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What could they have done better with the 99/4a?

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I had the TI-99/4 in 1980 - $450 w/rebate, loved the machine! Went to Dallas area TI User's Groups and got really excited about computing. BASIC was slow compared to the competition. XB (another $90) was cool but collision detection was hampered by the slow BASIC. Cassette storage got old so I looked into a disk drive option. Cost was staggering! I needed to sell my TI-99/4 to get the newer TI-99/4A. Numbers didn't add up. By 1981 the Apple ][+ seemed to be the best deal. Fully expandable with disk drive for less than the cost of a loaded PEB.

 

Apple had lots of software on computer store walls. The Apple 2 itself made VIC-20 and the TRS-80 Color Computer look like toys. Atari-800 would also have been a good choice at this time...maybe a better choice. The Atari was clearly the most powerful of the day but seemed to have less software availability. The Atari name probably influenced my decision in a negative way as it sounded like a video game console. I was happy with the Apple2+...eventually upgraded to the Apple //e which stayed my main system for five years. Apple2 graphics and sound are horrible when compared to the TI. As a BASIC programmer I was very disappointed with Apple2 graphics. Woz pulled off all kinds of digital-yoga moves to get that think working in color. The speaker beeps and clicks! Enough said. Still, Apple 2 was supported by many software publishers and hardware manufacturers because it was wide open.

 

IMHO the TI-99/4A is probably the most interesting machine of the era due to all of the peculiarities and mis-steps made by Texas Instruments. I agree with OX, "the competition just ran straight out of the box." TI should have never made the PEB. They should have made a new computer with RS-232, disk interface, and more RAM...and a cheap expansion port like Atari's serial deal. They held on to a bad design and tried to use the PEB to save face. It's all very confusing to understand why the PEB was a solution and not just another computer in its place?

 

I'd like to read interviews to see why these decisions were made. So far all I've read on the subject is the Orphan Chronicles. Any good sources out there to map out TI's thought process? 

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You bring up an interesting point.  TI attempted to rectify the expansion situation with Hex-Bus, and it was going to be included in the computers introduced in 1983.  If it had been there from the outset, I think the 99/4A would have been more successful.  Had TI gone ahead and released the Hex-Bus interface for the 99/4A, all you’d really need is a Speech Synthesizer, a sidecar 32K and the Hex-Bus interface and the expansion peripherals would have been very competitively priced with Commodore and Atari.

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Hi folks,

 

From what many of you have written in your messages, many thoughts are way to complicated. It is much simpler. Following things TI could have done better with the 99/4a:

-built-in 32kB RAM

-built-in Extended Basic

-built-in RS 232 interface for a printer

 

 

Regards

Edited by MueThor

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The benefits of 20/20 hindsight are plentiful, but considering TI was one of the first out of the gate, I am in no position to judge.  I am however eternally grateful to those 3rd party manufacturers and today's hobbyists that have improved upon and have expanded this little machines potential to the point that we are STILL having fun with it 35+ years later.

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On 4/24/2017 at 1:57 PM, PeBo said:

I know that memory cost a fortune in 1978, and that as a result rom space was limited, but the lack of a simple CAT command in TI Basic has always driven me crazy.

   Yes! Yes! Yes! Me too. To this day I despise TI Disk Manager cartridges. The way the system manages disk drives is so after-market, it hurts. 

 

 The original TI-99/4 with it’s BASIC manual proved an excellent introduction to computing. It was fun saving and loading games from cassette. This was advanced stuff for those crossing over from video game consoles. The machine really got me excited about game programming. I didn’t mind the chicklet keyboard because I hadn’t anything to compare it to.

 

   Then came the giant anvil to my 16 year-old dreams. The Extended BASIC cartridge. That one got me very excited at the time it was released. I believe I willingly paid $90. After a few days of using it I realized the damn collision detection call was virtually useless due to the sloth pacing of XB itself. Many issues listed on this thread explain why.

 

   What good is a fast sprite if you can’t find it’s actual location in a timely manner?

 

   The final nail in the coffin for me was the price of a new 99/4A console, and a reasonably equipped PEB. Way too expensive. Hello Apple ][+.

