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back to article Acorn’s would-be ZX Spectrum killer, the Electron, is 30

The Sinclair Spectrum made the Acorn Electron inevitable. In June 1982, less than two months after Sinclair had unveiled the Spectrum - which had still not shipped, of course, even though Sinclair had promised the first Spectrums would be in punters’ hands by the end of May - Acorn co-founder Hermann Hauser was heard talking …

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Ahhh bless.

We always felt pity for the poor kid with the Electron!

Always a bit left out.

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Re: Ahhh bless.

Bit like a Porsche Boxster - you only buy one if you can't afford a 911. Doesn't make it a bad car though.

Mind you, I did like the optional use of keywords where you'd hold down an alt(?) key and the main letter keys would each insert a BASIC instruction (DEFPROC, PRINT or whatever). It was a nice halfway house between the BBC typing from a mag with associated errors and bizarre keyboard twister on the speccy to get the instruction.

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Re: Ahhh bless.

Oh I never said it was a bad machine. I had fun playing around on them. But you know what its like when your mates all have other machines (C64/Spectrum) and you are the only one with the Electron.

Not much game swapping going on there.

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Byz
FAIL

Re: Ahhh bless.

I knew loads of people with BBC B's the difference was I could program and they couldn't :)

It was like "Pearls before the swine"

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Ahhh bless.

I only saw one in my lifetime. God knows what makes parents buy these "odd one out" machines.

That said, it seems it was very popular in terms of demand, but Acorn just couldn't supply enough machines.

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Re: Ahhh bless.

I totally understand you Jason. I felt excactly the same with my Oric 1 while the rest of my puny world all had a ZX Spectrum.

The Oric's Basic manual was very good though... I learned English from it ;-)

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BBC Basic has ruined me

I can program in modern object oriented languages.

But i still think in in BBC basic.

Loved my electron.

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My First...

I remember getting home from school and finding one of these plugged into the TV, ohh the joy of typing in Chain "" (I think it was?) and loading up Cybertron Mission, I don't think I ever did make it to the end, but games were harder back then!

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Re: My First...

My first also...I still remember trying hard not show my disappointment when it was proudly unveiled by my old man, who informed me that he'd chosen it over the spectrum as it had a better keyboard. The truth can be cruel, and little consolation to the ungrateful sprog that I was.

Still, first cut my teeth in programming on it , and honed my reactions speed on Frogger.

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Re: My First...

Ahh..Frogger with what I always called the "Uncle Ben's Rice" music, although looking at it on youtube it seems to have a different tune? And Repton and Asteroids, if only I'd not sold it.....I remember I started programming on this, then finding BBC Micros at school and after doing the "ohh look it prints my name down the screen" moving on to something which did my maths homework for me and some how got me good marks from the teacher when he had seen what I'd created, no idea what it was though!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: My First...

"...but games were harder back then!"

Naah! You're fingers become loosened up after so many years of texting. That's the only valid explanation, isn't it?

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Re: My First...

If you'd used FUNC+K then think how much time you could have saved!

It was always Starship Command for me, and some Repton 2. Oh, and Gaunlet, the Defender clone.

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Re: My First...

Same here. I remember a maths homework task to create a list of prime numbers. I whipped up a little program on the Electron (probably took longer than just guessing the 10 or so required) and left it running all night, producing a printed list running to several pages to give to the teacher.

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Re: My First...

I suspect it had a better keyboard even than our modern PCs. Your 'old man 'was right on that.

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Unhappy

These articles make me so sad ..

it seems astonishing - nay unbelievable - that in the early 1980s, the country leading the world in computer science and education was the UK. Hands down. I recall reading stories in the US-based computer magazines and science periodicals where they often mentioned how advanced the UK was in getting kids and computers together.

It was a *Tory* government policy to get a computer into every classroom - hello BBC "B" !

Briefly, the UK was a world leader.

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Re: These articles make me so sad ..

It still is in terms of CPU's - heard of ARM?

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Unhappy

Re: These articles make me so sad ..

I was thinking more in terms of computer education. When I started in the 80s, if you did Computer Science, you left being able to program. OK, it was BASIC, and you couldn't get enough GOTOs. But at least you knew how to make the computer do what *you* wanted to. You got an idea of how it was done, and the ways in which it could be done - with all the attendant learning about bugs, data mistypes, control, flow, exceptions, etc etc.

