The 8th West Coast Computer Faire, San Francisco, March 18-20, 1983; perceptions and reflections. David H. Ahl.
THE 8TH WEST COAST
San Francisco March 18-20, 1983
"The king is dead. Long live the king.' This is the cry that rings out in Britain upon the death of a king and the ascendency to the throne of the next monarch in line. (Of course, other permutations are possible: queen, queen; king, queen; and queen, king.)
This phrase came to mind more than once as I wandered the aisles and talked to exhibitors and attendees at the Eighth West Coast Computer Faire.
Just as Creative Computing is the oldest surviving magazine in the personal computing field (Vol. 1, No. 1 was published in November 1974), the Faire is the oldest surviving consumer show in the field. John Dilks's Personal Computing Festival in Atlantic City predated the first West Coast Faire by over 1-1/2 years, but unfortunately John didn't have the staying power (persistence) that Jim Warren has exhibited with the West Coast Faires.
Sure, there were disasters (who can forget the Los Angeles debacle?), but, for the most part, Jim did things right. He kept in close touch with the industry--vital for running a good show. Jim is a computer guy first and a show promoter second. But he is a good promoter and has consistently delivered hordes of quality attendees to a rapidly growing (and changing) industry.
Rumors were flying before and during the show that Jim sold the show to Pat McGovern (IDC, Computerworld, Infoworld). In fact, three people told me the deal had been signed, sealed, and delivered.
However, as the show closed on Sunday, I was talking to Jim (on roller skates, as usual) when a call came over his walkie talkie, "Pat McGovern is waiting in your office.'
"Tell him to call me tomorrow,' was Jim's reply. He went on to explain that his main reason for selling was to give him time to do something with computers again. However, Pat wanted him to stay on as show manager for several years, thus removing a great deal of the imputus for selling out. Hence, Jim was reconsidering. Who knows? By the time you read this everything could have changed around again.
But whether Jim sells or not, the show will continue to evolve. Initially, the Faire was a show for hobbyists, hackers, and fanatics. I'll never forget the first show in the Civic Auditorium. The aisles were so jammed on Saturday that you simply couldn't move. It was not a good place for someone with even a mild case of claustrophobia. People were five deep around teh Creative Computing booth waving dollar bills for copies of the magazine or Basic Computer Games, our only book at the time.
As the market for personal computers has changed, so has the show. Despite a larger than ever attendance this year (50,000 or so), there was relatively little frantic activity. Most exhibitors went away satisfied, but a bit disappointed. "Too many lookers, not enough buyers,' was a frequent comment.
Personally, I think there was just as much buying as at previous Faires, but it was spread across many more vendors. At previous Faires, manufacturers such as Apple, Cromemco, Commodore, and Processor Technology (remember them?) had huge booths to show off their wares, but they did not sell on the show floor. Thus, the vendors who were selling occupied less than half of the floor space.
This year, very few primary manufacturers were at the show, and those who were had modest booths. Thus, 90% of a much expanded exhibit space (extending to loading docks and balcony passages) was occupied by vendors with products to sell. As a result of this competition, the sales of each individual vendor were somewhat reduced.
So, perhaps the Faire as it used to be is dead. However, it will continue in a new guise. Long live the Faire.
Speaking of competition, in the area of magazines, seven new ones were introduced at the Faire. Apparently, several publishers see the need for a true home computing magazine; thus you will shortly be seeing Micro Discovery, Digit, and Family Computing. Another Commodore magazine, another Color Computer magazine, and another Atari magazine are also on the way. And our parent company, Ziff-Davis introduced PC Tech Journal.
Of Special Interest
We can't possibly cover all the activities and new products of the 450 some odd exhibitors here, so we've elected to report on some products of special interest. Others will be showing up in our new products section in forthcoming issues.
In a hotel room. Quadram Corp. was previewing a board for the IBM PC that simulates an Apple computer. Everything is on the board--microprocessor, 48K of memory and I/O and display drivers. It uses the keyboard, disk drives, display, and power supply of the PC. Because everything is on the board, when it is installed, the PC can actually do processing of both Apple and IBM programs simultaneously. Since the Apple board does not use the IBM PC memory, data can only be interchanged by writing and reading from disk; software is provided to do this. Price $680.
