runs by far the smoothest on the Beeb), of course Elite (again, smoothest on the BBC), Starship Command (BBC only), Chuckie Egg (pretty much identical on all platforms, very playable platformer), Zalaga (runs as fast and smooth as the arcade game it was taken from, Galaga), Castle Quest (BBC only), Revs (BBC only) - about the only decent race driving game on any 8 bit platform.

While the frame buffer did tend to eat up space, much of this could be recovered on game launch - since you were no longer using the BASIC ROM, you could reclaim some of the zero page, BASIC workspace, and if you weren't going to use the disc drive again, you could reclaim a lot of space in lower RAM.

Re:Good but Dull (1)

Zukix (641813) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805850)

Quite right : Revs, Elite, Thrust were not just good but true classics.

I also loved Exile, The Last Ninja, Starport, Commandos, Football Director and many more. All polished and great fun games. Those written by Peter Scott tended to be of the quality of the emerging 16-bit world. I tended to play them from the Play it again Sam series of compilations that were affordable and cherry picked the best games.

Interview with Peter Scott : []

I don't get half the fun out of Bioshock, Crysis etc. that I used to get out of those games but I realise its an age thing.

Re:Good but Dull (1)

Tony Hoyle (11698) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805746)

We had 'Frak!' on the BBC at school.

It was the closest we could get to swearing being teenagers in the pre-internet days :p

Re:Good but Dull (1)

ajs318 (655362) | more than 6 years ago | (#22806128)

I saw a modified version of that game ..... where, amongst other visual alterations, the caveman didn't quite fit entirely into his loincloth, and the "R" and "A" of the "FRAK!" speech balloon were replaced by other letters.

With only 32KB of RAM which had to be shared between system variables, code and the unfeasibly large frame buffer, absence of source code frankly was not a showstopper for anyone wanting to modify games. Patching binaries was common, and there were tools readily available especially for doing just that -- either in RAM, or right there on the disk. Graphics mods were rare; most were just extra lives, though I often changed the keys (some programmers liked using A and Z for up and down, with _£ and cursor down for left and right; I preferred the so-called "Snapper keys" of Z and X for left and right, and :* and /? for up and down.)

Re:Good but Dull (1) (1047042) | more than 6 years ago | (#22806244)



Thanks for reminding me of that.

Also: Chuckie Egg, Mr.EE, Sim, Repton(??).

Re:Good but Dull (1)

Comboman (895500) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805782)

I recall our school actually had a file server and a network for its BBC micros. This is something hard to even imagine for an 8-bit micro.

It was not that uncommon in a school or business environment (though home networks were certainly unheard of; it would be many years before any home had more than one computer). My school had a network of Commodore PETs and CBMs (precursors to VIC20 & C64) that allowed the 20 or so computers in the lab to share the printer and floppy drives (most early PETs had cassette drives).

Re:Good but Dull (1)

hoggy (10971) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805948)

The coolest thing about Elite was the trick of using a timer triggered off the vertical sync to re-program the video controller 3/4 of the way through the screen refresh so that the top part of the screen (the external view) was in a black and white mode and the bottom part (the ship's displays) were in a lower resolution 4-colour mode. (Original Elite, the later co-processor version used 4- and 8-colour modes respectively.)

Frickin' brilliant. I spent ages carefully re-implementing the idea in my own code.

Re:Good but Dull (1)

clickclickdrone (964164) | more than 6 years ago | (#22806140)

Should have bought an Atari then. They had display list interrupts that allowed you to reprogram the video to whatever mode/character set/palette you wanted scanline by scanline. The Amiga had something similar many years later.

Re:Good but Dull (3, Interesting)

Alioth (221270) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805554)

That was just an issue with your teachers!

The BBC for us was an exciting machine. We had an Econet network of them, with the SJ Research fileserver.

