Photo of the Week - Know your History! (02 - Non-Linear Systems Kaypro II (CP/M))

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Welcome to the second of an ongoing series of exclusive photos here at Armchair Arcade from my private collection, Non-Linear Systems Kaypro II (CP/M).

The photo's main page.
The full-size image.

Without further ado, here are some neat facts about this week's photo (feedback welcome!):

The incredibly sturdy metal Kaypro II (1982) from Non-Linear Systems, shown running Infocom’s classic science fiction text adventure, Starcross (1983). Famed science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke reportedly collaborated remotely on writing the screenplay for the 1984 movie, 2010: The Year We Make Contact, with director Peter Hyams, using one of these systems and a modem to transfer files. Clarke was based in Sri Lanka, while Hyams was in Los Angeles.

Other Infocom CP/M ports included the Zork series, Enchanter, Sorcerer, Deadline, Suspended, The Witness, Planetfall, Infidel, Seastalker and Cutthroats. Certain combinations of CP/M and hardware platform, like Digital Research’s CP/M 2.2 running on the Osborne OCC 1, supported a simple graphics character set. Eventually, other systems would support full graphics, but a standard was never settled upon and the majority of CP/M software remained text based.

CP/M was essentially the de facto operating system from the mid-1970s up to the rise of MS-DOS in the early 1980s. In fact, after the introduction of the IBM PC and PC-DOS (MS-DOS), hybrid systems began to appear, which contained both 8- and 16-bit processors, one each to run CP/M and MS-DOS respectively. While CP/M compatibility was not a problem, as with many early MS-DOS systems, true compatibility with the IBM PC was.

In any case, while not a great game platform, CP/M is home to several different types of text-based games, including the aformentioned text adventures and Rogue-alikes. What's surprising is that action-oriented games made an appearance on the operating system as well. For instance, Ladder (1983), from Yahoo Software, is a surprisingly fun platform game done entirely with text characters and controlled via the keyboard. Other titles even cloned popular arcade games, like Space Invaders, with a game called Aliens, again entirely in text mode.

You can read more about CP/M and many other systems in my upcoming book, or keep visiting Armchair Arcade. See you next time!

Comments

Mark Vergeer
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Intersystem disk compatibility?

So Bill,
How is the inter system disk compatibility of those cp/m systems? I dabbled around with a c64 cartridge enabling it to run cp/m but the disks of other systems could not be read by the 1541. I fared a little better with the c128. What is your experience with that?
Cheers, Mark

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Bill Loguidice
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More CP/M
Mark Vergeer wrote:

So Bill,
How is the inter system disk compatibility of those cp/m systems? I dabbled around with a c64 cartridge enabling it to run cp/m but the disks of other systems could not be read by the 1541. I fared a little better with the c128. What is your experience with that?
Cheers, Mark

========================
Mark Vergeer - Editor / Pixelator
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
Xboxlive gametag
========================

The Commodore 128 (or 128D) with 1571 disk drive is able to read/write/convert a variety of CP/M disk formats. It really is a terribly versatile solution. Depending upon the type of disk drive and if the manufacturer included any conversion utilities, many CP/M systems can read/writer/convert between at least a few formats. Obviously, there's also density issues, like single and double, and other factors that must be taken into consideration. Apple II CP/M has a highly incompatible disk format for instance. The Apple II disk drives just don't work like other drives do. Same thing (as you discovered) with the C-64 and its wonky CP/M cartridge solution. 40 column CP/M also presents its own problems, as C-64 CP/M and Coleco Adam CP/M owners discovered. The latter had many more successful conversions though and a better implementation of the OS. While truly a standard, CP/M had enough differences between implementations that it was destined to fail in light of something like an MS-DOS, which rapidly improved compatibility over the first few years of its life.

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Matt Barton
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Arthur C. Clarke and the KayPro

Wow, that's something to think of Arthur C. Clarke banging out the manuscript on that machine. I have to admit, his move to Sri Lanka has always struck me as highly suspicious, though. It's a well known destination for sex tourists hoping to hook up with young boys. Clarke himself was accused of it, but later was officially cleared of the charges. Still gives me the creeps; don't know why anyone would want to live in a "pedophile's paradise." I'd be curious what people here think about it; I'm sure there must be plenty of science fiction readers out there.

