Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

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

Post by Rorthron » Sat Jun 23, 2018 6:06 am

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 agree, too, and would expect pretty much everyone on this site to agree. But believing that the ZX81 and Spectrum had a huge impact is not the same as believing Clive Sinclair deserves the credit for them or that his other disasters should be ignored.

At least some of the credit for the ZX81 and Spectrum should go to Richard Altwasser, Steve Vickers, Rick Dickinson, Jim Westwood, Nigel Searle, etc. It's fair also to give Clive Sinclair credit; he clearly must have also been involved. But was the genius of the ZX81 and Spectrum in the strategic decisions (where I think we can assume Clive Sinclair was heavily involved) or the specific designs (where he was less likely to have been)? I think the latter: the ZX series of computers were great pieces of minimal design, but they really weren't the only home computers. In the early 1980s, the UK market was awash with competing home computer designs (even including the terrible Jupiter Ace!).

Also, after the ZX Spectrum, almost everything Clive Sinclair did turned to dust. Microdrives, the QL, the C5, portable CRTs, wafer-scale integration, etc. About the only thing that worked was the Z88 (which was a niche). And yes, we can blame him from not building on the ZX Spectrum. If we give him credit for successes, we have also to include his failures. It was presumably his strategic decision not to continue developing home computers. He had followed the ZX81 up with the Spectrum. He could have followed the Spectrum up with another consumer computer, too, but didn't. There certainly were proposals at Sinclair Research, such as the LC3 or Loki (though I suspect neither of those particular proposals would have been successful).

Acorn's success with the BBC Micro led to the Archimedes and ARM. Even Commodore went on to the Amiga. I believe Apple went on to other things, too. ;)
But Sinclair went down blind alleys.

Yes, he was a visionary. His vision of electric vehicles, robotics and AI all seems prescient now, but it was little more than science fiction at the time, and Clive Sinclair contributed very little or nothing to realising them. The revolution under way at the time was the home computing revolution, and despite a winning start, Clive Sinclair failed to build on it. He had a winning hand, but played it badly.
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Re: Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

Post by Alessandro » 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". Without Sinclair to co-ordinate his collaborators and turn their efforts into a concrete, viable product, we won't be here today. As Ralf pointed out, all that Altwasser and Vickers could create after they left Sinclair Research was the Jupiter Ace - the less said, the better.
Rorthron wrote:
Sat Jun 23, 2018 6:06 am
But was the genius of the ZX81 and Spectrum in the strategic decisions (where I think we can assume Clive Sinclair was heavily involved) or the specific designs (where he was less likely to have been)? I think the latter: the ZX series of computers were great pieces of minimal design, but they really weren't the only home computers. In the early 1980s, the UK market was awash with competing home computer designs (even including the terrible Jupiter Ace!).
Again, let's look at the specifications of the Spectrum and compare them to the competition in April 1982. The Spectrum wasn't exactly state-of-the-art, neither it was intended to be; it was designed as the affordable computer for the masses, to let people be fascinated by the possibility of writing their own software and start a generation of budding programmers. Which is precisely what happened most of the time, before the Amstrad takeover.

Moreover, 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. Research as recent as 2016 has also revived the idea of WSI in the field of artificial intelligence.
Rorthron wrote:
Sat Jun 23, 2018 6:06 am
He could have followed the Spectrum up with another consumer computer, too, but didn't. There certainly were proposals at Sinclair Research, such as the LC3 or Loki (though I suspect neither of those particular proposals would have been successful).
The QL was meant to be a "consumer" computer in a certain sense, aimed at small enterprises and professionals. The key factors should have been the same of the Spectrum: simplicity of use and lower price than its competitors. But the rushed design, with all the problems that followed, and the insistency on using the microdrive cartridges instead of floppy disks as mobile data storage hindered its success, and the C5 fiasco did the rest.

In a nutshell, although Sinclair's vision on mass transport and portable TVs were far too futuristic for their time to be fully turned into real products, and his lack of confidence in others made him take the wrong choices more than often, the ZX range of computers still testify of his ability to pick up the right people for the job and lead them to a common goal. With a more down-to-earth approach and a lesser ego, Sinclair would probably have kept producing home computers as well as other products like an electric bicycle, far more conventional than the C5.

But then he would have been phagocytized by some large American corporation in a few years :twisted:
Last edited by Alessandro on Sat Jun 23, 2018 9:13 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

Post by Ralf » Sat Jun 23, 2018 8:59 am

Actually if we think about computer revolution from the 80s, almost everybody has lost in a long term.

Where is Commodore today? Where is Atari? Where is Amstrad?

We are all using PCs now. PC means "personal computer" suggesting that it's just a computer, PC=computer. But our PCs use IBM technology. We don't call them IBMs anymore but they are technically IBMs even if are manufactured by someone else.

IBM was the winner of the 80s althouth in let's say 1983 you would never guess it.
You know why? Because it was a big company with experience and tradition, established yet in 19th century, starting from some mechanical machines operating on punch cards. They knew how to survive on competing market, both in good and bad days. Everyone else were newbies, starting their business in small rented flat with 20 year old guys as main engineers. Sometimes they never got a real start like Sam Coupe and sometimes experienced a crazy growth like Atari.

