Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

An IBM Museum in Germany

January 15, 2017

Lately, I was lucky to visit an IBM museum in Böblingen (near Stuttgart), Germany. I write “an IBM museum”, but actually, it is “the IBM Museum” in Germany although (as far as I know) it is not an official IBM institution.

This museum is the successor of the former “Haus zur Geschichte der IBM Datenverarbeitung” (House of the History of IBM Data Processing) in Sindelfingen, Germany. It was located in an building that once was a punch card printing factory on 600 square meters. The building and its facilities was provided by IBM. The museum itself was (and is) run by the IBM Club, the official IBM institution  that “promotes and encourages group social activities among employees, retirees and their families”. The museum did not had normal opening times, but it was open by appointment for the public. The collection was very extensive both time period-wise (starting in the punch card era of the predecessing companies like Hollerith) and model-wise (up to quite current mainframe models). The “Haus zur Geschichte der Datenverarbeitung” was opened in 1994. It had to close in 2012 as IBM wanted to sell the building.

Fortunately, the IBM Club could store its collection at the site of the IBM R&D Lab in Böblingen. There, the collection got some space in a former computing center. Since 2016, the collection can be viewed there by invitation only (mainly for IBM customers) because for anything else there are simply no resources available (in the end, the collection curators have to take care about the computers). The first four pictures of this article are from this new site.

While we were there, we were allowed to take picture for our own personal use, but were asked not to publish them in the Internet. That’s really a pity because the exhibits in this collection (most of them in working order…) are really impressive.

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50th Anniversary of the Mechanical Mouse

December 28, 2016

On December 5th, 2016, some German organisations hold a colloquium at the University of Stuttgart, Germany on the 50th anniversary of the mechanical mouse.

Therefore, the colloquium not only featured the museum director, owner, and guide of his Mouse Museum (cringely called Mouse-oleum, I swear!), a part of the small Computer Museum at the University of Hamburg, Prof. Heinz Oberquelle.

But also the developer of the German claim to mouse history fame, Rainer Mallebrein, and a very early user of it (and its accompanying terminal), Prof. Rul Gunzenhäuser.

The object in question is the (internationally extremely unknown, and even in Germany only 2009 re-surfaced) “Rollkugel” (roll ball) Telefunken RKS 100-86 as an optional acessory to their vector graphics terminal SIG 100-86.

Rollkugel

The story as told by Rainer Mallebrain goes like this. In the 1960s Telefunken (funded 1903, merged 1967 with AEG, something like the German General Electric) developed a vector graphics terminal to go with their TR440 Mainframe computer for the German Air Traffic Control. In order to let the traffic controller select the depicted planes directly, different interaction methods were discussed. A light gun like in the 1950s SAGE system seemed not to be ergonomical enough. So, the developers used a track ball (which preceded the invention of the mouse by 20 years). Telefunken now wanted to produce a “civilian” version of the graphics terminal (called SIG-100), especially for the (German) universities who already owned TR440 computers. The problem was that the universities were quite unwilling to use track balls because these devices were quite huge by today’s standards and required to drill a large hole into desks to accomodate them. So the Telefunken developers, just for that purpose, developed a device that also contained a (smaller) ball but could be moved on the desk: a mouse. This mouse was not called a mouse because there was no such concept at the time. In good German engineering tradition, the device was given an accurate, correct, and completely un-inspiring name: the roll ball or Rollkugel.

The Rollkugel (as dissected by a project at the University of Stuttgart that created a replica of the Rollkugel) does not contain any electronics, only two rotational sensors, the ball, a button, and some mechanics. The electronics that aimed at converting the electrical signals into a mouse position was contained in the terminal (which, in turn, was a not so small computer). The mouse cable was not coming out of the Rollkugel at the now traditional 12 o’clock, but at the 6 o’clock position. The Rollkugel was large (about the size of a halved grapefruit), and exactly half a sphere with the button at the top.

Prof. Gunzenhäuser (one of the first computer science professors in Germany) then talked about what they did with the Rollkugel in these early days. He explained that it took a while before the Rollkugel worked without errors. He recalled the first use of the Rollugel in his group was the development of a graphical chess system where the user could move the pieces using this device.

