Notebook - portable computing. (microcomputer industry, readers on Model 100) (column) John J. Anderson.
In the August 1983 issue of this magazine, I reviewed the TRS-80 Model 100. In that review, I predicted that the introduction of truly portable machines like the Model 100 and the NEC PC-8201 would spell doom for the "sewing machine' portables.
Osborne To The Ozone
I hadn't imagined how soon. Osborne, the king of the sewing machine genre, has gone belly up. Touted a year ago as among the hottest companies in the industry, Osborne stands as a testimony to the volatility of the micro industry.
To pin the downfall of Osborne specifically and exclusively on the ascendancy of machines like the Model 100 would be inaccurate. Osborne was having problems before the Model 100 came on the scene. One of the early distress signals sounded when Osborne quietly announced IBM compatibility in new models. Perhaps IBM compatible sewing-machine portables from Kaypro and Compaq had as much to do with the end of Osborne as any LCD portable.
It is worth a bit of space here to salute Adam Osborne, even in bankruptcy. He was a forward-looking voice in the industry long before it became fashionable to be a forward-looking voice in the industry. He spoke portentously about the future of microcomputers at a time when others scoffed. Then they listened, and listened hard.
As a publisher, he introduced many to the field of computing. As a writer, he managed to entertain and teach at the same time. As an industry analyst, he offered insight. When he introduced the "Volkswagen of microcomputers,' with hundreds of dollars of free bundled software, he broke new ground.
But in micros six months is a generation. Things change fast. Maybe too fast.
Lest this begin to sound too much like a eulogy, I should stress that Adam is very much alive. He may no longer be an enfant infallible, so to speak. He now has a failure under his belt. But he is still a young man, and it will be interesting to see what he does next. We wish him the vert best. Now if only he had given the computer his first name . . .
Model 100 Mailbag
I would like to share with you some of the responses I have received concerning the Model 100 review. I have gotten more mail on that piece than on any other single topic I have ever covered. In fact, it is still pouring in.
One prominent letter was from no less than Jon Shirley himself, former vice president of marketing for Tandy, new CEO at Microsoft. He was angry at my portrayal of NEC as having had a part in the development of the Kyocera prototype that later became the Model 100.
"NEC had no involvement in the Model 100 at any time during its development, nor does it have any now,' Shirley stated. "In addition, the substantial differences between the Model 100 and the NEC 8201 are due to our direct dealing with both the manufacturer and with Microsoft in working out the specifications for the Model 100. In fact, the built-in modem design was done by Radio Shack.'
In hindsight, I was probably too hard on Tandy in underscoring the Japanese connection. I was reacting to the nearly universal portrayal elsewhere of the product being born in Fort Worth, which it was not. In the Model 100 write-up for the 1983 Buyer's Guide, I changed the copy to reflect Shirley's justified objections. People like Bill Walters at Tandy did work closely with Kyocera in the development of the 100, and NEC stayed out of that part of things.
But that wasn't all that got Shirley's goat. "As far as the price is concerned, I think the comment on "profit-taking' is ill-advised. Any manufacturer can go get quotes on CMOS devices, especially RAM, and on 40 by 16 LCD displays, and confirm that the price is not unreasonable. Of course the price will go down over time, but not until more than two suppliers can make CMOS static RAM in quantity.'
While the point is taken, I'll stick by my guns on that comment. The NEC 8201, which is a very similar machine to the 100, should be on retailer's shelves by the time you read this--at a list price of $799 for the 16K model.
Next, from Harry Broussard of Albuquerque, NM, comes the following:
"Plaudits to John Anderson and David Ahl for their fine coverage on the Model 100 and its NEC counterpart in the August issue. As another devotee of supine word processing, I am composing this letter in bed.
"The comparison of the Radio Shack and NEC versions of the machine was excellent, and provided unique insight into the trade-offs Tandy faced in tailoring the unit to the U.S. market.
"Thanks also for the game--it is a good example of how much entertainment can be squeezed into 2K of Basic.
"Be aware that the modem and cassette DIN cables can be accidentally reversed. I would have preferred a modular phone jack for the modem, instead of a DIN, even at the expense of the automatic dialer and dial-through phone functions.'
Thanks for the comments, Harry. It is true that you can plug the cassette cable into the phone DIN. But you can't plug the phone cable anywhere but where it belongs. And as far as I am concerned, the built-in modem and dialer is exactly the place where the Model 100 has the NEC 8201 beat by a mile.
From Katherine Cochrane, in Honolulu, come these comments:
"I thoroughly enjoyed your review of the Model 100, but there are a few minor misstatements I would like to correct.
