Archive for the ‘July’ Category

Popular Computing Weekly 19-25 July 1984

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

Microdeal in court battle

TEN software houses are this week taking action in the High Court against a commercial software piracy racket, in an attempt to prove that software is copyright.

Cornwall-based games company Microdeal unearthed a tape piracy racket involving thousands of pounds worth of Dragon software being sold through classified advertisements in computer magazines.

Games such as Softek’s Ugh! and Microdeal’s Frogger and Cuthbert series were being copied on a large scale and offered to Dragon owners at a fraction of the retail price.

Dr Mohammed (a medical doctor) and his fourteen-year old brother T Mohsan, it is alleged ran a tape copying operation from four different addresses in the Blackburn area, selling not only sets of 35 games on a single C90 tape, but also utilities such as Kopy-key program copier and the Text-star word processor.

“Other companies apart from Microdeal and Softek who had games copied included Tandy, Cable, Dragon Data, Morrison Micros, Programmers, Guild, Romik, Quicksilva and PSS,” said Microdeal managing director John Symes.

At a private hearing on Monday, July 9, Microdeal obtained an Anton Piller search order and on Friday, July 13, Mohsan and Mohammed’s house at 24 Irving Place, Blackburn was raided and a number of boxes of tapes and duplicating equipment were seized.

An injunction also obtained by Microdeal to prevent Dr Mohammed from continuing to sell and advertise pirated tapes has been extended until a court hearing is held at the High Court in London on Friday, July 20. An application on Monday, July 16 for a similar extension to cover T Mohsan was refused

Commodore sues

COMMODORE International is suing four of its former engineers — now working under Jack Tramiel at Atari. The suit, against former engineering director Shiraz Shivji and three others, Arthur Morgan, John Hoenig and Douglas Renn, was filed in Chester County, Pennsylvania on Tuesday, July 10th. The judge granted Commodores request for a temporary injunction.

The suit covers alleged theft in May and June, referring to secret material about a business machine based around the Z8000 chip planned by Commodore for next year. The action is seen as part of the increasing bitterness between Commodore and its former founder Jack Tramiel, whose company, TTL, has taken over Atari. Several former Commodore senior executives are now working for Tramiel, including David Harris, a former Commodore vice-president, now sales vice-president at TTL.

Dragon moves to Spain

THE future of Dragon Data, which has been in receivership for over five weeks, now looks settled.

The Port Talbot manufacturing plant will be closed, and a Spanish company, Eurohard SA, who exchanged contracts with Dragon Data two weeks ago, will take over manufacture of the Dragon machines. Eurohard operate from a site in Extre Madura near the Portugese border, a Spanish development area. Details of the deal are to be finalised this week.

Eurohard was set up with Spanish government aid specifically to build up the Spanish hardware industry. Before the receiver was called in to Dragon Data, Eurohard was negotiating with the company to gain a licence to manufacture Dragons in Spain.

Not all Dragon employees will lose their jobs, however. A new company, Touchmaster, is being set up headed by Brian Moore, ex-managing director and former marketing director Richard Wadman.

Touchmaster will provide after sales services and software support in this country.

GEC will continue the marketing of the Dragon machines in the UK.

Imagine in hands of Receiver

THE Official Receiver has now been called in at Imagine Software.

The company was wound up on Monday, July 9, at the High Court in London, after Imagine failed to pay creditors VNU, Business Publications £10,000 within a seven day time limit.

A creditors meeting has yet to be arranged, but until a receiver has been appointed, the Official Receiver in Liverpool is standing in.

But there is a long list of other creditors still waiting to be paid by Imagine including Kiltdale, a Gloucestershire duplication plant, Marshall Cavendish, still waiting for payment in the region of £250,000, Liverpool City Council, printers Henry Matthews and Son, United Arab Shipping, who own Tithebarn House, where Imagine occupied offices, Scatchards, a Liverpool wine merchant, where Imagine had an account and G D Studios, which produced cassette labels and artwork for the company. The total of debts from these companies is put at over £300,000.

Former Imagine directors Dave Lawson and Ian Hetherington — together with several ex-Imagine employees — are believed to be still continuing development of the two Megagames, for which they now own the copyright.