The Rollkugel was sold from 1968 which would make it 48 as of today, but the (not completely serious) explanation for the 50th anniversary was that they worked on it from 1966 on. It is not claimed that this is the first mouse (as Doug Engelbart’s mouse using two wheels) probably was developed earlier.

Fortune Systems

June 5, 2016

Today, I want to talk about a relatively small company that existed in the 80s. They started off in time and with a good idea, but as so many forgotten companies, they delivered too late and then lost their strategic way after the original founder and visionary left. Little is known about that company in the Internet, there is not a single website dedicated to its memory although they produced interesting computers. So, let’s start the tale…

logo

Funnily, despite their quite unfortunate fate, the name of the company was Fortune Systems. They were US-based and started off in 1980 on the idea of producing multi-user systems for serious business purposes like word processing, accounting, and the like. The selling point would have been to be cheaper than the mini-computer-based competition by relying on a (at that time) new, relatively cheap, powerful microprocessor and an existing, relatively standard multi-user operating system. The CPU naturally was the Motorola 68000 and the operating system was Unix in the form of Microsoft’s Xenix.

Who now feels reminded of another startup of the 80s that used the power of the 68000 and Unix to surpass the competition and thinks “Sun” is on the right track. Fortune tried to be for the business market what Sun later on became for the scientific market. Although one can compare Fortune and Sun in their approach and they started at about the same time, their machines are quite different. This is because the requirements by their respective  markets are quite different.

A scientific workstation tries to provide the user sitting in front of the machine as much compute and graphics power as possible and typically put the focus on communication very early on. The price point is relatively high due to the amount of high-capacity components. The availability of commercially available software is a bonus, not a necessity. Users will write their own software anyway or use freely available packets from similar minded colleagues. Users and administrators are typically quite computer-literate, so a complex system is acceptable. The competition of workstations were typically super-computers.

In contrast, a business-oriented computer system tries to provide all needed services to all user groups inside a company for the smallest price. The audience is typically not very computer-literate, and easy administration is a clear plus. The provided services are typically either commercial software packets or services that use them. Therefore, it is important that the computer system appeals to the manufacturers of the software. This can be achieved either by a large installed system base or by using an operating system to which the manufacturer can easily port its software. All this typically leads to an architecture where the users access the system via terminals as terminals are cheaper than full-fledged computers and can be controlled better by an administrator. This architecture allows a computer of the same CPU power to serve more users than in a workstation scenario as every user only needs some compute power per time (e.g. when he or she types a letter in a word processor). The competition of Fortune were business-oriented mini-computer installations.

A sensation at COMDEX 1981

Therefore, it was quite a sensation when Fortune announced at the COMDEX 1981 a powerful  business-oriented computer at the price of only 5000$. The model, the Fortune 32:16 with a promised 128k of RAM, Unix, and a 1.5 MB floppy disk drive was one of the first 68000-based computers (although 68000 CPU cards for e.g. S100 systems existed before) and probably the first business computer based on this CPU. Would it have been available at that time, even in early 1982, at that price, it would have been really a steal. But as you can already tell, it was not available neither in 1981 nor 1982, but only in mid to late 1983. Also the price of $5000 was not the one of a usable system as the system required a harddisk (Unix, remember?), and this added some hefty amount to the overall price.

Even in May 1983, almost no 32:16 seems to have been available as even Apple’s Lisa “Marketing Binder” (a wonderful document that analyses the competition of the Lisa) speaks of the 32:16 only as hearsay: “As of December 1, 1982, Fortune is just beginning to deliver hard disk-based systems.  Fortune dealers quote a delivery date of two to five weeks on the hard disk systems, and they refuse to dicuss a delivery date for the floppy based systems.”

