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back to article The Oric-1 is 30

The Oric-1, which was formally launched 30 years ago this week, was produced with one thing in mind: to take on Sir Clive Sinclair at his own game. “The Oric is a competitor for the Spectrum,” one of Oric developer Tangerine Computer Systems’ software team, Paul Kaufman, emphatically told members of the press. “We are convinced …

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Fond memories

Well very early memories at any rate.

My father used to write games to teach me to read and do maths on the Oric, It even survived being put in action man's dinghy once.

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Re: Fond memories

Ah yes, the joys of learning 6502 on mine (courtesy one of those little flip-page books from ?Bernard Babani?)

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Re: Fond memories

Ah... Babini - the only 6502 machine code book that sold at an affordable price

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Re: Fond memories

Indeed, like others I too was interested in learning 6502 and the Oric-1 won out over the spectrum as my upgrade from a over used zx81. That said didn't we all type "ZAP, PING, SHOOT and EXPLODE" within the first few minutes of setting up initialy, I'll admit it though was probably all those old bat-man tv showings back then on limited TV that induced that urge.

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Re: Fond memories

Sadly I can't recall exactly but there was a magazine out that had all the z80 instructions with the comparable 6502 as well as covering the caviats, just can't recall, think it was a special edition, but was not a byte magazine special though wh smiths did get some obscure titles in back in those days, now you can get more magazines on guns than you can Linux and that is in the UK. But times change and whilst I have not got aorund to getting one, the whole mobile market does in many ways have that smell of the early micro days. Just a lot faster in pace. Heck more API's you need to learn than assembler OP codes these days and with that they change as well.

Still funny when you think about it that our IDE consisted of a poke command after hand assemberling, kids today and there GUI's they don't know how easy they have it and in many ways how hard they have it :)

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Re: Fond memories

Ah yes, I remember wandering into John Menzies in Princes Street after school to type exactly those words into the demo Oric-1... Simpler times... :)

Ye gods, just realised I would have been, what, twelve? Wandering unsupervised around a busy city centre? What were my parents thinking? Is it any wonder I turned out like I did? :)

10 EXPLODE

20 GOTO 10

RUN

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Re: Fond memories

I also remember wandering round unsupervised in Princes Street in those days, at about the same age, even though I lived near to Newcastle! The slew of home computer departments with interestingly incompatible stuff that had sprung up everywhere made it an exciting time to live.

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Re: Fond memories

John Menzies on Princes Street was brilliant as a kid poking the various computers. Good times!

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It's devices like these that perked my interest in computers. Happy times!

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Got one on the shelf

Unfortunately the built in BASIC was rather less than the BBC BASIC I was used to, the video display was eccentric, and the keyboard horrid - but comparing it with the Spectrum (and not the Beeb), it held up well. A fun thing for paying with.

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Why is it that all these companies go bust, or get "acquired" several times, and the directors still end up directing some huge companies in the same sector? I mean, I know in the 80's there was an awful lot of churn and it was the done thing to tank a company into the ground, lose all your developers, then start up another company, poach all said developers and start again as if nothing happened. I just wasn't aware that it was common practice among hardware companies of the time too.

I'm not sure I'd want to deal with a company whose director, or even a senior staff, have a history of bankruptcies, millions of pounds of debts, failed companies, etc. Isn't it about time we had some decent legal framework in place to make sure you can't just build a "tech" company, spend money you don't have to do something (cable companies laying cable, building hardware, deploying software, etc.), abandon it when you can't afford to pay the debts you've run up, declare corporate bankruptcy, and then move on as if nothing happened to another company doing exactly the same?

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Anonymous Coward

This is called "business"

What upsets me of the scenarios you describe is when public money is involved. However, being it private money, the system we live in calls all these things "risk". You know, the kind of casino like risk where the bigger the risk is, the greatest the reward.