Three floors up in another hotel room, Osborne was previewing the Osborne Executive. The main external differences between it and the Osborne 1 are that it has a 7 24-line X 80-character amber display, two compact disk drives mounted in the lest side of the housing, a power switch on the front, two serial ports, an IEEE 488 port, and a standard RCA jack for an external monitor. Internally, it has 128K of memory and is able to run synchronous communications software so it can talk ot IBM mainframes using 3271 emulation. Also promised is emulation for 3780, 2780, 3741, and several others.
In addition, it will be able to emulate a wide variety of standard terminals--Beehive, Televideo, Hazeltine, ect.
Upon powering up, the machine goes through an extensive self-test. It then allows you to configure it in any way that you wish with five cursor options, reversed display, key click feedback, 50 or 60 Hz power, 15 communications baud rates, logical and physical device protocols, and various character sets. Price $2495.
In about six months Osborne will also introduce the Executive II which will have an 8088 co-processor, an additional 128K of memory independent from the 128K for the Z80, and an IBM PC compatible video graphics system. Osborne expects that over 80 percent of IBM PC software will run on it. No price yest.
Giving Osborne a good run is the Access Computer which is the first portable to include a full-size built-in printer and acoustic modem. The access is a compact 16 X 10 X 10-3/4 and weighs 33 pounds. It has a 7 amber display, two double density disk drives, Z80 mpu, 64K of memory, 80 cps dot matrix printer and both an acoustic coupler and direct-connect modem built in. The keyboard is detachable and has 76 keys including mumeric keypad and 15 function keys. In addition to the built-in printer, the Access has a parallel port, IEEE 488 port, and two RS-232C ports.
The manufacturer, Access Matrix Corp., bundles a software library in with the Access including CP/M, M Basic, C Basic, Fancy Font (Softcraft), and Perfect Software's integrated programs, Perfect Writer, Speller, Calc, and Filer, Price $2495.
On the other end of the spectrum, a new low-end entry from Venture Micro Inc., the Humdinger, will provide some strong competition for the Timex Sinclair, Video Technology VZ200, Mattel Aquarius, and TI 99/2. The Humdinger has a Z80 mpu, 4K of memory (expandable to 64K), 8K Basic in ROM, cassette I/O, parallel and serial ports, high resolution video (256 x 192 pixels) in eight colors, 12 graphics display modes, and four sound voices (five-octave range). The keyboard has 58 Chiclet-style rubber keys. A full array of peripherals and software is listed on the flyer and price list although we saw only the basic computer. Watch these pages for a complete review. Price $129.95.
Megabyter was showing a universal disk controller for the Apple along with four drives. The universal controller runs standard Apple DOS, as well as CP/M, Pascal, SOS, and Apple III DOS emulation. The 5 dual drive is double density, and stores a whopping 2.4 megabytes per drive. A 3-1/2 Sony-type micro drive stores 560K per unit while an 8 drive allows the use of 8 disks from other systems.
Artra, Inc. introduced Waldo, one of the most fascinating devices at the Faire. Waldo is a board that plugs into an Apple and is a combination of voice recognition circuitry, real-time clock, home-control hardware, and sound and speech synthesizer. In effect, Waldo borrows your computer's "brain' and gives it hearing, speech, and the ability to control the world around it. We'll have a full review of Waldo coming up soon but, the cartoon below will give you some idea of its capabilities. Price $599.
PhotoCaster from Commsoft, Inc. is another nifty device for the Apple. Howard Nurse showed us how it could capture and display an image from a TV camera (b & w or color), send and receive an image over telephone lines in eight seconds using the dithering process developed at Bell Labs, enhance the image using a joystick for entry, and print an image on a dot matrix printer such as the Epson MX-80. Images have a resolution of 128 X 128 pixels with each pixel having 16 gray levels. Color photos are composed of one frame for each of the red, green, and blue primary color images.