32:16 family

Still, what was delivered finally in 1983, was a neat system, but not the sensation it could have been in 1982. The initial 32:16 was a 6 MHz 68000 system with a 5.25” floppy drive, 256 kB of RAM, and harddisks ranging from 5 to 20 MB. The system included one 12” monochrome display, one serial interface, 5 extension slots, and 4 memory slots for a total amount of up to 2 MB of RAM. The system also included the text processing software. According to [Lisa], a  configuration of 256 kB RAM, and 5 MB harddisk was available for $8990. A 10MB version would cost $9990 ([Lisa] cites Fortune dealers saying that they strongly recommend the 10MB harddisk in order to make the system “usable”). Available as options were serial interface cards, and tape drives with a capacity of 20MB per tape. Software-wise you could by Business Basic, Cobol, Fortran, Pascal, and C. The basic machine was a 1-user system. According to [Lisa], extending it to more users would cost an additional $1700 for the second user and $1200 for any subsequent user.

In the CC-Seller copy of June 1983, in Germany, the following competing computers were available at similar or lower prices:

  • Altos ACS 8600 and 68000 series running Xenix
  • Burroughs B20 under BTOS
  • Tandy TRS-80 Model 16 (running Xenix later on)

To compare the machine to others, one also can have a look on the Dhrystone measure as there is an entry for a “Fortune 32:16 68000-6 MHz” system with a “V7+sys3+4.1BSD” operating system. This value put this machine performance-wise between an IBM XT with 8086 at 8 MHz and a PDP-11/34A. A (later) Macintosh512 with a 68000 at 7.7MHz is about 75% faster.

The PS and XP families

3216PS

Already in 1983, the initial model was replaced by two new models. The lower end PS series had only 2 memory and 3 extension slots, the higher end XP series (like the original 32:16) 4 memory and 5 extension slots. All models now come with more initial RAM and the hard disks start at 10 MB. The PS series could be extended up to 3 users, the XP series up to 9 users (or terminals). Everything else stays the same, the CPU, the case, and the periperals. The only other difference is that the harddisk subsystem of the XP is faster than the one of the PS.

I recently had a more detailled look on a 32:16 PS10 (Photos will follow in a later posting). What I found was that in that PS model, probably the same PCB was used as in the XP, but only 3 of the 5 extension slots and 2 of the 4 memory slots were populated. Unsuprisingly, both memory slots were used, each one was filled by a 256 kB RAM card. From the 3 extension slots, one was used by the (text-based) display controller, one by the harddisk controller and only one was available for e.g. a multi-serial card (it had a 4-port-card in it). So if you want to connect a display (not a terminal) to the machine, you could already subtract 2 extension slots from any configuration. The PS model I examined also had a CPU that was specified up to 8MHz. I cannot tell whether it still was clocked only to 6 MHz or higher.

3216keyboard

Also a nice feature of a 32:16 model is the keyboard. As wide as the computer case, massive, and with many special keys such as “Execute” (no, there is a separate “Enter” key”), “Help”, “CANCEL / DEL” (a “DELETE” key also exists), a “LF GL” key, 3 keys with tilde, swung brackets,a colon etc., and 16(!) function keys. The keys are not mechanically clicky, but this keyboard is probably the only one with a dedicated wheel for the volume of the click sound! Finally, there is a space for a function key template below the function keys and underneath the keyboard there is a space to store unused templates… The keyboard that I opened during the mentioned PS model examination was produced by the Digitran Company.

Reportedly ([Warnock 2004]), the 32:16 series did not have a MMU (because it was not available yet). Now, for Unix-like systems you typically need something like a MMU (unless it’s Minix). Therefore, Fortune designed their own circuit (using MSI TTL chips) that allowed at least swapping (but not paging).

Also quite interesting is their reasonably effective copy protection scheme according to [ClassicCMP2005]: “Uninstalled Fortune software on distribution media was encrypted using a key known to Fortune and to Fortune’s installation program.  When you installed software from the distribution media, the software would be decrypted and then re-encrypted using a key based on the motherboard serial number for storage on the hard disk (so you couldn’t just copy the executables from your system to some other system: installed software only ran on the system on which it had been installed); and of course the installer marked the distribution medium as “installed” so you couldn’t just go install it again somewhere else.”

