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back to article Acorn King Moir: BBC Micros, Ataris and 'BS' marketing

One company you'll be familiar with, and the other less so, yet both were successful pioneers in the personal computing revolution of the 1980s and both were founded by ferociously talented geeks. The first is Microsoft, co-founded by Bill Gates, who capitalised on his initial success in operating systems with MS-DOS and Windows …

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You could get a lot of house for a million quid in the eighties. Doubt you could get a three bed semi in central London for that these days.

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Coat

Wordwise

Wow! Blast from the past. I typed my girlfriend's (now wife) dissertation using it in 1988.

I still bear the scars from the decision of the designers not to prompt you before quitting if you hadn't saved your work. Far to easy to do when everything was done by quitting the typing bit, then using a menu with numeric options for save, load, quit etc.

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yes - the no-prompt-quit was a rite of passage wasn't it? I've found their product timeline here ( http://www.xara.com/uk/history/ ) and there are lots of other familiar names in it: Wordwise Plus, obviously; who remembers the Sidewise extension board?; Snake!; Disc Doctor. Ah, nostalgia ...

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Sidewise

Couldn't remember the name - it took up one of the ROM slots, so with Disk Doctor in too, I had to hack Wordwise to run from the rewritable chip. My first, and probably only, assembler hack.

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8 bit word processors

Your age can be betrayed by what you produced your dissertation/final year project on. Andrew Baines (or his wife) is 45 and her dissertation was presumably a dot matrixed wonder. I used Protext/Amstrad CPC a year later and handed in a bunch of dot matrix It was spit in 2 because of memory constraints or something.

Anyone late forties in here like to admit using an electronic typewriter ?

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I remember using an electric - yes, electric, not electronic - typewriter to type University assignments. Previous to that I'd used Tasword, Edword and View for 'O' and 'A' level projects.

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Protext/Amstrad

"I used Protext/Amstrad CPC a year later and handed in a bunch of dot matrix It was spit in 2 because of memory constraints or something."

Yeh!, not just me then :-). Horrible late night experiences late at night running out of space and having to start a new file to continue my ramblings.

Mind I did make a very sizeable profit selling off my Arnor CPC ROMS a couple of years back. (must of been rare).

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Anonymous Coward

Disk Doctor

*MZAP, *DZAP. Marvellous!

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Anonymous Coward

me too

final year project sheffield university 1988. several late nights in ahem "computer lab" typing into wordwise....happy days

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Happy

The smug amonst us

Had access to Laser printers from about 1981 onwards...... (oh and typeset on a Vax running Unix :-)

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Wordwise - BAH

Whilst I used WordWise, I preferred Acornsoft View, as it felt more like a commercial grade word processor.

But I didn't really use micros for my word processing. I used my Beeb as a basic text editor (normally the editor in the Acornsoft Pascal system) and a terminal to a PDP-11 that I looked after, and had been using roff/nroff on UNIX and Runoff on RSX-11M for text formatting. But I also had access to a Qume Sprint 5 daisy-wheel printer for my quality documentation.

I do remember someone (was it CC, or possibly Watford Electronics) who produced a very good printer ROM for the BBC which would format a line of text as a graphics image, and managed to get very passable NLQ output from printers like the Epson FX80 and compatibles that otherwise produced some very dotty text.

I believe that the other product that took the BBC micro world by storm was Speech!, which allowed you to *SAY pretty much anything through the Beeb's speaker.

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@J.G.Harston - Tasword ! Ihad forgotten that. It made you cutting edge in those days, unlike the electric typewriter - like a manual excepy tou could press the keys lightly ?

@Spoonsinger - "Mind I did make a very sizeable profit selling off my Arnor CPC ROMS a couple of years back. (must of been rare)." How sizeable ? I still have the Protext disk somewhere.

Good times, pushing the tech to its limits.

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Happy

@Jim59 - "How sizeable ?"

CPC ROMBO + Roms, (Protext,Maxam,BCPL, ProSpell, sure there was another one). Bought for circa £50 in 88 or 89 for course work. Sold '09 for £323.00. So not bad in my book :-) (Mind they were the ROM's not the disks).

