It's difficult to mistake the IBM PC for a home computer, since it's bigger, more expensive, and more complex than the typical home computer. But a lot of changes have been going on in the PC market lately, some of which are bringing IBM and its compatibles much closer to home.
The first change is in price. It's come to the point where you can buy a "generic" PC system with 640K of memory, two 5 Vi -inch-floppy drives, and a monitor for $600-$700, and prices may go even lower for Christmas. At these prices, such machines are cheaper than some traditional home computers such as the Apple lie. The inroads the PC compatibles have made into the home market is reflected in the recent increase in nonbusiness-type software for the PC. As prices for PC compatibles spiral downward, there has been some speculation that IBM itself will soon make a serious entry into the home market—or drop out of lower-end retail sales entirely and concentrate on the higher-end AT line.
Even if the price is right, first-time users may not find the PC clones user-friendly enough. But help is on the way. Microsoft, the producer of the PC operating system, seems determined to "Macintize" the PC with its Windows software, which provides a mouse-driven user interface with windows, pull-down menus, and icons. Microsoft has been lobbying strongly with the makers of graphics coprocessor chips, display adapter cards, and clones to include Windows as an integral part of the hardware design of future MS-DOS machines, and is said to have even included Windows' graphics kernel as part of version 5.0 of MS-DOS. Putting Windows into hardware would give it the power to run efficiently even on very inexpensive computers, and would help to make such systems accessible to a much wider audience.
The influence of the Macintosh can be seen in the two new computer models that Tandy recently introduced to replace its highly successful model 1000. The first, the 1000SX, is a lot like the old model 1000, only more powerful, and more IBM compatible. But the second new model, the 1000EX, is a more radical departure from the older machine. Designed specifically for the home and educational markets, it's the first true PC compatible that looks like a home computer. It comes in a small one-piece case that includes a nondetachable keyboard and a 5V4-inch disk drive on the side. But this little machine packs a lot of muscle. It comes with 25 6K RAM, and not only does it run IBM software, but also runs it faster than the XT, since its 8088 processor works at 7.16 MHz in addition to the 4.77-MHz speed that is standard with IBM machines. It has a lot of nice standard features, such as a display adapter, printer port, and a port for additional 5'A-inch or 3V2-inch disk drives. There's even space inside for up to three special expansion cards that add features like an additional 384K memory, a clock calendar and mouse, a serial port, or an internal modem. Though the machine can't take full-size expansion cards, no doubt someone will find a way to fit a hard disk card into this little computer.
Just as exciting as the hardware is the Personal Deskmate software that comes bundled with the Tandy 1000EX. It includes a word processor, spreadsheet, database, appointment calendar, terminal emulator, and paint program. For ease of use, it features windows, pull-down menus, icons, and file-selector boxes, all of which can be manipulated by a mouse, joystick, or keyboard. Tandy even throws in "pop-up" desk accessories such as a calendar, calculator, notepad, and telephone directory. What's more, the Personal Deskmate software has been implemented according to the user-interface guidelines that Microsoft published for its Windows environment, making it a first step towards providing a windows-like environment on a home computer.
Manufacturers of the current crop of home computers aren't about to sit back and let PC compatibles take over their turf. Instead, they are readying new computers and adding improvements to older ones. For example, elsewhere in this issue, you'll find a report on the new Apple IIGS. This machine may well uphold Apple's bread-and-butter II series against the onslaught of 16-bit technology. Commodore is taking similar steps to pep up its 8-bit machines, by adding GEOS—a new operating system—and RAM-expansion attachments. GEOS does a surprisingly good job of adding a windowing environment to the Commodore 64, and Commodore 128 users can expect a version for their computer later this year.
You can now buy a 512K RAM-expansion pack for the 128, and you may well see a version for the 64 in the near future that will substantially upgrade the speed and capabilities of GEOS. Atari is rolling along with its ST series, and by the time you read this may have announced the 2080, a 2-megabyte machine that may also include a blitter chip for faster graphics. This machine is said to be the basis for a proposed desktop-publishing station, which will use the vast memory of the computer to drive an inexpensive laser printer. The Unix operating system may also be made available for this machine.