"Outline specification for the BBC MICROCOMPUTER system"

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Re: "Outline specification for the BBC MICROCOMPUTER system"

Post by 1024MAK » Fri May 19, 2017 5:40 pm

B3_B3_B3 wrote:
1024MAK wrote:Do you remember the half penny?

And the other fractions were sometimes in in recipe pages.....
I remember those 1/2p coins but not seeing fractions on Ceefax (I don't think looked/looked closely at recipes ).
Thinking about it, the stocks and shares pages used 1/4, 1/2 and the 3/4 symbols.

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Re: "Outline specification for the BBC MICROCOMPUTER system"

Post by BigEd » Thu Jun 28, 2018 7:28 am

At the risk of raking over old coals, I see the recently released archive of BBC TV programmes from the Computer Literacy Project has both Sir Clive Sinclair's allegations on the bidding process and John Radcliffe's response. From episode 13, series 3 of Micro Live:

Sir Clive:
https://computer-literacy-project.pilot ... 8c5959e04e

Radcliffe:
https://computer-literacy-project.pilot ... 9f4456b17d

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Re: "Outline specification for the BBC MICROCOMPUTER system"

Post by Richard Russell » Thu Jun 28, 2018 8:28 am

BigEd wrote:
Thu Jun 28, 2018 7:28 am
I see the recently released archive of BBC TV programmes from the Computer Literacy Project has both Sir Clive Sinclair's allegations on the bidding process and John Radcliffe's response
Fred Harris, who did the interviewing, was at yesterday's launch! I can personally confirm what John Radcliffe said, and I have the documents to prove it.

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Re: "Outline specification for the BBC MICROCOMPUTER system"

Post by lurkio » Fri Jun 29, 2018 10:15 am

BigEd wrote:
Thu Jun 28, 2018 7:28 am
At the risk of raking over old coals, I see the recently released archive of BBC TV programmes from the Computer Literacy Project has both Sir Clive Sinclair's allegations on the bidding process and John Radcliffe's response. From episode 13, series 3 of Micro Live:
Sir Clive: https://computer-literacy-project.pilot ... 8c5959e04e
Radcliffe: https://computer-literacy-project.pilot ... 9f4456b17d

Sir Clive:
  • "The BBC had made up their mind before they spoke to us."

John Radcliffe:
  • Screen Shot 2018-06-29 at 11.01.58.jpg
Last edited by lurkio on Fri Jun 29, 2018 4:36 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: "Outline specification for the BBC MICROCOMPUTER system"

Post by Coeus » Mon Jul 02, 2018 4:53 pm

There is also a timeline on the CLPA site which shows the IBM PC being available in the same year the spec was distributed to manufacturers so if, as John Radcliffe implied in his interview, it was not crucial that ordinary viewers be able to afford the machine the BBC were using to demonstrate with, it seems pertinent to ask why the BBC didn't consider it - or did they?

So surely there must have been a hope that many people would buy the BBC micro so as to be able to try the things on the program without extra interfaces or worrying about compatibility even if there was also recognition that some people would opt for something cheaper.

I also think the XZ81 served a very useful purpose. It was my first computer and was cheap enough that my parents were prepared to risk buying one when it was not certain that I'd take to it in the same way that you don't buy your kid a Stradivarius until he has shown a degree of aptitude on a more modest instrument. Sinclair were very good at engineering down to a price but can you magine trying to demo that on the TV? Black and white and crashing when the RAM pack moved!
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Re: "Outline specification for the BBC MICROCOMPUTER system"

Post by RobC » Mon Jul 02, 2018 6:26 pm

Coeus wrote:
Mon Jul 02, 2018 4:53 pm
I also think the XZ81 served a very useful purpose. It was my first computer and was cheap enough that my parents were prepared to risk buying one when it was not certain that I'd take to it
Completely agree. My first computer was also a ZX81 - my uncle had built one from a kit and I was amazed the first time I saw it. I wanted one and it was cheap enough for my parents to take the risk that it might be a passing fad. Obviously, that wasn't the case and I soon upgraded to a Beeb but do have fond memories of the little black wedge. And now I can emulate the ZX81 on my Beebs via the Pi co-pro :D

On the IBM PC, I suspect the BBC would have been looking for a British machine and I don't know how likely IBM (or any American manufacturer) would have been to amend their machines to match the BBC's spec.

