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From the IBM PC Onwards

In June, 1980, IBM announced the Displaywriter, a word processor that was powered by the Intel 8086 chip; it used 8-inch floppy disks, and some companies released software for it that let it perform computing functions instead of only word processing. It was considerably more expensive than the IBM PC, based on the version of that chip with an 8-bit data bus, the 8088, would later be, but then, that is normal in the computer business, and indeed the IBM PC was a project done in great secrecy by a small, independent group, so the Office Products Division, of which the Displaywriter was a product, would not even have been aware of it. The Displaywriter is pictured below:

It was made with the same build quality as IBM's mainframe products; the keyboard, for example, was the same beam spring type as found in such terminals as the 3277 Display Station, or in the IBM 5100 Portable Computer, as opposed to the less expensive buckling spring keyboard used in the IBM PC.

Incidentally, however, the buckling spring keyboard was not developed for the IBM PC. Just as it used a monitor with the same styling (if not the exact same monitor) as the Displaywriter, the buckling spring keyboard had been previously developed for another IBM product, the IBM System/23 Datamaster computer, pictured below. (The picture is one released into the public domain, available from Wikipedia. If not for it, I might have used one with a Creative Commons license by Marvin Wichary, author of an upcoming book about the keyboards of typewriters and computers.)

That appears to have been a replacement or successor to the 5110-3 processor from the IBM 5120 system, pictured below for comparison:

The IBM 5120, as would be suspected from looking at the layout of its keyboard, and from its model number, was a successor to the IBM 5100 portable computer.

This image was also released into the public domain by its author; it is from the Deskthority wiki, Deskthority being a web site for mechanical keyboard enthusiasts.

The IBM 5100, of course, was well-known following its introduction. Its sucessor, the 5110, also was not obscure, but I've read that the IBM 5120 is quite a scarce machine, having been available for only a short time. I would suspect that the same is also true of the System/23 Datamaster, which eclipsed it, partly because the Datamaster, which cost $9,000, used an Intel 8085 8-bit processor as its CPU; it used 256 kilobytes of RAM with the aid of external bank-switching circuitry. The 8085 ran at a frequency of 4.77 MHz to facilitate the operation of the Datamaster's video circuitry, so the IBM PC copied more than its keyboard.

That the Datamaster was infoerior to the IBM PC, which had a 16-bit 8088 as its CPU, and the ability to have up to 640 kilobytes of RAM, would not, by itself, have condemned the System/23 Datamaster to obscurity. After all, technology marches on. The fact that the IBM PC was announced in the next month after the Datamaster became available, however, was the other part of the reason I expect it to have been a failed product.

I'm almost surprised that IBM didn't make a variant of the IBM PC that used the Datamaster case as an upgrade path for Datamaster users. (Actually, as a free upgrade for everyone who had taken delivery of a Datamaster, and something to offer as a substitute for existing orders, and as a new upgrade path for 5120 users that had not yet upgraded.)

But then, there is no real reason to make a PC look like a Datamaster in order for it to replace a Datamaster; and the Datamaster had value because it was provided with software and peripherals sufficient to make it a working small-business system for accounting and word processing. Originally, too, the Datamaster was expected to have been available a year earlier than it was; problems with converting BASIC from the IBM System/34 to the 8085 were the cause of that, and the Wikipedia page on the Datamaster credits this for IBM's decision to use Microsoft BASIC on the IBM PC.

Back to the Mass Market

The TRS-80 color computer, pictured below, which used the advanced Motorola 6809 processor, an 8-bit processor with a hardware multiply instruction, was introduced in September, 1980, another entry in the second generation of 8-bit home computers.

Originally, it had square keys with space between them, but without any fuss, a revised version was brought out with a keyboard of more conventional appearance; as well, the color of the case was changed from silver to white. Both versions are pictured above.

The Commodore VIC-20 began life in Japan in 1980, and was introduced to the rest of the world in 1981; it too made computers more affordable, but it had a "real" keyboard and it displayed text and graphics in color, admittedly with only 22 characters per line of text, on the TV set to which it was connected.

The illustration above is from an early advertisement, with the name "VIC 20" being on a colorful decal, not present on production units. Note that the letters on the keys are wide; this is how they appeared on earlier production units, although later ones had narrow letters like those of the Commodore 64. The Commodore 64 had a body that was grey in color instead of cream, and it was not quite as thick, but its appearance was very similar to that of the VIC-20.

