The Christmas Rush is about to start again. So-called industry commentators are beginning to predict another record selling season for the retailers — but this year it seems the emphasis will be on software rather than hardware.

Not surprising, really — there’s an awful lot of people who’ve got the basic hardware they need to get to grips with computing, all they need is the software to complete the package. Entertainment is the name of the game in home computing nowadays.

There have been several attempts at marketing utility programs — home utilities rather than machine code utilities — and they have all fizzled out, or continued as rather quaint, non-mainstream products. It seems that no-one is terribly interested in using their computer to run the household menu, and other ‘useful’ applications of the home computer are just too much grief to set up and maintain. What on earth is the point of keeping track of your personal bank account on a Spectrum for instance, when you can do 98% of the analysis on the cheque stubs? And no-one in their right mind is going to keep their telephone or address books on computer — what a pain having to switch on the computer and load in a file just to get Auntie Doris’s telephone number. With an indexed book, the whole process takes a fraction of the time. Sadly, we will have to wait for much more sophisticated hardware before the computerised household becomes a reality.

And Educational software hasn’t really caught on. Most home computers were no doubt bought by (or conned out of) parents who believed that the purchase of a computer would open wide new educational horizons for the whole family. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be a vast amount of money to be made flogging educational software and it no longer attracts much in the way of serious attention from any of the major software producers. Again, a little sad because the computer has so much to offer educationally. But then the Government’s commitment to computer education has been pitifully inadequate.

It’s quite clear that the future of home computing lies firmly in the field of entertainment, and will do so for quite a while yet. And the quality of entertainment that the computer can now offer is really quite stunning, given the advances in software design and coding techniques. Lots of excellent games are now available on the Spectrum, and more are coming weekly. There’s no shortage of willing customers, either....

People’s attitudes to home computers have changed, and the shift in emphasis has been reflected by changes in the magazine publishing world. The general titles, covering a whole range of computers are apparently in something of a decline and titles concentrating on a technical approach seem to be having a bit of a lean time. Quite a few magazines that were doing very well a year or so ago, no longer exist.

The only people who haven’t really caught on, are the members of the traditional entertainment media. There’s a lot of gibberish still being written about computers and computing, in the pages of even the more weighty newspapers and Television is still preoccupied with coo gosh wow, stories or technobabble rather than concentrating on the entertainment value of computing. But then these media are in competition with computers, competing for people’s leisure time.

All this may well upset the computer “purists”, who feel that such wondrous technology is being vastly under utilised — or trivialised with adventures and shoot em ups. Poo to them. A fairly sound entertainment industry is now developing in this country, producing high quality entertainment packages on computer cassette. Few other industries have done so well over the last couple of years.

Few other industries have been so much fun, either, which may upset the computer puritans even more.