back to article 'A word processor so simple my PA could use it': Joyce turns 30

The Amstrad PCW8256 turns 30 this month. In eighteen months it did for the typewriter what the car took thirty years to do for the pony and trap. Alan Sugar’s specification was simple – “A word processor so simple Joyce could use it”. Joyce Caley was his formidable PA and "Joyce" became the codename for the project – and the …

  1. Alan Bourke

    I remember them well ...

    they were still floating around in the early 1990s PC boom, and always got on my tits for not being a PC. I bet Victor Meldrew had one for pounding out complaint letters to the local paper.

    1. MyffyW Silver badge

      Re: I remember them well ...

      Ah bless those 3" disks. I remember my girlfriend of the time having typed her dissertation out on her Dad's aging PCW, fetched the disk to me for printing and being surprised that it wouldn't load on my 386.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Amstrad Treatment !

    How about turning diamonds into dog shit, the author has obviously never seen an Amtrash Tower Hifi.

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      @AC

      But Amstrad did produce some moderately acceptable low end HiFi. As an impecunious student, I had an IC2000 amplifier and an IC3000 tuner, which although were not sophisticated, and showed wear poorly, had reasonable electronics, especially if you tweaked them a bit with larger capacitors in the power supply of the amp.

      I looked at the strange, three armed TP12D turntable (it looked a bit like a Rega), but ended up with a Strathearn, because of the Ortofon cartridge that came with it.

      1. Whistlerspa

        Re: @AC

        I had an Amstrad amp as the center of my hifi system. Really grunty and a good sound quality for half the price of the competition. Sadly got stolen in a burglary.

    2. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

      Butt

      He gave the world TV engineers that could work on satellite dishes once he got the contact for providing rubbish Sky connections that needed constant replacements. I wonder how many on here got their start professionally from that cowboy.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I had the 8512 version with twin floppies - one low density single sided, the other high density double sided, and I also added a 5.25" drive.

    I wrote lots of software for it in both Mallard Basic and z80 Assembler - I even had a version of a graphics programme I ported publicised in the Guardian's technology column - I was sending out copies on floppy disks for moths - the joy of stamped addressed envelopes!

  4. Andy 73

    The story goes..

    ..that the reason for the layout of the drives next to the screen was that Amstrad found a large batch of cases manufactured for normal televisions being sold off cheaply when another manufacturer cancelled their order. So Alan Sugar bought them up for pennies and then had the machine designed to fit.

    As with any of the many Alan Sugar legends, I've no idea quite how true it is though.

    1. Oh Matron!

      Re: The story goes..

      The legend of Clive Sinclair punching him in a pub in Camberley is one I hope is true

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The story goes..

        Think that's Chris Curry - but would be nice to imagine it true.

      2. Joefish
        Facepalm

        Re: The story goes..

        Umm. What?

        The press reported on Clive Sinclair beating Chris Curry about the head with a rolled-up newspaper in The Baron of Beef in Cambridge during the run-up to Christmas 1984, after seeing an ad in it for Acorn that compared their warranty returns with Sinclair's. Curry was a former employee who'd quit in 1978 after a dispute about new computer models and founded Acorn instead.

        Sugar and Sinclair didn't meet much and were only seen in public together for press coverage of the sell-off of Sinclair Research's computer business to Amstrad.

      3. Jim 59

        Re: The story goes..

        The legend of Clive Sinclair punching him in a pub in Camberley is one I hope is true

        Sinclair is a big man but he's out of shape. Sugarman cycles everywhere...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The story goes..

          >>>>The legend of Clive Sinclair punching him in a pub in Camberley is one I hope is true

          >>>>Sinclair is a big man but he's out of shape. Sugarman cycles everywhere...

          Very true, there is absolutely no way Clive Sinclair could beat Alan Sugar in a fight. Sugar's a street fighter, he'd beat all of us, probably at once :)

      4. GeezaGaz

        Re: The story goes..

        It was Chris Currie, and it was in Cambridge, not Camberley.

        Search for 'Micro Men' a BBC4 Drama about the whole Sinclair vs Acorn battle.

    2. The man from Arnold

      Re: The story goes..

      Never heard that story before but completely untrue. All the computer cabinets were designed from scratch. And like the untrue rumours about using up 'bankrupt stock' three inch drives, it's difficult to imagine a warehouse that would have had hundreds of thousands in, let alone millions.

  5. 45RPM Silver badge

    I’ve given Amstrad stick in the past for making shit computers (PC1512, take a bow), but the PCW8xxx and 9xxx were the finest CP/M computers ever made, and a fitting epitaph for a great operating system. The problem with them was the crappy printer mechanisms and dreadful keyboard. The printer situation could be fixed with an RS232 connected* printer (and third party driver) - but I’m not aware if anyone ever made a better keyboard. I didn’t have one myself, but everyone else seemed to.

    *The number of peripherals made for Joyce was astonishing, especially given its ‘closed’ nature. There were sound cards, interfaces of all flavours, memory upgrades, hard disks - and even an adaptor to turn it into a 286 PC (charitibly - IIRC it was more a case that it turned the PCW into a keyboard and monitor for a 286 PC).

    As for the Amstrad Treatment, you’d get (in order):

    Low quality, low resolution parts that crumbled at first use. Like the Disney printers in Cory Doctorows ‘Makers’

    A splitting headache.