We wrote a MUD. It became so popular that we were restricted to 3 days a week only! Things like the inline assembler, and the best BASIC for its day made it fun to write. Other great things that the BBC had was that all the system calls were vectored through RAM, so you could easily add your own extensions. Oh, the mischief I used to have with that feature. It was so funny to watch the kid next to me get random spelling mistakes because a little hook I wrote was occasionally adding an extra keystroke here or there :-)

We couldn't afford a Beeb at home, I too had a Spectrum, and learned Z80 asm on that machine. The Spectrum was also fun, but in different ways. I now own 6 Spectrums (two rubber 48K, a plus, a toast rack 128K, an Amstrad made +3, and a bare Issue 4S 48k motherboard awaiting repairs) and 2 BBC Micros (one tricked out with sideways RAM, an internal IDE hard disc, adfs formatted, and a double density disc controller, the other rather more standard with just the intel single density disc controller).

Re:Good but Dull (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22805632)

At home is where you had a ZX Spectrum
Only if you couldn't afford a Beeb. :P

Re:Good but Dull (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805646)

Funny but when I first saw one on the Computer Chronicles I really wanted one. I had an early C64 and that was during the first few months when software was in short supply. The BBC micro seemed to have a great basic compared to the C64 and had that cool user port.
Of course today we have massive computers on our desks that can do so much more. The problem is they are so massive that I don't think anybody knows them at the level they could know a BBC, Spectrum, Atari 400/800, or Apple.

Re:Good but Dull (1)

clickclickdrone (964164) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805692)

>I don't think anybody knows them at the level they could know a BBC, Spectrum, Atari 400/800, or Apple.
Yep. I was an Atari 400/800 user and had the OS source code listing, DOS source listing, hardware manuals, basic manuals and bought every mag going that over time had all sorts of neat tricks and ways to push the envelope. I really knew that machine inside out and then some. These days you can have a single language with an API of 5000 calls so the chances of ever being in that position on any sort of mainstream platform are about nil.
It gave a peculiar level of confidence in your coding that you knew *exactly* what ought to happen and when so you spent more time looking for your own bugs and never even considered the OS, language, hardware etc could be screwing with you.

Re:Good but Dull (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22805866)

The BBC was much more amenable to hacking than the other systems of that era (i.e. the Sinclair ZX80, ZX81, and Spectrum or the Commodore VIC20 and C64). Mainly due to the inline assembler and the documented OS vectors (OSBYTE, OSWORD). Graphics programming was also a lot easier than the Spectrum.

Re:Good but Dull (1)

Bloke down the pub (861787) | more than 6 years ago | (#22806038)

The Beeb was a better machine, but if memory serves it cost twice as much.

I loved the BBC Micro (4, Interesting)

Rik Sweeney (471717) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805298)

mainly for the games. Codename: Droid, Citadel, Labyrinth...

I got nostalgic a few months ago and made some longplay movies on YouTube

Codename: Droid []
Citadel []
Labyrinth []

I really should just remake some of these games...

Re:I loved the BBC Micro (2, Insightful)

Winders (784885) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805348)

Don't forget Elite. Probably one of the best games ever made, and still well-loved. The Acorn port was damn good too...

Re:I loved the BBC Micro (1)

15Bit (940730) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805880)

Still the best game i ever played. I remember thinking when i was a kid that it would be amazing if you could connect up loads of computers and play it as a real universe. Took them 20 years, but Eve is that game.

Remember Exile! (1)

jregel (39009) | more than 6 years ago | (#22806232)

While I agree that Elite was (is) a fantastic game, I'm amazed no-one else has mentioned Exile yet.

A huge world to explore, artificial intelligence, realistic physics; a truly great game.

Re:I loved the BBC Micro (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22805418)

Likewise. I treasure my still-working BBC Micro and the great games that came with it.

If you fancy a blast from the past, there's a flash version of Repton here [] .

Re:I loved the BBC Micro (2)

IceFreak2000 (564869) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805456)

The best game of all on the BBC Micro was Repton - a great Boulderdash clone that was a damn sight harder to play. Mind you, I'm biased []

As a person who... (1)

MrKane (804219) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805300)

..has a growing Archimedes collection........I should probably not tell people this.

