Uncle Clive and Cap'n Bob - a relationship in tatters?
SINCLAIR Research has been saved by its creditors and bankers, after Robert Maxwell decided to withdraw his support.
The creditors, including Thorn EMI, Timex and AB Electronics, together with bankers Barclays and Citibank, have decided to extend their loans so that the company can face the Christmas selling period with confidence. The agreement allows Sir Clive to remain as chairman and director of Sinclair Research with the new management team, headed by chief executive Bill Jeffrey.
Jeffrey, who was only recently appointed as chief executive, says: "Sinclair Research now has the support of its bankers and major suppliers and we look forward to building on the company's strong. market leadership position, and continuing its outstanding achievement as a source of new ideas and products."
The banks with which Sir Clive is connected are also pleased that they have been able to bail out the company. Paul Borret, a divisional general manager of Barclays Bank and one of the signatories of the agreement, says: "We are delighted that we have been able to reach an agreement on continuing financial and manufacturing support for Sinclair Research. This agreement and the new management team, combined with Sir Clive's undoubted flair in the field of research and technology, enable us to share the company's hopes for a return to sound and profitable trading."
A week before the announcement Robert Maxwell withdrew from a plan to save Sinclair Research. The reason given was that the board of Maxwell's subsidiary company Hollis, having taken advice from their bankers and a specially commissioned report, decided that the rescue would not be advisable.
The collapse of the deal was hurriedly followed by a statement from Sir Clive claiming that not only did he not need Maxwell's money but that his company was on the road to recovery, and that the Dixons deal made all the difference.
One of the main reasons for Sinclair's financial problems is the unpredictability of the home computer market. According to stock brokers Wood Mackenzie the market should be worth £430 million this year. Although Sinclair Research is likely to have a turnover of £100 million the company could make a loss of £5 million. As Sinclair Research has 40 per cent of the market share and the state of the company is shaky the situation does not bode well for the rest of the market.
THE 128K Spectrum does exist but might not be available until well into 1986.
Despite attempts by Sinclair Research to play down rumours of the machine, whose existence was revealed in the July issue of Sinclair User, it is said to have a 128K RAM which is switched in 64K chunks, two display modes, a joystick port and a sound chip which is similar to that used on the Amstrad computers.
The 128K could cost as little as £199.00 and that might be one reason why Sinclair will not yet release the machine - it would compete with the QL which is a 16-bit machine and already has 128K RAM as standard.
If Sinclair does not launch the 128K computer before Christmas it will be the only company without such a machine on the market at the end of the year. Atari, Commodore and Amstrad all have computers with 128K RAM.
WHATEVER happened to Program Express?
In July 1984 the company launched a revolutionary method of electronic software distribution. Retailers were to buy a terminal, linked to a central database, on which was stored thousands of software titles. Those titles could be downloaded onto tape or disc by the retailer and sold to the customer.
We were told that the system would do away with the usual retail problems such as choosing which titles to put on the shelves and overstocking. We were also informed that the device would be tested in branches of John Menzies and that Boots was also interested.
A year later nothing has happened - well, almost nothing. British Telecom has just become the major shareholder in Program Express. The agreement means that BT will provide finance for the operation while the three Program Express directors, Gilmour Kennedy, Bruce Nevil and Grant Robertson will share responsibility for the running of the company.
It is still not clear, however, what Program Express intends to do with its wonder network. No terminals have reached retailers and none of the promised testing has been done. A spokesman for BT says: "We are still considering the situation and our plans will be announced later."
THE ROUND Britain Yacht Race has become available to users of Micronet 800, the telesoftware database, in the form of a multi-user game similar to MUD and Starnet.
It will cater for thousands of simultaneous players each week and employs the latest overlay frame technology to create a giant map of the United Kingdom.
Players travel around the UK, searching for four secret locations. Clues are put onto the screen as the race progresses. Once the locations have been found they can be put into the Micronet mailbox. Winners of the race will be notified every fortnight and receive £100.
Ian Rock, marketing manager of Micronet, says that the game "represents an exciting new direction in computer games and offers significant advantages over cassette based games.
"The interactivity of Micronet allows players to confer and discuss strategies, and the game's scenario changes every week adding a high degree of flexibility."
LENSLOK is a new security device which protects software from piracy while allowing back up copies to be produced.
It is a two-part system. The first part is a machine code routine which produces a code on screen which must be typed in before the software can be used. The second part is a lens which arrives with the program.
When a lenslocked code appears on the screen, it can only be read by placing the appropriate lens above it and looking through the lens. Each code contains at least two characters - upper and lower case letters or numbers. Each time the game is loaded the code will be different, but it can read in the same way.
Each lenslocked product will arrive complete with its own lens. It cannot be used with another game, even with one produced by the same company.
The first game to feature the new system will be the Spectrum version of Elite from Firebird. ASAP Developments, the manufacturers of Lenslok, expect to see a large number of other games including the system on the Christmas market.
Unlike previous protective dongles, the Lenslok is cheap to manufacture and not unnecessarily bulky. Manufacturers can protect themselves against piracy without incurring high costs, which would be passed on to the purchaser.