Price per user

The significant value for a Fortune customer was always the price of the system per user. Therefore, let’s have a look at them. The following calculations are based on the 1983 IBR price list and a conversion factor of 1.5 USD per GBP in 1983. The one end of the scale was a 2-user PS10 system with (probably) 512 kB RAM, 10 MB harddisk, a 2-port serial card and the multi-user upgrade for the operating system. This would cost around 13000$, or 6500$ per user (quite a difference to the promised price of 5000$ for the smallest initial model). The other end of the scale would be a 10 user XP20 system with 2 MB of RAM, a 20 MB harddisk, two 4-port serial cards and 9 Fortune terminals. This would cost 38’000$ or 3’800$ per user. We abstract from the fact that 10 users would put quite a strain on the system and that you also would need to buy some more application software, but these prices are probably comparable among different computer systems. If we now compare this price to a quite cheap competitor, the TRS-80 Model 16 with 3 users (1984, 512 kB RAM, 48 MB harddisk) at about 5600$ per user we can see that at least initially, the prices per user were competitive. On a one-user-per-computer-scale, though, the TRS80 Model 16 in 1983 and 1984 would be cheaper before on this market the original Macintosh ($2495), and in 1985 e.g. the Atari ST ($800) would crush the prices and offer a much better user interface. However, Fortune Systems never tried to be in this market.

The CEO leaves the company

At the 1983 new models announcement, Gary Friedman, the CEO also announced that he was to leave the company. Gary Friedman co-founded the company, secured two rounds of venture capital funding. The first round of venture capital in October 1981 added up to 8.5M$, and the second round in May 1982 of 10.5M$. In addition, Thomson-CSF added in May 1982 1.5M$, “reportedly the largest commitment of venture capital ever made to a micro-computer company”. He also brought Fortune Systems on the stock market in March of 1983. There were 5 million shares sold which brought in a sum of 110 million dollars. In 1982 Fortune had a umsatz of about 26 M$ and a profit of 2.9 M$. In October 1983, Gary Friedman resigns on a “disagreement with the board of directors over management style.” Gary Friedman says that “if I didn’t [resign], I probably would have been fired.”. It was rumoured that the companies that put money into Fortune were not happy with the CEO anymore and that the initial technical difficulties of the 32:16 machines (some said that pratictically note more than two terminal could be supported) led to his demise.

SX family

In 1985, Fortune announces the 32:16 SX family. This time the 68000 runs at 12MHz and is announced to support up to 24 terminals. The maximum RAM is still 2MB (so I guess it has still 4 memory slots). A basic SX45 model gives you 1MB of RAM, 45MB harddisk and costs $12995. It seems that the integrated text terminal, the display, and the keyboard are not part of the packet anymore, so you had to buy a terminal with the machine before you could even set it up.

Fortune often sells to bigger companies. In August 1985 InfoWorld reports that nearly 1000 Fortune systems are both installed at Ford and Bell South.

Formula 8000 family

Formula8000

In 1986, Fortune announces the Formula family. They are 68020-based and actually use a new (tower) case! They are claimed of supporting up to 80 users. There are two versions. The lower version for $21900 has 1MB RAM, 70 MB harddisk, a 70 MB streamer. The higher version for $24900 has a 70 MB harddisk. In the announcements, the models are simply called Formula, but later on they are named Formula 8000 series.

Selling the business to SCI

In 1987 Fortune sells its hardware business to the much bigger SCI Systems for between $17M and $20M. SCI has an own line of Unix-based computers, but is more in the scientific and military business. SCI keeps the Fortune brand until about 1988. SCI still exists today.

Formula 4000 family

Also in 1987 a lower-end Formula family is announced. The Formula 4000 family has the same processor at the same speed as the Formula 8000 series, but is aimed at supporting 22 users at maximum. The entry-level 40MB harddisk configuration starts at $9900. The high-end 145MB harddisk, 4MB RAM, 60MB tape drive configuration is at $19900.