    A massive explosion.

    Another headache, possibly fatal depending on the size of the drone.

    1. The man from Arnold

      The crumbling printer parts must be why so many were still in use ten, even twenty, years later! Abd what people forget is that a 24-pin printer with the same resolution as the PCW's was a luxury item and would have cost more than the whole Joyce just by itself. The standard then was 8-pin.

      1. 45RPM Silver badge

        Good points. I was thinking more of the thunderous racket that they made, far louder than their contemporaries, because of all the soundproofing that was omitted to save on cost. That and the speed of the mechanisms, or lack thereof.

        In fairness, in terms of quality, the daisy wheel units where as good as any other you might care to mention - and preferable, in my view, to the dot matrix units that were also on offer.

    2. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

      There was a third party keyboard, but it was quite late on in the PCW's life. Also, it was probably a hard sell because the PCWs post 8512 had a much better keyboard.

    3. Amorous Cowherder
      Thumb Down

      Don't knock Sugar's cheap and cheerful kit

      We used to have Amstrad 464 and 664 in our house. My first PC was when I was 15, my Dad bought a 1640 ECD ( EGA ) back in '87. It had GEM Desktop ( the first WYSIWYG desktop GUI ) and introduced me to PCs, learning DTP, C language, PASCAL and made me realise that I really wanted to work in IT as a career.

      It was close on 3 years before any of my college mates got PCs of their own, so I had a huge head start on learning about "real" software I'd need to know when I got out into the real world.

      That 1640 got butchered, upgraded with new drives, plugins and it lasted for close on 8 years before it finally breathed it's last breath. Not bad for a cheap'n'cheerful PC clone that sold for £650 when something like an AST with Hercules card green monitor would cost about £1800.

      I'm grateful to Sugar for giving us the opportunity to get a head start on other people when I came to learning about computer tech.

    4. fixit_f

      Here, you leave my PC1512 alone, that was a great piece of kit :-) not really but still, happy memories

  6. Ol'Peculier
    Pint

    Thanks for making me feel old...

    "so had no networking or internet access" Well, net access wasn't that great 30 years ago...

    I know somebody that still uses one of these, although as he's retired not as much now.

    I remember developing a system for an insurance broker (really, 30 uears ago - jeeze) using dBase II and I'm sure we attached an external hard drive attached to the thing. Strangely happy memories...

    Beer, because I wasn't legally allowed to drink back then!

    1. GlenP Silver badge

      Re: Thanks for making me feel old...

      I also know someone who still uses one and has no interest in learning anything more sophisticated or being "connected".

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Thanks for making me feel old...

      Plenty of 'internet', just no 'world wide web'.

      1. The man from Arnold

        Re: Thanks for making me feel old...

        There were so few Internet users ten years later in 1995 that it was still possible to publish a world-wide 'telephone directory' in one volume, with all their email addresses in it!

        1. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

          Re: Thanks for making me feel old...

          > in 1995 that it was still possible to publish a world-wide 'telephone directory' in one volume, with all their email addresses in it!

          Wasn't that illegal in Britain in those days?

    3. keithpeter
      Windows

      Re: Thanks for making me feel old...

      Those printers used a fair amount of force, so you could use them with stencil based copiers, then a lot cheaper than Xerography (as it was still known).

      I used the PCW in late 1980s to make multicoloured handouts for students when I was on teacher training placement by careful use of different coloured spirit copier ink sheets and repeatedly feeding the paper stack through the printer printing the bits I wanted in blue, then the bits in red then finally drawing on the diagrams.

      Madness.

    4. Maldax
      Thumb Up

      Re: Thanks for making me feel old...

      I can remember installing a third party network on them. I want to call it Amsnet but that could just be my old man memory playing crazy tricks on me

  7. Robigus
    Pint

    Amstrad Syndrome

    At home we use the expression "Amstrad Syndrome" to refer to an item that ticks all of the spec boxes, but fails to live up to expectations.

    From the old Amstrad tower HiFi days when the devices themselves were loaded with features, but sounded like beans being rattled in a can.

    Even so, Amstrad outdid themselves with the CPC and PCW range in terms of usable value.

    Have a pint. No reason, just enjoy.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The games were very good conversions, given the monochrome status of the machine. (Although for Spectrum 3d conversions, that wasn't such an issue). And some pretty good titles such as The Pawn adventure made it across. Not to mention Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and a few other Infocom titles.

    I used one for quite some time with DBASE II, Supercalc, Wordstar and Locoscript. CP/M was certainly preferable to MessyDos machines at the time.

    Nice machine overall. One of Amstrads underrated gems.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "Not to mention Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and a few other Infocom titles."

      A lot of the text based adventure games were ported to CP/M from TRS-80 versions. It was relatively simple to load and block move (different RAM start addresses due to ROM locations) having first changed the ROM calls for keyboard i/p and display.o/p

    2. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

      I seem to recall there was a particularly good helicopter flight-sim for the Joyce. People bought the Joyce thinking it was just a word-processor and were blown away to see it plays games too.

  9. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

    Even now, I still get..

    ..."Why can't you find me a word processor that works like my old Amstrad" from my Wife.

    I tried her with Protext in a console session, but had to give up on that when the last simple printer gave up, and it was unable to drive any of the newer printers we had.

