Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

David Computer PROFI 203

June 12, 2018

As you might know by now I like rare and obscure computers you will not find much about from other sources in the Internet. But, at the same time, that’s also a problem for me if I want to write a new entry to this blog: I have to find out about another rare, strange computer, hopefully standing out from the waste mass of CP/M machines and PC compatibles. This task seems to get increasingly more difficult over time (maybe naturally so). If *you* have a proposal in this direction, go ahead and write a comment…

However, I was able to compile a short list of interesting contestants, and today I want to start to write about the first one. Of course, I could research the computer, and write an entry when I’m done, but why not doing it in the form of a logbook, extending the entry as I learn more about it. Maybe, there are some folks out there who would want to accompany me along the way. So, here we go.

June 12th, 2018

Today I learned about a model that is *really* obscure, almost a yeti of a computer. There is basically one entry in which we can use as a starting point. The model is called “PROFI 203” (Professional 203 if you like) from a company called “David Computer”. Never heard of any of that? Me neither. According to the mentioned entry, it is a 1983 machine from Germany with a Fairchild 9445 CPU.

A *what* CPU? Apparently, this was a Data General NOVA 3 computer-on-a-chip (running 10 times faster than the original NOVA 3) made at Fairchild, a successor to Fairchilds 9440 CPU which emulated the NOVA 2. Now, some of you might recognize the names Data General and NOVA because they play an important role in the popular 1981 non-fiction book “The Soul of a New Machine” by Tracy Kidder on the development of the Data General Eclipse MV/8000. The NOVA was a 16-bit computer, therefore the 9445 was a 16-bit CPU. As it can be expected, Data General was not pleased about the possibility of having competition by a code-compatible CPU and they sued Fairchild for many years. Bottomline: the 94XX cpu family was not a success. But it is very interesting to me because this is quite an exotic beast. First productions of the 9445 were delivered late in 1981. Initially, the 9445 ran at 16 MHz, later versions also on 20 MHz and 24 MHz. It could address 128 kB of RAM directly.

The entry contains a photo (the only photo I ever found so far):

Quite a beast of a computer. It seems that you have a small-refrigerator-in-a-desk form factor, with a printer on the top, and a display and keyboard in front of the user.

The entry does not tell us much more, only that it uses a “MIDOS” operating system, and that is has a monochrome display, RS232, IEEE 488, and Monitor interfaces, as well as one “or several” 5.25” disk drives.

One (of two) comments says “I just posted a bunch of information about the dAVID Computer, designed and built in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada in the early 1980’s. However, I got an error from this site when I submitted it. If there’s interest I can try again.” Well, Jack, the unresponsiveness of made me start this blog in 2009 🙂 (J.C., if you read this, *I* would be very interested…).

And that’s it what I know for now. When asking Google for “David Computer” “profi 203”, I get basically one other hit, namely a very brief 1983 mention in the German computer industry newspaper “Computerwoche” (who, thankfully, have their entire archive since 1974 online). Here is the translated text:

“Their family 200 with over 20 different models is presented by the David Computer GmbH, Stuttgart, at the Fair in Cologne.

The smallest member of the family is the upward compatible 16-bit micro computer profi 203. In the standard configuration the model has 128 kB RAM, two floppy disks drives with a capacity of 512 kB each, a screen, and a printer. Maximally, the profi 203 could be fitted with 356 kB RAM and a 40 MB hard disk drive. In the multi-user mode up to four screens can be connected. The price for the standard configuration is about 20’000 DM [which would be about 21’000 $ in 2018]. The maximum configuration of the largest model of the family, the profi 230 is 1024 kB RAM, 600 MB hard disk space and 24 screen interfaces. […]

David Computer also offers the software package Intext/M for their micro computer, a program with integrated data and text processing. In addition, the Stuttgart company will demonstrate the usage of Teletex and Electronic Mail using the profi 203.”

And, then, the best part: the address of the company. It is called “David Computer GmbH” and it is about 2km from my home. I could walk there if I could also move back 35 years in time (no, the company does not exist there any more). My jaw drops, this is a nice  coincidence in an area where most players used to sit in the U.S.

