CP-M '83: another successful show. (San Francisco) Ken Uston.
The CP/M '83 Show in the beautiful City By The Bay, San Francisco, was a crashing success. More than 600 companies exhibited, and the show was seen by an estimated 80,000 attendees from all over the world.
CP/M, of course, is the operating system developed by Digital Research, Inc., Pacific Grove, CA, the sponsors of the show. About 5000 companies produce CP/M compatible software for more than 650 computers that run the system.
Exhibitors included Digital Equipment Corporation (the world's second largest computer manufacturer) and other hardware producers such as Radio Shack, Franklin, NCR, and Sanyo. Software companies such as Datamost, Hayden and VisiCorp also showed their wares.
There were vendors who sold merchandise right on the floor. There was even a little San Francisco bookstore that has metamorphosed into a software training center and hardware dealer.
Radio Shack Model 12
Radio Shack teased us all with a big picture in a double page ad in the show program with a big picture of a computer under a black hood ("still under wraps'). At the show, they unveiled their mystery computer. It was the TRS-80 Model 12, which Radio Shack heralded as "the first of six new computer announcements' (I tried to find out about the other five, but none of the Radio Shack people admitted to knowing what they were. I suppose, in retrospect, that two of them were the Model 4 and the Model 100).
The Model 12 has a Z80A 8-bit processor, 80K RAM, and an 82-key keyboard with eight special function keys. It is compatible with TRS-80 Model II software and can also be upgraded to "true 16/32 bit processing' with a Model 16 Upgrade Kit.
A company representative told me that Radio Shack had received much criticism about the drab colors of their other computers. To correct this, the Model 12 is contained in an attractive white case. The computer can have one or two built-in 1.25 Mb disk drives and lists at $3199 (one disk drive) or $3999 (two disk drives).
Franklin Ace 1200
Franklin came out with yet another Apple look-alike. They held their first operating showing of the Franklin Ace 1200 (a preliminary "prototype,' mostly a keyboard and case, was shown at Comdex in November, 1982).
The 1200 has an 8-bit processor, 128K RAM (using bank selection), color capability, upper-and lowercase, and a numeric keypad. It can handle any programs that run on the Apple II without modification. For a list price of $2195, we also get a built-in floppy disk drive (143K capacity) and controller, a CP/M card, and an 80-column card.
NCR Decision Mate And Network
NCR announced two products, a personal computer called NCR Decision Mate and a computer network system, the Decision Mate V Network.
Decision Mate is an 8-bit 64K unit, with two double-density 5 1/4 disk drives with .5 Mb (unformatted) capacity. The detachable keyboard has 20 function keys and a numeric keypad. The basic computer lists for $2650 ($3100 with the 8088 16-bit processor add-on).
The Decision Mate V Network allows the networking of the NCR computer as well as IBM PC or Apple computers. Individual computers are tied into a central computer and can access data or programs in a central storage device. The system also allows print spooling (data is spooled to disk and stacked up in a job queue for processing by a central printer).
A computer show wouldn't be complete without a robot, and CP/M '83 was no exception. Roaming around the aisles, embarrassing women and exchanging repart[ee with gregarious businessmen and computer hackers was Robot Redford. Mr. Redford, who didn't look quite like his namesake, was complete with red, white and blue baseball hat, a built-in TV to show us what we look like on the screen, and a computer keyboard.
The robot is a product of Superior Robotics of America, whose president, Bill Bakalienikoff, told me that the robot goes to about 50 shows a year. If you happen to be interested in having a Redford of your very own, he will set you back $1200 per day for one day ($800 a day for three days), and he comes complete with two (human) operators. Expenses, of course, are extra.
Perfect Software added to the variety of the show with a giveaway and contest drawing. They handed out 4000 "Perfect' T-shirts. Each day a drawing was held among the thousands who filled out forms (not a bad way to get a mailing list cheap, I would guess), and one computer was given away daile--a KayPro II, Access Matrix and Basis 108. At 5:00 p.m. on the final day, 50 names were drawn, and the winners were given copies of Perfect Writer and Perfect Speller, a package with a list price of $695.
One of the most interesting demonstrations was by VisiCorp, who showed their new VisiOn package. The VisiOn "operating environment' allows a variety of software applications to take place simultaneously. VisiOn is designed to re-create the user's desk top on the computer screen, and I think they have accomplished their purpose.
The demonstration was impressive. We saw several spreadsheets on the screen at the same time; they were consolidated into a total spreadsheet by the touch of a key. The sheets overlapped just as they would if stacked on our desks, and we could call any one we wanted to the top of the pile. A pointing device called a "mouse' directs the cursor on the screen by being moved on any flat surface. The mouse directs the computer by pointing either to commands at the bottom of the screen or to specific data within one of the spreadsheets. (Other mice were also shown at the show. Yes, one from TeleVideo was called Supermouse).