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Re: "Outline specification for the BBC MICROCOMPUTER system"

Post by Richard Russell » Tue Jul 03, 2018 8:59 am

Coeus wrote:
Mon Jul 02, 2018 4:53 pm
the IBM PC being available in the same year the spec was distributed to manufacturers
The specification was distributed to manufacturers at the end of 1980, whereas Wikipedia says the IBM PC was announced in August 1981.
it seems pertinent to ask why the BBC didn't consider it - or did they?
It didn't exist, so the question never arose. It would in any case have been entirely unsuitable, not least by virtue of its output not being compatible with UK television sets, and its cost (more than $1,500)!

Richard.

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Re: "Outline specification for the BBC MICROCOMPUTER system"

Post by colonel32 » Tue Jul 03, 2018 12:56 pm

And we can only speculate how IBM would have responded to a counterfactual request for proposal, given their reputation for being non-agile and paternalistic.

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Re: "Outline specification for the BBC MICROCOMPUTER system"

Post by Elminster » Tue Jul 03, 2018 3:34 pm

colonel32 wrote:
Tue Jul 03, 2018 12:56 pm
And we can only speculate how IBM would have responded to a counterfactual request for proposal, given their reputation for being non-agile and paternalistic.
Yep, the IBM PC was only really so successful because of the clones.

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Re: "Outline specification for the BBC MICROCOMPUTER system"

Post by Coeus » Tue Jul 03, 2018 8:36 pm

colonel32 wrote:
Tue Jul 03, 2018 12:56 pm
And we can only speculate how IBM would have responded to a counterfactual request for proposal, given their reputation for being non-agile and paternalistic.
But, unlike typical home computers, the IBM PC was modular. It had a motherboard, a bus, and a series of cards that plugged into it. Therefore one could adapt it by fitting different cards. Someone other than IBM could have produced a graphics card that was compatible with UK TV standards and/or an interface card or cards to make up for any other missing interfaces.

But, of course, these would have taken time and Richard has already said it was slightly too late and a lot more expensive than the BBC micro.

The IBM PC may also have become a success mainly from having been cloned but the cloners must have had a reason for cloning. Maybe the reason was not a technical one but the IBM brand and the promotion that IBM were doing.

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Re: "Outline specification for the BBC MICROCOMPUTER system"

Post by Elminster » Tue Jul 03, 2018 8:45 pm

Coeus wrote:
Tue Jul 03, 2018 8:36 pm

The IBM PC may also have become a success mainly from having been cloned but the cloners must have had a reason for cloning. Maybe the reason was not a technical one but the IBM brand and the promotion that IBM were doing.
Was cloned because they could without being sued or paying huge licenses. If you think of the other systems at the time if you wanted to join the band wagon of making and selling computer it was a big investment/risk look at all the other systems on the retro channels you never heard of because about 5 people bought them and the company imploded. Of course you could still go under gateway2000 being a biggie.

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Re: "Outline specification for the BBC MICROCOMPUTER system"

Post by Coeus » Tue Jul 03, 2018 9:07 pm

Elminster wrote:
Tue Jul 03, 2018 8:45 pm
Was cloned because they could without being sued or paying huge licenses. If you think of the other systems at the time if you wanted to join the band wagon of making and selling computer it was a big investment/risk look at all the other systems on the retro channels you never heard of because about 5 people bought them and the company imploded. Of course you could still go under gateway2000 being a biggie.
Was that anything to do with the dispute between Digital Research and IBM/Microsoft? From what I remember Digital Research claimed that PC-DOS was a "knock off" of CPM and the eventual decision was that an API was not subject to copyright so PC-DOS was free to have equivalent implementations of all the CP/M calls provided the implementation had not been copied.