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Anonymous Coward

@Jim 59 - Protext? Jesus, there's a name!

I remember my Mum being a trained legal secretary used to work part time at home for a local solicitor typing up the conveyances, my old man decided to get a pukka WP package and he took us all down to Protext's place which some unit round the back of supermarket in Croydon I think it might have been. We turned up, they gave all a cup of tea ( cup of squash for me being only 11 ) while the devs went off to burn the Protext image onto the PROM and put into the Amstrad CPC slot-in card!

My Mum and Dad spent about 20 mins discussing what they were after in Protext as a word processor and we left. Whenever my Mum had a problem with something niggly in Protext, she could just call the developers direct and ask for help. Any patches meant a 25 mile trip through London to get a new PROM burnt but they were great lads who made Protext, really genuine honest customer service.

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Back in the late '80s, I used to do homework on a MANUAL typewriter (nerr!). Better resolution than any printer save daisy-wheel, dirt cheap to run, and can be used anywhere (such as up a tree overlooking a river at twilight, bliss!). Crap editing facilities though, however you learned to spell pdq!

I did a tiny magazine for a while using EdWord, then upgraded to Ovation and was quite startled when the print to a dot matrix took half an hour per page. Looked lovely, but god it was slow!

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Manual

I'm rather older and handed in double spaced words of wisdom from an Olivetti Lettra with diagrams on separate sheets produced with Rotring pens. Green screen Amstrad wordprocessor later though.

Didn't Xara do a Linux build of one of their packages?

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Almost...

I did my final year project on a BBC, initially using Wordwise, but then moved on to View. Originally I thought it was a pain in the proverbial that a printer driver was needed for View, when I could just embed the codes in Wordwise, but then I changed printer. I did my final year project on a BBC with an NLQ dot matrix printer, but I had access to a daisywheel when it came to my Masters thesis. The only downside of that was that I had to write the printer driver for it before I could use it. It was also LOUD.

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"which is more hype and fluff rather than any real content"

Unfortunately, hype and fluff is where most of the money goes to...

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Anonymous Coward

Ahh...

I used Wordwise a bit and liked it, but I was more of an Inter-WORD kind of guy.

By which I mean, my Mum and Dad bought a Master 128 with the Inter office ROM. I still have it today.

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Paris Hilton

Intel processors were awful

Still are...

Paris coz she does not (AFAIK) have any 'Intel inside' her.

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But nobody seems to be telling Intel who keep trying to flog the awful idea of using them in phones and tablets even though the battery life suffers. Lets face it, x86 in phones is purely for the benefit of Intel and people who build hardware as they'll be familiar with the instruction set and so on.

There's no benefit to the consumer unless they somehow want to try to run desktop x86 OSes on a phone (not that it would be very usable). There's been plenty of UMPCs around for years and they didn't take off.

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Happy

I used to love assembler on my 68K based ST. Once I moved to x86 PCs I never 'assembled' again.

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Happy

Ditto here - unless you count revisting some old 68k code on a (PC-emulated) ST

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Anonymous Coward

My favourite assembler was Macro32...

...but 68K was close enough not to hurt too much, and it was fun on the old ST (still have it, and it still worked the last time it was powered up about 6 years ago).

Though I didn't like the data/address register distinction, the good old VAX (Macro32) was so easy to use and had amazing features with VMS.

I only ever learned enough Macro64 (The Aplha instruction set) to help debug higher level code, as writing risc assembler is just to much to do by hand (ie: knowing that 1 or 2 instructions after a branch can still be processed for instance).

The x86 instruction set gives me that nasty taste in the back of throat.

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I still assemble on x86 (under Linux) but the processor model still stinks. the x86_64 model is still primitive compared to the 68000.

The reason Intel chips suck up so much power is that they need a huge rocket up their arses to make them go quickly with such a poor fundamental design. Which is just about okay on the desktop/laptop connected to the mains but a real handicap on real mobile.