Although the original Commodore PET, the VIC-20, and the Commodore 64 all used a 6502 microprocessor, and shared many similarities of design, none of them could run their predecessor's software.

Also in 1980, for $20,000, which at the time was a low price for a computer that could run UNIX, the C8002 computer was introduced by Onyx Systems. This was one of the earlier systems, as well as one of the few systems, which used the Zilog Z8000 microprocessor.

The image shown at right is from an advertisement; it shows the system with the top removed to show its inner workings, and even with the top removed from its hard disk drive as well.

March 1981 was when the ZX81 was introduced in Britain. This was a complete small computer which was extremely inexpensive. It is illustrated below:

Since it only had a small membrane panel keyboard, extensive typing on it would of course be difficult. This was addressed by designing its BASIC interpreter to interpret single keypresses as entering entire keywords at appropriate times, as can be seen from this illustration of the keyboard:

The design of the ZX81 was similar to that of its predecessor, the ZX80. However, it was able to be sold at a lower cost, despite having more memory, because while the ZX80 was built from off-the-shelf parts, the ZX81 made use of semi-custom chips. This was a very new technology at the time, available from Ferranti, a British company with a long history, including significant milestones in the computer field.

Sadly, a few years later, Ferranti would disappear, due to being the victim of a fraud; they purchased an American defense contractor, International Signal and Control, which appeared to be profitable, but once they acquired it, it started to lose money badly instead. This was because, unbeknownst to them, before the acquisition, it was profitable because it engaged in illegal international arms sales. Those responsible were caught and prosecuted, but money could not be recovered to recoup what Ferranti had lost.

In April, 1981, Commodore Business Machines announced their SuperPET, model SP9000.

This computer included a 6809 microprocessor in addition to the 6502 microprocessor of the other Commodore PET computers. This allowed it to use Waterloo microFORTRAN, Waterloo microPascal, and Waterloo microAPL, as well as Waterloo microBASIC and an assembler, an editor, and an operating system. It included a three-position switch, so that it could operate as a 6502-only system, a 6809-only system, or have the ability to switch between processors under program control; it had to be booted in 6809-only mode to use the Waterloo software, and it could also be booted in 6502-only mode to use software for 8000 series PETs.

As a computer system which allowed the use of mainframe-like languages, it was a product which generated excitement and interest at the time.

The IBM Personal Computer

And then came the IBM PC, which was announced on August 12, 1981.

When it was announced, various brands of 8080 and Z-80 based computers running the CP/M operating system were well established in the market. While many systems using the same CP/M operating system were made by different manufacturers, they weren't fully compatible with each other; for example, they used different floppy disk formats. One of the most popular CP/M based computers, the Osborne I, had an even more serious incompatibility, it had a display that was 56 characters wide instead of 80 characters wide.

This made buying software for these computers more complicated.

As the IBM Personal Computer used a different processor, one with a 16-bit architecture instead of an 8-bit architecture, of course it wasn't compatible with those machines. However, its operating system, PC-DOS, very closely resembled CP/M in its repertoire of commands. One improvement was that the command to copy a file from one disk to another was COPY in PC-DOS, whereas it was PIP in CP/M.

PIP stood for Peripheral Interchange Program; one can't criticize Microsoft too severely for copying the commands of CP/M without noting that Digital Research copied their commands... which PIP served to indicate as the 'smoking gun'... from OS/8, an operating system for the PDP-8 system produced by the Digital Equipment Corporation.

Also, the 8086 architecture was influenced by that of Intel's earlier product, the 8080, and this made it easier for companies that were selling software for CP/M-based microprocessors to make versions for the IBM PC. Thus, it was not long after the introduction of the IBM PC that one could get dBase II for it and Wordstar for it, for example.

Some people claim that the IBM name was the only thing that made the IBM Personal Computer an immediate and huge success. I do think that it helped, but I also think that this view ignores the real foundation for that computer's success.

The IBM name did mean that people had confidence that this computer would continue to be available for a while, and so a good selection of software would continue to be available for it. This is very important, since for most users, the available pool of software is what determines the value of a computer. Some might decry the fact that computer buyers have a "herd mentality", only considering the most popular systems, but this is why they are acting rationally in this respect. And while CP/M based systems often had varying disk formats, the IBM PC defined one single standard, making it easy to get software.

As noted, it helped that the IBM PC resembled the previous industry standard, the CP/M based microcomputer, enough to make switching to it, and developing software for it, easier.