I was going to say "think this is great news", but then realised ;?)

Re:As a person who... (1)

oberondarksoul (723118) | more than 6 years ago | (#22806088)

Don't be ashamed! I grew up with an A3000 as my main computer and still love RISC OS. My RiscPC may be much faster (StrongARM!) but that Acorn badge on the front still makes me smile.

I remember it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22805314)

as my first toy.

Not too funny, but I used to call it BBC MY CROW.

Computers in school? (1)

kernowyon (1257174) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805318)

Didn't have such things when I was at school - it was paper and pencils,ink in ink wells on your desk and learning your times tables by rote. You youngsters don't know how lucky you were..blah blah Now get off my lawn!

For the Record (2, Informative)

Toreo asesino (951231) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805326)

"Beeb" is a name for the whole BBC, not just the machines....

And yes, i had one too, bought for me by my father....said it was "chipped", whatever that meant; it was probablly supposed to convince me it had superpowers or something, but anyway, this machine was my foundation of everyone's first program....

10 print "hello world bum bum willy willy weeeeeeeee!"
20 goto 10

Ok ok, so I was 8-9 - give me some credit...

Re:For the Record (1)

j.a.mcguire (551738) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805374)

I never heard anyone ever call them Beebs, they were just called BBCs.

Re:For the Record (1)

REBloomfield (550182) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805510)

me neither...

Re:For the Record (1, Funny)

cordsie (565171) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805516)

This always leads to the inevitable Version 2.0:

10 print "Please input your name:"
20 input A$
30 print "A$ is a wanker!"
40 goto 30

Re:For the Record (1)

TheMoog (8407) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805590)

typo! :)

30 print A$," is a wanker!"

Re:For the Record (1)

Linker3000 (626634) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805804)

Didn't a comma give you a one tab spacing, if so it should be:

30 print A$ + " is a wanker!"

Re:For the Record (1)

cheekymunky (1052654) | more than 6 years ago | (#22806322)

On BBC BASIC (I think, definitely on Atari BASIC) the syntax should be 30 PRINT A$; "is a wanker!"

Greed prevented world domination (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22805344)

If the idiots in charge had brought the price of the Archimedes down to that of the Atari ST, it would have dominated the market when the Amiga, Atari ST and Archimedes were in vogue, and we might now all be using RISC OS based PCs, instead of Microshaft.

But the idiots in charge of the Archimedes' price refused to bring the price down - they would rather sell a few at a large profit per unit, and then lose the market, than sell the most at a smaller profit per unit...

Re:Greed prevented world domination (2)

SirMeliot (864836) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805822)

They were more than happy to sell into education at huge discounts. The technical collage I was at was quite pleased with the IIRC £250 it paid for each of the A310s in the lab. RRP was about a grand.

I agree they showed no interest at all in selling to Joe Public though.

Re:Greed prevented world domination (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22806260)

In a sense it was justified. The early RISC OS 2 Arcs (A3xx and A4xx series) were considerably more powerful than any other home computer on the market at the time.

I don't think we'd all be using RISC OS though, even if the prices were lower. The Arcs would only have filled the niche in the market that the Amigas and Ataris occupied - and look where they are now.

No mention of Sophie Wilson! (5, Interesting)

Hal_Porter (817932) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805370)

Co designer of the what is probably the most popular Instruction Set Architecture in the world the ARM. She also designed the Acorn Atom microcomputer, forerunner of the BBC Micro and wrote the improved version of Basic which caused the BBC to sign the contract []

Re:No mention of Sophie Wilson! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22805688)

Someone should point out to the OP how silly it would be to suggest that (eg) the 8088 runs the majority of personal computers today. Thankfully, you have at least identified that there is a difference between an instruction set and a chip. All hail the ARM ISA.

Re:No mention of Sophie Wilson! (1)

mustafap (452510) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805724)

Sophie first designed the Acorn System 1, which was my first computer. And a damn fine thing it was too. I still have mine.