As for executives moving from a failed company to another one... well, that's a cultural thing mainly. In the USA, failure is viewed mostly as a learning experience, where you acquire the skills and knowledge necessary to not repeat the same mistakes. Just punishing someone for failing seems not a good fit for the system, because if no one would take risks we'd end up with only incremental innovation coming from conservative big corporations. But, I agree, moving from one failed company to another failed company all your life does not look good in your resume, and it should be a warning sign for investors. But then again, investment decisions based on research and factual data, versus your golf buddies telling you that someone is a nice businessman, should be the norm.

Oh, well, we're already there. Public money is wasted. Big corporations restrain innovation and actively work to kill it. A selected group of intermingled "investors" decide where the money is based on... nothing but PowerPoint decks.

We're all doomed.

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> I'm not sure I'd want to deal with a company whose director, or even a senior staff, have a

> history of bankruptcies, millions of pounds of debts, failed companies, etc

The idea is that people learn from their mistakes, or the mistakes of the people around them, and do better next time.

Would you prefer to deal with a company run by people with NO experience?

The important issue is that investors, and creditors, should be aware of the financial health of a company.

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"

> I'm not sure I'd want to deal with a company whose director, or even a senior staff, have a

> history of bankruptcies, millions of pounds of debts, failed companies, etc"

Like many things it depends on the details, was it a well-thought out scheme that failed due to unexpected circumstances, suprise innovation from a competitor, market downturn etc. Or were the directors out-of -their-depth in some areas, dishonest, over-optimistic, poor managers etc.

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Stop

The people who aren't afraid to fail are the entrepreneurs. If you ban people from running businesses when they go wrong, you'd have no-one running businesses. There's a strong argument that we should reduce the penalties for failure, not increase them - it's one of the reasons the US has a lead on the UK in tech businesses. Easier personal recovery from failure encourages more people to have a go.

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The oddity is that people trust failed entrepreneurs time after time. By the time the investors have lost their third shirts and the entrepreneur has his yacht, holiday home and Roller, you'd think the money men would get cautious. Perhaps not if it's someone else's money, I suppose.

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Less of a Tangerine Dream

more of a nightmare.

Then again I surcame to the misfortunes of the Camputers and the Lynx.

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Paris Hilton

You never forget your first. I think my Oric atmos (which was "upgraded" from an Oric 1 through an offer at Oric where they took you old machine and gave you a new one) is still in my parents' attic.

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Anonymous Coward

Probably worth quite a bit now, especially if it's still got its box with it.

The article's a bit harsh on the Atmos keyboard I think. It's got a nicer feel than anything Acorn put out at the time.

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"It's got a nicer feel than anything Acorn put out at the time."

A keyboard with actual switches was best back then, rather than the limp calculator-key style of some machines; and god help the Oric keyboard that did a pre-Apple putting style over function - seriously, here's a picture - can you imagine writing anything of length (your homework, perhaps?) on that keyboard?

At least Acorn's keyboard was usable for long durations, and it stood up to a lot of abuse (I'm not talking about schoolchildren, this is personal, this is me vs Chuckie Egg...).

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That's the Oric One keyboard, not the Oric Atmos, which is a proper keyboard - at least in looks. I don't know what the mechanism was underneath the key caps.

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Many fond memories

I upgraded from my ZX81 to one of these (oooh, colour) simply because my neither my Dad or I could afford the more expensive, but vastly better, BBC Micro. I mainly used it for developing and testing my 6502 code which I then took round to my friends house to run on his beeb, or my college's CBM 8032s.

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5 years after the Orac design was unveiled.

They should have copied it. That seemed way more fun.

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Lots of flashing lights

Now that was a computer.

A lot of people are going to be disappointed by optronics.

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Outside of a shop I never saw one of these, no-one I knew had one. My mate over the road had the Atmos and it was decent enough but like today's mobile platforms it's the software availability that play a huge part - and the Atmos had very little.

The red/black case was really stylish though, much cooler than my brown/beige C64 :)

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Boffin

HH Tiger

The Tiger did actually make it into production, just, although given the time line I can only imagine not many were built. I had one in my collection, sold it last summer when I had a bit of a clear-out.

