General public machines (Was: Altair 8800 name Was: Re: Altair 680 Expansion Boards?

allison ajp166 at
Fri Dec 23 08:02:55 CST 2016

On 12/22/2016 11:04 PM, Fred Cisin wrote:
> We all hang out with people who are smart enough to see things the
> same way that we do.  Accordingly, our choices in computers, cars,
> cellphone providers always look to us like the MAJORITY.   They are
> the BEST, and certainly the MOST POPULAR [among everybody that WE hang
> out with], but not necessarily the best selling.
> If the world were just, and the BEST outsold the worst, then we would
> all be using Amiga :-)
> On Thu, 22 Dec 2016, drlegendre . wrote:
>> "The Z80 had more players and more names than all the rest"
>> And yet it was essentially a bit-player in the days of the 'home
>> computer'
>> revolution - at least in the US. CBM, Apple, Atari - the three big
>> names in
>> home computers, all went with the 6502 family. And perhaps even more
>> importantly, so did Nintendo, in the NES.
> And yet, somehow, z80 was outselling 6502!

Both had a very long life in systems and embedded products. 
It wasn't cost, I truly believe it was the generations that had trash 80
, apple][, and others
containing them and were familiar.

> Radio Shack, TRS-80, WAS one of the "three big names".  It had a
> not-insignificant share of the market, and until 1982 was the best
> selling.  Don't ignore the impact of having incompetents peddling in
> thousands of store, in every city and town!
> Atari took a while longer to get market share.
For a brief moment in the history of computers that was indeed true. 
Then other better developed systems
displaced it.

> At the same time.
> Depending on how you define "first" ("first" to show V "first" to ship
> V "first" to be available for shelf purchase) will define whether
> Apple, Commodore, or Radio Shack was "the first".  It is trivially
> esay to select a definition of "first" to make it your choice of
> those.   Apple was the first of those announced and shown.
> I bought a TRS-80 ($400 (or $600 if you wanted their composite monitor
> and cassette player)) because it was the first one [by multiple
> months] that I could walk in the door of a local store and buy one. 
> The more appealing Apple, which had been announced earlier that
> TRS-80, was hard to come by for several more months.
Marketing over actual design plus plain availability.

> That time differential of months seems inconsequential 40 years later,
> but it mattered to me right then.  And, for most rational measures,
> Apple, TRS-80 and Commodore initial releases were a tie.
> (Was the photo finish by a nose, a whisker, or a hoof?)
> When the 5150 came out in August 1981, it was months before I could
> actually get one.
> AFTER the 5150 came out, people relized that TRS-80 was doomed, and in
> 1982, Apple 2 finally started to outsell TRS-80.  It was LESS obvious
> that Apple 2 was doomed.  But, within Apple, they knew there were
> troubled times ahead, and came out with the disastrous Apple 3, and
> disastrous [from point of view of SALES] Lisa.
Not true in its entirety.  IF you look at the 1980 and 1981 issues on
Byte, interface age, Kilobaud, and Dr Dobbs
it was clear 16 bits was the next step.  There were systems delivering
that but it was all very new despite the 8088
being already old!  The 5150 was not so much the great 16bitter as it
was IBM.  Having those three letter made
it official.

What interesting was I had at work a multibus system with 8086 running
at 8mhz the summer of 1981 to do work
and IBM was running at 4.77mhz.  At that speed it was not that much
faster than Z80.

> 'Course IBM poisoned the market for everything else, and nothing else
> sold like IBM.   On August 12, 1981, I said "In 10 years, 3/4 of the
> market will be IBM PC and imitations of it."
> It is amazingly impressive that Apple (Mac) survived IBM!
> (If you think that Mac outsold PC, then you are looking at YOUR
> circle, and need to look at actual sales numbers)
> But, by the time that the Mac came out, TRS-80 was finally becoming
> that "bit player" that some assume that it was, or should have been.