    She really moaned when I first showed her Open Office Writer, and it was no better (in fact it was much worse because nothing stayed in the same place) when I put one of the Office 2008 home and education licenses we have on her PC (mainly because she read that self published books for the Amazon Kindle had to be written in MS Word).

    She deliberately appears to adopt the memory of a goldfish whenever I try to get her to learn something on the PC. She wants everything to be presented to her on the screen, so drop-down, unchanging menus is about the only thing she can apparently cope with.

    BTW. I'm not being nasty here. She agrees with my description of her.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Even now, I still get..

      >so drop-down, unchanging menus is about the only thing she can apparently cope with

      Good.

      Imagine a car where an accidental swipe of the sat-nav could hide the steering wheel or brake pedal and take 10mins of rooting around menus to re-enable them.

      There have been plane crashes where the same knob was used to set decent rate and heading, with the difference being a selection on a menu on another screen.

      1. FatGerman

        Re: Even now, I still get..

        > There have been plane crashes where the same knob was used to set decent rate and heading, with the difference being a selection on a menu on another screen.

        Abso-f***ing-lutely. One knob, one function. No, I'm not an old git, I'm a human being with hands and tactile responses in my brain.

        If only I could fully remember the hilarious made-up anecdote I was once told about the drummer using a virtual drumkit with only one thing to hit, but a host of drop down menus.....

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: Even now, I still get..

          "One knob, one function."

          So, you're single? Or do you sweat a lot?

      2. P. Lee Silver badge

        Re: Even now, I still get..

        My current favorite is my iPhone where the answer button once pressed is replaced by the end call button. A little lag, a retry and you have to start again. I'm sure it used to not have lag, but it's all part of the upgrade program! Pressing answer for a call I'm sure is one of the more advanced phone features which requires an awful lot more code complexity than in the past.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Even now, I still get..

      @Peter Gathercole

      Your description matches my sister who is a retired Teacher !!!

      Could teach 35 kids in a class and get 1st class results (Pun intended)

      Yet, cannot be taught anything, particularly if it involves any technology newer than steam.

      It must be something common as I have met many 'cannot be taught' people who as soon as you try they lose 99% of their IQ.

      Total intimidation by anything vaguely technical, maybe.???

      Also total impatience and wanting to know everything now, without going through the initial learning steps first.

      All the attitudes that she would not accept as reasonable from a pupil !!!

      AC of course, there is no army who could save me if she read this :)

      1. jake Silver badge

        @AC "8 hours" (what ever that means, ElReg) Re: Even now, I still get..

        "It must be something common as I have met many 'cannot be taught' people who as soon as you try they lose 99% of their IQ."

        Indeed. Over the last 30+ years, I've noticed that people with a degree or three refuse to look outside their own specialty.

      2. AJ MacLeod

        Re: Even now, I still get..

        "Yet, cannot be taught anything, particularly if it involves any technology newer than steam... Also total impatience and wanting to know everything now, without going through the initial learning steps first.

        All the attitudes that she would not accept as reasonable from a pupil !!!"

        You have just described the typical teacher - in my experience most of them are like that, especially when it comes to technology!

    3. Maldax

      Re: Even now, I still get..

      There you go...

      http://www.seasip.info/Unix/Joyce/index.html

    4. Liam Proven

      Re: Even now, I still get..

      You know there _was_ a version of LocoScript for the PC.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LocoScript

      You could run that on 32-bit Windows, or under XP Mode on Windows 7. No idea where you'd legally get a copy now, though. The company hung on for a long time, but I think it's dead now. There's a mirror of the homepage here:

      http://www.locomotive.com/locopcw.htm

      Another company, SD Microsystems, serviced the aftermarket for decades, but I think they've gone too.

    5. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

      Re: Even now, I still get..

      Let me know if you ever want to sell her.

  10. Jim 59

    Great system

    I remember the PCW8256 as a great business machine that achieved tremendous success by running CP/M and Sage accounts software. It did just this for a decade or more at my family's engineering business located in NE England, where Sage also originates. Many other small companies trod the same path and now Sage is a multi-national.

    Staff would sometimes volunteer how nice the PCW was to use, how fast to boot up and how reliable. They said this without being asked. It proved to be a more than successful replacement for a £10,000 Olivetti minicomputer.

    However I never realised the other side of the PCW until reading a good article in last Saturday's Guardian. It's other role was to be the first word processor owned and used by many famous authors. Seemingly it revolutionised their working lives by freeing them from typewriters. Typing words directly into a screen was new for them, as was the ability to go back and correct. these people used it to write whole books. In that context, the advantages offered by a simple word processor are mind boggling.

    http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/aug/28/how-amstrad-word-processor-encouraged-writers-use-computers

  11. Jim 59
    Joke

    Another gem

    Speaking of gems, Sugerman's comment on Rooney last night - along the lines of -

    Rooney has broken the record at last. He has had more hair transplants than Bobby Charlton.

  12. CAPS LOCK Silver badge

    Yes, dBase II was the key ingrediant for me.

    When we ran out of disk space we upgraded to a clone PC and thence to a 386 PC with SCO Xenix and SCO Foxbase. Guess what, we still use some of the Foxbase programs today, although on FreeBSD and MS Foxpro Unix.

    1. Weeble

      Re: Yes, dBase II was the key ingrediant for me.