 

   Apple // graphics and sound were inferior to the TI but everything else was better. Plus, tons of software due to the open architecture approach. Why was this obvious to a very average 16 year old but not the TI leadership?

 

   IMHO the giant military grade PEB is an attempt to save face. TI should never have tried to save the 99/4 via the 99/4A + Fire-Hose PEB route. They should have designed a new grown-up computer right away. 

 

   Admit failure, liquidate stock, learn from your mistakes. Was the 99/4 ever salvageable with all these mostly unnecessary restrictions we’ve listed on this thread? 

 

   Apple/Atari/Commodore/Tandy didn’t need a giant expensive PEB to get the computer to behave like an adult. Maybe the first TRS-80s did but not the others.

 

   How about a 99/8 with internal expansion slots, built-in serial port, 32k expandable to 64k, and plug in disk drive? 

 

   Anything less was doomed to fail.

 

   Unfortunately, the only computer the 99/4A + PEB combo bested was the 99/4.

 

   Which is not to say I don’t love this machine. I do. Just...someone in Lubbock decided to put lipstick on a pig.

 

   What TI could have done better was learn from their mistakes and start over.

 

   In the mid to late 80s Tramiel and Shiraz Shivji (C-64 fame) at the then smallish Atari Corp, with a shoestring budget, created an entirely new ST line, including the 68000 16-bit Atari ST models, in less than seven months. After a frenzy of designing, programming, and testing, Atari Corp was able to produce FIVE working prototypes in time for Winter CES 1985. FIVE new computers! The entirely new 68000 "Jackintosh" ST models in only five months!

 

   Maybe big bad TI lacked a sense of urgency?

 

   TI should have cowboy’d-up and started over by early 1981. They could have dominated the 1981 Christmas season with a world beater.

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Been meaning to post here for over a week but every time I sat down I could not decide what thread to stick this in, and tonight I finally had time to search, so I did, and found this one, and... close enough.

 

This computer has some odd little quirks from my perspective, who is mostly a novice (more of a Commodore guy), but one who likes collecting old hardware.

 

I can't tell you how many hours I wasted one day trying to figure out why my PEB wouldn't work, until I realized that, completely not apparent in the way typed examples are presented in the manual, or on the screen (because even "lower case" is upper case), you have to have PEB commands in all caps.

 

Then I forgot that and like a year later I spent more hours re-discovering this self-same fact.

 

Fast forward to like January, when I hauled out my TI-99/4A to test a new PEB I had purchased, and now discovered my joysticks didn't work.  Everything was fine except the "up."  Which was weird, because I was *pretty sure* I had used these before and they were fine.

 

Oh well, suck it up, when I have some money, shell out $25 for a new set.

 

They don't work either.  Maybe's it's the actual port/a mother board issue?  I think.  

 

Then I notice the ALPHA LOCK is on.  Gee, was that on before?  Could that be it?

 

As you all know, of course it was it.

 

The short version: anyone want to buy an extra pair of original TI-99/4A joysticks?

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I'd guess they just did not know about that issue. The reason for this problem is AFAIK that the depressed Alpha Lock key pulls up the input line too strongly, compared to the joystick line over the longer cable. That is, with joystick up, the input line does not get low enough (>0.2 V).

 

They should have had a chance with the QI redesign, but I guess this was not solved there either.

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1 hour ago, mizapf said:

They should have had a chance with the QI redesign, but I guess this was not solved there either.

Yep, they had multiple keyboard providers during their production period, yet they chose not to address the issue, which they had to be aware of.  It's more like QI stood for quality IGNORED.  I mean really, they could redesign the entire motherboard, create a whole new case but not bother to add one bloody little diode?  It makes one thing crystal clear, the end consumer was not much of a factor in their decision making process.

 

166661816_1N4148Diodes.thumb.JPG.6646b8a95beafb59f6b6169106d4dd7d.JPG

 

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On 7/30/2019 at 8:31 AM, MueThor said:

Hi folks,

 

From what many of you have written in your messages, many thoughts are way to complicated. It is much simpler. Following things TI could have done better with the 99/4a:

-built-in 32kB RAM

-built-in Extended Basic

-built-in RS 232 interface for a printer

 

 

Regards

Disagree, been updating XB  (RXB for over 20 years now).

