Lore

This information was compiled and edited from various long-lost threads on comp.sys.tandy, mostly (if not entirely) written by the late Frank Durda IV.


The End

Tandy went with TRSDOS because they though CP/M was too hard to use and terse (which it was). Unfortunately, TRSDOS Model I came to market as an unfinished product due to a conflict with the programmer. This spawned a major DOS industry for the TRS-80.

The Model I sold very well until it went off the market only when forced off by the FCC. Over 500K of the Model 4 were sold from 1983-1987. When the PC appeared, Tandy had the Model I, II, III, and Color Computer on the market and more models on the way.

The Model 4D stopped production in late 1986 or early 1987, depending on what stage of production you speak of. There were several factories involved in assembling Model 4s in 1984/1985 and gradually they quit making these machines or shifted assembly elsewhere. After that, the inventory was substantial, so it remained in the catalog for edition or two and even then you could still get them.

The Tandy buyer tried to kill the system several times in 1985 and 1986, but the sales remained strong enough to justify a place in the catalog, despite no other advertising. The problem here was easy. The Tandy buyer for the Model 4 was also the buyer for the Tandy 1000 in 1984, and he made the decision to kill off all products under his control except the Model 1000 line by starving the other products of new software and advertising. Despite this, Model 4D were still being made as late as early 1987, and being sold for no less than 4X the manufacturing cost.

Sometime in late 1987 is when the 4D went into Tandys SOWG status (Sold Out When Gone), which means there won’t be any more and warehouse inventory is almost gone or is gone. When something reached SOWG, that’s when stores start calling other stores looking for the item, as an order to the warehouse would probably not get filled.

Although exact sales figures weren’t known publicly, the TRS-80 line was either #1 in market share or a close 2nd to Apple until the IBM PC came out.

Apple did a better marketing job, mainly by giving-away units to schools, thus making parents want to get the same type of machines the kids would be using in school. Apple still uses this approach and has huge edeucational market-share. Apple got the idea from DEC, who still rolls mainframes into selected universities and then wanders out like they forgot where they left them. Tandy didn’t believe in giving things away. Tandy marketing spent one year doing nothing but copying Apples moves. If Apple went to typeset manuals, Tandy switched to typeset manuals, rather than the older ones done on a daisywheel printer. When Apple went to four-color manuals, Tandy switched to four-color covers and two-color pages. No wonder the trade rags were convinced that Tandy was building a Mac clone in Iowa, or Brazil, or Romania. Eventually Tandy started chasing IBM and completely ignored Apple.

The TRS-80 suffered because the IBM was a bigger name, and the product was very similar. IBM added color and a better expansion bus. They also called their machine a 16bit computer even though the 8088 processor was as much 16bits as the Z-80 (both had 16 bit internal with 8 bit data lines). The IBM name also attracted a lot of aftermarket software support. If Radio Shack made a mistake, it was that they actively discouraged aftermarket hardware and software. They were greedy and wanted everyone to but all the accessories from them. Accessories are were the profit margins are and Radio Shack makes big money on all the pieces parts for there stereos, computers, etc.

Tandy all-but-ignored the PC when it came out because Tandy was already working on the Model 16, which would be three to four times faster and support protected multitasking, something IBM didn’t get around to for another four years. The Model 16 also supported hard disks in 1982 (IBM waited until 1983 to do that), and was a lot cheaper for a similar amount of memory and software. The Model 16 also ran all the existing Model II software.

The Model 2000 came out only when the application market got so large for the PC. That is why the machine was billed as “software-compatible”, not hardware compatible. Hardware compatibility wasn’t (in the minds of the marketing folks) to be the issue. Even Bill Gates claimed to love the Model 2000 (see the quote and photo in the ad on the back of Byte magazine in late 1983, early 1984) that it was the only thing he ran Windows on. Yep, Windows ran on the Model 2000 back in 1984.

Unfortunately, the Model 2000 was not fully compatible. It used the 80186, a true 16 bit processor and had incompatible video. Since everyone ignored the MS-DOS program interface and accessed everything with direct hardware calls, most programs needed to be patched or re-written to run on the Model 2000. The introduction of the true 16 bit IBM PC/AT using the 80286 sealed the Model 2000’s fate.

Tandy marketing became paranoid of the PCjr, feeling it was invading the Radio Shack turf; home/education. Up to this point, IBM has been mainly targeting business where Tandy could get few sales. The PCJr is clearly a “toy” computer for home/school and Tandy panics. So the Model 1000 was born.

The 1000 is simply a clone of the PCJr with a good keyboard and a XT card cage. Too bad that IBM announced it was discontinuing the PCJr just weeks prior to the release of the 1000. For years afterwards, application writers had to put PCJr or PCJr/Tandy on their products when they utilized the PCJr sound and video modes since the IBM business unit felt that EGA and then VGA were better suited to the office than CGA-16.

There was only significant error (no -12V in the card cage) and that was quickly fixed. Hardly. Cheap is the correct word. Remember the incredible margins that Tandy demanded to maintain but they still had to be price-competitive. That means a lot of cheapness in there somewhere. Also, executives in Tandy had buddies in other industries, so floppy and hard disk drives always had to come from the same company, no matter how poor they were. The engineers should be congratulated for making systems work at all under the constraints given.

This is why things like the DMA and the circuitry for additional memory were on an “option” card in the early 1000 days. It made the base system even cheaper to build. The PCJr dies first. Tandy is left about to announce a machine (1000) that claims compatibility with a discontinued system. Oops. Usually the reason is not secrecy but the fact that the manuals were printed BEFORE the machine was actually finished, making it impossible to describe functional details accurately. Sometimes the buyer loses interest in that machine and wants to kill it and move on.

The long-lived complaints about the 1000 series incompatibilities should be laid to rest, because nearly all come from a false understanding of what the machine was meant to be. The original machine was meant to be compatible with the PCJr, not the XT. PERIOD. Never mind what Tandy marketing changed in the ads when the PCJr was discontinued. Tandy marketing got exactly what they told its engineers to build and were happy with the result. Once done, all subsequent 1000 machines *HAD* to be compatible with the first model so that all the software packages in the Radio Shack stores would work on any of them. That was a base-line edict from the Tandy executive suites. Only when forced to make I/O port address changes when the 2500 with its AT card cage came along did they have to break backward compatibility. But the 2500 and 1000RL were compatible with one another to the end of those lines. Eventually everyone wanted VGA, so the 1000 video chipset had to go, and since hardly any VGA chip vendors were implementing the PCJr video modes they were dropped. The 1000 series also got flamed because of the keyboard layout (a copy of what we created for the Model 2000), because the 12 Fn keys were across the top and the IBM PC and PCXT had the 10 Fn keys on the left side. Tandy finally buckled to pressure from the flamers and copied IBMs PC/XT keyboard on the 1200 and 3000. Next thing you know, IBM “invents” the 101 keyboard that has the same layout as the Tandy 1000 keyboard with 12 Fn keys across the top. So Tandy waits two more years before switching back to the keyboard style they invented in the first place. All IBM did was space the clusters further apart, but other than that, the 101 keyboard and the 1000/2000 keyboard are almost identical. (The original 2000 keyboard had similar spacing, but marketing demanded that the keyboard to fit under the front of the machine, so it had to be squeezed down like you see it today.) The 3000 was 100% IBM AT compatible. It was perfect. So was the 4000 and 4000LX. No deviations other than processor type and CPU speed. Biggest complaint on the Model 3000 was about postive pressure airflow with a cleanable filter on the front. No more sucking air in through the floppy drives. This was removed after one complaint from one person (Jean Roach).

Tandy was down-sizing its manufacturing structure starting back in 1989 when it completed its large factory in North Ft. Worth. 1992 saw the end of the OEM sales to DEC and manufacturing shrunk further. TBP, TAP, and THC had all closed by this time. Well, first Tandy spun it off into a separate company (Tandy Electronics Electronics, aka TE Electronics). After the guys running it managed to lose 20+ million dollars in one quarter, they started shopping the remaining factories. Most of that quarter loss can be directly attributed to huge losses on VIS which were sitting in the stores and warehouses gathering dust and the “guaranteed buy” deal Tandy made with the software developers.

XENIX was sold for the Tandy 2000. It was a failure. The 2000 hardware was just too unreliable (over two hundred “blue wire” modifications on the final units shipped), and the graphics hardware was designed in such a way that speed was never a possibility. Having 100% of the programmers who developed the machine quit within two months of its introduction didn’t help either. Add this to the 80×186 with no protected memory concept, allowing one task to clobber another, and a multi-user/multi-tasking system was pretty much a joke on that platform. Intel didn’t help by deliberately re-using I/O ports for their integrated hardware that were already “known” ports in the IBM/PC world. Microsoft compounded the error by using INTs and other areas that Intel had clearly marked as “reserved”, so when the 80×186 came along, things broke. Most people didn’t notice all the things breaking until the 80×286, since only Tandy and Olivetti ventured into the 80×186 universe as a PC platform processor. Since that time, the 80×186 has been doing embedded applications, like traffic lights, and not trying to be a PC anywhere.

Also, MIT X was incredibly immature at that time, and only ran on two platforms, neither of which were Intel-based. The Sun SPARC was just coming on the market, just to give you an idea of where we were in history.

Even the so-called Windows of the day (you can see the Model 2000 ad running Windows on the back of a Byte magazine starring Bill Gates) shows that Windows 1.x was text-based in those days, but was in COLOR.

Tandys marketing decided to kill the Coco when the 1000s got hot, and the designer who was doing the work on the most advanced Coco ever had his project canceled when it was nearly done and he quit. Two years later he came back to and did a cost-reduced version of the Coco2. It was not advertised and none of the fancy stuff from the Deluxe Color Computer ever made it to the stores.

Why did Tandy stop production of the 2500sx computers?

After a combination of two or three failed product launches and large losses, Tandy elected to spin-off its electronics/manufacturing divisions into a separate company. On looking at the books of the proposed company, they decided it would die instantly if left on its own, so they pulled-back the parts they wanted to keep and sold the rest to a variety of companies.