      Ditto. Still got the original dBII database running under DOSBOX on Windows.

      Had one of the very early PCW8256 machines, Did the 512K memory upgrade with a soldering iron!

    2. Jim 59

      Re: Yes, dBase II was the key ingrediant for me.

      Says CAPS LOCK When we ran out of disk space we upgraded to a clone PC and thence to a 386 PC with SCO Xenix and SCO Foxbase. Guess what, we still use some of the Foxbase programs today, although on FreeBSD and MS Foxpro Unix.

      Ditto. The PC1512 clone was nice too. Fast and neat, with a smaller foot print than some others. Sold in the zillions despite IBM spreading FUD stories about it, which Sugar countered strenuously. Served as a Pascal programming platform for my final year degree project.

      And we have all been on the Moore merry go round since.

      1. Ian 55

        Re: Yes, dBase II was the key ingrediant for me.

        A friend bought an IBM XT after the nice people at IBM told her that, yes, the PC1512 might be much faster and cheaper, but at about five times the cost the XT must be better.

  13. Elmer Phud Silver badge

    Hmmm. . .

    I remember Framework on an XT

  14. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

    It came with proper manuals too! I got a big one on how to operate it, and how to make a "start of day disk" to save wear and tear on the originals. Nicely done, spiral bound and about an inch thick. And there was also another one, of the same size, which was for BASIC programming. Which I didn't really investigate. I only really used mine to word process. Although I did play Graham Gooch's Test Cricket on it. Oddly, whenever you brought Gooch on to bowl for an over, he'd take a wicket for you, and break a stubborn partnership.

    1. Jim 59

      Proper manuals

      Proper manuals were an invaluable feature of many pre-internet computers, I reckon. Even humble creatures like the Dragon 32 and CPD464 came with one. Great stuff.

      1. Bloakey1

        Re: Proper manuals

        "Proper manuals were an invaluable feature of many pre-internet computers, I reckon. Even humble creatures like the Dragon 32 and CPD464 came with one. Great stuff."

        Pre Internet? the Inertnet <sic> was around in the late 60s , the Wibbly Wobbly Web came later when the Berners-Lee chap brought us an avalanche of AOL and Compuserve users and enough CDs to make baby Jesus cry. Then the trolls and spammers came and those halcyon days ended.

        I remember these machines, I went from one of them to an Amstrad PPC640DD, with Lotus Symphony and Xtreegold for a bit of file action. the modem was blisteringly fast and Bulletin Boards were a doddle to access.

        1. Jim 59

          Re: Proper manuals

          Pre Internet? the Inertnet <sic> was around in the late 60s , the Wibbly Wobbly Web came later when the Berners-Lee chap...

          Yes I know. However Internet/web did not reach the small office/home environment until the 90s, long after the Dragon 32 and CPC464. Users in 82-85 therefore had no Google. But the large, spiral bound, well written manuals made up for that. They had to.

          The Dragon 32 manual is available here. I read it cover to cover in '83, and still use a little of that knowledge today.

          http://www.uroboros.es/dragon/manuales/DRAGON_BASIC_v1.pdf

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cut my teeth on them

    My Mum's school had a large number of them for IT & Typing and I got quite used to having to go round once I'd finished for the day, to strip down a few and remove Biro lids from the primary (and occasionally secondary) FDDs. I eventually ended up having to turn multiple broken units into a smaller number of working units as the school didn't have anyone to look after them nor the money to do so.

    If I remember correctly, there's the upgraded model 8512 still sitting in my parent's attic gathering dust (along with all it's peripherals and discs!).

    1. Jim 59

      Re: Cut my teeth on them

      If I remember correctly, there's the upgraded model 8512 still sitting in my parent's attic gathering dust (along with all it's peripherals and discs!).

      And would it power up and work now ? No need to try. You know it would!

  16. GitMeMyShootinIrons

    Amstrad PC

    I remember having an Amstrad PC1512 (with dual 5/25" floppies!). We also had the PC version of LocoScript too. Worked like a charm and pretty straight forward too.

    I had a few games too, but they looked terrible in CGA (Microprose F19 Stealth Fighter in cyan, magenta, black and white....).

    Ah, ye good olde days!

    1. AJ MacLeod

      Re: Amstrad PC

      The difference between the screenshots on the back of the F-19 box compared to the 4 colour mono CGA was pretty astonishing! (Of course the 1512 wasn't actually limited to standard CGA but effectively nothing supported the proprietary 16 colour mode.)

      Returning to the PCW, I learned touch typing on one as the Office and Information Studies classrooms were kitted out with these (computing was BBCs and eventually Mac SEs! (edit - having Googled I see they were actually Macintosh Pluses with external hard drives)

      They were very productive machines - no distractions from Fakeface alerts, email or YouTube, just a very decent Word Processor. I also liked the 3" discs, they seemed very solid compared to the 3.5 and 5.25" competition.

  17. sysconfig

    Fond memories

    I got my hands on one of those when I was 11 years old. It was sitting on my mum's desk and when she wasn't typing letters on it, I could use it to write little programs on it. Since we had a very ambitious maths teacher who wanted to teach us programming at that time, it was perfect. Had it not been for the Schneider Joyce (as it was called in Germany), I may not have ended up in IT. Who knows.

    They may not have been great quality, but as an 11 year old I wouldn't know or care. Had a lot of fun with it! (Saddening to be reminded so clearly how fast time went by since...)

