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Keatah

I’m surprised RS didn’t have more of an influence bitd.

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I’m surprised the TRS-80 didn’t have more of a (recognized) influence on personal computer developments, considering their massive dealer network. 
 

Most contemporary literature of the time wrote-up and praised the machines from Apple, Commodore, and Atari - for technical excellence and social impact.

 

Yet the Models I/II/III were right beside them. And so were the ColorComputer models. But no mention of innovation.

 

And it wasn’t because of lack of software or documentation. Plenty of packages and publications were available.

 

And finally all my school buddies had the traditional 8-bit rigs I mentioned earlier. But no TRS-80s in sight..

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I don't know anyone who had a TRS at home, but our school computers were all some variation of TRS80. We had "keyboarding" class on them and they were the only word processors until my senior year. All were green screen monitor. The teacher had them locked down pretty good, so I don't think anyone even got to play games on any of them.

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Were e.g. the CoCo series sold outside of Radio Shack stores? How is the supply of 3rd party software, in particular games and also on cartridge?

 

I don't know how pricing looked like in the US, but on this side of the pond the very few occurences of the CoCo mention a grossly overpriced home computer for its capacities, late onto the market when even the partial clone Dragon 32 had been around for a while without getting any significant market share. The earlier Z80 based TRS-80 series are just about as uncommon and may have suffered from the fact that Tandy didn't really have any Radio Shack to rely upon for distribution and sales and the local importers/agents in each country may not have been the most agile or understood how to do computer business.

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From 1977 to 1980, Tandy Radio Shack were number one in personal computer sales.  They had 40% of the market in 1980 but dropped off after that.  Don't know what presence, if any, they had outside north america.

 

What innovations are trandy computers credited?  Weren't the TRS-80's affectionately called trash-80.

Edited by mr_me
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6 hours ago, mr_me said:

What innovations are trandy computers credited?  Weren't the TRS-80's affectionately called trash-80.

 

They were. And I can't think of any innovations. TRS-80 was more generic than Apple II even. Or at least on par with it in having little or no custom chips.

 

Are there any interviews or books of lore discussing the design decisions involved in its genesis? There's tons for the Apple II and to lesser extent some for both Commodore and Atari too.

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BYTE magazine recognized its significance, naming it one of the "Trinity"of personal computers, along with PET and Apple II.

 

Don't look for innovation in the TRS-80 design, look for it in the distribution.

 

How was Apple II generic? Sure, no custom chips but those off-the-shelf chips were put together in a way unique to the genius of Woz.

Edited by ClausB
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As for Radio Shack's influence, it was huge. It was the makers' place before they were called makers. It covered hobbies from ham radio through computers to RC toys. It died when it stopped serving the hobbyists and tried to go mainstream.

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13 hours ago, ClausB said:

As for Radio Shack's influence, it was huge. It was the makers' place before they were called makers. It covered hobbies from ham radio through computers to RC toys. It died when it stopped serving the hobbyists and tried to go mainstream.


E47BF513-B785-4DE7-9D9D-D706C3DB962A.jpeg

 

That's exactly right! 
 

 

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12 hours ago, mr_me said:

From 1977 to 1980, Tandy Radio Shack were number one in personal computer sales.  They had 40% of the market in 1980 but dropped off after that.  Don't know what presence, if any, they had outside north america.

 

My understanding is that there was an allied (or at least very similar) chain in Australia -- Dick Smith Electronics.  They sold a local (licensed?) clone of the TRS-80 computers. 

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11 hours ago, ClausB said:

As for Radio Shack's influence, it was huge. It was the makers' place before they were called makers. It covered hobbies from ham radio through computers to RC toys. It died when it stopped serving the hobbyists and tried to go mainstream.

I used to spend good money there. Cannot fathom why they'd NOT want my business. The 25 customers they gained by doing cellphone cases and charging cables couldn't possibly ever equal what I spent there in a year.

 

I mean I would have stayed a repeat customer from the 70's till now if they covered hobbyist material, that's loyalty. But the accessory buyer? No. They are not loyal and will seek out the cheapest items wherever.

 

And there is nothing more boring in the world than cellphone cases and charging cables.

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22 hours ago, mr_me said:

From 1977 to 1980, Tandy Radio Shack were number one in personal computer sales.  They had 40% of the market in 1980 but dropped off after that.  Don't know what presence, if any, they had outside North America.

 

The early RS models had much of the same features as C/A/A except expansion slots and color graphics. And yet it was the other three C/A/A that were credited with propelling the industry forward. Like it is said the other three introduced computing to the world. But, yet, the 40% of the market commanded by Tandy says otherwise.

 

In the big scheme of things maybe it's not important who did what first in first year or two of the industry. Just that it happened might be important enough.

 

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10 hours ago, jhd said:

Dick Smith Electronics.  They sold a local (licensed?) clone of the TRS-80 computers.