AST, originally approached by Tandy to provide Tandys factories with work (they had excess capacity after losing the Digital Equipment Corp business they had had for five years), and AST ended-up being convinced to buy several of the Tandy factories, the Tandy R&D department and related intellectual property.

The marketing management AST picked-up from Tandy (same guys that came up with those products that failed so badly and started Tandys troubles) were hired (and publicly hyped) by AST, and were put in high positions. In short order (of course), they promptly ran AST into the ground by doing exactly the same stupid stuff they had been doing at Tandy. AST had to find money to cover a mountain of useless inventory they could not sell, and obtained loans for stock (translation: ownership) from Samsung, with Samsung eventually taking over after enough debt was piled-up.

However, Samsung knows even less about making PCs for the US retail market than it does about making bridges stay up, and Samsung under AST continued its losing ways, even though the ex-Tandy marketing boneheads bailed before Samsung completely took over. ASTs market share became almost invisible.

In December of 1998, the last Fort Worth AST workers reported that apart from those making stuff under a fulfillment deal with other companies, everyone else had been let go and the Koreans were headed back to Korea.

In January 1999, a small article appeared in the Fort Worth Star Telegram reporting that Samsung had sold the AST name and the AST intellectual rights to a group led by the former CEO of Packard Bell, who planned to sell PCs under the AST name, but essentially a different and unrelated company.

The marketing minds that wrecked Tandy Computers and then AST Computers? They now reside at Gateway 2000 and Compaq, with the Compaq crowd taking a detour through Digital Equipment Corp from 1995 through 1998, where they helped destroy that company, and showed up publicly in the deal to sell the Alpha processor design to the direct competition, Intel. These giants of the botch were last seen (post Compaq buying DEC deal) running the Compaq storage products division.


ROMs

Level 1 ROM BASIC was 4K and was not a regular part of the ROM set, it was usually sort of alone. Level I basic is not upgradeable. Most of the early Model I units required major motherboard modification to the printed circuit boards to accept the Level II Roms. And on those, the Level II ROMs were usually on a daughterboard connected via a ribbon cable plugged into one of the sockets.

Level 2 ROM BASIC was 12k. MSFT had a 4K, an 8K and a 16K version of 8080 basic. When Tandy wanted a 12K, they hacked bits of the 16K out to get the size down, but left in the ‘hooks’ so the disk could have the full version. They weren’t even sure this would work, and were happy when it did. (They even had a tape version of the 16K – remember ‘Level III Basic’ on tape?)

Model 3 ROM BASIC was 14K.

Model 4 ROM BASIC was 14K. A complete Model 4 ROM set will drop-in to a Model III and run. It tries to program some ports that don’t exist on the Model III, but the result is harmless.

Model 4P came with 4K Boot ROMs. These ROMs load MODELA/III off a floppy to boot Model III mode operating systems, has hardware diagnostics, code for booting from a serial port, multi-lingual error messages, Frank Durda’s name and initials slipped into various places, etc.

How many Model III ROM versions were there? Easily over two dozen different versions were released by Tandy to manufacturing of Model III and Model 4 ROMsets. For starters, there was US, German, French, US with Network III, US with Network 4, US with various bug fixes, repeats of German, French, Model 4 initialization cores for all three languages, revised releases of that, with Network III, with Network 4, stir and repeat. Lots and lots of releases. (The Model III TRSDOS memtest program lists three different checksums for just one ROM as valid but there were many others.) The “C” ROM was the most frequently-changed ROM, on purpose. For example, to create a Network 4 system, which had a hard-disk-based teacher station (aka a server), and student stations (aka clients). It ran a badly-hacked copy of TRSDOS 1.3 with a hard disk driver grafted in. Because Network 4 ran in Model III mode, existing Model III systems could also be used as teacher stations. In both platforms, the “C” ROM was replaced with one containing a hard disk boot loader.

ROM budgets were very tight in those days. Days would be spent at various times trying to comb another six or ten bytes out of existing code to make omething fit and not break any of the documented entry points. A prompt of any sort in those ROMs was definitely a luxury. A later re-work of the Model III/4 ROMs got enough room to add the string Diskette?”, but even that wasn’t that informative. It turns out that the BASIC used on those platforms is written in mainly 8080 opcodes and could have been squeezed substantially by using the additional Z-80 capabilities, but you pretty much had to leave the code alone because some 3rd-party operating systems (NEWDOS for one) and a few applications were calling directly into routines in ROM BASIC (undocumented entry points) to do various string compares and math functions, so moving anything around or changing which registers they used risked breaking these “bad” programs. The Model 4P boot ROM provided human-readable error messages in three languages and one or two prompts, but that also required packing the messages down and squeezing bytes out of all the other software that had to be in there on several occasions prior to the product release.

Without rewriting modules, the more common US versions of the Mod III “C” ROM had four bytes which are free, two are actually accessible (two are masked by the printer status port memory-map mirroring). There are some small regions of two to six bytes available in the “A” ROM – about 16 bytes total – and essentially no free bytes in the “B” ROM. If you undertake such a project, re-writing the keyboard driver is where you will recover most of your space. You basically can’t touch the cassette driver because it is timing critical, AND some applications decided to just jump into the middle of those functions and use some routines they found handy in there that are unrelated to cassette I/O operations. Move things around at all and stuff breaks. It took a lot of work to find/fix all of those issues. The Model III ROM sets have far more cases of jumps to fixed locations in each other than the Model 4 ROM sets, although all the “official” entry locations in the Model III and 4 ROMs are the same.

Microsoft BASIC, up through the Model 100 and Model 4 disk BASIC (not Model 4 ROM BASIC), was assembled on a DECsystem-20 using the MACRO-20 assembler. Using its macro/conditional language, MACRO-20 was able to take a single source tree and generate output for incompatible hardware platforms including different CPU architectures. 8080/6502 and others were produced by this thing. Microsoft had at least two DEC-20s, one was called “Central Heating Plant” and the other “Miss Piggy”. (Well named as behind the “E” box of a DEC-20, all that ECL circuitry heated things up nicely…) The mnemonics MS invented for this “language” show the 8080 origins of MS-BASIC, but that didn’t stop it generating output for 6502s, 8080s, even TI994a systems all from the same source tree. This meant good and bad things happened, like a bug fix some other vendor entered for some 6502 platform would end up in the 8085 ROMs (usually without MS ever mentioning it), and some bug introduced by making a change for another vendor found its way into the TRS-80 trees as well or vice versa. It was estimated at the time that 15-20% additional speed could have been gained by deliberately using Z-80 instructions rather than sticking to pure-8080 opcodes (getting to use ld hl,de instead of mov h,d and mov l,e at 6 clocks versus 8 on a Z80 is one example) and using the same algorithms which they did unless they had to interface with the OS in some way, such as the LS-DOS/TRSDOS 6 IY pointer to flags. They used subroutines for anything that had to touch local CPU opcodes like the IX and IY registers of the Z-80.

Doing some random object code to source code spot checks, it’s either ROM A or ROM B. [It has “RADIO SHACK LEVEL II BASIC” rather than “Radio Shack L2 BASIC”], and the first 200 bytes and the final 200 match perfectly to other ROM images.

For entry point compatibility that is no surprise. Similar lengthy sequences can be found in PC- compatible BIOS ROMs simply because they have to be that way to be compatible, even though the code bases were independently developed. As an example, Tandy had to change all of their BIOS ROMs to enter and exit subroutines in the Tandy 1000 BIOS with a sequence other than the traditional PUSH AX/PUSH BX/PUSH CX/PUSH DX/PUSH DI/PUSH SI and the matching POP SI/POP DI/ POP DX/POP CX/POP BX/POP AX because IBM happened to use this same push/pop order (it is logical and what Intel recommends in their books) and the US Customs department took the frequent occurrence of this sequence in comparing Tandy ROMs against true-blue IBM BIOS ROMs to be copyright infringement of the real genuine IBM ROMs, so they started confiscating Tandys ROMs that were fabbed in Japan which were destined for the Tandy 1000 systems. Clearly an unintentional similarity, but detected by using simplistic comparisons of bytes. Vector tables and hardware initialization tables cause similar problems because they pretty much have to be the same bytes in the same order and the same location.

… EASTER EGGS …

The CoCo 3 is the one with the picture – press CTRL-ALT-RESET and a 256×192 hi res picture comes up the screen. This is actually the power-on cold start sequence for the CoCo 3. The picture is of 3 Microware guys that did work for Tandy on enhancing the Extended Color Basic ROM into CoCo 3 capabilities. Tandy knew of this pix just before release into the market and decided to ship the units as is instead of reworking the ROM code. Yep, the Coco III had that. It was actually a pretty good picture. It certainly did make it out the door, consuming about 6K of the 8K of additional ROM that Microware was given in those systems to make some enhancements for BASIC. Generally known as “The Three Stooges” image, you frequently found it up on the store computers. … The three people were employees at Microware. The Tandy buyer knew or became aware of the picture before the machines shipped, but no one in R&D knew. If it was known, the VP of the hardware groups would have replaced the 8K with a 2K part to save a nickel.

You’ll find Frank Durda IV’s footprints in a few places in the the Model 4P boot ROM. When you turn on a Model 4P, after the initial “di” instruction at location 0, the next four instructions executed are actually the ASCII characters “FDIV”! The instructions don’t do anything useful in this context. In addition, lowercase “fdiv” appears a bit further down, and the words “Frank” and “Durda” can be found mixed in with the French and German error messages. “fdiv” also occurs in various places in all versions of the MODELA/III file that I’ve seen. (MODELA/III is the ROM image that was loaded into RAM for Model III compatibility mode on the Model 4P.) In some it’s in the actual ROM image; in others it’s in extra bytes at the end of the file that are not loaded into RAM.

Model III and early Model 4 ROMs had “RON” for Ron Light hidden down in the “A” ROM. There wasn’t anything that caused it to be displayed, but that is what that is.

The guy who did the original 1000 BIOS also stuck his name all over the place in those ROMs. That got ripped-out when it was discovered after he went off to Compaq.