While the IBM PC was certainly more expensive than many other computers sold at the time, a number of CP/M-based microcomputers were equally expensive.

And while CP/M-based microcomputers either had a 64K memory size, or a 128K memory size achieved through adding special hardware to switch memory banks, the IBM PC could be expanded to 640K of memory. This, in itself, made it significantly more powerful; the fact that its CPU was a 16-bit processor rather than an 8-bit processor, of course, also gave it considerably increased power.

Although the 8088 chip in the IBM PC was a 5 MHz part, the computer used a 4.77 MHz clock to simplify the design of its video display circuitry. The IBM PC was expensive enough so that its initial success was with business users, although, as noted, it was still a bargain compared to many CP/M systems designed for business use that were equally expensive, but the CGA display card for it produced an output compatible with North American NTSC television standards, and it was available without floppy disk drives, as it had a port on the back for a special cassette tape drive (which still used the standard Philips audio Compact Cassette); thus, its design did have many aspects of that of a computer for personal home use.

In fact, some reviewers criticized the IBM PC because, in their opinion, IBM hadn't made up its mind who the computer was for; it was a computer with build quality adequate for the office, but not designed to the same standards as some IBM equipment the way the Displaywriter was, which would have driven up manufacturing costs, and hence the retail price of the computer, to a significant extent, and it could be purchased in a very basic configuration suitable primarily for home use. IBM's intent seems to have been to allow the market to make as much use as possible of the IBM PC, to help ensure its success and broad adoption.

The IBM PC was designed by a team of twelve engineers and one manager, working independently from the rest of IBM; this was not the usual way in which IBM products were designed, but it was realized that in order for the IBM PC to succeed in the highly competitive microcomputer field, it could not be held back by fears that it might undercut other IBM products. And perhaps I might also add "for example" and "among other things".

It was noted above that the Control Data 6600 was announced on August 23, 1963. On August 28, 1963, Thomas J. Watson Jr. sent a famous memo to several of the top managers at IBM in which he noted the need for a meeting to discuss how a much smaller company could have come out with the world's fastest computer instead of IBM having done so, particularly as the facility at which it was developed had a staff of 34 people - one of whom was the janitor, in contrast with IBM's "own vast development activities".

Seymour Cray is said to have quipped that in making this contrast, "It seems Mr. Watson has answered his own question".

Given the nature of the effort to design the IBM PC, it might fairly be said that at least in that case IBM demonstrated that it had learned its lesson, even if that lesson may not have been applied where it counted.

But while IBM may have failed to maintain control of the IBM PC platform, it was certainly right in realizing that the microcomputler field was going to be of vast importance. So they had applied their lesson where the stakes were highest, and the failure was later and in another area.

Also in 1981, the Fortune Systems Fortune 32:16 computer, pictured at right, was announced. As an early 68000-based machine, it was expensive; a floppy disk-based configuration was priced at $5000, but never actually sold. Also, apparently some revisions were required to ensure the machine worked properly. It was an ambitious design, being a multi-user system running the UNIX operating system. Eventually, this machine was used as the basis of the Micromega 32 from Thompson CSF in Europe; the Micromega 32 was significantly different in appearance.

Another 68000-based machine introduced in 1981 was the first workstation from Apollo, the Apollo DN100, pictured at right.

The Hewlett-Packard 9826 and 9836 computers are also said to have both been introduced in 1981. However, even in early 1982, the 9826 was advertised principally as a computer for use with instrumentation, with the 9845 shown as Hewlett-Packard's high-end desktop workstation.

These two computers are pictured below:

These computers offered similar computational capabilities, having a Motorola 68000 microprocessor as the CPU, and being capable of being expanded up to two megabytes of memory.

In addition to offering a second floppy disk drive, and a larger monitor, the 9836 could also offer color video on a color monitor, in 512 by 390 resolution. This was also the graphics resolution on the black-and-white version of the 9836. The 9826, on the other hand, had a graphics resolution of 400 by 300, and its text display showed 50 characters per line, rather than 80 as on the 9836.

These computers were known by different names over their lifetimes; initially the 9826 and 9836, then they became the Series 200, models 26 and 36, and then the Series 9000, models 226 and 236.

These 68000-based computers, brought ought early in the lifecycle of the 68000 microprocessor, show how it was initially regarded as a very impressively powerful device. Later, of course, we will see the Lisa and the Macintosh from Apple, and then the Atari ST and the Commodore Amiga, as prices of the 68000 chip come down, and it becomes used in more generally accessible systems.

