UK Micros of the 1980s
UK Micros of the 1980s
Written by Historian   
Tuesday, 24 July 2012
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UK Micros of the 1980s
BBC Micro v ZX Spectrum
Home computer frenzy

BBC Micro



Both Acorn and Sinclair had held off launching their new machines in the hope of being adopted by the BBC but eventually Sinclair lost the battle and Acorn’s "Proton", the successor to the Atom,was named as the new "BBC Micro".

It turned out to be February 1982 before the BBC Micro actually fell into the hands of users. It took longer to produce than anyone thought and it cost more. The price went up to £299 for the basic model - after pre-production orders were shipped, presumably at a loss.

There were also production problems of the sort that resulted in long waits for customers. It was an expensive machine when compared to the ZX81 but it had a specification well beyond machines of comparable cost. It easily out performed the Apple II which cost three times as much.

So why were people who didn't fancy risking £300 or more on other machines willing to pay for the BBC Micro?

The answer should be obvious - it was endorsed by the BBC. Before the BBC Micro schools mostly used the RML 380Z (a big S100 bus machine) or the Commodore Pet but the BBC Micro rapidly became the standard school machine, partly because of its BBC connection and partly because of the subsidies that the UK government offered.

This was a gross distortion in the marketplace and its effects were far reaching. While it was forbidden for the BBC to put its logo on say a TV it seemed to be ok for it to do the same on a computer. 

At first it looked as if the effects were nothing but good in that the public was "turned on" to computing and had the confidence to actually buy a high performance machine. The bad effects  only  showed up later when  the  UK  educational establishment found itself tied to the BBC Micro when the rest of the world moved on to the IBM PC.

Enter the Spectrum


Photo Bill Bertram


In June of 1982 the world moved on again with the ZX81 being replaced by the Spectrum.

This was another innovative machine but now in full color with an improved case and keyboard. The Spectrum sold for £125 and was capable of running games software of a quality that made it worth buying just for fun.

Acorn announced its challenge to the Spectrum, the Electron, a cut down version of the BBC Micro. However Acorn was months behind Sinclair and the Electron never had the impact of its big brother machine.


By now the personal computing world had seen the machine that would eventually cause the real revolution - the IBM PC. However the UK market carried on almost unaffected by it.

The Jupiter Ace Goes Forth


Photo:Dutra de Lacerda


While Sinclair and Acorn were battling it out there were gaps in the market filled by other smaller companies. First off the blocks at the end of 1982 was Jupiter Cantab with their Jupiter Ace. This strange little machine looked like a ZX81 but had the unique feature of running Forth as its native language.

The Ace cost £89.95 and was designed by two of the chief designers of the Sinclair Spectrum.  There are still programmers who look back on the Ace as being the most innovative home computer in that it introduced lots of people to Forth. Things might have been very different it Forth had triumphed over less "recursive" languages such as C.

Last Updated ( Friday, 27 July 2012 )

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