Bruce Evexiss is in negotiations with an un-named, non-software company in Liverpool, regarding employment of other former Imagine staff.

BBC stays with Acorn

A NEW four year contract has been signed between Acorn Computers and the BBC.

The agreement means that Acorn can continue to use the BBC name on its top selling product — the BBC Model B micro computer.

The signing also ends months of speculation that the BBC might take the opportunity presented by the expiry of Acorn’s existing agreements to include other manufacturers.

A number of companies including Sinclair and Dragon have in the past shown interest in gaining the lucrative BBC contract.

Acorn is planning to expand its manufacturing and distribution of the Model B machine. It has also begun an export drive to sell the machines in the US and the Germany and Benelux areas of Europe. Manufacturing facilities are being set up in Australia, India and China.

“Acorn is planning to develop more power add-ons for the BBC to take it into the 16-bit and 32-bit computer range,” said an Acorn spokesman.

“The BBC contract has become a very significant one for Acorn — in the beginning the Model B was seen as a fairly minor machine.”

Mastertronic takes over Carnell

MASTERTRONIC has come to the rescue of Carnell Software, who went into liquidation last month, (see PCW, 21 June).

It has set up a new company, Innovision to market Carnell’s Wrath of Magra and Black Crystal games. It is not yet known if Carnell’s Volcanic Dungeon is also included in the deal.

The two games will be sold at their original price — £11.95 for Magra, with the book included, and £7.50 for Black Crystal. These prices are the main reason Mastertronic will not market the games under its own name — wishing to keep Mastertronic as a budget-price software label.

“Stuart Galloway, Roy Carnell and Stephen Kirk will be programming for us as part of Innovision,” said Mastertronic chairman Frank Herman. “They will be producing adventure games, which we intend to market at full price.”

Thorn EMI buys stake in Inmos

THORN EMI has paid £95m for a 76 per cent stake in Inmos, the government supported microchip company.

It may also buy the remaining 24 per cent, currently held by the company’s three founders and its employees.

Robin Hood on the Spectrum

THE legend of Robin Hood has been turned into an adventure game by Nottingham software house Runesoft.

Robyne Hode has over 400 locations, set in Nottingham and Sherwood Forest.

“We did a great deal of research to make the locations as authentic as possible,” said John Flack of Runesoft.

“The city library had some maps, although none prior to 1610, so we consulted the Doomsday Book to see how the land would have looked.”

The game uses landmarks apart from Sherwood Forest — part of the adventure takes place in the cave system underneath Nottingham castle.

Robyne Node for the 48K Spectrum costs £9.95

Popular Computing Weekly 12-18 July 1984

Wednesday, July 9th, 2008

Confusion over QL software

AN announcement by Sinclair’s managing director, Nigel Searle, that the four Psion QL software packages will be released in an enhanced form on a plug-ill Rom pack seems to have resulted in some confusion.

According to Psion’s sales marketing manager Gerry Kelly negotiations between the two companies are still at a preliminary stage, and no agreement has so far been reached.

Yet Nigel Searle publicly stated that the Psion’s Xchange suite of programs (a much up-graded version of Easil, Archive and Abacus will appear on the QL as a single 128K Rom cartridge option which connects to the expansion port on the QL. Psion’s managing director declined to confirm Nigel Searle’s claim: “Psion has made no statement about doing the Xchange programs on Rom on the QL.”

Psion will however release in the Autumn Version 2 of its Microdrive programs for the QL. The upgraded packages will be supplied free to QLub members. Explained David Potter. “We are not satisfied with the speed of Quill, for instance, since the QL. doesn’t have a dedicated video chip to speed up the process of printing to the screen. Version 2 cures the problem.” Another new feature of Version 2 is 3D bars on the Easil program.

Sinclair has announced the names of eleven software companies producing material for the QL. They are: Digital Research. Sagesoft. MicroApl, Scicon, Quicksilva, Lattice, Metacomco, Caxton, Psion, GST and Intelligent.

Digital is expected to produce a range of languages for the QL. Sagesoft is converting its accounting suite. Intelligent will produce a chess program. Sinclair is working on a number of peripherals for the QL, the first of which will be a 128K Ram board.