Moving that to hardware an individual computer design would be subject to copyright but someone else would be free to design a similar computer that would run the same programs, including the same OS and that would be, from a software perspective, identical. But if companies now had the confidence to do that when previously they has shied away from it they still has to choose something to copy. There must have been a reason they choose to clone the IBM PC rather than something else.
Last edited by Coeus on Tue Jul 03, 2018 9:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: "Outline specification for the BBC MICROCOMPUTER system"

Post by Elminster » Tue Jul 03, 2018 9:17 pm

Well technically that had happen before IBM PC. Several s100 clones and a few ss50 bus clones. But most of those were kits. IBM was fully formed and could be bought by normal people. It was also a business machine not a home pc per sa.

Edit: also it took about 5 years to really take off in the home market. In that time loads of other machine had been and gone.
Last edited by Elminster on Tue Jul 03, 2018 9:19 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: "Outline specification for the BBC MICROCOMPUTER system"

Post by Coeus » Tue Jul 03, 2018 9:34 pm

Elminster wrote:
Tue Jul 03, 2018 9:17 pm
Edit: also it took about 5 years to really take off in the home market. In that time loads of other machine had been and gone.
And the home market penetration was presumably because, once there were a number of clones, at least some of the clone manufacturers were then competing to see who could produce the cheapest clone and that got prices down to a level people could afford at home.

You mentioned S100 bus machines being cloned and I recently got distracted looking at CP/M machines. It looks as if, for that era, while CP/M was very widely adopted no one single machine dominated the market which is very different from the situation a few years later with the PC and the fact the software distributors liked targeting a single machine (at least from the software POV) rather than a bunch of similar but different machines) hastened the demise of the 8 bit CP/M machines beyond what would have happened from people needing faster machines with more memory.

There may be a degree of positive feedback in operation such that as one machine seems to get a bit of a lead it becomes a target for cloning and, once it's cloned it becomes cheaper and more widely adopted and therefore gets more software written for it, so more people clone it etc. but while that explains why things accelerate from a small lead to dominance it doesn't explain that initial lead. As I said that may not have been for technical reasons but possibly promotion.

It would be interesting to see how things would have been different if IBM had demanded an exclusive distribution right for PC-DOS so MS were prevented from licensing a compatible product to the clone manufacturers. It may have just caused a delay, but who knows.

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Re: "Outline specification for the BBC MICROCOMPUTER system"

Post by Elminster » Tue Jul 03, 2018 9:49 pm

I think it is just simply that it was a published open standard, no lock in and no licensing. You wouldn’t get that from Nintendo for example.

Edit: side effect be price going down and innovation going up.
Last edited by Elminster on Tue Jul 03, 2018 9:51 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: "Outline specification for the BBC MICROCOMPUTER system"

Post by 1024MAK » Wed Jul 04, 2018 11:58 am

I think the 'IBM compatible PC' becoming the dominant machine architecture is due to a number of factors.

Keep in mind that the adoption of IBM and clones occured in America long before it happened in the U.K.

As said above, for professional or business, CP/M was the OS. But the actual disk format and machine I/O capabilities differed between systems. So you could not simply sell your software on a one type of disk and have it work in any machine.
PCDOS / MSDOS and the IBM type BIOS changed that. Now, regardless of which IBM clone you buy, the same software on the same disk will work.

Second, IBM was a well known existing computer manufacturer for companies. So this was likely a factor 'the big blue' factor. IBM launching a personal computer (as opposed to a terminal to connect to a mini or mainframe) is seen as a significant event in the history of computers.

IBM making the technical details available allowed other manufacturers to create their own IBM clones. And of course Microsoft could licence MSDOS to these manufacturers.

In America, after the 8 bit home computers, neither the Atari ST/STF/STM/STFM range or Commodore Amiga range were that successful. As the businesses upgraded, 'old' IBM and clones found their way into homes. And as the cost of IBM clones fell, so more were bought for use at home.

Hence a de facto standard was established.

It's interesting to note that MSDOS could also be used on similar machines that were not IBM clones, for example the Victor 9000/Sirius 1 computers, which were popular for businesses in the U.K. for a time in the mid 1980's.

