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 old-computers.com 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 old-computer.com 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 old-computers.com 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.

References

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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”.

top

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.

bottom

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

serialnumber

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

The back

back

has 4 interfaces, all marked in latin:

interfaces

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:

topopen

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:

pcbdetail.jpg

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 http://zxbyte.ru/pik.htm, 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: https://translate.google.de/translate?hl=de&sl=ru&tl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fzxbyte.ru%2Fpik.htm

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.

GRiD “Convertible” Model 2270

April 29, 2018

closed

GRiD was a legendary company that existed from 1979. In 1988 it was purchased by Tandy Corporation, whose computer manufacturing division in turn was then bought by AST Research in 1993, which in turn was bought by Samsung in 1996. It was always a company that targeted not the mass market, but niche markets where the price of a product was less important than the technical features. As a result, GRiD had e.g. the first

  • clamshell-design portable computer (GRiD COMPASS, 1982)
  • use of the Intel 8086 and 8087 floating-point co-processor in a commercial product
  • notebook that had a built in hard drive (GRiDCASE 12xx, 1984)
  • pen-based tablet computer (GRiDPAD 1900, 1989)
  • portable to have a built-in pointing device (GRiDCASE 1550sx, 1990)

GRiD mainly sold solid computers to audiences with special needs, e.g. the military, or NASA.

open.jpg
Another one of their “firsts” was the first convertible computer, i.e. a model that could be used as a tablet and as a notebook computer: the two models 2260 and 2270 from 1992.

Except in the recent time there weren’t that many convertibles out there because a convertible needs a market demand for a tablet computer that then also shall be used as a notebook as writing text a lot is a pain on a tablet. Pen-based tablets were a hot topic in the first half of the 1990s. Afterwards, pen computing by and large vanished from the list of hype topics (with the notable exception of pen-based PDAs from 1996 to the early 2000s). Only with the (re-)advent of touchscreen-based User Interfaces by Apple’s iPhone from 2007, tablets re-appeared from 2009, this time without needing a pen. With the new interests in tablet computers, also convertibles re-appeared on the market.

Back to the GRiD 2270. In 1992, GRiD presented the convertible computer in two models (2660, 2670) that differed only internally. Both models were PCs that offered both a tablet mode using a Wacom pen subsystem and a notebook mode with a compact, but full-fledged keyboard. Both models had a 9.5″ 64 gray levels VGA LCD, a built-in HDD, and 4 MB of RAM. An external FDD could be connected to the parallel port. The 2260 used a 80386SL processor running at 25 MHz, the 2270 a 80486SL processor running also at 25 MHz.

There is a whole slough of names under which the two models are known. To the best of my research, these are officially the GRiD Model 2260 and 2270, respectively. My (German) manual to the 2270 has the title “GRiD Convertible GT” on the front. The Internet knows them also under the aliases “GRiDPAD 2260”, “GRiDPAD Convertible 2260”, and “GRiD Convertible 2260”. As AST models, they were known under the designation AST PenExec 3/25SL and 4/25SL, respectively.

battery.jpg

There were two battery options, a small one and a big one. The batteries were NiCad and there are two peculiarities about it. First, you can load the battery directly from the PSU without a need for the computer as the battery has the power interface. As a consequence, you cannot power the computer without the battery because the computer does not have another power interface.

batteryempty.jpg

Second, the battery hangs on two metal heads from the computer. To connect the battery, after putting the battery on the heads, you move the battery to the right where a peg goes into a hole.

batteryopen.jpg

The peg is then secured by a flap that needs to be pressed down.

batteryclosed.jpg

That’s a quite special arrangement. Especially as the big battery that I have cannot hand freely from the computer, but is some millimeters thicker than the computer case. As a consequence, when placing the computer on a flat surface, the battery raises away from the heads and looks awkward. Probably, the smaller battery fits better onto the case.

penholder.jpg

The system has the typical WACOM pen, and the usual problems finding a space at the device for storing it. Their solution was a somewhat flimsy pen holder in a niche on the right lower part. This solution is not ideal, so in order to fix it, there is an accessory which consists of a string attached to a cap which can be put on top of the pen. The other side of the string is to be attached in a hole that exists for that purpose in the case.

manualpens.jpg

As you might or might not know, I’m rather interested in the PenPoint operating system. This machine falls right into the time period where it could run PenPoint, and there are contemporary GRiD models that were delivered with it, so the question is, was there a PenPoint for the 2260/2270 models? Well, I do not know for sure, but it seems not (according to Dr. Google…). However, there is a mention of a “2260 MIL for PenPoint” file in [http://www.sandyflat.net/digerati/ast486/drivers/grid/index.htm], so maybe PenPoint was initially targeted. We will never know. The hardware, however, could have been easily used, even if the screen in keyboard mode was oriented in landscape, not portrait mode.

