1983 National Computer Conference, May 16-19, Anaheim, California. David H. Ahl.
1983 NATIONAL COMPUTER CONFERENCE
The National Computer Conference (NCC) is one of the largest, if not the largest, conference and trade show in the United States. Prior to the opening of NCC in Anaheim May 16-19, AFIPS officers were estimating attendance as high as 125,000.
There is no question that the number of attendees was enormous. When asked for a final total after the show, however, AFIPS officials refused to reveal one. We can only conclude that this means the attendance fell short of their published expectations--perhaps far short.
In addition to the staggering number of attendees, there were far more exhibitors than could be accommodated in the Anaheim Convention Center. As in past years, part of the overflow was housed in the Disneyland Hotel Convention Center and in the indoor garage one level below. Savvy convention-goers quickly learned that the best way between the two floors was through the restrooms; this convenient passage saved a 50-yard walk up an outside ramp.
In addition to the Disneyland Hotel, six temporary buildings were erected in the Convention Center parking lot. These Sprung Instant Structures were composed of aluminum frames covered with plasticized fabric. They were quickly dubbed the tents, and, despite large air conditioning units, proved to be heat collectors beyond compare. After high noon, only the hardiest of attendees ventured into the tents for more than 10 or 15 minutes at a stretch. We had to pity the 635 exhibitors stuck there and pity their equipment even more.
In total, there were over 3200 exhibitors located in the nooks and crannies of the Convention Center, arena, hotel, and, of course, the tents.
NCC is a place for vendors to exhibit their latest wares. Because of its over-whelming size, few companies find it a good place to introduce brand new products --they just get lost in the shuffle. Of course, there are exceptions (IBM introduced their long-awaited System 36; NCR announced seven new processors in the V-8600 family; and several Japanese companies showed new products). On the other hand, NCC is often the first time many previously-introduced products are displayed in the flesh in public. Some of these products are described below.
But there is more to NCC than a trade show. It is, after all, a conference, and there are conference sessions to satisfy practically every taste and interest. A session on personal computers rehashed what we and the other magazines have been saying for years, namely that these machines are truly useful and have a place on practically every businessman's desk as well as in most homes. What a surprise!
Somewhat more of a surprise was the number of people interested in micro-to-mainframe links. The ultimate goal seems to be some sort of virtual terminal built in to a microcomputer, but at the moment, most of the approaches are based on software. The reasons for such a link are many: It would allow a manager to down-load sales information on his brand or geographic location and analyze it with a spreadsheet program. It would also overcome some of the storage limitations of micros. While there were many networking products at NCC, most were designed to link up similar computers (North Net for NorthStar computers, Wang's Local Interconnect Option for their machines, Applenet, etc.). However, in the coming years, we expect to see more and more products like Ethernet designed to link dissimilar computers, and, more particularly, micro-to-mainframe links.
At another session, experts representing various fields of computing warned that the United States is likely to lose its position of prominence in the coming years. While consortia of high-technology companies are working feverishly in Britain and Europe, clearly the biggest threat to U.S. supremacy is Japan. According to experts in artificial intelligence, numerical computation, and defense systems, the long-term research program established by Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) will make Japan the computing leader in the world by 1990.
MITI development projects now underway are focusing on artificial intelligence, computer-aided design, manufacturing, and large-scale numerical processing. According to Professor Edward Feigenbaum, an AI expert at Stanford, Japan is focusing on areas of technology which will be the most pressing in the world ten years from now. In summary, this session was an ominous warning to U.S. education and industry.
John Imlay, chairman of Management Science America, gave the keynote address. He also mentioned the threat from Japan and called for a national policy to combat the "brain intensive' Japanese. In a far-ranging multi-media presentation, Imlay said that computer terminals will soon become extinct as they are replaced by personal computers with advanced software. He also cautiously supported the Apple Bill, while warning parents and educators of being outpaced by their computer literate children and students. On the other hand, he said, "It is more important that your son or daughter have a computer than an automobile.'
As for Apple, they are not waiting for the Apple Bill to pass, and announced a program to donate a computer to every one of the more than 9000 public and private schools in California. The program is called "Kids Can't Wait' and will be described in an upcoming issue.
NCC is also a place for awards and for honoring people of the industry. Wednesday was designated Pioneer Day and focused on the work of Howard Aiken (1900-1973) and his col cagues at the Harvard Computation Laboratory 40 years ago. In 1944, after five years of effort, the room-size Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator was unveiled to solve naval navigation and ballistics problems. It was the first in a series of large-scale computing machines which came to be known as Mark, I, II, III, and IV. While the Mark I was electromechanical, the Mark IV boasted diode logic circuits, magnetic core shift registers, and a drum storage unit.
