IFIP, SICOB, and PCW. David H. Ahl.
IFIP, SICOB, and PCW
IFIP, SICOB, and PCW--Good grief, how's that for a mouthful of acronyms? Yet, from September 19 to October 3, 1983 they assumed real meaning and dimension.
IFIP, the International Federation for Information Processing, is a federation of the data processing societies of 43 nations. It exists to promote the spread of information science and technology, to advance international cooperation, and to further the dissemination of knowledge.
IFIP holds an international congress every three years; the ninth such congress was held in Paris from September 19 to 23, 1983.
Since it was practically back to back with the PCW show in London, we decided to go to both, although normally IFIP is not in our mainstream of interest. Why not? Two reasons.
IFIP focuses on ten areas such as Theoretical Foundations of Information Processing, Application Systems, and Database Systems. Most have more to do with the inside of the computer than the human interface. Moreover, the presentations in the two areas of interest to us--Social and Economic Implications and Computers in Everyday Life--tended to be theoretical and out of date.
We weren't alone in feeling a lack of relevance Ken Brumbaugh of MECC mentioned to us that he found it difficult to find a common ground for meaningful discussions of computers in education when educators at the show talked in terms of having one computer at a school to service 1000 students or so. He also felt that a panel discussion which gave each of nine educators just ten minutes to state their position and views did not encourage any depth in presentations or discussions. Two professors from UCLA agreed with Ken on the lack of vitality in the presentations.
We were especially disappointed in the computer art presentations. In contrast to Siggraph, the demonstrations were a real disappointment, and more and more people left after each successive speaker.
So what does IFIP have to offer? Presumably for the DP professional, particularly in a less developed nation, it has more to offer than to a personal computing enthusiast in the U.S. But perhaps the main reason for attending was that mentioned to us by Stan Winkler--the camaraderie, the renewing of old friendships, the making of new friends, and the informal sharing of ideas. Certainly for us, that was far more worthwhile than all the presentations on systolic VLSI arrays, ultra parallel microprocessor design, and the danger that computers pose to our privacy.
SICOB is a French acronym for an international trade show for data processing, telematics, communications, office organization, and office automation. It is an immense show, the largest of its kind in Europe, covering 850,000 square feet with an attendance of well over 400,000.
As with IFIP, there was not a great deal of interest to us at SICOB. Several small computers were being shown which are not currently available in the U.S. We got a closer look at the Canon X-07 and a chance to use the real thing rather than the prototype we saw at CES. It falls into the category of a notebook computer--it is smaller than a Model 100 but larger than a pocket computer. The keyboard is laid out in conventional QWERTY fashion, but the keys are calculator style and spaced more closely than on a standard typewriter. However, they do have a good feel, and we got no keybounce whatsoever in normal use. In our benchmark test, the X-07 was quite slow, but provided reasonable accuracy. We were quoted a price of "under 1000 francs' ($125), but we have reason to believe that is way too low. Canon USA isn't talking.
Another small machine we saw previously at CES is the Sanyo PHC-25. It is a nifty low end computer, although incredibly slow. We were told it would not be marketed in the U.S. because of the cutthroat price competition at that end of the market. It seems that that sort of kamikaze competition hasn't spread to Europe--at least not yet.
Surprisingly, we saw very few portable machines of the Osborne variety. Most of the European business entries seem to be more along the line of the IBM PC, at least in physical appearance.
Apple was getting a great deal of attention at their Lisa demonstration, although we found a marvelous new graphics entry device on another part of their stand (booth). It is manufactured by Robocom in England and is a cross between a joystick and track ball. A stick projects out of a calibrated ball and we found it much easier to maneuver the cursor accurately around the screen with this device than any joystick or mouse. We hope that either Robocom or Apple decides to market the device in the U.S. The supporting graphics software was quite amazing too.
PCW stands for Personal Computer World magazine. According to the cover, it is "Britain's Biggest Microcomputer Magazine.' It has undergone the usual changes in ownership, common in the field, and is now owned by VNU. Under the previous owner, it was informally our sister publication, but that relationship no longer exists.
In any event, PCW has been sponsoring a personal computing show for six years, and we have been attending for four. It is the largest show of its kind in England, and generally a great deal of fun.
However, as with other shows, the effects of dilution are beginning to show. Today, there are so many shows, so many stores, and such widespread availability of hardware, software, and books, that the frantic activity (read buying) of previous years was largely absent. Also, the show was held over five days, so the activity was more widely dispersed. Not that it wasn't busy on Saturday--it was. So much so, that the narrow aisles of the Barbican Center were crowded to the point that movement was totally impossible in many places. Those, of course, tended to be around the stands exhibiting the most interesting new products. More about those later.
Some general observations: Britain has its own well-established computer industry, and there were fewer American machines on the floor than in any previous year. Apple was conspicuous by its absence; not only did Apple not have a stand, but very few peripherals and software packages were being shown for the Apple. Atari and Commodore both had large stands, but far more space, particularly among peripheral and software vendors, was devoted to the Sinclair Spectrum, Dragon, and Acorn BBC computer.