Technical Data

Manufacturer: GRiD Systems (AST Research)
Model: 2270
Introduced in: 1992
Initial price: $2995
CPU: Intel 80486SL@25 MHz
RAM: 4 MB (up to 20 MB)
HDD: 80 MB or 120 MB
OS: MS-DOS 6.0, Windows 3.1
Screen: 9.5″, 640×480, black and white, LCD, 64 gray levels
Battery: NiCad, 2.3 Ah, 9.6V, 0.6 Kg (this might be the larger one)
Interfaces: serial, parallel (also used for external FDD), VGA, 1 Type 1 PCMCIA
Weight: 2.1 kg without battery

References

Once upon a time

April 29, 2018

DSC_0007[1]

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

Digital Equipment (DEC) VK100 “GIGI”

April 8, 2018

gigiThe Digital Equipment VK100 or „GIGI“ (General Imaging Generator and Interpreter) seems to be one of DECs approaches of creating an “intelligent” graphics terminal that is capable of processing complex graphic commands. It is not only the device for which the ReGIS system was developed, it even contained a Basic interpreter whose programs could be loaded, saved, and executed via the serial connection from the host computer. It used 8-color bitmap graphics and was based on the Intel 8085 processor. It offered a VT-52 and (some sort of) a VT-100 mode. It connected to an external Barco GD33 RGB monitor.

ReGIS, short for Remote Graphic Instruction Set, was a vector graphics markup language developed by Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). ReGIS supported rudimentary vector graphics consisting of lines, circular arcs, and similar shapes. Terminals supporting ReGIS generally allowed graphics and text to be mixed on-screen, which made construction of graphs and charts relatively easy.

One thing very nice about the machine is that there is a complete set of extensive manuals available electronically.

The GIGI Basic Handbook tells us the following:

“BASIC is provided as a tool to be used in making GIGI an intelligent terminal. For this reason, only a limited amount of user memory is provided with GIGI. It is therefore recommended that applications and instructional programming be done on the host computer as there is no guarantee of source language transportability between the BASIC in this version of GIGI and that provided in the future”. Now that’s a statement you will read rarely in any manual. Basic programs can have a length up to 7.8 kB.

It also tells us of two Basic modes in GIGI:
“One mode is called local BASIC. In local BASIC mode, the terminal user is in control of the GIGI BASIC system; […] The other mode is host BASIC. in host BASIC mode, the host computer is in control of the GIGI BASIC system; commands and programs come from the host computer, and all input and output default to the host computer.”
In other words: the local Basic mode is the one we know from any other computer, and the host Basic mode gets its instructions from the serial interfaces and write its output to the serial interface.

From a collector’s point of view, the VK100 is somewhat of a conundrum. On the one side it’s only a terminal and has no mass memory interfaces. Therefore, there is also no software for it. On the other hand it’s a full-blown computer with 32 kB of RAM (16kB of which are used for graphics!) and even Basic. It connects to a high-quality monitor and is one of the earliest examples of a terminal that is intended to execute code sent by a server. It is extremely rare and virtually unknown.

Technical Data

Manufacturer: Digital Equipment (DEC)
Model: VK100 (GIGI)
Introduced in: 1982
Initial price: $1500
CPU: Intel 8085A@ 3(?)MHz
RAM: 32 kB (16 kB System RAM, 16 kB Video RAM)
ROM: 28 kB (26kB are used)
Text Modes: 84×24, 42×24
Resolution: 768×240, 8 colors
Interfaces: RS-232C, 20 mA current loop, composite video, printer
Weight: 5.7 kg

References

 

Amper Exeltel VX

January 1, 2018

Exelvisions EXL 100 and Exeltel are some of the most interesting under-appreciated home computers of the 80s. This under-appreciation stems partially from the fact that they were available basically in only one country (France) and that they had stronger competition (Thomson) in this market. And, of course, that also had all the ingredients of computer models that often appear in this blog: from a consumer point of view they were neither price-wise nor feature-wise appealing.

The story starts with former employees of Texas Instruments France who take a lot of the technologies developed there for the TI CC-40 and build a home computer around it: the EXL 100 from 1984. The features that owe to this heritage are:

  • the CPU (a TMS 7020)
    As far as I can tell this is and the CC-40 (which uses a CMOS version) are the only computers with this CPU.
  • the speech synthesizer and sound chip
  • the infrared connection between keyboard, game controllers, and main unit
  • the graphics chip
  • the Basic (although in an improved form)

The system is highly modular, with detached keyboard and game controllers, the Basic is on a cartridge. Therefore, the ROM is with 4 kB very small.