Captain Grace Murray Hopper was one of the first people to learn how to program the Mark I, as well as the MarkII and III. She was also a key figure many years later in the development of the Cobol language. For this, as well as for her "continued support for high standards in computer education,' Capt. Hopper was awarded the ACW Ada Augusta Lovelace Award for Excellence.
Also honoring a pioneer in computer education, AFIPS' first annual Education Award was presented to John Kemeny of Dartmouth College for his "visionary efforts in making computing universal for students of all disciplines.' Kemeny was codeveloper with Tom Kurtz of the Basic language and the Dartmouth Timesharing System.
Other awards went to Dr. Gene Amdahl (developer of the IBM 360 architecture, and founder of Amdahl Corp. and Trilogy Systems) and Dr. Richard Tanaka, president of Systonetics, for his 19 years of service to AFIPS.
AFIPS, by the way, stands for the American Federation of Information Processing Societies. Member societies include the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), Association for Educational Data Systems (AEDS), Data Processing Management Association (DPMA), Society for Computer Simulation, IEEE and six others.
New Products at NCC
Reinforcing the view that the Japanese are getting a lead in computing was the showing of the first production 256K memory chips by Fujitsu. The company announced that the chips will be incorporated into a new 8/16-bit microcomputer on a single plug-in board. This is part of the Micro 16 Personal Business Computer. With dual Z80 and 8086 processors, 1Mb of RAM, two double-sided double-density 8' floppy disk drives, and a 40Mb hard disk, the Micro 16 carries a retail price of only $2495.
Before I get ot the other new products and almost new products, I would like to nominate this announcement for our jargon of the issue award. Kodak announced an "Isomax floppy disk drive' capable of storing data in both a horizontal and vertical format. It employs "an isotropic cobalt-enhanced magnetic particle, which can record data at a variety of angles, ranging from the conventional horizontal format up to a vertical or perpendicular format.' Jargon aside, this is a neat product as it is able to increase the amount of data stored on a 5-1/4' floppy disk from about 1Mb to 10Mb.
Speaking of packing density, Sony announced a 3-1/2' microfloppy drive that can store up to 1Mb of data. This is a double-sided, double-density unit with 80 tracks in contrast to the earlier 70-track design. Sony also announced a single-sided drive with 500K capacity.
Not to be outdone, Tandon also announced a 1Mb 3-1/2' drive, and we would expect other manufacturers to make similar announcements in the near future.
As you might have gathered, some of the most interesting new product announcements were from the Japanese companies.
Although many of the products will never reach these shores in quantity, the level of advancement of Japanese technology and quality has to be seen to be believed.
Sord is one of the largest consumer electronics manufacturers in Japan, yet they have never been a factor in the U.S. market. From their new announcements, it looks as though that might change.
At the low end, they announced the M5 computer. This will be sold in two versions, the M5 Fun Computer and the M5 Multi-Computer. The Fun Computer is a cartridge plug-in unit for games only. The other model includes two versions of Basic, one for calculations and the other for graphics.
The compact M5 uses a Z80 mpu, has an 8K ROM with the operating system; 4K of RAM expandable to 32K; "Chicletstyle' keyboard; RS-232, cassette, and Centronics parallel ports; and two "joy-pads' (Intellivision-type game controllers). Basic price $199.
The upscale M23 computer is available in two basic versions, portable and desk-top. This Z80-based machine has 128K of memory and two disk drives in one of three sizes (3-1/2,' 5-1/4,' or 8').
It has exceptional graphics resolution (640 x 256 pixels) in eight colors.
The most intriguing aspect of the M23 is the software. In addition to Basic, the M23 runs PIPS, a no-programming business planning system. PIPS is similar to a spreadsheet calculator, but uses direct commands and requires no advance programming. The 43 interactive commands include MT (make table), SORT (sort data), and CT (change title). A basic M23 portable system retails for about $2195.
Toshiba, another Japanese firm, also had several interesting entries. Most intriguing was a portable version of the T 100 personal computer housed in an attache case. The basic unit is similar in size to an Epson HX-20 or Tandy Model 100, although the 40-character by 8-line LCD display is in a separate module from the computer itself.
The T100 has 64K of memory built in; external non-volatile RAM packs are also available. List price on the portable T100 is $795; the LCD display costs an additional $295.
