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View Full Version : The PC Junior. Landfill fodder??



tezza
May 11th, 2010, 07:41 PM
Hi, I'm subscribed to comments posted in response to an article on classic computing design mistakes (see http://technologizer.com/2009/06/14/fifteen-classic-pc-design-mistakes#comments)

The latest poster (Micheal Rudas) said this (Quote)

"When IBM sold the PCjr to classrooms, the IR keyboard was a liability because every keyboard used the same interface code stream and you didnít always know which PC you were controlling with a given keyboard. One little-known fact about the PCjr is that it was produced for IBM under contract from TeledyneĖwhen sales tanked, it didnít matter to Teledyne; it was a fixed-end contract and they produced EVERY ONE of the 250,000 units they were contracted to produce, the majority of which were ground up and sent to landfills."
Did this actually happen? Does anyone else know if tens of thousands of PC Juniors were mass dumped this way?

The PC Junior is an interesting story. I don't think they ever got to New Zealand. However I've been reading about them in back copies of InfoWorld. The computer press's reaction seemed to go from slavish anticipation (and wild way-off predictions as to it's success) to uncertainty, to downright hostility once it was obvious the machine was not going to fly as anticipated.

Tez

Unknown_K
May 11th, 2010, 08:22 PM
http://www.islandnet.com/~kpolsson/ibmpc/ibm1983.htm

"1985
April
IBM abandons production of the IBM PCjr. 250,000 units were sold in its lifetime. [13] [35] [880.104] [1128.86] (325,000 sold [357.30]) "

So either 250K or 325K were sold (total production?).

krebizfan
May 11th, 2010, 09:30 PM
Well, I did a search and turned up a 1985 Dvorak column which claims that 200,000 - 300,000 units were not sold by then. Add the units sold to that and it matches the 500,000 unit production listed by Wikipedia.

Sept 16, 1985 Infoworld page 6 has an another article about IBM giving away PCjrs to special education departments at schools that purchased full blown PCs.

I expect that between sales and giveaways, nearly all the PCjrs were not destroyed by IBM. Now, disgruntled users and retailers were another story.
Edit: Found a December 1985 Infoworld which claims the unsold inventory was shrunk to 50,000 by then. What happened to the rest I don't know.
Google: can't you give me all the results in one query?

lotonah
May 12th, 2010, 12:42 AM
That's a damn shame, if they did. Too bad warehousing them for 30 years would have cost too much... ;)

It's ironic I've seen all of these PCjr questions tonight, I just took mine out of storage and was playing with it only a few hours ago.

Don't get me wrong, I don't normally enjoy old DOS compatible machines much, but it was one of the few I wanted for my collection.
Have: IBM PCjr, Tandy 1000, Compaq Portable ///, IBM 5155 transportable.
Want: Mindset, Commodore PC-40, Atari PC-1, IBM AT, Amiga A2088 bridgeboard, Atari ST Supercharger, Atari Portfolio

Someday... hahaha

strollin
May 12th, 2010, 04:25 AM
I can't say if any PCjrs were ground up or not but I was an IBM employee at the time. We were offered the ability to buy the PCjr at firesale prices, around $900 if I recall. There was no limit to how many we could buy and I personally purchased 7 of them. Not one of them was for me, they were all for my sister and friends of hers. For years after that, I served as Tech Support for those 7 jrs. I'm pretty sure I modified every one of their 128K sidecars to make them 512K sidecars and even added a second floppy disk drive to several of them.

As far as the IR keyboard being a problem in the classroom, that would be a very easy fix, just connect the keyboard via cable.

mbbrutman
May 12th, 2010, 05:15 AM
Hi, I'm subscribed to comments posted in response to an article on classic computing design mistakes (see http://technologizer.com/2009/06/14/fifteen-classic-pc-design-mistakes#comments)

The latest poster (Micheal Rudas) said this (Quote)

"When IBM sold the PCjr to classrooms, the IR keyboard was a liability because every keyboard used the same interface code stream and you didn’t always know which PC you were controlling with a given keyboard. One little-known fact about the PCjr is that it was produced for IBM under contract from Teledyne–when sales tanked, it didn’t matter to Teledyne; it was a fixed-end contract and they produced EVERY ONE of the 250,000 units they were contracted to produce, the majority of which were ground up and sent to landfills."
Did this actually happen? Does anyone else know if tens of thousands of PC Juniors were mass dumped this way?