… Moving On …

The MS royalty issue was the reason Tandy went their own way with the later Model III ROMs. By 1982, no royalty payments were made for Model III platforms to Microsoft at all because Tandy felt all the code contained in the platform was Tandys. A variant of that “MS-free” ROM set was used in the Model 4/4D/4P systems, with all of this ROM code completely assembled at Tandy using ALDS and before that, a cross- assembler running on a Tandem non-stop system, later on a VAX-11/780 system, and finally the work was moved to a BSD 4.1 port of ALDS and finally done on real TRSDOS systems using ALDS.

Tandy walking away from Microsoft on the Model III never appeared to be an issue (Tandy had a period when telling Microsoft to drop-dead was a daily occurrence), and Microsoft never pushed the point until the Model 4 came along, where they demanded that Tandy buy Disk BASIC from MS for the Model 4 *IF* Tandy ever expected to see BASCOM, Multiplan, MS-Fortran or any other MS products for that platform. This is the very sort of “tying” (forcing the purchase of one unrelated product in order to be able to purchase other products) that has gotten MS into trouble fifteen years later.

Of course, when Tandy didn’t want XENIX (we were busily putting the finishing touches on UNOS for the Model 16), Microsoft sweetened the pot by saying they would let Tandy have XENIX Multiplan and XENIX BASIC royalty-free, so that Tandy made almost pure-profit on those two applications.

… Ownership …

The Level I ROMs are 100% Tandy.

The Level II ROMS have Microsoft BASIC code, but the BIOS level stuff was done at Tandy.

The Model III ROMs have no Microsoft copyright on the code at all (Tandy didn’t want to pay anymore and made significant changes to avoid copyright). Same thing for Model 4 ROMs.

The Model 1 Level II ROM sources appear to be an 8080-assembler BASIC core [with occasional DC.B’s to add the z80 specific mnemonics], with a TRS-80 specific “prologue” tacked on the front of it. The source credits indicate “BILL GATES, PAUL ALLEN, and MONTE DAVIDOFF”. Monte evidently wrote the entire mathematics section of BASIC. The root (c) of the BASIC was listed as 1975, with lots of ALTAIR references, however, the version number of the BASIC was “4.46”. Studying the original MS source code common to the Model 100 and Model 4, seems to show that Paul was the math brains in MS BASIC, not Bill. Either that or Paul remembered to put his name in the comment block at the start of more modules than Bill did. Most of the code clearly has two different coding styles

Most of the Tandy software we are interested in was developed while the 1976/1977 US Copyright law revision was in effect. That version allowed 49 years plus one extension of another 49 years if the corporate holder requested a renewal. The first period ended the moment you requested the renewal, so the smart thing was to wait until the 49th year, renew and you were good for essentially a century.

In the summer of 1983, Tandy System Software decided to pursue copyright protection. They spent about two months printing out hex-dump listings of hundreds of Tandy software programs, programs that Tandy had been selling for months or even years. Seems that before that date, Tandy sorta forgot to actually file for copyright protection, and under the law at the time, failing to file gave you little or no protection (not true on works created today – you have protection instantly, but filing assures you a hearing in a federal court). So Tandys lawyers thought they might as well file now and maybe, just maybe, this would give them a leg to stand on later, should they try to prosecute copyright infingement.

Cases of paper were sent to the copyright office. The copyright office came right back and said they only wanted the first and last five pages of any binary (two copies), but you had to include this for every file you copyrighted. The copyright office were also wary of binary-only copyrights, not knowing how to test them. After another couple of weeks Tandy realized this project was taking longer than they expected and was getting bigger as the minutes went by, so they cut the list from trying to file copyrights on everything down to recent stuff, and then cut that list further, and then said to ignore the Copyright offices instructions and print only one file per package. In July of 1983, the make-up- copyright project was halted with hundreds of packages still to do and the effort was never seriously resumed. A few Tandy programs went through the effort in subsequent years, but typically the second release (the one with fewer bugs) and onward were not filed at all. Also, as the programs and packages got bigger, the effort needed to do a proper filing became something Tandy Software was not willing to spend money on, so it didn’t happen.

Tandy was also really bad about not filing copyrights on ROMs, particularly those bundled with computers. CoCo game cartridges had a better filing track record, but it was all pretty much hit and miss.

In 1980, the Datacash vs. JS&A judge declared ROMs, magnetic media, etc., “machine parts” and ineligible for copyright. So the Copyright Office was rejecting media. It finally became possible to secure media copyrights in 1982, four years after CONTU, and two years after the Datacash case.

In USL vs BSDI (around 1993-95), it was revealed that AT&T had filed for copyrights on UNIX five years after they started selling it. The judge ruled that the AT&T copyrights on UNIX were probably not valid because they were filed well after the software in question went on the market in any form. AT&T also tried to date the copyright filings much earlier than they were really made. (This is the same case where AT&T tried to copyright “#define TRUE 1” and “#define FALSE 0”, and the judge had fun with this claim.) That BSDI case eventually settled (effectively AT&T lost everything), but the earlier finding weakened, if not destroyed any legal standing of copyrighting works after the fact, at least under the law in effect during that period.

It is likely that few of Tandys programs actually have a valid US copyright (certainly no international copyrights were ever secured), and those where they did file, it may not have been filed completely/correctly OR a later version of the same software was released that Tandy neglected to file with the copyright office. As the Tandy management tried to rein-in the filing project, they systematically ignored just about every instruction the copyright office gave Tandy on how to file.

However, the rights to all software that Tandy developed between 1977 and July 1, 1993 were sold to AST Research in 1993, which was later bought by Samsung, and AST is now being spun back out as a new company.

AST bought the rights to the TRS-80 line but Microsoft still owns the rights to the Level II and Model III ROMs.

All Tandy intellectual property related to its computer products, which includes designs, software, and related patents, was sold on July 1st, 1993 to AST Research, later renamed AST Computers. AST immediately got in financial trouble and obtained loans in exchange for company ownership from Samsung Electronics of South Korea. By 1995, Samsung became the majority shareholder due to the increasing loans and in early 1997 finally obtained all of AST. At this point, these rights transferred to Samsung, as AST simply became a division (or more accurately, a marketing name) for Samsung.

In December of 1998, Samsung gave up on AST and sold their AST divisions name and “intellectual property rights” to a group of investors, headed by the former head of Packard Bell, who plan to sell computer products under the AST name. In theory, that means the old Tandy rights passed to “AST Mark II” at this point, but someone will actually have to ask Samsung whether that stuff was in the deal.

In late 1996, the President of AST came close to releasing the old Tandy material to the public domain, including all software that didn’t use Microsoft Windows. However, AST lawyers got involved and citing a baseless fear of releasing something to the public domain that might cause them a legal liability, they buried the project when it was only a few days from being a press release. Shortly after, AST became Samsung, and all future mails on the subject always ended-up in the Samsung/AST legal department.

Considering that AST did not ever use any of the patents or technology obtained from Tandy that was older than 1991 (apart from a few patents used in a TI vs AST lawsuit defense that had been used the same way in the TI vs Tandy lawsuit a few years earlier), nor did AST attempt any serious search for this sort of material at the time (I was there and they were more interested in other trivial things), this stuff is essentially abandoned and the ownership rights are not being enforced at all.


Randy Cook

Most of the software back then was either developed on floppy-based systems or on a Tandem system run by the Tandy Data Processing group. Tandy essentially had no concept of the need to archive software in some form.

Three of the people who knew most about that period (George Robertson – who was whom Randy reported to, Eric Schmitt and Ron Light) died in the 1980s and early 1990s, so a lot of that history on the software side of Tandy is now lost.

A simplistic summary of what happened can be gleaned: Randy was developing TRSDOS on Tandys nickel (or what Tandy considered their nickel) and Randy expected to be able to also sell it or design components of it to other companies. This made many people at Tandy mad and led to the way Randy was ejected from Tandy. Randy also wanted to be visible, ie people know it was his operating system instead of TRSDOS simply being known as a product of Tandy, something that was bound to cause conflict eventually and it did. Tandy was also very paranoid about allowing various types of information about the computer systems out, even when it didn’t make any sense. Tandy discovering the secret “pop-up” message referring customer support questions about TRSDOS to Randys home address was considered the final straw, and a new release of TRSDOS was rushed-out mainly to replace the Randy Cook part of that message.

In TRSDOS 2.1 and 2.2, the message said “RANDY COOK”, not “TANDY CORP”. Note also that you can hold down the R and V keys (Randy’s first two initials) instead of 2 and 6. That message is one of the key items that made Randy Cook and Tandy part ways so violently, and probably why Tandys various revisionist histories of that period frequently fail to mention him or Steve Ls role in putting Tandy in the computer business. The original message also had a non-Tandy telephone number Randy set up to do his own support from, which ticked-off Tandy even more. Either George Robertson or Ron Light (both now deceased) created the patch that changed the message after Randy went away.

All this made Tandy paranoid about “hidden” messages for many years, and Logical Systems was told that the names of all their people could not be hidden in the A! and B! commands in LDOS like they were prior to the 5.1.3/R version Tandy distributed. If the commands that caused the names to appear had been documented, it probably would not have been as big of an issue, but there were people inside Tandy who didn’t want any outside company providing the operating system for any Tandy computer, so the entire LDOS project was on thin ice.

Curiously, what Randy did is very similar to what Bill Gates did to MITS. In the late 1970s, MITS sued Bill Gates in New Mexico court because Bill was selling the Altair interpreter BASIC to other computer makers. For some insane reason, the judge decided that although the development and support of that interpreter BASIC had been paid for by MITS, MITS didn’t hold the ownership to it and Bill (now incorporated as Microsoft), could freely sell his BASIC interpreter to others (including Tandy as Level II BASIC) without owing MITS anything. Legal types still shake their heads in disbelief over this decision that defied logic.

If a similar set of legal circumstances had occurred for Randy, who knows what would have happened.