Two speech synthesis boards were introduced for the Apple, the SSB from Multitech Electronics and the Mockingboard from Sweet Micro Systems. Both have remarkable speech, although with somewhat different characteristics. The SSB uses the Texas Instruments TMS5220 speech chip, has an on-board amplifier, and a 1200-word digitized dictionary on a floppy disk. It sounds like Speak "N' Spell. Price $195.
The Mockingboard comes in four flavors --sound effects only ($99), sound in stereo ($199), speech only ($149), and sound effects/speech combination ($299). Sound effects are produced with the General Instruments PSG which can produce the sounds of cannon fire, trains, weapons, and unearthly musical notes. Speech is produced with the Votrax SC01, a phoneme type of chip with 64 phonic building blocks that can be combined to create any words you wish. It has the familiar Votrax Swedish accent.
With the growing interest in the use of remote information services, community bulletin boards, and the like, several manufacturers were showing inexpensive modems. Typical was the Eagle DC-2 direct-connect modem from Wilkison Engineering. It operates only at 300 baud and offers full and half duplex operation in one of two modes: originate/answer (Bell 103) or auto answer. A bargain at $99.
There were hundreds of new games and game controllers for every imaginable computer. Kraft was showing an Ataricompatible joystick with a short throw and very fast action. Similar to their Apple joysticks, this is the first Atari stick designed for fingertip control.
Interfirm Systems had a track ball designed mainly to be a high-precision input device to replace CRT touch membranes, light pens, digital mice, optical mice, and joysticks. The product, Digit-Ball, is an optical track ball which produces 256 pulses per revolution of the ball. At $99 it is a bit pricey for game control but if you can justify the cost for other uses, it sure will provide amazing control. Versions available for Apple, IMB, and Commodore 64.
Perhaps the strangest controller of all was being shown by Exersoft Corp. The Foot-Craz is a foam pad that functions like an Atari joystick when one of the five colored dots is stepped on. Included with Foot-Craz is a jogging game (actually it is just jogging indoors), and Stomp, a game in which you stamp out colored bugs.
Sirius, Broderbund, Sierra On-Line, Datamost, Penguin, Datasoft, Adventure International and scores of others were showing new games. We'll review the best on these pages. However, let me mention briefly a new Synapse game, Survivor. This is billed as the first cooperative computer game (for up to four players). Survivor pits a navigator, propulsion engineer, and two gunners against a fleet of attacking ships and four heavily-armed space fortresses. It is amazing how one's playing style and strategy change when one has to communicate with others to win the game. Available for Atari ($34.95); coming soon for Commodore 64, Vic-20, and TI 99/4A.
If your friends don't already know that you are a computer enthusiast, you might want to start sending computer greeting cards from Computer Greeting. A line of 24 disk-shaped cards is available for all occasions: birthdays, friendship, get well, new baby, etc.
Manufacturers and Reader Service
Below are the mames and addresses of manufacturers mentioned above.
For more information on any of the products mentioned, just circle the reader service number or write to the manufacturer directly (please mention Creative Computing).
Photo: On set-up day, aisles are clogged with cartons, curtains, and cables.
Photo: By Saturday afternoon, the Faire was teeming with humanity.
Photo: Fred and Barbara Huntington, two of the nicest people in the software industry, pose in front of their booth.
Photo: Hobbyists could find enough connectors, diodes, ICs, and parts to build almost anything.
Photo: The discount vendors did a good business; by late Sunday, everything was going at a discount.
Photo: The Apple booth was a constant beehive of activity.
Photo: Tronix' Kid Grid leaped out of a Vic and into the aisles of the Faire.
Photo: The Osborne Executive has a 7 screen, two compact disk drives, and improved housing.
Photo: The Access computer has a detatchable keyboard, 7 screen, two disk drives and built-in 80-col. printer.
Photo: The Attache from Otrona Advanced Systems boasts bit mapped graphics, 7 screen, and a very compact design.
Photo: Megaflex dual 3' drive stores 0.5 megabytes for $1490.
Photo: Howard Nurse, in the flesh, and via Commsoft's PhotoCaster syetem.
Photo: American Bell had a mini-booth in an out-of-the-way downstairs corridor. The photo makes it look far better than it was.
Photo: Mary Griesinger of Adventure International shows off her neat racks before the show opened.