    1. Jim 59

      Re: Fond memories

      11 year old writing basic programs. Impressive. And all done without the help of middle aged Pi experts across the Internet.

      1. sysconfig

        Re: Fond memories

        Yeah, that time one would use actual books and code snippets from magazines, which you had to type yourself. The good old times... It kept you focussed, though. Don't know how I'd cope if I was 11 today.

        1. Jim 59

          Re: Fond memories

          Learning driven by pure curiosity. The best sort.

  18. mark jacobs
    Happy

    Them's were the days ...

    I programmed a stock control system in LocoScript - very hard work! Yes, we could write books in those days. Nowadays, if you tried to write a book on Windows 10 with Word 365, you'd be hard-pressed to have a stable system past 150 pages! And Clippy would be right getting on your nerves!

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Coat

      Re: Them's were the days ...

      It looks like you're writing a sex scene. Can I help with that?

      [insert text]She caressed his laptop, fondled his slab, and joggled his joystick. His hard drive made louder and louder noises until with a deafening PING! he came up. And was ready to use.[/insert text]

      ...I'll get my coat. The long dirty brown one please, with the suspicious stains...

  19. Phil Endecott Silver badge

    Locoscript was great. I think one reason was that the keyboard layout was designed specifically for that application. In particular the [+] and [-] buttons left and right of the space bar provided a much easier to understand way of inserting formatting tags than anyone else was offering.

    My main complaint about the machine generally is how awkward it was to use more than 64k of RAM in CP/M. It could only really be used as a RAM disk. My attempts at writing serious applications came unstuck because I ran out of memory. I used two different Modula-2 compilers, neither of which really worked properly because of this.

    1. Blitheringeejit
      Pint

      >>My attempts at writing serious applications came unstuck because I ran out of memory. I used two different Modula-2 compilers, neither of which really worked properly because of this.

      Correct diagnosis - my company wrote and published some quite sophisticated PCW software, including WYSIWYG graphics stuff, but it was ALL written in assembler - and not by me, but by a man with a very nimble if rather strange brain.

      Pint for reminding me of times past - and of the boxes of 3" discs still gathering dust in far-flung corners of the office. Really must have a clearout...

      1. Jim 59

        On the subject of 3 inch disks. They were pleasant to handle. Well made and they didn't bend, and they seated in the disk drive with a heavy, satisfying "thump". Very chuckable.

        The 3.5 inchers became much more popular, but were flimsy in comparison. The sliding door was on the outside too, instead of being tucked safely away inside the case. Then thumb drives were heaven.

  20. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
    Boffin

    So much nostalgia...

    I had three Amstrad computers, the 464, the 664 and the 1512. All had faults and limitations but they were good for the money. Now I'm feeling wistful for an RS232 interface lead.

  21. Joefish
    Boffin

    Re: Spectrum hits

    Head Over Heels, Spindizzy, etc. were impressive ports on the system. Though a quick look will tell you they (or at least their graphics) came from the existing Amstrad CPC ports of those games as they featured four-colour graphics. The few extra colours were converted into stippled half-shades for the higher resolution display.

    1. Jon Ritman

      Re: Spectrum hits

      All Z80 versions of Head over Heels were from the same code with just 3 routines altered for each machine, input, graphic output, and sound. Often when converting to a new machine I could use versions from other machines. For the PCW I used, as you guessed, the CPC graphics with a slight alteration to use two pixels on the screen for each pixel on other machines, for the sound I used the spectrum version but just turned the PCW's beep on and off at the right frequency. Only for the input did I have to do a complete new version, I had to talk to someone at Amstrad, Cliff I think his name was, to find out how to map the keyboard.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Spectrum hits

        Thank you Mr Ritman - and your games were excellent on all formats! :)

  22. dajames Silver badge

    Lowercase 'a'

    My company's accountant had an Amstrad CPC, and used it to prepare my accounts. I never saw the machine, but you could always recognize the output from a CPC's printer by the slightly odd shape of a lowercase letter 'a'.

    A remarkable piece of kit, and much better value than Amstrad's later IBM-compatible boxes.

  23. Sykobee

    IIRC Amstrad sold 7 million PCWs over the years, meaning the Raspberry Pi has quite a long way to go to beat the most popular British computer record...

    But yes, the PCW was a solid, value for money machine. The printer integration proved to be a downside, of course, but that was Amstrad through and through - an entire package, for cheap.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "The printer integration proved to be a downside, of course, but that was Amstrad through and through - an entire package, for cheap."

      But on the whole, "cheap" was the major selling point. You could go out and buy a better printer and an interface and still save money compared to the competition, but for most users it was their first ever computer so they had no experience to compare it with. The whole point was that you got everything in one package at one cheap selling price and it all worked together seamlessly. A sort of pre-anti-Apple :-)

  24. Mage Silver badge
    Boffin

    simpler bus as proper 5.25-inch

    The 3" vs 3.5" v 5.25" is bonkers. They are interchangeable. Actually even the 8" drives with work same controller with a dumb interface cable.

    The reason for the 3" drive was it was cheap.

    I swapped a 3.5" 720K drive in as drive B and fitted 3" Drive B into an IBM AT. Just "dumb" cable adaptors. I used a program on DOS called "Nice 22" to read/write 3" or 3.5" CP/M discs on PC. I used a wordstar clone (Neword, New Word? Newstar?) and Cracker spreadsheet on PCW CP/M and later on PC DOS.

