Faceoff: will MSX be a success in the United States. (Pro and Con) Howard Root; Brian Williams.
MSX was designed as a standard system to permit software from one computer to run on all of them. Thus, software manufacturers will be attracted to making software for it. They won't be casting their lot in with the success or failure of just one hardware maker.
Furthermore, since it is a cartridge-based system, software makers won't have to worry about piracy. Today, the minute a new package hits the market, it gets ripped off. Thus, software makers are deprived of a substantial portion of their revenue; this won't happen with MSX, so software producers will be doubly attracted to the sytem.
Because the hardware and software are standard, they will be more widely understood--if you learn MSX, you automatically can use 16 different machines. As a result, magazine and book publishers will want to publish material about MSX. Sure, the manuals with the systems may not be very good--they rarely are--but there will be loads of books and articles about the system. Already in Japan, there is an MSX magazine; certainly there will be at least one in the U.S. along with scores of books.
The Japanese manufacturers are much more conservative (read, profit-minded) than many U.S. manufacturers; thus they are not likely to enter into destructive price wars. As a result, this will create some stability in the low end of the market and customers can buy a system without having to worry whether the manufacturer is going to be around to provide continuing support.
Since many of the manufacturers of MSX systems make a full- line of audio, video, and other consumer electronics products, we can expect to see all kings of interesting peripherals and addons for MSX computers. For example, Sanyo has a nifty light pen, Yamaha has a music keyboard, JVC has a video mixer for TV (or VCR) and computer signals, and several other interesting devices are planned. Indeed, Pioneer has a system that loads software from videodisc which interactively uses the videodisc and computer together. Thus, although an MSX computer is relatively inexpensive, it can have the capabilities of much more expensive systems.
In addition to these special-purpose add-ons, several manufacturers plan to offer inexpensive disk drives, modems and other peripherals, thus making MSX a full-function general- purpose computer.
Will MSX succeed in the U.S.? You bet!
MSX has as much going for it as the TI 99/4A, that is to say, practically nothing!
MSX is a cartridge-oriented system. That means it is more costly for third party manufacturers to produce software for it. Thus we won't see small, innovative manufacturers producing the wide range of software that is necessary to make a machine a success. Sure, the 13 or 14 Japanese manufacturers of MSX systems are all producing software but so far they have produced nothing but games. Moreover, even if they do decide to produce non-game software, it won't be geared to the American market.
Second, there is the hardware itself. Although MSX was designed to be standard on the inside, about the only thing that is standard on the outside are the software cartridge, printer, and joystick connectors. The machines use different peripheral connectors and cables, different cassette recorders, and different expansion interface connectors. That means if K-Mart stocks three or four MSX machines, they will have to stock different cables, cassette recorders, and interfaces for each one. Can you imagine your average K-Mart salesman trying to make sense out of all that?
In Japan, MSX computers are sold mostly through computer shops with reasonably knowledgeable salesmen; the U.S. system of distribution will defeat MSX in its tracks.
The games market is stagnant in the U.S. Atari and Coleco are sticking it out, but Mattel (Intellivision), N.A.P. Magnavox (Odyssey), and all the private label manufacturers have given up. Now, along comes MSX, a glorified game unit--who needs it?
You might say, "But MSX is a computer and runs a powerful version of Basic with all kinds of neat graphics and sound commands." That may be true, but users will not know how to use them. The translated Japanese manuals, if they follow the usual tradition, will be incomprehensible. We can't expect much from Microsoft eigther; just look at the rotten job they have done in producing a manual for MS Basic. Moreover, MSX was produced by ASCII Microsoft, a Japanese company, so we certainly can't expect anything from them.
Right now, every MSX manufacturer is waiting for one of the others to take the first step in the U.S. They all point to the recent price war in low-end computers and state that they don't want to jump into a volatile market. As a result, they will probably wait around for another year or so until MSX is technologically obsolete, kind of a repeat of the Timex/Sinclair situation in which they introduced the computers in the U.S. market a year after England, i.e., a year too late.
Will MSX succeed in the U.S. market? Not a chance.