ENERGETIC entrepreneur Robert Maxwell has jumped in where the City fears to tread and has bought a controlling share of Sinclair Research. The deal gives Maxwell, millionaire owner of the Daily Mirror, 75 per cent of the shares in return for £12m cash. That money is required to pay off Timex, Thorn EMI and Sinclair's bankers.
Sir Clive himself retains about eight per cent of the company, and the title of life president, but he no longer has a seat on the board. Instead, he has a five year contract as technical consultant, to head research and development at the company. The C5 company, Sinclair Vehicles, is not involved in the deal.
Sinclair Research has been drifting towards the rocks for months, following gross over-production at Christmas. That left the company with over £30m of stocks, many of which are thought to be QLs.
Robert Maxwell appears to have bought himself a bargain; only a year ago Sinclair Research was valued at £100m. His first task will be to find a new chief executive, to replace Sir Clive.
As for Sir Clive, he claims to be happy about the situation. He says his new position as life president is 'grandiose but meaningless' and stresses that all planned new products will continue to be developed 'as before'. It is difficult to believe that he feels no distress at all at losing control of his company, but he has always claimed to have no interest in financial matters or indeed personal wealth, and as such may welcome the opportunity to spend more time in the laboratory.
"We welcome Maxwell with open arms," says Joe Woods, marketing manager for Terry Blood, the sole UK distributor of Sinclair hardware. "It's the best thing that could have happened to the industry and to Sinclair. The company needed to be managed in a much more professional way and you can't get much more professional than Robert Maxwell."
Woods confirms that the current distribution deal, which runs into 1986, still stands, and that Terry Blood continues to be 'fully involved with Sinclair Research.'
Maxwell may not find life on the high-tech seas all plain sailing, however. Acorn, which was bailed out by Olivetti five months ago for a similar sum, has once again asked that its shares be suspended, this time at 11 pence. The £12m pumped in has apparently gone.
The success of Sinclair Research, therefore, must depend on new products, if current sales are falling. Its earlier glories came about through taking tremendous risks where conventional business thought scorned the whole concept of mass home computing.
Whether Maxwell is prepared to back such risks with hard cash in future developments is a question which will continue to exercise the industry for many, many months to come.
A KIT to link two C5 batteries together is to be released by Sinclair Vehicles in response to criticism of the variable range of the machine. According to spokesman Bill Nichols, the kit will cost in the region of £35.00, inclusive of the second battery.
A recent report by consumer organisation Which? criticised the C5 on range, speed and reliability. It suggested that those limitations did not compare favourably with a bicycle, given the price of the C5 - £441.85 with the kit of extras.
C5 at twice the speed?
On safety, the report said it was difficult to see in traffic and the driver was vulnerable at bumper height. It did however praise the C5 as 'fun and free of fuss' in the current driving conditions.
Nichols says the speed is fixed by the law to allow drivers without insurance to use the vehicle. "If we had produced a faster vehicle," he says, "we would have produced other refinements as well. We claimed a range of up to 20 miles, not always that. Tests show the range to vary widely depending on traffic conditions, gradients, and road surface." He says the new battery kit should counter criticisms of range, and that Sinclair Vehicles was working on the battery and gearbox.
As for safety, he said there were no industry standards for the visibility of vehicles. Most organisations, such as the AA and Department of Transport, regarded the C5 as "no less safe than a bicycle". Nichols stresses that so far only two accidents with C5s have occurred, neither, he claims, involving other vehicles and both "induced by the driver, with no serious injury as a result."
HALF-PRICED copies of Komplex are being offered to disenchanted owners of The Great Space Race by Software house Legend.
If purchasers send back the poster enclosed in the package to Legend, together with a cheque for £4.95 they will receive a copy of Komplex in return.
Legend chairman John Peel is worried about the effect that TGSR has had on customer support for the company. "We're making the offer because we feel that TGSR failed to live up to many people's expectations. The fact that we actually lost over £200,000 on TGSR is not much consolation to people who bought the game and didn't like it. We take our customers seriously."
Sir Clive's wafer - on the right
THE WAFER-SCALE chip, which uses a four-inch disc of silicon to hold the equivalent power of hundreds of conventional chips, is almost set for production. Sir Clive Sinclair has announced the successful development of a technique for producing such chips at a cost and reliability rate which makes them viable for mass-production.
Metalab, the high-tech think tank set up by Sir Clive over a year ago for just such developments, appears to have succeeded first in a field where research has been going on for many years. A spokesman for Sinclair Research says the first wafer-scale product, a solid-state disc drive for the QL, is still on schedule for production later this year.
Meanwhile, plans for a £50m plant to exploit the new technology have been shelved by new owner Robert Maxwell. Instead, the company is looking for partners to help develop the new chip. Under the takeover deal, Sinclair Research retains the patent on the wafer-scale chip, but Sir Clive is to be allowed to continue private research on fifth generation computers, at his own expense.
In the event of Sir Clive's personal fortune being sufficient to sustain the necessary research, in an area where companies and governments are spending billions of dollars, Sinclair Research will have a first option on new products with Sir Clive retaining the patents.
Regardless of that, however, the new chip, if it lives up to the claims made, is a genuine technological breakthrough.
A MAJOR international piracy operation, involving software from Britain's biggest software houses, has been uncovered.
