Alternate Universe Micros...

for all subjects/topics not covered by the other forum categories
alex_farlie
Posts: 35
Joined: Sun Jul 07, 2013 9:46 pm

Alternate Universe Micros...

Postby alex_farlie » Wed Oct 04, 2017 7:49 pm

Okay so this is a long shot,and very "tounge in cheek" but I thought I'd start a thread here on what Micros might exist in alternate universes.

My first thoughts were a range that started with Z80 based machine (the alternate ATOM) that was essentially a Z80, a teletext generator chip, some RAM and a BASIC ROM, used cassettes. The OS only officially had 2 modes (tele)text and lo-grpahics ( nominally 70x70). You could do some clever 'custom' modes if you knew enough Z80 assembler though... There was a rather impressive space invaders produced for this alternate atom.

This was later developed into the Proton, which when you got the Revision B OS Rom (and the Model B add-on hardware) gave you hi-res screen options, (the Revision A. Rom gave you the two "ATOM" modes, "(tele)Text" and Graphics only.). A further development was the Revision C. Proton, which if you also added 'ghost ram' and the disc interface, let you run CP/M with a moderately large workspace. I could see some small firms using a Revision C Proton, with the likes of Wordstar.... (If you are thinking the Revision C proton would be like a CPC6128 running BBC BASIC you wouldn't be far off.. )

The Revision D. Proton, dropped the Atom's teletext mode, and the cassette interface.. It still ran CP/M, and despite a ULA reducing the chip count, it looked dated when it reached the market place.

Later there was the "Charmingly Strange" Quanta, an early 1990's 32bit RISC based micro. This had a nice RISC architecture ( partially inspired by the Z80's internal logic) and came with an enhanced Basic, unheard of sound capability and had 256 color graphics in what seemed more like (for the time) workstation resolution. It also came with a language called SAMPLE 5000,nominally to show of what the sound system was capable of, as well as being a reasonable Forth83 implementation. It wouldn't suprise me if someone had attempted a module tracker program in SAMPLE 5000 comparable with those you had on the Amiga...

The last alternative micro in this range would have been the unreleased Quinta in the late 1990's, which was intended to be more of a media workstation system... It was late to market and never got past the prototype stage...

I don't expect anyone to actually try and build these alternate universe micros, but if emulator writers get bored, I'd love to see someone try and figure out how PLOT might have worked on the lo-graphics mode on the alternate atom. :lol:

And apologies if this is a very very off-topic thread....

User avatar
BigEd
Posts: 1482
Joined: Sun Jan 24, 2010 10:24 am
Location: West
Contact:

Re: Alternate Universe Micros...

Postby BigEd » Thu Oct 05, 2017 8:13 am

We had a conversation on these lines over on g+:
https://plus.google.com/+IsaacKuo/posts/iSkMtKJfYCv

I very much like the idea of Logo having been the standard included language, instead of Basic. And, perhaps, the 6809 could have had a better run in home computers.

alex_farlie
Posts: 35
Joined: Sun Jul 07, 2013 9:46 pm

Re: Alternate Universe Micros...

Postby alex_farlie » Thu Oct 05, 2017 9:29 am

BigEd wrote:We had a conversation on these lines over on g+:
https://plus.google.com/+IsaacKuo/posts/iSkMtKJfYCv

I very much like the idea of Logo having been the standard included language, instead of Basic. And, perhaps, the 6809 could have had a better run in home computers.


Hmm...

Would micros of the early 80's had enough power to run full LOGO implementations?

The natural alternate language for programmers would have been FORTH.

paulb
Posts: 784
Joined: Mon Jan 20, 2014 9:02 pm

Re: Alternate Universe Micros...

Postby paulb » Thu Oct 05, 2017 11:01 am

The interesting thing about this universe and Acorn's own activities in it is that there are actually plenty of "alternative" microcomputers in Acorn's portfolio.

I cannot remember the source for this right now, but an apparent condition connected to offering Acorn the BBC contract based on the 6502-based Proton was that Acorn would commit to offer the Z80 second processor in a timely fashion and thus meet the supposed demand for CP/M compatibility. Had that demand been greater, maybe there would have been a lot more Z80-based models from Acorn. Instead, I think that the Acorn Business Computer 100-series models were the last Z80 models considered, and they never made it to market.

Indeed, it can be interesting to look at Acorn's brochures to find exotic and rare/unreleased models. I'd never seen the Acorn C Series until recently, which seems to be a derivative of the Communicator. If things had gone differently or happened with slightly different timing, Acorn could have been more prolific users of various CPU architectures: NatSemi 32xxx, Intel 80x86, WDC 65xxx, perhaps even the Zilog Z8xxx or Motorola 680x0, particularly the latter if Acorn had acquired Torch and brought Torch's Unix workstations to market under the Acorn brand.