LDOS distributions from Logical Systems had a hidden message displayed in response to the A! or B! commands, but Tandy made LSI change the message in the versions Radio Shack shipped to something different, probably due to vivid memories of Randy Cooks activities.


26-6020

Notice how the 26-6020 stock # is NOT in the series of hardware stock #’s mentioned in the catalogs, however, the number series seems to fit in somewhere that would leave one to believe that this was an item that had been around from the very moment the Tandy 6000 was sold.

That’s because they only built 150-300 of them because the guy in charge decided that was the more than he would sell and just enough to cover “the development” costs. Read on to find out about those “development costs”.

The MMU extension was developed by four employees at Tandy in their spare time after Tandy turned down the project. (Reason: it isn’t PC compatible(TM).) When these people went to the VP of R&D for a release so they could sell their MMU themselves (they already had working printed circuit boards and kernel changes at this point), the VP demanded to know why Tandy wasn’t offering the product itself. The lower-level director had to do an about-face and embrace the project he had denied earlier.

So the request to privatize the MMU was denied, and Tandy sold the product themselves. The developers ate the cost of the boards they had fabricated and were not supposed to make anymore. Tandy took the design, made a few changes to simplify manufacturing and off it went. To hide some other expenses, a portion of the development costs of XENIX 3.2 were burdened into these 300 boards, inflating their price further.

Keep in mind that at this point the buyer for the 6000 was also the buyer for the 1000 line and he was out with two shovels trying to bury the 6000. He had already killed all 6000 advertising. If he could get away with it, the 6000 wouldn’t even appear in the catalog. He also cancelled dozens of software stock numbers in an effort starve the 6000 out of existance. His superior, the “boy genuis” of Tandy marketing was also trying to kill anything that wasn’t DOS or DESKMATE, so there was no court of appeal. (The boy genius also ran the VIS project. Any questions?)

The big reason why it was so hard to get the MMU was that Tandy marketing and technical support (not R&D) decided it was *too* complicated for users to install the MMU themselves and so the customer had to turn in their 68000 CPU board and get one for exchange that had the MMU already installed.

There was one cut and three or four jumps that had to be done on the CPU card to support the MMU. This brought the extra MMU signals up the 68000 socket on some pins the 68000 chip didn’t use. There were no flying wires in the design.

So you had to order the CPU+MMU board set, unless you knew how to get just the MMU from the repair depot.

The MMU itself consists of a thru-hole socket, a header to plug into the 68000 CPU socket on the CPU board, and four or five 74xX ICs, plus one 7nsec PAL. That’s it. Tandy sold it for around $300. The material cost was under $30. And don’t forget, Tandy didn’t do much development on it since it had already been done by other people on their own time!

This MMU expansion would address up to 4Meg of RAM by adding two bits to the base and limit registers and comparators. The changes were put into the XENIX 3.2.0 kernel and they lay dormant until more than 1 Meg of contiguous memory is detected.

When Tandy tried to put four 1 Meg boards in a machine to verify it worked, it found the bus signals were so noisy, so the documents went out saying only three cards were supported. There was another vendor with a memory board that had 2Meg per board, and two of those worked fine. Above four meg could still be used for buffers or a RAM drive.


VIS (Video Information System)

VIS (Video Information System), or as one reviewer called it “Virtually Impossible to Sell”. VIS came with Modular Windows, and after its debacle, Microsoft denied Modular Windows was a real product, claiming that at best it was only a concept, which is now sold as Windows CE. Christmas 1992 sales for VIS nationwide was 255 units TOTAL, despite having at least two units in all 7,000 stores. January 1993 sales were negative. By the end of February 1993, VIS units were on sale for $399, about $45 below manufacturing cost. They were finally seen on Home Shopping club and other places for $99 with 30 software titles.

Tandy Computer Merchandising spent months coming up with a name for the VIS product, and the focus groups hated all the choices they came with, and so the “Merchies” picked the one name that every one of the groups hated the most and consistently ranked as the worst name offered, VIS, a name Tandy had used twice before for earlier products. Even then, Tandy ran into trademark problems. Seem Tandy was infringing on the name VIS all along, as well as on the phrase “Video Information System”, but the lawyers said that if Tandy used them together, ie “VIS – Video Information System”, this made it a new and trademarkable thing and Tandy would not get sued. Yes, these guys really were nuts.

The focus groups were also brought in to test pricing. Over and over the group was told that the focus groups were very negative on the $800 price tag for the unit, didn’t like a $700 price tag, and given the opportunity to come up with a price on their own, came up with one way under the actual cost. John Munsch, Tandy software developer on the VIS project, was told by several people that the actual cost of the units they manufactured was far north of the retail price and they simply hoped to bring it down rapidly. Their laser like focus on beating the Philips CD-I (which had been a total bust, and also a money loser per unit even at its stratospheric cost) had them thinking that increased adoption would give them plenty of opportunity to bring down prices in the near future.

Known losses to Tandy on VIS exceeded 75 million, mostly in the form of unusable/unsellable inventory of built and not yet-built VIS systems and software. Tandy had ordered parts for over 40,000 units. Many third-party software developers lost their shirts because of the unrecovered development costs of making products for VIS and then having them sit in stores unsold.

The final VIS was a joint product between Microsoft and Tandy.

VIS (Mark III, code named Gryphon) was a TV-top system targeted to compete with (and hopefully destroy) the Philips CD-Interactive system. Like CD-I, it could function as an audio CD-player, but its main purpose was to run software stored entirely on CD-ROM. The titles tended to be “edu-tainment”, games, talking books, etc.

The VIS platform consisted of a CD-ROM drive, 1Meg of ROM, 1Meg of RAM in a PC-model, meaning you got 640K plus 64K High Memory Area usable RAM. A SVGA video system output video in NTSC (switchable to PAL-I) on RF, RCA and S-video outputs. The same RAMDAC present in the original Sensation! computer (came out the same year) allowed for high-color YUV video modes and other goodies. The unit also came with a slot for a Dallas Semiconductor memory card, capable of storing application-specific stuff, like high-scores in games, etc. The unit was shipped with a single wireless hand controller, but supported two, or one wired and one wireless controller, or one wireless and one PS/2 keyboard or PS/2 mouse (never documented). A slot in the back supported a standard DB-9 serial port, and supposedly would support a MPEG-I (MPEG-II had not yet arrived on the scene) video decoder for movie playback. The base processor was a 80286 running at 12MHz. The sound hardware was compatible with Adlib Gold (same as Sensation!), a company that went out of business just a few months prior to the release of VIS/Sensation!

One application was embedded in VIS, and that was a CD-ROM player application. The product came with two CD-ROMs. One was Comptons encyclopedia, a port of the MPC version they had been selling for the past year. The other disc was a sampler, mainly designed to run in the stores as a self-running demonstrator, with animated characters that talked and talked until the store staff turned the speakers off.

Due to Microsofts vision of what was later called “Windows everywhere”, the entire project strategy relied on a new product called “Modular Windows”, a version of Windows 3.1 that could run from ROM and could to a limited extent have parts removed to make a smaller system. A ROM MS-DOS layer also existed in the unit. The Microsoft code name for Modular Windows was “Haiku”, and some of the staff at Microsoft were photographed by some magazine wearing shirts that had the code name on it.

Microsofts plan all along was to argue that because the CD-Is OS-9 operating system environment was “non-Windows”, and such required a special development environment, the lack of Windows was the reason there were few titles for CD-I (but the titles they had were very good). Modular Windows would attack by making it “simple” to port existing Windows 3.x applications to Modular Windows platforms and overwhelm CD-I in the marketplace by having lots more titles (150 were planned for the original roll-out – by comparison, CD-I had 50 after two years in production).

Of course, most of the multimedia applications for Windows were really lousy at this time, with 75% of them being someone reading a childrens book with click-n-talk illustrations. Microsoft and Tandy figured that they could still wipe CD-I off the map by using quantity in place of quality, even though the childrens reading book was less than 20% of the CD-I title catalog.

John Roach, CEO of Tandy, was clearly not getting the full picture on what VIS was supposed to do, because he consistently indicated that he had been told that we were building a system to compete against Nintendo. In fact, on several occasions Roach asked the executive in charge of the project if this “thing” was going to be better than Nintendo and was assured that it would be.

Of course, anybody with an atom is computer savvy back then would know instantly that a SVGA 12MHz 286 isn’t going to run rings around a Nintendo with a hardware video scrolling and other accelerations, nor will a bunch of loosely written C code be faster than hand-coded machine code, which is what the Nintendo and Sega games used in those game-cartridge days.

The other reality was that you just couldn’t “easily port” Windows applications to this platform. The memory constraints were extremely tight, no way to swap, and a lot of programmers discovered for the first time how sloppy their code really was. The “development” PC systems had more RAM and concealed their coding sins until they got prototype hardware. The worst problem of all was that the applications written for Windows default 640×480 VGA video looked absolutely awful on NTSC video, with massive interlace flicker, despite MONTHS of warnings to people that they would have to deal with this. They assumed we were making it sound worse than it was, because Microsoft had promised it be would easy. Applications used fonts that were too small to not be fuzzy on TV, or small icons with several sharply contrasting colors next to one another (a no-no in NTSC), still picture detail exceeded NTSC bandwidth causing massive color flicker, particularly those line-drawings like you find in dictionaries, such as Comptons, which was the application that was to be bundled with the product. Before release, several hundred photos were just dropped from Comptons, rather than reprocess them.

Then Tandy discovered why Nintendo/Sega had constantly moving backgrounds and never used a solid white background: it avoids warping the steel shadow mask present in most TV sets, which causes large purple and green splotches to appear on TVs within minutes. But guess what Color the background was in Windows 3.x? BRILLIANT WHITE! Since we had no multi-plane video support like Nintendo or CD-I had plus the fact that Microsoft would not change to a color other than bright white for the Windows background and control color, the VIS system “avoided” the warping problem by lowering all video brightness by 20%. It really didn’t fix the problem, it just made it less obvious. Oh, ALL the apps had to lower the pallete values themselves – the hardware could not be changed at this late date to do it electronically.