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Re: "Outline specification for the BBC MICROCOMPUTER system"

Post by Elminster » Wed Jul 04, 2018 12:51 pm

1024MAK wrote:
Wed Jul 04, 2018 11:58 am
I think the 'IBM compatible PC' becoming the dominant machine architecture is due to a number of factors.
The other thing to note was once 486 cpus, adlib/SB and VGA GFX became avaialble the IBM PC Clones could suddently compete with Amiga and Atari in the games arena.

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Re: "Outline specification for the BBC MICROCOMPUTER system"

Post by 1024MAK » Wed Jul 04, 2018 1:08 pm

Elminster wrote:
Wed Jul 04, 2018 12:51 pm
1024MAK wrote:
Wed Jul 04, 2018 11:58 am
I think the 'IBM compatible PC' becoming the dominant machine architecture is due to a number of factors.
The other thing to note was once 486 cpus, adlib/SB and VGA GFX became avaialble the IBM PC Clones could suddently compete with Amiga and Atari in the games arena.
I agree, but a significant number of games were being released for the earlier IBM clones, which typically used CGA cards.

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Re: "Outline specification for the BBC MICROCOMPUTER system"

Post by Elminster » Wed Jul 04, 2018 1:20 pm

1024MAK wrote:
Wed Jul 04, 2018 1:08 pm
Elminster wrote:
Wed Jul 04, 2018 12:51 pm
1024MAK wrote:
Wed Jul 04, 2018 11:58 am
I think the 'IBM compatible PC' becoming the dominant machine architecture is due to a number of factors.
The other thing to note was once 486 cpus, adlib/SB and VGA GFX became avaialble the IBM PC Clones could suddently compete with Amiga and Atari in the games arena.
I agree, but a significant number of games were being released for the earlier IBM clones, which typically used CGA cards.

Mark
Yep but they look and sound aweful. Unless doing that thing with composite CGA. Even then the Amiga managed to put up a fight until about 95. After that the Dell effect had made PCs so cheap and the hardware had caught up and passed anything anyone else could do

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Re: "Outline specification for the BBC MICROCOMPUTER system"

Post by BigEd » Sat Jul 14, 2018 10:54 am

In 2014 David Allen gave a talk at TNMoC which covers the genesis of the BBC Micro proposal and the selection process.

Start at about the 15min mark if you're impatient, or the 18min mark if you are really impatient. But perhaps the 12min mark is a good place for a little context - it helps to understand the BBC's Reithian mission ("inform, educate, entertain") and how the engineering and education people worked together:
https://youtu.be/fOhxXei3ZoY?t=12m32s
NewBrain.png
Hmm, I seem to have lightly edited quite a bit of the automatic subtitles by way of a transcript of the crucial bit - skip to "Cavendish Square" if you must:
"""
It was relatively un-bureaucratic, we look at the pyramid there and it
was a much more shallow pyramid, only about two or three people between
the producer and the Director General unlike today.

I think strong educational departments with their own controller and
what's most important their own dedicated airtime.

BBC Education officers stalked the country. BBC Educational
Publications existed as a separate entity which published our books.

There was a thing called the Continuing Education Advisory Council
which was hundreds of people that came together at Broadcasting House
to advise the BBC on what to do. It was an advisory council only -
very influential.

BBC Enterprises existed, BBC Worldwide of course, but in those days
they sold jigsaws, fluffy toys, and books that was it. The idea of a
computer, my god, you know - just think of it.

There was a very strong engineering culture in the BBC. BBC
Engineering had its own controller, there was a BBC Engineering
Designs Department that sort of solved problems. There was BBC
Research - they were then combined together. There was Broadcasting
Support Services which was an organisation set up, you know
just... you would ring up and ask for advice - you got really good
advice, and there was a big audience research department. So it's a
very different organization in many ways to today and it would be very
interesting to see...

I mean the BBC has clearly many advantages over those times with
online and so on and so forth but that was a very different period.

So we did have a great army if you like of departments that could
control - that could control - (there's a Freudian slip) that could
actually support any initiative we took.

So what did we do? Well we needed machines but all these machines were
different they all had different forms of Basic and we needed good
advice. Well we got good advice from John Coll. (Is John here? Not
arrived has he? He was supposed to be coming.)

