People's Computer Company

Last updated

People's Computer Company (PCC) was an organization, a newsletter (the People's Computer Company Newsletter) and, later, a quasiperiodical called the Dragonsmoke. PCC was founded and produced by Dennis Allison, Bob Albrecht and George Firedrake in Menlo Park, California in the early 1970s.


The first newsletter, published in October 1972, [1] announced itself with the following introduction:

"Computers are mostly used against people instead of for people; used to control people instead of to free them; Time to change all that - we need a... Peoples Computer Company."

It was published bimonthly. [2] The name was chosen in reference to Janis Joplin’s rock group Big Brother and the Holding Company. [1] The newsletter ceased publication in 1981. [2]


PCC was one of the first organizations to recognize the potential of Tiny BASIC in the nascent field of personal computing when it published that language's design specification in their newsletter. This ultimately led to the design of an interpreter that was published in a publication, which they named Dr. Dobb's Journal of Tiny BASIC Calisthenics and Orthodontia, dedicated to Tiny BASIC. The newsletter's title was changed to Dr. Dobb's Journal of Computer Calisthenics & Orthodontia for the second issue; the popular reaction to it eventually led to the long-running computer magazine Dr. Dobb's Journal (DDJ) [3] which continued publication until 2009.

PCC was among the first organizations to recognize and actively advocate playing as a legitimate way of learning. It published arguably the first best-seller in microcomputer literature, My Computer Likes Me When I Speak BASIC [4] and What to Do After You Hit Return. The company was an early proponent of software without copyright, and published much of it in the above books, in DDJ and in another periodical. That magazine originally shared the company's name but it evolved and was later renamed Recreational Computing. It focused on publishing code listings, mostly for games, that users could hand type into their early-model (and some homebrew) personal computers. Because the code was without copyright, authors were free to study it, adapt, rewrite and build upon it. The same was true of the more systems-oriented code published in DDJ. This no-copyright practice was a significant boost to the growing body of microcomputer software and applications, and to the general base of knowledge and developing best practices in the young industry.

PCC also fostered the activities of its child organization, ComputerTown USA! That formalized PCC's long-standing activism around general computer literacy. At a time when many computers still were kept in clean rooms, PCC was taking them to libraries, grade schools and elder communities. Their activities encouraged hands-on exploration and just trying things. The Logo programming language and turtle graphics gave some users their first experience of controlling something on a computer display. Computer phobia was commonly perceived by PCC staff as a barrier to learning in a significant number of users, even in a large majority of some populations during those early years. Apple Computer's Community Affairs department used ComputerTown USA! to develop curriculum and to conduct intensive trainings for the non-profit recipients of computer hardware and software grants from Apple.

As one of its core philosophical contributions, People's Computer Company recognized in personal computing a great potential for individual empowerment and social improvement. It saw that PCs could bring the same advantages to those hampered by race, class and circumstance as to those with more advantages. It believed a digital commons could lead to more intermingling of individuals from diverse social groups. It supported early models of networking personal computers using telephone lines. It could, in hindsight, be regarded as among the first contributors to a form of what is known now as network neutrality and a fundamentally non-commercial, class-free internet.[ original research? ]

The history of PCC and its role in the evolution of the personal computer was described in Steven Levy's book, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution . [5] In Levy's book, some of the values and ethics of PCC's founders are examined, particularly the ethics common among members of the hacker community.

See also

Related Research Articles

BASIC Family of programming languages

BASIC is a family of general-purpose, high-level programming languages designed for ease of use. The original version was created by John G. Kemeny and Thomas E. Kurtz at Dartmouth College in 1964. They wanted to enable students in non-scientific fields to use computers. At the time, nearly all computers required writing custom software, which only scientists and mathematicians tended to learn.

The hacker ethic is a philosophy and set of moral values that is common within hacker culture. Practitioners of the hacker ethic believe that sharing information and data with others is an ethical imperative. The hacker ethic is related to the concept of freedom of information, as well as the political theories of Anti-authoritarianism, socialism, liberalism, anarchism, and libertarianism.

386BSD Operating system

386BSD is a discontinued Unix-like operating system based on the Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD). It was released in 1992 and ran on PC-compatible computer systems based on the 32-bit Intel 80386 microprocessor. 386BSD innovations included role-based security, ring buffers, self-ordered configuration and modular kernel design.

Tiny BASIC is a family of dialects of the BASIC programming language that can fit into 4 or fewer KBs of memory. Tiny BASIC was designed in response to the open letter published by Bill Gates complaining about users pirating Altair BASIC, which sold for $150. Tiny BASIC was intended to be a completely free version of BASIC that would run on the same early microcomputers.

Small-C is both a subset of the C programming language, suitable for resource-limited microcomputers and embedded systems, and an implementation of that subset. Originally valuable as an early compiler for microcomputer systems available during the late 1970s and early 1980s, the implementation has also been useful as an example simple enough for teaching purposes.