Without their own RISC architecture, Acorn might have used MIPS, although that might not have allowed them to pitch the resulting products at such relatively low prices to the home and education markets, which was possible with the Archimedes. I remember that Clive Grace in A&B Computing spent some column inches writing about the threat of MIPS to Acorn's workstation plans, which was probably a bit beyond most of the readership's area of experience or interest.

User avatar
1024MAK
Posts: 6785
Joined: Mon Apr 18, 2011 4:46 pm
Location: Looking forward to summer in Somerset, UK...

Re: Alternate Universe Micros...

Postby 1024MAK » Thu Oct 05, 2017 3:22 pm

alex_farlie wrote:This had a nice RISC architecture ( partially inspired by the Z80's internal logic)...
where RISC means Rich Instruction Set CPU :mrgreen:

Maybe including the features of the Zilog Z80000, but running faster?

Mark
For a "Complete BBC Games Archive" visit www.bbcmicro.co.uk NOW!
BeebWiki‬ - for answers to many questions...

alex_farlie
Posts: 35
Joined: Sun Jul 07, 2013 9:46 pm

Re: Alternate Universe Micros...

Postby alex_farlie » Thu Oct 05, 2017 3:54 pm

alex_farlie wrote:Okay so this is a long shot,and very "tounge in cheek" but I thought I'd start a thread here on what Micros might exist in alternate universes.

My first thoughts were a range that started with Z80 based machine (the alternate ATOM) that was essentially a Z80, a teletext generator chip, some RAM and a BASIC ROM, used cassettes. The OS only officially had 2 modes (tele)text and lo-grpahics ( nominally 70x70). You could do some clever 'custom' modes if you knew enough Z80 assembler though... There was a rather impressive space invaders produced for this alternate atom.
..


"Alternate universe system - Our Universe system system

Atom - Atom
Proton Rev A -
Proton Rev B - BBC Micro Model A/B
Proton Rev C - BBC Micro Model B+ or B+ with third party shadow RAM extension... Z80 second processor for CP/M. Also Amstrad CPC 6128)
Proton Rev D... Master Compact, but the single chip ULA is from the electron..

Unnammed workstation- A3xx/|4xx/R5xx series....

Quanta - A3000
Quanta Plus A30xx series

All subsequent models went back to the PC workstation case format...
Quanta III - A5000
Quanta IV - Risc PC

Quinta/PentaQuant workstation - Risc PC2/Phoebe, some later Amigas..."

I've also managed to find a comment on the alternate Atom/Proton Rev A graphics support... :lol:

"... Of course anyone that wanted to do serious graphics upgraded the hardware to the B spec fairly quickly... given the 70x70 limit, which was weirdly programmed internally and could only do 1 foreground color per 3 pixels verticaly, and of course changing the nominal PAPER color, changed the background color of the whole screen:(... Still you could still do DRAW and MOVE and PLOT albiet only to a 70x70 screen. Enough for really simple stuff but not suited to hires.. Of course if you knew assembler and were prepared to poke screen memory directly with certain codes you could have multi-colour "lines" albiet at the expense of not being able to have distinct two foreground colours without a 2 "pixel"-paper gap between them. That said I think some REALLY clever programs used an even clever trick to get around that limitation. ... "
Last edited by 1024MAK on Thu Oct 05, 2017 4:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: Edited closing quote tag

User avatar
kieranhj
Posts: 524
Joined: Sat Sep 19, 2015 10:11 pm
Location: Farnham, Surrey, UK

Re: Alternate Universe Micros...

Postby kieranhj » Thu Oct 05, 2017 4:13 pm

Completely off-topic for this off-topic post (!!) but there are examples of fantasy computers being made as emulators, eg. https://www.lexaloffle.com/pico-8.php.
Bitshifters Collective | Retro Code & Demos for BBC Micro & Acorn computers | https://bitshifters.github.io/

crj
Posts: 313
Joined: Thu May 02, 2013 4:58 pm

Re: Alternate Universe Micros...

Postby crj » Thu Oct 05, 2017 4:47 pm

paulb wrote:I'd never seen the Acorn C Series until recently

!

That one is news to me, and I thought my knowledge of exotic Acorn kit was compendious. Did they ever really exist beyond prototype or even camera mock-up stage?

paulb
Posts: 784
Joined: Mon Jan 20, 2014 9:02 pm

Re: Alternate Universe Micros...

Postby paulb » Thu Oct 05, 2017 4:55 pm

alex_farlie wrote:Proton Rev C - BBC Micro Model B+ or B+ with third party shadow RAM extension... Z80 second processor for CP/M. Also Amstrad CPC 6128)


One has to wonder what might have happened if Acorn and Amstrad had collaborated at different points in time. Having read "The Amstrad Story", referenced on Stardot a while ago, it seems like the technical people at Amstrad were rather stretched and their department not properly dimensioned for what Amstrad needed to do.

alex_farlie wrote:Proton Rev D... Master Compact, but the single chip ULA is from the electron..