I exchanged emails with Sophie last year; she is very modest about the work, but I still have fond memories of programming the system 1 in assembler, and trying to get the 'correct' volume control on the cassette interface. Ah, those were the days!

Join the club (1)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805952)

  • Ada Countess of Lovelace (programming the Difference Engine) - died tragically
  • Jocelyn Bell (Pulsar researcher)- still with us fortunately
  • Rosalind Franklin (DNA structure)- died tragically
  • Sophie Wilson (Microcomputer pioneer) - AFAIK still with us
Rear Admiral Grace Hopper (Early computer designer and COBOL originator) had the good sense to be a North American and so didn't have to watch the men steal all the credit.

Scientific American always carefully credits Jocelyn Bell for pulsars, although Hewish got the Nobel. Let's hope someone at the BBC can read /. and fixes the credits.

Re:Join the club (1)

sane? (179855) | more than 6 years ago | (#22806254)

You do realise that the person who's recognised for all the BBC and ARM work was Roger Wilson? Which probably explains why he/she was not at the event - not wanting to call attention to the sex change...

Re:Join the club (1)

aembleton (324527) | more than 6 years ago | (#22806352)

Sohpie Wilson was originally a man called Roger Wilson.

If you go there to see this... (1)

tgd (2822) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805404)

Go check out the Listening Post, also at the Science Museum. Sit through its whole cycle (~30 minutes)

Hands down the coolest, most impactful, art installation I've ever seen.

(And yes, this is sort of on topic because it has to do with the Science Museum)

Multi user (5, Interesting)

Alioth (221270) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805492)

I have two BBC Micros (one with an internal IDE hard disc and double density floppy controller, sideways RAM banks, and another fairly standard one with the Intel single density disc controller).

Back 'in the day', a friend and I wrote a MUD (multi user dungeon) for the BBC Micro, on Econet, since our school had quite a few of them connected together via econet.

It was an ungodly mish-mash of 6502 asm and BBC BASIC. It's a wonder that it worked at all, let alone reasonably well. Since we couldn't get the game into one machine, we made it client/server before either of us had actually heard the term client/server! The server was an almost unused Torch BBC compatible machine, donated to the school - no one wanted to use it because it had a rather odd keyboard layout and a few other non-standard things, but otherwise, worked like a BBC Micro and had a Z80 second processor (unused by our server). Clients displayed things like location descriptions, item descriptions etc. while the server kept track of game state.

Some things were also peer-to-peer, if a player 'shouted' a message, it went peer-to-peer. But if a player used 'tell' to privately tell someone else something, it was routed via the server which only sent it to the right econet station. The server kept track of what was allowed, so people couldn't cheat by loading a different exits file into the client.

We could only run it three days a week because it was pretty popular. We were only allowed to run it at all because the head of computing obviously saw that we were learning from the experience of writing and maintaining the monstrosity we had created. It taught me many valuable lessons about software that communicates.

I only had a Spectrum at home (couldn't afford a Beeb!), but it's another 8 bitter I really like. I have six of those now, and I'm designing an ethernet card for the Speccy. Once the Spectrum one's done, I'll do the same for the Beeb (which should be electronically far simpler, because the BBC has much better support for adding new ROMs, and a proper formal way of telling the MOS that you've done it).

Good times.

Re:Multi user (1)

Scott Kevill (1080991) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805886)

Hmm. That sounds a bit like a text MUD I remember playing on the BBC in highschool in 1990 and 1991. My memory is kind of hazy and I haven't been able to find anything on Google about it. I think it was simply called Cave.

Points I remember..
- you could "summon" monsters or other players to teleport them to the room you were in. This had varying degrees of success, and your ability improved with experience, and moreso if you had a certain gem

- one of your attacks was to "zap" a player or monster. Toughest monster was the dragon, I think

- there was a sort of co-op puzzle in one place that required two players to get an object, one had to pull a rope to raise a portcullis while the other grabbed the object behind it

- with enough experience you became a wizard, which increased your skills quite a bit

- the admin was a form of super-wizard, but still mortal. I remember when he (a teacher) logged in to shut down the game at the end of a lunchbreak (it would say, "blah has collapsed the cave"), I summoned him and zapped him repeatedly so that he died without being able to shut it down. Good times.