The PC Junior is an interesting story. I don't think they ever got to New Zealand. However I've been reading about them in back copies of InfoWorld. The computer press's reaction seemed to go from slavish anticipation (and wild way-off predictions as to it's success) to uncertainty, to downright hostility once it was obvious the machine was not going to fly as anticipated.

Tez

I think we have two urban legends here ..

First, the IR keyboard was a liability in that environment. But IBM sold a keyboard cord for exactly that purpose - to use if you had multiple machines in the room or if you didn't have straight line-of-sight between the keyboard and the machine. (My machine sat to the side so I used the keyboard cord.) The cord also disables the IR receive on the machine and the IR transmit on the keyboard and also eliminates the need for batteries. I don't think any school district had to pass on the Jr because of keyboard mayhem when there was a $20 fix to it available from day one.

Second, I doubt that any machine went to a landfill. For an 'unpopular' machine we know that at least 250,000 of them were sold, and god only knows how many of them were sold to IBM employees toward the end at the firesale prices. I have some of IBM's corporate communications about the firesale, and the prices were awesome! IBM was still selling Jrs into 1986 or 1987 to employees in several different bundles, most including extra memory and a monitor.

Third, Wiki has some accuracy problems ... I'd read anything there with a grain of salt. And Dvorak was worse - back in the day I thought he'd just make stuff up to have something to print for that month. The only landfill legend that I think might be true comes from Spinaker software - they apparently had a tremendous number of software on cartridges that they might have dumped. But if you ever saw the lame Spinaker ports of Facemaker and Kindercomp for the PCjr, you would think that they landfilled them just based on the quality of the software. ;-0

Lastly, I know of somebody who has a secret PCjr prototype with a hard drive and some of the original limitations fixed. IBM was seriously considering a follow-on, to the point of having protypes mades and ready to go. The project was killed - possibly because the Jr itself hadn't done well and the name might be 'damaged', but also because the Jrs that did make it out there cut into PC and XT sales in a bad way. For about half of the money you could get a 'clone' machine from IBM that ran most of the same software. My money is on the IBM exec thinking that he really didn't like competing with himself in a race to the bottom. ;-0

krebizfan
May 12th, 2010, 08:39 AM
I used the magazine references to back up my memory. There were a lot of rumors about the PCjr; many of which were implausible.

I think the overseas military PXs got lots of PCjrs but I don't remember whether that was late 1985 or 1986. I guess shipping them out there was the next best thing to crushing them.

Chuck(G)
May 12th, 2010, 09:00 AM
One thing that doomed the PC Jr in my memory was the need and cost for add-ons that drove the price of a unit up quickly (power supply, expansion chassis, hard drive, memory...) and the growing crowd of inexpensive clone PC compatibles, some of which were more compatible with the 5150/5160 than the Peanut. If you went to any swap meet or computer show, you found tons of dealers selling Far East clones, cards and add-ons for the 5150/5160 base for a fraction of what a similar item would cost for a PC Jr. And at those same shows, how many vendors actually sold stuff for the Peanut?

A friend spent a fairly large pile of cash expanding his Jr. with the vision that it was going to be IBMs "next big thing" and that there was lots of money to be made in creating add-ons. Within a year, he had to admit that he was wrong.

The Peanut was a half-baked idea with bad timing.

What might be more collectable than the Peanut would be the 5511 PC JX. I've never met one in the flesh. Tez probably has, though.

geoffm3
May 12th, 2010, 10:20 AM
I agree with Chuck... the largest problems with the PCjr was the price and compatibility issue. The price in particular was outrageous compared to other small memory machines that were more capable (Commodore 64 springs instantly to mind). Most everyone that my family knew that was in the market for a computer passed over the PCjr due mainly in part to the pricing. Compatibility is the other of course... it's clear that you could write MS/PC-DOS compatible programs or you could write IBM-PC compatible programs. The two are not necessarily the same. A program written with MS-DOS compatibility in mind in the early days of the IBM PC probably stood a very good chance of running on, say, a Tandy 2000, which was not an IBM PC clone, but an MS-DOS machine nonetheless. However as is the case when people write directly to the hardware instead of using the OS (pros and cons aside) then you will break compatibility. This isn't strictly an IBM PC issue either... there's plenty of games in Amiga-land for example that don't run worth a flip on anything but a 68000 based Amiga. Even though the Amiga 3000 was a more capable machine than the Amiga 500, I found several things simply wouldn't work right on the 3k.