The life of TRS80 was from introduction in '77 and was doing the
downhill slide by 1980.
In those days that was a long life for a point product.
>> The main use of Z80 in US home
>> computing was in the absurdly small Timex / Sinclair ZX80 series - with
>> their awful cramped membrane keyboards and seriously limited sound &
>> video.
> Which was years later, and WAS a bit player and absurdly small. It was
> NEVER the main use of Z80 in USA home computing.  TRS-80 outsold them
> more than 100 to 1.
> Was that really a membrane keyboard, or was it just a PICTURE of a
> keyboard as a recommendation, like the "part of this complete breakfast".
The T/ZX80 was mostly viewed as a toy.  It was late here for that level
of a machine.
Still it was small and cheap and a more than a few were embedded into
systems... ;)

>> The Z80 also showed up in the Osborne, Kaypro and TRS-80 models.. mostly
>> due to the fact that CP/M was written to it. Commodore also put one
>> in the
>> C128, but by then, it was almost a dead letter.
> CP/M was written to 8080.  Z80 was simply the "hottest" 8080
> compatible processor available.
> Osborne and Kaypro were literally years later, and they did, indeed
> simply build clever, innovative CP/M machines.

CP/M was 8080 code save for one thing by 1980 finding 8080 compatible
aps was getting difficult.
Also most of the CP/M implementations were hybrid code, CP/M core was
8080 and most everything
else including the bios was Z80.   Also it was the introduction period
for ZCPR, and P2DOSThat spawned
a generation of improved CP/M and then CP/M3.

> I've never been sure how much market share CP/M had, since that was a
> different circle than I was hanging out in.  I'm sure that WITHIN that
> circle, it would seem like it was MOST of the market.
It was the 8080/8085//z80 market.  The only other that had volume but
was very hardware specific was
TRS-dos or the kin LDOS.  Granted Cormemco had their unix like os
(chromix) and ther ewer others like
NS*DOS.  But if you wanted the miainline aps it was CP/M.  Even
Microsoft was a major supplier of aps
and language tools for that base.

> Commodore's Z80 in the 128 was due to unnecessary fear that they might
> lose market share to CP/M, when IBM should have been their big worry.
> I don't know all of the details of the ST/Amiga technology swap, but
> BOTH were too late, if the primary goal was competing with IBM.
Late and strange.

> What percentage of Apple 2's had Z80 cards added to them?
> (once estimated at an unbelievable 20%, and reputed to be why IBM
> thought that CP/M was a Microsoft product!)

Likely that 20% was close to right.   IT was a good base to have A z80
in as a full up apple had good display
(high res version) and disk and tools support.  It was also around the
time when the ap was more important
than what CPU you bowed to.

I have the advantage of being there not as a kid but as a professional
trying to be bleeding edge and grapple
with all the different machines.

My history includes designing with 8008  commercially in late 72 into 73
while still in college.  I ordered my
Altair 8800 in December of 1974 (1 week after I received the copy of
PE).  I would retire that before the end
of '77 for a NS* horizon crate to replace the very flaky Altair (who
would think gold over copper without nickel
would be so bad!).  I would move to extending that NS* to multiple cpus
and softsector floppies.  At the same
time I played with COSMAC, SC/MP/, 8035, TI9900 (technico Super starter
system), 6800 (d1), Kim-1....

I watched the computer world evolved from my exposure to PDP-8 in 69
though 32bits (VAX) by 1982 and
got to participate and play with most all of it.  The biggest thing was
not what CPU you had but what could
you do with it.  It was the appearance of the applications, programming
tools and languages (BASIC,
assemblers, higher level languages), screen editor (electric pencil),
spread sheet (visicalc), the data bases
(DBASE), Those were the things that made a Apple or TRS80 of CP/M box
useful and desirable.  No coincidence
that mass storage specifically floppies then later hard disks were a
factor.    If your system could not run
those aps and connect those devices it was replaced.  Its why apple ][
and Z80 based CP/M had the longer
life (presence) as the initial 5150 was a few years getting to that
point both in capability, aps, and cost.
To my experience The PC did not displace existing Apples][ and CP/M
until its cost and advantage was well
established as people already had sunk cost and functional aps.  For
those that were new to it all the PC was
the TRS80 warts, incompatibility, and all and thats why I felt the PC
was a long step backward until the 286
and 386 appeared.  The PC world to me by then was moribund as it was not
better and I had 16 and 32bit
machines that were both faster and better.  I was a late adopter of PC
as it was compatibility with the
ecosystem that forced it as PDP11 and VAX was still better and
functional until IP based networking
was important in the late 90s.


> -- 
> Grumpy Ol' Fred             cisin at

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