[Coco] [Color Computer] History of Tandy Computers (somewhat off topic)
James the Animal Tamer
emucompboy at yahoo.com
Fri Apr 7 15:55:05 EDT 2006
Wow. That's a big one. Radio Shack had plenty of exclusive computers,
and rebranded a few others. Let my memory fly back to the past, when
home computers were wonderful and new, because, for the first time,
your TV set wasn't just a passive medium -- you could interact with the
image in a way other than changing the channel.
TRS-80. Your big brother called it the "Trash 80." He bought himself
a TI 99/4 instead, then later a TI 99/4a system. The TI 99/4a expanded
by way of things hooking on to a port on the right side of the
computer, and most of these things had pass-throughs. Your brother's
TI 99/4a system ended up being nearly five feet wide as a result.
Various forms of TRS-80 appeared, some running CP/M, and some running
Tandy's own clone of CP/M.
Radio Shack rebranded a few little handhelds, which looked like cheap
knock-offs of programmable calculators.
The Color Computer was cool... but had a blurry display on the TV set,
even on the one that they'd set up at Radio Shack. The colors didn't
look great either. You bought yourself a VIC-20 instead (it was cheap).
IBM had made its PC with off-the-shelf parts, and others made clones.
Does it run Lotus 1-2-3? Does it run Flight Simulator II? If so, then
it was called a "100% compatible." Peter N. came out with books
telling you to poke the screen directly instead of using BIOS calls to
do graphics. This pretty much killed the MS-DOS computers which
weren't 100% compatible. Tandy came out with a 100% compatible fairly
A funny thing happened... IBM came out with the PCjr. It had several
new and different 16-color modes. Tandy came out with superior clones
that also supported these new 16-color modes. There was also a new
Color Computer, the CoCo II. You checked the price of a CoCo II with
disk system. $$$. Display still looked like cr*p on the TV set at
Radio Shack. You bought a Commodore 64 instead -- looked better on a
TV, and with disk drive was much MUCH less expensive than the CoCo II.
Something else funny happened. Your big brother had bought a computer
kit called the ZX80, and, a year later, another kit called the ZX81.
Thrifty's Drug and Discount near where you lived started selling the
ZX81 with a new name on it, Timex-Sinclair 1000, for under $100.
Tandy came out with the MC-10 Microcolor Computer. Its display looked
like, you guessed it, cr*p on a TV. But then, the Timex-Sinclair 1000
also looked like cr*p. You stuck with your VIC-20. Your big brother
bought an MC-10 and stuck it in the closet.
Tandy marketed a notebook computer that was a clone of a NEC computer.
Rumor has it that it was for this computer that Bill Gates did his last
stint of programming.
A successor to the Color Computer line came out, based on the 68000
microprocessor, but Tandy didn't make it or market it. It had four
channels of digital 8-bit sound, 32 colors on-screen from a palette of
4096, ability to put different graphics modes on the screens on a scan-
line basis, a multitasking operating system... and built-in support for
mouse. It was an awesome computer. It was also the successor to the
Atari 8-bit line of computers, since the graphics chips were logical
successors to the Atari graphics chips. It was marketed by
Commodore... the Amiga 1000. It was several years before you got one.
You were still having fun with your brand new Commodore 128.
Tandy finally came out with its CoCo III. It was too little too late --
everyone else had already gone over to 68000-based computers and the
brand new VGA-clone-equipped PC-AT clones. (Funny thing about VGA --
the PCjr's graphics were called VGA standing for Video Gating Array.
The PC-AT's graphics were called VGA standing for Video Graphics
Array). You went to Radio Shack to buy one at $99 closeout, but they
were all sold out already.
Tandy, in its MS-DOS computers, supported the funny PCjr graphics for a
long long time. They also came out with a built-in digital sound
output that, unfortunately, wasn't compatible with the Sound Blaster
that was then becoming popular for the PC clones.
Eventually, PCs became more standardized and generic, and then with the
advent of Windows95's Plug 'n' Play hardware drivers, it didn't really
matter whether Tandy's computers were different from anyone else's.
Brought to you by the 6809, the 6803 and their cousins!
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