Compute! Magazine

Ah, the life of a nerd in the 1980s. Days sitting in front of a home computer typing strings of information in, just for the hope of some simple output. Back then, inputting was half the fun.

Magazines… for software delivery?

That’s right kids, back in the 1980s if you wanted an app, you had to type it in. And while a lot of software was available on cartridge, disk, or tape, those tended to be expensive. Simple apps came via a magazine.

This is just one part of a multi-page story detailing an app to help you manage income property. The goal was that you would type in every single line, with no typos, and then hopefully it would work.

Yep, this is what we did for fun.

The world of BASIC

The key to making your 1980s computer work was BASIC. The “Beginners’ All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code” was created in the late 1960s as a way to teach people how to program computers. By the 1970s it had become the de facto way to get your home computer to do anything, thanks to a small company called Microsoft.

The page above was in BASIC, and if you were around back then you can probably get a little idea of what it did.

Every version of BASIC was slightly different, so typing in stuff from magazines really involved mentally translating on the fly.

Your source for free apps

One of the best sources for free, type-it-in-yourself, apps, was Compute! magazine. It started as a short leaflet mostly focusing on the Commodore computers, but expanded to cover all the major computers of the day. It hit a sweet spot where it was just technical enough for nerdy young folks and not so technical that you needed an engineering degree. And if you remember it at all, it’s probably with a smile on your face.

You can revisit all those old issues of Compute on your PC thanks to archive.org, the Internet Wayback Machine. Take a look at their library of scanned magazines and I guarantee you’ll be hooked. It probably won’t be enough to make you start typing in BASIC programs again, but even just looking at the ads is pretty cool.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 6,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.