Toshiba also announced a major price reduction on the full-size T100 system with cpu, 64K, monochrome display, two double-sided double-density disk drives, CP/M, and a full range of software (word processing, spreadsheet, CBasic, TBasic and more). New price $1995.
The top-of-the-line Toshiba T300 is a 16-bit machine that runs IBMPC software but is more than just a PC clone. Graphics resolution is a spectacular 650 X 500 addressable pixels in eight colors. A sleek, detachable keyboard, 192K of RAM, slimtype 640K floppy disk drives, and seven expansion slots round out the package. Base price is an attractive $2495.
Another nifty Japanese entry was the PC-5000 from Sharp. This 11-pound portable unit operates on a rechargeable battery and uses a 16-bit 8088 mpu with 128K of memory, expandable to 256K.
In addition, 128K bubble memory cartridges are available for off-line mass storage and applications software.
The LCD display panel folds flat against the PC-5000 for carrying. In use, it displays 8 lines of 80 characters with bit mapped graphics capability (640 X 80 pixels).
An optional printer adds to the versatility of the PC-5000. The printer will print on either thermal paper or plain paper with a carbon ribbon. It prints 80 characters per line, 10 or 12 pitch, at 37 characters per second.
Projected price of the computer is $2500; no price on the printer yet.
Sanyo was showing their range of small business computers. The low-end MBC 1000 is built around a X80 mpu and has 64K and an extended version of Microsoft Basic, dubbed SBasicII. The unit is also said to support CP/M. A 12 monochrome screen and single 5-1/4 floppy disk drive are built in.
The MBC 1200 has a similar appearance to the 1000, but has dual Z80 mpus so there is rarely a wait mode. The computer is designed for high resolution graphics and has a 640 X 400 pixel monochrome display along with two double-sided, double-density disk drives.
The up-scale MBC 4000 is a 16-bit unit built around the 8086 mpu. It has 128K of memory, expandable to 512K. The software, including Basic and Goal (a spreadsheet), operates under CP/M-86.
In the April issue of Creative Computing we had a sneak preview of a Commodore 64 in a compact case. This is now officially designated the Commodore Executive 64 and is shipping in limited quantities. It has 64K of memory, a detachable keyboard, 5 color monitor, and a built-in 170K floppy disk drive with an option for a second drive. The size is a diminutive 5 X 14-1/2 X 14-1/2 . Price is $995 with one disk drive, $1195 with two.
Commodore was also showing a pair of new streamlined computers, the B128-80 and BX256-80. The B model uses a 6509 mpu (6502 compatible) with 128K of memory (expandable to 256K), has an 80-character X 25-line display, ten function keys, numeric keypad, RS-232 port, IEEE-488 bus port (Commodore does not support the Centronics parallel protocol), and 8-bit user port (whatever that is). Price $995.
Initially, the BX model appears similar to the B model. But there are more differences than similarities. The BX case has a swivel-and-tilt CRT display mounted on it and is designed to accept one or two floppy disk drives. Also, the keyboard is detachable. Internally, the BX model has dual processors, an 8-bit 6509 and a 16-bit 8088, along with 256K of memory. I/O is the same as the B model, and both speak Basic 4.0, a proprietary Commodore version. Don't expect immediate delivery; as of NCC, the engineers had been unable to fit any disk drives into the space allowed in the sleek case. Price $2995.
Lobo Systems were showing their Max-80, a direct-sold computer with a hard-to-beat price of $945. The Max-80 uses a Z80B mpu at a 5MHz clock rate (that's 2-1/2 times faster than most Z80 machines). It has 128K, floppy and Winchester disk interfaces, two RS-232 ports, a Centronics port, built-in clock with battery backup, 24-line X 80-character display, and full keyboard with numeric keypad.
A dual 5-1/4 double-density, double-sided disk drive (690K total) is priced at just $695. A 1.4Mb unit is priced at $895.
In addition, the Max-80 comes with CP/M Plus, an enhanced version of CP/M 2.2. Also available for an extra $69 is LDOS which allows the unit to run most TRS-80 Model III software. All in all, I was most impressed with this system!
Eagle was showing three lines of computers, the 8-bit (Z80A) IIE series, the 16-bit (8088) PC series, and the 16-bit (8086) 1600 series. The PC series is (surprise!) compatible with the IBM PC in both software and hardware. With Eaglewriter and Eaglecalc, it seems to have some pluses in the software department. The price is right: $1995 for a 64K unit with one disk drive, although the $2995 configuration with 128K, monitor, and software packages is likely to be more useful. Be sure to watch for a complete, in-depth evaluation of the Eagle PC on these pages in the near future.