The other major problem was that Modular Windows revealed the true evils of the underlying Windows architecture, things that Microsoft had hidden with programs like SMARTDRV, that could not exist on this platform. For example, when Windows 3.x starts, it opens, reads and closes the SYSTEM.INI file 75 separate times. The big improvement between Windows 3.0 and 3.1 was the addition of SMARTDRV, which cached SYSTEM.INI and WIN.INI to the exclusion of all else just to make these re-reads go faster. Now, if you put SYSTEM.INI on a CD-ROM, and you have no hardware cache in the drive and no SMARTDRV buffering, things get real slow. Microsoft said there was no way to fix this “architectual artifact”, and Windows ’98 still does it today, but this inefficency is hidden away by the ’98 equivalent of SMARTDRV.

The prime example of the sluggishness of Modular Windows was the game Kings Quest V, which was ported to the Modular Windows platform. From disc insertion until the point here the game asked “Have you played this game before?”, it took exactly FIVE MINUTES on the Modular Windows platform. During those five minutes, you spend 4:30 looking at a Windows hourglass logo and little else. It went out the door this way. A processor emulator allowed us to see lots of Windows re-reads of SYSTEM.INI and other INI files during this hourglass period, plus lots of DLL reloads due to tight memory.

By comparison, a port of the Sherlock Holmes games (DOS program that ran in 320x200x256) was very good, because the video was run in a “tricked” interlace mode, there was ZERO flicker, and the because DOS took about 150msec to boot, the game was running and talking within 12 seconds. This really annoyed Microsoft as they didn’t want *any* DOS applications on the platform, but the DOS applications were the only ones that ran fast. Even the CD-player application Microsoft provided was written in Windows and took 20 seconds to boot from ROM. Duh.

On finding how slow Kings Quest was, Tandy considered not selling any product that took more than 90 seconds to boot, and found they would have less than ten titles (all DOS based) out of the original 60 if they imposed this limit. This idea was abandoned.

VIS went on the US and Canada markets in November 1992. Exactly 256 VIS systems were sold between Thanksgiving and Christmas in ALL of North America, despite having two units each in all 7,000 stores. In January 1993, all work on the VIS-II system was canceled, and many of the prople working on the project were let go. Shortly thereafter, Microsoft publicly denied that Modular Windows was ever a product, claiming it was just a “Concept”. Tandy didn’t think that was funny, since we had about 50,000 of those “concepts” sitting in stores and warehouses. VIS units eventually found their way to Home Shopping Club and other fire-sale venues. Tandy lost $75 million on VIS, as of July 1st 1993.

There is a lot more to the VIS story, like Microsoft deliberately breaking Modular Windows compatiblity three days after the VIS ROMs were sent to be masked. This forced third-party software makers to decide whether to follow VIS or follow Modular Windows. Either path ended-up leading to death, since Modular Windows wasn’t even a supported (or listed) Microsoft product in six months, and Tandy was selling the VIS units for $40 less than the manufacturing price in April of 1993 to see if it was possible to sell any units at all. Since third-party software makers did not pay Tandy royalties (although that was the original plan for VIS), that loss was not made-up elsewhere.

A lot of third-party software vendors that invested everything in VIS went out of business or got out of the multi-media market. Curiously, Microsoft has since brought to market games and other applications almost identical to the best of those from these defunct companies…

Two years later, Microsoft introduced “Windows CE”. Guess what? Yep, that’s Modular Windows with a few new gadgets, but all the old problems.

John Munsch advised that no-one he knew was happy with Microsoft’s Modular Windows. Dropping it from the product altogether wouldn’t have made anybody cry because there wasn’t a base of games or other material it was bringing along with it. Most of the third party software producers wanted nothing to do with it, it took forever to boot, etc. So the final cost to Tandy per unit for Modular Windows was negotiated down to $0.25. A quarter. Microsoft tried to act like it was an introductory offer and they were doing us a favor, but everybody knew they were lucky to even get it included by that point.


Store Policies

Distribution and Tandys internal pricing system made periodical sales difficult. In the Tandy system, once a product (any product) hits the store, that store owns it and can’t send it back to the warehouse. That’s why they have the urge to re-package product and put it back on the shelf or on the “Red Tag(TM)” table with AS IS written all over it. The store even have to buy the catalogs, even back in the days when they were free. So you can see why a store would be reluctant to stock a monthly magazine that they could not return unsold copies of at the end of the month.

Only the case of wide-spread defects with a given product will Tandy Corp grudgingly take product back, or for those very rare recalls, such as the hand-held “rob-the-bank” game, where you “get extra points for shooting the guards!”. You have to go back to the 1983 or 1984 catalog, but that game was in there, and was in the stores, at least until someone in the press noticed.

Then there were the computer catalogs with the office furniture positioned in the shape of a swastika. Clearly the merchandising and marketing departments flunked the Tandy pattern recognition tests the hiring department made everybody take. (Over the years, they managed this particular boner twice.)

Marketing who wanted a minimum of 57% profit margin at the retail level, NOT INCLUDING the profits made at manufacturing, shipping or warehouse levels. That margin requirement is true of every product sold at Radio Shack, not just computers, and although the number is different today, margins are still huge at Radio Shack. That is why Radio Shack and Computer City never sold the exact same Tandy computer. There were always differences to keep the units from being apples-to-apples compared.

As far as technology goes, you wouldn’t believe the things that got developed, maybe even manuals printed, and then were scrapped just because marketing had too many of last years model still in the stores or some other bonehead logic.

The Deluxe Color Computer springs to mind. There are only two left in the world, as Tandy management personally destroyed the circuit boards to the prototypes they could find.

The external floppy port on the Model 4P was another. Marketing was convinced it would steal sales from the desktop Model 4 systems and didn’t want that to happen, so the connector was eliminated.

Q: Wasn’t there some kind of provision in Tandy’s standard contract (circa 1986 – : 87) where Tandy claimed copyright on all software an employee produced whether : it be on the job or not?

There were different agreements used in different parts of Tandy. Some versions did say they owned your brain and anything that came out of it 24 hours a day for the period from six months before hire until six months after leaving Tandy. It was generally considered that such an agreement would not stand in any modern-age court (in fact just about every part of it was clearly illegal in California), and its possible Tandy never went after anyone from R&D over the brain contract, probably for fear of losing a test on the validity of the document. It was there more for scare, and to cover Tandys butt just in case you took an idea from your former employer and used it in a Tandy product that Tandy could get sued over.

Tandy also had a standard confidentiality agreement they sent everybody around July 1st of each year (after using liquid-paper to cross out the previous years date) which reminded you not to leak information that could be used for stock speculation, and had a bunch of questions about whether you knew of any improper book-keeping (yes), slush-funds (yes), unaccounted-for monies (yes), bribes or other significant payments to officials or government representatives (yes), improper use of facilities for political purposes (yes), etc. You were supposed to answer all of those questions “NO”, and they got really annoyed when you answered any of them “YES”. Despite instructions that these documents were to be sent directly to the internal audit department, the local secretaries always had ordered to intercept them (or try to) so your local management could review your answers. Then your local managers and directors would try to get you to change the sworn answer to “NO”, even if you had hard evidence of the act they were asking about, like newspaper clippings.

These were the same managers that two months later would be all over you if you put “NO” on the United Way contribution form, essentially a mandatory contribution at Tandy, and they would drag you in front of managers, directors, VPs and senior VPs, one at a time, trying to get you change the “NO” to some amount of money, so their department could show 100% participation. Apparently management reviews or bonuses were partially based on departmental United Way participation. In Tandy, this month-long process each September was known as “United Sway”.

Tandy was forever coming up with completely insane policies and expected every one to comply immediately, and for the really silly rules, to sign an agreement form or to cease to be employed that instant, changing the terms of employment over and over. Maybe that is different these days at Tandy, but back then it really made the place stink, and caused even more pranks to be played on the evil Human Resources department.

One prank was the fake employee handbook signature forms. Hundreds of the fake employee handbook signature forms with a somewhat different wording than the Tandy version were turned-in by Tandy employees instead of the real ones and probably dozens of them remain in Tandys files to this day a decade later.

Eventually someone noticed the alternate wording in the files (many months later), but as they dug and found that even some Tandy departmental managers signed and turned-in the fake ones in rather than the real one, it limited what they could do. Tandy tried to purge them from the departmental files, but we know they missed some and missed all of them in other departments. They didn’t know how far these things had spread.

Another good one was the memo ordering all employees working in the Tandy Technology Square building to wear faux grey clothing to work so it would match the paint, cubicles and carpets. The memo also ordered that visitors be issued faux grey panchos by the security guards, and to wear these at all times during their visits to this building. The memo went on to say that the pachos were not available yet because they couldn’t get the grey paint to stick to the plastic material. Thanks to years of real memos stuff like this, several employees thought this one was real too, and some went as far to complain to their manager about the cost of having to buy a new wardrobe to wear to work, etc. The building manager searched for the source of that memo for quite a while. John Munsch has since admitted to being that person.


Scripsit

The original Scripsit was written by a programmer named Kevin Dack at Tandy. For most of the years at Tandy, Scripsit is all he did, becoming the anchor of the word processing group that was literally created around him. His word largely dictated the layout of the Model 2000 keyboard (except that the mechanical people squeezed it horizontally putting ky clusters too close together), which was what IBM copied for the PS/2 keyboard. Kevin left in 1988 to go to another company, which had (surprise) just licensed the rights from Tandy to make and sell Scripsit for use on non-PC platforms!

The Model I/III/4 Super Scripsit came from a guy named Sam Solomon who didn’t work for Tandy, and it is quite different inside.