So, that’s all Google has to offer using these keywords. But, there is another dependable source of information if the computer was offered in Germany: my beloved CC Computerarchiv. And, low and behold, in the June of 1983 issue of the office equipment part, there it is:

The model 203/20, priced at 30’521 DM, with a 10 MB hdd, a terminal, and one 1.6 MB floppy disk drive. Another 5530 DM for an additional text terminal. The model 230 for a mere 37’940 DM with 256 kB RAM, and an additional 25’368 DM for 2 * 14 MB hdds. All prices for any option you can have.

No entry in subsequent issues. David Computer seem to disappear from the market after 1983.

So, what remaining leads can we follow?

  • we can try to find out more about the David Computer GmbH (especially given that I am living in the area where they used to be)
  • we can try to find out whether this computer is also known under another name (the Fairchild 9445 CPU was used only in a few computers)
  • we can try to find more about MIDOS, the operating system
  • we can try to find out more about Intext/M

And that’s what I will do in the course of the next days, so stay connected.

June 16th, 2018

Ok, I hate it when a mystery clears up so quickly. Let’s start with the leads that did not lead anywhere. Intext/M, not a thing outside the 203 computer. MIDOS, the same.

What actually tells us something are official information on the David Computer GmbH. There is an official registry portal of all German states that registers by and large all companies in Germany. You can ask it even for closed companies. You have to pay if you want to have detailed information, but some fields are free. So there was a “David-Computer Vertriebs-GmbH ” from 1977 to 1991. That’s probably the one we know of. The entry specifies also the Predecessor of this company, the “DDC Computer Vertriebs-GmbH”. And if we look into CC Computerarchiv, we immediately get a model “203” and “230” from “DDC” in 1982, with the same data and similar prices. But that’s not all, DDC is represented in all issues of CC Computerarchiv from 1976 on (although with different models). But the last entry for DDC is in 1982, and the only one for David Computer in 1983. So where did these computers go after that date? The solution again comes from the companies registry. From 1983 until 1991 there is a company called “SynTec System- und Software-Entwicklung GmbH” whose one predecessor was the “David Computer Systeme GmbH”. The other predecessor was the “Ericsson Information Systems Vertriebspartner GmbH” (Ericsson Information System Distribution Partner, Inc.). Ok, So Ericsson had a hand in this game. And, what do you know?, from 1984 the company “Ericsson Vertriebspartner” (not to be confused with Ericsson, who has an entry on its own with different models) is represented in CC Computerarchiv with the models 203 and 230. This continues in 1985. In 1986, three more models appear, the 240, 250, and 260. The same in 1987 and 1988. From 1989, there is no more “Ericsson Vertriebspartner” and no more models 203-250 represented.

Now, if we search for “Ericsson” and “203”, we learn that the family of computers is  called “Eritron” (probably after 1983). Using this new name, we can find more information on this computer system which we will do in a few days. Stay connected!

June 24th, 2018

So, let’s see what we can find out about the Eritron line of computers. There is a thread in a C64 forum (in German) on the machine, together with photos of components. The guy taking the photos (in another man’s garage) could figure out a PCB with some AMD Am2903 (4-bit) Bit-Slice chips and claims this would be the CPU. Hmm, I’m not sure on that.

Apart from the additional models 240, 250, and 260, there were also the models ET1 and ET1a (ET stands for Eritron Tower). An in this database, the CPU for the ET1 is stated as 9945. That’s the second mentioning of the 9945, but there are also not more.

What I found mentioned several times is that the 200 series used MULTIBUS as a bus system. And that the 200 series later on had a software product that ventured into “Computer-aided Translation”.

But, again, that’s it. No pictures except the one. CPU probably a Fairchild 9445. Main application area Word Processing for companies and institutions. Users sat on terminals connected to the servers via serial line. The business could keep up for some years until it was probably taken over by PCs. I think I have reached the end of Internet research possibilities for this model. If I ever find out more, I’ll post it here.



Pick-Master – A Soviet Spectrum Clone?

May 10, 2018

From time to time I like to acquire computers that a so obscure that the Internet cannot tell you what they are. You have to get physical access and examine them (and then describe them for the Internet :-).

Update: I found out more about this computer. See the reveal at the end.

So I bought an allegedly “Soviet Spectrum Clone” from Ebay called “Pick-Master”.


The (rattly but) real keyboard is all-latin and has the original Spectrum key settings on some of the keys (even if the “J.J.” and “J.F.” keys seem quite strange). The grey metal top plate proudly tells you this is a “ZX-Spectrum original system” with a Z-80A CPU, Basic, and 48 kB RAM, and that it “run(s) with any tape recorder and TV set”. Compared to an original ZX Spectrum, the case is huge.