In the IBM act-alike department, Anderson Jacobson introduced the AJ Passport with 256K, one or two disk drives, serial and parallel ports, built-in 300-baud modem, 640 X 250 pixel display, and built-in clock with battery backup. Unlike the IBM PC, the Passport is exceptionally compact (18.3 X 11.3 X 8.8 ) and has a built-in 7 amber display screen. Layout of the keyboard is more sensible than the PC with the menu for the ten function keys appearing on the bottom line of the display. A single-drive system with software bundled in is priced "in the low $3000 range.'
Computer Devices, a 14-year-old maker of portable terminals, was showing their Dot computer. This is a compact unit with 16-bit 8088 mpu, 128K of memory (expandable to 704K), dual Sony 3-1/2 floppy disk drives, integrated 9 monitor (green or amber) with an astounding 1056 X 254 pixel resolution, 300-baud modem, two RS-232 ports, clock with battery back up, and a built-in thermal printer.
Computer Devices has been busy lining up software firms to write packages for the Dot and already offers MS DOS and all the Microsoft languages, Multiplan, the Datamension Manager series of packages, Volkswriter from Lifetree, and accounting and database packages from both Timberline and Pearl. Not bad at all for $2995 (single drive). The printer costs another $599, modem $225, and software packages $175 and up. Watch for a review on these pages.
More than a small surprise were the Decision Mate V small business computers from NCR. Both 8-bit (Z80) and combined 8/16-bit (Z80 and 8088) versions are available with very high resolution monochrome and color displays. The 8-bit only model is priced at $2650 and the 8/16-bit one at $3440. With luck, you'll see a review soon.
Another mainframe maker, Honeywell, also introduced a "low-end' desktop unit. The microSystem 6/10 is software compatible with the large Honeywell DPS 6 computer family and thus is off to a running start with scores of software packages. The 6/10 has dual processors (Honeywell LSI 6 and 8086), 128K, dual 5-1/4 floppy disk drives, swivel display, detachable keyboard, and the expected I/O ports. Base price is $3995.
If you have $3995 to spend and would rather have a portable unit, consider the
Gavilan mobile computer. This is a note-book-size book-size unit (11.4 X 11.4 X 2.7 ) with a 16-bit 8088 mpu, 80K of memory, 3 microfloppy disk, RS-232 interface, 300 baud modem, and full-stroke keyboard. That's for starters. It also has an LCD display (8 lines X 66 characters) with a Lisa-like (VisiOn-like?) software system of windows, files, menus, and interactive prompts. To select what you want to do, a 3.5 X 1.4 solid state touch pad is mounted above the keyboard; your finger takes the place of the mouse on Lisa.
Software comes in small plug-in cartridges and includes word processing, a spreadsheet, communications package, and forms processing package. All this is powered by a rechargeable battery pack.
Gavilan also announced a portable 50 character-per-second correspondence quality printer powered by its own built-in battery pack. The printer costs an extra $985. Delivery is supposed to start in October. We can't wait.
Names and Addresses
For more information on any of the products mentioned in this NCC roundup, write directly to the company at the addresses listed below (please mention Creative Computing) or circle the designated number on the Reader Service card bound in the back of the magazine.
Photo: Editor Betsy Staples and friend.
Photo: Sord M5 is a capable little computer for $199.
Photo: Sord M23 uses PIPS III, a no-programming business planning system.
Photo: Toshiba Portable 100 has a detachable LCD display and modem.
Photo: Toshiba T300 runs IBM PC software but has spectacular high-resolution graphics.
Photo: Sharp PC-5000 is a 16-bit portable with 128K, folding display, and optional printer.
Photo: Commodore Executive 64 has 64K, 5 color display, and is two-thirds the size of an Osborne.
Photo: Commodore BX256-80 has dual 8-and 16-bit mpus, 256K, detachable keyboard, and room for two disk drives.
Photo: Anderson Jacobson Passport is a snazzy IBM PC clone with some nice additional features.
Photo: Max-80 from Lobo Systems has 128K and lots of extras for only $945.
Photo: Dot computer from Computer Devices uses 3-1/2 floppy disks, has a 16-bit mpu, 128K, and high-resolution display.
Photo: NCR Decision Mate computer comes with either 8-bit or combined 8/16-bit mpus.
Photo: Honeywell microSystem 6/10 is compatible with larger Honeywell systems so much software is already available.
Photo: Gavilan Mobile Computer is completely portable, has 16-bit mpu, 3 floppy disk, LCD display, touch pad, and optional printer.