BUYERS’ GUIDE LIARS!!!! (PART 2)   Leave a comment


CoverThe cover of “The A-Z of Personal Computers” Issue No.2 which I actually read in 1984!!!! Alice in Wonderland V2.0!! :-((

Little did I know how biased and inaccurate the information in “The A-Z of Personal Computers” was! I now KNOW, thanks to retrieving files from my old laptop, that I read Issue No. 2 back in 1984!! I never read any specialist Commodore magazines before buying a Commodore 64, because I wasn’t sure which computer I’d be getting, so I only bought magazines and books about computers in general. If I had bought a Commodore magazine, then I’d probably have found at least one listing trying to fix the Commodore BASIC V2 mess on the C64 and this would have made me investigate it further, then cross it off my shortlist.

Of course, BASIC or Machine Code were the only languages which were built in to the Commodore 64 and most other computers at the time, but users normally needed an Assembler or Monitor to write in Machine Code, unless they resorted to POKEing the Machine Code into RAM from BASIC, which involved Assembly by hand. This was because most of these computers didn’t come with disk drives. The BASIC for the Sharp MZ80K was only supplied on cassette! Users had to choose and buy an Assembler program to use Assembly Language/Machine Code on most computers, although the Acorn BBC Micro and Acorn Electron had a built in Assembler in their BBC BASIC, while Commodore PET computers and the Apple ][ had a built in Monitor.

Amazingly enough, according to this magazine, the Memotech MTX computers came with FOUR languages, which were Basic, Noddy, LOGO, and Assembler/Disassembler, so it seems that in that respect they were much more advanced than any other computer in the whole magazine, which at best only came with BASIC and an Assembler. The magazine “Creative Computing” called them “the Aston Martin of computers”. Memotech’s own documentation claims their BASIC had turtle graphics, so I suppose this may be what was included with it NOT a version of the LOGO language.

BBCModelBHow could the BBC Micro Model B with advanced BASIC influenced by PASCAL and COMAL score less than the Commodore 64?!

I believed all the fairy stories written in “The A-Z of Personal Computers”, which divided computers into the price ranges under £500, £501-£1,600, and over £1,600. I had to choose from the range under £500, which included all popular “home computers” of the time, except the Apple ][ and ][e, which both cost over £1,200 and were used by people in the home, as well as for business.

The computers under £500 also included some small portable computers which were like overgrown calculators by companies such as Sharp, Epson, and Tandy/Radio Shack. I read the whole magazine, including details of the Apple ][, as well as the Torch PC (from £2,795!), which used BBC BASIC, had 96K RAM, the custom CP/N OS (CP/M compatible) and had a Z80A, as well as a 6502 CPU, sounding quite like an overpriced, upgraded BBC Micro.

It was absolutely impossible to get my Dad to agree to pay even £399 for a BBC Micro. He thought that about £200 or less should be enough. He didn’t know anything about computers, except how many K they had, as well as that some had better quality keyboards than others.

I don’t remember how much money I had at the time, but he once offered to buy me a Sinclair ZX81 for £39.95 to see how I got on with it. I turned down this offer, due to criticism of the ZX81 for having only a monochrome display and 1K of RAM. I didn’t even know it could be upgraded to 16K or how easy to use and understand it was.

People could soon grow out of the Sinclair ZX81, then they’d feel a real sense of achievement. I also knew that unless I got a computer with a more powerful spec at that time, then my Dad may well have announced one of his financial emergencies, meaning various cutbacks, and I could have been stuck with just a Sinclair ZX81 for ages.

There was also a danger of financial cutbacks after we eventually sold the Commodore 64. One of his suggestions for a replacement was “That looks like a nice one! What about that one?”, referring to the Tatung Einstein, but I had to point out that it had hardly any software available. By this I meant apart from software released by Einsoft (Tatung) themselves, there wasn’t much except CP/M, as well as Spectrum software under emulation. I had some savings by then and would have gone to Silica Shop to buy a refurbished Atari 400 or 800 system on the same day, or the day after my Dad had made any announcement of a financial emergency and cutbacks. Luckily, he never did.