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Intel's modern microarchitecture is pretty good. Yes it would be good if they didn't need the x86 translation overhead, but that's a tiny portion of the silicon compared to the on-die cache. The internals of an ARM Cortex A9 and the latest Atom are quite similar, at least on the block level. What really makes a processor fly, though, is the aforementioned cache along with out of order execution, which ARM has so far not really supported and is why Apple has so far not switched from Intel.

There is one thing I hate about x86, though. The endianness is WRONG!!!1!1!!1!!11

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Re: endianness

There is one thing I hate about bikeshead, though. The colour is WRONG!!!1!1!!1!!11

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Facepalm

hyperbole

1) pretty much everyone deals with numbers most-significant-digit-first, only Intel binary deals with least-significant-digit-first. This is actually more important than which end of the egg you open first.

2) since I don't have to hack assembler I don't really have to care, which was why there were was so much shouty

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Wordwise? Pah! Disc Doctor for the win...

Anyone doing serious programming on the BBC Micro would reckon that the Disc Doctor ROM was Computer Concepts' finest moment. Memory monitoring (endless hours of fun looking at the memory mapped I/O changing 50-odd times a second!), disk sector editing and a 6502 disassembler were hugely useful - way more so than a rather restricted word processor ROM.

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Happy

Wasnt wordwise available on ROM

Tying up with the GCSE ICT story from yesterday I have fond memories of our IT Studies teacher showing wordwise search and replace by replacing AND with ARSE throughout a document - which was revolutionary technology for young teenage boys!

He followed that by teaching us rude variations on the 10 Hello World 20 goto 20

BBC basic program in the flashing 16 colour teletext modes the Beeb had.

Happy days.

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"10 Hello World 20 goto 20"

let's not forget the bug hunts...

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Early Xara FTW

I remember using the early x86 ports of Xara: jaw-droppingly fast, small, and better quality compared to my experience of CorelDraw.

Wordwise, meh, not interesting to me as a 10 year old kid but the sideways expansion board and disc doctor are still happy memories.

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RE: Early Xara FTW

... as were Artworks and Impression on the Archimedes.

Happy times indeed. Being able to do your gfx-job faster than anyone else on cheaper machines. Artworks, which became rather late on the market, was a fantastic product. And when the RiscPC came things only went better. Those StrongARM equipped RPC's were simply amazing. And Artworks was often used to showcase these computers (even by me).

The thing is that Xara never had (and never will have) any impact on the PC/Mac market as the big names Adobe, Corel (a former Xara partner BTW) and Microsoft call the shots. None o/t graphics corps will even look at their products hence the market penetration will always be small. I strongly doubt that Mr. Moir would have had the same success if indeed the started developing for the PC earlier. The RISCOS market was (at later dates) was pretty small and customer loyalty is therefore much higher because there were only 2 competing products (Impression and Ovation).

Anyway. You're lucky to get this far. And from now on things will only get worse. MAGIX is barely known and then only for its cheap shoddy video-products. Associating a higher class DTP/design-product with them only is of their benefit and devaluate Computer Concepts-heritage further.

I predict that it won't be long before Gaddesden Place is up for auction.

Cheers,

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Anonymous Coward

Missing questions

You should have asked him about Impulse (the operating system his company attempted but never shipped for the Archimedes), the flirtation with Corel that didn't pay off, and his company's bizarre "closed core" release of the Xara Xtreme code.

Computer Concepts did some interesting stuff and were ahead of their competitors in various respects, but they also made their own life a bit difficult. That flirtation with the ST came about because they presumably didn't believe that Acorn would ever be able to ship the Archimedes - he may have a point about the pricing, though - but that led to a couple of years of lacklustre products where CC were merely satisfied with selling their BBC ROMs on a ROM board instead of embracing the 32-bit hardware and shipping native applications from day one.

He isn't wrong about Microsoft, however. Several big competitors of Microsoft foolishly threw in their hand when faced with Microsoft's vapourware announcements.