The bottom is boring, but has a paper sticker that seems to bear a serial number “00243”.


The bottom features two fold-out legs, ok, that’s nice.

The back


has 4 interfaces, all marked in latin:


RGB seems clear, JOY is probably joystick, DC5V seems clear enough. “TYPE” though: very strange. Maybe a typewriter interface? Now, the elephant in the room, of course, are connectors. I never saw these types of connectors. Each one has 8 pins.

So, this was the situation before I bought the thing. Google knows nothing at all about a “Pick-Master”. There is no photo that ressembles this thing. I am excited allthough I know that the number of Eastern Block spectrum clones are legion, that I cannot read kyrillic and that there are currently not enough resources in English on this topic.

Ok, what can we tell from the inside of our computer? This is our computer opened:


Now it is clear why the computer is so large: the functional parts are ordered around the keyboard, not underneath.

The build quality is good, the parts look hand-soldered. No helpful markings on the board. The keyboard baseplate is probably not designed for this model, it looks as if it has space for an additional row of function keys on the top and as if it was cut at the top right corner in order to give space to some components on this PCB.

Here is a picture from the interesting part of the PCB:


We find:

  • the CPU: a (Z)80A MME9212. This is a Soviet version of the Zilog Z80A. MME might hint to being manufactured in Erfurt, GDR (i.e. at that time East-Germany). This seems to be an “export version” whatever that means. Maybe exported to the Soviet Union.
  • 8 * KP565PY5 64 kbit chips
  • KA1515XM1: a Russian ULA chip
  • KP563PE2: PROM 32kx8 (maybe 32 kB?)

Ok, so this is definitively a Soviet Block Spectrum. Maybe designed to be exported to the West because the top is so much advertising the machine.

In every case a very, very rare machine, and an interesting one, too.

Update: Thanks to a very resourceful native Russian speaker (Hi, Anastasiia!) we found out more about this machine. Spoiler alert: it is still very rare and this variant is not yet described. So, what do we have here?

According to, this is basically a Soviet “Peak” computer, made by the “Terminal” (Терминал) company in Vinnitsa, Ukraine. If you are as able to read Russian as I am, here is the Google Translate link:

The Russian model name is “Пик”, which translates to “peak”. The manufacturer was known “in the whole (Sovjet) Union” for its – terminals (hence the imaginative company name). So, still an industrial manufacturer 🙂

According to the above web page it has a Kempston joystick interface (which is to be expected). The “TYPE” interface I was wondering about is a – tape interface. Maybe a translation typo? The connectors are all the same, so there is the danger that you put e.g. the power cable into the joystick interface, ugh…

The ROM seems to contain a Sowjet standard image of the Spectrum software from Didaktik Skalica, copyrighted 1989. It was used also in other Sowjet Spectrum clones. The model itself seems to be made around 1992.

Now the best part: if you compare the pictures of the computer on the Russian page with mine you can see:

  • the Russian version has the model name and the “advertisment text” in Russian, mine in English – so I seem to have really some sort of meant-for-the-export-to-the-West version. Whether a Spectrum clone could still be sold in the West in 1992 is very questionable, 10 years after its introduction. The model name on my version is “PiCK-MASTER”. Maybe a play on words with the original PIK name…
  • the Russian version has a socketed Goldstar Z80A in a plastic case. My version has an soldered Sovjet Z80A copy in a ceramic case.
  • My version has a small daughter PCB in the top right corner which does not exist in the Russian model. I have no clue on the function of this “patch”.
  • The Russian model has the serial number 168, mine has 243. I have no clue what this means.
  • Either my version was earlier (and they have a different serial number range for both models). They started by trying to market these to Western markets, did not come far, and switched back to the domestic market. As they could not get Sovjet Z80A clones any longer, they switched to Western versions. They found some problem, made a patch PCB and added that into the machine, and in later versions, they changed the main PCB and incorporated the patch on the mainboard. Or, my version was later (maybe the serial number range was consecutive), they added some hardware in order to cope with e.g. Western TV sets (therefore the patch PCB). The Goldstar CPU could have been a replacement to the original CPU at a later date.