Another very significant computer system was announced in December, 1981, although the first deliveries were delayed until 1982. The BBC Micro was a development of the Acorn Atom computer; one feature it added was a set of function keys. It was a 6502-based system; the ARM-based Acorn Archimedes would come later (and there would be later models of the BBC Micro based on this system as well).

The image above is from the Wikipedia Commons, graciously placed in the public domain by Stuart Brady.

The Commodore 64

The Commodore 64 was introduced in January 1982; with 64 K of memory, it competed with machines like the Apple II and the TRS-80, but at a lower price; it also competed with the Atari 400 and 800, and the Radio Shack Color Computer from 1980, which was based on Motorola's 6809 processor that featured multiplication in hardware.

Like the Commodore PET and VIC-20, and the Apple II, and the Atari 400 and 800 from 1979, it was based on the MOS Technology 6502; this chip was introduced after the Motorola 6800, and intended as a lower-cost competitor to it. Commodore used so many 6502 chips that it had purchased MOS Technology in 1976. The Commodore 64 was the successor to the VIC-20 from 1980, and had the same general shape as it, if a different color scheme; the case was beige instead of cream, and the letters on the keys were narrow instead of wide (although that was also true for later production of the VIC-20).

Also, while the Commodore 64 was hardly svelte, the VIC-20 was even thicker.

One of the things the Commodore 64 was known for was the SID chip which gave it impressive sound capabilities for the time. The fact that it offered a full 64K of memory (although some of it was not usable when running BASIC programs, since the ROM with BASIC had to be switched into the same address space) at a budget price made it the largest selling computer of its day.

In fact, the Guiness Book of World Records recognizes the Commodore 64 as the computer model of which the most units were ever sold; a conservative estimate of the total number sold is 12.5 million units.

I've recently noticed some discussions where some people have expressed sentiments indicating that the fact that the Commodore 64 was the best-selling computer of all time... was not enough for them. Why were people still buying Apple II computers? Why was it still considered the "standard" for a 6502-based computer?

This is a legitimate question to ask, but the Apple II did have some real advantages.

Thus, despite the fact that one could type lower-case on a Commodore 64 keyboard, despite the fact that it had graphics and sound capabilities far ahead of those of the Apple II, and despite it being much cheaper, the Apple II still had a niche.

And the principle that mindshare beats price/performance would be illustrated again in the later history of computers; the Amiga beat the Atari ST, which could have been understandable because of its greater graphics and video capabilities, but the Macintosh beat the Amiga. despite being more expensive and not having the special graphics features of the Amiga. The Macintosh was a 68000-based computer that arrived on the scene years before the Atari ST and the Amiga, and a 68020-based version of the Macintosh also came out years before the 68020-based versions of the Atari ST and the Amiga, so, naturally, that was one reason it had more software.

The Macintosh had time to establish itself as the standard for a 68000-based computer, and it was widely sold to business and professional users, while the Atari ST was pretty much only bought by home users, with the Amiga somewhat in between.

Clones in the 8-bit World

But while both the Atari 400 and 800 computers, and the Commodore VIC-20 and 64 had additional chips that gave them capabilities that the earlier Apple II lacked, because the Apple II was the first 6502-based home computer generally available, it had a very impressive selection of software available for it.

Thus, making a computer that could run Apple II software was a tempting idea, just as, later, computers imitated the IBM PC.

But clones of the IBM PC used a BIOS that was independently written which only duplicated the functionality of the BIOS of the IBM PC, and omitted the copy of Microsoft BASIC which was also included in ROM on the IBM PC, XT, and AT. This still allowed compatibility with nearly all IBM PC software; BASICA, indluded with PC-DOS, had to be replaced by GW-BASIC, included with MS-DOS, that did not make use of code in the ROM copy of BASIC on genuine IBM Personal Computers.

On the other hand, a clone of the Apple II would have to copy its entire ROM, including the BASIC interpreter. Obviously, that would be illegal!

In fact, of course, Apple II clones were made for a while. The reason why dates back to 1906, where the White-Smith Music Publishing Company lost a lawsuit for copyright infringement against the Apollo Company, which made rolls for player pianos.

That court case established the principle that copyright applied to works which were directly perceptible by humans. A player piano roll didn't let you hear the music unless you put it in a player piano, and it wasn't a practical substitute for sheet music either.

Thus, in the United States, phonograph records didn't have copyright protection until specific legislation providing it to them was passed in 1972.

