The Best Computers You're (Probably) Never Heard Of (Part 3) - Z88, Atari Falcon

7/6/2012 5:33:40 PM


Alright, so you probably have heard of the Z88 by Sir Clive Sinclair. I’m including it because it really should have been a success, because it did everything right. It was portable, had a built-in screen, built-in software and a really long battery life.

Description: Z88

At a time when PDAs were in their infancy, and laptops weighed a ton and had a battery life of minutes, the Z88 slipped easily into a briefcase, and was perfect for making notes and doing accounts on the move. It really should have taken the world by storm.

Whether people distrusted Sinclair and his delivery policy, or just did not understand how brilliant it was, the Z88 failed, and it was Sinclair’s last computer. This is a tragedy, because if Sir Clive had had more money, he might by now have been leading the world of portable computing, rather than a certain fruit-based manufacturer.

Atari Falcon

Description: Atari Falcon

Atari Falcon

The Atari ST was a great machine, which deserved better than it got. In the end, it was killed off by the Commodore Amiga and the rise of the IBM PC, but Atari gave it one last throw of the dice with its improved ST, the Falcon. Using the 32-bit 68030 (the same chip Apple was using in its fancy Macintoshes), the Falcon was a very fast computer and was also very expandable.

It could have been the computer to save Atari, as it was doing well with the ST in the music business, and a new, fast, expandable machine could have been just what they wanted. Atari, though, scuppered its own computer.

The Falcon was released in 1992, and by 1993 Atari decided to put all its eggs in the games console basket, dropping the Falcon and putting all its efforts into the Jaguar. Sadly for Atari, this was the wrong decision. The Jaguar flopped and Atari never made a computer again

What Have We Learned?

I think we have learned that thanks to bad marketing, bad luck or just bad timing, sometimes computers don’t get what they deserve. It seem a shame that some systems become overnight successes without much effort or innovation, whereas some struggle despite their brilliance.

Nothing has really changed to this day either. There have been brilliant phones, PDAs and tablets that have all recently fallen by the wayside when lesser machines stole all their business – and in some cases their ideas.

Description: Sometimes, Life just isn’t fair…

Sometimes, Life just isn’t fair…

It could have all been so different, though. We could all be using our Sinclair tablet computers out and about and coming home to our Atari super computers and laptops. Sometimes, life just isn’t fair, is it?

Emulating These Machines

What if you really want to have a go on these machines, but can’t justify spending hundreds of pounds on some obsolete technology. Well, luckily emulation can come to the rescue, for some of the machines at least.

Sadly, there appear to be no working emulators for the Xerox Star computer, but there was an operating system of a type released in 1996 called Xerox Global View. This was a program that ran from Windows 3.1 and was essentially the operating system of the Star running via emulation – in a slightly modernized way. Good luck finding a copy of it on eBay, but there are versions of it available on the internet – probably illegal ones, though.

The Atari Falcon suffers a similar fate, because while there are many ST emulators on the internet, there are no proper Falcon ones. There are some ST ones, though, that will run Falcon specific software.

More luck is to be had with the SAM Coupe, as there is an excellent emulator called SimCoupe, which is available for Windows, Mac or Linux. It’s easy to install and works perfectly at recreating this super Spectrum. If you really look around, the SAM’s games are available too, with Manic Miner being the highlight, having updated graphics from the Spectrum version and added bonus screens.

For the NewBrain, there’s an emulator available called, oddly enough, NewBrain Emulator, which works for Windows machine only. It’s a nice little program that really gives a feel for the computer that could have taken the place of the BBC B in our hearts. In all honesty, though, when you use it, you’ll probably be glad that the BBC changed its mind at the last minute.

The Tatung Einstein can be emulated, but I’ve only managed it with the multiple machine emulator MESS, which requires a lot of fiddling about to find ROM files and get it working. Even then I couldn’t get it to load any software.

Description: You should remember that there are often legal issues with emulation, particularly of old games ROMS.

You should remember that there are often legal issues with emulation, particularly of old games ROMS.

The Z88 has Z88Dream to give you a taste of its brilliance. This is a Windows only file that seemed to work well when I tested it. Why you would want to replicate an LCD portable computer on your desktop is questionable, but it is quite fun. Interestingly, though, the Z88 is the only computer in this article that can still be picked up for low amounts on eBay. So why emulate it when you can have a fully working model for about $30?

Lastly, the Enterprise and the Lynx do not do well in the emulation stakes. There are advertised emulators of the Enterprise, but they are either unfinished or I could not get them to work. The Lynx has no advertised emulators at all as far as I could see, which is not surprising for a computer that nobody bought and pretty much nobody can remember existed.

Finally, you should remember that there are often legal issues with emulation, particularly of old games ROMS.

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