This will be followed bu a 512K Ram board, Winchester disc interface, combined Modem (from Prism) and terminal emmulator, monitor, printer IEEE interface and combined Centronics and Unix hard disc expansion unit. Sinclair is currently negotiating for the Unix operating system to be put onto the QL.

The QL manual is to be substantially revised and existing manuals will be upgraded in August.

Warner sells off Atari for $240 m

THE surprise sale of Atari to a new company headed by ex-Commodore president Jack Tramiel has now taken place (see PCW, July 5). Tramiel’s first move after taking over has been to substantially cut the workforce. Several hundred of the 1,000 employees at the company’s Sunnyvale headquarters will be laid off this week and Atari’s El Paso manufacturing base has been closed with the loss of 300 jobs.

Tramiel who founded ComModore, and turned it from a typewriter importer to a computer company, has set up Tramiel Technology Ltd (TTL). It bought the home computer and video game divisions of Atari, leaving Warner Communications with the coin-operated games section and Ataritel, a new telephone making project. However, it is thought Warner intends to sell these as well.

TTL paid $240m (£178m) in total for the Atari computer and video game divisions, and also aquired warrants giving it the option of buying one million Warner common shares.

The sale of Atari to Tramiel was unexpected. It was known that Warner had been looking for a buyer for the last year. but the Dutch-based company Phillips were thought to be main contenders.

The future of Atari projects such as its up-market $1,000 home computer and the video games designed by Lucasfilms is now unclear.

Atari’s rise and fall in the computer market was meteoric. Warner bought the company for $27m and saw Atari’s sales rising to $2bn in 1982.

But in 1983, sales almost halved and Atari suffered a of $538.6m.

Last September James Morgan was bought in from Pepsi by Warner as chairman. He set a target of profitability for Atari by the fourth quarter of 1984, and scrapped many Atari projects, which did not look to be immediately profitable. He also cut staff by 1000 in order to reduce overheads.

Morgan, however, has left the company since the TTL sale went through.

Tramiel’s strategy at Atari will be to concentrate on the low cost computer market — thus bringing it directly into competition with Commodore.

Imagine hits more trouble

IMAGINE, the troubled Liverpool software house, was still holding its head above water last week, although over two thirds of the staff have been laid off.

On Monday. July 2 a court ruling gave the company seven days to pay a £10,000 debt to VNU Business Publications. To raise the money Imagine last week sold 110,000 tapes from stock at 30 pence each to a German wholesaler.

So far Imagine’s creditors have twice called in bailiffs to the company’s Liverpool offices, and Merseyside police are also “monitoring” Imagine’s affairs, regarding non-payment to its creditors. The police spokesman stressed that no investigation into Imagine’s affairs has yet been started.

Tandy withdraws from Dragon talks

TANDY has dropped out of negotiations to acquire in part the assets of the failed Welsh micro manufacturer Dragon Data.

The company had hoped. said managing director John Sayers, to have acquired the Dragon name and finished goods stock in order to provide support for existing users.

However. Tandy has now decided that there is no possibility of restoring profits to the Kenfig assembly plant and, having failed to reach an agreement with the receivers Touche Ross, has pulled Out.

This leaves only one company — GEC — still in the bidding for Dragon Data. A GEC spokesman declined to comment on the situation but it is widely expected that GEC will now continue to market the Dragon machines, with the Dragon 32 dropping in price.

Its launch of the Dragon MSX machine at the Personal Computer World Show in the Autumn now seems likely to be delayed until early 1985. because of component shortages. John Hiley, GEC’s marketing support manager. said. “I am not aware of any problems surrounding an MSX machine, but then GEC has not made any public statement regarding MSX at all.”

Full of Eastern promise

MELBOURNE House is producing a joystick-controlled adventure for the Commodore 64 called Zim Salabinz.

The game’s format is reminiscent of Sierra’s 128K Apple adventure King’s Quest. While you control the main character around the screen with the joystick, text input is also required to make the character perform actions, such as eating and drinking. The action of the game is based on Arabian Nights’ tales.

Zim Salabim will cost £8.95 and should be released at the end of September.

Running total

SINCLAIR is again sponsoring the Cambridge Festival half marathon on July 15.

