Archive for the 'Computer History' Category

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] AppleLine: One of Apple's Two Rarest Products

Monday, April 14th, 2014

AppleLine Service Sheet (Apple P/N 661-75203), rev. March 1991 (7.2.1) - circa 1991One of the only photos of this device on the Internet at present.

Almost thirty years after its introduction, the AppleLine Protocol Converter (1985) remains one of the rarest pieces of commercial hardware Apple has ever produced. It allowed a single Lisa, Mac, or Apple II to communicate with IBM mainframes using the IBM 3270 terminal protocol.

As far as I can tell, this is only the second photo of the AppleLine ever posted on the Internet (the first was in a slideshow from last year — see below). I bought this particular Apple service sheet just to share a photo of this elusive beast with you.

In 1983, Apple released a similar (and similarly rare) product, the Apple Cluster Controller, which I wrote about in this Macworld slideshow from last year. One model of the Cluster Controller allowed up to seven Apple Lisas to connect to an IBM mainframe (again, via IBM 3270), which required an intelligent protocol conversion process. As such, the Cluster Controller contained its own CPU and was a miniature computer unto itself, but technical specifications of either device are hard to track down.

If you or anyone you know owns an Apple Cluster Controller or AppleLine protocol converter, I'd love to hear from you. They are so rare I'm not sure if they even exist anymore. (Perhaps Apple only leased them out and recalled all the units when they phased them out, keeping them largely out of private hands. But this is pure speculation on my part.)

[ From AppleLine Service Sheet (Apple P/N 661-75203), rev. March 1991 (7.2.1) ]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's the rarest Apple product you own?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Benj's Early Computer Art

Monday, March 31st, 2014

Benj's Early Computer Art Kindergarten Art Print Printout 1986Watch out Mr. Rabbit!

As I've previously mentioned, I've found a wealth of Retro Scan material while looking through old family papers in the attic at my mom's house.

This time, I was sorting through a giant box of my ancient artwork from school, and I came upon this fascinating computer printout from my kindergarten era (1985-86).

I vaguely remember making it (although, strangely, I mostly remember coloring in those little boxes and being proud of it), but I have no idea what software I used to do it. I know that my school stocked itself with IBM PCs, but the font and the overall feel of the image remind me of an Apple II MECC educational game.

Whatever the platform, this looks like the output from a stamp/clip-art program for kids. Does anybody know what it is?

[ From 8.5 x 11-inch tractor feed printout, circa 1985-86]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What was the first computer paint program you ever used?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Canon Personal Computer

Monday, March 24th, 2014

Canon Personal Computer IBM PC compatible clone Advertisement 1985May the Clone Wars begin.

Here's another obscure IBM PC clone from the depths of time, the Canon Personal Computer.

As I mentioned in a recent RSOTW, it was pretty easy — even within a few years of the IBM PC's release — to undercut IBM price-wise by integrating ports and peripherals directly into the motherboard of a competing computer.

Note that the Canon PC used an Intel 8086 CPU, which packed the full 16-bit data bus (verses the 8-bit bus on the IBM PC's 8088).

[ From TIME (Small Business USA Insert), May 6 1985, p.2]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Canon is best known for its imaging products, but it made computers too. Can you think of any other companies best known for something else that made a PC?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Sega IR 7000

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

Sega IR 7000 Haldheld Portable PDA Infrared Advertisement 1994"Whispering is for gutless weasels."

In the early-mid 1990s, Sega experimented with a few electronics items that veered away from mainstream console gaming. Case in point, the IR 7000 PDA, seen here (and don't forget the Sega Pico).

I've never owned an IR 7000, but I have to admit that I wanted one badly back in the day. The thought of sending secret wireless messages to other kids in class (I was 13 at the time this came out) excited me.

[ From Flux, Issue #2, 1994, p.7]

Discussion Topic of the Week: In your opinion, what was Sega's weirdest product?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Visual 1050 PC

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

Visual 1050 Personal Computer System Advertisement 1983"The complete professional solution at an unbeatable price."

I've never owned a Visual 1050 Personal Computer System (seen here), but I have an old Visual brand terminal that uses the same (or a very similar) keyboard. That's the first thing that comes to mind when I see this, because it's a distinctively wide, flat keyboard.

The 1050 sported a Z80 CPU and ran the CP/M operating system, the grandfather of MS-DOS. Curiously, even though CP/M was a popular platform for business computers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I only have a a handful of pure CP/M-based machines in my collection. (My favorite such machine is probably the Kaypro II.)