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Meh

Artworks & Xara

I recall selling Artworks (and Impression) from my mail order company in the early 90's. I used it a lot to design magazine adverts and product packaging. Nowadays, I still use Xara on Windows 7(since it came back from Corel).

Long live Xara!.....but stop the MAGIX email spam though eh Moir.

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Artworks

Crikey this takes me back... CC Impression DTP package (awesome) and being given a demo of an early version of ArtWorks with the "quality" rotary dial and full anti-aliasing.

It was so far ahead of everything else at the time

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Impression?

Wasn't Computer Concepts responsible for Impression? The program that led the mind to boggle about why anyone should consider "word processor" and DTP as separate programs, and to realise how bloated and unfriendly Framemaker was?

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Yes, CC did Impression - and a marvellous thing it was too. I wrote my PhD thesis using it on an Archimedes A410/1 back in 1992. Nobody would believe me when I told them I'd done it using DTP software because the equivalent for the PC was either hugely expensive, or crap, or both.

Those were the days, eh?

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Anonymous Coward

Impression was great! The early versions were very bugged, though - you'd get an "Address Exception" pretty quickly - and this didn't make it easy for dealers to sell the package. But once it matured it was a great workhorse, at least until it became Impression Publisher which was very awkward to run from floppies.

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Impression

I've still yet to find a document processor that is so easy to use, especially with regard having multi-chapter indexed documents, and to dropping in images anywhere you like with no artificial boundaries and having the text flow around them.

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Wow - memories - wrote my final year Comp. Sci BSc. Dissertation at Portsmouth Uni in 1992 using Impression an an Archimedes 420, and was then printed out on, of all things, a (borrowed) Canon BJ10 Ex !!! Four of us Acorn advocates at Uni banded together and printed out our dissertations this way. We went through a quite a lot of ink IIRC ..... happy days (and greetings to RJW, Flossy & Old Simon if any of you are reading this :o)

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Ahh Artworks, one of two programs I can think of that survived the downfall of Acorn.

The other being Sibelius.

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FAIL

"There were a series of marketing cock-ups from Acorn"

Like cancelling "Project Phoebe" (RiscPC II) only six weeks from launch _after_ taking pre-orders?

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Anonymous Coward

I doubt that Computer Concepts were paying any attention to Acorn by then, what with it being run by the "enthusiasts" at that point. Acorn made plenty of strategic errors over the years but managed to muddle through.

Not that this was in any way unusual: Commodore never really managed to make the architectural transition from the original Amiga architecture, Atari dithered about whether they were making computers, games consoles or games for other people's consoles, Sinclair also fluffed the transition beyond 8-bit and had to sell out, Amstrad more or less faded away making clones of other people's gear and the occasional unsuccessful speculative gadget. Even Apple could have gone round the U-bend despite transitioning to PowerPC because their OS was incredibly dated by then.

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Not quite

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoebe_(computer)

"...various bugs in the sound DMA were reported and general system instability was noted. As such, no shippable prototypes were yet available to send to the 'Registered Developers'. Two days later, on 17 September 1998, the development of Phoebe 2100 was cancelled."

"Computerworld Online News reported an Acorn spokesman saying "The problem was that it would have had a retail cost about twice as high as for a comparable PC"

"After cancellation it came to light that as few as 150 to 300 pre-orders had been placed."

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Corel's involvement omited!

For about 10 years they were effectively a subsidiary of Corel I wonder why there was no mention of it!

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Anonymous Coward

Microsoft

"The first is Microsoft, co-founded by Bill Gates, who capitalised on his initial success in operating systems with MS-DOS and Windows by striking gold with Word and Excel."

MS-DOS - which he bought from someone else. Windows - which crashes as soon as you look at it and Word and Excel which have much better competitors...

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Anonymous Coward

Downvoted for poor form.

The article and the rest of the thread are about Moir, Acorn, and BBC Micros. No need to start an anti-MS screed here, regardless of the merits of the claims asserted.

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Anonymous Coward

Initial?

Thought their initial success was BASIC interpreters.

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