• Jérôme Lefranc owns around a hundred period computers, of 40 models, all very different.

  • This engineer is passionate about the "explosion of inventiveness" of microcomputing in the 80s, before a certain standardization of hardware.

Old computers, joysticks, cassettes or diskettes… Until December 17, an exhibition visible at the Basse-Goulaine media library, near Nantes, immerses visitors in the beginnings of microcomputing.

All the exhibits have been lent by Jérôme Lefranc, a passionate collector of retrocomputing and resident of the town.

Little guided tour with this 54-year-old engineer, in

Back to the Future

mode .

How long has your passion for computers started?

I discovered this universe in the mid-80s with my first computer, the Thomson MO5.

We retrieved programs from paper magazines, such as


, and copied the lines patiently with the keyboard to create games.

On the consoles of the time, like the Atari 2600 or Pong, they were really very rudimentary, whereas on the computer, they were a little more advanced and above all, you could easily create them yourself.

Like me, many teenagers have discovered a vocation for computing this way.

What did computers look like back then?

They didn't have a screen, because it was too expensive: they therefore took the form of a large block with the keyboard, which had to be connected to the television using the scart interface.

To keep the programs and games, there was no hard drive but tape cassettes, which were slipped into a drive.

It was not very reliable and rather slow to load, but much cheaper than a floppy disk drive.

You could connect a controller, like this rather rustic joystick, or even a light pen, the ancestor of the mouse.

You put the tip directly on the screen, like a stylus!

You had to keep your arm up, and it wasn't very precise.

You own a hundred machines launched in the 80s, including 40 very different models…

What I find very interesting in this period is this explosion of inventiveness.

Many manufacturers have started to produce computers, with limited capacities of course, but all very original.

In 1981, it cost 7,000 francs for a Thomson TO7, the very first French computer.

But with the competition, the price quickly fell: the following year arrived the Sinclair ZX81 which was less than 1,000 francs, if you assembled it yourself.

The graphics were black and white and it had very little memory.

But it was a way for families who wanted to discover computers.

How have these materials evolved over time?

This great explosion lasted until 87 when the crash of microcomputers occurred.

The problem is that there were a lot of competitors with computers that were all incompatible with each other, even on the same brand.

Then came the Japanese game consoles, superior in terms of music, graphics and much less expensive.

And in 88, the advent of what are called PC-compatible computers, which all looked the same: a beige casing, a beige keyboard, a cathode-ray screen.

The first microcomputers quickly became obsolete and sold cheaply via free newspapers.

I even found some in the recycling centers!

I wanted to preserve this computer heritage, to show them from time to time.

Forty years later, most still work.

Can you tell us about some models from your collection?

I own a number of computers made in France.

The most well-known brand is Thomson, which won the call for tenders for the “Computer plan for all” launched in 1985 by Laurent Fabius, the Prime Minister at the time, to equip schools with computer equipment.

But there was also ExelVision in Sofia Antipolis which produced infrared equipment, or Matra-Hachette, near Strasbourg.

I can also tell you about the first Atari portable PC compatible, in 89. It's a bit like the ancestor of organizers, you put your phone book, notes... There's a "fun fact", it's that seen in

Terminator 2

, when John Connor hacks an ATM.

I also own the first portable computer released in 1982. It is a Japanese product (Epson) with a very small LCD screen, a battery, and even a built-in thermal printer!


From "Stranger Things" to "Cobra Kai" and "Top Gun", why do your teenagers dream so much of the 1980s?

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A visit on December 17

For those who want to go further and live in the Nantes region, Jérôme Lefranc offers the public a presentation of his collection on Saturday December 17 from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m., at the René Guy Cadou media library.


  • high tech

  • Nantes

  • Pays de la Loire

  • Exposure

  • Computer

  • computer