John Coll was chairman of a thing called MUSE - Micro Users in Secondary
Education - and he was very influential in this whole project, he wrote
the user guide of the BBC machine which I for my sins edited. He drew
to our attention there was this problem: how do you teach people
Basic?

Because Basic was considered the thing that people needed to learn to
program.

Why? Well, there were virtually no applications programs
in those days. There was business software, some business software,
it was green scrolling text on black screens. That was all, virtually,
that you got. So the idea of... getting hold of applications programs
and doing things was very very different so we had to think, well,
people should learn to write programs in Basic. Actually we know the
whole thing is really about problem solving, no matter what you write
it in, but Basic was the thing. So what do we do?

Well we got all the manufacturers together into a room at Cavendish
Square and we said we'd like to implement this thing called Adopted
Basic for Computers (ABC) which was a structured Basic that John Coll
and MUSE had come up with and they persuaded us - and the engineering
people thought that this was a good structured Basic - but nothing had
it.

So here was ABC, so we brought all the manufacturers together, said
"could you implement this on your machines?" and they said "on your
bike!"

There wasn't any interest at all.

The DTI was there of course - they weren't prepared to pay so what do
we do?

So we had a real problem.

We needed our own machine and that was controversial - BBC endorsing a
commercial product on air like that.

The DTI then suggested a company called Newbury. Now Newbury was a
publicly funded company, funded by the National Research and
Development Council. It had a thing called the NewBrain - this could
have been the BBC micro. Publicly funded, respectable enough for us to
be able to put our name on it. We went to Newbury and we got them to
look at how to adopt our little spec.

The spec was modifying itself all the time. We wanted teletext and
all these things, we wanted colour and graphics, and all those things
and they beavered away and by the time it came to late in 1980
basically they weren't getting anywhere. It was a bit of a dead loss.

Now 1980, Christmas 1980 is a very crucial period, a very important
period.

Firstly this device, which I've donated to the museum - it has my name
on it - it's a little calculator with a 1k Basic compiler in it and I
lent it to John Radcliffe who ended up as the executive producer for
the whole project and really drove it politically.

We'd been to a conference and I gave it to him saying take this home
over Christmas and he took it home and wrote - you know - 10 print
hello 20 go to 10 - all that sort of thing.

He actually sort of got slightly hooked on this and I think that was
quite important because John became very key in making the project
work and then what do we do? Newbury had not come up with
anything. So John Coll and I sat between Christmas and the New Year
1980 devising a document, a two-page, a three-page specification if you
like, a requirements document, and we sent it to all UK companies -
all UK companies which built computers - and we said what have you
got? Can we see it? Could you modify it? Could you meet our spec?

And it included obviously a good structured Basic, good keyboard,
expandability, color graphics, A to D conversion, sound, teletext...

So you see that the number of things we wanted was going up all the
time and particularly the ability to be used in a studio so that you
could get a studio output from it which was crucially important and we
sent them round.

Now the companies that were approached were these: Acorn, Tangerine,
Newbury, Sinclair, TransAm, and NASCOM. They all made bids and we
started to go round to see them and there was a critical day in
January 1981 when John Coll and I went to - I think it was Tangerine
which are in Ely - to Sinclair in Cambridge and to Acorn. At Acorn we
saw the prototype of the Proton which of course effectively ended up
as the BBC machine when it was adapted and we were very impressed with
Acorn.

The other companies for various reasons we weren't as impressed by,
but we obviously had to be fair to all these organisations. So
we found out from all of them - we visited all of them several times -
and we had a group of people who met including people from the DTI
people like John Gough from News, BBC Education, BBC Engineering - all
the engineering people were there - and we looked at the various
submitted responses and we considered things like compatibility, the
track record of companies, whether there was upward compatibility in
their products, what their attitude was, what their competence was, you
know all the usual due diligence you would try.

It later on got whittled down by February in '81 to Newbury, Tangerine,
and Acorn. Newbury was still in there interestingly, and the final
decision day - I forget exactly when it was end of February or
something like that - Newbury arrived, we were all having our meeting,
they say "we've done it, we've done it!" And it didn't work. So that
was the end of Newbury. But by this time there'd been a number of
meetings some of them got very confused really as to who saw what and
when, you know there was this famous occasion when somebody cut a wire
and the thing worked at Acorn and I can't remember whether I was there
or not. But other people like John Radcliffe were going around.