Nowadays, my 17 year old son comes home, and tells me he's a web developer because he used Dreamweaver at college. I show him a web page in Notepad, and he goes "huh".

The only real developers I have met, under 30, learned their skills in spite of the education system, not because of it.

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Re: These articles make me so sad ..

I remember writing out my 1987 O level Computer Studies project on my bedroom floor in long hand.

Then I got to school and typed it up on the BBC B and saved it to 5.25" floppy.

There was a long queue for the Epson dot matrix to print all our code out on.

I still have my Computer Studies project folder with all the print outs in. I saved it from the parents bonfire a couple of years ago.

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Coat

Re: These articles make me so sad ..

Oh, what I would've give to be able to write it out in long hand on my bedroom floor and type it up on a BBC B and save it to floppy.

I had to scrawl my project onto scraps of sack, huddled in the coal cellar where I were kept, then etc etc etc...

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Re: These articles make me so sad ..

did my 1987 O level computer studies on the BBC B. Trouble was our comp only had 2 B's and 2 A's all the other computers (about another 6 or so) were Oric's

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Anonymous Coward

Re: These articles make me so sad ..

Where did it all go wrong?

Probably because by the time the 16-bit machines came out there wasn't really a credible and affordable UK next generation machine until way after Atari and Commodore (and Apple even, but you had to be wealthy).

The Archimedes didn't arrive until 1987, two years after the Amiga and ST. Okay, most people couldn't really afford such a machine until 1987 but that two year window allowed software to be available and the platform established.

Amiga 500 was around £520, Archimedes started at £799!!!!!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: These articles make me so sad ..

Indeed. Which is why I'm keen to promote ARM and how Intel are lying and cheating on benchmarks.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: These articles make me so sad ..

"Briefly, the UK was a world leader."

Yes Sir!

It became even better when the Archimedes came along. And then some... The Amazing Risc PC.

IMHO the very best personal computer back then. Truly innovative design, incredibly fast (especially with the StrongARM swap-in cpu-card and a stick of VRAM).

Those were literally the best years of my computing life. It's a shame that Acorn Computers Ltd. is gone! Those guys where the real UK-silicon geniuses! I have more respect and credibility for the team at Acorn Computers Ltd. than for Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Shuttleworth or Linus Torvalds (or any other egotrippin rich IT-freaks). Even today the folks at RISC OS open deserve our sympathy and support! Especially since RISC OS itself is still around and runs incredibly fast on the raspberry Pi.

Why Eben Upton (and the other RPI folks) stubbornly keeps pushing Raspbian linux on their RPI is beyond belief. RISC OS is a far better OS suited for educational purposes (as it's been used in education for ages) and it has the amazing BBC Basic right build in.... Press F12, type BASIC (at the *-prompt) and away you go. It's the only real native UK invented, maintained and developed OS!

Why aren't you Brits proud of your legacy?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: These articles make me so sad ..

BBC Basic (as used by the BBC Micro) also uses DEF PROC and DEF FN. So you could create procedures and functions without resorting to GOTO's. It was (and still is) one o/t most structured BASIC interpreters.

"Nowadays, my 17 year old son comes home, and tells me he's a web developer because he used Dreamweaver at college. I show him a web page in Notepad, and he goes "huh"."

... and then they wonder why "engineers" get hampered with meaningless crappy jobs until they resign (or commit suicide in the case of a well-known French telco).

Does anyone knows what the ex-Acorn guys are actually doing these days?

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Re: These articles make me so sad ..

I had to phone mine in by scraping two naked wires together 262144 times.

If you got it wrong you had to start again from the beginning.

You were lucky.

I did know someone with an Electron. Last I saw he was running one of the computing labs at Oxford, so it doesn't seem to have done him any lasting harm.

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Re: These articles make me so sad ..

Stop that, it's silly.

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Never used the Electron, but the lab I used to work in had dozens of the old Atoms controlling various kit, as late as 1995. Neat, durable machine built in the UK.