Initially, therefore, it seemed that U.S. copyright law did not give protection to the computer programs included in the read-only memory chips within a computer or other electronic digital device.

On August 30, 1983, the Third Circuit court decided in favor of Apple Computer in a lawsuit against Franklin Computer, finally establishing that software on ROM chips could be protected by copyright.

The short-lived industry of Apple II clones was an interesting chapter in computer history. Some of them had quite attractive designs, giving them at least the appearance of high quality.

Thus, below, the BASIS 108, a German-made clone which also included a Z-80 processor, so that it could run CP/M as well, the aforementioned Franklin ACE, the LASER 128, and the AVT-2, an Apple clone made by a company in Switzerland, of all places, are pictured below:

The BASIS 108 has a styling inspired by the IBM PC and the EPSON QX-10, with a monitor having a styling isnpired by the Philco Predicta television set. The styling of the Franklin ACE is clearly inspired by that of the original Apple II, but with an upper- and lower- case keybaord and even a numeric keypad, and stylish curves. The LASER 128 has a styling clearly patterned after that of the Apple IIc, but again adding an upper- and lower- case keyboard with numeric keypad.

If I am going to discuss Apple clones, how can I forget the Spartan from Mimic Systems. This device was not a complete clone of the Apple II itself, but instead plugged into the back of your Commodore 64 to give it the additional capability of operating as a clone of the Apple II. It is pictured at right.

An attempt was actually made to make an Apple II without infringing on Apple's software in ROM, using a ROM called the EuroROM, in the same way that clones of the IBM Personal Computer were made. Instead of BASIC, this system offered FORTH, but machine language programs on disks for the Apple would be provided with the services they required from that ROM. That computer, the Orange+Two, is shown at left.

Clones of the TRS-80 were also made, with at least one of them, the Video Genie, pictured below, achieving some popularity in the United Kingdom.

It connected to a television, instead of requiring a monitor, and the cassette deck was conveniently built into the unit.

Another one was the LNW-80, made with a sheet metal chassis, a type of construction used in the SOL Terminal Computer, but generally avoided in mass-market computer systems afterwards for reasons of cost, pictured at left.

Pictured at right is a computer that wasn't really a clone, but might have been thought of as one, the Dragon 32. It was a relatively inexpensive computer, selling for just under £200 at the time. It was designed around the Motorola 6809E processor, and its circuitry followed closely the exmples and suggestions provided by Motorola for building a computer around that chip. As did the circuitry of the Radio Shack Color Computer.

Also, its BASIC interpreter had similar functionality to that of the Radio Shack Color Computer; it couldn't run Color Computer BASIC programs after they were tokenized, which is the normal form in which BASIC programs were saved, but it could run them if they were in ASCII text form.

The two computers weren't entirely compatible, but many machine code programs could run on both. I've seen it stated that a minor circuit modification could make the Color Computer fully compatible with the Dragon (excluding the differences in the BASIC interpreter in ROM), but, of course, there would be more interest in making the change the other way around.

The Microcomputer Story Continues

The Intel 80286 chip was introduced on February 1, 1982. It offered a "protected mode" of operation which allowed the use of 24-bit addressing. The original IBM System/360 computer had the same size of address, allowing access to 16 megabytes of main memory. It lacked the "virtual real mode" feature introduced on the 80386, however, and that meant there was no practical way to use the chip for an advanced operating system that could both use the increased amount of memory and still use all the popular software written to run on the IBM PC with the original addressing conventions of the 8086 architecture.

On March 31, 1982, the Olivetti M20 computer, pictured at right, was announced. This is perhaps the best known of the few computers which used the Zilog Z8000 16-bit microprocessor. It used an operating system proprietary to Olivetti, PCOS, which is one of the causes to which its lack of popularity was attributed.

I had previously not been able to obtain an image of this computer I could use which I felt to be of fully satisfactory quality; this one comes from an advertisement in a Japanese computer magazine, and thus the design of the keyboard may reflect this.

April 23, 1982 was when the ZX Spectrum was released in the UK market. As it offered color and sound, thus being more capable than the ZX81, to which it was a successor, it was very popular in the United Kingdom as a much less expensive alternative to such computers as the Apple, the Atari, the Commodore Vic 20, and so on.

Here is a picture of the ZX Spectrum:

And here is a picture of the Timex-Sinclair 2068, which was the version of the ZX Spectrum made available for the North American market; this computer was released only in November, 1983, and it incorporated some enhancements to the graphics and sound capabilities of the ZX Spectrum.