Yes, they sold a number of designs from in particular Video Technology (VTech), possibly also EACA who made those Video Genies and eventually Colour Genie. However I'm not sure those were licensed in any way, would rather think that the Hong Kong firms copied Tandy, Apple & others as they liked.

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C/A/A meaning Commodore, Atari, Apple?  I always thought in the 1970s, they thought of Commodore, Apple, and TRS as the big three.  I don't remember much of Atari computers although they were very much a leading high tech company in the late 1970s.  Looking at the stats, Atari was number one in personal computer sales in 1981 and 1982, outselling Apple and IBM.

 

Edit:. Wait, that might not be right; have to check Vic-20 sales.

Edited by mr_me

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Another way to approach this question is to look at the relative amounts of coverage in the magazines of the time. Looking at Creative Computing and Compute, for example, two multi-platform magazines with very wide circulation BITD, the majority of coverage was for Commodore, Atari, and Apple. There were occasionally some Tandy-specific articles, but they were hard to find amidst the sea of content for the other platforms.

 

I think that it is reasonable to assume that the content reflected what the majority of readers wanted to see. (I was a Coco owner at the time, and I was disappointed and upset by the lack of coverage of my system.)

 

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21 hours ago, Keatah said:

Are there any interviews or books of lore discussing the design decisions involved in its genesis? There's tons for the Apple II and to lesser extent some for both Commodore and Atari too.

 

I have never seen anything for the TRS-80 series, generally, but there is a book for the Coco:

Tandy's Little Wonder: The Color Computer, 1979-1991

 

There is not a ton of technical content, but there is some discussion of the original design process:

 

Quote

The initial Tandy/Motorola connection occurred sometime in the mid-70s when the two were invited by the U.S. National Weather Service to assist in developing a "weather radio" system. In 1977, a year after starting talks with Motorola about the possibility of designing a low-cost home computer that could be hooked up to a regular TV set, Tandy was invited to participate in an agricultural experiment. Project "Green Thumb", as it was called, would employ information retrieval to give farmers data, updated hourly by computer. Terminals used in this project were developed by and sold by Radio Shack in conjunction with Motorola. Terminals were distributed to 200 farms in Shelby and Todd counties, Kentucky. The "Green Thumb" network was sponsored by the National Weather Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the University of Kentucky.

By late 1977, Motorolas' MC6847 Video Display Generator chip was developed. Although it was unclear if the VDG came about because of project "Green Thumb" or Tandys' search for the "low-cost" home computer, in 1978, when it was married to the MC6808 CPU, the Color Computer was born. This "prehistoric" Color Computer, however, contained to many chips to make it affordable for Tandy’s anticipated target market. Motorola solved this problem late in the year by replacing the network of chips which made up the memory management circuits with its newly developed MC6883 Synchronous Address Multiplexer (SAM) chip.

 

 

Edited by jhd
To fix the formatting
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Here's a story from 1977 about a computer store owner getting personally recruited by Charles Tandy.

http://www.pc-history.org/tandy2.htm

 

I think the TI99/4A might have been the top selling computer in 1981.  There were so many computers coming on the market not to mention those in Europe, it's hard to stand out unless you owned one back then.

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My impression is that the TRS-80 line was... adequate. They were serviceable systems, but there was nothing terribly noteworthy about them. As mr_me pointed out, they actually led in sales for a few years. But between IBM entering the market on the high end and Commodore dominating on the low end with the Vic-20 and 64, they quickly lost market and mindshare at the turn of the decade.

 

The CoCo series was also adequate, but couldn't compete with Commodore and Atari as gaming computers.

 

For my money, the Tandy 1000 line was their biggest success.  They took the promise of the PC Jr, and made it work.

 

If sales had not been limited to Radio Shack stores, the Tandy computers could have been a much bigger deal. But we'll never know.

 

---

 

The Digital Antiquarian has covered the TRS-80 pretty extensively, specifically around how it helped usher in the nascent interactive fiction genre: https://www.filfre.net/tag/trs-80/

Edited by Laner
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Seems to me Tandy Radio Shack couldn't get out of their own way. 

 

My perspective is from the UK where I grew up.  In the 82/83/84 Home Computer craziness, the Tandy CoCo seemed a distant also-ran.

 

I might agree with those who say the Atari, Commodore, BBC etc were superior machines, but I am biased.  What I do know is that the TRS80 Model 1 had a successful clone in the UK called the Video Genie, which is the machine I used to learn BASIC programming.  I don't know if the Video Genie was a licensed clone or not, but I suspect it wasn't.  EACA also went on to add color the Video Genie to produce the Colour Genie, an interesting exercise in what might have been had Tandy Radio Shack followed the same principles.

 

The CoCo spawned the Dragon 32 and 64 machines, and despite any claims that other machines were technically superior, the Dragon was a very successful machine for a while in the UK.

