I(C)PUG - 20 YEARS NOT OUT!
By Brian Grainger (lots of years and knackered)
It is official. I am the oldest member of ICPUG. No, I shall rephrase that. I am the longest serving member of ICPUG, having been here from day one and paid my subs religiously every year. As such it is my privilege to pen the official history of I(C)PUG. As this issue marks the twentieth anniversary of the group it is time to continue the article I wrote down in Volume 10 Numbers 5 and 6 for the tenth anniversary! That must make this a record for the longest time in preparation for an article. In deference to those who are mere youngsters measured by the timescale of ICPUG, (and to the Editor who likes lots of pages to fill the newsletter), I will be repeating quite a bit of that earlier stuff because I will be starting in year zero.
In the beginning was the home computer. In the UK, around Christmas 1977, announcements were being made for the release of the Tandy TRS80, the third incarnation of something called Apple (the first two being the fruit and the record label) and, (big fanfare), the Commodore PET. The specification for the latter included:
Processor: 6502 (8 bit. Haven't a clue how many hertz but probably less than 1MHz)
Hard Disk Size: Now don't be silly. This is 1977.
External Storage: Standard audiocassette tape. Size only limited by the length of tape!
Operating System: Built into ROM. 4K Operating system - 1K diagnostics - 1K machine language monitor - 8K BASIC interpreter written by a small relatively unknown company called Microsoft.
VDU: 9-inch high resolution CRT
Video: 25 lines by 40 characters. Each character chosen from 64 ASCII characters and 64 fixed graphic characters.
Keyboard - 73 keys arranged in a rectangular format with separate numeric keypad.
I/O - IEEE 488 (but no printer yet), programmable user port, 2nd cassette interface.
The brochure said:
'The PET is a personal computer; it stands for Personal Electronic Transactor. It is very compact, measuring just 16.5 inches wide, 18.5 inches deep and 14 inches high and quite portable; it can be carried and used anywhere.'
The brochure neglected to mention that it was enclosed in a heavy metal box and about as portable as my motor bike!
With a specification like that who could not resist paying £695, in advance, to a company one had never heard of before. The first machines were delivered in April 1978 and I was now a home computer user.
With the computer came the computer magazine and in May 1978 issue 1 of Personal Computer World (PCW) appeared closely followed in July by Practical Computing.
On the second day God created the User Group. I have not been able to get a copy of the original letter which I now believe must have been published in the late summer of 1978 in Electronics Today International. One Norman Fox, in Hertfordshire, asked for anybody interested in forming a group, independent of Commodore, to write to him. Commodore was running their own 'club' at the time but the important feature of Norman's idea was its independence. Those who responded received a letter from Norman in late August including a list of 18 people interested in the group idea. Norman considered this a poor response. When I checked ten years ago 4 of those 18 were still members of I(C)PUG. Today there is only 1 and that's me.
In the September 78 issue of PCW on the Amateur Computer Club page the following appeared:
Norman Fox and Tom Turnbull feel that an Independent PET User Group (PUG?) would be worthwhile, and ask for anyone interested to contact Norman _'
By the 10th September there were 29 people interested, a few programs and American magazines were becoming available. Norman now felt the group idea worthwhile and having started it wanted to hand the reins over to someone else. By 24th September the number of people interested had risen to 42 and two meetings had been planned.
The first group meeting occurred on October 8th 1978 in Bedfordshire courtesy of Robin Leaver, a local businessman. That first meeting had about a dozen people present from all over the country. It lasted about 6 hours, confirmed it wanted to remain independent of Commodore and discussed problems of the day such as keycap wear and how to blank the screen. Although no printers or disk drives had appeared for the PET the group discussed this and some had already interfaced other printers to the PET. At this meeting was a certain Pete Dowson and he talked about a word processor that he was developing. That turned into Wordcraft which was a popular package on the PET and more so on the PC before the big guns got into the act. Pete was the first example of an ICPUG member making it big in the computer world.
By late October Ron Geere had agreed to edit a club newsletter and the first membership fee was requested (£1) to cover postage costs of the letters Norman was sending out. The second club meeting occurred on November 2nd in London. Members from as far as Birmingham and Derby attended and the first music to emanate from a PET, (via the user port), was demonstrated. The first 'IPUG' (Independent PET User Group) newsletter came out on 8 typewritten A5 pages after this meeting. Soon after a certain Mike Lake offered to be Secretary and Treasurer of the group and in the January 1979 issue of PCW a letter from Mike was published inviting members. By January itself the second newsletter appeared and membership was up to 140. Our first discount arrangement had been struck with LP Enterprises and Mike Lake had officially complained to the boss of Commodore about the keycap wear problem. Mike also offered some software at modest cost so the software library was born. As it was the start of the New Year a new sub was requested (£2.50)
The second newsletter, which consisted of 12 pages, was a landmark in that it included some details on PET BASIC from a certain Jim Butterfield. Jim was to become an important figure for the hobbyist on both sides of the Atlantic and became a firm friend of IPUG.