Does anyone else remember this game?

Re:Multi user (1)

Alioth (221270) | more than 6 years ago | (#22806202)

The one we wrote was on similar lines, except the admin (me!) was immortal and had infinite mana. Zap was only available to wizards, everyone else had to make do with KILL and hope for the best.

You could summon other players if you had enough mana. The higher your level the more likely the spell was to succeed. However, there was a non zero chance of the summon backfiring in some way. Indeed, most spells could backfire, but the more powerful spells tended to backfire in nastier ways.

One of the monsters (mobiles) could summon, and would occasionally attempt to summon and slay a player. It didn't do it very often.

Ah yes ... econet (3, Interesting)

Richard W.M. Jones (591125) | more than 6 years ago | (#22806106)

Econet ... a good example of why you shouldn't design a network with zero security for use by schoolchildren.

Amongst its many flaws: You could spoof any machine on the network just by POKE-ing a single address (the machine's address was a single byte, I guess they never expected more than 256 machines on a single shared segment). I think the command was ?3362 = <node>

You could send text messages to anyone on the network. But get this: the messages were injected into the remote system via the keyboard driver. That's right: You could TYPE REMOTELY ON ANYONE'S KEYBOARD over the network! What finally got me thrown out of the computing labs at school at age 14 was writing a program which typed on all the keyboards in the lab at the same time, controlling the whole lab from a single machine.

Another good one was the quota system used by the file server. It didn't store total/available, as any sensible system would. Instead each user had a single quota value (free space). The only problem was you could also write to anyone else's file, eg. appending data to a file owned by another user. When you did the append, your own quota would be diminished. But when the other user deleted the file, *their* quota would be increased. I wrote several trojan games which other people ran that surreptitiously appended to a file owned by me. Then by deleting this file, I could steal other people's quota and sell it back to them later.

Ah, misspent youth ...


Re:Ah yes ... econet (1)

Alioth (221270) | more than 6 years ago | (#22806152)

I guess no one told you about *PROT

*PROT would stop anyone else causing mischief to your econet station (including poking stuff into your keyboard, reading the screen, remote rebooting the computer etc.) Most of us had *PROT as the first line of our login scripts, as well as *FX 201,1 which made sure memory was cleared out when you pressed break.

The SJ Research fileservers had a better way of managing quota (other users couldn't steal your quota in the way you say). Still had a few drawbacks and you could still have some mischief with it, though.

Re:Ah yes ... econet (1)

Richard W.M. Jones (591125) | more than 6 years ago | (#22806240)

I guess no one told you about *PROT

(Happy memories flood back ...) I knew about *PROT, it was the other people who didn't :-)

In those pre-internet days there was so little sharing of information that each school probably learned the hacking and the protection techniques separately, or the latter by carefully reading manuals.


A machine still worthy of study in my opinion (3, Interesting)

hoggy (10971) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805512)

I had a BBC B and then later a BBC Master 128 (which I upgraded to a BBC Master Turbo). I learned BASIC, Forth, Lisp, Pascal, C and 8502 assembler on the BBC Micro before I even got to University. I learned most of the 1st year CS algorithms and data structures course from Beebug (the BBC Users Group) magazine.

The BBC had what, at the time, was a "proper" operating system on a home computer and you could patch all of the system calls so that you could inspect and modify the behaviour. With the excellent Exmon machine monitor and the BBC Advanced User Guide, the machine was a treasure trove for an aspiring programmer.

I don't think there's anything comparable that a 12 year old kid can really get a chance to understand anymore.

Re:A machine still worthy of study in my opinion (1)

hoggy (10971) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805544)

Or 6502 assembler even... *looks sheepish*

Another thing to add about how cool the Beeb was though is asymmetric multi-processing thanks to the Tube co-processor interface. How cool was that in an 8-bit machine!