Nice machine, but it would have bombed in the market of the time - it was rooted in the previous generation of CP/M and proprietary peripherals, at a time when the IBM PC was poised to take over the world. Really solidly built, though.

GJC

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The Tangerine was my second computer

right after the MK14.

I read so many bad reviews of the Oric that I never bothered with one; just added lots of bits to the Tangerine and eventually used it in tandem with a Z80 CP/M machine.

I've still got the MK14 but sadly the Tangerine got lost in a house move.

Happy days.

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Is it really 30 years ago

That I was being told to go outside and play in the sun when I'd rather be playing Level 9 adventures on an Oric 1?

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Re: Is it really 30 years ago

You made me remember Level 9!!!!

And now I also remember that I am still waiting for the arrival in my mailbox of "The Worm In Paradise". It shuld arrive any day now ... Man, these mail-order outfits were dodgy.

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Re: Is it really 30 years ago

There was a level 9 emulator we compiled up on the HPUX boxes back in the late 90s... Another couple of days wasted completing Emerald Isle, but this time on the company's dollar;-)

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Unhappy

HH tiger?

Hah. I worked on that. USELESS modem and CP/M had no graphical interface beyond the ability to change text colors with escape sequences..

Like the Sinclair Micro TV, which I also worked on, the idea was only twenty-five years ahead of the available technology.

what was the first OS that supported bitmapped graphics? windows or OS9?

How long before the LCD screen arrived?

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Re: HH tiger?

The GSX extension to CP/M shipped in 1982, offering a hardware independent API for graphics. I think you're wading into ill-defined waters trying to talk about the first OS that supported bitmapped graphics; in the consumer market it's going to be one of a bunch of things that shipped with 8-bit micros. If you're looking for hardware independence then Acorn certainly have a shot, with the drawing primitives being OS calls rather than something implemented in the BASIC interpreter (which was a separate ROM and a separate piece of software), using a virtual resolution with subpixel precision (in that all drawing operations occurred at a conceptual 1280x1024 if memory serves, the available display modes being power-of-two divisors of that) and being suitably hardware independent as to work across the BBC, Electron and Archimedes.

And you've definitely got the Macintosh preceding Windows, the Xerox Star preceding that, etc, etc.

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Re: HH tiger?

CP/M had no graphical interface beyond the ability to change text colors with escape sequences.

CP/M had GEM, which we were running on bit-mapped hardware in '83 (or early '84?). Maybe they didn't put it on the Tiger, though.

what was the first OS that supported bitmapped graphics? windows or OS9?

Must be loads of OSes that predated graphics on OS/9. Unix, for one.

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Re: HH tiger?

GEM never ran on CP/M-80 (Z80). GEM only ever ran on CP/M-86 or the 68k DOS clone, GEMDOS, on the Atari ST, IIRC.

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Re: HH tiger?

what was the first OS that supported bitmapped graphics? windows or OS9?

Is that a serious question? Microsoft Windows is obviously a latecomer, since it first shipped in 1985. That's after the Apple Macintosh, and before that the Lisa. And since Windows and the Lisa and Macintosh OSes were all inspired by work at Xerox PARC, obviously there were raster-graphics systems there before any of those three came out (about which more below).

OS-9 first shipped in 1979, according to various sources. I don't know when the first raster-graphics OS-9 system appeared, but the Tandy / Radio Shack Color Computer was an OS-9 machine and it came out in 1980.[1]

That's still far from first, of course. In the mid-1970s you had Tektronix raster-graphics terminals, which were widely used with various flavors of Unix and not infrequently with IBM mainframes (often through one of the 3270 models that included an RS-232 port). The Tektronix graphics language was sufficiently popular for Unix systems that the xterm terminal emulator can emulate it, and indeed I've used that several times to do quick & dirty graphing of data (from log-analysis scripts and the like) on Unix boxes.