By March 1979 IPUG had regional organisers for the South East, North East, Hampshire, West and East Midlands. IPUG also had its own page in the computer magazine, Practical Computing. Such exposure helped to increase the membership rapidly at little cost to the group.
May 1979 was another landmark. The (4th newsletter) made its appearance in hard cover for the first time. The illustration on the cover was a plagiarisation of an early Punch cover and appeared on all newsletters till 1987 when it was cruelly replaced. In this issue the first article under an author's own name was published. That first article was written by yours truly.
The July 1979 newsletter reported on the April launch at the Cafe Royal of the 3000 series PET, the printer and floppy disk drives. One year old and we already had an upgrade to the computer! (plus ca change, plus ca meme chose). It was quite a significant upgrade too. The rectangular keyboard had been replaced with the layout style we are used to and the ROM programming had been rewritten. It was also interesting that the price of the external floppy disk drives was significantly more than the computer! That newsletter also introduced Mike Todd for the first time. Mike was to become a prolific writer for I(C)PUG and a future chairman.
In August IPUG had its first AGM where Mike Lake was elected Chairman, Pete Dowson was Vice Chairman, Eli Pamphlett was Secretary and Luke Gardiner was Treasurer. Membership had grown to 500 in one year.
The last newsletter of 1979, (curiously Vol.2 No.1), introduced that startling innovation; a Contents page. The inside front cover was also being used to list club officials.
1980 began with a rise in subscriptions to £6.50. These were the days of real inflation, not the sub 3% of the 1990s! To be fair the rapidly increasing size of the newsletter had made it costly to produce.
In July 1980 the South East Regional Group of IPUG was formed. They published a newsletter of their own and grew into the largest of the regional groups. They still are. The importance of the South East Regional Group to IPUG National cannot be overemphasised. It seems to be a breeding ground for those I(C)PUG members prepared to give help to the club by becoming Honorary officials. The chairman of IPUGSE (as it came to be known) was Mick Ryan but more of him later. After the phenomenal success of the PET in the UK the UK chiefs, Kit Spencer and Bob Gleadow, were promoted to work for the Commodore International arm. The July 1980 newsletter also reviewed a product called DMS from Compsoft. This was a small database system written in BASIC which grew into a product called Delta for the IBM PC. Delta was a popular database system ten years ago and Compsoft became a listed company. What with Wordcraft and Delta it is interesting to see how major software grew up from small beginnings on the Commodore PET. At the 'PET' show of 1980 the 80 column version of the PET was announced. At this time Mike Todd, a prolific writer for the newsletter, started what became an epic series of articles on Commodore disks. Mike became the disk expert and I doubt if there was better material anywhere else.
September 1980 saw the second AGM when all the officials kept their places. Members had started to complain that newsletter content was all to do with disk drives. When I first wrote this for the 10th anniversary I said nothing changed as at that time the same criticism was being levelled against the Amiga. It is somewhat amusing to note that 20 years on and the complaint, by one person anyway, is that there is not enough Amiga and too much PC! As I said before plus ca change, plus ca meme chose. Well it is some measure of how I(C)PUG changes with the times and does not stagnate!
November 1980 saw IPUG publish the first (and last) 'IPUG Compendium'. It was notable for publishing, for the first time in the UK, the first complete listing of the of the ROM routines inside the PET. We were so proud of this and wanted people to buy the Compendium and not copy it that the list was published in black on red paper. Not only was it impossible to copy but it was not very easy to read either! Nevertheless it was very useful and was another IPUG first.
1981 started with rumours that Commodore were to open a new manufacturing plant in Germany and that a new colour computer called the VIC was on its way. In the meantime IPUG started a new venture by producing add on EPROM chips for the PET. Called BASMON and PLUSDOS these added extra BASIC and monitor facilities to the machine. The bulk of the routines were written by Tom Cranstoun, who later gained fame by part authoring Superbase and now, according to newsletter Volume 20 Number 1, seems to be doing some very interesting work on video file compression for the BBC. In addition Kevin Viney (of IPUGSE), Jim Butterfield and yours truly provided some input. At the PET show that year IPUG started to run seminars and we had a programmers clinic where experts such as Jim Butterfield, Mike Todd and others were on hand to answer problems of the day. This became a feature of all future Commodore Shows. In mid 1981 the BASIC and DOS in the Commodore hard disk were updated to BASIC 4 and DOS 2.1. The VIC was released and in September Mike Todd started his series on the VIC computer.
