For your information, this column’s name refers to the apocryphal chinese curse “may you live in interesting times”. The idea is that for people who were extremely conservative, living in so-called interesting times would be terrible. For the curious, here’s a site about the origins of this saying.
But I myself simply love living in these interesting times. For instance, when I started out in this business, I worked with an IBM1401 with the huge amount of 4000 memory positions… and I say huge, because every bit (a ferrite core) was visible to the naked eye! Today, only 34 years later, my laptop has exactly 268435.5 times as much memory, takes up a much smaller space, for about 1/1000 the cost… and besides, it’s just mine. I won’t even mention speed! But of course, I’d like it to be even smaller… and faster… and cheaper… who knows, even an implant?
A decade after my dinosaur wrangler days, the first microcomputers appeared – my first, in 1977, was an Apple II – together with Byte Magazine, where the latest industy news were published. Soon after, the first Brazilian manufacturers came on the scene, and I promptly went to work for one of them – probably the first outside São Paulo (Brazil’s largest city and industrial hub), a company called Quartzil Informática. The queer name came from the company’s beginnings as a quartz oscillator manufacturer, in Montes Claros (MG), inside an area subsidized by the government.
The company’s first product was the QI-800, an 8-bit computer based on the Zilog Z80A (which still is the world’s best-selling microprocessor), running Digital Research’s CP/M-80 operating system, the standard of that time. It came on the market around the end of 1982, if I recall correctly.
To the right of the screen it had an 8-inch (eight!) Shugart SA800 diskette drive, and in the second cabinet, up to three more drives could be mounted. Every diskette could hold an amazing 243K, and the drive’s spindle motor was powered by 110 VAC! Internally, the system used the IMSAI‘s S-100 Bus, which later became the IEEE-696 Standard. As this bus used expensive 100-pin connectors, they used the kludge of buying two 44-pin connectors and cutting out, from the boards, the 12 central pins (which happily were not vitally important). The boards were large but specialized; one held the CPU, another one the video controller, another one the RAM, and so forth… there were 6 or 7 boards altogether.
The remaining specs were not impressive. The QI-800 had 64K of RAM and an 8K EPROM. There were dozens of other companies building almost exactly the same equipment. One advantage would have been the recently-launched hard drive (or Winchester, as they were called at the time); a Brazilian factory was beginning to assemble 5 and 10 MB (yes, megabytes!) hard drives, but so far as I remember, none was ever sold with this system. The price was astronomical, something like US$4,000.
Sales of the QI-800 were not very satisfactory, and they decided to develop a splashy and revolutionary (but at the same time economical and flexible) system. This new system, the QI-900, will be discussed in the next installment; it was the first Brazilian computer with movable windows, menus, preemptive multitasking, and operating system in EPROM.
(clique aqui para ler este artigo em português)