Bad to Good
If, a couple of years ago, you had said that at some future date I would be
looking at buying an “IBM” you would have received a fairly abusive reply. When
IBM first introduced the PC there were, in my opinion, a number of major
shortcomings. They were expensive, PC-DOS was fairly ropey, the video left a
lot to be desired, there was little software around, and they were very slow.
At that particular stage I was using a Gemini Galaxy system with Winchester and
RAM-DISK, mainly for WordStar work, and this combination was vastly faster than
WordStar on the PC, the software apparently being a “straight-forward” code
conversion from CP/M / 8080
to PC-DOS / 8088.
But, by paving the very name IBM, this monstrosity almost overnight became a
standard. Subsequently developments have raced ahead, with sore powerful,
faster processors; many improvements to the Operating System; a vast reduction
in prices; faster, better and more colourful displays; and huge quantities of
very good software.
Why Change ?
There were a number of reasons for deciding to buy an “IBM”, but there was one
Here at Scorpio Systems, as well as producing this glorious publication, a lot
of time is spent producing technical documentation. A laser printer is used to
produce master copy. This printer is capable of very many fancy tricks, and
incorporates a large number of different fonts, its most attractive being
certain proportional ones. But WordStar does not understand the concept of
proportional fonts, and that lines of equal length can contain considerably
different numbers of letters. Take the words lilly and mummy for example, and
you can quickly appreciate that in a proportional font, where each letter has
its own width rather than a fixed width for all letters, the former word
occupies a much shorter line length then the latter.
So WordStar can not be sensibly used to take full advantage of the laser’s
facilities, and it therefore currently tends to be used, in effect, as a very
high speed high quality daisy-wheel, with the advantage of there being various
fixed-spacing fonts available for various applications. (For example, a fairly
small font is used for Scorpio News in order to get as much information as
possible into a limited number of pages, whilst still maintaining good
legibility. It can go MUCH smaller!)
Having a printer that is as capable as this one, but being so restricted in the
number of features that can be used, must be akin to owning 2 Lambourghini
Countach (capable of c. 180mph) and living in Jersey (maximum speed limit
40mph). There doesn’t appear to be any CP/M-80 software around to use it to its
full, but under MS-DOS there are various programs, particularly Xerox Ventura
Publisher, which are capable of some pretty (sic) amazing things.
What To Buy ?
Anyway, having decided that it was time to go ‘compatible’, the big question was
with what? When you start to look around the IBM / Clone market piece it all
very quickly becomes very confusing. 8088, 8086, 8186, 80286, 4.77KHz, 6MHz,
8MHz, 10MHz, 12MHz, 0 wait states, 1 wait state, slow seek, fast seek, 10MB,
20MB, 30MB, 320K, 360K, 720K, 1.2MB, MS-DOS, PC-DOS, 3.5″, 5.25″, MDA, CGA, EGA,
PGA, Hercules ..... these are among the different things that are thrown at you.
And that was BEFORE Personal System 2, 80386, and 0S/2 started to get in on the
I decided that the best policy was to adopt a “maximum bangs per optimum bucks”
philosophy, i.e. to go for the best possible specification prior to prices
starting to go through the ceiling. On this basis it very soon became apparent