THE QL, the new Sinclair Research £399 machine for the serious user, is set to take the upper end of the computer market by storm. The 32-bit machine uses a 68008 processor and has 128K RAM as standard. It also has a typewriter-style keyboard, something the Spectrum lacked.
The customer will also receive four software packages, which include a database, processor, graphics package and spreadsheet. All the software is on Microdrive. A startling feature of the new computer is its lack of an ordinary cassette recorder port. Sinclair did that deliberately and claims that the Microdrives are more powerful than those available for the Spectrum. They can access at least 100K and the average access time is 3.5 seconds.
As well as using an upgraded version of Basic, called Super-Basic, the QL also has an operating system, called QDOS, which contains routines to control graphics and other processes in the machine, including operation of the twin Microdrives. There are several graphics modes and the screen display can use up to 32K of available memory at any time.
Windows can be defined in the screen display and various independent tasks can be performed within the windows. That shows that the machine is multi-tasking, which means that it can be made to run several programs at the same time.
Sinclair has matched the QL against other microcomputers on the market, including the BBC Micro. At the launch Sir Clive Sinclair said that to make the Acorn machine comparable with the QL would cost approximately £1,800.
Sinclair Research is expecting big demand for the new machine but stresses that it will not take the place of the Spectrum at the lower end of the market. Managing director Nigel Searle said the machine will be aimed at business and education users, as well as the serious student.
CITY SHAREHOLDERS received a nasty shock at the beginning of the year when Sinclair Research announced the disappointing results for the half year to the end of October, 1983. Despite Sir Clive Sinclair's past optimism about the current financial year, the figures confirm that the previous year's growth was unlikely to be repeated.
In the first half of the year Sinclair sales rose by £14 million - an increase of 60 percent - but costs rose by 85 percent. Pre-tax profit was up by only £600,000, to £4.4 million. Those figures reflect both the supply problems at Timex in Dundee, and the computer price war which caused Sinclair to drop the price of the Spectrum.
A year ago City investors were only too happy to put up £13.6 million for 10 percent of Sinclair Research, expecting profit to hit £30 million or more. It is doubtful now that by the end of March, 1984 last year's total of £14 million will be surpassed and the Sinclair Stock Market launch, expected to take place this year, could be delayed.
OCEAN SOFTWARE programmer Paul Owens, right, shakes hands with 14-year-old Andrew Blackley, the winner of the Mr Wimpy championship held simultaneously in London and Manchester.
One of a ten-strong team of northern schoolchildren who played against a London team, Andrew beat his rivals by 16,000 points, achieving a high score of 81,360. Not even Owens, author of the Mr Wimpy game, has managed so many.
The two teams each played for 15 minutes on banks of Spectrums loaned for the occasion by Sinclair Research. Blackley's prize was a colour monitor for the computer room at Lostock School, Stretford, where he is a pupil, and a micro for himself. Runner-up with a score of 64,590 points was Joseph Gittings, aged 13, who won a monitor for Islington Green School, London, and a Mr Wimpy watch.
Prism Microproducts has introduced a new scheme to cover the cost of repairs to microcomputers after the manufacturer's guarantee has expired.
The 12-month contract covers the cost of all parts and labour for repairs following any mechanical or electrical breakdown. The Prism Micro Care scheme costs £14.99 per year for computers retailing at up to £250, and £24.99 for those retailing at up to £500.
THE GAMES CENTRE, which has recently devoted an increasing part of its business to computers and computer games, has gone into liquidation. Unless a new investor can be found, the eight shops in the chain, including four in London's West End, are to be closed.
Managing director Graham Levin claims, however, that the company difficulties had nothing to do with computer and software sales.
"On the contrary, they formed the most profitable side of our business," he says. The shops were affected by cashflow problems which were aggravated in London by the pre-Christmas slump after the Harrods bombing.