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DJV

Atom

I assembled a few Atom kits for a local computer shop in the early 80s. Not too hard apart from attaching the keyboard to the PCB. You had to get around 120+ stiff, springy wires protruding from the keyboard into the corresponding 120+ holes in the PCB... simultaneously - it was a real bugger (to put it mildly).

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Wrong market?

I always felt that the Electron was aiming at the wrong market. Because although it could be used as a game computer the games and multimedia capabilities which it had were actually hardly impressive. That is; impressive enough, but in comparison to the Commodore 64 not that great.

But one of it's real strengths was absolutely it's language. BBC Basic for example. At that time and age this critter even allowed me to use inline assembly straight within my basic program. Not even my C64 could pull stunts like that off!

So to me the Electron always felt more professional than the C64, even though the C64 appealed more to me because of it's multimedia capabilities. But this one was a classic.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Wrong market?

BBC Basic was good. Commodore basic was made by Microsoft. Except the version Commodore shipped was very old.

Jack Tramiel was the only person to ever get one over Bill Gates. Tramiel wanted a one off payment, Gates wanted a royalty per unit sold. I think Tramiel handed over something like $50,000, the C64 sold millions haha.

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Re: Wrong market?

"Jack Tramiel was the only person to ever get one over Bill Gates"

Alan Sugar did as well. When the PC1512 went to market, Digital Research's DOS was cheaper than MSDOS so Amstrad went with that. Microsoft got wind and sent a representation to Brentwood to try and persuade Sugar to go with their product instead.

Sugar told them it was too late and they should stop wasting their time badgering him. A few days later Gates tells Amstrad that they can have MSDOS for nothing! Hence the PC1512 ended up being shipped with both OS's!

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Re: Wrong market?

"this critter even allowed me to use inline assembly straight within my basic program."

BBC Basic (as used in RISC OS) still can.

if you have a Raspberry Pi, boot up with RISC OS

--> press CTRL+F12 (to open a shell window) or F12 (to go outside the desktop)

--> Type BASIC + enter

--> type HELP [ (all uppercase, square bracket) <--- to show which assembly commands are available.

Good stuff :-)

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Re: Wrong market?

Yes, I used my Electron as a working machine, when I started working. I could programme ( in an amateur way ) with bits of assembly language that gave me much more flexibility than pure BASIC would have, I could learn other languages, and I could produce programmes that were useful to me ( and others).

I was never a gamer. I like making computers DO stuff. And the ELK served that function beautifully. But I had to wait until the price dropped before I could buy one.

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Joke

Re: Wrong market?

" later Gates tells Amstrad that they can have MSDOS for nothing! Hence the PC1512 ended up being shipped with both OS's!"

Yeah, that was obviously a mistake on Bill's part eh? Where is he now I wonder?

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Re: Wrong market?

It's probably an urban legend, but I heard Boeing, neighbours of Microsoft, was able to get Office for a nominal fee per user, forever.

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Re: Wrong market?

True - ir was part of a Soviet (or French) plot to destroy the US aviation industry.

30 years later they are so busy producing stunning Powerpoint presentations that their planes burst into flames and fall out of the sky

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Ferranti

"specific failings in ULA maker Ferranti’s production process"

Interesting. During 1983 Amstrad were designing the CPC 464 and were also having problems with Ferranti that threatened their April 1984 launch date.

I'd have to check my copy of the excellent "Amstrad Story" but IIRC Sugar was so concerned he turned to another supplier in the Far East to get the problems fixed rather than wait for Ferranti and risk being behind schedule.

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Re: Ferranti

The BBC Micro also had a ULA, so Acorn were not treading new ground. It appeared to be a troublesome technology, because as far as I am aware, everybody who used them had production problems.

The ULA on my issue 3 BEEB always overheated on warm days (cue the freezer spray), and I noted that on issue 4 and onward, passive heat-sinks started appearing on both the ULA and the Teletext chip.

It seems strange nowadays to have a system that did not have a single fan in the case, and as a consequence would have been silent if it had not been for the incessant buzz of crosstalk interference from the speaker. I suppose the silent end of computing has gone to tables. At least they owe a legacy to these machines.

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Re: Ferranti

" suppose the silent end of computing has gone to tables."

Funny you'd say that.