 

So why didn't RS benefit?  My memory tells me that the CoCo was offered in 4K and 16K models at prices that were not far off the list price of a BBC Model A.  For a long time it seemed they were massively over priced for the market.  I am having trouble verifying that statement as when I look back through old copies of Your Computer, C&VG, Home Computer Weekly etc, I see not a single ad from Tandy.  

 

Other machines were sold through a variety of distribution channels both mail order and high street.  The Tandy models it seems were only sold through the Tandy stores or catalog, and Tandy perhaps believed they didn't need to advertise.  

 

I also recall going into Tandy as a kid.  That was back when they still carried a lot of components in the store.  They also had HiFi systems, those table top electronic kits for kids, calculators etc.  I don't recall the computers ever being shown in a significant display.  In fact I don't recall ever seeing one turned on.  Over at places like WH Smiths, Boots, Rumbelows, Dixons and Woolworths they had ZX Spectrums, VICs, Dragons, Commodore 64s and some times other machines, all there to explore, with lots of games to buy.

 

Even later then Tandy did achieve considerable success with their PC compatible line, the UK market was dominated by Amstrad and other low-cost PC-clones.  I don't recall ever seeing a Tandy 1000EX or HX in the UK.

 

 

Edited by oracle_jedi

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I think the Model I was popular among the HAM radio junkies. My fat-assed "girlfriend" in high-school whose father was even fatter may have had one - but then upgraded to PC in due time.

 

We had RadioShack Computer Centers here in the states, and they always always had a bunch of machines turned on doing something. Or people taking classes or whatever have you. The ratio may have been about 1 ComputerCenter for every 20 or so regular stores.

 

I never saw much of the Model I in those traditional stores either. Not until the 1000 came out, then it was everywhere.

 

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On 2/15/2020 at 12:45 AM, oracle_jedi said:

EACA also went on to add color the Video Genie to produce the Colour Genie, an interesting exercise in what might have been had Tandy Radio Shack followed the same principles.

The question is which is closer to the Tandy computers overall:

 

EACA Colour Genie

CPU: 2 MHz Z80

Memory: 16-32K RAM

Graphics: 6845 CRTC, text 40x25, graphics max 160x102, max 16 colours

Sound: AY-3-8910

 

VTech Laser 100/200 (VZ-xxx) series

CPU: 3.58 MHz Z80

Memory: 6-22K RAM, 2K VRAM

Graphics: 6847 VDG, text 32x16, graphics max 256x192, max 8 (9? colours)

Sound: Beeper, 2.5 octaves

 

Some like to throw in the Mattel Aquarius in the TRS-80 mix too, but apart from running a Z80, I don't think it is that much related. Apparently the Laser series pretty much is the Z80 equivalent to the Tandy MC-10, possibly even a little cousin to the CoCo series.

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Anecdotal story here, and I can't remember where I heard it or if it's even true.  Might have come from Michael Tomczak's Home Computer Wars book.

 

When Commodore was preparing the original PET for market, they approached RS to try to set up a distribution network.  RS, already hard at work on the model I, hemmed and hawed and basically strung Commodore along for a few months until the model I was ready then pulled the rug out from under Commodore, which then was forced to turn to more traditional computer retailers.  This, of course, pissed off Jack Tramiel and drove some of his pricing/marketing strategies to try to undermine RS, much as he later used predatory pricing on the VIC20 to destroy Texas Instruments' TI-99 line to get revenge for TI's behavior in the calculator market.  So RS did have an influence, even if it wasn't the one they wanted.

 

Again, don't know if it's true but it made for good reading. 

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23 hours ago, mr_me said:

Wasn't the Commodore PET more expensive than the TRS-80?

Yes, $600 for the TRS-80 vs $795 for the PET, though I'm not sure what each system included at those prices.

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As per the Byte scans provided by Claus B, we can deduct the following:

 

4K PET 2001 (to be discontinued in early 1978): $595 including the small keyboard, integrated tape recorder and 9" monitor

8K PET 2001: $795, otherwise the same

Actually the 4K model was first announced at $495 but Commodore had to increase the price before it was available. During which time period Commodore courted Radio Shack is unknown to me, if it was between January and October 1977?

 

4K TRS-80: $399.95

12" monitor: $199.95

Tape recorder: $49.95

Bundle with these three: $599.95

4K memory expansion: $99.95

12K memory expansion: $289.95

 

So yes, you could get a 8K TRS-80 system for roughly $100 less than the corresponding PET 2001. In a later issue of Byte, they had an article "Convert your TV set to a video monitor", sounds like a lot of fun. How to save $200 at the risk of electrocuting yourself.

 

As for price wars, this site claims that Tramiel doubled the price after a while rather than lowering it. I don't know how much of that is true.

Edited by carlsson
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