For that matter, the 3270 line itself included the 3278 by some time in the mid-70s, which offered raster graphics, first in monochrome and then with 4-bit color with the 3278 PS. Working with individual pixels on a 3270 is ... interesting, since it's a block-mode terminal and the pixels ("pels", in IBM-speak) are not addressed linearly; but IBM came out with the GDDM API for CICS in 1979, providing a medium-to-high-level graphics interface for the beast. So you could argue that CICS[2] was an "OS that supported bitmapped graphics" at least as early as '79, and arguably a few years earlier.

And in the same era you had the Apple II, which had raster graphics in 1977.

But all of those are predated by good ol' Xerox PARC. The Alto, from 1973, had raster graphics. I don't know if the Alto's OS had a name of its own, but it was certainly an OS from long before Windows and significantly before OS-9 to offer the feature. True, the Alto was never commercial, and the Star didn't come out until 1981, so if you want to restrict this to commercially-available OSes it's a bit less clear.

And, of course, there were earlier experiments with raster graphics, going back into the late 1960s. But I'd be inclined to give the Alto the title of "first raster graphics workstation", unless someone knows of an earlier machine that saw similar distribution outside the organization that invented it.

[1] 1980 was also the watershed year, more or less, for raster-graphics Unix terminals: Apollo, SUN,[3] and PARQ all came out around then. The X Window System took a few more years; it first appeared in 1984 (contemporaneous with the Macintosh), and X11 (the current version of the protocol) in 1987.

[2] Of course, CICS is not an OS; it's an operating environment for applications that runs on top of an actual OS, which in those days would have been MVS or VSE (possibly in turn running on top of VM). But then that's precisely what Windows was prior to version 3.0.

[3] Written in block capitals, as it was an acronym for "Stanford University Network". The SUN workstation was the inspiration for the original line of machines from Sun Microsystems.

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Eastern Europe

Like many 8 bit micros of the day, didn't the Oric end up being (probably illegally) cloned in Eastern Europe so that people behind the iron curtain could enjoy it's "charms"?

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Re: Eastern Europe

There was a 'licensed' clone called the Oric Nova64 which may actually have been a real Atmos made from UK parts with a different sticker on, and a less legal clone known as the Pravetz 8D which had the lower case character set replaced with Cyrillic characters.

Rarest of all seems to be the rack mounted Telestrat used for hosting Minitel pages.

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Atmos = keyboard + big fix ROM

You could piggy back a new ROM into the original Oric to give dual boot Atmos/Oric system.

Essentially the Atmos was a bug fix version and with a quality keyboard.

Dual boot was useful for code testing.

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Nice article - but not one of the top 3 machines...

...from my recollection. The ones we all wanted were: ZX Spectrum, C64 and BBC Model B; I don't remember the Oric as anything more than a plasticy also-ran, along with the weirdly over-sized Dragon, and its equally mutant fugly sibling the Tandy CoCo.

The of course the IBM PC came along and made everything generic, beige, slow and boring for a decade and a half.

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Re: Nice article - but not one of the top 3 machines...

The of course the IBM PC came along and made everything generic, beige, slow and boring for a decade and a half.

Don't know why anyone would down-vote that - it's absolutely true. The PC was probably the major factor that killed off nearly everybody else in the 84/85 timeframe. The hardware was crap, and DOS was crap. Everyone bought it simply because of the IBM name. And, yes, we were stuck with crap for at least 15 years. I was using a Hercules graphics card till about 2000, to get second-rate mono bit-mapped graphics, when home computers had had it sorted in the early 80's.

Don't agree with your choice of 3, though.

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Re: Nice article - but not one of the top 3 machines...

The 16 bit home computers that came after this first wave were really exciting. I think you're forgetting those. The Amiga, the ST, the Acorn RISC computers. All flawed platforms in their own ways but they set the future direction of home computing. Importantly they let people who weren't programmers use computers creatively.

Hi-Res (for the time) graphics, digital sound, sampling, MIDI, multi-tasking, affordable modems, WYSIWYG applications - to those of us who were teenagers in the late 80's it felt as though the future had arrived. If you watch the YouTube video of the launch of the Amiga you can hear the gasps of the audience.