Conclusion

So, to conclude the company history, what do we find? We see a company with the right idea at the right time. We see that technical difficulties let the company access the market too late with the competion already at their toes. We see that the company from an investor’s point of view is not up to the promise and burns a lot of money very fast. As a consequence the CEO is fired, and the company falls behind the competition over time, selling the business for a small amount to a competitor.

Mysteries

What I’m seriously confused about are the graphics capabilities of the 32:16 series, or, to be more exact, the lack thereof. Different sources state different things. [Lisa] assumes a resolution of 640 x 480 in “Graphics Mode”, but says that the standard display is capable only of text. [oldcom] speaks about an “optional High resolution graphic card”, but I never saw one appearing in a price list. [CC] does not list any graphics capability or even an option for any Fortune model. Fortune’s own prospectus in 1983, [FS1983a], claims that “Two options may be added to the standard video display controller. First, a bit-mapped graphics display controller with its own 64 Kilobyte memory provides 640 x 480 and 800 x 480 high resolution graphics on the standard 12 inch monochrome display. The second option provides additional memory (256 Kilobytes total) and a second MC68000 microprocessor which is used to drive either the monochrome or color display. This option allows the operator to select 16 colors from a palette of 512 with resolutions up to 1024 x 1024 in the pan mode.“ The very official UK November 1983 price list ([IBR1983]) does not know anything about graphics options at all. So, my guess is that Fortune always promised a graphics option, but never delivered, maybe also because the market never really wanted it. There is no doubt, though, that you could connect (serially) a terminal with some graphics capability from a 3rd party vendor.

From a collector’s point of view

Let’s also talk about Fortune System machines from a collector’s point of view. Text-only 68000-based Unix machines are typically not something collector’s are especially excited about. They are not home computers, they are professional machines, they are not the first in any relevant aspect, and their performance is not extremely good. Probably noone has ever desired to have one in their heydays. On the plus side, the models are all very rare, especially the later ones. They are quite self-contained, so if the main box is running, you probably can use the entire system if you have a monitor and a keyboard or a serial terminal for the later models. It’s a friendly, nice-looking system, and it is one of the earliest 68000 systems you can find. Finally, at that has been always the slogan of this blog anyway, if you have one, even your snobby collector friend will admit that he has never seen or heard about it before. And isn’t that the best reason of all, to have exclusive bragging rights?

Models

As the company existed only for some years, the number of models they produced is limited.

32:16

The initial model, presented in 1981, but not delivered before 1983, was called 32:16 after the 68000 CPU which was internally a 32 bit design with a 16 bit bus system. Unfortunately, this was not only the name of the first model, but also the name of the entire model family, so sometimes it is hard decide what is meant when 32:16 is mentioned.

CPU: 68000@6MHz
RAM: 128kB – 2MB (4 memory slots)
ROM: 16 kB
Floppy: 800 kB
Harddisk: 5 – 20 MB
OS: Unix
Text: 80 x 24
Graphics: none
Extension slots: 5
Interfaces: 1 serial port (RS232C), 1 printer port (centronics), 1 keyboard port, 1 display interface
Initial prices: $5000 (for an useless one-user model  without harddisk) to $9990

Thomson Micromega 32

Thomson CSF, the (in 1982) newly nationalized French electronics company participated in financing Fortune Systems from very early on. In 1982, they invested $1.5M and received also the rights to market Fortune’s computer in France exclusively. They did this under their own brand and using their own model name, the Micromega 32 (there has been a Micromega 16 of a completely different design). It also seems to have used a different (probably French) keyboard. A user at old-computers.com (http://www.old-computers.com/museum/computer.asp?c=89) remembers: “I worked on this computer in the 80s in a french government ministry where it was used for word processing and custom applications based on the Informix database. French ambassies either had Micromegas (for large ones) or Bull PC clones (for the small ones) that would enable them to run the software we wrote based on the Informix database, as this RDBMS was available on Unix (Micromega) and MS-DOS (Bull Micral 30).”

The data of the Micromega 32 (which was sold from 1983) were the same as the 32:16.