Even though Tandy had already lost interest in Scripsit by 1988 (“Bill” told Tandy that Word was better than Scripsit and if Tandy didn’t switch to Word, Tandy would be out of business in six months, the standard Microsoft threat used successfully against Tandy for ten years), the license issued to the other company pretty much prohibited the other company from doing versions for PC platforms, regardless of operating system. So, around 1988, Tandy sold a license (or substantial rights) to Scripsit to an Washington DC-based company, who did ports for IBM mainframes and other heavy iron environments. Kevin Dack, the creator of Scripsit, left Tandy shortly after that to consult and later work for this company. The Washington DC based company was basically John Esak who was for many years the top filePro guru on the Tandy Professional/Tangent SIG on Compuserve. He was a vice president for the small Computer Company around that time. The small Computer Company wrote most of the Profile series of software for Tandy computers [though the model I version and one of the model 3 versions were made by someone else] as well as filePro and filePro Plus for non-Tandy’s. In case anyone is interested, the company is still around, but has moved to Indianapolis and is now called “fP Technologies, Inc.”

It was never entirely clear if Tandy sold all rights to Scripsit, or just a license to do ports for non-competing platforms (plus use of the name) to the other company. Tandy had aleady pretty-much abandoned it, apart from releasing Scripsit PC and then not actually advertising or marketing it at all.

Superscriptsit, was an unrelated product that came from a guy named Sam Soloman/Solomon (can’t remember which). He didn’t work for Tandy. Tandy did do support and maintenance on this code, particularly for the Model 4 version. It had lots of bugs and Sam didn’t believe in re-assembly; he did all fixes – no matter how massive – with patches.

Scripsit used a ‘link list’. The list elements were linked and each one referred to the prior and the next in the chain. These elements then described where in the file the data was, and there were two descriptors. One for the streamed ASCII and another for the formatting descriptors. That’s why Scripsit disk appear to have only ONE file on them. (Was a real pain with early HD systems when Scripsit tried to grab the whole HD!)


What Is The Model 100/200 Disk Format History?

Frank Durda IV wrote

Model 100/200 DVI disks are almost identical in format to TRSDOS 1.3.0, right down to the minimum pattern sync violations of that time period. (TRSDOS 1.3.2 corrects the format pattern problems for that platform.)

One of the jobs I got at Tandy was to find out why Tandy QA and the factory itself was rejecting as much as 100% of the media the factory duplicated.

After getting them to buy media that they didn’t find on the floor of a bus station (that’s when Tandy diskettes got shiny *before* you put them in your drives), their reject rate remained extremely high, something over 40%, so I got sent to the factory for a time to determine what they were doing right. (Determining what they were doing wrong would have taken a lot longer. 🙂 )

Anyway, their list of problems was endless, but the biggest was that they just took stabs at what format patterns to generate on their high speed duplicators or they allowed the duplicate to use some “template” formats it came with.

To give the factory some real guidelines, I wrote a manual on what each OS disk format should look exactly like so the disk controller would have the best chance possible of actually reading the diskette. This gave the factory something specific to program into the duplicators they used for some disks, while the actual OSes and computers were used to duplicate others.

As a result of the report, Tandy also had to re-release several operating systems so that the format utilities in those operating s systems would generate the formats their own disk controllers actually expected. At the time, nearly every Tandy OS needed at least one format change to be compliant. TRSDOS 1.3.2, TRSDOS 6.1.2 were just two of the releases put out to fix disk format pattern issues.

In the case of the Model 100/200 OS format problems, the Tandy factory duplicated its software disks from that point on with the right format, but I have no idea whether the OS people (not at Tandy) ever bothered to send out an OS update to fix this error.

I have been trying to get the format pattern document online for some time, but since I have negative amounts of free time to spend doing it right, it has been slow coming. However, here is part of it that applies to your question (hasn’t been carefully reviewed for typos since it was re-typed-in).

You will need to set your system to fixed-pitch fonts for this to be readable: (Numbers in parens in the first column indicate the values recommended to fix the format pattern)

FORMAT PATTERN FOR MODEL 100/200 DOS

  1. The Model 100 and 200 disk expansion box use a MB8877a, which is documented as being 100% compatible with the Western Digital FD1793-02. Therefore, this discussion will proceed assuming the MB8877a has the same requirements as the Western Digital part.
  2. The format (produced by the operating system formatter) is:
Number of Bytes
Value on Media
Description
64(32)
4E
Gap Ia (Post Index)*
8(12)
00
Gap Ib/IIIb (PLL sync)*
3
A1
Preset CRC
1
FE
ID Address Mark
1
nn
Cylinder # (0-39)
1
nn
Side Number (0)
1
nn
Sector Number (1-18)
1
nn
Sector Length
2
nnnn
Two byte CRC (id)
22
4E
Gap IIa
12
00
Gap IIb (PLL sync)
3
A1
Preset CRC
1
FB/F8
Data Address Mark
256
Data
Data Sector
2
nnnn
Two byte CRC (data)
24
4E
Gap IIIa (Data gap)
128
4E
Gap IV

Notes:

64 + ((256 + 82) * 18) = 6,148 bytes + 16 Gap IV bytes = 6,164 bytes This pattern is acceptable since 6,164 is less than 6,250. (The 16 is the minimum number of bytes allowed in Gap IV. See Section 3.)

* Although 8 bytes is the acceptable minimum for Gap IIIb, the Model 100/200 disk system uses 8 bytes for Gap Ib, which is incorrect. Gap Ib should be 12 bytes (in front of the first sector after the Index).

Western Digital advises that both Gaps Ib and IIIb be kept at 12 bytes on Tandy hardware. Since the Model 100/200 units do not actually use the Western Digital part, they may have more noise immunity than the Western Digital controllers, but it is likely that this is a licensed cell and performs exactly the same as the Western Digital part. See Section 3 for more information on the Western Digital part.

If both Gap Ib and IIIb are set to 12 bytes, the total track length becomes 64 + ((256 + 86) * 18) = 6,220 bytes. After adding a minimum of 16 bytes for Gap IV, 6,220 + 16 = 6,236, which is below 6,250. However, this value is close to 6,250, and requires that drives not be running at more than 300.67 RPM. It is suggested that Gap I be shortened to 32 bytes, which would allow the drive to be running at up to 302.2 RPM.

  1. The Model 100/200 has 18 sectors per track and numbers them starting with 1 (1-18). Each sector contains 256 bytes.
  2. The Data Address Mark is 0xfb on all sectors.
  3. The Interleave for the Model 100/200 is 6:1.
  4. The Track Skew value for Model 100/200 is 1 (none).
  5. The Model 100/200 only allows 40-track media and does not support two-sided operation. It ignores the presence of side 2.

What Caused The Demise of Tandy as a Computer Maker?

Frank Durda IV wrote:

The demise of Tandy as a computer maker can be traced to three main items, (although there were several smaller problems as well):


  1. The desire to have and inability to maintain extremely large profit margins at all levels of the Radio Shack store chain.

    In 1985, a Model 4 cost right around $450 US to “build”*, but was not sold in stores for anything less than $1,799 US, usually $1,999 US. Even on “final close-out” years later, the advertised price was likely to be $999 or in some places $799, while the store demonatrators machines were $799 or perhaps $599. Even the demonstrator got the store a $150 profit.

    * In the Tandy system, the “build” price was the price from the factory, which included the factories cost + 8% profit, which also paid for all R&D development costs and R&D department funding. It also included profit sent to Tandy corporate, who also got a another piece when the unit went via a Tandy warehouse, where a 6% upcharge was applied to the cost, and yet-another upcharge when the unit was shipped to a store via Tandy Transportation.

    After 1984, all Tandy units were profit centers, and via creative accounting, even the Tandy subway (free) somehow showed a profit every year. This nonsense just made it impossible to find out how much money a given department or division was making or spending, unless you tried to spin them out into a separate company. Then the truth became visible.

    Anyway, the actual cost to make the Model 4 was considerably less, probably closer to $380. (The earlier units cost more.)

    All the rest of the Model 4 mark-up (above $450) went to the stores. In exchange, the Radio Shack stores “eat” the cost of defective/returned goods and store loss, known these days as “shrink”. Only in the case of a rampant nationwide problem with a defective product would the stores get a chance to recover losses from faulty product Tandy shipped them.

    Tandy computers were designed backwards, in that the cost a product was going to be sold at was usually designated first, ie “we need a $799, a $999, a $1599 and a $1999 computer model for the fall – build some”. Subtracting the store profit margin, transportation and warehouse charges, you now go figure how to actually build the product and hit the build cost that was already dictated, before any design work had begun on the product. Price changes to reflect missing a manufacturing price were rare, and instead resulted in an immediate design of a “cost-reduced” model to try to hit the original build cost target, which would be cut-into production as soon as possible.

    After the price-run-up of RAM in 1987, the backwards pricing was minimized, but the merchies still dictated what price target they wanted for new computers under design for the following summer. If the stores got at least 45% pure profit on computers, you were usually okay.

    In 1992, the VIS system “build cost was right around $443 US and was initially sold at $799. Tandy merchandising/marketing weenies aka “Merchies” could have sold it at $599 or $699. They argued that the $599 didn’t leave them any room for annual specials ($499 special would only give the stores a 14% profit margin – about 2X what a CompUSA or Computer Center get, but not enough for Radio Shack), and the $699 was a “bad” number, that the general public would buy something that cost $799 at the same level as something that cost $699, that prices start with a “6” were “bad” prices, so it is standard industry practice to skip them, even if it forces Radio Shack to make more money. Yeah, I don’t quite buy this either.

    As you can see the store profit margins (Tandys corporate profit margins that are built-in at the factory remain intact) appear to have eroded between 1984 and 1992 from insane (344%) to just outrageous (44%), but when the VIS system originally was planned, the software vendors would have to pay Tandy a royalty on each copy of software that ran on this semi-proprietary system, and that would have even bigger profit margins to compensate stores for “thin” margins on the player unit itself.

    Of course, the software vendors revolted (secretly encouraged by Microsoft who was already undermining parts of this joint project that they didn’t agree with or didn’t think of first), and the software royalty structre was abandoned. Tandy simply compensated by adding $10 to $20 to the cost of each title sold through its stores, which raised the sale price far beyond what the original royalty would have done. More about Microsoft interference and its consequences in a moment.