When I realised that the Amiga was finished as a mainstream platform and bought my first PC running Windows95 it felt like a step back. It was slower in use, despite a processor ten times faster, and it didn't actually work very well.

Anyway - reminiscing aside - there was sudden tipping point in the mid 80's where everyone suddenly bought an IBM PC. My recollection is that they were an unusual thing to see in the home, certainly in the UK, until the mid 90's.

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Let's be honest, we mainly wanted to play games

Like kids that age do now.

Being British, my sense of games availability is that Sinclair Spectrum games tended to be cheap and home-made, C64 games were professional but tame, BBC games were heavily educational. With exceptions, of course - who had

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sentinel_%28video_game%29

Got excruciatingly slow on the Spectrum - but fascinating. 10,000 levels. That awful buzzing noise that meant that your energy was being sucked out.

So, anyway, Oric... shipping with a language, even BASIC, was great; shipping with a buggy ROM - and continuing to do so - is pretty bad, even when in this telling the bugs are Microsoft's own.

And to do anything playably fast, you needed assembly language and machine code. Typing in BASIC program listings (at least on Sinclair machines) consisting of long, long strings of hexadecimal machine code data, and if you were lucky, line-by-line checksums. So that symbol must be 8 and not B...

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Meh

I really wanted to read this article...

...and I'm sure a lot of research and time went in to writing it and ensuring it was factually correct. However, could the author / editor of such articles PLEASE read them back to themselves before hitting the 'publish' button? The number of needless sub-clauses in obtusely constructed sentences was just painful. Sorry to gripe on style rather than substance, but a little shuffling of words into something that flows would do a great job of removing the need to maintain some kind of mental FILO stack.

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Re: I really wanted to read this article...

I did read the article. Full of interesting information and definitely worth reading, but sadly I must agree with JS Greenwood on the quality of the prose.

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Anonymous Coward

great article - bringing back memories

The Oric I think was the machine everyone in the press took a pop at - deluge of bad reviews, so people always blamed the machine, whereas with the other computers, if the programme you typed in didn't work, people asked what they had done wrong.

I never had one, but a friend of mine wrote and published software for the Oric. I never liked the Oric-1 keyboard but the Atmos was a great machine to use - the keyboard I recall being superb (I wanted one!).

The low-res graphics had the same resolution as prestel or ceefax so you could create ceefax screens to overlay on video or make it appear you were displaying tv over the computer.

There were at least 2 floppy disk systems produced for the Oric, and long after the company crashed the Oric had an afterlife supported by enthusiasts. The same friend supported and developed the disk systems, and long after I would have thought anyone could have cared less about the Oric, he could sell disk systems for the machine.

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ping, shoot, explode...

The main thing I remember about the Oric-1 was it had preset sounds for (IIRC) ping, shoot, explode and laser. So you'd go into WHSmith and quickly knock up:

10 ping

20 shoot

30 laser

40 explode

50 goto 10

and leave the machine pinging and exploding away until someone came over who knew how to stop it...

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Re: ping, shoot, explode...

The laser sound had the token "ZAP".

I once used two Orics on stage as a teenager, one using the white noise generator as a drum machine and the other running a program to make it work like a really awful synthesizer. Luckily my singing was so bad no-one noticed the god awful noise coming out of the Orics... Any song with the opening line "Rebecca, she's got a carrot for a head" isn't going to get any better. I was quite proud of the line in the program that played notes of random duration and pitch for a random amount of time if you pressed '1'. The 8-bit muso idiot's version of a 'widdly widdly' guitar solo.

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"OPI ... chose to reveal very little to machine code writers about the Oric Rom’s routines,"

You don't need to reveal the code, just the API entry jump block.

Oh, wait a bit, I bet there wasn't a jump block, just Sinclair-stylee random entry addresses directly into the code.

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Anonymous Coward

Oh come on. It's not as if the ROMs in either machine gave you much to write home about other than a buggy cassette interface and a wonky BASIC interpreter anyway. You wanted something doing right, better to code for the bare metal.

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