InfoMate

These series was designed to be non-upgradable to multi-users, i.e. strictly single-user only. 5 – 20 MB of harddisks were available, the RAM was 256 kB. I never have seen these models mentioned other than in the IBR price list of 1983, so I do not know whether they were really offered.

32:16 PS

CPU: 68000@6MHz
RAM: 384kB – 1MB (2 memory slots)
ROM: 16 kB
Floppy: 800 kB
Harddisk: 10 – 20 MB
OS: Unix
Text: 80 x 24
Graphics: none
Extension slots: 3
Interfaces: 1 serial port (RS232C), 1 printer port (centronics), 1 keyboard port, 1 display interface
Initial prices: $7500 – $10000

32:16 XP

CPU: 68000@6MHz
RAM: 512kB – 2MB (4 memory slots)
ROM: 16 kB
Floppy: 800 kB
Harddisk: 20 – 30 MB
OS: Unix
Text: 80 x 24
Graphics: none
Extension slots: 5
Interfaces: 1 serial port (RS232C), 1 printer port (centronics), 1 keyboard port, 1 display interface
Initial prices: $17000 – $19500

32:16 SX

CPU: 68000@12MHz
RAM: 1MB – 2MB (4 memory slots)
Floppy: 800 kB
Harddisk: 45 – 70 MB
OS: For:Pro
Graphics: none
Extension slots: 5
Interfaces: : 1 serial port (RS232C), 1 printer port (centronics)
Initial prices: $12995 – $14995

Formula 8000

CPU: 68020@16MHz
RAM: 1MB – 4MB
Floppy: 800 kB
Harddisk: 70 – 145 MB
OS: For:Pro 3.0 or Unix System V.2
Graphics: ??
Extension slots: 5
Interfaces: : 4 serial ports, SCSI
Initial prices: $21900 – $24900

Formula 4000

This is the first model after the hardware business is sold to SCI.

CPU: 68020@16MHz
RAM: 1MB – 4MB
Floppy: 800 kB
Harddisk: 40 – 145 MB
OS: For:Pro 3.0 or Unix System V.2
Graphics: ??
Extension slots: 3
Interfaces: : 4 serial ports, SCSI
Initial prices: $9900 – $19900

Later models

Fortune/SCI had a last series of models in 1990. The FORTUNE/SCI System 5000 family had an Intel 80×86-based low end (using Unix) and a high end that added a Motorola 88000 CPU to the system. But in my opinion, that were SCI, not Fortune models, therefore I omit them here.

Resources

[CC] CC-Computerarchiv, http://cc-computerarchiv.de/
[Lisa] Lisa Sales Marketing Binder, June 1983
[oldcom] http://www.old-computers.com/museum/computer.asp?st=1&c=767
[IBR1983] Fortune 32:16 Microcomputer Systems Suggested Retail Price List effective 1 November, 1983. IBR Microcomputers Limited.
[FS1983a] Fortune Systems. Fortune 32:16. The Complete Business System. 1983
[Warnock 2004] comp.unix.bsd.freebsd.misc, 26 May 2004, Rob Warnock, Re: Andrew Tanenbaum on the origins of Unix/Linux
[ClassicCMP2005] 2005 posting to ClassicCmp cited after http://www.retro.co.za/blog/?p=2268

OMFG: CC – Computerarchiv

May 21, 2016

While doing my research on the upcoming Fortune Systems entry I stumbled upon the most interesting, useful, and eye-opening resource on the ancient computer market I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately (for some of you), it’s in German, and it’s about the German computer market, but it’s simply wonderful for any statistically interested retro computing nut.

What this resource represents is the archive of a (once) commercial information service in Germany that published virtually all available computer models on the market for all manufacturers. For each model they compiled at least one configuration (often up to three different configurations, a small one, a typical one and a large one), described the configuration briefly (using their own notation) and noted down the price for that configuration (without tax). Sometimes they also described the technical data of a model family in more detail. They did this every 3 months from 1971 to 2001.

These reports were published as paper brochures with varying page numbers from 5 pages in 1971 to 195 pages in 1991. According to their history it soon became an indispensable part of every computer sales professional’s suitcase.