Somewhat like the Communicator, then, which has the case of the Compact but incorporates the Electron ULA. Looking into how that supports Teletext (using a more recent chipset than the other machines) as well as the ULA was rather interesting.

User avatar
1024MAK
Posts: 6785
Joined: Mon Apr 18, 2011 4:46 pm
Location: Looking forward to summer in Somerset, UK...

Re: Alternate Universe Micros...

Postby 1024MAK » Thu Oct 05, 2017 4:55 pm

In the semi-real world, some mock-ups of computers were made of painted wood....

Mark
For a "Complete BBC Games Archive" visit www.bbcmicro.co.uk NOW!
BeebWiki‬ - for answers to many questions...

alex_farlie
Posts: 35
Joined: Sun Jul 07, 2013 9:46 pm

Re: Alternate Universe Micros...

Postby alex_farlie » Thu Oct 05, 2017 5:59 pm

1024MAK wrote:
alex_farlie wrote:This had a nice RISC architecture ( partially inspired by the Z80's internal logic)...
where RISC means Rich Instruction Set CPU :mrgreen:

Maybe including the features of the Zilog Z80000, but running faster?

Mark


Maybe... Do you have an instruction set documentation for that chip?

User avatar
1024MAK
Posts: 6785
Joined: Mon Apr 18, 2011 4:46 pm
Location: Looking forward to summer in Somerset, UK...

Re: Alternate Universe Micros...

Postby 1024MAK » Thu Oct 05, 2017 6:08 pm

What you want could well be in this 348 page document. I've not read it yet!

Mark
For a "Complete BBC Games Archive" visit www.bbcmicro.co.uk NOW!
BeebWiki‬ - for answers to many questions...

crj
Posts: 313
Joined: Thu May 02, 2013 4:58 pm

Re: Alternate Universe Micros...

Postby crj » Thu Oct 05, 2017 8:03 pm

1024MAK wrote:In the semi-real world, some mock-ups of computers were made of painted wood....

As were the cases of many prototypes.

I have a relative who worked for one of the major electronics companies, and I remember playing on one such prototype in the early eighties.

Commie_User
Posts: 915
Joined: Wed Jan 27, 2016 12:50 am

Re: Alternate Universe Micros...

Postby Commie_User » Sat Nov 04, 2017 11:17 am

In my alternate universe, some CEO would have had the idea start a group to produce loss-leader riser-type modems to get all the 80s kids on the bulletin boards, with better takeups of WIMP environments to operate software. FAR fewer headaches, say, for ordinary kids stressed out at the mere thought of longer type-ins from a book or magazine.

But in those days, what could you have afforded to run a loss-leader from? Machine or software production? And the kind of things I can think of for the stocking-fillers were becoming available on magazine covertapes anyway. I don't think there would have been many full-price packages sold online to begin with because everyone would have wanted the box. But imagine how more advanced we would have become by now.

Still, GEOS and homebrew photo graphic and sample software from recent years gives us a delicious taste of what micro users could originally have enjoyed, had you been able to get a photodisc from Truprint or dialled into an appstore for some tiny thingy to help a problem.

paulb
Posts: 784
Joined: Mon Jan 20, 2014 9:02 pm

Re: Alternate Universe Micros...

Postby paulb » Sat Nov 04, 2017 12:21 pm

Commie_User wrote:In my alternate universe, some CEO would have had the idea start a group to produce loss-leader riser-type modems to get all the 80s kids on the bulletin boards, with better takeups of WIMP environments to operate software. FAR fewer headaches, say, for ordinary kids stressed out at the mere thought of longer type-ins from a book or magazine.


I think people (parents) were already worried about the per-minute cost of connecting to things, so selling cheap modems and making the money back on even more expensive calls was probably a difficult strategy to pursue. Also, bulletin boards are not particularly scalable things as far as I am aware: you need to allocate phone lines for concurrent users, and this was probably exorbitant in the 1980s. And then you need the big machines to handle these users, unless you just replicate the resources on a bunch of different small machines and maybe try and network them for multi-user capabilities.

Commie_User wrote:But in those days, what could you have afforded to run a loss-leader from? Machine or software production? And the kind of things I can think of for the stocking-fillers were becoming available on magazine covertapes anyway. I don't think there would have been many full-price packages sold online to begin with because everyone would have wanted the box. But imagine how more advanced we would have become by now.


I think you'd need to look at how the academic communities were doing with regard to sharing software back in the 1970s and 1980s. Unix and other software distributions were being widely shared, leading to clearer ideas about licensing and redistribution and things like the GNU project. Academic institutions also had more bandwidth for sharing things, although I can still imagine that people obtained tapes of things because it will have been cheaper and less disruptive than to copy everything over the Internet and congest the network links.

