Field dream machine(s)

Field dream machine(s)

By acquiring from Kyocera the rights to produce its own computers based on the Kyotronic 85, Tandy made a master move. Rapidly, the TRS-80 Model 100 became an icon for anyone making a living in the field. Journalists were among them – but not only, scientists were not too far behind –, and they certainly did contributed to its success by not only spreading the word in high-circulation magazines, but really using it! To understand this success, one have to remember that in the early 80’s (released date was 1983), these laptops were a mini-revolution. The form factor first: light weighed (<1.5 Kg), small (~ the size of an A4-sized sheet of paper, and ~5cm thick) they were equipped with a huge graphic LCD display, capable of displaying 8x40 characters (or 240 x 64 black pixels) and a real mechanical keyboard. Imagine all the graphics you could put on that screen! Add to this a plethora of interfaces and only 4 AA batteries for hours of autonomy, and you will start to see why the field loved them. At its core, a 2.4MHz 80C85 Intel processor was running a suite of ROM-based software. To me, the BASIC was of course more interesting. Signed by – or licensed from – Microsoft, it was pretty complete and gave access to the systems’ resources such as the pixels or the communications. Many versions of the device were made over the decade. Different manufacturers, various configurations (BASIC version, ROM and RAM size, ports, etc.). I do prefer pretty much the NEC PC-PC8300 and PC-8201A over the TRS-80 Model 10x (much better keyboard and more ports – I unfortunately don’t own the red livery one). But certainly the most stylish among all of them (ok, you can always argue this judgment), is the Olivetti M-10! The most noticeable design change is the erectable LCD display, covered by a sleek sheet of Plexiglas (unfortunately easy to scratch). And since it is Xmas – and because I will be offline until next year –, I throw in pictures of two other cool and somewhat related systems. The Amstrad NC-100 first, as a later and more advanced variation on the TRS-80 Model 100 theme. Alan Sugar’s pet project was pushing the concept to its limit, even offering access to the excellent BBC Basic (Function + B). Second, the QuickPad Pro, a much later attempt to reiterate the success of the Model 100. The device was really cool. Instead of a built-in BASIC, you could install early DOS applications, including Borland’s Turbo C 1.0, TASM or FORTH TF83! It surely was an honorable attempt, but ended as the swan song. Enjoy, and happy New Year 2015!