"If it only had DMA..." ;) It probably would have been a lot more compatible.

mbbrutman
May 12th, 2010, 10:49 AM
Actually, the machine was fairly compatible - more so than people give it credit for.


It faithfully mimics the keyboard handling, even converting its own scan codes to 83 key equivalents before getting to the keyboard interrupt routine so that programs that hook the hardware keyboard interrupt work the same way.
The video adapter was very close to CGA
The BIOS had all of the IBMisms in there, including the interpreted BASIC


The things that failed spectacularly were programs that touched the diskette controller directly and some things that touched the 6845 in the video controller directly. But the vast majority of PC software runs unmodified on the Jr.

As for DMA, that is overblown. DOS doesn't use DMA to overlap the operation of CPU and I/O - it uses DMA because the 8088 is so bad at moving data that it is quicker to setup a DMA and wait for it to complete. (Witness that the AT doesn't even use DMA for it's hard drive operations, because the 80286 is faster at moving bytes than the 8088.) Where it makes a small difference is the ability to buffer keystrokes while the diskette drive is running.

The compatibility problems on the Jr are not in how the adapters and BIOS works, but in how the extras are attached. There wasn't a standard port or slot to be found on the machine. (Grrr...)

barythrin
May 12th, 2010, 11:42 AM
Also regarding the keyboard scenario. It wouldn't be very practical to use the IR interface. I still remember getting a PCjr (for free from an old computer stores basement) and the IR keyboard to be honest was quite incredible. All the way across my room I could type.. pretty damn neat when RF keyboards that drank batteries were just coming out this was from 83/84 and while it's line of sight worked great. The reason I'd doubt the problem is because you honestly can't read from that distance. So while it was cool that I could type basic in or run a game from my bed but as for typing I couldn't read a 14"(?! was trying to check size before posting.. was it really that big??) monitor from 12' away even with my fairly good highschool eyes so I'd imagine that's a good argument for a competitor but not a likely scenario you'd have a problem with.

While I'm a bit young to have experienced a lot of these systems in their primary days other than as a kid thinking they were awesome I've had similar experiences reading some publications of Dvorak's as quite biased and had to question some material myself.

tezza
May 12th, 2010, 01:01 PM
...I've had similar experiences reading some publications of Dvorak's as quite biased and had to question some material myself.

Yes, Dvorak. :D

I must admit I enjoy reading his articles in the back issues of Infoworld. However, he is like a hollywood gossip writer. He was deliberately provacative, sometimes outragous and much of his material was gossip and rumours. But that was what made it entertaining. Not to be taken seriously (without further verification anyway).

Some people DID take his writing seriously though and in almost every issue of Infoworld in the early/mid eighties there was a letter (or several) to the editor complaining about Dvorak! :D

Tez

gerrydoire
May 12th, 2010, 02:26 PM
I Own a Brand New Unopened IBM PCjr, its a gem from the past, having an unopened Tandy 1000 next to it would be ideal :)

Chuck(G)
May 12th, 2010, 02:39 PM
Yes, Dvorak. :D

I must admit I enjoy reading his articles in the back issues of Infoworld. However, he is like a hollywood gossip writer. He was deliberately provacative, sometimes outragous and much of his material was gossip and rumours. But that was what made it entertaining. Not to be taken seriously (without further verification anyway).

Some people DID take his writing seriously though and in almost every issue of Infoworld in the early/mid eighties there was a letter (or several) to the editor complaining about Dvorak! :D


John's actually a very nice guy in person (his wife, Mimi is a real treasure). He lent his name to a large number of books published under the Osborne-McGraw-Hill brand, but actually had very little to do with the content of any of them (I did some moonlighting as technical consultant and editor for a couple of them).

tezza
May 12th, 2010, 02:48 PM
What might be more collectable than the Peanut would be the 5511 PC JX. I've never met one in the flesh. Tez probably has, though.

