Commodore 64: on the way out?
SPRING is in the air and new micros are popping out all over. Meanwhile the high street stores are clearing out last year's dead wood and Commodore appears to be the first victim.
Sales of the C64 have been temporarily discontinued by Boots and Lasky, who blame Commodore's eccentric pricing policy for the decision.
"We currently have no 64s in stock," explains John Greengrass, head of Boots' computer department, "and we cannot afford to buy any more from Commodore at a loss."
If Commodore seems to be losing its grip on the market, both Amstrad and Atari are consolidating theirs. The new Amstrad machine, the CPC 664, looks set to be as successful as its predecessor, the 464. It is selling for £339, with a monochrome monitor, and £449 with colour.
The new 130XE from Atari
Atari, continuing its bid for world domination, has launched the 130XE, a 128K eight-bit micro costing £170.
The company has also unveiled its QL competitor at the Hanover Fair. The 520ST, the first in a range of 16-bit machines, will sell for £700. It will be available in September.
From Acorn comes the BBC B Plus, a 64K upgraded model B, selling for just under £500. Price reductions look likely for the model B now.
The problems presently suffered by Commodore will probably affect the launch of its C128 computer, scheduled for the late summer. Boots and Lasky have suggested that they will not be placing orders until the viability of the machine is assessed, and until Commodore adopts a sensible price strategy.
As for Sinclair, sales of the Spectrum continue to be very satisfactory, according to Boots. The QL, however, continues to show unremarkable progress, and the planned portable, called Pandora, is firmly scheduled for next year.
SOFTWARE HOUSES are banding together to stamp down on piracy and a number of people have been taken successfully to court.
Rod Evans of New Generation took a London council worker to court after seeing an advertisement offering well known games for a pittance. "I didn't like the look of it - this company, Leosoft, was advertising top-selling software, two for £5.00."
Evans ordered two games, Knot in 3D - one of New Generation's games, and Quicksilva's Ant Attack. "They were rip-offs," he says, "with photocopied cassette inlays." He then got in touch with his local Trading Standards Office, which managed to trace Yarnold, who admitted copying cassettes.
Yarnold was fined £400 on two charges of false trade descriptions and ordered to pay £190.
A group of software houses, led by Artic, has also been active, bringing civil action against four people accused of pirating.
Damages were not pressed but they did admit to copying software and were bound by the court not to repeat their activities.
MICRONET has increased its subscription from £8.00 to £10.00 a quarter. This is the first increase since the database was launched two years ago and will commence on June 1.
The database has grown extensively from those early days in March 1983 and many services have been added, including the extension of local call access, Mailbox, Chatline, Celebrity Chatline and Gallery.
Gallery allows subscribers to purchase one or more pages of the database - each page consisting of 26 frames.
They will be able to compose their own frames either with information or designs and edit them accordingly. In fact each subscriber will have control of their own mini-database on Micronet.
The cost to purchase one frame for six months is 25 pence and the editing charge is four pence per frame.
Micronet will retain ultimate control over the content of subscribers' pages, and will not interfere unless the rules are contravened by libellous or obscene material and information such as hacking tips.
BEYOND Software is launching a new software label called Monolith.
Monolith and Beyond will be run as two autonomous companies. Each label will be targeting its games at different audiences; Monolith will be mainly arcade-style games as opposed to the detailed strategy/adventure programs like Lords of Midnight.
"Monolith is a marketing vehicle which allows us to produce software and to acquire character licences from TV and film," says a Beyond spokesman.
The first two games to be launched by Monolith at the end of June will retail at £9.95 and are Rockford's Riots - a follow-up to Boulder Dash which will be on the B side, licensed from First Star - and Quake Minus One by Mike Singleton, of Lords of Midnight fame, and Warren Foulkes.
The game is set in the USA where there is a vast mining complex under the sea run by robots. They threaten to cause an earthquake which will topple California into the drink and you have only one day in which to sort out the mess.
Characters licensed from TV and film will be a major part of the Monolith look, and a game to be released by Monolith in September will have an even larger character licence than Ghostbusters - obviously one to look forward to.
THE ill-starred pocket TV, which has been available in the UK for 18 months without anybody noticing, is going down extremely well in the US, according to Sinclair Research.
Sinclair claims the flatscreen TV, a long-cherished dream of Sir Clive's, has been selling well through a promotion in the States involving the credit card giant American Express. Initial orders of 10,000 are quoted, with predictions of a further 10 to 15000 a month.
The TV, which can tune itself to signals anywhere in the world, has not proved so popular in the UK. Nevertheless, Sinclair reports increased sales recently with regional distributors expressing interest as well as London stores.
No figures for sales are forthcoming, but Bill Jeffrey, the overlord of Sinclair's TV operation, says research shows enormous potential in the UK, and "a high level of satisfaction among existing owners."
Meanwhile, Sir Clive has been talking to at least two companies over selling the rights to manufacture and market the product. If those moves are successful, the money raised should enable Sinclair to pay off a substantial proportion of its current overdraft.