    I had Modula-2, Pascal, Forth, Prolog on it.

    Also a bizarre bitmapped DTP package.

    A box with RTC, Parallel port and 2 x Serial. Internet didn't really exactly exist, but Prestel and X.25 worked on it. I accessed X.25 pad via dailup and sent/received Telex and eMail (with "Bitnet Users" via BT gold) Circa 1986. I had a mouse and a one pixel scanner that clipped on dotmatrix printhead.

    Websites came AFTER internet and not till about 1992?

    It's in the attic someplace.

  25. Bucky 2
    Coat

    I'm confused

    He named his piercing "Joyce" and typed with it?

  26. AndrueC Silver badge
    Terminator

    I owned a CP464 then later a CPC6128. We looked down on PCWs :D

  27. Dapprman
    Thumb Up

    Brings back memories

    My father got an 8512 when they were nearly new. I'd used superscript before at school on CBM Pets and 4032s, so this was a revelation. My father used it (or to a greater degree his secretary) for years before it finally gave up the ghost. I remember using it, but can't remember what for as it was pre my university days. I do remember playing LHX Attack Copter on it a lot though.

    I seem to remember trying Locoscript on a PC a few years later and it just did not seem the same - maybe it was time, or just that the simple integrated system just worked a lot better with it.

    1. Jim 59

      Re: Brings back memories

      I'd used superscript before at school on CBM Pets and 4032s,...

      Chuffing Nora.

      Keep talking. I am feeling younger every minute...

  28. John Riddoch

    Ah, memories

    I learned touch typing on these at school, along with the 9512 (similar but had white screens and daisy wheel printers). ISTR something akin to HTML for marking up things like bold, underline etc in the word processor. My first experience of a professional grade computer, previous computer work being Spectrums, BBCs & C64s.

  29. Vince

    I upgraded my 8256 to dual drive for one simple reason.

    LocoSpell... one less disk to swap just to do a spell check!

  30. John Crisp

    Ahhh... Batman...

    1. Jon Ritman

      I forgot I did that

      1. Simon Rockman

        Wow! Only one upvote? And that's mine. Jon Ritman wrote PCW Batman.

        1. Jon Ritman

          I am fairly sure that Batman was the first graphical game on the machine, certainly the old reviews I have implied that. Great times.

  31. Alan 19
    Thumb Up

    Daisy wheel heaven

    I was a PCW9512 man, it was gifted to me by my Mum late 1980s. Locoscript introduced me to file and disk management, cut and paste, spell checking (which guessed my name was Alar Windgalled), pagination, and a continuous tractor feed daisy wheel printer that shook the foundations when in full flood. You could buy a separate printer sound-deadening box with Perspex cover, or (I think) a Canon bubblejet. I could also program some neat little BASIC routines. I added a scary 3.5" drive to export ASCII files onto, which I could then send in the post to my publishers. I even got as far as drafting new product proposals on it for my industry job. There was nothing like it and I will be for ever grateful to the Amstrad PCW. I still have the empty shipping carton in my attic.

  32. Sequin

    One of the best peripherals available was a scanner - you took the ribbon out of the printer and clipped the scanner sensor on to the print head. The document to be scanned got fed in to the printer and the programme drove the printer mechanism to scan the document line by line - a brilliant idea!

    I also had the RS232 interface and used a 75/1200 modem to access bulletin boards - who needed the internet?

  33. jake Silver badge

    vi has been working for me for about 40 years.

    Just saying.

    1. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

      Re: vi has been working for me for about 40 years.

      Leaving aside the fact that vi is not suitable to let novices create documents with formatting, the key point here is cost. At the time the PCW was produced, the other options for producing documents, in decreasing order of expense were :

      Apple Mac : very expensive, software, printer not included

      PC : expensive, software, printer not included

      ... huge price gulf...

      PCW : reasonably priced, included word processor, operating system and printer.

      CPC6128 : cheaper with green screen, same price as PCW with colour. Didn't come with a printer or word processing software. Much less memory. Only one drive supported. Targeted at gamers who liked to do a bit of business.

      Home micros. Non starter. Typically no 80 column screen, little memory, monitor often not included.

      Electric typewriter, physical typewriter : nuff said. ew.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: vi has been working for me for about 40 years.

        "Leaving aside the fact that vi is not suitable to let novices create documents with formatting"

        I thought we were discussing word processing, not page markup.

        Besides, novices can't do either ... see any random web page for proof.

        I had vi compiled for my home micro, circa 1979 (Heath H11A). 80 column screen, dual 8" floppies, Daisy Wheel printer, enough RAM to actually do stuff. Total cost? A lot less than you'll pay for a high-end Cupertino system today, when you take inflation into account.

        I still use the old Smith Corona typewriter when sending invites to people I care about. Especially when the invite is to something special. This month, it's crush ... we are making this year's wine! It doesn't get any better than that.

        1. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

          Re: vi has been working for me for about 40 years.

          We are discussing word processing. A word processor as defined for the last 30+ years, is something that includes page markup. vi is a capable text editor, if unfriendly to newcomers.

