What if the TRS-80 Model II had won?
80 Micro (March 1982) compared the IBM PC 5150 to the TRS-80 Model II. The IBM could handle more RAM but both systems came with just 64K. The Model II had more software, bigger/faster floppy disk storage, was cheaper when you included the cost of a printer, and so on.
This got me to thinking: what if the Model II had won instead of the IBM PC? Please wander with me through Model II world.
Tandy Radio Shack (TRS) releases the Model II to positive reviews but modest market penetration. They have a nationwide dealer network and establish a solid software base.
TRS also releases the Color Computer with 4K for the home market.
The market is split between “business computers” and “home/games computers”. The Color Computer and a few minor competitors fight over the home computer market. Business computers run up against the limits of 64K RAM and floppy disk storage.
IBM comes out with the PC 5150, but expects it to be a fancy terminal you run little projects on before you connect to Big Blue mainframes. With 64K RAM and 360K floppy drives, the IBM name only carries it so far.
The Model 16 is released with a 68000 card, 256K RAM, and 1.25MB floppy drives. A brief burst of sales shows market interest. But rather than buy expensive software again for the 68000, businesses focus on the Z80-based Model II.
The Model IIb is released, which is basically a Model II with 1.25MB floppies and 80K of RAM. (In our world this was the Model 12.) The $3200 price is low enough for strong sales.
The 80K Model IIb is the best-selling business microcomputer this year. The 32K Color Computer is the best-selling home computer.
The Color Computer 2 is released with 16K or 64K of RAM and several internal improvements.
The Model IIc is released with up to 256K of bank-switched RAM and slightly faster operation. Model II sales get a significant boost.
The Model IId is released using a Hitachi HD64180 CPU. It runs Z80 code but also supports up to 1MB memory without bank switching, 10 MHz speed, pipelined instruction operation, and other significant improvements.
This gives businesses the computer they've been ready for: compatible with their old software, but faster and with more room to work. Sales take off like a rocket. TRS struggles to meet demand.
There are lots of third-party software and accessories for the Model IId. But TRS doesn’t like to carry third-party stuff. An alternative network of distribution and dealership springs up.
“Model II Complete” stores show up in malls right next to Radio Shack. “Everything but the Model II” bundles would become popular: printers, word processors, utilities, a few games, blank floppy disks . . . everything you need except the Model IId that was only available at TRS.
The Color Computer 3 is released with 128KB of RAM and significant graphical improvements. "Model II Complete" stores pick up on some of the CoCo home market, mostly focusing on games.
Zilog releases a backwards-compatible z380. This 32-bit processor runs Z80 software, has clock speeds up to 20 MHz, addresses 4GB of RAM, and supports floating-point coprocessors.
The Model IIe uses the Z380, adds simple but high-resolution color graphics, has 1MB of RAM in the base model, and uses 2.88MB 3.5" floppy drives.
TRS releases the Color Computer 4 with a hybrid 8/16 bit CPU and support for up to 1 MB of RAM. It's somewhere between EGA and Amiga OCS graphics capability, but resolution is low because of the need to display on a composite monitor or TV.
The internet and CD-ROMs become A Thing. People want high-resolution full-color screens, CDs to play music and install software, dial-up modems, and good sound. They want to browse the internet on a personal computer. And they want these things everywhere: at home, at work, in hotels.
TRS has a problem: everything listed is a natural fit for the color computer, not the Model II. But their view computing is a Model II running several terminals in the office, a color computer at home connected to the TV. They release a Model IIf (up to 40 MHz, with CD drive) and Color Computer 5 targeted at different markets. The CD drive on the Model IIf spins the whole time the computer is powered on.
Third-party products push on two fronts:
1. Improve sound and graphics on the Model IIf to make it comfortable for home use.
2. Expand the Color Computer 5 with more RAM, high-quality monitors, and business software.
The release of the game Doom tips things decisively for the Model II. Raw CPU speed and expandability overcome a lot of flaws.
The Color Computer 5 puts up a darn good showing before the end. Its strength in 2D games carries it along for several years.
TRS realizes it's time to unify their product lines.
The Model IIg is released with a high-resolution, full-color screen. An optional add-on card provides compatibility with the Color Computer 5. There is much rejoicing. TRS leads the way into the new millennium of computing!
That’s my tour through Model II world. Thanks for visiting. And if you think I missed something, or you’d like to add your own take, please post!