There were two types of reports: orange ones on smaller computers (“Bürocomputer”), PCs, work stations, middle-sized systems and the like, and blue ones on “regular” computers (“EDV”).

The archive consists of two parts:

  • the first part (“30 Jahre Computermarkt D 1971-2001 (pdf)”) consists of scanned copies of the original brochures. Not all issues are represented, but there is one issue for every year.
  • the second part (“Hersteller-Dateien 1986-2001 (html)”) assembles the entries as text over the different issues. The entries are organized according to manufacturers.
    Unfortunately, some entries exist only in one part, but not in the other.

The value of these reports were (and are) not only that they assembled all the market information in one booklet and that it was published periodically, but also that they pre-processed price list information by chosing a configuration and collecting the prices for the needed components. This information was even more valuable for the companies that did not publish public price lists, but insisted to give you a number for your quote only after a lengthy consultation process. This, of course, also means that you as a buyer, might end up with a different price than the one described in the report, but a rough price for a computer was more important for the competition than none price…

The publisher of these brochures, the CC company, certainly intended to earn money by doing all this, but they certainly also lived up to their claim to shed some “light on the computer market”.

Apart from the market reports on computers, the CC company also published market reports on

  • software
  • terminals
  • text processing systems

but unfortunately, these are not available as of now.

The URL is: http://cc-computerarchiv.de/

If you know something similar for other markets, I’d love to hear about it.

In the upcoming months I might feel inclined to do some analyses using this resource and present it in this blog.

IBP 190ST

May 17, 2015

In Germany, the Atari ST was very popular among users of “serious” applications such as text processing, CAD, and equipment controlling. This stemmed not least from the fact of the early availability of an affordable high framerate (70 Hz), high resolution (640×400) black-and-white monitor, the SM124 (and its successors).

Now, the Atari was conceived as a game machine (and Atari was initially really surprised by the demand of the SM124), later on morphed into the form factor of a business machine (Mega ST), but, of course, never had the form factor suited for industrial, 19″ rack-capable usage.

That’s where two German companies, IBP and Rhotron, saw a market. They converted Atari STs into modules that could be fitted into 19″ racks and added standard bus interfaces and measurement modules that could be used by the STs.

This is one of these models, the 190ST from IBP.

IBP presented the first version of this family in 1988. It was a licensed Mega ST design that has been re-designed to fit on three Eurocards. These were packed into a 19″ module with most interfaces, using industry-grade connectors at the front.
The 190ST was offered with one of three possible bus options:

  • EUROBUS
  • ECB-Bus
  • VMEbus

Additionally (and in contrast to the original Mega ST), the 190ST also provided a socket for a 68881 mathematical co-processor. Other additional, built-in goodies included:

  • 1 Watt audio amplifier
  • battery-buffered realtime clock
  • buffered DMA interface
  • Midi with up to 126kps (gilded 9-pin Sub-D connector)
  • keyboard via V24 interface (Sub-D)
  • Watchdog that can be software-controlled
  • application software sockets can use either ROMs or  battery-buffered RAMs

Funnily, there was no mouse nor joystick interface on a 190ST. But you could add both using a special keyboard from IBP that was connected via V24…

Later on, the 190STV30 was added to the family. It featured an additional V30 CPU (8 MHz) in order to allow MSDOS compatibility.

Finally, the 190ST020 offered a Motorola 68020@16 MHz processor. It was introduced in 1991 and started from 5330 DM. As the 68020 was only used as a 68000 replacement, the bus width was unchanged (i.e. 16bit).