 

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1 hour ago, INVISIBLE said:

It makes one thing crystal clear, the end consumer was not much of a factor in their decision making process.

Maybe they did not have a process for improving consumer satisfaction. "Jack, here's a complaint from a customer. What form do I have to use? - <shrug>"

 

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6 minutes ago, RXB said:

Disagree, been updating XB  (RXB for over 20 years now).

Agree (with your disagreement), they should even have put TI BASIC in a cartridge. Maybe bundle it with the console.

 

This is also one of those bad ideas, as can be seen in the TI-99/8: built-in programming language. No fix, no upgrade, waste of memory.

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At least the built-in operating system on the p-code card's "GROM disk" can be upgraded. You can place an upgrade of a segment of the operating system on the root disk. If you do (this never happened), then the system will use that part instead of the fixed one in GROM on the card.

 

But if TI BASIC didn't occupy two GROMs in the console, you could have had higher capacity modules. Perhaps they designed a nice size for the modules, found they could put five GROMs in there and then put the other three in the console? Since they can address up to eight of them, in an easy way.

 

QI most certainly is an abbreviation for Cost Reduced, nothing else. But that doesn't sound so cool to marketing.

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To me it looks like the design aspects were to favor revenue generation in the form of cartridge sales for the company.  During that time period other systems had the OS on disk which would have opened things up to more third-party sales, to the detriment of TI which wanted to control everything.  Having the OS on disk would have benefited the consumer with more and faster-to-market features.  For example, in that era the TRS-80 Model I then later Model III had multiple operating systems available to it with an ever growing library of features and commands.  Having everything based in hardware limited growth and was probably one more reason the system died on the vine and was ultimately abandoned by the manufacturer.

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17 hours ago, mozartpc27 said:

Been meaning to post here for over a week but every time I sat down I could not decide what thread to stick this in, and tonight I finally had time to search, so I did, and found this one, and... close enough.

 

This computer has some odd little quirks from my perspective, who is mostly a novice (more of a Commodore guy), but one who likes collecting old hardware.

 

I can't tell you how many hours I wasted one day trying to figure out why my PEB wouldn't work, until I realized that, completely not apparent in the way typed examples are presented in the manual, or on the screen (because even "lower case" is upper case), you have to have PEB commands in all caps.

 

Then I forgot that and like a year later I spent more hours re-discovering this self-same fact.

 

Fast forward to like January, when I hauled out my TI-99/4A to test a new PEB I had purchased, and now discovered my joysticks didn't work.  Everything was fine except the "up."  Which was weird, because I was *pretty sure* I had used these before and they were fine.

 

Oh well, suck it up, when I have some money, shell out $25 for a new set.

 

They don't work either.  Maybe's it's the actual port/a mother board issue?  I think.  

 

Then I notice the ALPHA LOCK is on.  Gee, was that on before?  Could that be it?

 

As you all know, of course it was it.

 

The short version: anyone want to buy an extra pair of original TI-99/4A joysticks?

so how can we make this more obvious? Both of these are in the FAQ, is the FAQ not easily found?

 

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9 hours ago, arcadeshopper said:

so how can we make this more obvious? Both of these are in the FAQ, is the FAQ not easily found?

 

Brain transplant.  For me.

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22 hours ago, mizapf said:

Agree (with your disagreement), they should even have put TI BASIC in a cartridge. Maybe bundle it with the console.

 

This is also one of those bad ideas, as can be seen in the TI-99/8: built-in programming language. No fix, no upgrade, waste of memory.

Reading some old documentation recently, it is clear TI engineering the OS to handle this exactly.  I don’t remember exactly which file it was in, but one of the design documents (might have been the Home Computer System Software doc) describes the power up routine.  When you “press any key to begin” it searches the GROMs for programs and builds the menu.  The OS was designed so that if only GROM 0 is in the console and no cartridge is plugged in, the menu screen will display “INSERT CARTRIDGE” - and that was stated as a possible different model for the product that didn’t include TI BASIC built in.  Whether it works that way on a real console if you just leave GROM 0 in and remove 1 and 2, I don’t know.