          For pure writing (story/detail development) there are outlining tools, the PCW was extremely popular with professional writers and journalists, and there was at least one program that was designed specifically to outline/collapse/move sections with no emphasis on formatting.

          vi for all its power is not friendly. Locoscript could be used by anyone.

          The fact there was a micro cheaper than an Apple system isn't relevant. The release cost of the PCW, with screen, printer and software was less than half of the cost of the base kit of your H11A..

        2. TheOtherHobbes

          Re: vi has been working for me for about 40 years.

          >my home micro, circa 1979 (Heath H11A).

          Aha - so you're one of the four and a half people in the world who bought that kit.

          1. jake Silver badge

            @TheOtherHobbes (was:Re: vi has been working for me for about 40 years.)

            Out of curiosity, what bit of kit were you using at home to connect to TehIntraWebTubes in 1979? Did you assemble it yourself, right down to laying out the traces, boiling the boards & placing & soldering the components? Did you actually learn how computers work, from the ground up? Or are you looking down your nose at me because you have an iFad or Fandroid?

            Kids these days. Zero clues.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: @TheOtherHobbes (was:vi has been working for me for about 40 years.)

              Ring 0.

              1. jake Silver badge

                @AC(was:Re:@TheOtherHobbes (was:vi has been working for me for about 40 years.))

                You were using code in ring 0 to access TheIntraWebTubes in 1979? I'm not surprised that your computing career lasted long enough for you to post as a self-confessed Coward :-)

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: @AC(was:TheOtherHobbes (was:vi has been working for me for about 40 years.))

                  Oh I'm sorry, I thought putting stuff outside ring 0 was the security problem. That's what you were telling everyone last week.

  34. Medical Cynic

    More nostalgia

    Our department had one of these, and i have fond memories of creating dbase databases from the 'dot' prompt.

  35. Ed 13
    Happy

    Logo language and Mallard Basic

    A fantastic machine that was extremely well thought out. The single boot to the word processor (that it was really sold for), or the boot to CP/M that then allowed the use of the excellent Mallard Basic (the manual even had a tribute to the locomotive of the same name in the front!).

    There was then the logo language that you could use for turtle style graphics, the GSX graphics package and a bunch more on two system disks.

    The inspired use of the spare memory as the M: drive, that then allowed you lo keep the compiler there for a much faster build times.

    1. David Given

      Re: Logo language and Mallard Basic

      I should just clarify: Mallard Basic was *nothing whatsoever* like BBC Basic. Mallard Basic was a Microsoft-basic like thing, with extra support for random access files and assorted businessy things. While BBC Basic had named procedures and (some) structured programming primitives, Mallard Basic was all about the GOSUBs.

      Here's the manual: http://www.worldofspectrum.org/Plus3CPMManual/index.html

      You *can* get BBC Basic for CP/M, and it's damn good too, even supporting the built in assembler (converted to the Z80, naturally): http://www.bbcbasic.co.uk/bbcbasic/z80basic.html

      (It's worth mentioning that the PCW's version of CP/M came with a full set of development tools out of the box. Not just Basic and Logo, but an assembler and linker. It probably even came with the CP/M porting kit.)

      (I wrote my first adventure game on one of these: Escape From Planet Zorg, it was called. It was in Mallard Basic. I still remember the terrible piranha puzzle.)

  36. J.G.Harston Silver badge

    "but the Hitachi 3-inch units used the same, simpler bus as proper 5.25-inch drives"

    yer wot? 3.5" drives use the same interface as 5.25" drives as well. Every computer I've had I've been able to whip out the 5.25" drive and plug a 3.5" drive straight in.

    1. The man from Arnold

      3.5 inch drives are compatible now, but not back in 1985; that development happened when IBM chose the 3.5 inch for its PS/2 a couple of years later.

      1. Mage Silver badge
        Thumb Down

        1985 3.5"

        Apricot, Apple and others.

        I forget when Amiga and AtariST came out.

        IBM was late to the 3.5" party. The sole reason to use the 3" was cost. I heard the prototype 3" drives used cassette tape heads and were developed in Eastern Europe, which always seemed unlikely.

        The only differences were the formats used by OS. The actual 8", 5.25" 3.5" and 3" drives all used the same control bus, only a dumb cable adaptor needed. A major exception was Apple II 100k flip over 5.25" floppy, I'm thinking it had different cost reduced electronics.

    2. JulieM Silver badge

      Confusion Maybe

      I think there is some confusion here.

      The control signals for 5.25, 3 and 3.5 inch drives are electrically the same (barring an extra output on a 3.5 inch drive to indicate disk present, which takes the place of an unused connection on the other sizes), and are carried on a 34-way ribbon cable. However, 5.25 inch and 3 inch drives use a PCB edge connector, whereas 3.5 inch drives have pin connectors. The power connectors are also different between the sizes; but the voltages are the same (though not all 3.5 inch drives need a +12V supply nowadays).

      There were 3 inch disk drives available for the BBC computer, though I was talked into sticking with the 5.25 inch format. I think they just never took off because people were too afraid of change; there was a chance that software might not be made available on the new format disks (perhaps less important if it could be ripped from tape, but then some programs offered more functionality in the disk version), or it might cost more.

  37. Richard 126

    Still in use

    I have a friend who still writes books with Locoscript on a PCW and continues to hunt for 3 inch disks on the local car boot sales rather than fit moden drives or buy a new computer.