All in all, I am very pleased. Thanks to Anastasiia, I could find out who made this computer and when. It is an unknown export variant of a very rare Sovjet Spectrum clone. And, I agree to the author of the Russian page on the Peak, “one of the most beautiful clones of the Spectrum“.

Exeltel and Exelrecorder

May 10, 2018

A pro tip for people trying to connect an Exelvision or Amper Exeltel to a Exelrecorder: use a 8-prong DIN cable (270 degrees). If you don’t, you might wonder why the damn thing isn’t saving or loading :-). Okok, I’ll explain. The Exeltel is an interesting (by and large unsuccesful) 8-bit computer that incorporates a modem (and therefore, a telefone connection) for different purposes. One of these purposes was the use as an answering machine. Due to the lack of compute power and digital storage capabilities (8 bit, we remember) this means that you want to record to a cassette tape (using analogue audio, of course). In order to do that the computer has to be able to remote control the cassette recorder. In order to do that you need: a) a cassette recorder that can be remotely controlled, and b) a cable that provides the additional lines to control the recorder. That’s why there is an accessory for the Exeltel: the Exelrecorder.

There was also a quite standard cassette recorder (called the K7) for the predecessor of the Exeltel, the EXL100. This recorder and the EXL100 use a standard 5-prong audio DIN cable because there was no remote control need for that machine. The Exeltel and the Exelrecorder, though, need an 8-prong DIN cable for the additional functionality. Now, my problem was that I had an Exeltel and an Exelrecorder, but no cable. I tried it with a 5-prong cable, but the Exelrecorder would not start recording or playing. Only when I bought the 8-prong version, everything worked. If you have the same problem you’ll find that 5-prong DIN cables are hard to come by today, but an 8-prong one reduces your choice of shops to a very small number.

Once upon a time

April 29, 2018


I recently ordered audio cassettes and a DIN audio cable as new products… I take “Things that belong in the last century” for 100. #thingsourkidsdontknow #longtailproducts

VCFB and Classic Computing 2017

December 29, 2017

This year (still 2017) I attended the VCFB 2017 in Berlin that took place October 7th & 8th, 2017. I mainly participated because this was also the host of the yearly Classic Computing exhibition of the (very German) club “VzEkC” (Verein zum Erhalt klassischer Computer) whose member I am since some years now. The club name translates to “Association for the Preservation of Classic Computers”. It is active all over Germany.

But back to the event. It took place in the German Museum of Technology Berlin, in an area that used to be part of the Goods Yard of the former train station “Anhalter Bahnhof” that does not exist anymore. It was spacious and well-equipped, and the event was really fun. The museum itself is something you have to visit if you happen to visit Berlin because it will interest you for sure as you read this blog 🙂 It contains planes, ships, and trains and has e.g. a quite high Trip Advisor rating. The permanent exhibition on Computer Science includes such things as replicas of the first German computer and other Zuse machines.

The event had over 2000 visitors, and featured a Lectures & Workshops track. You can find reports and pictures about it here (German) and here (German).


There was also an Award for the Most Popular Exhibit and it was deservedly won by Ansgar Kückes showing his exhibit “WarGames” (picture above). It showed a HP 9845C setup that was used to produce the “War Room” graphics for the movie “War Games” including some original hardware used in the movie production. The point was that the production team had (in 1983) no huge displays to show the graphics in the war room. Therefore, they used the above setup to pre-record the graphics (using such tricks as the rotating three color filters as the used vector display was monochromatic) on film. During filming the movie the recorded film was then projected on the screens and the actors had to act in correspondance with the shown graphics. This was the end result in the movie:


Very impressive. Both the movie and the exhibit on how these scenes were made.

General Magic and Magic Cap – How a Startup failed to dominate the PDA Market

December 28, 2017

This is the modified translation of an exhibit I had at the Classic Computing 2010.


It tells the history of the company General Magic, a startup that was founded in 1990 with the goal to to create and satisfy the demand for mobile communicators.

In 1990, there was no GSM and no Web, no tablet computer nor PDA. Fax was been introduced widely just now.

At Apple, there are two projects to create small, mobile computers: Newton, and Pocket Crystal, a smaller computer.

1990 the idea of Personal Communicators is born in Apple’s Advanced Technology Group. The software project for that idea is named Paradigm. It is based on Pocket Crystal. The project is not supported very enthusiastically by Apple’s management, but it finally agrees to spin off the project in an own company.

