ALAN ACKERMAN JOHN WILEY
THE MICROBITS STORY
$5 million company run by 22-year-oldsby NAT FRIEDLAND, Antic Editor
Look out of the windows of the most successful independent manufacturer of modems, printer interfaces and memory buffers that plug directly into the Atari what you see is cows grazing on green hillsides.
Microbits Peripheral Products of Albany, Oregon (pop. 40,000 and about 50 miles south of Portland) has always done things a bit differently. The $5 million a year company with 35 employees is a pretty good argument for dropping out of college.
That's what the co-owners of MPP did during their freshman year at Oregon State U. However, Alan Ackerman and John Wiley now 22 had been Atari retailers in their Willamette Valley hometown since they were 16, so they had a pretty good idea where they were headed and how to get there.
The pair got started by buying floppy disks in boxes of 100 and reselling them profitably one at a time to their fellow high school students. The actual Microbits company began life as an Atari store in a corner of a bicycle shop owned by Wiley's uncle.
By the time Ackerman and Wiley had graduated, they were the winning bidders for supplying the school district's first computers and they also set up two school computer fairs.
When they decided to quit college and start their own high-tech manufacturing company, they had a retailers-eye view of what the market really wanted.
The first MPP product demonstrated what the company has consistently succeeded in doing fill an unmet need in the marketplace and do it at a price below the competition.
They designed a modem for the Atari that could upload and download, didn't require the hard-to-find Atari 850 interface and originally cost $199. That product developed into today's $119.95 MPP-1000E and is still the company's bigest seller.
Next came a series of printer interfaces and buffers that make it more affordable than ever to hook up your Atari with any Centronics parallel printer the $69.95 MicroPrint interface, the $89.95 MPP-1150 interface with 2K buffer, and the 64K MicroStuffer printer buffer for $149.95. The MicroRam $79.95 plug-in memory expander gives the 600XL a 64K memory that equals the 800XL.
There's a lot of excitement about the coming generation of MMP products, many of them due out before the end of the summer.
First in line will he MPP's plug-in 1200 baud modem four times as fast as the current 1000C and 90% Hayes compatible. This MPP-1200A will be the first 1200 baud modem an Atari can use without the 850 interface.
Wiley and Ackerman say that the engineering of the MPP-1200A is virtually completed and the modems will hit the market as soon as adequate supplies of the advanced new telecommunications chips they're using become available.
MPP also demonstrated a prototype of their impressive new 10-megabyte $800 hard disk at the Antic Third Birthday Party.
And they are well underway with the ambitious Omega telecommunications software that will feature pull-down menu widows, joystick or mouse cootrol and be available for both the XL/XE and ST Atari lines.
As a side effect of this project, MPP discovered that the ST mouse driver is programmed very similarly to the standard Atari joystick. And now they plan to market mouse-driven software for all 8-bit Atari computers. The actual mouse driver program will be put into public domain and you can expect to see it first in Antic.
But there's still more. MPP is preparing a low-cost Resource Sharing System that will enable as many as eight Ataris to share printers and disk drives. This product will be especially useful to educators who want to hook up a lot of Ataris in a classroom.
Microbits credits a significant part of its success to a substantial presence at the Consumer Electronics Shows, and at the West Coast Computer Faire where they regularly sell items from their line at substantial savings.
Another ingredient of the company's success is its innovative program of users group support. Directed by Kirt Stockwell, this program offers solid product information backup as well as strong savings on group purchases.
MPP currently does most of its own product assmbly in their 12,000-foot-square facility in an industrial park at the edge of Albany. However, many of the actual boards are put together at outside subassembly contractor companies.
Ackerman, the president of MPP, heads the 8-person research & development team. Wiley, with the title of vice president, oversees most of the other corporate operations.
Akerman and Wiley were insistent about the final point they wanted to leave with Antic readers. "We're always looking for the best ideas in computer peripheral gizmos and we pay royalities to outside developers," they said. "We'll listen and pay for good ideas that aren't even fully technically developed yet."
MICROBITS PERIPHERAL PRODUCTS
225 Third Avenue, SW
Albany, Oregon 97321
(800) 624-7532 Orders
(503) 967-9075 Customer Service