  38. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

    Ultima IV on 3"? How someone is teasing us!

    Ultima IV was not released for the PCW, the CPC or the Spectrum +3 (or, after doing some checking, the Oric Atmos - didn't realise that used 3" too). Presumably this is for someone that installed one in a PC/Apple II for whatever reason..

    1. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

      Re: Ultima IV on 3"? How someone is teasing us!

      ..helps if you follow the photo credit link. It's installed in an Apple IIe. Didn't realise the 3" drives were readily installed on other systems.

  39. BinkyTheMagicPaperclip Silver badge

    Fantastic machine

    My first 'proper' computer, after a series of home micros, before I moved on to the PC. I did everything from word processing, DTP, programming and games. The large amount of memory on the 8512, the ability to slot addons into the expansion slot, and twin drives made it very useful.

    It's to Amstrad's credit that they supplied it with CP/M, greatly expanding its use, plus the excellent basic (ok, the screen handling's use of escape codes was somewhat irritating) and wonderful manuals.

    It also helped to have a fairly slow computer, as it meant code had to be efficient.

  40. The Eee 701 Paddock

    My non-gaming computing started here...

    My mother got a PCW8256 around the end of the 1980s, by which time I was starting my A-levels. It probably helped that my college happened to have a room of these machines, so for the first time, I could borrow time on Mum's "Joyce", and then take my own 3" disk between home and study. (This was a pretty big deal 25 years ago, or at least it was to me...)

    So, by 1990, I was wordprocessing my A-level essays/assignments using Locoscript, which stood me on good stead when I went off to uni the following year (migrating to actual PCs and WordPerfect 5.1 - no Joyces there, sadly).

    Yes, the 8256 printer wasn't exactly fast or quiet - each page necessitating five-plus minutes of ear-splitting racket to commit to paper - but the machine got me started with using a computer for writing on, which anyone who has had to negotiate my handwriting, can only be thankful for.

    (Amazingly, I didn't get my own first PC until my third and final year of uni, and even then I only knew of one other computer-owner in my cohort. The past truly *is* another country...)

  41. Anonymous South African Coward Silver badge

    I also hail from that era.

    When simpler was actually better.

    Nowadays the average PC is burdened with a virus (windoze) & maybe a couple of trojans or three...

    WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS was the best. Small, fast and stable. Not unlike the 500Mb+ bloat of today's crap just to write a simple letter lambasting the local council for their lack of attention to detail.

    And email clients also bloat as well. Not to mention complexity.

    Where did things go wrong?

  42. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not to mention SuperCalc 4 (or 5) for DOS...

    ahhh... those were the days...

  43. Maldax

    3" Disk Joy

    I heard back in the day that the main reason A.M.S went for 3" disks was he found a warehouse somewhere in china stacked to the rafters with them and got them very cheap. To be honest I think I was told that on my PCW8256 Engineer training day at Amstrad. Yep I think I still have the certificate somewhere!

  44. Nifty

    Joyce magazine in Germany

    There was a mag that specialised in the Joyce in Germany. It published (and paid me a decent fee for) a BASIC program I wrote whose only purpose was to allow you to write structured BASIC without GOTOs. You chucked your GOSUB based program at my program and it produced the runnable native Joyce BASIC version for you. But I had learned BASIC in the first place on the BBC micro, have to say.

  45. pedroj

    Amazing what could be done!

    In 1986 I was working in famine relief for Save The Children in western Sudan. The massive aid operation was run on a handful of Amstrad 8256s and 8512s. We did all the accounts, word processing and survey data bashing using them, with a crack team of local people alongside the expats. They were wonderful. One little-known huge advantage of them over more sophisticated kit was how tolerant they were of the extremely dodgy and variable mains electricity we had to run them on.

  46. Fenton

    Pain if your disk was full

    I remember loosing a document my mum was writing.

    When you started a document it would write a header to the disk.

    If the disk was almost full and you tried to save you could not save.

    You then lost the document when you inserted a new disk.

    Fortunately you could drop to the OS and delete some stuff, but I managed to exit the word

    processor completely hence loosing the document.

  47. Wisteela
    Happy

    I've got one

    I've got one in my retro collection. Classic computer, and great for running CP/M stuff.

    "There was also support for other printers, using the optional and rare RS232 serial interface."

    I've got two of these. They also have Centronics. I've used the serial interface to send software from a PC using Kermit. Lot's of CP/M stuff is archived on the 'net. You need to set the terminal/console as VT52, and the printer emulates the Epson FX-80.

  48. Colin Tree

    guitar tutor

    A mate programmed a really nice graphical guitar tutor in Basic on an Amstrad,

    when I was programming old school Forth on a PC-XT.

    Chalk and cheese

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: guitar tutor

      I think you'll find BASIC is older that Forth, so 'old school' would be better applied to both.

      (I had a 2nd language ROM in my BBC Micro for Forth back in 1982)

  49. ricardian

    Hitchin BID manager Tom Hardy tweeted Lord Sugar this lunchtime to say: “Your Amstrad computer has been printing our Hitchin Festival tickets for 25 years! Still going strong with 50,000 tickets printed over the years. Is this a record?”

    http://www.thecomet.net/news/business/lord-sugar-salutes-amstrad-pc-still-printing-hitchin-festival-tickets-after-25-years-1-5630168

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