So the contract was won by Acorn in that period about March '81.

The spec had increased, BBC were very interested in including things
like teletext, but also telesoftware was coming in the idea of being
able to send computer programs by television.

John Radcliffe was managing the Board of Management and Board of
Governors, known as BOM and BOG, because it was a risky project - this
was quite risky you know, going in with an organisation like Acorn.
And they themselves had a lot of problems developing the machine and
of course it would have had to have been handled by BBC Enterprises
and the fluffy toys and the jigsaws had to make room for something
slightly more ambitious.

There was a lot of trouble from people who hadn't got the contract and
Clive Sinclair - I can quite understand why - was very much up in arms
about the thing. But nonetheless we had now a machine and an
organisation we could work with and Paul Kriwaczek started developing
the first series and I was the project editor, the series editor, and
I started developing things we needed like the Welcome tape, The
Computer Book, the User Guide...
"""

Edit: fixup typos.
Last edited by BigEd on Sat Jul 14, 2018 11:36 am, edited 4 times in total.

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Re: "Outline specification for the BBC MICROCOMPUTER system"

Post by ThomasHarte » Thu Jul 19, 2018 5:34 pm

Elminster wrote:
Tue Jul 03, 2018 9:49 pm
I think it is just simply that it was a published open standard, no lock in and no licensing. You wouldn’t get that from Nintendo for example.
It wasn't a published open standard, it was just built in a hurry from off-the-shelf components. The BIOS was proprietary and copyrighted, and lawyers were deployed against those who copied it.

According to Wikipedia because I can't find a more compelling source, a licence for the Phoenix BIOS, the first licensable clean-room reverse engineering, cost $290,000. Impliedly as a one-off fee, but it's Wikipedia so maybe that's what it means and is true, and maybe not.

PC clones exist despite IBM, not because of it.

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Re: "Outline specification for the BBC MICROCOMPUTER system"

Post by Elminster » Thu Jul 19, 2018 7:16 pm

ThomasHarte wrote:
Thu Jul 19, 2018 5:34 pm
Elminster wrote:
Tue Jul 03, 2018 9:49 pm
I think it is just simply that it was a published open standard, no lock in and no licensing. You wouldn’t get that from Nintendo for example.
It wasn't a published open standard, it was just built in a hurry from off-the-shelf components. The BIOS was proprietary and copyrighted, and lawyers were deployed against those who copied it.

According to Wikipedia because I can't find a more compelling source, a licence for the Phoenix BIOS, the first licensable clean-room reverse engineering, cost $290,000. Impliedly as a one-off fee, but it's Wikipedia so maybe that's what it means and is true, and maybe not.

PC clones exist despite IBM, not because of it.
I didn’t say open license. Just built from non proprietary parts to give an open architecture, perhaps I should have said a ‘known’ architecture as using the world ‘open’ these days people think you mean open to be copied/changed etc.

Edit: as opposed to the 8bit computers that generally had at least 1 proprietary (or closed) Chip.
Last edited by Elminster on Thu Jul 19, 2018 7:17 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: "Outline specification for the BBC MICROCOMPUTER system"

Post by 1024MAK » Thu Jul 19, 2018 7:59 pm

Yeah, except having a 'custom' chip did not stop all clones. For example, there were unlicensed clones of the ZX81 and of the ZX Spectrum. The most widely available clone of the ZX81 had it's own ULA that included features beyond that of a real ZX81!

Of course, as laws changed and original manufacturers wised up, so the problem of unlicensed clone machines disappeared as far as most manufacturers were concerned.

But unlicensed clones of ZX Spectrums continued for many years, it being very popular in some areas of the world where Western laws could not reach...