According to some sources, July 1982 is when the Timex-Sinclair 1000 computer was introduced, a home computer for those of modest means. It was identical to the Sinclair ZX 81 (introduced in March, 1981 in the United Kingdom, well before the ZX Spectrum later came out) except for the name on the case, as can be seen from the illustration below:

However, when I looked for images of the Timex-Sinclair 1000 in American computer magazines from August 1982 onwards, I found images of the ZX81, now offered for sale in the United States. I finally saw the Timex-Sinclair 1000 advertised instead in the December 1982 issues of computer magazines, so it's possible my sources had gotten the history a bit mixed up.

November 1982 is when the Compaq Portable, pictured at right, was announced, the first third-party computer that was fully compatible with the IBM PC. It was available for purchase on March, 1983. This required a great effort on their part to write a BIOS for their computer that was compatible with that of the IBM PC without being copied from it in violation of copyright; some later, but still early, clone makers were not careful enough in dealing with this issue.

Pictured below is the Hyperion, designed by a Canadian firm, which was one that fell afoul of this issue.

"Fully-compatible" clones of the IBM PC, however, were actually incompatible in one respect; they lacked a copy of Microsoft's cassette BASIC for the IBM PC in ROM. However, this was only used by the version of BASICA that came with PC-DOS; the version of the same operating system sold by Microsoft to owners of computers resembling the IBM PC, MS-DOS, came with GW-BASIC instead of BASICA, which was an equivalent interpreter, but not dependent on the ROM copy of a simpler version of BASIC.

MS-DOS was available in versions for 8086-based computers that were not completely compatible with the IBM PC, but as this led to problems in buying software for them similar to what existed in the CP/M era, the success of these machines was limited.

Also in 1982, IBM introduced a computer based on the 68000 processor. This computer is pictured at left. It was not a major success, and might be regarded as memorable only because it was based on the 68000 and also brought out by IBM.

And that is because when one thinks of the 68000, and its successors such as the 68020, one usually thinks of non-IBM computers, from the early Apollo workstations to the Lisa and the Macintosh, and the NeXT Cube, and then the Atari ST and the Amiga which were very much inspired by the Macintosh, while when one thinks of IBM, one thinks of the IBM PC and its successors, which used the 8088 and then the 80286, and then the 80386, and then the Pentium, and so on.

It was originally advertised simply as the new computer from IBM Instruments.

It was later designated the IBM CS-9000 and the IBM S9000, or as the IBM 9001 Benchtop Computer, as part of the line-up of computers in IBM's System 9000, which also included their IBM 9002 Desktop Computer.

The XENIX operating system, Microsoft's licensed implementation of UNIX for smaller computers (which Microsoft later sold to another company, which led to its becoming known as SCO Unix), was available for it as well as for IBM PC-compatible computers which had at least a 386 processor (IBM later had their own licensed implementation of UNIX for their mainframes, called AIX), but the standard operating system for these computers was CSOS.

The built-in printer of this computer was optional. As the computer was intended as a data acquisition system to go on a lab bench, that it had a somewhat ungainly appearance in the configuration shown was not an issue.

IBM wasn't the only computer to offer a microcomputer with a built-in printer. One notable example, pictured at right, was sold in the United States, and Italy as well, at least, by BMC. However, I've learned that it was actually made by Okidata, a Japanese company better known for printers, and sold in Japan as the IF 800 computer. As this computer was made for use in the office rather than the laboratory, it was designed to be attractive in appearance, which it is, but still the inclusion of a built-in printer still cannot help but make it somewhat ungainly.

This was an earlier system, using a Z/80 processor and offering CP/M.

In late 1982, Epson announced their QX-10 computer, pictured at right. Epson was best known as a maker of dot matrix printers, particularly because IBM initially sold an Epson printer as the printer for the IBM PC.

It originally shipped with the CP/M operating system; later, to cut costs, a compatible imitation of CP/M by the name of TPM-III was used.

However, its main selling point was VALDOCS. This was an all-in-one application that essentially took the place of an office suite, but behaved in such a way that it appeared to be the computer's operating system, and indeed, advertising for the system mentioned VALDOCS but not CP/M.