In regard to the chart in the advertisement above, it's interesting to note that it was pretty easy to undercut IBM, price-wise, not long after the IBM PC came out. Fast advances in IC design allowed computer makers to inexpensively cram more functions (think serial, parallel, game ports, disk controller, graphics card, etc.) directly onto motherboards instead of offloading them onto separate plug-in cards. While the 1050 was not an IBM PC clone, true PC clone makers took advantage of this effect to hollow out the inside of IBM's hold on the PC market from the bottom up.

[ From Personal Computing, November 1983, p.40-41]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Do you have a favorite machine that runs CP/M?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Sharp Wizard 9600

Monday, February 17th, 2014

Kraft Super Mario Bros. Macaroni and Cheese flier flyer Advertisement 1994tap tap tap…tap tap…tap

In the early 1990s, a kid in my neighborhood had his own Sharp Wizard (we all thought he was rich or spoiled — probably both), and it was one of the most incredible things I'd ever seen. It was a tiny electronic organizer with a full QWERTY keyboard that one could have mistaken for a pocket-sized PC.

That same kid later offered to sell his Wizard to me, but my dad turned him down because he was asking too much. So I've never had a Wizard of any model in my collection. I did buy a NES advantage from him for $7 though.

[ From Scientific American, February 1993, p.19]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's the smallest device (from the pre-smartphone era) you've ever used for word processing?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Epyx Winter Games

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

Epyx Winter Games Summer Games Summer Games II Advertisement 1985Just in time for Sochi. Sorry for the page fold.

[ From Compute!, November 1985, p.37]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your favorite winter sport(s) video game? This is mine.

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Internet in a Box

Monday, January 20th, 2014

CompuServe SPRY Internet In a Box Advertisement 1996There was a time when you could fit the entire Internet in a box.

[ From Internet World, February 1996, p.1]

Discussion Topic of the Week: What ISP did you use to first connect to the Internet?

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Low-End Virtual Reality

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

PCVR Magazine Cover Jan-Feb 1994Every new idea is an old idea with more transistors.

A few years ago, a relative gave me a couple issues of PCVR Magazine, a low-circulation 1990s periodical dedicated to virtual reality. Here's the cover of the Jan/Feb 1994 issue, which features an illustration of the magazine's build-it-yourself head tracker project.

In the early 1990s, the "virtual reality" concept hit a peak in the popular media that coincided with dozens of companies pursuing motion-tracking head-mounted displays — both with honest attempts and blatant gimmicks.

If I had to guess why VR exploded in the popular tech consciousness at that particular time, I would trace it it to the emergence of small, relatively low-cost color LCDs — the kind that made portable consoles like the Atari Lynx and Sega Game Gear possible. Compared to bulky, power-hungry CRT displays, the (relatively) thin, low-power LCDs could be worn on the head with mobility and without too much discomfort. That prompted a minor Cambrian explosion of VR headset hardware.

But the display technology just wasn't there yet. Affordable LCDs were very low resolution (think 320×200 or less), and higher-resolution LCDs cost thousands of dollars a piece.

In addition, the hardware and software required to generate convincing virtual reality experiences were neither affordable nor generally available. So genuinely immersive VR found itself stuck in corporate and university research labs; meanwhile, the public got trickle-down fad headsets like the Stuntmaster.

Today, we find ourselves in the middle of a VR renaissance thanks to Oculus Rift. But this time, we may actually be at the edge of mainstream virtual reality headsets because the technology has come quite a long way since 1994. I look forward to meeting your 3D virtual avatar in cyberspace soon.

[ From PCVR Magazine, Jan/Feb 1994, cover]

Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever used a virtual reality headset of any kind? Tell us about it.

See Also: Retro Scan of the Week Special Edition: "At Last! Reality For the Masses!" (VC&G, 2007)
See Also: The History of Stereoscopic 3D Gaming (PC World, 2011)

[ Retro Scan of the Week ] Printer Paper Christmas

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

Bowater Computer Forms Inc. Bowater Paper and Files Computer Printer Paper Christmas Ad Advertisement- 1985"Shhh! Don't tell dad, but I got him a box of blank paper for Christmas."

Merry Christmas from VC&G.

[ From Compute!, November 1985, p.21]

Discussion Topic of the Week: When was the last time you printed something, and what was it?