THE WORLD'S first generation of personal robots was unveiled at London's Hippodrome by Prism Consumer Products Ltd. Surrounded by dancers and lit by a spectacular laser light display, the walking, talking machines trundled to and fro to the amusement of the audience.
The robots, called Topo and Fred, are members of the Androbot family invented by Nolan Bushnell and are already marketed in the States. Prism Consumer Products, a sister company to ECC Publications, has been appointed sole U.K. distributor.
Topo, 3ft. tall and the bigger of the two, is controlled by a computer keyboard or joystick, information being relayed via an infra-red communications link. In that way Topo can be programmed to speak, or even sing, and move round a room following a previously-memorised route.
Future applications might well include domestic chores such as vacuum cleaning and lawn-mowing and the robot could act as a security watchdog and fire detector.
The smaller robot, Fred, is capable of translating screen graphics accurately into precise line drawings.
Software written for Topo and Fred is already available for the Apple II but Prism Developments is developing packages which will allow BBC, Commodore 64 and Spectrum computer owners to use the robots.
The robots might well be, as Prism claims, the ultimate computer peripheral, and with Topo retailing at about £1,500 and Fred at £200, they are certainly among the most expensive. Sinclair users who feel those prices to be beyond their pockets might strike lucky and win a Topo robot by entering our giant competition.
THE FIRST Sinclair Education Exhibition will be held from March 28-30 at the Central Hall, Westminster. The centrepiece will be the Sinclair stand and some 50 other supporting companies will be exhibiting, including dealers, publishers and software and peripheral suppliers. Sinclair User will be among the exhibitors.
The aim is to provide a central venue for all those whose products and work relates to educational aspects of Sinclair computers, giving educationalists the opportunity to acquaint themselves of the latest advances made by Sinclair and its supporting manufacturers.
Entry is by invitation only and is restricted to teachers, lecturers and others in the education field.
FORMER journalist Colin Smith is selling his house in Dorset to raise capital for the launch of a computer adventure game on the controversial theme of surviving a nuclear attack.
Called Ground Zero, the 48K Spectrum game is set in a British suburb and involves collecting the items necessary for survival.
"I thought that participating in the game would bring home to people the horrors of nuclear war more powerfully than any film or book," he says. The game is also intended to highlight what he considers the inadequacies of the Government Protect and Survive civil defence scheme.
Smith plans to move his family into premises above a shop where he will be selling Ground Zero, as well as other adventure games which he has programmed.
FOLLOWING the lead of local radio stations such as Radio West in Bristol and Radio Victory at Portsmouth, the BBC has started a regular computer programme which includes transmissions of micro software.
Presented by Barry Norman, the Chip Shop consists of 25 minutes of news and general information broadcast on Saturdays at 5pm and a "takeaway service" of software transmitted four nights a week. The programs start at 12.23am following the shipping forecast.
The programs are broadcast in Basicode, a language which can be understood by a wide range of computers using a special translation tape. Listeners interested in receiving the programs have to send for the BBC Chip Shop kit, a 90-page booklet and the translation cassette, costing £3.95.
The idea for Basicode was that of the Dutch broadcasting company, NOS. It has been using the language to transmit computer programs for the last 18 months and the idea has spread to Germany, the U.S. and Australia, as well as the U.K.
Initially, the BBC transmissions were available for most popular makes of micros, including the ZX-81, but the Spectrum is making a late entry. "The Spectrum is not widely sold in the Netherlands," explains researcher David Dawson, "which is why no translation tape was available for it at first." The BBC plans to have the Spectrum service operational early this month.
The BBC has already received thousands of letters about the programme and so far no-one has complained about the lateness of the data transmissions. "We broadcast them after hours so that ordinary listeners will not be disturbed by the noise," says David Dawson. A timing device can be bought to avoid having to stay up until the small hours.
At Wolverhampton, Beacon Radio has started another computer series. The fortnightly programme will be looking at computer applications and is experimenting with broadcasting software. The programme is on alternate Wednesdays at 9pm.