Marc Porat, Bill Atkinson, and Andy Hertzfeld found General Magic in May 1990. 10% of the shares belong to Apple, 10% to Sony, 10% to Motorola, the rest to the founders.

1991 Apple sues General Magic. It is not clear why (apart from the fact that Apple has some problem with General Magic), and the lawsuit somehow trickles out.

In 1992, General Magic announces Matsushita, Philips, and AT&T as additional partners.

The Vision

General Magic wants to create the “Personal Internet Communicator” (PIC), a personal mobile device that unifies all sorts of communication under a single, intuitive user interface. A PIC is not

  • a simple pen computer (as envisioned by GO from 1987 and implemented by several companies from 1989)
  • a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) that aims more towards intelligent notepads.

Handwriting Recognition is not the target.

So, even if PICs are not want to be PDAs, PDA is today the most popular label of mobile computers that are not Smartphones (that’s my explanantion of the heading :-).

The company does not want to create and sell PIC devices, but it aims at controlling the ecosystem by providing the Operating System to licensees. This Operating System is called Magic Cap.

Magic Cap

The Operating System offered a number of functions to users. These functions were:

  • Telephone with hands-free capability
  • Telefax
  • Email
  • Web Browser (Magic Cap 3.1.2)
  • PIM (Personal Information Manager)
    • Address Book
    • Calendar
    • Note Pad
  • Pocket Calculator
  • some Games
  • Pocket Quicken, Spread Sheet
  • Remote Control (Sony PIC-1000)
  • Protocols
    • TCP/IP
    • POP3
    • SMTP
    • PPP
    • IrDA
    • HTML (Magic Cap 3.1.2)

Over the years, there were several version of Magic Cap:

  • 1.0: PIC-1000, Envoy 100
  • 1.5: PIC-2000, Envoy 150
    • Instant On
  • Magic Cap for Windows
  • 3.* (Rosemary)
    • Re-implementation in C++
    • Web Browser
    • 3.1.2k: Version of the 90* DataRover
    • 3.1.2j: Last Version, available in the Internet

The Magic Cap Devices

Although General Magic does not want to sell PIC devices, it needs a hardware reference system for the companies that actually want to build the devices and for the own developers that want to test the Operating System.

This reference design was then used as the starting point for the hardware companies for their own designs. That’s the reason why some general characteristics are the same across devices from different companies of the same Magic Cap generation.

  • Manufacturer: Sony
  • Model: PIC-1000
  • Year of introdution: September 1994 (USA)
  • Introductory price: $995
  • CPU: Motorola Dragon I 68349 16MHz
  • OS version: Magic Cap 1.0
  • RAM: 1 MB DRAM
  • ROM: 4 MB
  • Weight: 580g
  • Graphics: 480×320, 4 gray shades, no backlight
  • Interfaces:
    • Magicbus port (PC conn, etc.)
    • Modem port (to RJ-11)
    • 1 Type II PCMCIA slot
    • Infrared transceiver – FSK modulated, 38.4Kbps
    • AC adapter port
  • Battery: LiIon (15h) or 6 AAA
  • Builtin Modem:
    • 9600 bps fax send modem
    • 2400 bps v.22 data modem
  • Number of build devices: unknown
  • Collector Status: relatively rare, low interest by collectors