Sharp was showing yet another updated version of the MK-60, this one numbered MZ-700. It has nice specs, and the version with the built-in four-color printer/plotter is very nice indeed. However, as with the earlier versions, the MZ-700 is cassetteoriented (only), and "high resolution' graphics must be done with graphics symbols within a 40 X 25 character matrix.
We were interested to see that Mattel was making a big push for the Aquarius computer, Intellivision, and their noisy Synsonics drums. Perhaps they are hoping for success in the U.K. with products shunned by the American market.
Among the business machines, the Apricot was attracting the most attention with the Sirius 1 and IBM PC not far behind. The Pied Piper, introduced at the show, seemed to be well-received, as was the NEC 8800, DEC line, and Seiko 8600. This latter machine is a 16-bit 8086-based computer with 128K, 640K floppy disk drive, 10M or 20M hard disks, that runs MS-DOS, CP/M, or any one of four multiuser operating systems.
Elan, a company started by David Levy of computer chess fame, was showing an early prototype of a powerful computer designed to sell in the $300 range. David made the point that this may be the first machine designed by a software company; thus it incorporates many features of interest to software designers and programmers.
Briefly, it is built around a Z80A (4 MHz) with 32K of ROM and 64K or 128K of RAM, expandable through a memory management system to a staggering 3.9Mb. The graphics resolution is 672 X 512 pixels; text resolution is 56 lines X 80 columns (84 if the border area is used). The Elan employs 68 full-stroke keys and a built-in joystick (like the Spectra Video 318). Sound capability includes four voices over eight octaves via stereo output. Many of these capabilities are produced with custom chips, so we are not likely to see them in other machines--at least not immediately.
Elan is seeking an American partner, and we expect to see them busily writing orders at the winter CES in Las Vegas.
For more information, write Elan Computers Ltd., 31-37 Hoxton St., London N1 6NJ, England.
We were frankly astonished at the interest in the Apricot. Not only did ACT have a huge stand, but many software manufacturers were showing packages for the machine as well.
The Apricot is termed "the 4th Generation Executive Computer' and employs an 8086 (5 MHz), 256K expandable to 768K, one or two Sony microdrives, 9' screen with 80 characters X 25 lines (or 132 X 50) text resolution, and 800 X 400 pixel monochrome graphics resolution. Outwardly, it looks like a sleek IBM PC (systems box with drives, tilt-and-swivel monitor, and detached keyboard). It uses a second 8089 processor for memory management, and an optional 8087 is offered for math calculations.
Three operating systems are included: MS-DOS, CP/M-86, and Concurrent CP/M. Both Microsoft Basic and Digital Research Personal Basic are included, along with a range of applications software.
Prices start at around $2400. American availability is promised soon. Watch for a review on these pages. For more information, write ACT International Ltd., 111 Hagley Rd., Birmingham B16 8LB, England.
Perhaps the strangest data entry device we have ever seen is the Microwriter. Slightly larger than an adult hand, the device has six buttons (one for each finger and two for the thumb). These six keys simulate the functions of an entire alphanumeric keyboard.
Microwriter can be attached directly to a computer; however, it also has a built-in 1600-word memory and battery power.
Data entry on the Microwriter compared to a keyboard is like speedwriting is to handwriting. The photo shows how several letters would be entered on the Microwriter.
U.S. price is around $500. For more information, write Microwriter Ltd., 17 E. 71st St., New York, NY 10021.
Games, Games, Games
The casual visitor to the PCW show would be forgiven if he mistook it for a full-scale invasion of aliens, Pac-creatures, worms, trolls, frogs, mutants, and assorted noisy monsters. With the exception of a small business-oriented area of Hall B, manufacturers of games software were in every nook and cranny showing their wares. Moreover, there was no prohibition on sound levels, so each stand attempted to outdo its neighbor in decibels. The effect of all this, along with the noise of the crowds, was nearly overpowering.
Postern Ltd. was showing an interesting true 3-D game. The effect was achieved with special glasses with red and blue lenses supplied with the game, 3-Deep Space. As with most suppliers, versions are available for the Spectrum, BBC computer, and Commodore 64. Watch for our review of the 64 version soon.
Another new concept in games was being shown by Phoenix Software. They announced a series of action/adventure games. First, the player must master an action game. Upon completion of each level, he receives a clue for later use. After completing the highest skill level, the player gets the loading code for the adventure portion of the game, and play continues in the style of a normal text adventure. All in all, a novel concept. We'll review one soon.
Llamasoft, originators of the wonderful Gridrunner game (marketed in the U.S. by HES), were showing several new entries for the Spectrum, Vic-20, and CBM 64. One really wacky one goes by the name Hover Bover and requires the player to mow up to 16 lawns with a power mower borrowed from a neighbor. You can sic your dog on the pursuing neighbor, but you must avoid the busy gardener and not plow through the flowerbeds or overheat your mower.
