Some old computer’s names aren’t
ingrained in our memories. Ian Marks wants to put that right.They weren’t bad
computers, and in many cases they were actually quite revolutionary.
Wikipedia is your friend when searching
seeking emulators for forgotten computers
The 70s and 80s were great times for
computer enthusiasts. Unlike today, there weren’t just a lot of
different-looking boxes with them same innards and with slightly different
operating systems to choose from. No, in those days you had lots of
different-looking boxes with different innards and vastly different operating
systems. There were many, many different companies trying to sell you their
computers, and they all promised that their machine was the next big thing.
In the sea of home computers, some floated,
such as the Amstrad CPC ranger of the Atari 8-bits, while some soared like the
Commodore 64 or the ZX Spectrum. Many, however, sank without trace.
The main reason for these failures was
usually that the machines weren’t very good. Among these were the likes of the
Jupiter Acc, a monochrome computer that used the Forth programming language
when everyone else used Basic. We won’t be looking at that computer in the
The systems I want to look at in this
feature are the ones whose names have been lost in the mists of 8-bit time.
They weren’t bad computers, and in many cases they were actually quite
revolutionary. Their reasons for failure are many, and if things had been different
and the market had been kinder, then we may be experiencing a very different
computer landscape today.
Let’s take a look at some of the best
computers you’ve (probably) never heard of.
The Xeror 8010 information System
The Xeror Star, or the Xeror 8010
information System, to give it its full title, was released in 1981. It was
based on the Xerox Alto, the famous computer that Steve Jobs saw in Xerox’s
development labs and definitely didn’t copy any ideas from for his
Lisa/Macintosh – well, that’s what the Apple zealots would have you believe.
Anyway, Xerox belatedly realized that it
had something with the Alto, so it decided to develop a computer for the
business market using the remarkable advances it had thought of. It was the
first commercial computer to have a WYS/WYG interface, bitmapped graphics, a
window-based GUI and Ethernet capability.
The Star had all these capabilities a good
three years before the Apple Lisa, and should have taken the world by storm. It
didn’t and there is really only one good reason for that: the price. As Apple
proved, people were willing to pay a few thousand for a revolutionary product,
but Xerox took that belief a bit too far. The Star debuted on the US market
with an eye-watering price of $160,000 and that was just for a workstation. If
you wanted a proper office setup, then you’d have to pay in the region of
$100,000. Not surprisingly, people were unwilling to do this, and the Star
faded from view. It was a great computer, but not 100 grand great.
Xerox’s legacy cannot be overstated though;
the Alto and the Star really are the parents of all modern computer, changing
the way we interacted with our devices forever. It’s a bit sad that it wasn’t
Xerox that got to be the one to change the world, but it did start the
The Grundy NewBrain
The Grundy NewBrain is a prime example of a
computer that could have been everything but ended up as pretty much a nothing.
Initially started in conjunction with Sir
Clive Sinclair, the NewBrain soon had to go it alone when Sir Clive pulled out
to concentrate on his ZX80. The project moved to Newbury Labs, which developed
a ranger of 8-bit computers that were actually pretty decent. So decent in fact
that when the government and the BBC were looking for a computer for their
computer literacy campaign they initially chose the NewBrain. With the BBC and
government backing, what could possibly have gone wrong for the NewBrain? Surely
success was in the bag?
It wasn’t to be. The marker of the NewBrain
couldn’t provide guarantees that it could match the predicted demand. The BBC
started cold feet, and then jumped ship when Acorn came along with it BBC B.
The NewBrain had lost the dream contract, and its design and patents were sold
It was marketed for a while, and was a good
machine. With a Z80 processor, and a built-in LCD screen, it had many clever
features. It could also run CP/M, which was more than many 8-bit computers of
the time. Poor marketing and pricing were the main reason it finally failed,
the very few were actually sold. It’s interesting to think what could have
happened if NewBrain had kept that BBC contract; it really could have changed