  • Manufacturer: Motorola
  • Model: Envoy 100
  • Year of introdution: January 1995 (USA)
  • Introductory price: $800
  • CPU: Motorola Dragon I 68349 16MHz
  • OS version: Magic Cap 1.0
  • RAM: 1 MB DRAM
  • ROM: 4 MB
  • Weight: 800g
  • Graphics: 480×320, 4 gray shades, no backlight
  • Interfaces:
    • Magicbus port (PC conn, etc.)
    • Modem port (to RJ-11)
    • 2 Type II PCMCIA slot
    • Infrared transceiver – FSK modulated, 38.4Kbps
    • AC adapter port
  • Battery: NiCd
  • Builtin Modem:
    • 9600 bps fax send modem
    • 2400 bps v.22 data modem
    • 4800 bps wireless two-way packet modem ARDIS
  • Number of build devices: unknown
  • Collector Status: quite rare, low interest by collectors
  • Manufacturer: Sony
  • Model: PIC-2000
  • Year of introdution: November 1995 (USA)
  • Introductory price: $900
  • CPU: Motorola Dragon I 68349 16MHz
  • OS version: Magic Cap 1.5
  • RAM: 2 MB DRAM
  • ROM: 4 MB
  • Weight: 500g
  • Graphics: 480×320, 4 gray shades, backlight
  • Interfaces:
    • Magicbus port (PC conn, etc.)
    • Modem port (to RJ-11)
    • 2 Type II PCMCIA slot
    • Infrared transceiver – FSK modulated, 38.4Kbps
    • AC adapter port
  • Battery: LiIon (15h) or 6 AAA
  • Builtin Modem:
    • 9600 bps fax send modem
    • 2400 bps v.22 data modem
  • Number of build devices: unknown
  • Collector Status: relatively rare, low interest by collectors
  • Manufacturer: General Magic / Icras (Oki OEM)
  • Model: DataRover 840
  • Year of introdution: 1Q 1998 (USA)
  • Introductory price: $1000
  • CPU: MIPS R3000
  • OS version: Magic Cap 3.1.2
  • RAM: 4 MB DRAM
  • ROM: 8 MB
  • Weight: 500g
  • Graphics: 480×320, 16 gray shades, backlight
  • Interfaces:
    • Magicbus port (PC conn, etc.)
    • Modem port (to RJ-11)
    • 2 Type II PCMCIA slot
    • Infrared transceiver – FSK modulated, 38.4Kbps
    • AC adapter port
  • Battery: LiIon (8h)
  • Builtin Modem:
    • 9600 bps fax send modem
    • 19200 bps data modem V32 terbo
  • Number of build devices: 6000 (manufacturing cost: $800)
  • Collector Status: sometimes still available for small bucks as NIB, low interest by collectors

AT&T PersonaLink

General Magic provided the Operating System, the hardware manufacturers provided the devices. The picture was completed by a communication service by AT&T called PersonaLink that intended to provide the intelligent communication that would allow Magic Cap devices to unfold their full potential. Unfortunately, the service never really was more than an fancy Email service. It was launched in September 1994 and  stopped in June 1996.

How the story wents on…

  • April 1993: AT&T launches the EO Communicator 440
  • August 1993: Apple launches Newton
  • September 1994: Sony PIC-1000
  • January 1995: Motorola Envoy 100
  • February 1995: General Magic goes public and doubles its share value the same day
  • November 1995: Sony PIC-2000
  • April 1996: Motorola Envoy 150
  • June 1996: AT&T stops PersonaLink
  • 1996: Andy Hertzfeld sells his shares
  • 1996: GM has ~ 300 employees.
  • 1996: Dr. Steve Markman leads the company and starts a department for speech applications. This new department has 60 – 70 employees and develops a service called Portico and an audio interface called Mary. Mary understand 20 million expressions and it able to speak some thousands
  • October 1996: Magic Cap for Windows 95 is published
  • 1998: the hardware group is outsourced as DataRover Mobile Systems
  • Spring 1998: DataRover 840
  • March 1998: GM announces a licesing agreement with Microsoft that includes an investment agains patent rights
  • May 2000: DataRover Mobile Systems changes its name to Icras. Icras has 35 employees.
  • 17. September 2002: General Magic ceases to exist. The patents are auctioned off.

Why did General Magic fail?

  • Magic Cap 1.0 was finished very late
  • Therefore, the first devices were quite late on the market
  • Magic Cap 1.0 was too bad and made early adaptors angry
  • Delays in new Magic Cap versions kept going on
  • The devices were expensive, e.g. compared to the Newton
  • There was no Handwriting Recognition (and the intial hardware could not achieve that anyway)
  • The partners included too many big companies that competed in some fields
  • The Magic Cap products were partially competing to other products of the partners
  • In the middle of the 1990s mobile phones arrived at the market and changed communication
  • GM could not secure new funding because the Internet was the next big thing

Life after General Magic (2010 edition 🙂

Not only was General Magic a hot startup at its time, also there were some people involved that made quite some impact afterwards…

  • Pierre Omidyar founds eBay
  • Tony Fadell leads Apples iPod Hardware Group
  • Kevin Lynch designs Flash
  • Andy Rubin designs the Sidekick and the Android platform
    • also Android controls the ecosystem by providing an Operating System and let 3rd parties design the hardware…
  • Bill Atkinson works at the AI startup Numenta
  • Andy Hertzfeld works for Google


Stretch Goal Bonus Content

There is a ton of additional information I could add. Telescript, Mobile Agents, … Actually, Mobile Agents was my first academic topic from 1995 to 2000, and General Magic’s thoughts were inspiration to the entire field.