The third AGM occurred in September and this was one of the most important times in the history if I(C)PUG. During the year Mike Lake had retired from the Chairmanship of IPUG and Mick Ryan of IPUGSE stepped in until he was formally sworn in at the AGM. Mick turned IPUG from an amateur looking organisation to a professional looking one while retaining the essential ingredient that the club was run by enthusiasts and not paid workers. We had a lot to thank Mick for. As soon as he became Chairman two changes occurred. He spent time in developing a rapport with Commodore so that they treated us seriously and with respect, something they were noted for not doing with their users and dealers. Second, there was a drive to increase the number of regional groups. I was asked to start one in Herts. I did and I am proud to say it still runs 17 years later, second only to ICPUGSE in longevity as a regional group. By these two policies IPUG was seen to be involved more closely with (a) the manufacturer of the product it supported and (b) the reason for its existence, the members. The AGM also expanded the committee so each major function had its own representative. We had a Discounts Officer, a Software Librarian and even a Publicity Officer.
1981 was a special time for me. Apart from the start of my regional group the language COMAL appeared. It was to be distributed as freeware by Commodore. Being a structured form of BASIC I was enthusiastic and it became a significant part of my life. I still use it to this day, now on a PC of course. At the end of the year COMAL for BASIC 4 appeared and my task was to convert it to run on the older 3000 series PETs. I also converted it to run as a cassette program so that anybody with a PET, whatever version, could use COMAL.
We are now into 1982 and this was another momentous year. IPUGSE introduce Superscript for the PET at a cost of £30 when comparable word processors such as Wordcraft and Wordpro cost £300. Later in the year the vendors of Wordpro threatened legal action and as ICPUGSE members could not accept personal liability Superscript had to be withdrawn. It was eventually sold by Precision Software, who went on to create Superbase for the PET, 64, Amiga and PC. Superbase was to become the first database written to take account of the Windows interface. It is still marketed now although the Microsoft steamroller has the major product in the market. Nevertheless I(C)PUG should be proud that such a major program, in its day, started from a program developed by an IPUG member for other members. The legal fracas led to IPUG gaining a valuable new member in the form of Alistair Kelman. He has since carved out a niche in being the most experienced barrister on computing matters and when I see him being interviewed on TV now I look back to these days of '82.
1982 saw IPUG members, led by Raeto West, going into books. Raeto produced THE reference work for the PET, 'Programming the PET/CBM'.
March 1982 saw IPUG change its name to the Independent Commodore Products User Group (ICPUG) in recognition of the fact that the PET was not our only interest. The sun was beginning to set on the all conquering PET and rumours of a 40 column colour machine, called the Commodore 64, were to be heard.
July 1982 saw the first article in the COMAL Corner series. This was the first of the multi-CORNERed newsletter. Corners survive to this day in Communication Corner and Discount Corner. I was writing a lot about COMAL and late in the year I was given one of the first Commodore 64s, (Serial No. 0159 out of Germany), to produce COMAL for the 64. Although the Commodore 64 appeared briefly in December it was promptly withdrawn again because significant problems were found with it. However no. 0159 still resides in the museum corner of my flat!
1983 started quietly with Superscript being joined by Superspell. However, March 1983 saw a 152 page newsletter, (still our largest issue?), almost totally devoted to the Commodore 64 which had now started to sell. Little information on the 64 facilities was available and this issue which included articles on how to use the various text and graphics modes, full ROM listings and how to change the character set was a best seller. It certainly helped to foster the image of ICPUG as a source of technical information second to none.
Mid year saw my translation of COMAL from the PET to the 64 with the help of a Reverse Assembler program written by Tom Cranstoun. This enabled Assembler language source to be created from the binary. I took the PET binary for COMAL and then recompiled the resulting source but with Commodore 64 label definitions. I subsequently sorted out some bugs and added some features and version 0.64 was born. This version eventually appeared as part of a system for teaching computing to students in the Irish Republic, where COMAL was used rather than BASIC.
Commodore introduced the SX64 a luggable version of the 64 with 5-1/2" colour screen and 1541 disk drive all in one package. The small screen upset some people but I found it very handy as my desktop PC before the concept of desktop PCs was popular. It now resides in museum corner gathering dust!
The 1983 AGM saw the first change of Editor. Ron Geere who had taken us from a few pages to 100 handed over to Hugh de Glanville who produced his first newsletter in December. In addition I became the ICPUG Micronet man. Micronet, which was part of BT's Prestel service, was a sort of precursor to features we now find today on the Internet.
