Could Maggie have stopped Microsoft?

Margaret Thatcher’s first year as Prime MInister was marked by the release of Clive Sinclair’s ZX80 personal computer followed shortly by the BBC Micro. Within two years the Department of Education and Science had introduced its...

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Margaret Thatcher’s first year as Prime MInister was marked by the release of Clive Sinclair’s ZX80 personal computer followed shortly by the BBC Micro.

Within two years the Department of Education and Science had introduced its Microelectronics Education Programme which resulted in schools being offered the BBC Micro, the ZX Spectrum or Research Machines’ RM380z which was already a de-facto standard in London schools.

By 1986 in Cambridge the ARM chip development methodology was emerging from the Acorn computers for schools via its super-fast RISC OS. By 1990 IT was formally incorporated into the 1988 National Curriculum and coincided with the launch of Berners-Lee’s whizzo Web idea which took advantage of a telecom network that no longer relied on tin cans and pieces of string having been privatised in 1984.

Computers made in Britain, programed in Britain by British engineers for British pupils: a golden age ... no one tell UKIP

Then her reign came to an abrupt end in 1990, spookily coinciding with Microsoft’s first significant microcomputer foray into UK schools with Windows 3.0. By 1995 Tony Blair was leader of the Opposition, IT in schools was renamed ICT and Windows 95 had been launched at BETT.

By 1997 Tony was in power, BECTA was in charge, and the first Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Microsoft was signed. ICL our last big British school supplier of microcomputers was finally bought out by Fujitsu in 1990 having been supported by Government finance for nearly a decade.

The rest, as they say, is history.

No one in the seven hours of ‘debate’ on the former PM in Parliament acknowledged how much school IT owes to the last and indeed only science-trained Prime MInister. Maybe like Eric Schmidt Google’s boss, they think British computing stopped with Alan Turing shortly after WWII and long before WWW.

At least now we have the Pi, a British computer designed by British engineers for British pupils, it’s a start.

In any case, just for the record, the 80s were an exciting time to be in the sunny, rich south of England experiencing the potential of personal computing for the very first time, whatever your politics

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