Among this year’s entrants are Olympic runner Joyce Smith, last year’s men’s winner Bob Treadwell. Sir Clive Sinclair himself, and an entrant from the Falkland Islands. The total number of runners will be a record 2,500.

Fast action against piracy

A NEW group has been set up by representatives from all sides of the computer industry to press for action against software piracy.

FAST (Federation Against Software Theft) specifically aims to lobby parliament in an attempt to get the 1956 Copyright Act updated so that it expressely includes computer software as protected material.

Donald Maclean, deputy chairman of Thorn-Emi Video Ltd, and chairman of FAST, said. “It looks like there will be no time in this parliament of the next to pass a bill amending the Act, so we went to do it through a private members bill.”

Nicholas Lyall, MP for mid Bedforshire, has pledged his support for FAST and will be presenting a bill to parliament under the ten-minute rule on July 24. Under this hearing, the matter can be aired, and can pave the way for a private members bill.

Popular Computing Weekly 5-11 July 1984

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

Bitter split breaks Imagine

IMAGINE. the flamboyant Liverpool software company. whose financial problems have been deepening since February, is now insolvent.

Magazine publishers VNU petitioned for a winding up order to be brought against the company on Monday. July 2.

The crisis means that the future of Imagine’s two Mega-games is now uncertain.

The situation has been exacerbated by a bitter internal split between general manager Bruce Everiss and his co-directors.lan Hetherington and Dave Lawson. The position of Imagine’s other director, Mark Butler is still not clear. Bruce Everiss resigned as director and general manager at midday on Friday, June 29.

Central to the disagreement is a new company called Finehspeed set up by Hetherington and Lawson to raise funds. Hetherington, Lawson and Mark Butler each have a one-third share in the new company.

“They have set up Finchspeed in order to own Imagine’s Megagames and assets for themselves,” claimed Everiss. “They have a staff list of 20 people to join Finchspeed which means that the remaining 60 Imagine employees will simply be discarded.

“Ian Hetherington and Dave Lawson are in the States to raise funds for Finchspeed. Imagine will not see this money.”

Speaking from the US on June 29, Ian Hetherington refuted this. “Dave Lawson and myself have been in Silicon Valley trying to raise money for Imagine for the last two weeks. We set up Finchspeed as an off-the-shelf company to get money into Imagine. “There is no point in discussing Finchspeed, since it is dead and buried. It’s forgotten.”

However, at an extraodinary general Meeting of Imagine’s shareholders on July 1, a contract between Imagine and Finchspeed was approved by a majority of those present.

This contract gives Finchspeed the copyright of the Megagames and the use of !Inagine’s premises, and Imagine’s assets. Finchspeed will pay Imagine £40,000 for equipment needed to develop the Mega-games and then 50 per cent of the net profit from the games up to a maximum of £625,000.

The question is whether the deal will save Imagine: “At present, Imagine owe about £400,000,” said Bruce Everiss. “That includes £100,000 to the bank and £250,000 to Marshall Cavendish.”

Ian Hetherington would not comment on the figures, other than to say that the figure for the overall amount owed is incorrect. He added, “We are hoping to raise £1.5m in the States, and this will cover all the debts and pay for the Megagames. We have been very close to clinching deals. It is important that the Mega-games go out with Imagine’s name on them, and I will do anything to ensure that they do.”

As for the 60 staff left without a job according to Everiss, Hetherington commented, “Staff will have to be sacked who are now loyal to Bruce Everiss.” He added that the personality clashes within the company had been brewing for about three months.

Imagine’s two Megagames were originally planned to be launched with an extensive and distinctive promotional campaign. Marble slabs were to be laid in Hyde Park with the names of the games etched into them and the BBC were filming a documentary on their making.

Tramiel ready to buy Atari

JACK Tramiel. Commodore’s founder who resigned suddenly in January, now looks set to buy Atari.

No details of the proposed deal are yet available but Warner Communications. of which Atari is a subsidiary, is negotiating to sell the Atari Home Video and Home Computer Divisions to a new company set up by Tramiel, retaining only Atari’s Coin-operated Game Division.

Warner Communications has been seeking a buyer for its loss-making subsidiary for almost a year. It originally bought Atari from its founder Nolan Bushnell in 1976 for $28m and in 1982 the subsidiary turned in an operating profit of $358m. However, the slump in US video game and home computer sales lead the company to produce an operating loss the following year of $538.6m.