"Most important to someone like me, who uses her computer mainly for word processing, is to correct the notion that the left margin and page breaks cannot be set from TEXT. If the printer being used accepts print codes as my NEC 3530 Spinwriter and others do, these features indeed can be set.
"Another error in the article was the statement that the FIND command in TEXT works only once. If you press the FIND key (F1) again and ENTER without changing the key word, it will continue searching the document from that point, until it comes up with the next occurrence. This can be repeated until reaching a "no match' response.
"A final misconception was found in the sidebar by David Ahl. This was the idea that those huge cassette machines are necessary for tape storage with the Model 100. I have been using a GE 3-5316A minicassette recorder with NiCad batteries, and have had no problems at all. Despite what Radio Shack's manuals and salespeople have told me, an AUX socket is not necessary: the MIC socket works just fine.
"Since I knew two months ago that I would be getting a Model 100, I have been reading every article I have seen on it, and that's a lot! Your report was by far the most complete and, with the few exceptions noted, the most useful.'
Thank you, Katherine. I know you know that dumb printers are not able to have left margin and page breaks set from TEXT, and that those were the printers I was talking about. Basic text formatter programs now abound to get by the acknowledged weaknesses of TEXT when it comes to producing hard copy.
You are quite right about the FIND command, although I would have been happier with a more sophisticated search function--such as one with the ability to replace. Still, I was wrong when I reported that the FIND function terminated upon first match. All you need to do is invoke it again from the last point, with two keystrokes, through to the end-of-file.
As for interfacing to cassette, I have tried recorders without AUX sockets and had no success trying to save data. The same goes for Walkman-style recorders without REMOTE sockets. Overall I have found even audio cassette recorders that do work to be pretty finicky. So while I applaud your success with a tiny machine, I think it would be mistaken to thereupon conclude that a wide range of dictation recorders will work well with the Model 100.
Finally, from Dr. Stephan Ritzmann, of Baylor University in Dallas:
"Your article on The First Purely Practical Portable summarizes succinctly the numerous disadvantages and few advantages of modern systems.
"From painful personal experience, I can wholeheartedly support your statements regarding the HX-20 and its unfulfilled promises. I disagree, however, with the notion that "it makes more sense to keep the printer outboard.' Writers, editors, scientists, etc., who need to proofread their typed material in real time prior to relaying it for final processing would find such an amputated system utterly unsatisfactory.'
I disagree, Dr. Ritzmann. I, for one, would find proofreading my manuscripts on a cash register tape unsatisfactory, which is what inboard printers currently offer. How worthless! I would much rather have an 80-column protable printer alongside the Model 100 in my briefcase. When (and only when) it was needed, it could be then hooked up for reasonable hardcopy. Professionals like yourself need fullsize 8 1/2 X 11 inch printouts. Leave lesser stuff to K-Mart and the local delicatessen. Small, lightweight 80-column models of the kind I have described are the future of the low-end printer industry. Keep an eye on our column "Print about Printers.'
Thanks to all who wrote to respond with their feelings about the Model 100. Rest assured that our commitment to the Model 100 will be ongoing--in this column and elsewhere in Creative Computing.
More From Portable Support Group
In the October issue of Creative, Glenn Hart reported on Businesspak+, a package of six programs designed for the Model 100 with the businessman in mind. Glenn was quite favorably impressed with the quality and utility of these programs, which include a vastly improved word processor that works alongside TEXT, a spreadsheet program, a business graphics generator, a Telex communications program, and a data management system.
There are now two more packages from Portable Computer Support Group, the people who brought you Businesspak+. They are Sort2+ and Data+, and are designed to improve the performance of data management as effected through Businesspak+.
Sort2+ is used with Put+ or Data+ to sort listings from any category, alphabetically or numerically. Because it manipulates the target file during the sort, it requires only 1K of free memory while sorting. Sort2+ can handle 100 records in less than a minute.
Data+ allows you to arrange information rapidly in an orderly fashion in any TEXT file you choose. In this way file listings can be sorted, searched (using FIND), and produced as logically arranged hard copy. Records can be edited or revised with minimal effort. Selected records can be added, and merge capability works with any other text file.
Using Data+, you can finally keep Model 100 data files continually sorted and merge list information with other text files as necessary. And, it works fast! As mentioned, Sort2 can work directly on Data+ files.
Owners of Businesspak+ will without exception want to get these new packages as soon as possible. Sort2+ lists for $30, Data+ for $60. Contact Portable Computer Support Group, 11035 Harry Hines Blvd. 207, Dallas, TX 75229. (214) 351-0564.
Until next time, lap it up!
Photo: The NEC 8201 is in many respects identical to the Model 100.