But I will not add these things unless I get enough feedback from you…

General Magic movie

As I am researching this entry, I stumble across an upcoming documentary about General Magic, wow. I am really hyped. Even if I feel that I might be a sizeable part of the audience for this movie 🙂







Plan Informatique Pour Tous (IPT)

December 28, 2017

Apart from my exhibition on Micronique computers, at the Classic Computing 2015 in Thionville, France, I also had some slides on a French programme to introduce computing to more schools in the 80s called “Plan Informatique Pour Tous (IPT)” or, translated to English, Computer Science For All. Because of its importance in France and the notoriously rare availability of any information on old French computers in English, here they are.

Plan Informatique Pour Tous (IPT)

  • was a program by the French government to:
    • introduce the 11M French pupils to computer science
    • support the French computer industry
  • its targets were presented on 25.1.1985 by the Prime Minister:
    • put 120k computers in 50k schools
    • train 110k teachers in computer science
  • the budget of IPT was FF 1800M in total, FF 1500M of that for hardware, i.e.:
    • FF 15k for every computer system
    • FF 2700 for every teacher
  • the high-flying goals of the program were not reached; on the other hand this program exposed many pupils to computers for the first time
  • the selection of industrial partners was given to Gilbert Trigano, co-founder of the Club Méditerranée
  • originally, he intended to give the order to Apple buying specially modified Macintoshs
  • the intended agreement would have meant that instead of in Ireland, Apple would have located the European Macintosh factory in France and transferred state of the art assembly knowledge
  • instead, out of political reasons, only French manufacturers were invited
  • out of the same reasons, the finally selected partner was Thomson, a nationalized enterprise in financial troubles

And here you have all the contenders to the IPT competition (that I know of) and how they did in the competition:


The winners were Thomson with their MO5s and TO7/70s. To a much smaller degree, also exelvision could sell some of their EXL100s.

Le nanoréseau (The Nano Network)

The IPT proposal was heavily centered around a proprietary network technology called “Le nanoreseau” that was developed prior to the competion by the Lille University of Science and Technology.

  • The Nano Network
    • a 500 kbps (RS-486-based) network connected:
    • 1 PC-compatible server (called network head) with two 5.25” floppy disk drives, 512 kB RAM, and a printer (Mannesmann-Tally MT80)
    • up to 31 Thomson (8 bit) microcomputers (called nano machines)
  • the network allowed to:
    • load programs and data onto the microcomputers
    • communicate between all computers
    • exchange screens between the computers
    • execute a program on the computers
    • use the printer at the server from all computers
  • in principle the approach was working very well, but using 8-bit machines as terminals was old-school already then

Interact Model One, Victor Lambda, and the Micronique Computers

December 28, 2017

One very interesting computer family from my point of view is the model series by a French company called Micronique. They had a certain market share in France in the 80s, but are virtually unknown in the rest of the world (and probably also now in France). The origins of their model family is an U.S. American computer called Interact Model One:


The model history of this machine continues in France with the Victor Lambda:


Now the third company continues the history of this model. This company is called Micronique.


Now, let’s have a closer look on the models that Micronique developed. The first model switches the CPU from an Intel 8080 to a Zilog Z80.


The last model is the Hector MX:


As you can tell, this entry had a lot of posters. I took them from an exhibit I had at the Classic Computing 2015 that took place in Thionville, France. Underneath the posters I showed off an Hector HRX and an Hector MX:


(Picture from Ajax (

A Brief History of Mobile Computing

December 24, 2017

This is the English version of the posters at a booth I presented at VCFB+Classic Computing 2017 in Berlin Germany.

This small exhibition aims at giving an overview on the development of Mobile Computing using computer models that were the “first” implementing relevant new aspects to the field. Often, also the second models are mentioned. These computers are sometimes not the most often sold models at that time (as often, they were quite expensive because they offered something new in a time that this new feature was not commonplace and required expensive components), but, by and large, they at least sparked competition and created markets.

Let’s start in the not-mobile field.

B1981These are, of course, a small selection of the most popular models of the early home computer era (yes, there are some important models missing, but that’s not the point here).