The heavy trading losses have reduced Atari’s worth and the company is now valued between $40 and $120m.

Galactic join Mastertronic

MASTERTRONIC, the software company whose £1.99 games have proved extremely successful, have set up a joint venture company with Galactic Software.

“The new company is called Artificial Intelligence Products, or Alp.” said Martin Alper, managing director of Mastertronic. “It will function as a programming house for new MastertrOnic games.”

The deal constitutes a virtual takeover for Mastertronic, since Galactic now no longer exist as a marketing entity. “Galactic did a lot of programming work for us in our early days,” continued Martin. “Alp will give us a much wider range of software”.

The first two games from the Alp team will be launched in two to three weeks — Chiller (which is loosely based on Michael Jackson’s Thriller video for Commodore 64, and Psycho Shopper for the expanded Vic 20.

New Apricot under £1000

ACT has announced a new range of computers, with the lowest-priced model costing under £1000.

At £915, the Apricot FIE uses the 8086 processor and offers 128K Ram, a single 3 1/2inch disc drive and bundled software including CP/M-86, Basic and Logo.

Bargain Beeb

ACORN is running a promotional offer on BBC B machines for the month of July.

For £399, the normal cost of the micro, buyers will also recieve a BBC data recorder and five free Acornsoft programs.

This is the first time Acorn has been involved in any special offers regarding its machines.

“July is a particularly slack time of year,” commented an Acorn spokesman. “It is hoped that we can generate extra sales from the promotion.”

The computer in your pocket

PSION - having written the four programs to accompany the QL — has now launched its own computer.

The Psion Organiser is smaller than a paperback book, costs under £100, runs off an ordinary PP3 battery, and is claimed to be “the world’s first practical pocket computer”.

It uses a Hitachi 6301-X processor which is a complete micro-on-a-chip device incorporating its own operating system in a 4K Rom. It has 14K Ram on-board, but the device includes two built-in “solid state drives.” These are twin CMOS Eprom cartridge slots for plugging in additional software. They have storage capacity of either 8K (£12.50) or 16K (£19.95).

Where the Organiser is unique, however, is that it can write to these Eproms. Incorporated in the unit is the ability to ‘blow’ software into any blank cartridge plugged into the device.

Information on existing cartridges can also be erased in the same way. Re-recording onto a used cartridge is not possible though, and to do so the cartridge must be reformatted either by a shop (£3.50) or by the individual using a special formatting device (£45).

Either of the cartridges can be removed and a special interface can be connected giving the Organiser a standard RS232C interface. This can be used to printout information to a printer or to dump data to another computer possibly even via a modem and telephone link.

The basic machine at £99.95 provides five commands. Save, Find, Erase and Enter which allows data to be stored and retrieved from any cartridge. The fifth, Calc gives a calculater facility.

Psion is also offering, initially, a choice of three prerecorded software packs each priced at £29.95. These are Maths, Financial and Science packs. All three incorporate a new programming language written specially by Psion for the Organiser called Popl. Popl provides an additional 14 commands including If, Goto, Print, Copy, Free and Label. Popl is a procedure-based language rather like Logo.

The Psion Organiser will be sold initially by mail-order beginning in July. The company is at present manufacturing between three and four thousand machines a month and does not anticipate selling it through stores until 1985.

The machine will also go on sale in the US in Spring 1985 and Psion has established Psion Inc a US subsidiary based in Fairfield County, Connecticut headed up by a former Timex employee, Bill Skyreme.

Psion has also announced that enhanced versions of its QL packages will be launched in August for the IBM PC and XT, the Apricot machines, and the Sirius and Victor. Versions for the Apple Macintosh and Dec Rainbow will follow in the Autumn. All the so-called Xchange packages will sell for over £500.

Psion plans a share flotation onto the USM in Spring 1985.

Lord of the Rings to follow Hobbit

NEARLY two years after the release of The Hobbit adventure game, Melbourne House is able to begin work on a version of The Lord of the Rings.

Until recently, the video rights to Tolkien’s triology, the sequel to The Hobbit, belonged to the US company Fantasy Films, who produced an animated film of part of The Lord of the Rings.

