Shock, horror, probe, drama, crisis...
In the last few weeks the papers have been full of tales of Sinclair woe. How the company is in trouble over a fifteen million pound overdraft, how the bottom is falling out of the home computer market and how the people making the C5 have gone back to assembling washing machines.
The Sun has to win the spot prize for grossest incompetence, for describing the C5 as an ‘open topped, battery-powered four wheeler’ under a banner headline of ‘SINCLAIR TRIES TO SELL OFF C5 TRIKE’. Well done lads, keep on taking the photos of naked ladies. It’s what you’re good at...
The official line from Sinclair, reported in the Financial Times, was that the company was aiming to raise £10 to £15 million ‘to fund long-term growth and restructuring plans’.
It’s clear that Sinclair Research is experiencing some financial difficulties. £30 million pounds worth of stocks are being held, and Thorn EMI and Timex have extended credit to Sinclair to aid cash flow problems. Two and half million pounds have been written off by Sinclair Research as a result of the price cuts made after Christmas in combination with returns, and a further million pound loss was incurred by the demise of Prism — which apparently caused such major problems to the company, that Sinclair is still trying to work out quite what went where.
Ten percent of Sinclair Research was sold to shareholders a couple of years ago for 13.5 million, and even the most mathematically untalented could work out that the share sale valued the whole company at £135 million. Recently a report in The Guardian placed a value of £20 million on the whole company.
Problems with the QL can’t have helped the predicament that the City now feels Sinclair is in. It seems that components for 50,000 QL’s were ordered before prototyping, and somewhere in the vaults of Sinclair Research there are presumably 50,000 little batteries that were once intended to provide back-up to the internal QL clock. And there are probably quite a few 128K chips going spare for similar reasons, which may have prompted recent speculation about a 128K Spectrum.
Not so daft, really, given that Sinclair Research may well have a significant quantity of suitable silicon lying around. 128K of paged RAM wouldn’t require a vast investment in time or money: the TMS2068 had paging ROM and RAM can be paged in the same way. And remember, Interface 1 pages the ROM...
Admittedly, the Spectrum BASIC interpreter uses 16 bit pointers, which means the maximum amount of RAM that can be addressed in BASIC is 64K, but such problems could be avoided in machine code.
Word has also reached us of the LC-3, ‘the ZX84 that never was’. Apparently the LC-3 was an abandoned Sinclair prototype which ran on the Z80 processor, like the Spectrum, and had a QDOS ROM, which mean that QL software could be compiled down to run on it as all the system calls were the same. With a built-in, double mapped screen (which meant that 1 byte rather than the Spectrum’s 8, is needed to display a character), and a microdrive the LC-3 could have, and who knows, could well still catch on.
And one shouldn’t forget that the Pocket TV is out and about — over 1,000 independent dealers have taken it on, and Dixons are currently doing a whizzo deal, packaging a Pocket TV, Spectrum Plus and 6 games, and ZX Printer. Yes ZX Printer... all that lot for £199.00.
Meanwhile the rumours are still flying: is Sir Clive trying to raise cash by selling Sinclair Vehicles? Will he raise £15 million from the City, which is populated by ‘sheep’ as one high powered accountant recently put it ‘who follow each other blindly, even if it means pushing someone over a cliff’? Speculation is, as usual, rife, but the official Sinclair line as we write is that Sir Clive is not about to step down, and is looking to raise money for further development work.
All, no doubt will be revealed shortly in the continuing saga of manic panic in the micro-computer industry....
A mole gets in touch, muttering darkly about there only being two machines in the whole world capable of making blank microdrive cartridges. The conversation continues, and we are told that when the order was given by some financial wizard to cut back on QL production at Chateau Sinclair, the microdrive cartridge manufacture was also cut back, demonstrating a slight lack of understanding, given that the price had just been cut drastically.
Was our mole accurate? We rang Terry Blood Distribution, announcing that we were from CRASH and learn that no, there isn’t really a shortage. ‘We’ve sold 518 4-packs today, and still have 212 in stock, and we’ve currently got 111 of the 100-packs for software houses... they do tend to come in and go out very quickly, and some people are being greedy. If we receive a cheque with an order, once the cheque’s cashed we have an obligation to fill it as quickly as possible, but no, there’s not a shortage. They just come in and go out quickly’. Thank you very much we say, and have a little chat about life, the universe and CRASH before ending the conversation.
Being trained in the art of investigative journalistic practices, we then telephone TBD again, this time asking for ‘Sales’ and enquiring about the availability of microdrive cartridges from the point of view of a customer. The lady (this time) explains that they have got the cartridges in stock today, but the chances are that the remaining 4-packs will have gone within 24 hours. ‘They’re difficult to get hold of,’ she says, ‘If you place an order, we’ll put it on hold and you might have to wait up to two and a half weeks.’ Hmmm.
A similar ’phone call to Lightning elicits the information that they only sell the single cartridges, and that they do have stocks at present. ‘If you want to place an order I’d do it very quickly,’ the lady says, ‘people do order hundreds at a time’. Double Hmmm.
But then there has been a heavy demand, occasioned partly by the price reduction and by the need for microdrive cartridges for the QL application packages produced in languages other than English for the export market. Spanish, for instance... and translations for ten other languages are well under way. So, one supposes, our mole was sort of right.
The battle for grabbing licences to produce games is hotting up, the latest round of deals with Spanish software house Dinamic having caused considerable confusion between Gremlin Graphics and Silversoft/CRL. As Lloyd Mangram reports in ‘Merely ...’, both companies are planning to release games licenced from Dinamic, but what he doesn’t say is that Silversoft thought they had an agreement with the Spaniards to release not only Saimazoom and Baba Liba but also Rocky and Profanation. An agreement was thought to have been reached only a matter of days before Ian Stewart of Gremlin Graphics announced that he had effectively ‘gazumped’ Silversoft on the latter two games. Ian Ellery, Software Development Manager for the CRL Group which is ‘affiliated’ to Silversoft, said that he was disappointed in the turnabout and surprised, since they had had a long association with Dinamic.
With competition becoming so ferocious, running a software house begins to look more like an arcade game every day...