Anyway, about CP/M. I noticed that some folks who grew up with CP/M are adamant about how much MS-DOS sucks compared to it. I've seen all sorts of comments about how CP/M was much easier to use, made more sense, etc., yet I just don't see that myself. To me, MS-DOS is a much easier system, albeit not as user-friendly as the later GUIs. It seems that both CP/M and MS-DOS expected you to sit down with a manual for a fairly lengthy period and work out the commands; it was not designed for the newbie just to plop down and hit the ground running. I still haven't gone beyond the very basics of either system--just getting directories and loading programs is about as far as I've gone. I've heard it's an amazingly powerful system if you know you way around a shell.

It's also a great story about how Kildall almost managed to get IBM to pick up CP/M as its OS of choice for the famous IBM PC. Definitely one of those great "What if?" questions. I think in some ways, the relative popularity of CP/M at the time might actually have proven a hindrance, in that Kildall may have been feeling a sense of security or simply overconfident.

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Bill Loguidice
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Sri Lanka, MS-DOS, PC-DOS, CP/M
Matt Barton wrote:

Wow, that's something to think of Arthur C. Clarke banging out the manuscript on that machine. I have to admit, his move to Sri Lanka has always struck me as highly suspicious, though. It's a well known destination for sex tourists hoping to hook up with young boys. Clarke himself was accused of it, but later was officially cleared of the charges. Still gives me the creeps; don't know why anyone would want to live in a "pedophile's paradise." I'd be curious what people here think about it; I'm sure there must be plenty of science fiction readers out there.

Legendary former MOS and Commodore engineer Chuck Peddle gave his VCF East 4.0 talk from Sri Lanka (I posted the audio in an earlier blog post) via video conference. He said Sri Lanka really is like a paradise and I guess it also has the advantage of skilled workers available for cheap. I've seen Clarke himself talk about how wonderful Sri Lanka was. I've never heard the pedophile thing myself, but who knows. I know almost nothing of Clarke's personal life. I know he was staying with a Sri Lankan family for a time. Not sure if that's still a case.

Clarke and the Kaypro story is rather intriguing. I think it was the first time Clarke used a computer for writing. There were many technical hurdles, not the least of which was getting a reliable phone connection for modem use to send data back and forth. Very compelling stuff, though, and I recommend anyone who's interested to track down the official story on the Web. It's worth it.

Matt Barton wrote:

Anyway, about CP/M. I noticed that some folks who grew up with CP/M are adamant about how much MS-DOS sucks compared to it. I've seen all sorts of comments about how CP/M was much easier to use, made more sense, etc., yet I just don't see that myself. To me, MS-DOS is a much easier system, albeit not as user-friendly as the later GUIs. It seems that both CP/M and MS-DOS expected you to sit down with a manual for a fairly lengthy period and work out the commands; it was not designed for the newbie just to plop down and hit the ground running. I still haven't gone beyond the very basics of either system--just getting directories and loading programs is about as far as I've gone. I've heard it's an amazingly powerful system if you know you way around a shell.

I was nearly a DOS expert for a time, self-taught, and can still work my way around it pretty well. I've found that everything I learned in DOS has translated to me being able to work with CP/M without a manual, which I think is indicative of how much syntax was lifted from CP/M (in fact MS-DOS was a port of QDOS (Quick and Dirty Operating System), which was nothing more than a weak clone of CP/M). Indeed, early DOS was like an immature and slightly buggy version of the mature CP/M, which had gone through several well tested revisions. The fact that CP/M was a type of modular and adaptable operating system, being able to run on just about anything, foreshadowed MS-DOS's eventual usage in a sea of so-called IBM PC compatibles (though some were not in fact IBM compatible and were merely MS-DOS compatible, requiring their own software but still running a version of Microsoft's DOS as their core operating system).

Matt Barton wrote:

It's also a great story about how Kildall almost managed to get IBM to pick up CP/M as its OS of choice for the famous IBM PC. Definitely one of those great "What if?" questions. I think in some ways, the relative popularity of CP/M at the time might actually have proven a hindrance, in that Kildall may have been feeling a sense of security or simply overconfident.

I actually clarified that story greatly and I think definitively in both the CP/M and IBM PC sections of our history book based on Chuck Peddle's retelling and my own review of historical documents and other media (like Cringely's Triumph of the Nerds). I'm not going to get into here as it's in the book, but essentially it was not Kildall who nixed giving IBM CP/M, it was Kildall's lawyer. Kildall wasn't personally involved because he didn't want to tell IBM "no". Essentially IBM needed some contractual changes that the lawyer didn't think should be allowed based on pre-existing contracts Digital Research had in place with other companies (he was afraid they'd have to renegotiate all those other deals). So, temporarily rebuffed, IBM went to Gates who they thought they could get a CP/M license from. Gates instead offered a work-alike, which he had to secretly purchase from somewhere else (QDOS), which became MS-DOS (IBM's version PC-DOS). Of course soon after the launch of the PC in 1981, a version of CP/M was made available, but at a significant premium over MS-DOS (PC-DOS). The war was already lost.