On the other hand, the current reticence on UK sales figures must surely indicate that the world's first flat-screened, portable TV has still fallen well short of the initial hopes Sir Clive had for the invention he has been pursuing for 20 years.
IN Cauldron, from Palace Software, you play the part of a witch in an exciting arcade adventure. Cauldron is priced at £7.99.
A View to a Kill is the latest Bond movie and Domark is releasing the Spectrum version to coincide with the premiere. A View to a Kill will be stalking the streets on June 7, priced at £10.99.
Firebird has come up with Don't Buy This at £2.50 and is a compilation of five of the worst games submitted.
On the subject of Firebird, a gremlin appeared in the Gyron review - May, Sinclair User where we said that a Porsche 924 would be won by the first person to wrest the code from Necropolis. If by November 6 there is more than one correct entry, a play-off will be held for the prize. And if you are stuck for clues, look carefully at the face on the cassette box.
The Fourth Protocol, based on the novel by Frederick Forsyth, has been delayed due to a programming hitch and will be released on June 20 for £12.95.
A new game from Hodder & Stoughton is called Rats, based upon the nauseating best seller by James Herbert. Due to be released in September, it will put you back £6.95, or £8.95 with the book.
Dun Durach, the prequel to Tir Na Nog is Gargoyle's latest release. Retailing at £9.95, it will be released on May 30.
RUMOURS that Sinclair Research is in deep financial trouble have been flying around recently, with stories of a collapse in share prices from £34 to £11. A story in the Observer suggested there was no demand for Sinclair stock,, and that Sinclair Research would experience problems raising finance for future projects.
"The Observer has a vivid imagination," says Sir Clive. "Sinclair Research has large stocks of Spectrums because the retail trade got their calculations badly wrong at Christmas. We have 300,000 machines, and so we have rescheduled production."
Sinclair Research also has a £5m overdraft, against £8.5m cash at the same time last year. "We're all right for the time being," says Sir Clive, "but I'd rather not have one." It is not a disastrous situation for a company with stocks worth £34m, but neither does it inspire confidence among potential investors in future projects, such as the planned semi-conductor plant for waferchip products which requires £50m to set up.
Sinclair Research apparently made a small loss in January but improved sales in February and March. World-wide supplies of Spectrums are now said to be running at a little under 200,000 a month, the target figure for production.
On the subject of shares, and reports that large numbers of Sinclair shares have been sold, Sir Clive said he knew nothing of any share movements. A spokesman for Sinclair Research threw some light on the situation by explaining that one person had sold 50 shares for about £10 pounds each, and consequently a few hundred more were sold in another transaction. "That's out of four million shares," says the spokesman. It appears that reports may have been influenced by rumours in the City stemming from the one small transaction.
"I don't know much about financial markets," joked Sir Clive, "but they do tend to overreact."
FOLLOWING the recent problems Prestel has experienced with hackers, Robert Schifreen and Stephen Gold have been charged with forgery under Section 1 of the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act, 1981.
Between them, Schifreen and Gold have been charged with allegedly forging electrical devices for recording information on the Prestel Gateway test computer, the Vampire facility of the Kipling computer and the Keats and Dickens computers.
Police raided both men's homes on March 27 and confiscated computers and electrical equipment.
On April 3 both were remanded on unconditional bail until June 12 when the case will be heard at Bow Street Magistrates Court.
The maximum fine or term which Schifreen and Gold can be charged with under Section 1 of the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act, 1981, is £1000 or six months imprisonment.
THE Sinclair electric trike has now come in for criticism from the Advertising Standards Authority, which has attacked the C5 advertising campaign.
According to a leaked draft of the report, the ASA criticises the claims made that the machine is "safer than anything on two wheels", and that it cruises at twice the speed of a bicycle.
Bill Nichols, a spokesman for Sinclair Vehicles, says the report is only a draft and the company has an opportunity to reply to the charges before the final judgement.
The revelations are clearly embarrassing to Sinclair Vehicles, since they follow stories in the press about Holland banning the C5 on safety grounds.
"The changes we are making to the C5 are simply to comply with local laws," says Nicholas. "We also have to put on a colour code to indicate the insurance class of the vehicle."
Production of the C5 in Wales has been cut from 1000 a week to 100. Of the 100 workers, 90 have been reassigned to producing Hoover washing machines. Nichols blames the bad winter for poor sales in the UK.
The first prosecution involving a C5 has been thrown out of court.
It involved a Kent University student who was pedalling a C5 back from a charity ball. He was arrested by the police who alleged he was drunk and prosecuted accordingly.
NIDD Valley has released two joystick interfaces incorporating its Slomo invention, a device to slow down arcade games so you can get more time to think.
The Pace-Setter interfaces are said to give full control over the speed of games even while you play. There are two interfaces, a programmable one at £24.95 and a non-programmable interface at £14.95. Both incorporate an on-off switch and an LED to indicate the mode of speed being used.
Nidd Valley is anxious that other companies may be about to infringe the patent of the invention, which has been applied for. A spokesman for the company is concerned that potential customers should make sure the product they buy has the Slomo logo on it.