Yes, this book was in the works FOR YEARS. But now (August 2009) it's in
its second printing, a steady seller on amazon.com.
Here is the true story of microcomputer pioneers. If you were part of it,
relive those good old days
of discovering programming, arguing about which DOS is best, and reading
80 Micro. If you just wonder wht it was like, here's the inside story.
It's all here, including over 100 illustrations.
Model I Manual?
A nice piece of technical writing!!
picture from a
1977 ad for the TRS-80 Model I from ROM magazine
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Our Model I in
the basement of our house in Detroit, where we started our business in
Here's me --Theresa Welsh -- looking happy despite the hectic pace of
Bob Johnson, a
lawyer and Lazy Writer enthusiast, posed for pictures we used in our
ads; David took this picture at Bob's office, showing the Lazy Writer
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Model 4P, the last and best of the TRS-80s, with my beautiful baby
daughter Amy at the AlphaBit Communication office in Dearborn
looking debonaire in a 1980 ad endorsing Wayne Green's Instant Software
The world of computing is characterized by
a dreary sameness in which most business offices have similar computers
and the same software packages. Giants like Microsoft pull the strings
and users dance.
But it was not always so. We were privileged to be
part of a nearly-forgotten era when there were more than 30 word
processors, when businesses bought custom-programmed software written by
kids still in high school, and thousands of little companies created and
sold the software that was the first wave of the small computer
revolution. One of those early word processors was created by David
Welsh. David wrote all the code in Z80 assembly
language for Lazy Writer, a fine word processor for the Radio Shack
TRS-80 computers. Theresa wrote the user manual for Lazy
Writer and also managed the business that we founded (AlphaBit
A 1981 ad for Lazy Writer, a
word processor for the TRS-80 Model I and
Model 3 (and later, for the Model 4).
Soft Sector Marketing,
operated by Victor Andrews,
was the distributor. Later, we sold the program ourselves, first
under the company name ABC Sales and later as AlphaBit Communications.
Buy a TRS-80
We bought a TRS-80 Model I in 1978 and it changed
our lives. Our original intention had been to do custom software for
small business, but David began working on the word processor and it was
to consume the next five years of our lives.
Go into the Software Business
One day at our kitchen table, we kicked around
names for our word processor. We liked “Easy Writer,” but someone
else had that name, so we decided on “Lazy Writer.” That was the
beginning of our odyssey into the world of commercial software. We made
an agreement with Victor Andrews, a local Detroit-area entrepreneur, to
have his company, Soft Sector Marketing, market Lazy Writer. When we
first met Victor, he was hanging out at the local computer club, selling
memory upgrades out of the trunk of his car. He had taken a booth at the
1979 Boston Computer Show and asked if we could have Lazy Writer ready
to debut at the show. David said yes.
Introduce Lazy Writer in Boston in 1979
We got airline tickets and I booked a hotel in
Boston and we worked like crazy to get the program done on time. The
night before we were to leave, David was still fixing bugs and writing
code. When morning came and it was time to leave for the airport, I
discovered him still sitting at the keyboard where he had been all
night. He hastily put his work into a carry-on bag and off we went. He
grabbed his only sleep on the plane.
In Boston, we went right to the exhibition hall
where we found Victor’s booth and David continued working. A workman
went by vacuuming the carpet, getting ready for the opening, and David’s
computer responded by rebooting (for years afterward, I would cringe
when anyone operated a vacuum cleaner near my computer).
I nervously watched as real customers began entering the hall. As
David anxiously recovered his program from the reboot, I worked at
another TRS-80 set up as a demonstration machine. People had begun to
gather in front of us, asking to see this wonderful new word
David finally loaded what he had on the demo
machine and I began talking and showing the gathered crowd how it
worked. Some of the features were not quite solid, but we got an
enthusiastic response from those who saw it and we sold about 15 “pre-release”
copies with an update promised. At the end of that memorable day, I was
hoarse from talking, but we were in business. We had customers!
During the early 1980s, we worked out of an office
in Dearborn, Michigan, and had some wonderful people working for us.
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This photo was taken after
our staff Christmas lunch, 1982. From left, David Welsh, Debby
Turchan, Valerie Pugh, and Don Elmore
|Don Elmore, age 17, with
the LazyFont program he wrote.
Don was still in high school when he worked in our
Don, where are you today?
handsome guy at the front of the room is Vernon Hester, author
of Multidos; he was a featured speaker at our 1983 seminar.
||Here's David at the
same seminar; we had a full house of people to see demos and
hear speakers talk about state-of-the-art TRS-80 technology.
This early era, which contributed so much to
computing, is nearly forgotten because it was not as glamorous as
the Silicon Valley stories and its products were not as successful
as those that came later. Intel and Microsoft created millionaires
and the TRS-80 didn't, but the "trash-80" and those who
programmed it paved the way for those who came later.
We Created Software
The early years of computing were essentially the
stories of individuals. In those day, software was not created by teams
working for big companies with large budgets, but generally by one
person. Programmers started their own little companies because there
were few outlets for selling software. Radio Shack sold software, giving
work to some programmers, but mainly, Radio Shack ignored the growing
legions of novice software authors. But these early microcomputer
programmers often found others wanted the
software they'd created for their own use. So they went into business
selling it, just as we did. Radio Shack’s inability to provide enough
software for their successful microcomputer led to a robust independent market that used magazines and mail
order as the main sales vehicles.
Weren't All in Silicon Valley
The TRS-80 software sellers were from
mainstream America, urban places like Detroit and Dallas, but also
heartland towns like Columbus, Ohio; Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Wichita,
Kansas -- anywhere within driving distance of a storefront with a big
“Radio Shack” above it. Hollywood has lionized the early Silicon
Valley pioneers, but there was plenty of energy in less glamorous places
for this new phenomenon called microcomputing.
Some software companies,
like ours, were in Michigan. Lazy Writer,
(programmed by our friend, Vernon Hester), and Super Utility
(programmed by the legendary Kim Watt) all originated in the
state known for its autos and not its software. Up in Lansing there was
an outfit called The Alternate Source that sold software and put out a
journal that had pretensions of seriousness about it. One of our rival
word processors, LeScript, was based in Florida, along with Scott
Adams and his popular Adventure Series games. Logical Systems was in
Wisconsin. Texas, the home of Tandy Corp, was also home to a lot of
small software companies. Simutek, which later sold another word
processor called Copy Art, was in Tucson Arizona. Companies were located
anywhere there were Radio Shack stores.
Ah, the Memories!!
The TRS-80 “community” was not located in one physical place
and there was no cyberspace yet -- but we did have magazines that
held us together. The biggest and
best was 80 Micro, owned by one of the TRS-80’s
legendary characters, Wayne Green, and published from Peterborough New
Hampshire. In an email I received from Wayne, he claims 80 Micro
was once the third largest magazine in the US. He had owned other
successful magazines as well, founding Byte and later
losing it in a divorce settlement. There were other TRS-80 publications
too, mainly small black and white pubs like 80 US. Some
magazines, like Creative Computing and Interface Age,
covered all the popular small computers of the day. The magazines became
the glue that held together this scattered bunch of enthusiasts.
Check out my links to computer
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