I'm sure Acorn could see things on both sides of the fence. They presumably deployed their machines even in their early years at Cambridge University and will have had to support various technologies that would have been out of place in wider society (with its reliance on the telephone system and British Telecom or on things like telesoftware). Various machines were planned or introduced to work with the public telephone networks, and as we all know from the way Internet access technologies were ultimately rolled out, the prominence of traditional telephone networking was quite an inhibitor for a long time.

Two examples come to mind immediately of early online commerce and of loss leaders to get people online. Minitel provided an online experience in France using a traditional telephone network and managed to thrive before the Internet became more widely available. Meanwhile, there was that Amstrad Emailer thing that tried to make online communication easy for people who didn't want to mess around with computers, where the end-user costs involved substantial connection and other "incremental" fees. Admittedly, the latter came at a time when Internet access was broadening and where dial-up was still the means to get online for most people, so one might regard it as an opportunistic short-term product that was never likely to change many people's habits.

Commie_User wrote:Still, GEOS and homebrew photo graphic and sample software from recent years gives us a delicious taste of what micro users could originally have enjoyed, had you been able to get a photodisc from Truprint or dialled into an appstore for some tiny thingy to help a problem.


Another significant problem, apart from the networking and bandwidth, was the more general computing hardware. Graphical user interfaces and photo manipulation require quite a bit of memory and storage, and these hardware technologies had to evolve sufficient capabilities before the applications could really take off.

User avatar
BigEd
Posts: 1482
Joined: Sun Jan 24, 2010 10:24 am
Location: West
Contact:

Re: Alternate Universe Micros...

Postby BigEd » Sat Nov 04, 2017 12:31 pm

The stories of how things actually happened can be quite interesting too: JImmy Maher's excellent series recently covered the genesis of Compuserve, on the one hand, and The Source, on the other.
http://www.filfre.net/2017/10/a-net-bef ... ent-rogue/

Commie_User
Posts: 915
Joined: Wed Jan 27, 2016 12:50 am

Re: Alternate Universe Micros...

Postby Commie_User » Sat Nov 04, 2017 3:12 pm

paulb wrote:Another significant problem, apart from the networking and bandwidth, was the more general computing hardware.


At least production of photo and sample packages in software houses was feasible. We did have scanners and such at home but those were too expensive for kids to play with enough. To look at the Commodore anyway, we had photo graphics in games like Samantha Fox Strip Poker, plus a damn fine set of drum samples in the rompler range called Microrythm. And that sold for about £2.99 in 1987. (£2.99!!!!)

I don't suppose there was any other route to us all being online, other than the story that happened. On the American continent, The Source and Compuserve didn't just explode onto everyone's screens - and that was with a large affluent middle class. Only when broadband took over did we care less about phone costs and unwieldly gear.

Here, at the end of the GPO, our phone systems were worn out and overstretched. I did forget that. Even businesses were moaning and they had the moolah for the telecom gubbins at hand. Maybe one solution to speed things up a bit could have been the use of Teletext. Acorn and the BBC had that covered for themselves but I think an opportunity was lost by commercial stations and other micro companies not competing for software space.

Think of it - Oracle and 4-Tel taking bids by third party cartels, turning out cheap receivers to allow C64s or Spectrums to get not just the pages but also demo versions of future big games, beta testing of utilities, bit of niche stuff, subscription full software, shopping and allsorts. But again, you would have had to REALLY want one for the potential outlay involved.

I suppose that could have had a limited impact to speed progress up a bit. No phone involved there, save for a final step to quickly modem in a sales order or something.

I want to see where this dead horse takes us. But if even that French thing only just about hung on, probably not. But who knows.

User avatar
davidb
Posts: 1898
Joined: Sun Nov 11, 2007 10:11 pm
Contact:

Re: Alternate Universe Micros...

Postby davidb » Sat Nov 04, 2017 3:59 pm

According to Wikipedia, Minitel lasted until 2012. Reading Jimmy Maher's article, it's interesting to know that the consumer-facing CompuServe service was originally known as MicroNET, making me wonder if it had any relation to the Micronet 800 service in the UK (apparently not). His previous article mentioned that CompuCom was originally going to use Alcatel terminals which also made me wonder if there was a tenuous connection between that service and Minitel.

It's interesting to see that telephony services seemed to become viable at about the same time in the USA and Europe. BBS systems were apparently very popular in the USA, but as someone who only ever used dial-up services for Internet access I don't have any idea about how popular they were in the UK. For dial-up networking to be something transformative in society would have required it to be cheaper to access. I get the impression that it was a niche that was useful to those who could justify the cost rather than a mass market thing. Maybe France had the right idea.


Return to “off-topic”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 5 guests