The keyboard of the unit was especially designed for use with VALDOCS, and is illustrated below:

Note that this keyboard replaces several characters normally found on a computer keyboard with those that would be found on a typewriter, or word processor, keyboard instead. Of course, the name VALDOCS was no doubt intended to reassure the customer that the computer would take good care of his valuable documents. This computer was intended to be attractive to people who were looking for a unit that was designed to be especially easy to use. Of course, it wouls be the Macintosh that would later take the lead in addressing this, which was apparently a felt need at the time.

In January 1983, Apple introduced the Apple IIe. Like the Apple III, the logo on the case referred to it as the Apple //e. It looked like an Apple II with a keyboard that included lower-case, but it also had as standard features that would have required the purchase of add-in cards on an Apple II; 64k of RAM, and the extended BASIC included on the Apple Language Card.

In 1983, before the Phoenix BIOS became available, as will be recounted on the next page, Fujitsu made the Micro 16S computer. This computer had both a Z80 microprocessor and an 8086 microprocessor, and it was offered for sale in the United States.

The computer was not, therefore, a clone of the IBM PC. Since it was from 1983, Fujitsu could hardly be faulted for this, as clones only became possible in the following year. But, naturally, this meant that it was not particularly successful in the marketplace. While the computer had a Z80 processor, and came with the CP/M operating system, so that it could run a wide selection of software on that, if one is going to pay extra for a 16-bit processor, one wants to have a wide selection of software for that.

The operating system for the Micro 16S which ran on the 8086 processor could be either CP/M 86 or Concurrent CP/M 86. These operating systems were sold separately as an optional extra.

Although I suppose it made sense to allow customers to spend the money on Concurrent CP/M 86 later, as they outgrew the Z80-based CP/M software on this future-proof system, to some prospective customers, selling a computer with an operating system, but not the operating system required to make full use of it would have looked like a deceptive marketing practice.

It had one other important innovative feature: add-on processor cards could be inserted, allowing a different chip to take control of the computer's 16-bit bus. It was envisaged that CPU cards for the 68000 and the Z8000 would be offered in the near future after its release, but apparently this never came to fruition.

Of course, the Fujitsu Micro 16S, and its cousin with a hard disk, the Fujitsu Micro 16sx, was just one example of a failed market category, buried by the rise of inexpensive IBM PC clones. But it is of interest for another reason, its keyboard.

On the left (or, of course, below, if your browser window is insufficiently wide) is illustrated the Fujitsu FM-7, one of several computers Fujitsu made for the Japanese market. The style of its keys resembles those of the Fujitsu Micro 16S.

Incidentally, I've learned that the Fujitsu FM-7 is a very interesting machine in its own right, from a YouTube video that examined a somewhat rebranded version that was localized for the Spanish-language market. This machine used a 6809 as its processor, but in addition contained a second 6809 that performed graphics processing duties.

So this was a machine that pushed 8-bit computing to its limits. While it was only available either within Japan, or in a little-known version localized for the Spanish language outside Japan, it had a predecessor, the FM-8, which was more widely available. One interesting thing about the FM-8 is that it could have bubble memory as an optional feature.

Why wasn't it more successful outside Japan? It's easy for me to hazard a guess: the primary benefit of its architecture, better graphics performance, would mainly show up in games - and while no doubt many games designed for the Japanese market were available for it, without games for outside markets, there would have been little motivation to consider a machine that was more expensive due to its extra microprocessor and high-quality construction.

Below is a closer view of part of that keyboard, this time in a detail from an advertisement for the Fujitsu Micro 16sx.

It's obvious what has happened. To make a keyboard conforming to the norms of the United States market, Fujitsu simply took the backspace, carriage return, and right-hand shift keys, and moved them one position to the left.

This in itself was not a bad thing. The result was that those three keys were in exactly the position touch-typists were used to from electric typewriters.

But this excellent keyboard design was marred by the fact that the { and [ key was on one side of the Enter key, and the } and ] key was on the other side of the Enter key.

This made the keyboard look as though it was hastily and carelessly designed.

Since it wasn't an IBM PC clone, the option was available to do things the right way: put [ and ] on the key to the right of the letter P, and put { and } on the key on the far side of the Enter key.

However, this would have forcibly reminded prospective purchasers of this computer's greatest (if then unavoidable) flaw: that it was not a clone of the IBM PC.

Even putting the | and \ key to the right of the letter P, and { and [ above } and ] on the right of the Enter key would at least have avoided giving the impression that the computer's keyboard was designed without thinking.

But given the fact that non-clone 8086 machines were such a disastrous product category, no doubt the keyboard would hardly have affected its sales, for good or ill.