1984 started with a radical facelift to the newsletter which allowed more words per page in a format that looked better quality. Hugh de Glanville's printing skills were being put to good use. ICPUG had its own pages on Micronet so we had started electronic publishing. Commodore released a modem which although it could be used to access Prestel was primarily produced to access a forthcoming network service called Compunet. ICPUG got involved with the testing of Compunet from July. Network News made its first appearance in the newsletter and was to continue for a long series. In March the boss of Commodore, Jack Trameil, resigned and eventually was to appear as boss of rival Atari. This had lasting effects on Commodore. A major series on 64 kernel facilities was started mid-year by Mike Todd and COMAL version 0.14 for the 64 appeared from Denmark. This provided an easy way to create high resolution graphics and sprites amongst other things. ICPUG had a major presence at the 1984 Commodore show. We had our stand and we organised all the seminars. In addition we had a get together for regional organisers after the show. In those days we had enough regions to make this worthwhile! July saw another ICPUG scoop with the first publication of the 1541 disk drive RAM usage table. September saw the start of another long running newsletter series, Superbase Corner, which Hugh de Glanville kicked off.
At the start of 1985 Commodore demonstrated a new computer at the US Consumer Electronics Show. This was the 128. Although never to be as popular as the 64 it had a significant following, especially among the more serious users. Mid year saw another new ICPUG venture. After initial interest Commodore decided they were not going ahead in selling the COMAL cartridge for the Commodore 64. ICPUG decided to sell it instead, our first commercial venture. As a non profit making organisation the price was set to cover costs and no more. The 1985 Commodore Show was interesting. The 128 appeared, as did a PC clone. In addition a graphics orientated machine called Amiga turned up. ICPUG knew where the future lay. The September newsletter had Mike Todd writing his first notes about the Amiga. The AGM saw Mike Todd formally take up the Chairmanship and our Discount Officer, John Bickerstaff, also taking on the Chairmanship of Vice (oops - I mean Vice Chairmanship). Mike had taken over from Mick Ryan when he left to work in Brussels. For all the work Mick had done the AGM conferred upon him life membership of the group. The year finished with the COMAL cartridge selling well, a COMAL software library and SIG set up and, after many teething problems, the Compunet network being endorsed as a useful system.
1986 started with the closure of Commodore manufacturing at Corby. In addition Commodore would not market software or provide support. ICPUG was left on its own to provide support. The March newsletter saw the start of a comms series by Mike Todd which, if nothing else, shows the newcomers that comms did not start with the Internet! ICPUG also started a software library for PC compatibles. The 1986 Commodore show was a landmark for Commodore and ICPUG. The new Amiga 1000 was sold at the show (for £1500) and ICPUG held an Extraordinary General Meeting. Alistair Kelman, our legal representative after the Superscript problem, advised us to avoid future problems by turning into a marketing co-operative. The meeting accepted the proposals and then tucked into some free snacks! This was a show get-together for ordinary members. The AGM in September endorsed our new role and we became ICPUL, Independent Commodore Products Users Limited, even though we could still refer to ourselves as ICPUG. The Chairmanship of ICPUG was taken up by Jim Kennedy and we started software libraries for the Plus4/C16 and Amiga. It was the dawning of a new era.
1987 started with a new look cover to the newsletter - The 64 with a monitor on top displaying the ICPUG logo. Well, it pleased the modernists but it still doesn't please me now I look back on it! 1987 was a year of excitement and changes in all directions. Our new chairman, being of an American background, was mindful of ICPUG having a good image and he introduced business cards for committee members and flashy name badges for use at shows so people knew who we were. An ICPUG tie was introduced for the membership.
The Amiga was beginning to take off. Mike Todd's 'Amiga Watch ' column was joined by a series from me, 'Perils of Agnes and Daphne'. I tried to introduce Amiga topics from the viewpoint of the new user, something I had just become. The Hanover fair saw the introduction of the second generation Amigas. The A500 for the home user and the A2000 for the professional. Mid year saw reports of IBM introducing a new range of PCs with 80386 chips and a new multitasking DOS from Microsoft. I think the latter must have been the first incarnation of Windows.