The only way for pirates to break into the system appears to be the coding system buried in the software. ASAP admits that, like any protection device, it is not 100 per cent secure, but stresses that even the most experienced hackers will have problems breaking this system.
The major problem for users seems to be the possibility of losing or damaging a lens. Back-up copies of software will prove useless if the appropriate lens is not available.
In the long run, it is the user who stands to gain from the elimination of piracy. Software theft costs manufacturers money, and the only way they can recoup that money is in the price of games. If the Lenslok code prove secure it could benefit all software users.
STONECHIP Electronics has gone into liquidation. The company was one of the first to manufacture an independent 16K RAM pack for the Spectrum. Since then it has been producing upgrades for the Spectrum, joystick interfaces and keyboard.
Bud Computers has also gone into liquidation. The company produced the Interstate 31 and InterstatePro joystick interfaces.
PIRACY does not pay and CP Software can prove it.
The company has successfully brought a prosecution against market trader Andre Bitton for selling counterfeit computer software. The case was tried before magistrates at Guildford, Surrey, where Bitton pleaded not guilty to 16 charges brought against him. Despite the plea the magistrates found him guilty of all charges and imposed one fine of £30 for a Copyright Act offence and 15 fines of £100 on offences under the Trades Descriptions Act.
Chris Whittington of CP Software says: "We think that the case will make people in the industry sit up and take notice.
"As you can see the fines are pretty hefty and this guy has had his fingers burned."
BORED OF THE RINGS, awarded a Sinclair User classic in July, is now to be marketed by Silversoft.
The game is a cheerful spoof of Tolkien's trilogy, put together with the help of Gilsoft's Quill and Illustrator programs, and written by software house Delta 4. It stars Fordo the Boggit who lives in the Shire with his uncle Bimbo. His great quest brings him into contact with such dubious characters as Legoland the Elf and Giblet the Dwarf.
Silversoft was first involved when a distributor which wished to sell the game contacted its sister company, CRL. With a heavy load of new releases on their plate, CRL suggested that Silversoft take on the game, which was previously available by mail order only.
The game has been extended slightly for Silversoft. It contains more pictures and locations in a longer version of the adventure. Look out for it in the shops.
AN INITIATIVE aimed at reviving the ailing educational software market has been launched by eight software companies.
The British Educational Software Associates, or BESA, are looking to establish an initial network of 200 retail outlets - specialist dealers who will stock a core of 40 educational titles and offer customers advice.
The emphasis is on service, with a catalogue of some 250 programs and an ordering system available to parents and teachers. "Educational software is not an impulse purchase," says Roy Davey, marketing director of Hill MacGibbon and Collins. "Customers want to know where they can find a good stock, and see it demonstrated."
Martin Neild of MacMillan says the market has grown since the days when the home computer was expected to revolutionise learning overnight. "Software publishers have learned from their mistakes and are now publishing top quality imaginative software. Now it's a question of regaining the confidence of the retailer and the end-user.
There are hopes of expanding the Association's activities next year. The founding companies - ASK, Calpac, Collins, Bourne Educational, Widgit, Hill MacGibbon, Griffin and MacMillan - hope to be joined by more producers next year.
Further information is available from Barbara Warren of Calpac, or Martin Neild of MacMillan.
The bloody war veteran Rambo is set to explode onto your computer in October in Rambo's Blood Part II, from Ocean, costing £7.95.
Also in October, Ocean is releasing Transformer, based on the latest toy craze of robots. It will cost £7.95. Cosmic War Toads is the working title for the next Ocean game.
Lothlorien has just released Arena, an arcade game with futuristic tank battles priced at £9.99, while Mind Games is releasing Evil Crown, set in feudal times. It is icon driven and costs £7.99.
Schizofrenia is about to escape from Quicksilva. As Alfonse, cleaner at a laboratory, you must regain your alter ego. Price £7.99.
As threatened, Global Software is publishing a series of Golden Turkey Games. Attack of the Mushroom People is out in October. The games will cost £6.95.
Fun 'n' Games is the new label from New Generation. Custard Kid is set in a custard pie factory. Cliff Hanger relies heavily on the humour found in cartoons such as Road Runner. Both games cost £4.95 each.
A new game from Melbourne House is set in Egypt. Fighting Warrior is the working title, the price £6.95, and it should be out at the end of September.
Activision enters the ring with Barry McGuigan's World Championship Boxing. Price and release date still being considered. Imagine that you have entered a major business computer. That is the start of Hacker, from Activision. The game is scheduled for September.
Be the scourge of the high seas. Seas of Blood is on the Fighting Fantasy label and costs £9.95.
International Karate, by System 3, is due out soon and costs £6.50. Revenge of The Last Ninja, will be released in October.
Gilbert Gumphrey is the store detective known as Grumpy Gumphrey. The game by Gremlin Graphics, comes out in November, priced at £7.95.
Saving the people of New York from evil is the plot of Superman, from Beyond, due out in October at £9.95.
Electric Dreams Software has two games due out. Riddlers Den, a strategy/arcade program, priced at £7.95, and I of the Mask based around a masked robot character. Price is set at £9.95.
Orpheus is releasing The Young Ones in October, based on the unpleasant TV comedy series. It is icon driven and will cost £7.95.