In any case, it would have been indeed interesting if IBM did get CP/M as their default operating system. It was Microsoft's and Gate's brilliant non-exclusive license with IBM that opened up the world to clones through the use of MS-DOS (in conjunction with IBM's own use of off-the-shelf technology, something they tried to unsuccessfully reverse with their later PS/2 systems). It's not a given that Kildall and Digital Research would have been so clever in the manipulation of the non-exclusive licensing. Microsoft obviously was and ended up banking on the type of setup the world eventually came to standardize on (though, of course, if it wasn't, Microsoft had their hands in most computers, so who knows)...

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Matt Barton
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Sri Lanka and Child Prostitution
Bill Loguidice wrote:

I've seen Clarke himself talk about how wonderful Sri Lanka was. I've never heard the pedophile thing myself, but who knows. I know almost nothing of Clarke's personal life. I know he was staying with a Sri Lankan family for a time. Not sure if that's still a case.

Well, I've never been there, but I was a big fan of Clarke and read enough about him until I started stumbling across the whole "scandal." Basically, some tabloid came out with all kinds of claims about his being a rampant pedophile, and this was right around the time he was to be knighted (coincidence? Probably not). Anyway, Clarke delayed the knighthood ceremony until he was cleared by the Sri Lanka officials.

However, there is tons of stuff out there about Sri Lanka being a den for such crap. Protection projectThis site seems pretty reliable, though a general search for Sri Lanka Child Prostitution pops up all kinds of disturbing stuff.

It's kind of hard to figure out from these reports whether this is a seedy underground type of operation, or just out in the open. If it's the latter, I just don't see how someone like Clarke or Peddle could stand living there. At any rate, I'd like to ask them and see what they say.

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Mark Vergeer
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Perhaps it's best not to judge a country by a few craptoids...

Perhaps it's best not to judge an entire country by a few craptoids that do things like that to children. Thailand is also one of these places where this shite is happening. People going there are not all sleezeballs endorsing those practices, boycotting a country like that might only make things worse as poverty - abundance of children and people scrambling to make a living often results in those horrible things like sexual abuse, forced labour, slavery etc. Micro credits do a lot of good in those countries - it gives people a chance to rise above that crap.

Not the whole of ShriLanka or Thailand is bad, hey we might even have some users from those countries and I bet you they don't like that stuff happening either.

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Matt Barton
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Stereotypes
Mark Vergeer wrote:

Not the whole of ShriLanka or Thailand is bad, hey we might even have some users from those countries and I bet you they don't like that stuff happening either.

Well, that's certainly true. It's funny, but I always hear about Amsterdam in a negative way, too. It's more or less "sex and dope" city or some such nonsense, to hear about it. I've very sadly never been out of the country, so I don't have any real life experience to counterbalance these generalizations. I have similar views of places like Cancun. Yes, I realize that not everyone that goes there is a stupid drunk teenager saying things like, "Show us your ***, *****, woooooooo!!!" kinda crap, yet that's the image that gets passed down.

That's why I'd really like to ask Clarke and Peddle what they like about the country. Something tells me that they WOULDN'T say "sex with boys." If we could hear more about the positives, maybe this negative stuff would go away.

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Mark Vergeer
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Stereotypes too

Indeed, it's what people tend to do. Generalizing things make the world a less complex and easier to understand place. We all do it to some extend as adults - and learn to see nuances depending on our education and life-experiences. Small kids have this in extrema by seeing/dividing their entire world in two parts GOOD and BAD. Some adults still do - regardless of education or life experiences - like quite a few of the republicans in the US government?

As a Dutch person I encounter the 'Amsterdam-stereotype' very often when I go abroad. Somehow they always think you have some tabs on a good place to get weed or hash/dope. The truth is that only a small minority of people use that stuff and in Amsterdam it's the often tourists that are high. To nuance things a bit - it's often pop-stars, teenagers, twenty-something tourists that want to use drugs in Amsterdam. A large part of it's population will simply not.

Shrilanka has a beautiful countryside, very hospitable people and great food (I got that from CNN and from National Geopgraphic so not personal experience) and I bet that is what Clarke and Peddle would say - but we don't know unless we ask them. Say Matt, you've been doing all these great interviews - perhaps you could actually ask them?

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