Llamasoft were also showing Matrix, a sequel to Gridrunner; Attack of the Mutant Camels, similar to the Parker Brothers Empire Strikes Back VCS game; and Laser Zone, an original space shoot-'em-up in which the player must control two spaceships at once. It's not easy! Reviews coming up soon.
Quicksilva, the software of which you have read in SYNC, was showing several nifty CBM 64, BBC, and Spectrum games. In Quintic Warrior, an original arcade game, you must stand alone against the sinister Crabman and mangled mutants. Like water skiing? Try Aquaplane in which you face Marine Maniacs and other aquatic obstacles. Reviews soon.
Across the aisle from us, Salamander Software was attracting a good deal of attention with several games for the Dragon 32, most of which are also available for the Tandy Color Computer. We particularly liked Dragon Trek, a game in the tradition of the original Star Trek, and Wizard War, an original game of magical conflict between the wizards of an alien planet.
Salamander also had several excellent adventures including Franklin's Tomb, Everest, and Lost in Space.
Rabbit Software had some nice Vic-20 and CBM 64 games. Most were arcade look-alikes and copies of board games, but the graphics were interesting and well done.
Romik was a company launched at the 1982 PCW show. In the following year they became established as a first rate games producer. They were showing a wide range of games for CBM 64, Vic-20, Spectrum, and other machines. We were impressed with Dicky's Diamonds, a game in which Dicky the Owl has to retrieve diamonds stolen by Stephen the Spider by weakening his webs. Quite unique! Watch for a review. Zappy Zooks is a Pac-creature type of game, but wildly (impossibly?) challenging at the higher skill levels.
Audiogenic was showing several utility packages for the Vic-20 and CBM 64, including Magpie, a user-programmable database program with "pop-up' windows and menus. Several well-known arcadetype games of other vendors, as well as Audiogenic, were produced using Audiogenic graphics utilities.
Personal Computer World, as any oldtimer is aware, was modeled on Creative Computing. Even today, the two magazines and their respective offspring bear a striking resemblance to one another. Both have been acquired by large publishing empires. Both publish a Sinclair-specific magazine. Both publish a games magazine, a business computing magazine, buyer's guides, et cetera.
In many other respects, the British computer magazine publishing industry parallels that in the United States. There are far more magazines than anyone might have imagined a year or two ago. Although we Americans pride ourselves on being first in nearly everything, Britain has beaten us by publishing the first computer comic, Load Runner. The comic/magazine carries six regular strips and several additional features and is aimed, as expected, at a young audience. One problem: their technical advice column, Brainy's Brainbox, regularly contains answers to readers' questions that are shallow and/or just plain wrong. Some of the comic strips, particularly Trumbull's World, are pretty good.
England boasts two computer games magazines, Computer & Video Games and a new one from PCW, Personal Computer Games.
C & VG is a very good magazine and runs around 160 pages per monthly issue. Each issue has 13 or so program listings with one or two games for each of the popular computers. It also runs one or two long features, lots of shorts, and lots of ads. The October issue had a 16-page feature on 3-D games with red/green illustrations that gave a 3-D effect when viewed with the cardboard glasses enclosed.
Personal Computer Games is brand new and, for now, is scheduled for quarterly publication. It also has lots of program listings and many colorful reviews with tips for beating the various games.
Lest you be tempted to think that the computer magazine explosion is confined to the U.S. and U.K., we can say definitively that it is not. While in Paris, we had dinner with Matthew White of Systems Publishers in South Africa. His firm currently has five microcomputer-oriented magazines. And Ake Fredriksson of Handic Press in Stockholm gave us a copy of Vic Rapport, one of several new microcomputer magazines published by his firm.
Can the publishing boom last? Probably not forever, but it certainly shows no sign of slowing down yet!
Tidbit: According to a well-placed source in Britain, the feel of the new Sinclair keyboard is like the feel of dead flesh.
Photo: Overview of a portion of the computer floor of the SICOB show in Paris.
Photo: The McGraw Hill booth at SICOB was in an appropriate location.
Photo: Demonstrations of Lisa were attracting a great deal of attention at the Apple booth at SICOB.
Photo: The Robo Stick is an accurate input controller for the Apple, Acorn, and other computers.
Photo: Players of Postern Ltd.'s 3-D games donned special goggles.
Photo: The Commodore stand was crowded, but had no new products on display.
Photo: The Creative Computing booth at the PCW show was colorful and, during show hours, packed to the gills.
Photo: Timothy Hartnell, one of the most prolific authors in computerdom at his booth.
Photo: At the Acorn booth, here viewed from above, most of the BBC and Atom computers were tied into a central hard disk controller. Here, eight of the machines are running continuous graphics in a horizontally scrolling banner.
Photo: Microwriter is an interesting, new data entry device.