The Virtual House



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John Lewis shop assistant demonstrating the latest home computer in 1983
Home computers in 1983 - click to enlarge

Five or ten years ago, homework was still a thing schoolchildren did using pen and paper. Nowadays, many students do some of their homework on computers.

Computers are used in every part of our lives – in homes, schools, businesses, shops, science, industry and transport. We use them to play games, draw graphs, keep records, forecast the weather, fly planes and keep in touch with family and friends.

A computer is an electronic device that handles all kinds of information. It stores information, or data, in its memory. It then processes the data by following a set of instructions called a program. The part of the computer that carries out the instructions is called the processor, or central processing unit (CPU). The memory and CPU are made up of microchips.

Colossus, completed in 1943, was an early British-built computer. As long as four buses, it was used to decipher codes created by the German machine, Enigma. The first electronic computer was ENIAC made in 1946 at the University of Pennsylvania in America. It took up the floor space of an average house, but was only as powerful as a modern pocket computer.

The latest I-Mac computer avilable at the John Lewis Store
An I-Mac computer (2004)

Before the 1990s, computers were rarely seen outside big offices, factories, universities or military bases.

Apart from their cost, the problem for domestic consumers was that computers looked like ugly square lumps of office furniture. Ever since the early days of office machinery, when the United States Army was one of the world’s biggest buyers, computers had been made in regulation beige, or grey. Now that people wanted to have them in their homes, designers had to rethink.

Apple led the way in the late 1990s with a new range of fun and colourful computers for the home and office. The bright, shiny colours of the plastic were borrowed from boiled sweets.

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