Li-Chen Wang American computer programmer (born 1935)

Li-Chen Wang is an American computer engineer, best known for his Palo Alto Tiny BASIC for Intel 8080-based microcomputers. He was a member of the Homebrew Computer Club and made significant contributions to the software for early microcomputer systems from Tandy Corporation and Cromemco. He made early use of the word copyleft, in Palo Alto Tiny BASIC's distribution notice "@COPYLEFT ALL WRONGS RESERVED" in June 1976.

Homebrew Computer Club Computer hobbyist users group in California

The Homebrew Computer Club was an early computer hobbyist group in Menlo Park, California, which met from March 1975 to December 1986. The club played an influential role in the development of the microcomputer revolution and the rise of that aspect of the Silicon Valley information technology industrial complex.

Computer magazines are about computers and related subjects, such as networking and the Internet. Most computer magazines offer advice, some offer programming tutorials, reviews of the latest technologies, and advertisements.

<i>Dr. Dobbs Journal</i>

Dr. Dobb's Journal (DDJ) was a monthly magazine published in the United States by UBM Technology Group, part of UBM. It covered topics aimed at computer programmers. When launched in 1976, DDJ was the first regular periodical focused on microcomputer software, rather than hardware. In its last years of publication, it was distributed as a PDF monthly, although the principal delivery of Dr. Dobb's content was through the magazine's website. Publication ceased at the end of 2014, with the archived website continuing to be available online.

The Open Letter to Hobbyists is a 1976 open letter written by Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, to early personal computer hobbyists, in which Gates expresses dismay at the rampant software piracy taking place in the hobbyist community, particularly with regard to his company's software.

<i>Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution</i> 1984 non-fiction book by Steven Levy

Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (ISBN 0-385-19195-2) is a book by Steven Levy about hacker culture. It was published in 1984 in Garden City, New York by Nerraw Manijaime/Doubleday. Levy describes the people, the machines, and the events that defined the Hacker Culture and the Hacker Ethic, from the early mainframe hackers at MIT, to the self-made hardware hackers and game hackers.

Digital Systems Inc., Seattle, USA, between 1966 and 1979 an accounting service and technology development company founded by John Q. Torode. The company was reorganized into the microcomputer design and development company Digital Microsystems, Inc. (DMS), Oakland, USA, founded in 1979. In 1984, it was sold to the new UK operation Digital Microsystems Ltd. (DML) and finally ended its US operations in 1986. Without Torode, Digital Microsystems Ltd.'s product HiNet was sold to Apricot Computers Plc in 1987. In 1986, Torode founded a new company, IC Designs, Inc., based partly on Theodore "Ted" H. Kehl's VLSI technology at the University of Washington (UW), which was bought by Cypress Semiconductor Corp. in 1993.

Users group

A users' group is a type of club focused on the use of a particular technology, usually computer-related.

<i>Computer Lib/Dream Machines</i>

Computer Lib/Dream Machines is a 1974 book by Ted Nelson, printed as a two-front-cover paperback to indicate its "intertwingled" nature. Originally self-published by Nelson, it was republished with a foreword by Stewart Brand in 1987 by Microsoft Press.

Jim Warren (computer specialist) American computer businessman

Jim Warren was an American mathematics and computing educator, computer professional, entrepreneur, editor, publisher and continuing sometime activist.

.EXE Magazine was a monthly computer software magazine published in the United Kingdom from 1986 to 2000.

Dennis Allison is a lecturer at Stanford University, a position he has held since 1976.

Bob Albrecht is a key figure in the early history of microcomputers. He was one of the founders of the People's Computer Company and its associated newsletters which turned into Dr. Dobb's Journal. He also brought the first Altair 8800 to the Homebrew Computer Club and was one of the main supporters of the effort to make Tiny BASIC a standard on many early machines. Albrecht has authored a number of books on BASIC and other computer topics. He is mentioned as one of the "who's who" in Steven Levy's Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution.

Level I BASIC is a dialect of the BASIC programming language that shipped with the first TRS-80, the TRS-80 Model I.

BASIC interpreter Interpreter that enables users to enter and run programs in the BASIC language

A BASIC interpreter is an interpreter that enables users to enter and run programs in the BASIC language and was, for the first part of the microcomputer era, the default application that computers would launch. Users were expected to use the BASIC interpreter to type in programs or to load programs from storage.


  1. 1 2 Levy, Steven (2010). "Chapter 8: Revolt in 2100". Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (25th anniversary ed.). Sebastopol, CA, USA: O'Reilly Media, Inc. ISBN   978-1-449-38839-3.
  2. 1 2 People's Computer Company; People's Computers; Recreational Computing. CHM. Retrieved 2020-04-04.
  3. Swaine, Michael (January 2006). "Dr. Dobb's Journal @ 30". Dr. Dobb's Journal . Vol. 31, no. 1. p. 18. #380. Retrieved 2020-01-14.
  4. [ dead link ]
  5. Levy, Steven (1984). Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution (1 ed.). Anchor Press/Doubleday. ISBN   0-385-19195-2.