Re:A machine still worthy of study in my opinion (1)

clickclickdrone (964164) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805594)

Plus the Teletext adaptor - that was cool too. You could have BBC Basic progs use it to get your stock/shares prices daily for you or to check the TV listings for your favourite progs - not bad for 1983/4 or whenever.

Re:A machine still worthy of study in my opinion (1)

clickclickdrone (964164) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805576)

>you could patch all of the system calls
You could do that with the Atari 400/800 and those hailed from the late 70's. Most OS calls were made by vectoring thru pointers in RAM to the ROM. You could add your own code then continue on or write complete replacements.

Re:A machine still worthy of study in my opinion (1)

Alioth (221270) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805662)

Plenty of working BBC Micros exist. They are still fun to play with, I have two. If you're into hobby electronics, a BBC is a much better machine to have around than a PC, because the user port and 1MHz bus is so much trivially easier to hook a breadboard up to for some experiments than a PCI slot or USB port.

I learnt to program on this (1)

SmitherIsGod (914108) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805578)

...when I was 7 or 8. I'm still recovering.

Re:I learnt to program on this (2, Interesting)

Tony Hoyle (11698) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805842)

My first job was coding for it. I wrote a fruit machine program that was supposed to be educational (you added up the values of the reels to win or something like that). As it was too ambitious for the platform (as a noob I didn't at that time know how to 'manage' managements's expectations) it ended up in raw 6502 and loaded up different bits of itself as it was running, just to fit in the memory. Was quite proud of it actually.. I still wonder what happened to it. (For historys sake that was GSN Software that became 3T productions that then got bought out by Research Machines and presumably vanished after that).

And for extra geek points... (1)

Rich (9681) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805622)

Who can remember what was at memory address 0x3CA?

Hint: think tapes, the vertical blank interupt and the *load command.

Answer in rot13:
Vg pbagnvarq gur syntf jura ybnqvat n svyr naq yrg lbh *ybnq tnzrf gung jrer 'cebgrpgrq' gb bayl nyybj *eha vs lbh znfxrq bhg gur zbfg fvtavsvpnag ovg. Guvf jnf hfrq ol cerggl zhpu rirel purng jevggra sbe OOP tnzrf.

I used the prototype (1)

Linker3000 (626634) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805748)

I can recall my school being given a prototype to test - this must have been around 1979-80 and I was about 14.

Up to then we had been using a couple of green-screen Commodore PETs, then one day this large colour TV appeared in the corner of the 'computer room'; it had a large, grey 'keyboard-in-a box' hard-wired to it via a cable about as thick as a vacuum cleaner hose! Test programs were supplied on micro cassettes and we could also download software over-the-air from CEEFAX.

I used to open up the computer room each morning (I somehow managed to acquire a key!) and sit in front of this anonymous, 'not-yet-a-beeb' computer, programming away or using it to read the news on CEEFAX.

Re:I used the prototype (1)

clickclickdrone (964164) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805786)

That would have been something like an Acorn Atom bck then. The BBC went from 'not invented' to 'in the shops' in a few months as Acorn bascally did a few mods to a design they were already well advanced with.

Re:I used the prototype (1)

Tony Hoyle (11698) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805902)

OMG the Acorn Atom. That's something I'd completely forgotten about. Didn't see many of those in circulation, though.

Re:I used the prototype (1)

Linker3000 (626634) | more than 6 years ago | (#22806182)

This machine was certainly not an Atom in terms of the case it was in and (ISTR) it did start up 'BBC Basic'

Total nostalgia blow-out this week (1)

ratbag (65209) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805824)

1. Sir Arthur dies;
2. The reason for my chosen career and hobby gets a story on Slashdot. I owned a Model 'B', then a couple of 128s. I helped (as a pupil) to run the Econet-based system at Oundle School in 1986-87, which I believe got some of its kit early due to links with Cambridge. By the time I left, we'd got a 20MB drive on the network. Quite an upgrade, since we'd previously depended on a couple of double-sided floppy drives as storage for the classroom.