1987 also saw the mushrooming of programming languages. COMAL was going from strength to strength. ICPUG had a tie in with a US COMAL Users Group and we
distributed each other's library disks in our respective countries. Articles on Forth, Pascal and Modula 2 also made an appearance. However it was an operating system that was to provide one of the 1987 landmarks for ICPUG. A WIMP, (windows, icons, mouse, pointer), environment called GEOS appeared for the Commodore 64 in 1986. This included some applications, such as GeoPaint and GeoWrite as standard. Additional items such as a graphics grabber and icon editor were available at extra cost. 1987 saw Roger Massey start a series of articles describing these products and how to use them. 11 years later, via various authors, articles on Geos are still being written. Pretty impressive.
Mid year saw the Editorship of the newsletter change from Hugh De Glanville to the team of Bill Bremner and Iain Greaves. In fact the AGM of that year elected 43 officials, surely a record. Despite that the subs were kept at £10 a year for the 6th year running. An expanding membership can sure keep costs down! Another impressive statistic of 1987 was that ICPUG had 28 regions which were holding regular meetings. Computing had never been so popular and the Commodore show saw ICPUG increase its presence still further. Apart from our normal tasks we got lumbered with looking after the Commodore Games Arcade. On the Saturday we had managed to gain a second stand by taking one over from an organisation who did not turn up!
On a serious note 1987 also saw the first reported incidence of a (computer) virus! It was located on a pirate disk copier. This was one case where Commodore really shouldn't have been first in the game. Little did we know then what a problem such things would be 10 years later and how a whole new industry sector was formed.
The last newsletter of 1987 was, in hindsight, really special. There, hidden towards the back, was an article entitled 'Texas Tales'. Still going strong it must be the longest running regular series under a single author. Betty Clay deserves an accolade for that.
1988, our tenth anniversary year, was a year of consolidation. For most ICPUG members life went on as normal but for one the AGM brought a change. Yes, John Bickerstaff became the new ICPUG chairman after Jim Kennedy stepped down. John has become our longest running chairman so he must be doing something right (or perhaps no one else wants the job!).
With the Amiga becoming established the moans about nothing in the newsletter for the old machines were answered by Joe Griffin. His series, 'PET Prattle', reprised some of the early output from IPUG. Joe was to go on and cover this role of looking retrospectively at the older machines for a number of years.
In 1988 I raised the question of whether hobby computing was dying. It was a theme I was to return to on a number of occasions . Certainly the use of home computers was changing and what was dying was the art of programming for fun. However it was not dead. Ian Cassidy started a very useful series on making use of the 64 ROM Kernal routines in machine code programs.
I almost forgot, 1988 was also the year I started a series on the History of I(C)PUG over its 10 year life! It took till March 1989 to finish that three parter. Oh, well! Onward to the next decade.
ICPUG started 1989 with a new newsletter editor. Tim Arnot took on the role and his first innovation was to publish some pen portraits of the lives of the major ICPUG officials. During the course of the year Tim finally took the newsletter production process onto a 16 bit machine! Talking of bits, Joe's Prattle had turned into '7 and a half bits' and Commodore introduced a 16 bit PC compatible computer, imaginatively named the PC1.
Then in the July/August issue of 1989 it happened. Gloom struck the Amigans as the first PC related article was published. I wrote it! However, it was not all doom and gloom. In one of ICPUG's rare forays into hardware production the mad hatter, Mike Hatt, told us all how to make a newsletter rack from an old 3 litre wine box and some sticky back plastic. The best part of this project was the first step which involved emptying the wine box!
When you look at the newsletters for 1990 two things strike you. The first is that there are a lot of different new authors writing on a very diverse range of subjects. The second is that PC compatibility was becoming important. Lots of stuff appeared about the Bridgeboard for the Amiga which gave an XT class PC to Amiga owners. In addition a number of articles appeared on transferring data from a Commodore machine, be it PET, Amiga or whatever, to a PC. There was even an article on converting Commodore BASIC programs to GWBASIC, part of DOS on the PC.
The third generation Amiga appeared, the A3000, with upgrades to the operating system (OS). Those who wanted the benefits of the new OS without the cost of a new machine took advantage of the revised system I developed from public domain software. I dubbed it Omnibench at the time and it consisted of:
(a) Jazzbench, an improved true multitasking OS similar to Workbench
(b) ARP (AmigaDOS Replacement Project) which replaced the Amiga's CLI commands with a new more powerful set that were written in C rather than the Amiga's BCPL.
(c) MessyDOS which gave the ability to read PC DOS disks.
1990 was also the year when COMAL took a leap forward. Versions for the Amiga and PC appeared. I am still using the PC version to this day.
The regions celebrated a major event in 1990 with ICPUGSE having its tenth birthday. Onward to the next millennium fellas.
