For its part, Vector Graphic went on to become one of the best known PC makers of the late 1970s. Like Apple, it was one of the first computer companies to go public, and like Apple, it set its products apart from the crowd with its attention to industrial design.
But unlike Apple, Vector vanished from the face of the earth. It faded from our collective memory because it did not survive the massive industry upheaval brought about by the release of the IBM PC in late 1981. Very few PC makers did. But the story of how the Vector trio went from nothing to soaring success – and then collapse – is a tale worth retelling.
There must be so many local computer companies in all corners of the world that have been nearly forgotten. A treasure trove of fascinating stories.
When I got into computers in the late 70’s and, especially, in the early to mid 80’s there were a billion computer firms. Of course there “kinda” still are but things shifted a lot (the Computer Shopper era showed mostly PC clones and the clone industry after a bit of a fight from the ST and Amiga).
My experience is from the UK (damn the nostalgia!) going to John Lewis in Cambridge and visiting the Cambridge Computer Store on Emmanuel Street (I even saw Sir Clive storming up Castle Hill!).
The experience was rich. One could go to CCS and the shop was full of computers. Sinclair ZX81/Spectrum, Jupiter ACE, Dragons, some import machines (notably Commodore), Microtan, Orics and plenty more.
In retrospect there was little difference in raw performance (clock speed vs transistor count) but due, directly, to that low transistor count designers/architects chose different ways to turn that into a working machine. Some had sprites, some had bitmap graphics. Some had 4 colours, some 16 – and those things made a big difference to the capabilities and perception of those machines. The QL had no sprites but I learned 3D computer graphics due to the high res 512×256 mode with 4 colours – however, using a black and white TV gave 4 shades of grey e.g. primitive anti-aliasing.
In the magazines of the time were companies like Artic and DK-Tronics, Medic and many more producing add ons – not just USB coffee warmer or memory stick type add ons but add-ons that dramatically upgraded a machine. Colour interfaces for machines that were otherwise black and white. Graphics cards for machines with only text. Audio add-ons for machines that were otherwise silent (except for the 1337 H40XRZ who figured out how to oscillate the machine to make it interfere with AM radio or some such craziness!). Digitisers, light pens, sometimes whole new cases complete with RAM AND other hardware extensions giving a whole new machine feel.
Eventually software caught up and compilers for BASIC appeared making fast programs even easier to write. Once floppy disks (or microdrives in my case) turned up programming became WAY easier then using cassette tape (or an A5 pad as I had to with my, borrowed, KIM-1!).
I always lusted after a Transputer system! I used to go and hang out in Heffers’ book shop and read endless, expensive, books on neural nets, parallel processing and compiler and language design. Every once in a while I’d spend a fortune on a book!
Where are they now? All gone.
I worked with some of the people behind Sinclair, CST (Thor), DK-Tronics and the Acorn/BBC machines when I was a young (neophyte) professional at the tender age of 18. We built data loggers and data analysis software for the F1 cars of the day. However… our analysis software was all aimed at MSDOS based PCs with EGA graphics. The old world order had already been left behind… and it was only 1990. At least our data logger was a custom 6800 based board.
Here’s some links…
Sometimes I go and hang out on worldofspectrum or sinclairzxworld.
It’s cool and I really admire what these guys do. But I have work to do in the here and now and no time (but plenty of inclination) to revisit the past.
Whilst there is great knowledge in the design and architecture of those machines there are also a lot of short cuts, hacks, gruft… Even the present isn’t enough.
We are here to make the computers of tomorrow.
Sometimes I wonder if the homogeneity of today is holding that back a little (or maybe a lot).