Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

Y'know, other stuff, Sinclair related.
User avatar
Rorthron
Manic Miner
Posts: 607
Joined: Sun Nov 12, 2017 10:35 pm

Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

Post by Rorthron » Fri Jun 22, 2018 1:33 pm

The question came up in the Vega+ discussion as to what credit Clive Sinclair deserves for his role in computing history. I remember "Uncle" Clive as the face of the ZX81 and Spectrum, and it's easy to look back on his role fondly. But is that just a rose-tinted view?

Some suggested that the credit really belongs with the likes of Rick Dickinson, Richard Altwasser and Steve Vickers for the industrial, hardware and firmware design. I have to confess that nowadays I'm drawn to that view. I suppose we don't know exactly what Clive Sinclair's involvement was, but it's hard to point to many things he got right. He deserves credit for spotting the opportunity for low-cost home computers early on, but after that dropped the ball completely, squandering effort on projects like Microdrives, portable CRT TVs and the C5.

And he didn't just make "business" mistakes. He made a series of terrible technology decisions: preferring CRT to LCD, tape to floppy disc storage, etc.

Clive Sinclair was in the right place at the right time when one of the biggest transitions in history was getting going. Peers like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates laid the foundations for (almost) trillion dollar businesses. Clive mostly blew it.

But what do you all think?
1 x

User avatar
PaddyC13
Berk
Posts: 14
Joined: Fri Mar 09, 2018 4:46 pm
Location: UK

Re: Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

Post by PaddyC13 » Fri Jun 22, 2018 2:00 pm

Personally I believe Sir Clive was an ideas man and someone who made things happen. Sir Clive hired the talent to make his and/or their dreams reality. If it was not for Clive's drive and vision many of the projects would never have happened.

There is no doubting that the ZX81 and Spectrum were a commercial success but there are more failures than successes. Sir Clive is more like Steve Jobs than Bill Gates although no where near as successful. :D

There were far too many side projects that Sir Clive funneled valuable resources in to. If you look at the C5, it was never going to be a serious vehicle. If it had been marketed as a disability scooter or expensive toy then it may have been a different story.

The QL was ahead of its time in so many ways but was nobbled by daft decisions like processor, RAM and Microdrives. If the QL had been like the ST or Amiga it may have been an amazing success.

For me, Sir Clive will always have a special place as he did help to kick start the amazing reputation that the UK has for software development etc. Not sure this was by design but he gets a gold star anyway.

Paddy
2 x

User avatar
1024MAK
Manic Miner
Posts: 212
Joined: Wed Nov 15, 2017 2:52 pm
Location: Sunny Somerset in the U.K. in Europe

Re: Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

Post by 1024MAK » Fri Jun 22, 2018 2:41 pm

From the outside, it will always be difficult to work out exactly what went on in Sinclair Research Ltd. But it was Sir Clive Sinclair's company. So as the owner and the boss, he made the important decisions. So he should therefore at least get some credit.

Now we have hindsight to use to help us judge all his mistakes. But back in the 1980's it was rather different.

At the time of the launch of the ZX Spectrum, all video monitors and TVs were CRT technology. LCDs were only used in watches, clocks, calculators, handheld computers, handheld game machines and some expensive portable computers. So a low cost portable CRT may have appeared to be a good idea.

If at the time, the U.K. had a good cycle network, the C5 may have been successful...

The debate about what the QL could have been has been debated on WoSf and on the QL Forum many times. Search for the market research report on the QL. It makes interesting reading.

Sinclair of course thought that launching a computer based on 16/32 bit CPU ahead of Apple would be enough for it to be successful.

The sad fact is, inventors always have far more failures than successes.

And inventors rarely make good business men/women.

Mark
1 x

User avatar
Juan F. Ramirez
Dynamite Dan
Posts: 1099
Joined: Tue Nov 14, 2017 6:55 am
Location: Málaga, Spain

Re: Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

Post by Juan F. Ramirez » Fri Jun 22, 2018 2:44 pm

The idea of 'bringing a computer to every home' says it all. He not only designed computers for the general public, but also at an affordable price.

Many people started coding thanks to his machines.
2 x

User avatar
PeterJ
Site Admin
Posts: 775
Joined: Thu Nov 09, 2017 7:19 pm
Location: Surrey, UK

Re: Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

Post by PeterJ » Fri Jun 22, 2018 2:46 pm

For me, a hero. He did make mistakes, but I don't think the path of technology would have been the same without his involvement.
1 x

User avatar
PROSM
Berk
Posts: 44
Joined: Fri Nov 17, 2017 7:18 pm
Location: Sunderland, England
Contact:

Re: Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

Post by PROSM » Fri Jun 22, 2018 3:17 pm

Rorthron wrote:
Fri Jun 22, 2018 1:33 pm
And he didn't just make "business" mistakes. He made a series of terrible technology decisions: preferring CRT to LCD, tape to floppy disc storage, etc.
I agree with you there. The thing is, I would say that Clive was more interested in making new innovative products from cheap, proven technologies than looking for better ways to do things. This can be a good strategy because it carries fewer risks and lower costs (e.g. the Microdrive, despite being less capable and slower, definitely beat out floppy disks in terms of pricing).

