back to article Phantom Flan flinger: The story of the Elan Enterprise 128

Despite its name, Intelligent Software also had a nice little sideline designing hardware. Founded in 1981 by international chess champion David Levy and chess writer Kevin O’Connell, the company was best known for its chess programs, in particular Cyrus and SciSys Chess Champion. But it also developed chess computers for toy …

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First Elan, then Flan ...

E to F ... it's just as well they weren't forced to then take the next letter in another rebranding, or the press would have got extreme mileage out of gags about their 'Glans' ...

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I remember reading the original Your Computer article

and thinking how much I preferred the colour scheme of the mock-up to the primary colours on the final design (apart from the lemon yellow that is). Great article, thanks for the memories

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M7S
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Pint

Many of these companies made mistakes, and many paid for them

but without all that energy and effort back then we'd probably all be the worse off now, either as IT/Tech types with jobs or the general public with the benefit that we're all five times more productive these days (ahem)*. Regardless of how things turned out I feel I owe them part of a collective "Thank you".

*http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/10/23/technology_has_made_us_work_five_times_harder/

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I sooo wanted one of these at the time

But it just never arrived in time and the final name was ridiculous. [sigh]

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Re: I sooo wanted one of these at the time

Me too. For those of a certain age the Enterprise was an object of unspoken teenage lust. Mainly due to whispers of 672 x 512 resolution. "High resolution" graphics were a key selling point for home computers at the time. Shame is was just too good to be true.

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Ahh, nostalgia....

Always nice to see a Tiswas reference, no matter how brief or indeed unrelated to technology it was.

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I remember seeing these.....

....and thinking.."well it's lovely looking and I love the spec but...it's a bit late isn't it?"

By then if you didn't have a Spectrum or a C64 it was game over. Didn't matter if the spec was twice as good.

It was all down to the budget your parents were prepared to spend/paper round savings and how many other mates you could borrow/swap games with.

However, the effort was appreciated.

"If ahhh cud turn back timmeeeeeeeeeeee!"

And one thing in that article made me smile. I remember around the turn of the century one of the phrases much shouted round the office was -

"Has anyone got a Madge card cable? I've lost mine!"

There must be that secret place somewhere full of lost socks and Madge card cables....

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Re: I remember seeing these.....

Oddly enough I do have some madge cables in the loft.

Which reminds me - I really need to clear my loft out!

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I have one in my loft, which has only been switched on a couple of times. I have a feeling the keyboard membrane has suffered in the mean time - when it was last tried out, half a row of keys didn't respond.

One day I'll find the time to have a proper play with it.

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Unhappy

Crazy times.

Which showed what happened if you didn't have a software base users wanted.

A lesson people forget at their peril.

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The BASIC interpreter was a disaster

Someone had decided that everything numeric should be double precision floating point, which used more memory and slowed things down. Being able to use 16 bit integers would have been a good start, but no, they didn't support that.

Secondly it was riddled with obvious bugs that should have been caught in testing. I crashed one with a single DIM statement. That's a proper, full on crash, not an error message I'm talking about.

Interesting hardware, badly let down by the software was my take at the time.

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I remember the hype

And the delays, and the name changes - and despite it I still wanted one.

Then a year later the Amiga arrived and left pretty much everything else in the dust.

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Re: I remember the hype

The Amiga was a game changer for the home market. Until the XT finally became affordable for home use, morphing into the AT platform.

Don't flame me, but Apple also had lot to do with this. (no fanboi, just lived through the times) Hard as it may be to believe these days, at one time, Apple was a very open platform in every sense and appealed to the DIY crowd.

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I've enjoyed reading these articles to a point, but you know when you start reading them that they are always going to end in tears. To read about the sweat and tears and knock-backs as all a bit heart-breaking.

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With all this talk of "off-the-shelf components" it makes me wonder why nobody used off-the-shelf bog standard plug-in keyboards, instead of everybody inventing their own.

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Thing is with these things the keyboard was the computer. So you would have a serious branding issue if you used a standalone keyboard like we do today.

The key covering on a chiclet type keyboard sounds like a nifty workaround for cheapness though!

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Cheap keyboards

There was no such thing as a cheap standard plug-in keyboard until the IBM PC came along, and a market for such a thing was created along with the 'PC compatible' boom. And even then they weren't particularly cheap for quite some time, until the whole Economy of Scale thing kicked in (and other factors that saw a huge rise in cheap goods from the east in all areas of life).

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Re: Cheap keyboards

Why the downvote? That was true, back in the 1980s a replacement keyboard for a PC was nowhere near being the kind of disposable item that they are now. And this was before the internet caught on in a Big Way, so even if they had been cheaply available from The East's sweatshops, Joe Public had no sensible way to order such a thing and had to rely upon suppliers and dealers in the own countries - who each added their own generous markups. Have we really become so used to global trading that we've forgotten how expensive things used to be?

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Re: Cheap keyboards

Yeah, I don't get the downvote either.