On the hardware front a radical new device came from Commodore, the CD TV. Commodore, and others, had high hopes for this device which some quoted would be as influential as TV. The idea was to plug the device into the TV and play interactive CDs which may be films, games, etc. It was basically a cut down Amiga and with appropriate peripherals the device could be turned into an Amiga. I was not personally convinced about the device as I felt the then recently standardised CD Interactive format stood a better chance. In the long run neither succeeded!. I still feel that the CD TV was the start of Commodore's long decline into nothingness.
In order to research this history I have been speed reading past newsletters. Every once in a while I come across something I had forgotten which makes me say 'Goodness gracious me', or words to that effect. In the third issue of 1990 Janet Bickerstaff's review of ICPUGSE's fourth weekend of computers and gourmet food appeared. One of the attractions of this weekend was a discussion on Bang-Paths by Harry Broomhall, one of ICPUG's top experts. I will quote extracts from the article here.
'Harry explained that Bang-Paths refer to a world-wide system of networks. It originated in 1976 connecting two sites using UNIX ...... The Bang-Path is the path between two machines. There are many different networks connected world-wide and messages are passed from net to net to reach their destination .... Some of the networks include CIX, Bitnet, Internet and Janet.'
See the magic word, Internet. This was 1990 remember when the masses had not heard of Windows never mind the Internet. Admittedly we are not talking the World Wide Web here but this must be another first for ICPUG. The first mention of the Internet to the general public.
In 1988 I got worried about whether hobby computing had died. I finished 1990 by having a programming competition in the newsletter. It attracted 27 entries and I awarded three rather than two prizes as the standard was so high. Hobby computing was not dead yet.
1991 was not a landmark year in the annals of our group. The move by members to PCs and eventually Windows was starting and the newsletter introduced a regular PC Corner, written by John Broad. Articles on computing and family history started to appear this year. This is indeed a subject dear to the heart of the previously mentioned Betty Clay. The first network of computer users, Micronet on Prestel, was brought to a close, after BT priced it out of existence. We had to wait a long while before a suitable replacement was found, the Internet. For those who like to amuse themselves with the prices in years gone by one member did a review of his HP Laser Jet III printer which cost £1500. Compare that with the prices of some laser printers today!
I think 1991 will be most remembered for an anonymous letter to the 'Readers Write' column in the last newsletter of the year. The writer was critical of the newsletter in that articles were too technical and there was nothing for beginners. The first issue of 1992 had 8 further letters on this subject alone and it was touched on more than once in other issues of 1992. I even wrote an article explaining why articles had become technical and that, in part, the solution to the 'Beginners' articles lay in the hands of having a new generation of authors. They must be beginners themselves as they best understood the problems of beginners. Nevertheless, ICPUG tried to respond and the series 'A Plain Man's Guide (for 8-bit Commodores)' resulted. This was written by our expert of articles for the antique machine - the antique Joe Griffin! Alan Pfiel had a beginners guide to the Amiga A500 plus and I played my part by having a beginners guide to Windows! Yes folks, in October 1991 I had moved from my Amiga to a PC and I was followed by Brian Fowler in January 1992 and even Mr. seven and a half bits of himself had moved by June.
If articles are anything to go by 1992 was the year of the Spreadsheet. Ron Geere, our first editor, started a series on the basics and Tony Borg assimilated into the newsletter a Current Account spreadsheet in a series of articles. Alan Lewis introduced some SuperCalc macros and I had a spreadsheet for costing phone calls.
1992 was also the year of the esoteric. Jim Butterfield kicked off what became a few articles on C and Richard Hunt who, god bless him, tried to introduce Forth to the masses, now decided to wow us with OS/2. Richard is the patron saint of the lost cause!
The Internet got a mention again. This time Betty Clay explained how it was used to transfer e-mails from Compuserve to CIX.
Another ICPUG region, this time Mid Thames - a very soggy group, celebrated their tenth anniversary and Commodore celebrated 1992 with the introduction of the A600, A1200 and A4000 Amigas.
A lot of things happened in 1992 but I think probably the most significant was that Commodore made a loss. It was not long into 1993 that Commodore announced a 'restructuring', a euphemism for making people redundant. However they did manage to introduce a new device, the CD32, which became as successful as the CD-TV, (i.e. not very). Apart from that 1993 was another of those 'not much happened' years. In hindsight 1992 marked the beginning of Windows and the beginning of the end of a lot of other things, including Commodore.
The gloom around Commodore reached its conclusion in 1994. Betty Clay reported that the dealers and shareholders turned up at the AGM and asked some searching questions. Later in the year the international arm of Commodore first sought the protection of the Bahamian courts and then, on April 29th, announced they were going into liquidation. On May 4th the guys who did the work were holding a wake and selling a signed Deathbed Vigil T-shirt. This was the start of the long saga of who would buy the rights of the Commodore line. With the passing of Commodore our Chairman raised the issue of a name change for ICPUG again. Various suggestions were made, comments asked for and published in the newsletter. No actual name change occurred at this time but the ball was rolling.
