Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

Y'know, other stuff, Sinclair related.
chinnyhill10
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Re: Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

Post by chinnyhill10 » Sat Jun 23, 2018 3:13 pm

Ralf wrote:
Sat Jun 23, 2018 8:59 am

Where is Commodore today? Where is Atari? Where is Amstrad?
Amstrad the only company that continued to produce electronics and Alan Sugar sold up at a time of his choosing (IIRC his 60th birthday) and eventually it was all merged into Sky. Today they are now a division of Sky working a few doors down from the old Amstrad HQ which is now a hotel.

Nobody lost their job, nobody went bust. Like it or not they were the last guys left standing.
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Re: Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

Post by 1024MAK » Sat Jun 23, 2018 3:18 pm

@chinnyhill10, so tell us who you know of that has managed at least three good inventions say within the last 50 years or so.

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Re: Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

Post by chinnyhill10 » Sat Jun 23, 2018 3:24 pm

1024MAK wrote:
Sat Jun 23, 2018 1:26 pm


Sinclair found itself in a situation where it had a huge amount of money tied up in stock piled up in warehouses, with not enough money coming in to pay the large bills that were becoming due. Before the slowdown, this had not been a problem, as cash from sales always meant that there was money in the bank. Acorn also found itself with similar problems. It had stockpiles of Electons it could not sell in any quantity, but got funding from (and eventually bought by) Olivetti.


So it was not just Clive Sinclair's other projects that took down the business. Part of it was that running a business that relied on expected future sales, that was partly seasonal, then a change in demand, was always going to be difficult.
Alot of emphasis is put on Sinclair and Acorn having warehouses full of computers at Xmas '85 . There's a very pertinent point in the Amstrad Story book where Dixons are trying to tap up Amstrad for cheap CPC's because they claim they knew Amstrad had lots of unsold stock.

In fact the Amstrad warehouse was empty because Sugar had made sure he wasn't reliant on the domestic market from day 1. In fact the biggest problem was France and Spain selling machines as fast as they could be got into the country. Dixons kept ringing and they were assuming Sugar was playing hard ball but he just had no stock.

So its not so much the state of the market but just being a bit crap at business that did for Sinclair and Acorn.
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Re: Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

Post by chinnyhill10 » Sat Jun 23, 2018 3:28 pm

1024MAK wrote:
Sat Jun 23, 2018 3:18 pm
@chinnyhill10, so tell us who you know of that has managed at least three good inventions say within the last 50 years or so.

Mark
Sinclair is as much a person as a brand name. Apple seem to be doing nicely as are Dyson. Both are run by the same kind of 'visionaries' that Sinclair was (or at least Apple was until Jobs died).

And there is Musk of course. Depends on if he ends up in the same hole Sinclair did.
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Re: Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

Post by 1024MAK » Sat Jun 23, 2018 3:30 pm

Yes, I know Amstrad did alright and indeed prospered. It has to be said that Alan Suger was a far better business man than anyone else in the U.K. home computer market. And I like the CPC machines (well designed and nice to use). But this thread is about Sinclair. No one is saying that Amstrad were bad or anything like that. So can we move on from talking about Amstrad...

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Re: Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

Post by dfzx » Sat Jun 23, 2018 4:17 pm

Despite the hatchet job some people are dishing out based on 20/20 hindsight, Sir Clive will always be a hero for me. He changed my life when I was 13 years old, and went on to change the world, in almost every way for the better. He's done so without doing a great deal of harm to anyone, and not many multimillionaire businessmen can claim that.

I met him once and shook his hand. Curmudgeonly old bugger he was, and I wouldn't rush to meet him again. Still an absolute legend though.
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Re: Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

Post by chinnyhill10 » Sat Jun 23, 2018 4:18 pm

1024MAK wrote:
Sat Jun 23, 2018 3:30 pm
So can we move on from talking about Amstrad...

Mark
It's inherently linked though because you have the one example of a company that made the right decisions, that made the right calls.

We can sit here pontificating but throughout this period all you have to do is look at 1 - Company X who later went under did Y. 2- Amstrad did Z. It's not rocket science really. Even the computer press at the time were remarking on it.

But I'll butt out now. Forums aren't my forte.
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Re: Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

Post by PeteProdge » Sat Jun 23, 2018 6:53 pm

chinnyhill10 wrote:
Sat Jun 23, 2018 3:07 pm
PeteProdge wrote:
Sat Jun 23, 2018 1:48 pm
If Sir Clive Sinclair hadn't existed, would the British home computing scene in the 1980s be a straight-up fight between Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC users? I'm sure it'd have been a bit more nuanced than that of course, but I do wonder if some of the 'second division' 8-bits would have had more visibility. MSX or Acorn maybe?
As you'll have seen from my coverage of PCN, the Speccy is pretty much top dog in the sales charts every week for the magazines entire run. Without it what would have happened?

Well the C64 would have probably have been top.
It's tough to say that though as the C64 had a much higher price-point. The C64 outdoes the Speccy on quite a few things, but the low price-point of the Spectrum is why it became top dog out of the 8-bits.