My Raspberry Pi is totally silent and it's even build inside a Pi-Cano case (which has a clear plexi sitting 2mm above the cpu see photo: http://www.riscository.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/DSC_0053.jpg). The setup looks amazing.

I have currently 2 Pi's in this enclosure. One is running Lighttp-webserver continuously for about 8 months now. Needles to say what OS the other Pi runs :-)

Not to mention all high-end smartphones run totally silent yet they pack some serious computing power considering their size. Whenever I play some high-end 3D games my SGS3 I'm amazed how powerfull it is and yet the SGS4 is roughly twice as fast (with more pixels to move as well)!

I reckon "ARM-computers" have come a long way since their 6502-forefathers.

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Re: Ferranti

More detailed photos of this PiCano case at

http://riscpi.co.uk/belges-beautiful-pi-case-design-at-big-ben-clubs-birthday-bash/

And the page below has a mounting animation + a few details o/t assembly process.

It's all in Dutch but the photos are self-explanatory and very interesting.

Click on "Producten" on the left column.

http://marker.dommel.be/

Enjoy the pics.

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Re: Ferranti

Just checked my copy of the Amstrad story.

The Amstrad Gate Array contract went to Ferranti had had the lowest bid but their design was "riddled with errors". Sugar phoned them up and explained to them using 1 syllable anglo saxon words what he thought of them and gave the job to an Italian firm called SGS instead to protect himself should Ferranti continue to cock up.

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Re: Ferranti

> The Amstrad Gate Array contract went to Ferranti had had the lowest bid but their design was "riddled with errors".

It wasn't just their domestic commercial stuff which had that problem.

> Sugar phoned them up and explained to them using 1 syllable anglo saxon words what he thought of them

If I'd had their phone number I would have done the same thing - frequently and loudly - from the top of show covered mountains where i was having to replace duff devices.

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Anonymous Coward

I had one of them when they first came out, bought to replace my aging vic20 I'd bought myself out of pocket money by my mum for xmas. I was 13 or 14 at the time, and schools were running bbc model b's exclusively, so it gave a cheap platform to have something bbc basic compatible at home to do some computer studies homework on.

And it served its purpose, I turned in the most sprawling newsagent database driven basic program ever, with menus, printing of address labels, delivery and ordering rosters, renewal and payment reminder letters etc. Got me a A, which to date is my sole computing qualification apart from industry experience based certifications.

It was what it was, a cheap alternative to get you bbc basic if your parents weren't loaded. I remember the tossers with bbc's sneering I didnt have mode7, I didnt care it did what it did, I had my brothers cast off c64 and the use of his early amiga for better stuff. And they're all plumbers or street sweepers now :)

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bm
Joke

So they all have job security :-)

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Oh my this takes me back

That advert - it seems like only yesterday that it was everywhere - is it really 30 years?

But weren't early computer adverts wordy? Compare that to a modern ad. I suppose they were still trying to persuade mums and dads that this wasn't just a toy and it was a good investment. Now pretty much everyone thinks they know what a computer is and can do, so manufacturers obsess about thickness or colour.

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Re: Oh my this takes me back

Now they know the majority of computers *are* toys.

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Re: Oh my this takes me back

" weren't early computer adverts wordy"

I think all adverts used to be more wordy back then, back there does seem to be a lot of text there.

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Big Brother

Re: Oh my this takes me back

"I think all adverts used to be more wordy back then, back there does seem to be a lot of text there."

It's the "sue'em" culture. If they put too many words in an advert, you can be sure some chancer will find a way to interpret them in a "beneficial" way.

Or maybe the in-house lawyers have clamped down on the copywriters to such an extent that long, slow intakes of breath with a subtle head-shake are commonplace?

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Devil

Re: Oh my this takes me back

Sorry, no. The only real words in ads now are the ones the lawyers put IN.

It's the short attention span of the punters ( or at least the ones in the "focus groups") which has made them cut down the words.

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Re: Oh my this takes me back

This is it. Even back in those days most of the public took their real, usable, reasonably powerful for the time, and often pretty expensive ( by regular standards) computers and used them to play at killing imaginary aliens.

And now they have fruity tablets and do much the same, only the aliens are rather more colourful.

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