1994 was also the time that SPC gave up Superbase and put our then editor, Tim Arnot, out of a job. It was certainly the end of an era.
The newsletters of 1994 were not as thick as usual and there was a lot of regurgitation of old stuff. Nick Whetstone recalled 'Pieces of Eight' bit articles of days past and Janet Bickerstaff started recalling what was in the newsletter 10 years previous. Will Light gave a very good resume of how ten years previous he had started to use COMAL to teach programming to 'A' Level Computer Studies students. In addition he gave a rundown of the language and versions as it stood then. Joe Griffin, in his customary behind the times manner, started writing some MSDOS articles while everyone else looked out of the Windows! I'm only joking. I have a fondness for MSDOS as well.
The letters on the technical level of the newsletter being too high continued and various officials reiterated that there was hardly anything technical left in it. Joe Griffin made the valid point that the membership bulk had changed from techies and hobbyists to 'smart' users. The concept of what was technical was therefore somewhat different. I know I was beginning to get cheesed off with all the carping. 1994 was the first year I had not written one article for ICPUG. I had written only one for 1993. Admittedly I had been made redundant in 1992 and was more concerned with getting established in my new job. However I had also decided that if my voluntary efforts were not being appreciated I would stop writing and see if any new authors would come along and fill the gap. The fact that I started writing again in 1995 says it all about how that turned out. The last issue of 1994 was 76 pages small, our thinnest for some years, and it was also the last to be edited by Tim. He had to carve a niche in his new job as well so the editorship was handed over.
1995 was a year of great change. The ICPUG newsletter started with a new cover as well as a new editor. Jonathan Cooley took over as editor and our cover become even less ornate than previously. It is the one that is still in use today.
At the start of 1995 Commodore UK attempted to take over the assets of the former Commodore International Ltd. (CIL). This was widely seen as very hopeful but they were soon joined in the competition by Escom and a US individual acting on behalf of an unknown organisation. At this time the ICPUG AGM authorised the committee to allow a name change. It would not happen until the Commodore business was sorted out. In the end Escom turned out the winner and Commodore UK followed the international arm into liquidation. It was all change with other computers as well. Apple decided to licence its Macintosh operating system allowing third parties to produce Macintosh clones. This was felt to be a good move as it was how the PC became ubiquitous. Unfortunately, it was too late. The PC got there first and there it remained.
In 1995 the ICPUG National committee had a mild attack of stupidity. I must admit I do not know the background but it was reported that stand volunteers were unwilling to recruit members to ICPUG National at computer shows. This resulted in the committee deciding to have no more ICPUG stands at computer shows and our Exhibition Organiser, Janet Bickerstaff, resigning after considerable hard work on behalf of the club. Things must have got smoothed over in the background because ICPUG stands were mentioned at later times.
The brief of ICPUG was slowly changing along with its name. Ken Ross started a series of articles on PET hardware so that answered some of the criticisms levelled at the newsletter not covering the old machines. However Tim Arnot had also started on a series of articles pertaining to the Macintosh, 'MAC Matters'. I guess it did to Tim!
The Internet was really getting going now. Martin Kloos started a series 'Journey Into the Internet' and Bill Ritchie started a new Corner. Compuserve Communications Corner. Although related to Compuserve the Internet naturally got covered as well.
1995 has a certain ring to it. Ah yes, a certain software company paid for the London Times to be published free for a day. On that day ... (cue Also Sprack Zarathrustra or The Rolling Stones 'Start It Up' depending how you feel) .... Windows 95 was released. The interminable hype was over. Shops opened specially all night so it could be bought at the stroke of midnight. Never mind the product, feel the marketing - absolutely brilliant. In August, after a two year gap, I wrote an article for ICPUG again. It was a review of Windows 95!
Here is another aside at how things change. A complaint in the newsletter about the high price of RAM. Someone paid £700 + VAT for 32Mb of memory. He got the usual response (I can remember when 8K cost over £100)! Windows 95, if nothing else, certainly helped to ramp up memory requirements and with it the cost came down. That same 32Mb could be bought for £25 in the right places today.
The year ended on a high note. Escom was beginning to sell the Amiga again.
The beginning of 1996 saw ICPUG getting serious. A strategic planning meeting was set up. They were going to look at the objectives of ICPUG and brainstorm the problem and come up with some 'next steps'. A two hour meeting in Biggin Hill library was the planned. In the old days we used to do this is the pub after the meeting. How times change!
