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

allison ajp166 at
Sat Dec 24 11:39:08 CST 2016

On 12/23/2016 02:30 PM, Fred Cisin wrote:
>> At the time, I was in my (almost) young teens - and at least in the
>> circles
>> I traveled, the TRS-80 / Osborne and Kaypro were viewed as boring,
>> stodgy
>> machines without any redeeming entertainment qualities - no color
>> graphics,
>> no sprites, poor or nearly non-existent audio, expensive joysticks
>> and so
>> on.
> Boring, certainly.
> Not sure if it was sophisticated enough to be stodgy.
As Z80 machnes of the day the Kaypro was meant for work and screen games
like Adventure
played well on it as it was responsive.

But there was always a divide between games/graphics/sound and those
with good text terminal.

An example of oddballs was S100 Cromemco with a dazzler and terminal board .

>> The ability of the machines to serve multiple roles - for both 'serious'
>> work and video gaming / music - was a huge selling point in the early
>> days.
>> This is one of the reasons that the C64 was so massively successful - it
>> pretty much had something for everyone, as the saying goes. That, and
>> the
>> price of the base machine was just amazingly low for the time. Ditto for
>> the VIC-20.
> Ah! Therein lies the rub.
> The TRS-80 wasn't any good for some things.  As a primarily
> entertainment machine, it was rubbish.  No color, no sound, no
> joysticks, grossly inadequate graphics.   (some of which could be
> worked around)
> If you were looking for an games/entertainment machine, it would be
> outside of the consideration set.  Of the set of people looking for a
> games/entertainment machine, "NOBODY has one."
> Best game on it was "Adventure". Best graphics was Lim's "Android Nim"
Or maybe Startrek.

TRS80 was one of the "packaged systems" aka allinone that tried to be
broad and mostly was limited
at all.

> On the other side of the market, the TRS-80 did not have 80x24 text,
> and had a memory map that was incompatible with CP/M.   Parasitic
> Engineering (Howard Fullmer!) and Omikron, both made [somewhat
> expensive] sandwich boards for the TRS-80 to change that memory map,
> and to add 8" SSSD drive support.
> Of the original "Big three" (Radio Shack, Apple, Commodore), who came
> first, Apple was the only one with entertainment capabilities, but
> they priced it out of your market.
All of them were trying to find a market and it was a market that was
changing at the same time.

> Later, the Commodore Vic-20 and C64 were aimed at your segment of the
> market, and priced appropriately.
> Radio Shack's later "Color Computer" (6809!) was far more appropriate,
> but it also suffered some crippling design decision errors.
And it was late to the game.  Cool machine but it misses again.

>> the very early 1980s, when I was about 15, my father decided to buy a
>> home computer. (Before that, he had a TI Silent 700 that dialed up to a
>> Univac mainframe.) I remember him doing hours of research comparing the
>> Apple II, the TRS-80, the Commodore PET, and probably some of the S-100
>> machines. He eventually chose the Heathkit H89. I^@^Yll have to ask him
>> exactly why, but I know that he^@^Ys always liked good-quality tools,
>> and the combination of the Heathkit design, the Z80 CPU, and CP/M seemed
>> like the best combination of tools at the time.
> Apple II, TRS-80, and Commodore PET didn't have 80x24 screen text!
> THAT was why my cousin rejected them and went with a Heathkit.
> If you want to be able to use it as a terminal, . . .
Yes the H89, DEC Vt180 (costly though), and many others had decent terminal,
Good processing and disks.  Games not so much.

> Later, add-on cards for Apple2 came out for 80 column.
> TRS-80 didn't get 80x24 text until the Model 4 (which is what the
> Model 3 should have been)   (Model 2/12/16 was never intended to be a
> "Home" computer, and was marketed for small business)
The TRS80 later mods were late enough to loose presence. Apple With
80x24 helped it firm up
its footing as a useful business machine.

I still go back at if the desired software was available then the
machine was suitable for the
Commies and Apples that included games.  The other is  was Editors, high
level languages,
spreadsheet, and database, that group favored machine with z80, 6502 and
good 80x24 screens.
That last group barely included TRS80, Apple with Softcard and all was
in, then there were the
multitude of other z80 systems that nearly all ran CP/M even if they
came with something else.

If I had to call a year 1980 was a breakpoint for systems. I will call
it the year of rising expectations.
It bridges from early 1979 though 1980 in a broad way.    If you ran a
widely used OS your had
a good start.  If you ran the popular and desired software you had a
good start.  The number of
CPUs in the running were few and usually Z80 or 6502.  The 16biters were
being talked about
as the next thing but not really there yet.   Then it was more about
what you did and how well. 
An example of that is 80x24, if you had sparklies and flashes it was
less desirable for example. 
it is was a TV monitor vs built in and good quality.   If you did a
weaker display scheme but it
could be improved by adding a card that was a plus (S100 and other buses
had strength here).
Same for available memory and adding more in 1979 64K was expensive and
uncommon but
a year later it was nearly required.   Same for mass storage audio
cassettes were on the way
out and floppies and hard disks by 1980 reaching the not so obscenely
expensive to have and
very much needed for the software expected.   The key there is
EXPECTED.  People were buying
machines and had for the most part left the mad hacker trying to make it
work  behind and had
clear wants and needs. Thats the first generation Home/personal computer
user now looking
for the upgrade machine.  There were also the new customers wanting to
do specific things
and didn't care about specs, boards, and bells and whistles.   Its no
small comment that
in that time frame the big mags like BYTE, Kilobaud, and Interface Age
were setting those

Oddly games had variations of the above but expectations were also
higher and things
like better graphics, color and complex sound were important.  Oddly
they had the same
limitations and dependencies that were being address with CPU speed and
a need for
more bits.

Looking back it was not so much the good old days as they days of chaos,
innovations and new and
watching what would stick to the wall. 


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