    The growth of stores like CompUSA, and second-generation electronic superstores like Best Buy and Circuit City (first generation were Highland Appliance, and Federated) were putting some pressure on computer prices, but Tandys’ standard solution to this was the “bundle”, which contained combinations of software that the other vendors did not have, making it impossible for the customer to do any features-for-features comparisons of Radio Shack to competitor products. It really didn’t matter if the software was useful or even worked, so long as it wasn’t the same thing the competition had.

    Taking a page from Tandy, to this day, Circuit City and Best Buy arrange with computer makers to buy the same computer with a different printer, different sized-hard disk, and do whatever it takes to get at least two items in your bundle that are different from all other people selling that pre-configured computer bundle, which makes it impossible for consumers to do a direct price comparison. The computer makers cooperate fully in this, telling store chain B what combinations are already taken by stores R and C. It is amazing that this coordinated “incomparability” isn’t simply illegal.

    Meanwhile, Tandy also responded to the electronic stores with their McDuff and Videoconcepts purchases in the mid-eighties (all later run under the McDuff name), and in 1992 the Incredible Universe stores. The Computer City stores were created as a direct response to CompUsa (and its ancestor chain name), so Tandy could continue to hold onto some market share in the “no-frills” and small margin PC business, although Circuit City did foolishly try to sell Tandy units in its stores for a while, which just sat their and grew dingy. Eventually, the only Tandy computers that Computer City sold were “refurbished”, acting as a Tandy outlet store for items that Radio Shacks could no longer sell as new. Tandy manufacturing fall-out for AST (and later ASTs own rejects) were sold as refurbished at Computer City having been sold at Circuit City and elsewhere, then returned by a customer for any reason. During ASTs main reign (1993-1996) returns back to AST were usually well over 5%.

  2. OEM manufacturing business lost

    Beginning with the purchase of GRiD and accelerating in 1987 with a deal to manufacture PCs for Digital Equipment Corporation, Tandys R&D and manufacturing divisions spent more and more of their time making computers for others. The DEC deal was seen largely as a way to sell the large volumes of systems that government contracts can generate, something that Tandy had never been able to manage, even though some contracts had been delivered for desktop PCs via GRiD, usually if they were part of a desktop/laptop purchase.

    Tandy also got a deal to make machines for Panasonic (Matsushita), but after the first year or two, the volumes were insignificant. Panasonic had no idea how to sell computers in the USA, marketing them more like typewriters or toaster ovens. A few other minor deals with other companies were also cooked up, but they were tiny.

    Over time, DEC would become 40% of the manufacturing capacity of Tandys factories, including entire Tandy facilities dedicated to DECs 24-hour-delivery, build-to-order program.

    Unfortunately, what Tandy was doing and didn’t notice was that they were teaching DEC how to design and build low-cost PCs, while Tandy was learning from DEC how to make one unit that could be sold in multiple countries, and to make manuals upon manuals that looked essentially the same for different computer models and read like blank paper. Finally, in the fall of 1992, DEC informed Tandy that they knew how to “do it” now, and was terminating all contracts with Tandy. DEC had built a factory almost identical to the one Tandy used to make the DEC machines and was ready to do everything themselves now.

    The DEC contracts ended by early 1993. GRiD, had to some extent, become an ignored division, with most time and energy being spent on DEC work, so when GRiD became Tandys only source of contract sales, they were not able to generate anything close to the volumes DEC was ordering.

    The timing of the loss of the DEC OEM business and GRiDs failure to continue new innovations going against the rush of new competition in the laptop business combined with the failure of the VIS project was enough to cause Tandy to sell the computer division. But VIS had considerable help in being a failure on day 1. Guess from who?


  3. Microsoft interference, sabatoge, restraint-of-trade, being jerks, etc.

    I realize that Microsoft-bashing is “in” right now with most people, but the facts are that Tandy was taking the Microsoft sucker-punches years ago (to my personal knowledge as far back as 1982), and it was this almost-constant manipulation from Microsoft that is the main reason why Tandy isn’t in the PC business anymore.

    All through the eighties, Microsoft would show up regularly and give the merchandising weenies the same story that “if you don’t buy product X from Microsoft, you will be out of business in six months.” Invariably, Tandy would roll-over and do exactly what Microsoft said, regardless of the corporate cost or customer ill-will it caused.

    Why did Tandy go with XENIX and delay a solution for already-mad customers by another six months when they had UNOS finished, in-hand and waiting only QA testing? Microsoft threatened to not provide certain applications for UNOS and other Tandy platforms “as quickly” or at all if Tandy didn’t buy XENIX, and more importantly, if Tandy didn’t dump Charles Rivers UNOS. Microsoft demanded that Tandy not offer both XENIX and UNOS, and not even offer UNOS as a special order item. So UNOS was killed.

    Another example: When Microsoft finally got annoyed with Deskmate, they made it much harder for Tandy to obtain Windows 3 and its applications for sale at the same time as other companies could get them. However, Tandy *could* get new Microsoft product at the same time as everybody else, provided Tandy abandoned Deskmate, hint, hint, nudge, nudge.

    Tandy therefore did abandon Deskmate and developed a new VAP (Value-Added-Product) called Winmate (later renamed AST Works) that ran on top of Windows. Microsoft eventually came to dislike what they called “altered Windows customer experience” systems that ran on top of Windows (Winmate was Tandys, but they were common. Even Packard Bell had one), and Microsoft made them “illegal” in late 1995 simply by refusing to license Windows ’95 if you bundled a VAP (that’s only a small restraint-of-trade), but Tandy was already gone by then.

    (The ban on VAPs by Microsoft killed ASTs software development unit by banning AST Works, SPOT and some other goodies, that in Microsofts opinion, altered the “Windows customer experience”. Left with almost nothing value-add they could write without Microsoft vetoing it, AST closed internal application development in 1996. ASTs application development group was all that remained of the original Tandy R&D unit that AST bought from Tandy in 1993.)

    This interference from Microsoft made it harder to provide the “Value Add” software that made Tandys computer bundle different enough from other offerings to justify its price, and this was hurting sales. The presence of Computer City was also draining-away some sales of high-margin computers via Radio Shack for low-margin computers sold at Computer City, frequently due to some bad advertising strategies.

    Microsofts “certification” programs that appeared in 1994/1995 was also seen as a way for Microsoft to manipulate OEMs into not adding things to systems that Microsoft did not like, by making these add-ons – such as multi-function modems and their associated VAPs – take so long to get approved that computer makers would be forced to ship without them. The penalty for not getting all hardware items certified via Microsoft was the withholding of the “Certified Windows ’95 compatible” stickers for the outside of the cardboard box the computer would be shipped in, the lack of which Microsoft had convinced the marketing people would doom the product and entire company in months. Sound familiar? You could still ship Windows with the computer, but Microsoft said no one would buy them without the sticker being present. Oh, and the per-unit royalties also went up if you didn’t have the right number and size of stickers on the cardboard box, which you couldn’t put on the box unless you were certified, which brings you back to Microsoft running your company.

    Microsofts antics with the VIS project was the item that did the most to kill-off the Tandy computer division, certainly the final nail. Originally a “joint development” between Tandy and Microsoft (which Microsoft had come to Tandy to build it – not finding anyone else gullible enough), Microsoft almost immediately disagreed with how “their platform” and their new operating system, Modular Windows (later renamed “Windows CE”) was going to be deployed and presented, you know, that “customer experience stuff”.

    Tandys goals were simpler: they wanted something for their stores that competed strongly with Sega and Nintendo, but Microsoft really wanted the ground held by the obscure Philips CD-Interactive system (CD-I), which Microsoft perceived as a threat to Windows, despite CD-I sales being probably less than 100,000 units over its lifetime. Microsoft really didn’t care about Sega and Nintendo, and probably knew the Windows platform would be unlikely to ever seriously compete against shoot-em-up consoles, but Microsoft would not ever say that in front of any Tandy personnel, because they wanted the hardware for their Modular Windows OS, and they wanted Tandy to help convince people to write for a platform that was billed as a recompile, but for most applications was really a major re-engineering effort.

    The term “edutainment” was coined to describe the low-action games and story-telling applications the Modular Windows platform did reasonably well, with titles like Grandma and Me and Kings Quest V loading the system to the limit of unusability, but were absolutely required so that Radio Shack would have something to show people that ran under Modular Windows and did not make them fall asleep while waiting for something to happen. (Some of the most popular games written for VIS ran in DOS and were written by a Tandy QA employee as a way to test video and MIDI functions of the hardware. These ended up getting shipped as a value-add CD-ROM with the system. The presence of DOS-based anything from Tandy going into or with the VIS system annoyed Microsoft even more.)

    Despite repeated warnings to Tandy management by their own engineers working on the project to the fact that Tandy was not getting a “Sega-killer” that John Roach had been repeatedly promised by his merchandising generals, the project continued. When it was shown that Kings Quest V took five full minutes to ask the “Have you played this game before?” question in the late summer of 1992, even then the merchies still would not tell Roach what was happening and the project continued despite the obvious trouble ahead.

    Microsoft was constantly trying to slip things into the VIS project that they didn’t tell Tandy about, like using several thousand bytes of the ROM budget (they were already over their budget by 40K before this point) for a large “Modular Windows” full-screen logo that would appear for at least ten seconds during the boot process, erasing the Tandy VIS logo almost as soon as it was drawn. Eventually that was “resolved” at the John Roach vs Bill Gates level. The logo was “removed” in the next release, but we found within hours that they just hid it, re-activated by an extra character in a call to the “start windows” command. More yelling ensued and then the graphic was really removed. However, microsoft never did remove large chunks of code littered with strings like “The Network printer is out of paper”, a curious thing for a box with no network capability physically possible, and they remained over their ROM budget, forcing cuts in the ROM sections Tandy was supposed to use for start-up, drivers and BIOS.

