THE MICRODRIVE for the Spectrum has finally been introduced, more than a year after it was first announced. The specifications of the final version bear a close resemblance to those given originally with the addition of the interface.
The expansion module is a black sloping box which fits under the Spectrum and can take up to eight drives. It will cost £49.95 but only £29.95 if bought with a microdrive, each of which will cost £49.95. Each of the drives has a capacity for at least 85K, so the total on-line memory capacity is approximately 700K.
The Microdrives are controlled by an 8K ROM, the software for which was designed by Dr Ian Logan.
As well as giving control over the drives, the ROM will allow an extended command mode which will enable users to add commands to Sinclair Basic. The extra commands would then be available with the rest of the Basic commands when the expansion module is in place.
The 8K ROM will also correct bugs in the Basic and operating system of the Spectrum by overwriting the errors while it is in operation.
The expansion module allows information to be accessed from the tape drives in three seconds. That is slightly better than the original Sinclair specification, which gives 3.5 seconds as the access time for 16K of memory.
At first the company will be offering the Microdrives exclusively through mail order to the first 1,000 people who bought the Spectrum by mail order last year. In that way the company hopes to compensate for the long wait experienced by some of its customers in the past.
It will later be offered to other owners who bought their Spectrums by mail order in strict sequence until that demand had been satisfied. Nigel Searle, managing director, said that he did not know when the drives would go on retail sale as that would depend on the demand and the amount by which production could be increased.
THE WINNING programs in the PSS programming competition are all arcade games. The competition was to design a program using the PSS MCoder compiler for the ZX-81 or Spectrum. All the prizes were given for Spectrum programs.
First prize was £500, won by Stan Cartwright of Cardiff. It was for a program called Elektro Storm. The second prize of £250 went to Chris Woods of Surrey for a program called Panic.
The winning program may be marketed by PSS at the end of this year.
THE FIRST BIG Scottish microcomputer show is to be held at Brunton Hall, Musselburgh, on Saturday, September 17.
Jill Donnachie, the organiser, says: "The ZX Club has put on a show previously but it was very small. This will feature all the big names.
"We have tried to get as many small computer companies as big ones to take stands. We also have a number of software companies booked and we are looking for more hardware manufacturers to take stands."
The Sinclair User Road Show will be at the show. An advice stand and display of the games from recent issues of Sinclair User and Sinclair Programs will be there, together with the latest issues of the magazines.
The Sixth Personal Computer World Show is to be held at the Barbican Centre, London from September 28 to October 2.
THE U.K. leads Europe in the sales of microcomputers but West Germany is expected to dominate the market in the next five years. That is the view of the Economic Intelligence Unit, following a review of sales in the major markets of the U.K., Germany and France.
It says the U.K. led by a wide margin in all categories of micros, workstations costing between £3,000 and £10,000, personal computers costing between £500 and £3,000, and home computers costing less than £500 in 1982. It believes, however, that West Germany will soon lead in terms of value, because of the rapid increase in sales of the most expensive workstations.
In 1982, comparative sales showed that sales of workstations in Germany were worth £60.7 million compared to £60 million in Britain and £31 million in France.
The part of the market in which Britain is not threatened is the home computer market. Britain had sales of £94 million last year, going mainly to Sinclair Research, whereas Germany had sales of £28 million.
A NEW RANGE of educational software for the Spectrum is to be launched jointly by Sinclair Research and Macmillan, publisher of educational books.
The software will be aimed specifically at the five-to-11-year-old age range and will be the first range of software to be designed for use both in the home and at school.
The programs will be designed for use either on their own or along with the Macmillan publications from which they are derived. The first batch of cassettes will appear in a month and more titles will be added in 1984.
RETAILING of Sinclair software is being revolutionised. Prism Microproducts, a sister company of ECC Publications which publishes Sinclair User, has plans for distributing commercial programs which will probably mean the end of mail order for software in the Sinclair market.
It has agreed with the electrical retailer Rumbelows to establish software centres in its shops. It also has plans for a new system of electronic distribution which will be test-marketed in Birmingham in the autumn. The software centres will consist of a shop display which will be serviced by Prism. Regular calls are made by Prism staff to restock the centres and remove software which is moving slowly. The system is intended to reduce the risk for retailers deciding which software to stock.
The national agreement with Rumbelows was signed following a trial in the Home Counties earlier this year. It proved successful and other big retailers are negotiating with Prism to expand the system.
From its base as exclusive distributor in Britain of Sinclair Research products to retailers other than W H Smith, it has built agreements with most of the software houses in Britain.
Electronic distribution plans result from an agreement with Romox, a company based in California. It has developed a system which allows retailers to have a programming terminal at which buyers will be able to record blank cartridges or erased cartridges. The terminal will be updated constantly with the latest programs by telephone line. Retailers do not have to stock pre-recorded cartridges or cassettes, only blank cartridges.
It is also claimed that the system will permit instant nation-wide distribution with no production delays.
Bob Denton, managing director of Prism, says Romox is a logical extension to its present software merchandising programme and to the Micronet 800 service in which Prism has an interest.
At present Romox is not available for the Spectrum but there are plans to include it if the trials are successful.
A MARKETING company, Neil Gibson and Co, is prepared to offer free help to microcomputer programmers who are trying to market their products.
John Courage, who owns the company, spoke of what he called "blatant dishonesty" by software houses to programmers who offer programs.
The company initially will deal with software for any Sinclair machine. It will offer programmers free appraisal and suggestions for improving commercial appeal.
When a software package is ready, the company will negotiate on behalf of the authors for the best deal with either a software company or a marketing agency.
AN ATTEMPT is being made to boost sales of the ZX-81. Sinclair Research is making a special offer through all its retailers selling the machine plus the RAM pack and an item of software for £45.
The company is promoting it as a starter pack, 'ideal for the new user.'
The offer began at the beginning of August. It is to continue for at least two months. Sinclair is also giving away five rolls of printer paper with every printer sold in the period.
It is the latest in a series of price reductions for the ZX-81 since it was introduced at £69.95, plus £29.95 for the RAM pack, in March, 1981.
W H SMITH, one of the biggest retailers of Sinclair hardware and software, has stopped producing its weekly Top Ten ZX-81 software charts because it does not intend to buy any new lines of software for the £40 machine.
Smiths will continue to sell its present range of software but has discontinued the chart as it feels the sales figures would be unrepresentative of the market.
One reason for not continuing to expand its range of ZX-81 software is growing involvement with the sales of other machines, such as the Oric and BBC microcomputer.
Sinclair User is reviewing the accuracy of the charts produced by various sources and deciding whether to continue with the listings. For the present, however, the magazine will continue to show the Top Ten chart for the Spectrum.