The ICPUG name change finally took effect in March of 1996. At that time we thought the Commodore situation had settled with Escom in the driving seat. ICPUG was now the Independent Computer Products User Group.
It was not long before it was reported that Escom had caught the Commodore virus and reported a trading loss. Higher than expected start up costs in the UK were a factor. By mid year Escom UK had gone into liquidation and the German parent had gone bankrupt .Things Commodore were up in the air again. It was reported that VIScorp was to buy Amiga Technologies to gain access to the technology for an interactive set top box. Things were happier for Superbase. A consortium were to purchase the entire assets of Superbase Inc., which would hopefully give it new life.
Another of the major contributors to ICPUG, Betty Clay, succumbed to the PC. She was also to make the first ICPUG reference to Java. The all singing, all dancing software platform that would allow applications to work on any platform. In particular you would not need to buy an Intel processor and Windows if you did not want to. We are still waiting for the Java revolution of course but the war aint started yet!
In all this history I have not made specific mention of a member joining. I will break that rule here to mention Ian Aisbitt. He joined in 1996 and immediately started writing articles and letters. I must say that the letters main points are lack of support for members in Yorkshire and lack of support for the Amiga. What was interesting was Ian's first few months of computing. He had an Amiga and lots of problems. He then decided to buy a new PC and got so fed up with it and Windows that he returned it and got his money back. Finally, he settled on an Amiga 1200 to devote his efforts.
As regards articles in the newsletter that year it was mainly a continuation of the issues of the day. I started a series, 'DOS Droppings', to cover the more esoteric features of MSDOS.
Probably the most important ICPUG event of the year was that Bill Ritchie had got an ICPUG web site up and running. Perhaps that strategic planning meeting at the beginning of the year did make some good decisions!
The year ended with a question. VIScorp were still waiting to get hold of Amiga Technologies and what would happen to the rest of the Commodore line?
Well in 1997 the answer to the latter question seemed to be an on/off affair. First a management buy out of the Dutch Commodore assets, including the name was reported. Then the name of Tulip, the PC maker, was mentioned before being dropped again mid year. However by the end of 1997 the Commodore PC range was back in the hands of Tulip. Very early in 1997 it was reported that VIScorp had competitors and VISCorp themselves were getting cold feet about the idea of taking on Amiga Technologies, as it found its asset value much reduced from that expected. However ICPUG had a scoop in reporting that on March 27 Gateway 2000 were to take over the Amiga line. During the year many things were reported to be happening in the future for the Amiga but at the time of writing this not much has come to fruition. Another false dawn maybe.
At the start of 1997 Joe Griffin had to finish his duties with ICPUG so that he could concentrate on self employment. A big loss to the group and those who like articles about the not so recent machines. I guess the gradual decline of ICPUG over the previous years was continuing through 1997. By September ICPUG was down to three regional groups which held meeting and another with a contact point. What a difference to 10 years previous when there were 28! Even Iain Aisbitt was already contemplating leaving the group because in his view there was not enough ICPUG support for the Amiga! Thank goodness for Bill Ritchie and Alan Crease. This year Bill started giving us an insight into authoring web pages and Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), the object processing language of the web. I haven't mentioned Alan before but he had been writing occasional articles for a while now. His penchant is for hardware and trying to make sense of the plethora of changes going on in the hardware market of PCs. Working with a limited budget Alan likes to upgrade his machines as and when he can, usually via birthday and Christmas presents! This means that in order to get the best value for money he needs to know what is what. Using magazines and the web as a resource Alan researches methodically and the result is probably the best writing on hardware since Mike Todd in the early days.
Well, we have almost reached the end of the road. It is June 28th and I have just received the third issue of this year. The year started with the treasurer of ICPUG, Richard Hunt, resigning. I understand he had not left with the money so all is well. Our illustrious chairman decided to add the treasurers role to his workload.
Superbase started 1998 with a new version, 3.2, brought out by a company called Tricom Technology Limited. Let's hope it can keep the user base happy. That will be more than Tulip will do for Commodore PC owners. Yes, Tulip have now caught the Commodore virus and are going bust. That must be the end of the line for the Commodore name now, surely. (STOP PRESS - Somebody has put some money in and Tulip are resurrected. Not sure if the Commodore name is).
With the experiences of all who have tried to pick up the Commodore name I cannot help but think that ICPUG changed its name not a moment too soon! Hopefully this group, that was started by enthusiasts for the Commodore name and its machines, will continue to offer a useful service to its members, whichever machines they use, into the next millenium. See you there?