Sinclair actually has always been a small player. I remember that at the peak Atari employed 11000 people. Sinclair at the peak employed 30 people, ordering production and distribution to other companies.

But both Atari and Sinclair eventually went bankrupt, they didn't know how to follow their success.
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Re: Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

Post by Bizzley » Sat Jun 23, 2018 11:00 am

Alessandro wrote:
Sat Jun 23, 2018 8:48 am
As Ralf pointed out, all that Altwasser and Vickers could create after they left Sinclair Research was the Jupiter Ace - the less said, the better.
It would be more accurate to say that what they CHOOSE to create after they left Sinclair was the Jupiter Ace. They could have come up with any old box of electronics with yet another version of BASIC but decided to go with what they really wanted to spend time, money and effort on creating

Being an original owner and user of the machine I am probably biased but I certainly didn't buy mine to play games on, the idea was to learn FORTH on a dedicated machine free of the tangled mess that BASIC is which I did. Adverts for the ACE at the time concentrated on its FORTH language rather than the gee-whiz games you might play on it (there weren't any anyway) which probably put a lot of game players off but certainly attracted those of us who knew the difference between a computer and a games machine.

To call the Jupiter Ace a failure based on build quality, performance and sales figures is one way of looking at it. For the way it taught me a second programming language and managed to unlock the mysteries of Z80 code almost as a byproduct I'd say it did exactly what it was meant to do. Something for which I will always be grateful.
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Re: Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

Post by 1024MAK » Sat Jun 23, 2018 1:26 pm

Acorn, Sinclair, and others all suffered problems with a rapidly expanding market, where they had trouble keeping up with demand. So they kept increasing the production. Only for the demand to plateau, or fall. What had appeared to be an ever expanding market suddenly was no longer. But they did not foresee this.

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.

And so, the solution for Sinclair, was to sell out to Amstrad (who had the cash to pay the creditors).

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.

Would a new Spectrum model have helped? Who knows. My feeling is that in late 1983 / early 1984 Sinclair should have realised that a game's machine was a money spinner, and produced a ZX Spectrum with more RAM (80K bytes of RAM would have been very easy to do), Sinclair joystick ports (again, very easy to do, just wire them into the keyboard matrix), and add a sound chip (another easy thing to do). If the The AY-3-8910 or the AY-3-8912 had been chosen, the I/O port(s) could have been used to provide a parallel printer port as well. It could then have been launched in the Winter ready for Christmas.

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Re: Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

Post by 1024MAK » Sat Jun 23, 2018 1:32 pm

Ralf wrote:
Sat Jun 23, 2018 8:59 am
Actually if we think about computer revolution from the 80s, almost everybody has lost in a long term.

Where is Commodore today? Where is Atari? Where is Amstrad?

We are all using PCs now. PC means "personal computer" suggesting that it's just a computer, PC=computer. But our PCs use IBM technology. We don't call them IBMs anymore but they are technically IBMs even if are manufactured by someone else.

IBM was the winner of the 80s althouth in let's say 1983 you would never guess it.
Except that, IBM got out of the PC market many years ago...

And many of the IBM compatible computer manufacturers have either gone bust, closed or been absorbed by other companies...

It was inevitable that some standardisation would occur somewhere along the line. The ironic thing being that modern PCs running Windows are now not very compatible with the IBM machines the architecture was based on!

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Re: Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

Post by PeteProdge » 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?
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Re: Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

Post by Alessandro » Sat Jun 23, 2018 2:07 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?
Not only the British one. The Spectrum was either first or second in almost all countries where it was imported (also taking into account unofficial distribution markets like Yugoslavia). A notable exception was Germany, where it had to face a strong Commodore and Amstrad/Schneider presence. The Italian market in particular would have been dominated by Commodore for sure, since Amstrad machines were extremely rare and MSX-based systems even more than that here. Maybe other systems like the Olivetti Prodest would have known a little more diffusion, but that's anybody's guess, and they arrived much too late to play a significant role anyway.
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Re: Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

Post by chinnyhill10 » Sat Jun 23, 2018 3:04 pm

1024MAK wrote:
Fri Jun 22, 2018 2:41 pm

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.
He was a bit odd as an inventor. He'd pursue the wrong track in a stubborn manner. The CRT's were a demonstration of this. The Japanese had LCD screens but he thought his CRT's were better. Microdrives were another example of this. Floppies expensive but falling in price fast and Clive goes out and re-invents the 8 track!

The interviews he did about the MSX were also quite telling. He argued that people didn't want standardisation and it would limit technology. OK so the MSX failed but standardisation is indeed what we got. Just not at that point.

That pursuit of the wrong idea at all costs is what did for Sinclair. The C5, wafer scale integration, micro drives etc.

Sinclair hitting on the computer revolution was foresight but it then bankrolled a load of daft projects. Of course companies need to take risks but Sinclair bet the entire farm on a series of projects that lost huge amounts of cash.

And tellingly, since then he hasn't had any high profiles successes despite pushing ideas. The truly great inventors/creators keep on producing new and innovative stuff that sells. What we looking at with Clive? The Zike? The Z88?
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Re: Clive Sinclair: hero or zero?

Post by chinnyhill10 » 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 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.

Amstrad? They would have still have released the CPC. 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.

MSX, not sure. It was a mess of a launch with a load of consumer confusion around it. Never really gained traction.
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