The 5th Doctor Who,  Peter Davison (1981-84).The fifth Doctor (Peter Davison) in B&W, the way my Dad made me watch his first season

Before 1984 my Dad forced me to watch a B&W portable TV for several months (it was our only TV at the time), which included Peter Davison’s first series of Doctor Who, and he made a threat of us having to live on “good wholesome food”. The food we ate was often so boring and repetitive that I once asked him if we’d had any of this “good wholesome food” yet, but it turned out we hadn’t!

This magazine included some computers which I never or hardly ever saw in real life, such as the Colour Genie, the Jupiter Ace, Camputers Lynx, a computer by Triumph Adler (which I think was their Alphatronic PC for under £500, rather than the Alphatronic P2 for £2,190), definitely the proto MSX Spectravideo 318 and 328, as well as definitely the Memotech MTX range. The Colour Genie was by Hong Kong based manufacturer EACA but this magazine claimed it was an “English Atari” because programs written by the users were encouraged (like Atari’s APX distribution system), and that it was an upgraded, colour version of their previous Video Genie, which the review points out was a mono Z80 based Tandy/Radio Shack TRS80 lookalike, but fails to mention the advanced Microsoft Extended BASIC used by Tandy and the Colour Genie, just calling it “M/S Basic”.

P1230293Here’s what “The A-Z of Personal Computers” had to say about the BBC Micro Model B!!!!

The reviews were very detailed in some aspects, always listing various specs, including speed of loading from cassette, number of colours, maximum graphics resolution, number of columns and rows of text. They gave ratings of up to a maximum of 5 dots or stars for the categories “Level of Sophistication”, “Expandability”, “Ease of Use”, “Keyboard Quality”, “User Friendliness”, “Software Availability”, “Quality of Graphics”, “Documentation”, “Appearance”, and “Value for Money”. I now think most of these terms are quite vague or even meaningless.

The C64 didn’t score 5 for ANY of these categories, but got 4 for all categories apart from “Level of Sophistication”, where it got a 3. They only gave the BBC Micro 3 for its user friendliness! How could this be, when BBC BASIC was written 5 years later than Commodore BASIC V2, was customised for the BBC Micro hardware, had long variable names, a command to define the function keys, as well as procedures and the facility to include Assembly Language in lines of BBC BASIC programs?! Their comments on the all important dialects of BASIC built in, which users would be confronted with as soon as they turned their computers on, were just “BBC Basic, Assembler” for the BBC Micro, “Basic (built in interpreter)” for the Commodore 64, as if having BASIC built in on ROM was unusual, and “Atari Basic” for the Atari XL range. For some other computers (e.g. Colour Genie, Epson HX-20 portable computer) they wrote “M/S BASIC” or “MS Basic”, adding “(full extended version)” for the Epson HX-20, but with no explanation of what this was, or why it needed to be extended, while the Dragon 32 and the Tandy TRS-80 Colour Computer just had “Basic”, although both companies had recently paid Microsoft for a more or less up to date version and declared on their startup screens that they used Microsoft BASIC, as well as a then recent Copyright date, such as 1982! Obviously, at about the same time Microsoft were updating their BASIC yet again and supplying it to Spectravideo, as well as the MSX Consortium, but Commodore couldn’t have cared less!!!! The Commodore VIC-20 also came with “Basic”.

An article near the front of the magazine showed a copy of Microsoft BASIC as part of a course by ICL, who produced some kind of very expensive business computers and terminals at the time. The Camputers Lynx seems to be an excellent computer, which the review explains has graphics commands of “Draw, ink, Move, Paper, Plot, Print and Window”, but no such command listing is given for any other computer, so I assumed they would all have commands which did the same or similar things to the Camputers Lynx. This is where an Editor should have stepped in to tell the staff to add these command listings to all reviews for comparison.

That’s enough about “The A-Z of Personal Computers” for the moment! This series of articles will continue very soon!!

Posted May 22, 2014 by C64hater in Uncategorized

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