However, it should be noted that this was a disastrous product category outside Japan. The most popular 8086-based computer in Japan was the NEC PC-9801. It couldn't run Flight Simulator due to an incompatible graphics card that was more advanced than those offered for the IBM PC and strict compatibles; because it was more advanced, it offered full support (that is, support including kanji, the Chinese characters used in writing Japanese) for the display of text in Japanese, unlike machines more compatible with the IBM PC.

So one can't really fault Fujitsu for getting involved with a futile and misguided category of product; for their domestic market, it was anything but.

Still, comparing this almost excellent keyboard to the disaster which was the keyboard for the SANYO MBC-555 computer, which did run MS-DOS, but was also still not a full clone (i.e., it couldn't run Microsoft Flight Simulator, the touchstone for clonehood in those days), I find it a very great shame that they didn't get the keyboard's design right, and then put it on a computer which was in other respects one that people in North America would have been interested in purchasing.

Another Japanese computer, from early 1983, was the Casio FP-1100. This system, like many home computers, had its own BASIC interpreter in ROM. Its BASIC system was called C82 BASIC, and it had the unique feature that one could run multiple console sessions, switching between them using the function keys.

It could also boot into CP/M from a diskette. Both C82 and CP/M ran on the system's NEC PD8780-1 microprocessor, a Zilog Z80 equivalent. The system also had a NEC PD780G-1 processor, which was used to handle the system's graphics.

The FP-1000 belonged to the same series, but in addition to having less memory, it also did not provide color graphics.

At left appears an image of another very interesting computer system from this era.

The Coleco ADAM, released on October, 1983, had a number of attractive features. It had a keyboard which appeared very much like that of a serious professional computer.

And, for the price of a typical 8-bit home computer, it included a daisywheel printer. This was an expensive, and highly sought-after peripheral in those days, as it allowed a computer to produce documents with a quality typed appearance, far surpassing what a dot matrix printer could produce.

One issue it had was that it had a tendency to partially erase, and therefore render useless, any tape cassettes left in its drives when it was powered on. Another was that, in order for it to be possible to make a daisywheel printer that could be part of such an inexpensive complete system, its printing speed was slower than that of most other daisywheel printers.

It was not widely successful despite its obvious advantages. As Coleco was known as a video game maker, part of the issue could be that it was seen as too good to be true, and potential customers were suspicious of its quality: and, in fact, there were early problems with production, leading to some early machines needing to be returned. Another issue was simply that its introduction was late, and therefore most people looking for an 8-bit computer already had one. Another thing potential customers might doubt was whether there would be a wide selection of daisywheels available for this computer; there were several different styles available, but they tended not to be stocked by convenient local retailers.

The processor it used was one version of the Zilog Z80, specifically the Zilog Z80A.

October, 1983 was also when IBM made a very exciting announcement, even if it was one not of actual direct interest to many. That was when the IBM Personal Computer XT/370 was announced.

This was an XT with three special add-in boards. One was an I/O board that allowed this computer to act as a 3270-compatible terminal. Another was a memory board, with 512K bytes of memory; this memory, however, was not primarily for the use of the 8088 processor on the motherboard; rather, it was for the use of the remaining board.

That board contained a modified 68000 microprocessor, with altered microcode which allowed it to execute a large subset of the instruction set of the IBM 370 mainframe computer.

It also contained a modified 8087 floating-point coprocessor, which handled the floating-point instructions of the IBM System/370.

And there was also a normal unmodified 68000 microprocessor, which emulated in software those IBM System/370 instructions which were not handled by the other two chips.

That microprocessor technology had now reached the point where it was equal to the task of doing a mainframe's work, admittedly at a lower rate of speed, but one that was not too unreasonably slow, was impressive, and could be considered a milestone as well.

An XT/370 looked like an ordinary XT, just as the AT/370, released a year later, would look just like an ordinary AT. At the same time as the XT/370 was announced, another IBM product was announced, the 3270 PC, pictured at left. While this offered 3270 emulation, which was one of the functions the XT/370 also included, it was different in appearance. It came with a special monitor, and it came with a 122-key keyboard.

While IBM introduced, along with the PS/2, a 122-key keyboard that connected to the PC normally like an ordinary keyboard, the 122-key keyboard of the 3270 PC instead connected to a special card inside the IBM PC chassis, although the adapter cable then also connected the card to the computer's normal keyboard port as well.

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