Now, however, the rights have been acquired by Allen and Unwin, publishers of both of the Tolkien books, which has given Melbourne House an option for a computer game version of The Lord of the

As with The Hobbit, Allen and Unwin and Melbourne House will work in close collaboration.

“Melbourne House will have editorial control over the game, within the rough guidelines, but obviously we will be closely involved on questions of concept and design,” said David Fielder, editorial director of Allen and Unwin.

Allen and Unwin is not discounting the possibility of supplying books to accompany the game.

“Providing the three books with one game would be unfeasible — in fact, I suspect a computer game on The Lord of the Rings in its entirety would also be impossible. It is more likely that more than one game will be produced. together with more than one book,” continued David.

Melbourne House’s publicity manager, Paula Byrne, confirmed that Melbourne House would be taking up its option on The Lord of the Rings.

“It will be a long time before any game based on the work appears,” she said. “Because the option has only just been agreed, we have not yet begun to consider how we will approach it.”

• Melbourne House has also confirmed September 11 as the date set for the launch of the long-awaited Sherlock Holmes for the Spectrum and Commodore 64

Baxter leaves Commodore

COMMODORE UK will be facing a major reshuffle in August. The company is moving premises from its present offices in Slough to the new plant in Corby.

There will be several changes of staff, the most notable of which will be marketing director John Baxter’s departure to Andromeda Software.

“John will be taking up a position as a director of Andromeda to the end of August,” said a Commodore spokesman.

Red Shift slugs it out

RED Shift, the war games specialist company has suffered a split. The five-strong programming team — Julian Fuller, Julian Gollop, Clive Norman, Helmut Watson and Joe Capricorn — has set up a freelance group, to be called Slug.

“We will now-be selling our games to other companies. While we will continue with war games we hope to branch out into strategy games in general.” said Julian Fuller.

Negotiations with The Games Workshop and K-Tel are currently in progress, and Slug will be writing two games — Battlecars and Talisman on the Spectrum for The Games Workshop. The games are due for release in Spring 1985.

Amstrad gets JSW

SOFTWARE Projects will be converting its top-selling games Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy for the Amstrad CPC 464.

QL upgrade date set

SINCE Sinclair began deliveries of the QL at the beginning of May, three different versions of Superbasic have been sent out with machines.

“The first version issued to customers was FB, which was a penultimate version of the firmware,” said a Sinclair spokesman.

“The other versions, PM and AH, are almost identical, but AH is the final version, and an improvement on the others.”

To find Out which variant is on a given machine, users should type in Print Ver$. The name of the variant should appear on the display.

Sinclair began delivery two weeks ago of QLs with the Eprom inside the machines rather than inserted in the Rom cartridge slot.

Machines delivered from the end of July should have the Superbasic in Rom rather than Eprom.

The conversion of QLs with ‘dongle’ Eproms is also scheduled to begin at the end of July.

“Our intention is to stagger the recall of machines,” the spokesman continued, “and, as yet, we do not know how long customers will be without their QLs when recalled. The service will be absolutely free to customers.”

Palace play dead

PALACE Software has launched The Evil Dead, an arcade strategy game based on the notorious film of the same name.

The game follows the plot of the film fairly closely. The user controls one of the group of five friends staying in a lonely ‘Tennessee shack’ only to find themselves turned into zombies and ghouls by the curse of the Evil Dead, who inhabit the house.

You must use objects you find scattered in the house to attack and thwart the evil spirits to save your companions.

The Evil Dead should be available by the end of July on the Commodore 64 at £6.99. Versions for BBC B and Spectrum will follow.

Star turn for Mirrorsoft

MIRRORSOFT is the latest company to produce an astronomy program Starseeker for the BBC — which has been given a seal of approval by the London Planetarium.

The program will give astronomical data on any chosen star, as well as the usual night sky screen.

It will also output data on the planets and trace the path of Halley’s comet, in time for the comet’s next appearance in 1985.

“The program was written by Paul Phillips, a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.” said Mirrorsoft general manager Jim Mackonochie. “We were so impressed with it that we took it to the Planetarium to hear their views.”

Apart from giving advice and comment a member of the Planetarium will also be writing the foreword to the manual accompanying Starseeker.