The next (and last) model of the family is the Exeltel from 1986. As the name indicates, this model is all about communication (i.e. the communication that was broadly available around this time frame: telephone-line-based things). The main difference to the EXL 100 is the now integrated V.23 modem using, of course, a TI chip (1200/75 bps, it was an accessory for the EXL 100). Smaller differences are the upgraded CPU (now a TMS 7040 (this is the only computer with this CPU)), the possibility to connect a (better) keyboard, more RAM, and much more ROM (82 kB). The ROM still does not include the Basic, but a program that allows to exchange files between Exeltels via the modem, an answering machine feature (in some versions, uses an attached cassette recorder), a speech synthesizer program, some educational programming language, and some windowing support. Exeltels also come with 16 kB RAM module bundled with them.

From now on, newer models differ only in ROM content, not in hardware.

The Exeltel VS renders the Exeltel into a Prestel terminal supporting the French Prestel standard, Minitel. For our younger audience I have to explain what Prestel, Minitel, BTX, etc. actually is. You see, kids, before the Internet took off widely, in Europe people thought it would be a good idea to have some sort of cloud network on some central computers that ordinary people can use by small computers and telephone modems, possibly connected to TVs. The computers would be so small (and cheap) that they were not expected to execute programs, but to display pages with text and pseudo graphics as well as forms that could then be send back to the cloud. Using this simple system, users could use electronic telephone books, send messages to each other or do Electronic Banking. For a limited amount of time (say, 1983 to 1993) this was very popular, also because it was by and large the only alternative and because it was offered by the national telephone companies. The first of these systems was Prestel in the UK. Later on, Minitel in France, and BTX in Germany offered similar systems. The systems were roughly the same, but were not standardized completely (although some partial standards were used).

The Exeltel VS is said to have bundled also a connector module that offers a serial and a parallel interfaces as well as a mouse interface.

The next model is the Exeltel VX, which is an Exeltel VS, but with multi-norm Prestel support, namely for:

  • CEPT 1 systems like BTX (Germany, Austria) and VTX (Switzerland)
  • CEPT 2 systems like Minitel (France)
  • CEPT 3 systems like Prestel (UK, Australia)
  • Ibertex (Spain)
  • Mistel (Belgium)

Now, you might think, ok, so this is your model, right? Are we done? Well, the answer is: not yet. You see, I got an *Amper” Exeltel VX. So, what’s the difference?

Well, Exelvision wanted to expand into other European markets, in this case the Spanish market. Therefore, they partnered with the Spanish telecommunication manufacturer Amper, owned by the national Spanish telco, Telefonica. The firmware is translated into Spanish, even the speech synthesizer is fitted with a new software version that can output Spanish sentences. Also software is translated into Spanish (in the end about 50% of all titles are also available in Spanish). The Amper Exeltel is sold exclusively via the Spanish “El Cortes Ingles” chain of shops. Apart from giving its name Amper is not involved too much in the lifecycle of the devices, however, they do Quality Assurance for the Spanish models and also After Sales Service.

The Spanish market in the 80s has a funny peculiarity: If you import a computer into Spain with 64 kB RAM or less, you have to pay some hefty additional fee (like 90 Euros). Therefore, there exist models like the Amstrad CPC 472 which has an additional 8 kB RAM soldered on the PCB that is non-functional. Exelvision solves this problem (as it has nominally only 2 kB RAM) by bundling a battery-buffered 64 kB RAMdisk module with the Amper Exeltel.

As in Spain, Prestel is not widely used for a long time (until this changes in 1992), the Amper Exeltel is not a success. Especially as Exelvision closes down for good in 1991.

Technical Data

Manufacturer: Amper
Model: Exeltel VX
Introduced in: 1986
CPU: TMS 7040@4.9 MHz
RAM: 66 kB + 64 kB Ramdisk
ROM: 38 kB
Text Mode: 24 x 40
Resolution: 320 x 200, 8 colors
Interfaces: cartridge slot, exelmémoire slot, expansion slot, tape-recorder, keyboard, IR, power, telephone line, RGB video output

References

http://www.ti99.com/exelvision/website/
The premier resource (in French). Most of the information in this entry were taken (and translated) from that site.

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).

WarGames

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:

6568_1

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.

556px-general-magic-logo-svg

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

dims

  • 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

References

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:

Folie9

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