|Amstrad axes QL in Sinclair sell out|
ALMOST a year of speculation over the future of the country's best known micro company, Sinclair Research, ended on April 7 with the announcement that Amstrad has bought out Sinclair's computer business for a cash of sum of just £5m.
The announcement means big changes for Sinclair with news that the ill-fated QL model is to be scrapped, along with the controversial Microdrive storage system.
Instead, Amstrad looks set to introduce a new version of the Spectrum 128 before the end of this year which - in keeping with Amstrad's bundling philosophy - will feature a built-in cassette tape player.
First victim of the new Amstrad regime: the 'unsuccessful' QL
"We will also be producing a limited number of peripherals for the Spectrum 128," said Amstrad chief Alan Sugar. "A disc drive is on the cards, it will be 3 inch.
"The cheapest of the Sinclair/Amstrad products will be £139, including VAT, and it will be a Son of Sinclair. We think that the price war situation of last year was ridiculous and don't intend to further drop the prices of any of the current Sinclair range of computers."
First details of the a effective takeover of Sinclair's computer business came at the start of trading at the Stock Exchange on Monday, April 7. A statement issued by Amstrad at the Stock Exchange announced that Amstrad had purchased from Sinclair Research the worldwide rights to manufacture and market all existing and future Sinclair computers, the rights to use the Sinclair brand name and all intellectual property rights where they relate to computers and computer-related products.
The intention is that the Sinclair and Amstrad computer product lines will now evolve in parallel. The Sinclair products will concentrate very much as at present in the low-cost predominantly games computer market, while the Amstrad models will offer more sophisticated applications for the advanced home user and with the introduction of Amstrad's much rumoured IBM PC compatible clone - the business user.
After the announcement Amstrad chairman Alan Sugar said,"Sinclair computers have dominated the entertainment market in Europe for the last two or three years, while Amstrad has seen itself as supplying machines for the more serious home computer and word-processor market. Both ranges have their own niches in the computer market.
"We are committed to taking all stocks of computers which Sinclair Research owns but I think that it can't be denied that the QL model was not successful. We will be de-stocking that product and I don't see continued production. We have a duty to maintain support for QL owners for seven years - that includes keeping a stock of parts of the model.
"Amstrad will also study the reasons why the Sinclair products have given cause for rumour of poor quality - in a lot of cases the rumours are unfounded but the Sinclair machines are complicated to use compared with the 'complete package' systems marketed by Amstrad."
"It is not a rescue deal for Sinclair Research," stressed Sir Clive. "We had some alternative offers of investment within the business as it stood but the Amstrad deal was the better option. Sinclair Research's creditors are happy with the deal."
Sinclair's Spectrum Plus and 128K computers, for the present will continue to be manufactured by the three current sub-contractors, Timex, AB Electronics and Thorn.
Immediately after the Stock Exchange announcement on Monday April 7 Amstrad's shares fell 16p to £4.72 but recovered somewhat to £4.78 after the implications of the takeover had been digested by the City.
Commented one stock broker, "The City has a good impression of Amstrad yet gets wobbles in the stomach where the name of Sinclair is concerned.
"The City appears to have taken the news in its stride - if they had been really worried they would have cut the Amstrad share price right back - that they didn't is a sign of their confidence that Amstrad is doing things right."
The sale ends months of doubt over the future of Sinclair's computer products which began with the July cash crisis, the abortive take-over plan proposed by Robert Maxwell's Pergammon subsidiary Hollis, the launch of the Spectrum 128 model before Christmas in Spain, and the sale of £10m worth of Spectrum Plus models to high street chain Dixons.
Following the sale of its computer division to Amstrad, Sinclair's Cambridge headquarters have been given notice. According to one source all staff up to 'manager level' have been sacked including product manager Chris Clifton.
Sir Clive is to turn his attention to a number of separate ventures. With just five Sinclair Research employees he is to concentrate on developing innovative technologies in telecommunications and semiconductor technology.
Explained Sir Clive "Part of the package will include floating off the communications side of the business which is in Winchester, and the wafer scale business which has some initial financial backing from Barclays. We are also floating a research and development company to do contract research for a limited number of corporate clients.
"The first wafer scale products will be available next year and the first will be a large memory device with 40 megabits on a single chip."
Sinclair is also to continue with development of its Pandora portable computer incorporating a development of Sinclair's flat-screen display and Amstrad under the April 7 agreement retains an option to manufacture and market any future Sinclair computer products.
The shareholding within Sinclair Research remains the same: 80 per cent to Sir Clive, 10 percent is held by institutional share holders and another 10 percent is held by individuals. One Per Desk royalties will remain with Sinclair Research.
Reaction from software houses following the news of the Spectrum takeover by Amstrad remained cautious. Ocean's managing director David Ward commented, "In the short term there will probably be a better marketing drive in Europe for the Sinclair machines, but in the long term the news is not too good. Amstrad is not an R&D company and the Sinclair inventiveness will no longer be there.
"There is a possibility that the next replacement for the Spectrum will be an Amstrad machine in a Spectrum case."
Andrew Hewson of Hewson Consultants said, "The Amstrad and Sinclair are two distinct styles of machine even if they run on the same microprocessor. In terms of development, will Amstrad bother to make use of the knowledge it's bought?"
TWO members of the Electric Pencil Company, famous for The Fourth Protocol and Zoids, have split from the software house to form a new programming team called Binary Vision.
