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Computer History Museum reviews

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I wanted to promote this one because the Computer History Museum, an unique project just a few miles up the road from me in Mountain View, California, is reopening this week (January 2011) after a complete refit at the cost of $19 million. It all began back in 1975 as a display in a closet, but now occupies a 25,000 foot gallery with more than a thousand exibits. You might give pride of place to the Cray-1A, once coveted and protected by government agencies as the fastest machine in the world. Or the Difference Engine 2, an accurate reproduction of the original machine designed by Charles Babbage in the 19th century.

The new museum is a huge step up from the earlier presentation of the collection, which was more attractive to technology geeks and those in the know, than to the general public. Now, the entire history of computing - all 2000 years of it - is on show, along with many examples of the local inventions cooked up here in Silicon Valley.

The website is informative in several fields, and although it takes a certain fortitude to face "The History of FORTRAN" and some solid geek credentials to be attracted to the 250 assorted equipment marketing brochures, there's a much wider range of articles here if you dig around enough. That's one of my complaints, to be honest: it's just not dumbed-down enough yet. Modern museums recognize the need to catch the attention of an uncommitted online viewer within those magical few seconds before they wander away to look at something else, and that's not happening for me here, yet. There will be many interested in the history of computer chess, for sure, but of all the people interested in the broader tale of the computer gaming industry only a tiny percentage are likely to expect to find only chess on offer under the heading of "Mastering The Game". Pong, at least, please.

If you can't make it to the museum itself, though, the site will give you some idea of what's being developed there. Whether you think a Cray is ever going to be a genuine antique, or that an early Apple Mac could really be worth thousands already, your kids should get an idea of the history behind the games consoles that occupy so much of their lives. I just wish the site would be more kid-friendly and less museum-like, but it's early days.

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