I always wanted such a machine, partly because it is a real Atari ST clone, not only a re-packaged one, partly because my first job as a student worker was to implement some software on such a machine. And, of course it is a rare computer made in Germany. Therefore, I was really surprised to find one in the US, from a commercial used factory equipment provider. It is the most basic model (68000, GemDOS, 512 KB RAM), but nevertheless 🙂

Technical Data

  • CPU: Motorola 68000@8 MHz or 68020@16 MHz, V30@8MHz as an option
  • RAM: 0.5, 2, or 4 MB
  • HDD: internally none, but can be added externally (e.g. as another module)
  • OS: GEMDOS or RTOS
  • Graphics: Standard Atari ST graphics
  • Interfaces: Centronics, DMA, keyboard, Midi, RS232, video, floppy disk
  • Released: May 1989
  • Number of produced machines: 700 (hearsay)
  • Initial price: 1500$

Links

Canon Cat (I own one)

May 14, 2015

I completely forgot to tell that I own a Canon Cat (plus the printer) now for quite some years…

A Canon Cat on Ebay

April 22, 2015

There is a rare Canon Cat on ebay(.com):

http://www.ebay.de/itm/RARE-Vintage-Canon-Cat-Computer-Jef-Raskin-Design-Works-Purrrr-fectly-/131492696322?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item1e9d935102

The Buy It Now price is 1500$. The machine looks nice. The listing has a good compilation on Cat information. If you want to have a nice Forth computer and a non-standard design vintage computer, have a look!

StuS 2014

June 19, 2014

On July, 4th – 6h 2014 I organize a tiny retro computing meeting (called StuS) in Stuttgart, Germany with the usual bunch of retro fiddlers.

If you are able to speak German, visit http://forum.classic-computing.de/index.php?page=Thread&threadID=5965 for a forum on this meeting.

If not, and you are interested to participate, send me an email or post a comment.

NCR 3125

May 29, 2014

Image

This mobile computer from 1991 is the second pen-based device (after Grid’s Gridpad from 1989), the first one with a separate pen (although it beats the Gridpad 2050 or Gripad SL by only a few months if any) and the first one from a big manufacturer. It is also one of the most expensive mobile computers with an initial price of a hefty $4795 (about $8200 in 2014 numbers). Finally, it is one of the few mobile computers designed in Germany (by NCR in Augsburg).

Operating systems-wise the device is very flexible because it came out at the right time. As a PC it can run MSDOS plus NCR’s proprietary “PenOS”, a.k.a. the software that let you use the pen as an input device to enter text in a DOS environment. From 1992 onwards it could execute also (Microsoft) Pen Windows. Finally, even GO’s PenPoint was available for this computer. Some people even got (PC-)GEOS running on it.

My machine (as far as I can see) has only DOS + PenOS. If you happen to have PenPoint for it, I would be very happy…

The model number of this device is 3125. According to some old NCR information (see links below) this makes is a member of the NCR 3000 family that spans from this tablet and a notebook all the way up to a multi-processor, 100,000 MIPS big iron computer system under Unix. As all these systems do not share the same architecture or even the operating system, that’s quite a stretch…

The design of the device is very sleek; it looks very streamlined and timeless. The pen for example is neatly contained in a small hidden compartment at the front. It was rewarded a “iF product design award 1992 – Best Of Category”.

There seems to be a successor to this model with the Model 3130 NotePad in 1992. The 3130 had a backlit screen and a 40 or 60MB HDD and comes with Pen Windows. The weight increased by a pound. The price was about $4000.

I am very unsure on the fate of this machine. It was expensive, not often mentioned in the news, and so I assume it was not very successful. Maybe it was also subject of the turmoil following the takeover by AT&T in 1991/1992.

Technical Data:

  • CPU: 80386SL @ 20 MHz (has about 15 MIPS)
  • RAM: 4MB
  • HDD: 20MB
  • Weight: 1500 grams
  • Pen: passive
  • Display: LCD 640 x 480, 16 gray shades
  • OS: MSDOS plus PenOS or PenPoint or PenWindows
  • Interfaces: VGA, keyboard, RS232C, Centronics, all via a “I/O Connector Adapter”
  • Released: 1991
  • Initial price: $4795

Links

 

Kids react to Old Computers

May 25, 2014

In the insightful series of confronting today’s children with oldstyle technology, today: Kids react to Old Computers. Very funny and thought-provoking. Why did we accept that crap at that time? The answer is, of course, because nothing better existed at that time at that price point.

These kids already reacted to: