By DAVID WAKELY
On Nov. 10, the Chicago T199/4A Users Group held its second annual 99/4A Computer Faire at Triton Col.lege in River Grove, Illinois. Months of preparation for the Faire culmi.nated when the doors opened at 10 a.m. and visitors were admitted to the large exhibit room which held displays by 21 vendors. In addition to being issued doorprize tickets, fairegoers were given free shopping bags with the message “Still Goin’ Strong at the 2nd Chicago T199/4A Users Group Computer Faire, Nov. 10, 1984” printed on the side.
While most of the vendors of TI and third party software and hard.ware were from the Chicago area, tables were also taken by companies from Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio and Texas. From a list gleaned from various magazines which cover the 99/4A, the Chicago group had mailed vendor applications to just over 100 companies which could be identified as carrying TI-compatible products. Former Chicago group president and Faire coordinator Sam Pincus said that the group was pleased with the 20 percent response rate.
In a sense, preparations for the Faire could be said to have begun last year, when the group had put on the first such event. As it happened, the infamous “Black Friday,” the day Texas Instruments announced it was dropping the 99/4A computer, had occurred just two weeks prior to the first Faire. As a result of that, the group was somewhat surprised when just over 1,000 persons, or about three times the number who belonged to the Chicago group at that time, attended the Faire and
proceeded to strip vendor displays clean of TI software.
Hence, by the time of the second Faire, TI owners had been “orphans” for a year, and the need for a display of “TI power” seemed in order to once again demonstrate the fierce loyalty for which the TI user is known. Through aggressive advertising both in Chicago and over The Source and Compuserve, the Chicago group began drawing atten.tion to the Faire, and TI users from all over began making inquiries as to the location of the site, Triton College. Several local motels were booked up on the evening before the Faire, and by the end of Saturday just under 1,500 persons were estimated to have passed through the doors.
While about 90 percent of the membership of the Chicago 99/4A Users Group attended the Faire, vis.itors also came from other states. TI users from all over stopped by the Chicago group booth to say hello. Ed York from the Cm-Day Users Group checked up on our group newsletter; Chris Goodman from the DC group seemed to be enjoying the proceed.ings; and a small group from Corao.polis, Pennsylvania, stopped to say thanks for the directions to the col.lege from O’Hare Field. The Chicago group booth was busy all day. Winners of three door prize draw.ings picked up their software pack.ages. Hundreds of free copies of MlCROpendium were given away, a top quality Zenith color monitor was awarded to a lucky winner and two arcade game contests drew small
crowds of supporters for their favorite “garners.”
All fairegoers experienced a demonstration that the TI Home Computer is indeed quite alive for those who have stayed active and involved.
The Chicago TI Users’s Group held a series of tutorial presentations during the day to show the continuing versatility and usefulness of the 99/4A. Seaborn Smith, whose TI—FORTH programs and newsletter column are becoming known to other TI groups, gave an interesting and well attended introduction to this quite flexible program language. These tutorials were held in a separate room which could seat about 250, and which was usually filled for each presentahions.
Between presentations, Faire attendees could observe TI myths of both the past and the future. At the Softmail Inc. booth, for example, was displayed the near-legendary TI 99/8. Don Bynum, former head of TI’s Home Computer Division, stated that only 250 “8’s” had been built, all of them going either to the design team, TI executives or the production line employess. The TI 99/8 was indeed the home computer hobbiest’s dream. According to Bynum, the 99/8 featured 64K of CPU RAM and 16K of VDP RAM, compared to the 99/4A’s 256 bytes of CPU RAM (also known as “scratchpad” RAM) and 16K of VDP. This never-released computer also featured a built-in p-Code system and a lOMHertz TI-9995 CPU. The built-in BASIC was compatible with Extended BASIC and contained additional commands such as “LINE,” and “FILL” for easy graphics generation. When booted up, the TI 99/8 offered sev.eral option screens, including choices of p-Code, BASIC or whatever module was plugged into the verti.cal cartridge port. In design, the 99/8 was reminiscent of the beige 99/4A consoles, yet was both wider and deeper, and featured a full “selectric” style keyboard layout. One of the option screens also offered both ‘‘FAST’’ and “SLOW” (the 99/4A 3 MHertz) pro.cessor speeds, and did so before other choices. Hence, at one point a TI Invaders cartridge was selected in FAST mode with hilarious results less reminiscent of an invasion than of a blitzkrieg.
An elaborate, and obviously bit.mapped graphics demonstration ran on the TI 99/8 most of the day, and was later revealed as a 180-line BASIC program. When questioned as to why TI never brought the 99/8 to market, Bynum stated that some TI executives doubted that the pub.lic would be interested in a home computer with a suggested retail price of $600. He also stated that he considers the possibility that TI will release the design to someone else as ‘practically nil,’’ noting that TI would probably not want to see someone else make money on a pro.duct they never saw fit to market. On the other hand, during his guest talk late in the day Bynum exhibited a guarded optimism about the future of the 99/4A.
Other vendor booths featured either still available TI software, or flew and sophisticated application packages for the 99/4A, ranging from graphic adventure games to useful system utilities. Unisource Electronics, by special arrange.ment with CorComp Inc., showed off the new 9900 Micro-Expansion sys.tem, a unit about the size of two speech synthesizers but packing the power of a “loaded” peripheral expansion box, with a double- density disk controller, RS232 and 32K memory all built in.
Between trips around the vendor tables, TI users could take in some of the other tutorials, such as Sam Pin.cus’ presentation on control codes and TI-Writer, or Len Rovner’s introduction to Microsoft Multiplan. Traffic was heavy all day between the main room and the vendor area.
During the keynote speech to the largest audience of the day, Bynum, now the driving force behind Soft- mail Inc. and Texas Peripherals, stated unequivocally that 2.4 million 99/4A units were sold, making it by far the largest selling computer of any kind. The two concerns he reported were the belief that recently up to 1,000 99/4As per day
were estimated to be “going into closets,” and the rampant epidemic of software piracy. Of the latter, he stated his belief that these so-called “pirates” are actually criminals who are rapidly destroying the third-party marketplace. The pos.sible outcome of this, according to Bynum, could be “less and less qual.ity software” appearing for the 99/4A as programmers see their profits disappear.
Source subscribers who have dropped their membership may be reinstated by contacting the Source and giving the appropriate credit card number.
Bynum fielded questions on the future of TI’s support for the 99/4A.
He noted that with other consumer products TI has given up to five years of exchange service, and, while making occasional disparag.ing or humrorous comments about TI’s marketing philosophy, he described their corporate integrity as
And what of the future for the TI user and TI user groups? Was there
much indication that there would still be interest in the 99/4A in, say, another year? The Chicago group signed up more than 40 new 1985 members at the Faire, and, when asked if another such event could possibly be in the plans for next year, Chicago group president Dave Wakely commented, “You bet, and next year we go for TWO days!”