Notable projects included an abortive attempt to write a robot control language running from EEPROM (*UP, *LEFT, *GRIP). That and an endless struggle to beat the tape protection on games.

How I wish I'd kept the machines. I moved onto an Archimedes or two, then moved away from coding into gaming with an Amiga.

There haven't been many computers with such easily accessible programming power (I owned several Sinclair Research machines and found the idiotic keyboard "auto-type" got in the way of thinking more than it speeded things up).

Incidentally, we never called the computer 'Beeb' - that's the name for the old Corporation (often as "Auntie Beeb").

Happy days.

oblig Dilbert (1)

Loconut1389 (455297) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805890)

PHB: The smell of fresh ficus-- It transports me back to my youth. Summers in the Catskill Mountains. Ah...we'd all go to Turtle Pond to swim and laugh and play games amongst the wild ficus. One day, tragedy struck. A turtle made off with my trunks. I stayed in the water as long as I could but the water was cold.

A crowd formed.

They gave me a nickname on the spot--

One that still haunts me.


My awful, non-French parents even named their dry cleaning store Acorn. But that's all in the past. What do you have for me?

Dilbert: We just need your approval on our next product name. Salmonella.

Thank heaven for emulators! (1)

Bazman (4849) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805962)

So anyone can now get a BBC Micror unning on their PC thanks to emulators. Anyone recommend a particular BBC Micro emulator? There's a whole bunch here: []

heck, there are BBC Micro emulators for the PSP now!

Input (1)

Stooshie (993666) | more than 6 years ago | (#22805986)

I remember Input magazine had a competition to write a program for the BBC in 1 line of code (255 characters). The winner wrote a rotating ball program.

255 CHARACTERS!!! That was the Beeb alright. Best machine for learning coding. Also allowed you to try out assembly.

Aah the joyful sound of history being improved- (1)

vorlich (972710) | more than 6 years ago | (#22806278)

I have never heard this computer described as "a beeb". It was always described as "one of those expensive BBC Acorns that only the children of the wealthy and schools have." This sounds like something invented by a Public Relations person from "The Beeb". I can quite easily imagine that all those 18 year-old ipod-wearing-skateboarding-dudes employed as executives by "Auntie BBC" or plain old "Auntie" would come up with something like this.

I do remember a colleague of ours at Glasgow University Dept of Computing Science, bought the last ever high end model (the Archimedes A400) of with all of his inheritance windfall because it would run Linux or possibly even Unix ( it was 1993 and Linus Torvalds had only just finished primary school probably with a post graduate doctorate on the abacus and the slackware distro was available as a download of 25 floppy disks...). He had arranged delivery to the faculty, probably because he had a student flat somewhere in Hillhead (!) and didn't want to risk it being stolen. Almost every member of the two research teams came out to stare in wonder and incredulity at the idea of spending over a grand on something that was so close to extinction you could almost hear it sighing.
"is that all there is?" asked my friend Charles, his voice rising a full octave, quite flabbergasted that all you got for your gbp1300 was a monitor, cpu, mouse and keyboard. (I might be wrong about the mouse)

Just imagine if it had been stolen - the police would have been looking for a thief with very little knowledege of computer hardware...
Chick "How's it goan Shug? Whit's thet yu'v goat there, been on the rob huv yae?"
Shug "Sum idjit had yin of them computurrs sent tae his student flat in Hillhead, right next doar tae ma wee bruvver. So we baith nicked it. Naw bad, huh?"
Chick "Shug, yoo are a bawheidet clown. Huv you naw goan an stolen an effin Archimedes A400."
Shug "Haw, wait a minit, thet's a pure crackin computurr"
Chick "A crackin computurr wee man? Iz thet right. It disnae even run Windows 3.1 so its nae use tae onyone."......
Sounds of heavy object landing in skip behind a pub not a million miles from Govan.
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