Discussion Topic of the Week: Of the systems listed in the ad above, which is your favorite?
But I don't think I've ever posted a plain 'ole ad for the Commodore 64 itself. Until now, that is. Here's a colorful one that graced the back of many computer magazine issues back in 1983.
Discussion Topic of the Week: When did you first get a Commodore 64? Tell us the story.
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.)
Discussion Topic of the Week: What's the rarest Apple product you own?
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.
Discussion Topic of the Week: Do you have a favorite machine that runs CP/M?
Discussion Topic of the Week: What's your favorite educational video/computer game of all time?
In honor of Thanksgiving, a holiday which tends to emphasize family, I've dug up this AT&T Sceptre Videotext Terminal box art that I captured years ago. Look at those gloriously generic 1980s folks gathered around the TV set.
(I say "captured" for this image and not "scanned" because the image is actually a photo of the side of the box — the box itself is far too large to fit on a scanner. It's roughly 14″ tall by 18″ wide by 11″ deep, if memory serves.)
Videotex: Smart TV in 1983
It's funny: I've purposely avoided talking about Videotex on this blog for eight years because I was saving up material for a story about Teletext and Videotex. I have bought maybe a dozen vintage books on the two subjects since 2006 and mined news archives for information. But as they say, the best laid plans of mice and men oft go to Disneyland. Maybe I will get around to finishing that piece some day. Probably not.
So here's the skinny. "Videotex" is the name for a graphical computer communications standard that was designed to display mixed visual and text information on regular TV sets. The idea was that a customer would buy a terminal (such as the one seen here), subscribe to a CompuServe/Prodigy/AOL-like online service, and use the terminal to connect to the service and view the information on their home TV set. Kinda like WebTV before the Web. Heck, kinda like smart TVs before the smart.
Graphically, Videotex used the NAPLPS protocol (similar to Prodigy, which grew out of these commercial Videotex experiments) to quickly transmit graphics to the user's terminal. NAPLPS saves bandwidth because instead of storing/sending data on every pixel (like a bitmap image), the protocol describes graphics in terms of mathematical geometrical shapes (i.e. "draw a triangle at this location and fill it with orange," like vector graphics).
By the mid-1980s, Videotex services fizzled in the marketplace. Their failure was likely due to low utility (not very useful), plus high cost of subscription (likely from high overhead on the service's part in both hosting and creating content), and from competition from much more versatile and easier-to-interface-with personal computers.
AT&T Sceptre Videotex Terminal
And so that brings us to this side box art for a circa-1983 AT&T Sceptre Videotex Terminal. I bought this vintage gadget unopened, new-in-box on eBay for literally $1 plus shipping back in 2000.
The terminal works, but it has nothing meaningful to connect to — after all, the related Videotext service shut down almost 30 years ago. The last time I hooked it up, I believe I tricked its internal 300 baud modem to talk to my PC using a phone line simulator and perhaps even displayed a Linux console on the TV set. But that was many years ago. I also remember that the Sceptre has a horrible rubber IR keyboard that barely works.
One could conceivably create a Videotext simulator, hosted on a modern PC, that would pump NAPLPS graphics into to this vintage beast to bring it back to life. Maybe someone already has. If so, I'd like to know about it.
By the way, AT&T has a really neat vintage Sceptre promotional video on its website. It's worth a watch.
Discussion Topic of the Week: Did your family ever subscribe to a non-ISP online service? Tell us about it.
It's no secret that Radio Shack licensed Sharp's pocket computer designs for its own TRS-80 Pocket Computer line of products. But here's one of the originals, circa 1983: the PC-1500A.
Discussion Topic of the Week: Have you ever lost a pocket-sized gadget and regretted it badly? Tell us about it.
I'll admit that I've never encountered a Durango Poppy in person, nor do I know much about them aside from ads like this in old magazines.
So I did some digging, and I found that the Poppy model seen here was an 80186-based system that ran either MS-DOS for a single-user setup or Xenix for a multi-user configuration. It retailed for between $4,395 and $11,475 in early 1984 ($9,881 to $25,798 when adjusted for inflation), which was quite a bit of money — but actually far cheaper than IBM's comparable offerings at the time.
A March 5, 1984 issue of InfoWorld available through Google Books has a neat article that mentions the Poppy.
I didn't realize it at first, but the rose in the ad above is meant to symbolize IBM. IBM's PC ads at the time featured Charlie Chaplin's Tramp character, which always carried a rose.
Discussion Topic of the Week: Did you ever purposely pass up IBM hardware for a cheaper alternative? Tell us about it.
See also: The Osborne 1 (RSOTW, 2012)
Discussion Topic of the Week: If you could take any computer with you into the afterlife, which would it be?
When looking at the Texas Instruments CC-40′s capabilities, one wonders why companies even bothered in making tiny portable machines like this one (see also the Epson HX-20, HP-75C, and TRS-80 Pocket Computer, among others) in the early 1980s.
Sure, each one came equipped with a gee-whiz wow factor, but most of these diminutive PCs proved impractical to actually use. Limited memory, restrictive and unreliable data storage, and tiny LCDs capable of displaying either one or a few lines of text almost ensured that these products would remain technological novelties.
(As an aside, the only computer of this circa-1983 portable class that I find to be practical and truly useful was the TRS-80 Model 100, which many journalists relied on for decades)
After giving the question considerable thought, I recently realized why they did it. Companies like TI spent untold millions upon millions of dollars on R&D, design, tooling, and production, distribution, and marketing so that collectors of vintage computers, like me, would one day have more and varied specimens to collect.
To those companies, I say this: Thank you for wasting your money to make my hobby more fun.
See Also: Bill Cosby Fondles a TI-99/4A (Retro Scan, 2006)
Discussion Topic of the Week: What's the smallest vintage computer you've ever used?