These are the two first representants of computers that were meant to be transported and that, therefore, made compromises in terms of e.g. screen sizes for the sake of size, compactness, and weight.


In contrast to the computers of the last poster, these computers were also meant to be used without a need for a power socket nearby. People are often baffled by the HX-20 to be the first one that integrated a battery because it looks still quite modern by its very compact form factor and the number of features it includes. The HX-20 also was a very popular computer and you will have no problems getting one from ebay for relatively small bucks. The Data General ONE is not the second computer with batteries, but the first PC with batteries.


These computers now are the first ones that deviate from the traditional usage-by-keyboard to a new paradigm that is more appropriate to truly mobile computers: the pen-and-notepad. The GRiDPad 1900 is (by and large, see the last poster) the first mobile computer using a pen (still with cable), and because it is so early, it is using still a keyboard-oriented Operating System (MS DOS). The pen is used more like a mouse. The NCR 3125 is the first mobile computer meant to be used like a notepad. It’s sleek, timeless design still looks good today, but it’s nowadays on the heavy side of things. Both models are very rare today, with the 1900 being especially rarely sighted.


1993 is the year where notepad-like mobile computers hit the market in big numbers. They differ from the previous models mainly in size and in price. They all aim at sporting a general Handwriting Recognition function in order to come from handwritten pen input to text the computer can process. Unfortunately, this is often also the problem for these early models. Either it basically does not work (PenPad), or it does not really work (Newton first model, Zoomer), at least it requires strong-for-the-time computing and memory resources (440, Newton) that make them still-too-expensive-for-many-users and still-too-heavy for shirt pockets.


But then, one small company (called Palm) finds a recipe that compromises pen input and computing requirements by replacing general Handwriting Recognition by a special alphabet users have to learn called “Graffiti”. This allows mobile computers to use much smaller CPUs which drives the price down and requires smaller batteries. In addition, the Palm computer family uses small screens, which makes the system very lightweight.


The pen remains the most important input device for mobile computers until Apple finds out how a mobile computer can work that uses only a finger. It implements these ideas in the first iPhone in 2007, Google copies this idea for the first Android phone in 2008 (some of you will now that the first Android prototype 2006 was keyboard-based, and that the design was switched as a reaction to the iPhone).

And that’s where we are today.

Let’s conclude with the technical data of the mobile models above.

Technical Data

Manufacturer Model Year Weight Price CPU RAM Disk Screen
Osborne 1 1981 11 Kg $1795 Z80@4 MHz 64 kB 204 kB 5“ CRT
Kaypro II 1982 13 Kg $1795 Z80@3.5 MHz 64 kB 382 kB 9“ CRT
Epson HX-20 1981 1.6 Kg $795 Hitachi 6301@0.6 MHz 16 kB 3.5“ LCD
DG ONE 1984 4.5 Kg $2895 8086@4 MHz 128 kB 1.4 MB 11“ LCD
Linus 1000 1987 4 Kg $2795 NEC V20@7.2 MHz 640 kB 512 kB 9.5” LCD
GRiD GRiDPAD 1900 1989 2 Kg $2370 8086@10 MHz 1 MB 10“ LCD
NCR 3125 1991 1.5 Kg $4795 80386SL@20 MHz 4 MB 20 MB 10“ LCD
Amstrad PenPad 1993 0.4 Kg $400 Z8S180@14.3 MHz 128 kB 4.5“ LCD
EO 440 1993 1 Kg $2000 Hobbit@20 MHz 4 MB 7.5“ LCD
Apple Newton 1993 0.4 Kg $700 ARM610@20 MHz 640 kB 5.2“ LCD
Tandy Z-PDA* 1993 0.4 Kg $700 NEC V20@10 MHz 1 MB 4.8“ LCD
USR Pilot 1996 0.2 Kg $299 Motorola 68328@ 16 MHz 128 kB 3.3“ LCD
Apple iPhone 2007 0.1 Kg $499 ARM1176@412 MHz 128 MB 4 GB 3.5“ LCD
HTC Dream 2008 0.2 Kg $495 ARM1136@528 MHz 192 MB 256 MB 3.2“ LCD


Presentation on PenPoint

December 21, 2017

PenPointI hold a presentation on GO and PenPoint at the VCFB 2017 in Berlin. The slides are in English, the presentation in German. As there are not so many PenPoint lovers out there, I’d love to get comments and corrections on the presentation!