    In retaliation for not getting to “brand” the system with the Modular Windows logo with that boot-up screen (the system was supposed to be sold under the “VIS” brand via stores other than Tandy-owned stores), Microsoft then formally torpedoed the VIS project by slightly (but fatally) changing the API in the official release of Modular Windows, released in CD-ROM and printed manual form two days after the masked ROMs for the VIS system went into manufacturing, so Microsoft must have known they were stabbing Tandy and VIS in the back days earlier, as those discs didn’t get made and manuals didn’t get printed overnight back then. Now that they had hardware to use as a reference platform for other makers, Microsoft didn’t care what happened to Tandy.

    Next, all the software vendors had developed to the original API and were now being told directly by Microsoft (bypassing Tandy) that if they didn’t convert to the new Modular Windows API, they would be out of business in months (sound familiar?). Microsoft claimed to have at least one major Japanese company ready to make “Modular Windows” systems (no longer “VIS) and it would be in the software makers best interests to immediately convert and write to the official Microsoft Modular Windows standard. The cards Tandy built for PCs that emulated the VIS NTSC video platform could still be used by those developing for the non-Tandy Modular Windows systems.

    Quite a few of the software developers for VIS were small Mom-n-Pop companies, some had taken out second mortgages on their homes to pay for the initial CD-ROM pressing and packaging for their product for VIS (Tandy made a promise of a guaranteed buy of so much initial inventory – which they later tried to get out of), and could not afford to re-work their products to match the Modular Windows system in the VIS box and what Microsoft was touting now. Those outfits who didn’t comply immediately with the decree got dropped from Microsofts future OEM distributions. (By the way, the Japanese vendor and those Modular Windows boxes never appeared.) Not knowing this, some of these OEMs did scrap their finished products and developed dual-versions, but that turned out to be a waste of time.

    In early 1993, Microsoft dropped Modular Windows from their public catalog and eventually want as far as to deny to the press that Microsoft Modular Windows had ever been a product, saying it was only “a concept”, even though hundreds of manual sets and CD-ROMs with Microsoft part numbers were shipped. Tandy, who had about 40,000 of these “concepts” sitting in stores and warehouses felt a bit differently about whether this was supposed to be a concept or a product.

    (Of course, in 1994, a “new” product was announced from Microsoft called “Windows CE”, which was exactly Modular Windows with a new name, only now it had higher basic system requirements to try to compensate for Modular Windows sluggishness exhibited under the original system requirements. It didn’t help.)

    The end result was the combination of Microsofts interference, poor Microsoft coding and faulty Microsoft OS design (Modular Windows, like regular Windows 3 re-reads the SYSTEM.INI file on a CD-ROM 75 separate times during the boot process and something Microsoft would not fix this is just one example of coding incompetence that was rampant), a false set of premises for the entire project, poor reviews by the press (one said VIS should stand for “Virtually Impossible to Sell”), and a high price of $799 (remember – the Tandy Merchies said $799 was more consumer attractive than $699) all combined to doom the VIS product and Tandy wrote $75 million in development and inventory costs off for this one product. Tandy was actually working on VIS-II when the stop-work order arrived in January 1983.

    Tandy certainly had some guilt of its own in the VIS disaster, with the horrible quality CD-ROM drive being the biggest flaw, but the fact that DOS-based applications like Sherlock Holmes would be streaming video in 15 seconds after power-on and the Modular Windows CD-ROM player (code in ROM) took 45+ seconds to draw the first Windows wait symbol (hourglass) and another 10 before sound might emerge from the CD being played clearly shows the false premise of using Windows in a TV-set-top application where people expect “On” to be “On right now”. With the processors speeds of today, the delay caused by the software bloat would not be so bad, but it was crazy back then.

    VIS systems were last seen being disposed of on Home Shopping Club and via some other outfits for as low as $99, including software thirty titles.

    Combined with the loss of DECs manufacturing business and the failure of another product called the Digital Compact Cassette which Tandy brought out in the fall of 1992 with exclusive US manufacturing rights, all three of the above items made Tandy look for ways to dump their manufacturing divisions of all types, first by spinning them into a separate company (that backfired big time), and finally by selling all the units that did any computer work at all to AST, who wasn’t smart enough to realize they were buying some factories that did ten things, only one of which had anything at all to do with computers. But then, the same merchie that lied to Roach about VIS being a “Sega killer”, was now out in California selling the virtues of buying all these factories to AST. AST liked him so much, they made him chief marketing weenie at AST. Back in Fort Worth, we were stunned. Later, AST was, as they ended-up closing most of the factories they had just bought in just a few months.

Mike Yetso wrote:

I don’t know about now, but I CAN tell you about that time frame.

First off, stores were GUARANTEED a fixed percentage profit. I seem to recall it was 40%. But if they got caught with old stock, that didn’t apply. For example, when the COMP-100 scanner was blown out, it retailed for LESS than it’s original cost. Same with the SA-2000 audio amp. Stores that had more than one in stock got killed. In fact, I know of a store that had a COMP-100 on layaway, and the manager refunded the layaway, did his inventory, then re-issued the layaway, rather than getting killed on the coming sale. (Hey, don’t EVER fudge the books. Tandy was very good at catching that. But if you ‘documented’ it properly, you could get away with almost anything! I personally got grabbed by Tandy security for ‘loaning’ an employee money from the drawer to get home one night. But I pointed to the petty cash paid out slip that clearly said “employee loan due to snowstorm” and stood my ground. I survived, but I’m sure they watched me closely after that. Hey, I lasted 9 years! Then again, as Frank will tell you, my run-ins with security turned legendary.)

However, that’s not the whole story. That was just what was ‘billed’ from the warehouse to the store.

And EVERY transfer was 8% of the ‘cost’ on the bottom line of what was call and ‘ICST’ or an Inter Company Stock Transfer. So, an item comes from the warehouse, 8%. I send it to another store, 8% + 8%, unless it was overstock or a trade… (I used to always send in ICSTs for ‘unknown items’ on the order deck. Well, due to a mistake, I got 12 of the PRO-2001 scanners before they were announced. Before they were even cleared by the warehouse QA (I think I got their pallet). Well, I had to dump them fast, otherwise I would show up overbudget and face a big penalty, so I got rid of about 7 or 8 to other stores without the extra 8%. (My district manager MADE me do that, since he saw the order on my list.)

Sounds like the stores made a mint, right?

Not hardly. Stores paid no advertising. BUT they had their rent, all employee expenses, all ‘special store billings’, and so on. Stores didn’t have to pay for local newspaper ads, but corporate tacked in a special deduction for that. A WISE store manager made sure ads were run, and run where HE wanted them to be run. Cost was the same, he just had to get off his but and do some work.

Like resistors. At the time $0.19 for 2 or the 1/4w were $0.39 for 5. Cost was about 3 to 5 cents. But the labor… Most store managers would let the ‘force feed’ system just drop a couple of packets of each resistor to them every couple months. But with that kind of markup… A WISE store manager kept those damn hooks FULL TO THE TIP!! Especially since Tandy sold kits that used these parts, and a customer could by, say, the frequency counter kit, and walk out of the store with over $100 retail that cost maybe $20. But some stupid lazy store managers always were out of stock. That should have been a TRIGGER for District managers to FIRE the manager if he found empty force feed hooks…

Anyway, if you managed right, the store could AVERAGE over 10% profit. Not outlandish. If you managed great, you could hit 20 or even over 25%. But most managers just sat on their duff and let the ‘system’ handle it.

Yeah, the profits LOOK good, but that’s not the WHOLE picture.

Bill Vermillion wrote:

It was my understanding (learning what I knew about RS from a renegade mananger a long time ago), that the higher ‘profit’ margin for most product – eg cost to the store most often being 1/2 of the list price – was because of the corporate structure.

As I understood it this meant that there was really no corporated adverstising budget, nor warranty coverage.

The local stores all were required to pay a percentage of all advertising which appeared in their market, whether it was local newspaper, radio, etc.

The local stores also had to cover the warranty repairs out of this margin. The ‘national’ warranty, as I understood it, mean that when a customer who took is product that he bought in California into an RS in New York, with the original receipt, would of course get his device repaied, but that the cost of the repair would be billed against the store selling the product. Given this model I can see that it would be imperative for the stores to have a higher profit margin since they were responsible for all the costs normally passed back to the parent corporation.

I had a friend who was managing a store and all the other regional managers would complain about him, but he was a go-getter. When the model I came he embraced it with a vengeance. When the II came out he hired a full-time outside salesman.

I saw sales reports from his store. July 1978 had as much sales from computers as the entire store did in 1979. The other managers complained so much – they seemed to expect business to just fall into their laps – that the company needed him out of that area.

However since he had one of the smallest square footage stores of all R/S outlets, and one month he was 3rd in overall sales in the coutry, RS wisely knew enough to keep him. So they gave him a regional managers jobs in Austrailia and paid for the move.

I guess when you rake in lots of money for the corporation you don’t automatically get thrown out the door.

Nickolas Marentes wrote:

I was working for Tandy at the time and it was always hard to convince people why they should buy a Tandy 1000TX with it’s 286 CPU and 8 bit bus when everyone else was selling full 386’s for the same money.

I also feel that this “behind-the-leading-edge” approach reflected in the TRS-80 and CoCo systems. When Tandy released the Model 3, they should have been releasing the Model 4. The Apple II had 80 column text and extra ram cards available while the Model 3 was basically a 1977 Model 1 in an FCC approved, all-in-one box. Same with the CoCo. Tandy should have released the Deluxe CoCo (that was canned) in favour of a cost reduced CoCo1 in the form of the CoCo2. Maybe even the CoCo3 a year or 2 earlier. Instead, the CoCo3 gets released in 1986, one year after the 16 bit Atari ST’s and Amiga’s.

And to take this comment further, they should have released a 68K system running OSK with CoCo3 emulation in 1989!

It’s all history now.


Who really made the Pocket Computer series

  • PC-1 = Sharp PC-1211, Sharp PC-1212
  • PC-2 = Sharp PC-1500
  • PC-3 = Sharp PC-1250A, Sharp PC-1251
  • PC-4 = Casio PB-100
  • PC-5 = Casio FX-770P
  • PC-6 = Casio FX-790P
  • PC-7 = UNKNOWN
  • PC-8 = Sharp PC-1246, Sharp PC-1247