Rupert Bowater and Paul Norris claim that the split is amicable. Bowater says: "We are very happy with the way things have gone with EPC, but have slightly different ideas on a direction for the future."
Binary Vision is now working on a new project for Palace Software which will hopefully be completed for release at the next PCW Show in September. It is as yet untitled but can best be described as a tropical escapade set between the first and second world wars. Binary Vision is the team which programmed Max Headroom.
|Hewson violates curse|
HOT ON THE heels of the arcade spectacular Quazatron comes Pyracurse, from Hewson.
The game, which was originally entitled Sphinx, is a multi-character adventure with 3D scrolling graphics. It follows the exploits of four explorers to South America.
Pericles Pemberton-Smyth, the famous archaeologist, is missing and his daughter Daphne is trying to locate him. When last seen he was exploring the Sinu region of the Andes in search of the tomb of the Xipe Totec, an ancient god.
Some years before his disappearance Pericles had stumbled across the tomb of Totec's daughter which was guarded by the curse, 'He who violates my daughter's resting place will have his own daughter violated'.
The remaining members of the expedition are Daphne's dog; Legless O'Donnell - a British reporter-and Professor Rodger Kile from the British museum.
Hewson claims the game is different from other 3D adventures as all the characters have separate motives for being on the expedition.
The graphics are also some of the most realistic to be found on the Spectrum. The game will be available in June for £9.95.
|The Archers adventure|
THE SLEEPY village of Ambridge, Mark, Shula and the rest of the cast are about to make their debut on the Spectrum 48K in The Archers, an adventure from Mosaic Publishing.
The game is being produced by Level Nine Computing, and the complex multiple story lines are being written by William Smethurst, editor of the BBC radio programme.
He was chosen for the project because he knows more about life in the fictional village of Ambridge than any of its residents.
Following the success of The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Mosaic is planning to publish a sequel to the adventure game which will be called The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole. The plot is taken from Sue Townsend's second book about the spotty adolescent monster.
Adrian Mole will be published in the summer, while country and soap fans will have to wait until the autumn for The Archers to appear.
|Alligata's Rambo repeat|
THE COMMANDO theme, which Elite started with its arcade game of the same name, has been continued in Who Dares Wins II, from Alligata Software.
You may also find similarities between this game and Rambo. Armed with only an automatic rifle and five grenades you must enter enemy territory, destroy enemy troops and blitz buildings. To score really mega points, however, you must rescue prisoners.
Alligata promises "everything you'd expect in a real life combat zone, but to alert you to the dangers would disrupt the balance of the fighting machine that you've been trained to become."
|Pandora's box remains closed|
THE PANDORA, Sinclair's portable computer, will not be launched this year despite an announcement made by Sir Clive at the launch of the Spectrum 128.
Sinclair Research states that the machine will not be ready until 1987, but that some pre-production models will be up and running to allow market testing later this year.
Much of the machine's specification has been finalised but, as reported in last month's Sinclair User, the medium used for the Pandora's mass storage memory has yet to be agreed. If, as seems likely, a CP/M operating system is to be implemented on be machine, a disc drive may be included in the package. However, Sinclair is studying the use of a new medium - the Smart Card.
The device is similar to a credit card with a program encoded on the magnetic tape surface. It can be mad almost instantaneously into the computer and the programs are harder to pirate. Unfortunately, the machine would still have to contain a disc drive because the Smart Card is read-only and you cannot store your own programs on it.
Despite the extension of the launch deadline, Sinclair still aims to keep the price of its portable as low as possible. Although no firm price has been fixed it is likely that the machine will be priced below £400.
THE MYSTERY of the Nexus connection has been solved.
After many months of frantic hack work, we can reveal that Nexus the company is almost ready to launch Nexus the game for the Spectrum Plus.
The arcade-adventure turns you into a super journalist on the trail of drug smugglers. You must first train to be a hack before getting the dope on the gang operating the ring.
Your job will be difficult as objects like a pencil, shorthand pad and camera are not the only articles you need. You'll have to train to use your fists as deadly weapons in a special gymnasium set up for Nexus members. When you've attained some karate skills you can go after the drug peddlers.
Nexus the company has been setup by Paul Voysey and Tayo Olowu of Shadowfire fame, and they have been joined by Bill Delaney and Clive Bailey from Beyond Software.
Delaney and Bailey came to the Sinclair User offices with a portable video recorder to show a demonstration of the game. The graphics are similar to those of Shadowfire and Enigma Force.
Nexus is based in a multi-storey tower block and characters can be ordered to perform several tasks in sequence - usually violent using the keyboard or joystick.
A release date has not yet been fixed but Nexus indicates that it could be launched sometime in April. It will cost £9.95 and be compatible with the Spectrum 128.
|A mouse in control|
IF YOU haven't got a mouse but would like one, Nidd Valley Products can supply you with an interface to control one of these beasts using the Spectrum 48K or 128K.
The Digimouse ZX Interface supports only one mouse which can be used for freehand drawing, cursor-controlled input using icons, and the selection of options in your own programs. It will also support Kempston joystick compatible games, and a joystick can be plugged into give you a choice of control devices.
The interface is compatible with all Spectrum graphics packages and costs £49.50 inc.
A Centronics printer interface is incorporated on another version of the interface - the Digimouse J S Interface. Nidd Valley has created an easy to use printer driver so that you can tailor the Centronics interface to suit your particular circumstances. lt costs £59.90 inclusive.
Both packages can be ordered from Nidd Valley Micro Products, Yorkshire.