In a Sinclair-less universe, I dare say the Amstrad CPC would have leapfrogged the Commodore 64, albeit marginally. For third place? You brought up the Atari 8-bit range. I think that would be very closely followed by the MSX and the Acorn Electron.
chinnyhill10 wrote:
Sat Jun 23, 2018 3:07 pm
It's hard on the heels of the 64 most weeks. Acorn? Well that depends on if they had still decided to release the Elk and if it hadn't be crushed by being late and the might of the Spectrum.
The Acorn Electron could have been a huge contender. Alas, even in the Sinclair-less world, I don't think it would have gone much further than the Dragon 32. Come to think of it, its commercial lifespan wasn't much more than the 16K Spectrum.
chinnyhill10 wrote:
Sat Jun 23, 2018 3:07 pm
Amstrad? They would have still have released the CPC.
Definitely. And the stack-it-high-pile-it-cheap ethos of Sir Alan would have made it the 'Spectrum' of the day. I dare say 60% of this forum would be Amstrad CPC users in those circumstances.
chinnyhill10 wrote:
Sat Jun 23, 2018 3:07 pm
You may have seen the Dragon and Oric hanging on for longer. The cost reduced Atari 8 bits may have gained more traction as well.
Depending on the politics, yeah, the Atari computers could have punched above their weight.
chinnyhill10 wrote:
Sat Jun 23, 2018 3:07 pm
MSX, not sure. It was a mess of a launch with a load of consumer confusion around it. Never really gained traction.
I always see it as the fourth major 8-bit of the European home computer scene. There was stuff out for it into the late eighties, while yer Acorn and Atari 8-bits had no chances of seeing a new game released.
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Re: Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

Post by Rorthron » Sun Jun 24, 2018 2:37 am

chinnyhill10 wrote:
Sat Jun 23, 2018 3:04 pm
Sinclair hitting on the computer revolution was foresight but it then bankrolled a load of daft projects.
I think @chinnyhill10 summarises it well here. Sinclair Research was generally successful in democratising existing technologies. It was good at cutting corners and reducing costs, sometimes by using cheap components, sometimes by design decisions that reduced functionality by much less than they reduced cost. The ZX80, ZX81 and Spectrum were all cases of this. Sinclair Radionics' efforts in calculators (and even the digital watch) were also similar and generally successful.

Where Sinclair Research pretty much invariably came unstuck was in developing new technologies: Microdrives, CRTs, WSI, etc. They were all failures. I don't know if they consumed a lot of cash as @chinnyhill10 suggests, but they must have consumed some resources that would have been better deployed on a new consumer computer (as @1024MAK has said).

When it came to "inventing", Sinclair Research was actually pretty hopeless. I think the main problem was eccentric technology choices (not just in hindsight; most were seen as baffling at time). But I also question whether Sinclair Research had the resources to pull these projects off, anyway. It wasn't quite as small as @Ralf suggested (Wikipedia suggests a 1985 headcount of 140, not 30), but his point about its small scale still stands. Even at the peak in 1985, it had roughly one tenth of Apple's revenue. (That said, if it were still one tenth of Apple's size today, it would be one of Europe's largest technology companies.)
Last edited by Rorthron on Sun Jun 24, 2018 3:01 am, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

Post by Rorthron » Sun Jun 24, 2018 2:55 am

And to reply to @Alessandro's points:
Alessandro wrote:
Sat Jun 23, 2018 8:48 am
Rorthron wrote:
Sat Jun 23, 2018 6:06 am
It's fair also to give Clive Sinclair credit; he clearly must have also been involved.
I think that's as generic a statement as, say, "Winston Churchill must have been involved in Britain's victory in World War II".
Yes, it was deliberately a generic statement. I was raising the question of what Clive Sinclair's involvement was. That is unknown to us. To have started the discussion with a specific presumption of his role would have been question begging.

Your assumption about Clive Sinclair 's role may well be correct, but we don't know. I am just conscious that at the time Clive Sinclair often seemed to be portrayed almost as the single-handed architect of the ZX81 and Spectrum. I think some of the credit should go to others. But you might be right that he deserves the lion's share.

Really, though, I don't think this is the main issue. The biggest criticisms of Clive Sinclair are not in the successes with the ZX80, ZX81 and Spectrum, but in the calamitous other projects I mentioned, and, as others have noted, financial management mistakes at Sinclair Research.
Alessandro wrote:
Sat Jun 23, 2018 8:48 am
I won't say the concept of wafer scale integration has entirely turned to dust, at least as far as data storage is concerned. In an interview published on Your Computer, November 1987, Sinclair predicted that solid state would dominate over conventional hard disks. 30 years and more later we are witnessing just that.
That has nothing to do with wafer-scale integration; it's down to NAND flash. Clive Sinclair did nothing to deliver that.

Also he may have made a prediction, but that isn't a huge contribution, especially as it was an obvious extrapolation of Moore's Law that has been made by very many people. I predict that one day there will be more EVs on the road than internal combustion engine vehicles, one day the majority of computing will be done in the cloud, one day quantum computing will be widespread. If any of those turn out to be true, I'm happy to come back to collect any applause/prizes/knighthoods. ;)
Alessandro wrote:
Sat Jun 23, 2018 8:48 am
Research as recent as 2016 has also revived the idea of WSI in the field of artificial intelligence.
Yes, 30 years on, still nothing has happened!
Alessandro wrote:
Sat Jun 23, 2018 8:48 am
The QL was meant to be a "consumer" computer in a certain sense, aimed at small enterprises and professionals.
I think this contradictory. Small enterprises and professionals are not the same as consumers. The QL was meant as a business computer, not a consumer one.

The QL is an interesting case. It falls between the two categories I mentioned in my last post: it democratised existing technologies and used new ones (Microdrives). It's also not clear to me if it just failed because of worse execution than the ZX computers, or because it was a business computer where expectations (eg for reliability, service and support) were higher than Sinclair was used to offering.

(Sorry if this sounds argumentative; I'm enjoying this discussion.)
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