Unfortunately, in the case of the TV80, it just looked pretty naff for the £79.95 it commanded (about £240 today), especially when its LCD competitors started to appear. The Microdrive, similarly, was no match against the floppy disk for professional use, the market which Sinclair was aiming at, and was impractical for home users, considering that unlike tape and floppy disk duplication, there was no way to manufacture Microdrive cartridges apart from write them from a Spectrum computer.

It can't be denied that this strategy never worked for Sinclair, as it brought him modest success with his portable radios and his handheld calculator line. At the same time, however, he made substantial losses on the Black Watch, which nearly bankrupted him.

Overall, I see him as a brave innovator, one keen and willing to take the risks of invention, a hero for the tinkerers and the precocious among us. Unfortunately, it is a shame that he never really accepted the Spectrum's place as a games machine, as he could have run his business for much longer had he tried to improve upon the Spectrum, rather than chase the professional market, which was already enamoured with the IBM PC and its clones.
2 x
All software to-date

Current Projects:
Currently working on ZX Adventure Designer, which lets one create point-and-click graphic adventures for a 48K Spectrum.

User avatar
Seven.FFF
Manic Miner
Posts: 283
Joined: Sat Nov 25, 2017 10:50 pm
Location: USA

Re: Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

Post by Seven.FFF » Fri Jun 22, 2018 3:23 pm

Although I make criticisms, they're made against some kind of platonic ideal standard. I don't think for a minute that I could have done any better. Considerably worse, I'm sure :D
1 x
Robin Verhagen-Guest
SevenFFF / Threetwosevensixseven / colonel32
seven-fff.com/blog

Ralf
Manic Miner
Posts: 876
Joined: Mon Nov 13, 2017 11:59 am
Location: Poland

Re: Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

Post by Ralf » Fri Jun 22, 2018 3:31 pm

"Zero" is much too strong for me.

But yes, the real heroes are Vickers, Altwasser and Dickinson. They created Spectrum, not uncle Clive. If you are a real Spectrum fan, you should say these names after being woken up in the middle of the night ;)

Clive was just a businessman and not a very good one. Forgive me if I say something wrong but he almost went bankrupt in the 70s, before his company started to deal with micros. It ended with some financial support from the state (as there were such programs at that time) and some state clerk sitting at Clive's office and looking and his hands which Sinclair passionately hated ;)

He had also quite a bad temper, you can see it in document films ;)

But Clive also had an incredible amount of luck with hiring proper people and making proper product at proper time which was Zx Spectrum.

By the way Vickers and Altwasser were great at technology but lame at business. After they left Clive they tried their luck with Jupiter Ace and failed terribly. What did they expect by releasing a computer with black and white text display when Spectrum already existed?

So for a success you always need a good business guy, a good tech guy and some luck.

With Vega+ project business guy was Levy and tech guy was Chris Smith. Levy foolishly fired Smith and was never able to find a true replacement.
1 x

User avatar
Alessandro
Manic Miner
Posts: 235
Joined: Wed Nov 15, 2017 11:10 am
Location: Messina, Italy
Contact:

Re: Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

Post by Alessandro » Fri Jun 22, 2018 9:28 pm

Neither hero nor zero - but a special place will always be held in my heart for Uncle Clive. A visionary whose main limit was, in my opinion, an excess of self-confidence and for the same reason the tendency to dismiss other points of view which could have been useful in the long run. He was ace in finding the best people for turning his visions into reality, or at least trying to do it. However he lacked the ability to keep them on his side.

I don't think it was Sinclair's fault not to develop the Spectrum as a gaming platform. Let's face it - the Spectrum was not designed for that, rather it was the Ford T of computing. A simple, minimalistic, affordable piece of hardware, aimed at a curious audience, eager to have a go at doing something else with their computers other than just shooting aliens.

Of course we all played with it - but this was a secondary objective for Sinclair as well as Altwasser, Dickinson etc. They hoped that the user could be pushed to create something himself/herself by experimenting with BASIC and hopefully reading the provided guides thoroughly. Those who had their first Spectrum in the Amstrad era, when it was downgraded to a console with keys in order to cash in on the large entertainment software library available, thus fueling the development of the "serious" branches (PCW etc.), completely missed this point.

The number of people which made their first steps into information technology, from simple amateurs like myself, to professional programmers, aided by Sinclair's most popular computer is presumably very high. I believe this is the most important legacy of Sinclair's involvement in the home computer industry to this day.
3 x

User avatar
PeterJ
Site Admin
Posts: 775
Joined: Thu Nov 09, 2017 7:19 pm
Location: Surrey, UK

Re: Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

Post by PeterJ » Fri Jun 22, 2018 9:44 pm

Alessandro wrote:
Fri Jun 22, 2018 9:28 pm
The number of people which made their first steps into information technology, from simple amateurs like myself, to professional programmers, aided by Sinclair's most popular computer is presumably very high. I believe this is the most important legacy of Sinclair's involvement in the home computer industry to this day.
I could not agree more! I'm not a professional programmer, but I do put my work, and lifelong interest in information technology down to the spark that was ignited in my brain when I first discovered the ZX81.
2 x

Post Reply