By acquiring from Kyocera the right 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 contribute to its success by not only spreading the word in high-circulation magazines but really using it! To understand this success, one has to remember that in the early ’80s (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 8×40 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!
4 thoughts on “Field dream machine(s)”
The Kyocera was reputedly the last machine Bill Gates personally wrote some of the code for.
Indeed! Thank you for sharing, Duncan.
There is a reference to it in this archive: https://web.archive.org/web/20201014223926/https://americanhistory.si.edu/comphist/gates.htm#tc35
Here is the extract about the TRS-80 model 100:
The TRS-80 Model 100
DA: One of the most interesting machines that came out of this area was the TRS-80 Model 100. Do you want to say a few words about Microsoft’s role with that machine?
BG: Yes. This is in a sense my favorite machine, I mean by today’s standards it is kind of a pathetic machine. But what happened was Kazuhiko Nishi, my friend from Japan, came over and said that we could have an 8-line LCD with 40 characters. And up to then all we had was four lines by 20 characters. I didn’t think using 4 by 20 you could do much that was interesting. But, when he said we could go 8 by 40, then I got to be pretty fascinated with the idea of a portable machine. It wasn’t just taking your desktop machine and trying to shrink it down, because battery life would be a problem, and ease of use would be a problem. But just taking the things you want as you move around and making it pretty inexpensive. So, this machine came out for $500. Jey Suzuki, from Japan, and I, wrote the ROM in this machine. It is a 32K ROM.
Part of my nostalgia about this machine is this was the last machine where I wrote a very high percentage of the code in the product. I did all the design and debugging along with Jey. And it is a cool user interface, because although most of the code is a BASIC Interpreter, we did this little file system where you never had to think about saving anything. You just had this menu where you pointed to things. It was a great little editor and scheduler. We crammed it all into a 32K ROM. And really designed it in an easy to use way around these special keys up here. This machine was incredibly popular with journalists. Even though it came out over 11 years ago now, it was out by 1982. You still see some journalists using this, although the technology has gone way beyond it.
We had some great things here like we had a way that you could add a bar code reader to this. We thought maybe people would distribute software on bar codes. In fact, Byte Magazine got into that for a while. We had a lot of ways you could extend this by putting a new ROM in the bottom. And it was sold not only in the U.S. by Radio Shack, but NEC sold it in Japan, and Olivetti sold it in Europe. And the company who made it, Kyrocera, became a good partner of ours for lots of future projects.
DA: You may actually want to turn it on so that we can show it.
BG: Let’s make sure that this machine is still running. My God, it’s a machine that works! I don’t know how LCDs work in a camera. What you had here is just your files. And you would just move the cursor to the one that you wanted and hit the Enter key. And then you’d be back editing that file. So, if we go into text, you can type in the name of the program and it would know that’s what you wanted. It is a nice screen editor. You can just move the cursor around. The only real problem with this product is that the keyboard was noisy enough that if you sat in a meeting with it, it was still considered anti-social because you’d just be tapping away during the meeting. So actually we did a version, just a slight modification, soon after it came out that had a very silent keyboard so that people could sit in meetings and use it. It is really a nice machine. A great, great way that we use these function keys.