Inforpress, a Spanish publishing company, produces a cassette magazine which provides its customers with 10 programs a month. Those pieces of software have included Jet Set Willy from Software Projects, Danger Mouse in Double Trouble from Creative Sparks and Scuba Dive from Durell Software. Other companies which have had software pirated by Inforpress are Gargoyle Games, Vortex, Mikro-Gen, Softek and Artic.
Mike Meek of Mikro-Gen says: "We are sickened that the industry is being ripped off in this way. Recently I have been writing to magazines telling the people about our experiences of piracy and trying to get the trade to take note."
Some software houses are not so keen to pursue the issue as they believe nothing can be done about international piracy. A spokesman for Durell Software says: "We have been ripped off in Spain so many times that we've lost count."
LARGE NUMBERS of Sinclair machines may soon find themselves behind the Iron Curtain. Sinclair Research has been trying to strike a major deal to supply computers to Eastern bloc countries for some months, and the recent relaxation of export regulations on hi-tech products removes one of the last hurdles.
The strategy has been endorsed by new owner Robert Maxwell who, born in Czechoslavakia, has strong business links with the Eastern bloc. He has decided to personally head the sales drive, and that added impetus may well tip the balance in favour of an advantageous deal.
The move is clearly an attractive way of clearing the £30m stocks of unsold computers and televisions which brought Sinclair Research to its knees in the first place. Maxwell is not particularly worried about the silicon mountain he has acquired.
"I don't think the stocking is so horrendous," he says. "We have a chance of selling some to the USSR and Bulgaria providing we don't break the rules."
The Russian market looks particularly attractive. The Soviet Government has grandiose plans to introduce computers into all its schools; a contract on that scale is surely a mouthwatering prospect for any home computer company.
MANUFACTURE of the SPDOS disc interface, and all other Spectrum Products, has been stopped by Watford Electronics. SPDOS is now produced by Kempston which has changed the name to KDOS.
Kempston has reconfigured the package and included a centronics and joystick port with the 8K ROM-based operating system. Also included is a utility which can transfer tape software to disc.
Robert Schifreen, 21 and Stephen Gold, 19 have been charged with a further nine counts under section 1 of the 1981 Forgery and Counterfeiting Act.
Appearing at Bow Street Magistrates Court on Jun 12 to answer two accusations, each involving alleged unauthorised entries into Prestel computers, the prosecution announced a further five charges against Schifreen and four against Gold.
Both men own Spectrum computers and were first arrested last March - see June's Sinclair User. Bow Street magistrate R Bartle again put the defendants on unconditional bail and remanded the case until July 4 to give the defence time to prepare its case.
RUPERT, that trendy bear in yellow-check trousers, has made it to the computer screen. Join him in search of a riotous night in Rupert and the Toymaker's Party from Quicksilva. Out in August at £7.95.
US Gold is to launch Pole Position. Licensed from Atari, it will be in the shops this month for £7.95.
Melbourne House is bringing out a number of games. Terrormolinos is a graphic adventure about the trials of a Spanish package holiday. Full of greasy chips and screaming kids, it sounds fun and will be out in August for £7.95.
Mugsy's Revenge follows the success of Mugsy and is an adventure. It should be available in September at £7.95.
Marsport from Gargoyle is the first in a trilogy in which you have to retrieve secret plans from an abandoned spaceport on Mars. Look out for it in September at £9.95.
Firebird is to release two games - Cylu for the Silver range at £2.50 in August and Elite for the Gold range possibly in September.
Cylu sounds very similar to Ultimate's Alien 8. Elite is a simulation combat and trading game in which you must voyage through eight galaxies and 2000 planets in your space ship.
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13¾ is now a computer game. Programmed by Level 9 for Mosaic, you must help Adrian work out the problems which crop up in his young but complicated life. To be released in September at £9.95.
From Silversoft comes Baal - an arcade adventure with similar graphics to Alien 8 (again?). Baal, an apprentice devil must prove his worth before being allowed to steal souls from earth. Work your way up the levels to get out of hell. Baal will be out in August for around £9.00.
Silversoft is also releasing Greatest Hits for £7.95 - a compilation tape containing Orbiter, Ground Attack, Worse Things Happen at Sea and Hyperaction.
Boxing games have taken the software houses by storm. Rocco, from Gremlin sounds very similar to Punch Out!! the arcade game and follows close on the heels of Frank Brano's Boxing by Elite. Rocco is available for £7.95.
Monty on the Run, to be released in October for £7.95, continues the saga of the accident-prone mole. Help Monty escape to Brazil by getting him to the port before the ship sales.
Blade Runner from CRL is based loosely on the film and arcade game. Protect civilians in the crowded streets by destroying androids. It will be out in August for £8.95.
Seiclone from Hewson is an adventure space movie played in a similar way to Dragontorc. Solve problems while battling with the Seiddabs to gain control over them. Seiclone will be out in early October at £7.95.
Mikro-Gen has come up with a box of tricks which will overwrite the Spectrum ROM and enhance the memory by 50 per cent. The hardware will hold part of the program and also the tape loading routine. Shadow of the Unicorn will be the first to use the hardware and will be launched at the PCW show in September for £14.95. It is a role playing adventure in which you control 10 characters.
Elite is to bring out International Basketball at the end of this month for £5.99. Stay in control of the field and learn to pass and handle the ball with your team.