Sunday, April 3, 2011

Cover to Cover: Acorn Software Fall 1981 (pp. 16-back cover)

Down to the last few pages here... page 16 features two more utilities for the more technically-inclined TRS-80 user, which in those early days was pretty much anyone who owned one of these arcane what-the-heck-do-you-do-with-it machines:

System Savers provided a set of tools to back up machine-language programs that were otherwise not easy to copy using the standard TRS-80 operating system, and move programs from tape to disk for speed and convenience (and piracy, unfortunately.)  Also notable is the reference to the vagaries of loading from tape back in the day --  these were in fact audio tapes with data recorded at moderate baud rates, and often a tape made on your own equipment, with your own default volume settings and cable connections, was more reliably readable than commercial tapes produced on high-speed duplication equipment.

Structured BASIC Translator was an interesting idea -- BASIC was a great language for novices who wanted to learn computer programming, but its GOTOs, limited loop constructs and heavy dependence on line numbers often made for sloppy and hard-to-maintain code.  This tool was designed to bring some more advanced language features to Microsoft BASIC, though it sounds like it may not have been particularly convenient -- I suspect one could write code in the Translator but not execute or debug it, and the 4-minute wait to handle the translation might have been too cumbersome for any substantial coding project.  But the industry and computer users were wrestling with and chafing against all kinds of limitations back in the day, and I'm sure a few users tried this product out.

Page 17 provides a reminder of the freewheeling early days of the industry -- freelancers were the wellspring of new product, and distribution channels for personal computer software weren't yet established, so dealers and publishers had to work together directly:

Reader tfernando actually looked up the address -- thanks! -- and discovered that Acorn Software Products, Inc. appears to have resided in an apartment building, and was likely being run out of someone's home, which was also not unusual at the time.  This would explain why the company had "no in-house programmers" at all, and likely farmed its disk and tape duplication out to an external supplier.  Acorn did advertise quite a bit, including a full-page ad inside Scott Adams' own Adventure International catalog circa Spring 1981, and the company was apparently able to survive for several years without traditional corporate infrastructure.

And at last we are at the back cover (redacting my boyhood mailing address), which simply reprises some of the items advertised inside:

And so we've reached the end of the Acorn Software catalog for Fall 1981.  I hope this feature has been worthwhile and at least marginally interesting; I've enjoyed writing it and looking back at the home computer technology of three decades ago.  I've tried to find out a little bit more about Acorn Software Products, Inc., but haven't found much -- I'm pretty sure this Acorn bears no relation to the UK computer and software company by a similar name.  Historical records, mostly published reviews of Acorn's products, seem to indicate that the company was active around the years 1980 through 1983, and apparently did not survive the end of the TRS-80 era.

But at least we have this catalog -- so we know Acorn Software Products, Inc. existed, once upon a time.


  1. What a great series of articles! I was a huge fan of Acorn back in my childhood TRS-80 days. I owned Basketball, Pinball, SuperScript, and even Scarfman (probably my most played TRS-80 game ever).

    I think back fondly on many of those old gaming companies (Big Five, etc). At the time, they seemed far more established than they really were.

    Thanks for the memories!

  2. Thank you for the comment! I wasn't sure if this was going to be all that interesting, but so much has changed I had no problem writing about the good old days. I'll be doing more of these types of articles in the future.