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Thread: Curious about the mindset of engineers/etc at computer makers

  1. #1
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    Default Curious about the mindset of engineers/etc at computer makers

    I recently picked up a Xerox "Sunrise" 1810 and expansion unit (and disks) for not very much. I was intrigued by the story of the thing - supposedly Xerox subcontracted out to Sunrise, which was former Xerox employees, to design this attempt at a competitor to the TRS80 Model 100. Predictably it floundered - 3 line LCD screen, poor battery life, slow as paint drying. Xerox pulled the plug, Sunrise died, and the few units built were liquidated.

    But I'm wondering, *how* do these things manage to make their way out of the design stage? Always wanted to get a feel for the mindset of the people building these things.

    Like, you're designing a CP/M portable computer in 1982/83, with DOS presumably breathing down your neck, and you're only going with *3 lines* of display, and of those, one is taken up by a menu bar?!

    Or the guys at Umtech that thought, ah, they don't need an Enter key. Or a familiar programming language!

    Especially the early 80s CP/M guys, who ought to have been aware that CP/M was on the downslope (or were they?).

    Like what is it.. hubris? Lack of ability? Lack of awareness of competing products? I respect anyone that can design and build a functional computer - but I've always wondered how you get into knee deep into a design common sense and observation should tell you is the wrong one.

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    Part of it must be the contrast between concept-to-market-time and the rapid changes in the industry.

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    When something is technically inferior it seems hard to justify the thinking. The IBM 5150 wasn't particularly a technological marvel. But it's success was largely based on who was making it. IBM's main business and far into the future was mainframes. To that they owed their reputation. The PC was just a tag along. Perhaps similarly with Xerox and your unit. They may have been expecting, or hoping, their customer base would be impressed rather then depressed.

    Look at the Macintosh! Loaded with fun and cuteness to the hilt. 2500$??!! Who wants to buy a kidney? Yet the Atari ST was 40% the cost, and a much better machine in nearly every way. Not necessarily as polished though. And many are still in operation.

    Most if not all of the pseudo IBM compatibles that flopped were actually superior in many ways. But they were doomed from the getgo. Some enjoyed a measure of devotion. The IRS in Long Island had rows and rows of TI PCs (superior and inferior to the IBM PC in certain ways). But far and away most businesses and individuals went with Big Blue. Which really.only made the most sense, then and.now.

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    Can't speak from experience, but I'd imagine CP/M remained a popular choice in the early to mid 80s due to the massive, established software library that was probably adequate for many home users, other than those wanting to play new games.

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    An explanation to some of the issues with the Xerox Sunrise can be found https://www.nytimes.com/1984/05/09/b...-by-xerox.html

    For an 8 figure payout, the customer can define anything. 10 hour battery life means tiny screen. Sunrise's design with the planned addons seems similar to what was done with the Grundy NewBrain so it wasn't a uniquely bad idea. But a bad idea coupled with unreachable goals and a long development time without reconsidering how new technology is obsoleting the design is a great way to become business school study fodder.

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    It seems like it was quite common to start with a grand idea, and then reality hit and you had to shoehorn that design in to the second rate parts you could actually get.

    Somewhere there was a writeup on the design of the TI-99/4a. They didn't even know what CPU they were going to use, hence all the interpreted stuff, and a 16-bit CPU ultimately stuffed in what was intended to be an 8-bit system.

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    The early 1980's was a time of major changes in hardware and software.

    When a large company subcontracts a smaller one to design something you know there will be a bunch of incompatible bullshit coming from the larger company you have to deal with plus development takes longer. If the LCD was a custom part that takes time to design and make.It looks to me like that machine was built more for desktop use connected to a TV and had some use as a portable word processor where a couple lines of text for data entry was perfectly fine and didn't need a massive CPU for that. The keyboard looks better then the Timex 2068 one I got for Christmas in 1983 (granted that thing was MUCH cheaper).
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    The early 1980's was a time of major changes in hardware and software.

    When a large company subcontracts a smaller one to design something you know there will be a bunch of incompatible bullshit coming from the larger company you have to deal with plus development takes longer. If the LCD was a custom part that takes time to design and make.It looks to me like that machine was built more for desktop use connected to a TV and had some use as a portable word processor where a couple lines of text for data entry was perfectly fine and didn't need a massive CPU for that. The keyboard looks better then the Timex 2068 one I got for Christmas in 1983 (granted that thing was MUCH cheaper).
    What I collect: 68K/Early PPC Mac, DOS/Win 3.1 era machines, Amiga/ST, C64/128
    Nubus/ISA/VLB/MCA/EISA cards of all types
    Boxed apps and games for the above systems
    Analog video capture cards/software and complete systems

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    Quote Originally Posted by Unknown_K View Post
    The early 1980's was a time of major changes in hardware and software.

    When a large company subcontracts a smaller one to design something you know there will be a bunch of incompatible bullshit coming from the larger company you have to deal with plus development takes longer. If the LCD was a custom part that takes time to design and make.It looks to me like that machine was built more for desktop use connected to a TV and had some use as a portable word processor where a couple lines of text for data entry was perfectly fine and didn't need a massive CPU for that. The keyboard looks better then the Timex 2068 one I got for Christmas in 1983 (granted that thing was MUCH cheaper).
    Apparently the keyboards on these are said to be among the best. Mine is in transit with some other stuff so I can't say for sure.

    One particularly vexing thing is why the 3 line limit for text carries over to the regular monitor you could plug in. That's a little crazy..

  10. #10

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    You can get 6 lines of 80 characters on a Vic 20...

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