Everything you stated was historically accurate.

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Re: Cheap keyboards

Yes folks tend to forget that stuff was bloody expensive back then.

Even in 1995 a 4x CD burner cost £1864.00!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Cheap keyboards

IIRC, in the mid '80s, a real keyboard would set you back a couple of hundred bucks - more like $400 now. It was a big enough expense that I recall articles in magazines like Byte discussing how to rejigger old electric typewriter keyboards and such to avoid the expense of buying a real one.

*Everything* electronic was wildly expensive at that point. It's easy to forget when you can get a laptop or a good 24" monitor for $300, but at that point you'd be lucky to be able to buy a *mouse* for that kind of money. Even in the early '90s, I remember drooling over magazine pics of laptops, but the idea of having one was just absurd; in today's money they were running upwards of $8000, $9000 for a normal laptop. It's almost inconceivable now, but... yeah, things really are that much better!

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By God, it's journalism! Actual go-out-and-interview-people journalism rather than pasting screenshots of twitter feeds and verbatim copies from the 90 other tech sites that ran the same article!

God bless you, sirs!

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I remember drooling

I went to a computer fair at Earls Court (1985?) with my father and brother and remember getting lots of leaflets about the Elan Enterprise and thinking "wow, this has everything and it looks pretty". As a 15-year-old I didn't realise at the time that this wasn't the future but instead the present (which already had one foot in the 8-bit grave). I remember going home to our BBC Micro, not realising how lucky I was to have got one of the best machines of this magnificent era.

Proof that looks are everything (if you're an adolescent)...

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Great article. I vaguely remember some of the print ads but never saw one in the flesh.

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I've enjoyed these historical articles. I was a young nerd while it was all going on, buying ALL the magazines and poring over specifications. Eventually, I ordered a Spectrum. Eventually, I got one. Then an Amiga. Then a bare-naked OSI Superboard.

What strikes me is the small amounts of money that brought down the pioneer companies -- debts of a few million pounds in this case. I read recently that Twitter is losing about $150M a year, and is looked on as an excellent potential investment...

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"What strikes me is the small amounts of money that brought down the pioneer companies -- debts of a few million pounds in this case. I read recently that Twitter is losing about $150M a year, and is looked on as an excellent potential investment..."

Makes one a bi sad, I agree, but I guess the cost of starting afresh then was so low that there wasn't any point investing in anything that hadn't got a significant user base behind it (much as Twitter & Facebook do now).

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Anonymous Coward

If twitter only had 70,000 users to show for that loss, there'd be locks on the doors already. There's a world of difference between "globally recognized, monumentally large userbase, but shaky business model" and "one out of a dozen tanking electronics companies with no users, no brand, no future, no forthcoming products, and that can't even get retailers to put its product on the shelf at any price".

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Well remember that today 97% of the worlds 'wealth' is debt.

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Anonymous Coward

"Well remember that today 97% of the worlds 'wealth' is debt."

Six of one, half dozen of the other. The Germans and the Tea Partiers have turned 'debt' into, well, a four-letter word, but it shouldn't be. You couldn't *have* a global economic system (or really any economic system) without it, for one thing. Depending on the situation, there are times when, as a company, you're financially rather better off having $N of debt to buy something now than waiting until you have $N in the bank: You gain use of the item more quickly and avoid your money losing value as it sits waiting to be used.

Another case in point - right now, despite the wild mouth-foaming of the far right, the US government actually *makes money* by issuing debt: Real interest rates (after inflation) are negative, meaning we're not going to need to pay back as much money as we borrowed.

Also, not that much has changed since the '80s in this regard. It's not like back then everyone was sitting on Scrooge McDuck style piles of gold coins.

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Atari ST

I remember watching it's progress through 84 and it looking pretty cool.

By the time it came out though it was old hat.

Around the same time (June 85) the Atari ST came out.

I remember attending a computer show in glasgow that year - I had a CPC6128 having upgraded from my old speccy - and I thought it was pretty space age with the floppy drive...

then the paradigm shift of the Atari ST at the show:

- the first time I'd seen and used a mouse

- what seemed like an incredibly high res moving picture on the screen (my memory says it was some sort of waterfall - probably just with a rotating colour pallete but it looked amazing).

- windows on the screen, a desktop, etc.

it wasn't like the latest computer , it was (to my 14yo eyes) like I'd had a bycicle and someone just showed my a honda fireblade.

I ended up abandoning home computers after than for a few years in an attempt to be more 'cool' - taking up photography and playing keyboards (yeh.. I know - I was fighting the birds off with a shitty stick).

And when I came back to the fold in 88 it was with an Amiga 500.

However, the 2 paradigm shifts I remember were:

- watching the demo of the Amiga 1000 on MICRO on BBC

- seeing and playing with that ST for the first time.

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Re: Atari ST

Yeah the ST and the Amiga were really exciting machines.