 

Didn’t one prototype version of the console have multiple cartridge ports and the menu would have scanned all of them?  I seem to remember that, but it could be just me misremembering something I saw a long time ago.

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9 hours ago, Casey said:

Didn’t one prototype version of the console have multiple cartridge ports and the menu would have scanned all of them? 

In the MacV9T9 emulator, choosing a one-file "c.BIN" cart and a different one-file "g.BIN" cart, both will appear in slots 2 or 3 of the menu, along with TI BASIC as Option 1. Alien Addition g.BIN and 4A Flyer c.&d.BIN also worked.

 

All three Menu options function, so the hooks for that are probably in the console ROMs. With the thought of removing or altering the TI BASIC as Menu Option 1, I played a bit with removing/replacing one or both of the "console ROM/GROM" files in V9T9 with renamed cart files, but the program either crashed or wouldn't run properly.

 

I didn't check any other emulators. It might work there as well. There may be other multi-ROM/GROM cart combinations that would also co-exist.

 

While it's easy enough in Classic99 or Mac V9T9 to choose a new cart, you still have to hit the emulator menu and navigate, this is a neat trick that lets you do it right from TI's Quit (Func=).

TI_Menu.jpg

AlienAddtn4AFlyer.jpg

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In my opinion, the small uppercase should have been either a true lowercase, or dropped altogether.

Predefined graphics similar to the commodore would have been a nice touch in place of the second letter set.

Oh well, at least its easy enough to redefine them to what ever we want.

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1 hour ago, Ed in SoDak said:

I didn't check any other emulators. It might work there as well. There may be other multi-ROM/GROM cart combinations that would also co-exist.

 

In MAME you can choose the gromport option "multi", which provides three slots "cart1", "cart2", "cart3". (The option "single" is default.)

 

mame64 ti99_4a -gromport multi -cart1 exbasic -cart2 invaders -cart3 editass

 

This makes use of the Review Module Library function built into the console.

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TI's long view was cut short when they tried in vain to stop the production-cost bleeding. Though less expensive, I think users liked the Mitsumi back when it was new. Till key response got flaky, that is. At least the versions with accessible switch fingers could be cleaned by removing the keycaps.

 

I have my TI today, thanks to their swift and untimely exit from the market. A couple years later, Flea Markets down thataway were flooded with cheap TI gear of all sorts and my Dad happened to be snowbirding in Arizona. He built us both full-blown setups with almost all the major software packages still in shrinkwrap. My half of the costs came to a couple hundred, if that much.

 

My only prior experience was with a Timex TS1000 so I was in heaven. The few shortcomings of EXB were cured to my satisfaction a few years later, with the purchase of Super Extended Basic. At $80 from Triton, it was the most I'd spent on a single cart.

 

If Dad or I had a clue back then, he probably coulda scored us both a TI99/8 or any number of now-rare items.

 

Be all that as it may, if TI had remained, and gone on to release, with much fanfare, all that cancelled goodness, chances are we wouldn't have upgraded due to the cost. So I guess I'm OK with how it all turned out! :)

-Ed

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5 hours ago, Ed in SoDak said:

Be all that as it may, if TI had remained, and gone on to release, with much fanfare, all that cancelled goodness, chances are we wouldn't have upgraded due to the cost. So I guess I'm OK with how it all turned out! :)

There was an older guy I knew at the time who hosted a couple of TI meetings in the recreation room just off his main house.  He was a "reluctant cassette user" due to his wife's vocabulary of one word, "No!"  One Sunday we showed up for our get together and he had a P-Box with 32K and a disk drive.  Apparently with TI getting out of the market, one company had an advertisement that he showed his old lady, and he also showed to us.  It was from a mail order company called "TI-$AVES".  The guy was able to get everything delivered for only $500.00 if I remember correctly!  I seem to recall this was about mid-1984.  

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