Last edit: 05-03-17 Graham Wideman
|Software and Hardware Projects and Products
Variousware: The Mail Order Software Escapade
Article created: 98-07-01
1983-1986: Once upon a time there was a company called Zenith, who thought (somewhat understandably) that it would be a really cool idea to make a computer that was partly compatible with an IBM PC, and partly a CPM machine, and it was called the "Z100". A certain customer purchased this machine, and discovered that it didn't run PC software worth a darn. Said customer stumbled across the complete assembler source code for the PC BIOS and the same for the Z100, and wondered how difficult it could be to make the latter compatible with the former.
Several weeks of vigorous typing (?) later, the first modules demonstrated that it was indeed possible to run PC versions of dBase III and Wordstar on the Z100! And in the true spirit of "any idiot with a PC and a PO Box can launch a product", the garage was commandeered, and a product called "IBEm" was launched.
Pretty soon it got a cover spot on the Heath/Zenith enthusiasts magazine, a mention in Byte, and Peter Norton's and Jerry Pournelle's offices wrote to find out what was going on. Well, to cut a long story short, this was one of several commercial attempts to make the Z100 compatible with PCs (the others were hardware boards), none of which were able to do a very complete job. And as fast as I could produce adaptations to suit particular applications, so customers found new products that didn't run. In the end everyone bought a PC and lost interest.
But along the way, my partner Bill Morris had cooked up a couple more products: a Tektronix 4010 vector terminal emulator package (FlexiTek), and a graphics screen printer package (FlexiPrint), both for Z100 and PC. FlexiPrint supported any dot-matrix printers (including color) that a customer would send us a manual for, and everyone got source code for everything. We managed to score a site license with a large defense agency (which one I won't mention) that had bought a boat-load of Z100's... and that made it almost worth it.