Cromemco, where are you?

Seattle Computer Products placed a quarter page black and white advertisement for RAM chips on page 224 of the September 1979 BYTE Magazine. The ad promoted type 4044 chips: 4K by 1 [bits], 18-pin, 5 Volt, 5% supply. 250 nanosecond chips sold for $7.50 in quantities of 1 to 31. You could buy the slower 450 nanosecond chips for a dollar less apiece. These were the same chips used in their “premium quality” RAM boards.

For every Andrew Carnegie or Bill Gates, there is an Alvah Roebuck, a story of a miss of almost unimaginable proportions. Richard Sears and Mr. Roebuck started a small business selling, at first, surplus pocket watches and eventually virtually anything needed by the fast expanding nation of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Sears kept at it while Roebuck left to do more important things. Many years later, Mr. Sears’ former business partner finished his life nearly penniless and working in the mailroom of the company he co-founded. Sears went on to become Americana.

Seattle Computer Products (SCP) built memory boards for the Apple computer as well as the standard-of-the-times S100 bus systems. Eventually they tried their hand at building CPU boards anCromemcod brought Intel’s new 8086 processor to market in a single-board system. SPC needed an operating system but didn’t want to wait for or pay royalties to Gary Kildall so they wrote their own – loosely based on parts of Kildall’s CP/M and parts of UNIX. Kildall would have his own miss not long after due to events, in part tied directly to SCP. They called it QDOS, version 0.10.

That September issue of BYTE was devoted to the hobby of “homebrewing” and had nothing to do with beer. The big advertisers were – see if you recognize any of the names – Ohio Scientific, with the back cover. Southwest Technical Products Corporation (SWTPc) took the inside front cover. Cromemco had the page opposite the inside front as well as the flip side. Writers desiring to ease their job with the use of a word processor on one of these beasts could buy Wordsmith from Micro Diversions, WordStar from MicroPro or EasyWriter from Information Unlimited Software. The first two ran on CP/M systems and the latter, written in prison by Captain Crunch, on the new Apple II.

Apple themselves had a single full color ad on page 25. They were placed in the middle of an article entitled “Introduction to Multiprogramming.” The author, Mark Dahmke was a programmer/analyst at the University of Nebraska. At home, he had an 8080 based system with 32K bytes of RAM and two iCOM floppy disk drives. Also within that same article was a full-page ad from Altos computer systems. NorthStar bought the next page following Apple’s insertion. These were the big boys of the time. Mark outlasted all but Apple. You can still find his activities indexed on popular search engines. As of this writing, he is a computer software consultant and co-owner and Vice President of Information Analytics.

NorthStar, Altos and others like them were the Stanleys, Duryeas, Bearcats and Studebakers of the time. Early leaders now all gone and mostly forgotten. But who can forget that – I mean, who can remember that Texas Instruments, Rockwell and RCA made consumer targeted computers. TI was in some ways very much ahead of the curve. In fact, you could buy the TI-99/4 in retail variety stores like Oregon and Washington’s Fred Meyer department store! Of course, you can’t any more. Who was it that said it’s important to be first to market? Fred Meyer stocked the TI on the same shelves with Conair telephones up until sometime around 1981. After the TI’s were gone, it would be another 15 years before Fred Meyer again stocked a personal computer.