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West Coast Computer Faire




A demo of Visicalc at the 1979 West Coast Computer Faire



What Woodstock was to rock music, the West Coast Computer Faire was to the formative years of the microcomputer. The first West Coast Computer Faire saw the debut of the Apple II, theTRS-80, and the PET.


It was begun in 1977 in San Francisco by Jim Warren. Warren was a member of the legendary Homebrew Computer Club and the first editor of Dr. Dobb's Journal (or as it was known at the time Dr. Dobbs' Journal of Computer Calisthenics and Orthodontia: Running Lite without Overbyte). He attended an early microcomputer convention in Atlantic City in 1976. He concluded it was the right convention, just held on the wrong coast. Most of the exhibitors in Atlantic City were really California-based companies.


The following year Warren hatched the first West Coast Computer Faire. It ran from April 15 to April 17, 1977. The "faire" was, of course, in keeping with Warren's penchant for the archaically dramatic. The Bay Area's Renaissance Faire was all the rage in the late '70s and Warren wanted to imitate it. As chairman of the event, he had himself listed in the program guided as "Jim Warren, Faire Chaire".


The historic first Faire was almost a no-go. The original exhibition hall was on the Stanford grounds. Stanford cancelled on Warren, claiming they needed the hall for a student event. Scrambling to find another location, his only option was to lease the San Francisco Civic Auditorium. Unfortunately, that went for $13K a day. Warren made not much more than $4,000 a year as editor. That sort of money was beyond him if the Faire tanked. He decided to risk it, figuring if 3,000 people turned out, he would manage to break even. In reality, 13,000 people -- four times his best estimate --showed up. Lines were so long it took an hour to get inside the auditorium


The Faire continued along for several more years, with attendance growing geometrically each year. Warren's exuberance at the Faire was legendary. He was frequently seen roller-skating around the venue, going from booth to booth. His roll of the dice paid off large for him. The '77 Faire alone made Warren several hundred thousand dollars. Not bad for a weekend of work. In 1983, growing tired (an apparently gaining a huge amount of weight... having to attend so many different parties and buffets), Warren sold the rights to the Faire to Prentice-Hall publishing company for $3 million. Warren invested the money in a personal magazine publishing empire, starting such publications as InfoWorld.


Attending the '77 Faire was a brilliant strategic move for Apple. Apple was then still largely a garage operation. Jobs and company realized the trick was to make themselves appear bigger than they actually were. They had the slickest booth and the slickest brochures at Faire, much in contrast to the amateurish booths of hobbyist. People stood up and took notice of Apple based on their booth. Apple's logo was designed for that fair as well. Previous to the '77 Faire, the company logo featured a picture of Newton sitting under an apple tree.


Other exhibitors at the '77 Faire were IMSAI, MITS, Digital Research, and Byte Publications. Another historical first for the Faire: In '79, VisiCalc was shown for the first time to the computing public.


-- Karl Mamer






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