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Re: "Outline specification for the BBC MICROCOMPUTER system"

Post by Coeus » Fri Jul 20, 2018 2:46 pm

1024MAK wrote:
Thu Jul 19, 2018 7:59 pm
Of course, as laws changed and original manufacturers wised up, so the problem of unlicensed clone machines disappeared as far as most manufacturers were concerned.
As far as complete machines are concerned I think things have changed somewhat since then, technically, too. Back then people wrote software that was much closer to the hardware and having the hardware cloned exactly, as least as it appears from software, obviously caused some positive feedback. People wrote for the platform because there was a big market of compatible machines and others wanted to produce clones because there was a big market to sell to because there was plenty of software.

These days the OS will have drivers for what you might have previously written your own code for so there isn't the same need for exact clones and it is interesting that this an enabler for the competition between graphics chip/card manufacturers.

Peripheral hardware is a different story, I think. Many peripherals are simple hardware with the intelligence in the driver so it is very temping for someone to produce a clone of the hardware part and undercut the original manufacturer because their selling price doesn't have to fund the driver development.
Last edited by Coeus on Fri Jul 20, 2018 2:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: "Outline specification for the BBC MICROCOMPUTER system"

Post by Kazzie » Mon Jul 23, 2018 1:52 pm

Coeus wrote:
Fri Jul 20, 2018 2:46 pm
Many peripherals are simple hardware with the intelligence in the driver so it is very temping for someone to produce a clone of the hardware part and undercut the original manufacturer because their selling price doesn't have to fund the driver development.
FTDI RS-232/USB interfaces, for example.
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Re: "Outline specification for the BBC MICROCOMPUTER system"

Post by ThomasHarte » Mon Jul 23, 2018 4:31 pm

Elminster wrote:
Thu Jul 19, 2018 7:16 pm
ThomasHarte wrote:
Thu Jul 19, 2018 5:34 pm
Elminster wrote:
Tue Jul 03, 2018 9:49 pm
I think it is just simply that it was a published open standard, no lock in and no licensing. You wouldn’t get that from Nintendo for example.
It wasn't a published open standard, it was just built in a hurry from off-the-shelf components. The BIOS was proprietary and copyrighted, and lawyers were deployed against those who copied it.

According to Wikipedia because I can't find a more compelling source, a licence for the Phoenix BIOS, the first licensable clean-room reverse engineering, cost $290,000. Impliedly as a one-off fee, but it's Wikipedia so maybe that's what it means and is true, and maybe not.

PC clones exist despite IBM, not because of it.
I didn’t say open license. Just built from non proprietary parts to give an open architecture, perhaps I should have said a ‘known’ architecture as using the world ‘open’ these days people think you mean open to be copied/changed etc.

Edit: as opposed to the 8bit computers that generally had at least 1 proprietary (or closed) Chip.
Then I'm probably splitting hairs on your "no licensing" comment. Apologies. My point was only that: you could either license a BIOS, spend a lot of money doing the work to produce a legal copy, or rip-off the original and see IBM in court.

The Apple II is the obvious predecessor: it's also sans proprietary chips, just about popular enough to be worth cloning, and a legal clone was eventually delivered. But that wasn't until 1984, reflecting the amount of interest the industry had in further propagating the Apple II. It's an open slot-based architecture, but video is on the main board and in classic 8-bit style the rest of the timing is heavily oriented around that video. It's also 6502-based, which is a dead end all of its own.

I think the victory of the PC isn't just about how easy it is to clone, it's about how decoupled the various parts are. That means that if you're a clone manufacturer you can go beyond just making a cheaper one, and offer a better one — as when Compaq shipped the industry's first 386.

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Re: "Outline specification for the BBC MICROCOMPUTER system"

Post by Elminster » Mon Jul 23, 2018 6:08 pm

No worries. To be fair I am just regurgitating what others have said, being 10 or so around that time I had little interest in ibm’s. Apart from a couple of years between Amiga and Linux/Mac I have never used windows (except at work and even then I have been Mac for seven years). I never did like dos or windows.

But I guess you could argue that Linux and Mac are running on the grandson of the ibm spec.