Except my dad came home with a Apple Mac 512k with extra external floppy.

Grrrrrrrrr not quite so fun. All of a sudden I was the 16bit equivalent of the lonely kid with the BBC B. (as in no one else had one)

I may add that it was my first and last Apple PC. It's still in the loft back home.

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In the behalf of our small community at EnterpriseForever.com I like to thank you for the commemoration.

Mr.Prise

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A fascinating machine

Had one of these when I was a kid! It went in the loft and was replaced with an Amstrad CPC 464 then an Amiga. That machine was utterly mint but sadly unceremoniously thrown in a skip in 1999 when we moved house and I was told I wasn't allowed to keep it! My dad said there was so little software for it at the time he had to write everything from scratch if he wanted to do anything with it. Wish I still had the tapes with the stuff he'd written stored on them, it would be interesting to see now.

I now have an Enterprise 128 that I paid an obscene amount of money for a couple of years ago (not as high as the prices they fetch now though!) for something that doesn't really do a great deal... but it DOES look pretty. I always liked the adverts and the box with the machine against a black background and carefully focused light, it looked very classy. The machine itself looks great too, I keep it out just as a piece of art. The keyboard is nowhere near as nice to use as it looks though, it sticks and feels nowhere near as nice as, say, a BBC Micro's.

Somehow I seem to have ended up with a pre release version of the programming guide from all those years ago. It is metal ring bound and looks production quality but has bits changed with biro and paragraphs crossed out etc. The ammended text is what appears in version 2 of the book which someone has kindly scanned in online. A nice curio from times past.

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Anonymous Coward

Wanted that computer

It looked so cool. But I got a Acorn Electron instead. Didn't regret that. The basic on Electron was awesome.

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David Levy

I thought that name sounded familiar, he used to write for Creative Computing. I loved that mag, and I still have most of a full set of issues.

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Coat

Nick and Dave?

No wonder that coalition was doomed to failure!

Coat. Got. Gone

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Another great history article

Love these articles, El Reg.

It's often hard for me to believe I lived through all that. The 1980s was definitely the era of wild and crazy for the PC, much like the late 1990s and early 2000s was for the Internet.

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Curious looking thing

I remember being quite excited by its specifications at the time, but its looks: ew. That, in spite of its creators being quite scathing about the boring beige boxes that proliferated elsewhere and that they weren't going down the same road. Were they trying too hard?

But that was the teenage me. Looking back, nearly 30 years older, I have to consider it to be one of the most awesome-looking computers ever. I wish more designers had that sort of inventiveness... And I still get more excited reading about 128K of memory and 600-and-odd-by-some-other-strange-number of pixels than the latest fancy VGAesque graphics card.

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Re: Curious looking thing

Remember Silicon Graphics in the 1990s?

Now we have boring BLACK boxes.

Progress, eh?

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I actually had one back in the day.

I was one of the people suckered in errr seduced by the Your Computer article. As other posters have said, it promised lots of cool stuff on paper. I even kept faith through all the delays. When I eventually got my Enterprise 64 I soon found out that a lot of the aforementioned cool stuff remained firmly on paper.

Still, there were a few nice things such as a neat version of the game Sorcery. More software was o the way but got held up in legal issues after the parent company collapsed. Encouragingly it seems most of these and other stuff besides escaped.

The afterlife was better than what came before as around 20, 000 units made it to Hungary. With its own captive market a lot of the promised extra hardware and software was developed. There were even a handful of games that went some way to making proper use of the hardware. Lately the Enterprise has proved amenable to running enhanced ports of some of the new wave of Amstrad CPC games.

The dearth of software during its commercial period did encourage me to code a bit. The sound chip was an interesting piece of hardware, somewhere between the mighty C64 SID and the bog standard AY/YM used in other micros of the era.

I had one then got into the Atari ST and sold it. I've now got two, one of each. If you get in contact with the Hungarian guys, their prices for kit are generally more reasonable. There is also emulation. Now I just need to find time to have a play with the floppy disk interface I got!

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Happy

Ah, Memory Lane, 128kB of it

I had the Enterprise 128, and had a lot of fun with it. Hooked it up to a Brother electronic typewriter and could then print stuff with the ear-splitting sound of a daisy-wheel printer running at full clip. We even got the word processor to print things in cheapskate boldface by hammering down the letter twice with a tiny shift. The BASIC was very slow, as I remember. I programmed an FFT on it, which took quite a while on a 256 entry 1-D array. Quite a pointless exercise, but I just did it because I could.

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It's still alive...

I remember seeing the Enterprise in a computer magazine supplement summarising all the available computers with a photo and technical specs. As a kid I remember the built in joystick and the tech sepcs being a thing of wonder compared to the Speccy I had back then.

And still, there is new hardware being produced for the Enterprise if you look at EnterpriseForever.com! A great little machine, just too late, but with some ardent fans.

The Amiga in a way is the 16bit Enterprise, with great custom sound and graphics chips.

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