Can you use a BBC Micro as your main computer?

Well, the short answer is no, (but I have been trying)...

For a computer to be of any use, I figure that it must be able to do the following well:

  • Connect to the Internet and have a fast, secure browser.
  • Provide applications for work flow.
  • Provide applications for playing media files.
We'll look at these in turn, but first some information about the BBC Microcomputer.

A Graphical User Interface for the Beeb

The BBC micro, (or 'Beeb') was an 8-bit microcomputer commissioned by the BBC and built by Acorn in 1981. It was highly popular in education in the UK and survives today in the hands of enthusiasts such as myself. If you need to get your beeb 'fix' then there are a number of emulators available, including browser-based, and desktop (I recommend BeebEm). There is, however, nothing like running a vintage machine for the full experience. I recommend Retroclinic for all your BBC computer needs, including the datacentre (more about that later).

The Internet

While Acorn produced Econet, their own version of LAN connectivity for the BBC microcomputer, in the modern world this is not going to get you very far. It is possible to connect a modem to a BBC micro computer, however you must keep in mind that this machine was build before the World Wide Web was invented. You will be very disappointed if you need to upload your duck faces to Instagram on a beeb. You will find that you must keep your Twitter-rants to yourself and it will be virtually impossible to see what everyone is having for dinner on Facebook.

As a main computer, the BBC micro falls at the first hurdle. This was a pre-Internet machine and sadly, you will need a modern computer to experience the modern Internet.

That should be enough to kill anyone's dreams of using the BBC micro as a main computer, however there are two other critical points of failure:

Work flow

Whatever your job, business or hobby, you will likely need to run some Office software, or other such desktop publishing or productivity tools. If these are mission-critical to you, then switching to a 35-year old computer is not an option. The Beeb doesn't fall flat completely, however. Most BBC computers were packing work-flow software, and although they seem primitive now, you can get stuff done. My BBC Master computer has a word processor, spreadsheet and text editor built into ROM, and thanks to the Retroclinic datacentre it is possible to transfer files from the beeb onto my Windows 10 PC.

That being said, and despite having some, albeit ancient productivity tools, the beeb cannot replace my PC as a productivity machine (however I will talk about what it CAN do later).

Media center

I am currently typing away on a modern laptop, and streaming music on a chromebook which is plugged into my amplifier. I have a library of music, movies and photographs stretching back nearly two decades stored on a network drive, and if any computer is going to be my main computer, then it will need to handle my entertainment needs. For a while, I used a Raspberry Pi as my main music jukebox, although I now use Microsoft's Groove app. Whatever your media needs, your BBC microcomputer is not going to do it. 8 bit machines simply do not have the codecs required to play audio and other media files. Although digital cameras were available for the BBC, they are nothing compared to their modern counterparts.

So, it seems like the BBC computer cannot be used as a main computer. 

If, however, you accept these limitations, then the beeb still has a lot going for it. In the rest of this post I shall talk about some of the cool things my beeb does for me.


My computer is a Master series with 128K RAM and a second processor. The caps were replace about a year ago, so there is no danger of the power supply failing anytime soon. The battery for the CMOS RAM is also in good condition having been replace fairly recently. I have a dual-drive disk drive, however the main way of storing files is using the Retroclinic datacentre. This little device provides four virtual RAM disks, a small non-volatile 64K RAM disk and it also has 2GB compact-flash cards which provide four 500MB hard disk drives. There is a USB flash drive sticking out of the front storing literally hundreds of disk images which can be transferred into RAM in just a few seconds.

My microcomputer has 'pride of place' on my desk and supports a 32 inch monitor. When I first got it I promised myself that I would use it as an 'everyday' machine in order to justify its position on the desk.

I often use the BBC as a notebook. The EDIT program built into ROM is always available, and I use this to write notes to myself as well as my diary and other documents. I didn't go as far as writing this blog post on it, however I just realised that I could have done, and now I wish I had. I also use the spreadsheet program to help manage my accounts, as well as other diverse tasks including calculating the most cost effective pizza as well as helping calculate options in online games. The Beeb performs all of these tasks admirably and there really is no need for a modern computer. I am waiting for the time a colleague requests some trivial or not critical information from me, expecting an email, but instead, as I am a mischievous soul I will provide them with a text file on a portable USB disk drive. Mwah ha ha ha HAAAA!

Although the BBC was not well-know for it's games, this computer did have an extensive library of titles available for it, and the beeb was no slouch when it came to graphics and sound, for it's time. Most games are available to download online from such sites as Stairway to Hell. The best experience can be had from games with a focus on gameplay rather than graphics. Classic games such as chess, backgammon, connect-four, patience, solitaire, UNO, Yahtzee, NIM, Mastermind, draughts, reversi and cribbage all work very well on a BBC. There really is no need for a modern PC to play these games as the beeb will be a very challenging opponent.

Being beaten at Minesweeper on the Beeb (again).
Armies of programmers have over the years written countless applications for the beeb. I often trawl through the disk images that came with magazines in the eighties to find apps that are still useful today.

Here is an app for finding the next few phases of the moon.

This app calculates the dates of future eclipses and even shows a graphic of what the Earth's shadow will look like over the moon.
Okay, it's not quite Google Earth...

The beeb has a (very good) version of BASIC held in ROM. For this reason it is very easy to write your applications for the beeb. You can read about my early attempts here. I currently have applications for telling me the time and date, as well as useful stopwatches, countdowns and alarms (yes, I use it to help me cook my dinner). I have a perpetual calendar application and a calculator. All of which get regular use. I am currently working on a dictionary program.

My very useful calendar/clock app.
So, in summary, can you use a BBC microcomputer as your main computer? No, but it does make a very handy, and tremendously fun second computer.

If you are still awake and for some reason you liked this post then you might like to read about my other BBC micro posts, or even my adventures with the Raspberry Pi. Perhaps you just want to know how many floppy disks would be needed to store all of Google Maps?

Either way, I hope you liked this post. Please come back soon for more geeky stuff.