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Re: "Outline specification for the BBC MICROCOMPUTER system"

Post by Coeus » Mon Jul 23, 2018 7:18 pm

ThomasHarte wrote:
Mon Jul 23, 2018 4:31 pm
The Apple II is the obvious predecessor: it's also sans proprietary chips, just about popular enough to be worth cloning, and a legal clone was eventually delivered. But that wasn't until 1984, reflecting the amount of interest the industry had in further propagating the Apple II. It's an open slot-based architecture, but video is on the main board and in classic 8-bit style the rest of the timing is heavily oriented around that video. It's also 6502-based, which is a dead end all of its own.
Regarding the 6502, there was the 65816. Had Apple II clones taken off in the way that IBM PCs did and the 65816 was used to produce a 16bit version then we may have seen a 32 bit version further down the line.

You may be right about the video and that the IBM, by having that as a separate module, meant that could evolve separately.

As far as being able to produce something that is compatible but better and for it to be a success that surely relies on having first built up a very significant market share. Then, when you do something compatible but better you are essentially in the lead and people will follow you. If you're not in that position to start with the extra capabilities of your machine will remain unused as people write software for the lowest common denominator.

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Re: "Outline specification for the BBC MICROCOMPUTER system"

Post by Coeus » Mon Jul 23, 2018 7:38 pm

Elminster wrote:
Mon Jul 23, 2018 6:08 pm
No worries. To be fair I am just regurgitating what others have said, being 10 or so around that time I had little interest in ibm’s. Apart from a couple of years between Amiga and Linux/Mac I have never used windows (except at work and even then I have been Mac for seven years). I never did like dos or windows.
It's interesting that the IBM PC was the major success in transition from 8bit to 16bit (and then to 32 and then to 64) and Acorn effectively skipped that and went straight to 32 bit, first with the 32016 then with the ARM. That also matches the path you describe with the Amiga and Mac* and my experience of going from a BBC MIcro to some HP workstations that were also 32bit (using BASIC, Pascal, then HP-UX, their version of Unix).

I do remember there being a little excitement in the BT offices in which I did work experience. It was, by and large, an IBM mainframe place but there were a small number of PCs and one chap was jolly impressed with the hierarchical filing system in PC-DOS. I am not sure if he was comparing with CP/M or with the mainframe.

When I started work, despite their attactiveness to cloners, I found them less than ideal primarily, I think, because of the coupling of a CPU that was clearly designed for multiple small programs running at the same time, i.e. a 16bit version of MP/M with a single-tasking OS.
Elminster wrote:
Mon Jul 23, 2018 6:08 pm
But I guess you could argue that Linux and Mac are running on the grandson of the ibm spec.
Indeed I saw something the other day that mentioned the ISA bus in modern PCs. It doesn't exist on the motherboard as something you can plug cards into but apparently still exists within the southbridge where some devices integrated into the same chip are connected to it.

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Re: "Outline specification for the BBC MICROCOMPUTER system"

Post by Kazzie » Mon Jul 23, 2018 8:26 pm

Coeus wrote:
Mon Jul 23, 2018 7:38 pm
It's interesting that the IBM PC was the major success in transition from 8bit to 16bit (and then to 32 and then to 64) and Acorn effectively skipped that and went straight to 32 bit, first with the 32016 then with the ARM. That also matches the path you describe with the Amiga and Mac* and my experience of going from a BBC MIcro to some HP workstations that were also 32bit (using BASIC, Pascal, then HP-UX, their version of Unix).
Do bear in mind that IBM started off with a 16-bit processor, but the budget variant with an 8-bit external data bus: the 8088. As such, transitioning to the 16-bit data bus of the 8086 was rather trivial.

Stepping from 16-bit to 32-bit was a lot more painful. The 80286 was a pain to code, and one couldn't easily switch back from the new "protected" mode (24-bit address bus, etc.) to "real" mode to use all one's legacy software. The 80386 sorted this mess out, but a lot of users ignored multitasking GUIs and treated the '386 as a speedy 16-bit 8086 most of the time. Only with the arrival of Windows 95 did 32-bit software become mainstream.

By the time of the 32 to 64-bit transition, the PC-compatible market was too big to fail (or compete with), so the transition happened gradually and largely uneventfully.
BBC Model B 32k issue 7, Sidewise ROM board with 16K RAM
Archimedes 420/1 upgraded to 4MB RAM (mid- restoration)
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