We were shown how data contained in the spreadsheets could be instantaneously plotted onto bar charts. The mouse can be used to make any of the sheets of "windows' any size and locate them virtually anywhere on the screen.
The system demonstration had Visicorp's word processing program, Visiword, built-in. This made it possible to include charts or tables in the body of a document. Thus a user may writer a report and incorporate the necessary statistical tables or charts as he progresses.
The package will be for the IBM Personal Computer. Visicorp also has an agreement with Digital Equipment Corporation to make VisiOn available for their computers, but apparently some details have yet to be worked out between the two companies.
Everybody's Gettin' Into The Act
Columbus Discount Books displayed racks of computer books and software. Their president, Gary Pallister, took over this 25-year-old book company located in the heart of the San Francisco North Beach area (diagonally across from Carol Doda's infamous topless night club). He gradually converted the emphasis of the store to computer books. Then he added software to the line, everything from Word Star to SuperCalc, and the store was converted into a software training center. Victor 9000 computers are used, and Columbus Discount Books will become further entrenched in the industry by becoming a dealer for Victor computers.
Who says the Era of Electronics isn't here?
The Father of CP/M
Among the many presentations at the show was a talk about CP/M by its founder (and president of Digital Research), Gary Kildall. His speech was given in a room which seated 2500. The room overflowed with people, so Gary gave the presentation a second time. Yup, the room was totally packed again.
I didn't hear the talk, but was told it was quite informative. Cassette tapes of the speech are available (although much of its effectiveness may be lost on tape since so many visual aids were used).
Digital Research made ten announcements at the show. One of the most significant was the introduction of an enhanced version of CP/M 86 for the IBM PC. (Digital produced the original CP/M 86 and sold the rights to IBM.) The new version includes a printer spooler capability and GSX, a feature that permits improved graphics. The package will be marketed through Digital's dealers and will compete with the original system.
Digital also announced PL/I-86 , a 16-bit version of their PL/I compiler, and CB86, a 16-bit rendition of their CBasic compiler (called CB80).
Try It, You'll Like It
A company called Softlink introduced a concept called Softlok. Softlok allows users to try software packages, paying $40 rather than the full price. A vital function of the software is "locked up' (for example, the store-to-disk capability), preventing its full use. If the user decides he likes the program, he goes to the dealer and pays the balance. The dealer calls Softlink, and gets a "keycode,' with which the user may unlock his piece of software.
Apparently this encryption process has some validity in the eyes of the venture capitalists. Softlink announced more than $1.5 million in funding from U.S. Venture Partners and Rothschild, Inc.
Urban Pacific Data Service came out with Prolok, which they say will "all but eliminate piracy.' Here's how it works. Software producers and others buy Prolock disks, which have a built-in fingerprint, that is, a series of random program encryptions "and other devious programming techniques,' which protect the program.
The final user may make back-up copies of his master, but the master disk must be the one used on the computer. If the user ruins the master, he copies from the back-up to the master and uses it once again. This will work if the master "crashes' and can be recopied onto. But what happens if we spill ketchup or ice cream on the master, rendering it unusable?
Parts of the show reminded me of San Francisco's Ghiradelli Square, where street vendors peddle their goods. Several companies sold everything from computers to joysticks. One, 800 Software, did a booming business selling software at a discount (typical prices: Mail Merge, $79; Word Star, $239; dBaseII, $399; Perfect Calc, $139). Ira Weise, the president of this mail order house, told me, "We're content to make one-third of what a retail store makes.' Another company spokesman said,
"We've had an excellent response. We've taken more than 300 orders during the show, and there are still four hours left.' (If the average sale was $150, they booked $45,000 worth of business at the show. Not bad!)
A Software Buying Service
Interactive Tele-Marketing (ITM) displayed an interesting software buyer's service at the show. For $100, you get a catalog that ranks software by type (e.g. spreadsheet, database, education, household and personal). You learn which software is outstanding and which is the most popular. Members also receive a monthly software newsletter and periodic reports on software. The report they gave me covering the second generation of electronic spreadsheets was well written and easy to understand. ITM also sells software to members, usually at one-third below the list price. Members are also entitled to software consultation over the telephone.
Other CP/M Shows
A representative of Digital Research told me that the company was so delighted with the response to CP/M '83 that CP/M '84 is a certainty. It will be held in January at the Moscone Center in San Francisco.
There's little doubt in my mind that we'll be seeing at least two CP/M shows a year, for many, many years to come.
Photo: The Radio Shack Model 12.
Photo: The Franklin Ace 1200.