Yes, they were definitely sold down here and our national computer mag did a review on the model (this issue (http://www.classic-computers.org.nz/bits-and-bytes/issue4.3.htm)). I know I was intrigued about the 3.5 inch drives (on a PC) when I first read this article in 1985.

I can't remember SPECIFICALLY seeing one in the flesh though although I might have done so without registering the fact.

I have a vauge memory of one being available on our auction site Trademe a year or so ago. Had I known they were uncommon I might have tried to snag it.

Incidently, Inforworld in early-mid 1985 was rife with rumours of a PC-II. This was a new PC, for small businesses, better than the peanut, but positioned below the corporate PC XT/AT market. According to the rumour mill via Infoworld, eventually the PC-II project was canned.

Could it have actually been the JX though...released only in Japan, New Zealand and Australia?

Tez

Chuck(G)
May 12th, 2010, 03:34 PM
Could it have actually been the JX though...released only in Japan, New Zealand and Australia?

There was quite a bit of speculation that a new line might be based on the JX. But as far as I'm aware, it was nothing more than a rumor.

tezza
May 12th, 2010, 05:00 PM
There was quite a bit of speculation that a new line might be based on the JX. But as far as I'm aware, it was nothing more than a rumor.

Yes. I wouldn't be surprised if it had some substance. In the 1980s and 1990s New Zealand and Australia were often used by electronic companies as test markets for new products. Being western economies, but isolated and limited in population, the theory was that if the product bombed here at least the damage to global reputation (and the bottom line) was limited and contained. However if the product succeeded, then it was upwards and onwards to the larger markets.

One can speculate that the IBM PC II was developed in late 84-early 85 but there was some doubt about the market. Consequently they were tested in limited markets (Japan, Aust, NZ) as the JX, just to see how it went. Certainly the timeline would appear right, as would the intended market (small (non-corportate) business/education etc.). The same market as for the rumoured PC II.

I don't think the JX took the NZ market by storm. By that stage 100% compatible Asian XT/PC clones were flooding into the country and for what you got, I can't imagine the JX was very competitive in price plus being slightly oddball when stacked up against the "PC standard".

Tez

Vint
May 12th, 2010, 05:04 PM
I Own a Brand New Unopened IBM PCjr, its a gem from the past, having an unopened Tandy 1000 next to it would be ideal :)

How do you know the box isn't full of rocks? If you never open it - how can you be sure what's inside? I truly respect your pleasure of having an 'unopened' computer box, but for me it would be like seeing all the gifts under your Christmas tree as a kid, and then instead of opening any - you just 'admire them'. You must have a lot of will-power :)

vwestlife
May 12th, 2010, 05:27 PM
The PCjr (don't forget to write the jr in italics like IBM always did :p ) was a good idea ruined by major price reductions in the home computer marketplace that rendered it hopelessly uncompetitive by the time it was released, and by unexpected growth in the PC marketplace that left it competing against not only IBM's "grown up" PCs but also against dozens of cut-price clones that began to erode IBM's market share.

In many ways the PCjr was a victim of IBM's own success at establishing the original PC as an industry standard. IBM had their vision of what a scaled-down, home-oriented PC should be, but by the time it hit store shelves, other companies already came up with a better idea of what a "junior PC" should be than the PCjr itself -- most prominently the Tandy 1000.

tezza
May 12th, 2010, 06:03 PM
In many ways the PCjr was a victim of IBM's own success at establishing the original PC as an industry standard. IBM had their vision of what a scaled-down, home-oriented PC should be, but by the time it hit store shelves, other companies already came up with a better idea of what a "junior PC" should be than the PCjr itself -- most prominently the Tandy 1000.

Yes, this is one of the things I enjoy about computing history. It's full of irony :).

Tez

gerrydoire
May 12th, 2010, 08:06 PM
How do you know the box isn't full of rocks? If you never open it - how can you be sure what's inside? I truly respect your pleasure of having an 'unopened' computer box, but for me it would be like seeing all the gifts under your Christmas tree as a kid, and then instead of opening any - you just 'admire them'. You must have a lot of will-power :)

An xray machine would do the trick :)