Personal Computing 1977 Conference
David H. Ahl

Daniel Meyer is founder and president of Southwest Technical Products Corporation in San Antonio, Texas, SWTPC originally made high-quality low-cost hi-fi amplifiers and other electronic kits. In the fall of 1975 they introduced the SWTPC 6800 computer kit in the same tradition and it has seen a wild, explosive growth ever since.

Ahl: I see you have some disk-based systems here and also that your components have nice pretty covers on them. That is a change for SWTPC!

Meyer : Well, one of the features that people had been asking for on the old box was a cover. So we were nice to them this time. We went ahead and put the cover on. We are doing what everyone else is doing, of course. We are expanding our systems, we have disks now, we have terminals, we have a printer and lots of new little inner goodies to go in the box, we have an interrupt timer now, we have a calculator interface, we will have an A-to-D, and also a PROM programming card that goes in the interface slot.

Ahl: The A-to-D, how many channels will that have?

Meyer : I don't remember, 6 or 8. It's designed around the National chip.

Ahl: Will you put some hooks in Basic to support these peripherals?

Meyer : Oh, yes.

Ahl: I notice a lot of companies have come out with grand schemes and pieces of hardware and then no way of using them, even with their own software.

Meyer : No, no, we definitely know about that need and we are going to take care of it. We will try to make the things useful to people. That was the philosophy behind, for instance. the little interrupt timer we recently introduced. A lot of people have oscillators that you can hang in their box, but you have to slip a switch to get different timings. OK, with ours you don't do that. Ours has a software programmer at the divider module and you can get anything from a microsecond on up to an hour. software controllable.

Ahl: Can you use it in high-level software, such as BASIC?

Meyer : Yes, you have to write it in using the instructions that go with that timer. In a user-defined machine language subroutine. but that's provided for in our BASIC. All of that is described in BASIC and the interface of course. has complete instructions on what you want to tell that thing. If you wanted to change your timing intervals in the middle of the program, you could. It's very useful!

What else are we doing? Well, of course, we are trying to stay one step ahead of the Radio Shack wolf.

Ahl: Do you see Radio Shack and Commodore as being threats, or enlarging the industry and making more of a market?

Meyer : Both. Radio Shack could be a definite threat but Commodore. I don't really think so.

Ahl: Why is that? Why do you differentiate the two?

Meyer : Well, if you look at them, the Commodore apparently is very difficult to add on to and to interface with external devices. it costs more to expand the memory than our things do. or anyone else's for that matter $300 or something ridiculous like that, is what I heard to add 4K. And the keyboard is unusable for touch-typing Anyone who bought it should be happy with it for at least a week, before they wanted something better. Radio Shack. unfortunately for companies like us. has a pretty good product. It's got a creditable keyboard, it can be expanded quite easily. and it could definitely be a very competitive system.

Ahl: Although by using a non-standard bus, it may limit the number of peripherals.

Meyer : However, if they have the peripheral available, the purchaser will buy it, And that's just the point: they apparently intend to get the peripherals, so we'll see on that one, I don't know. Commodore. I feel. will get some people interested in computers, but they won't be much of a competitive threat as far as what we're selling.

Ahl: How do you see Heathkit?

Meyer : Heathkit has said they're not going to sell theirs assembled: they sell them by mail and through their stores, of which there area limited number. We intend, by the end of the year. to be offering assembled units. I don't think that anybody can sell kits for business applications, it's just not meeting the need.

Ahl: You said business applications. Do you see more of your machines going into that kind of use?

Meyer : Well. I hope so. We're working towards that. We feel right now that we have the disks, we manufacture really everything that you need for a reasonable business disc system other than a printer and we're looking for one of those, but we haven't found the right mechanism yet. But that's the only item we can't supply currently. We are also working with a guy in California who has developed an excellent, very fast BASIC compiler. BASIC is lovely, but BASIC interpreters are ridiculously slow for business, Anyway, we have the disks and we have the language at an adequate speed, we have a more-than adequate computer, so I think we're close.

Ahl: What about support in the business market? Don't they need more hand-holding and support? Do you expect your dealer network to be able to provide that?

Meyer : Some of them can, some can't The fact that the language is BASIC is a big help in my opinion. There are a lot of application programs available now in BASIC. The first people. I think, that
are really going to use these things in business are the ones that have been here looking; the lawyers, the doctors, the accountants, the ones that understand electronics and are interested. Later you get to the corner ice-house and those places where you have to walk in and set it on the counter and say, "This is a diskette and it goes here, and you push B and the system starts," and so forth. It's going to be slow. I don't agree with any of these people who say we're right on the verge of this huge market, and it's going to grow into this colossal industry in a year or two...,

Ahl: Some people have said that this is the year that will separate the hobbyist market from the home and small business market, the hobbyist is essentially finished, and future expansion will come from business systems.

Meyer : There's only one thing wrong with that. My opinion is that nobody at this show has got a system with the possible exception of MITS/Pertec that could be used in a small business. Period. I just don't believe I've seen anything else here that would be suitable, because they're lacking either the language, or reliability. or something. Any one of them you want to name has got a problem somewhere that is going to keep them from being successful in selling their system to businesses. And they don't really understand that. I think I understand that because I've used a computer in my business for 31,2 years now and I know what my problems are. I know what I've got to have, and I don't have a system that I could use in my plant yet.

Ahl: I have to tell you this. We have five computers at Creative Computing and I don't use a single one of them for the business.

Meyer : Right. We're just not quite there yet. But we're on the verge of being able to sell a system that would Work very nicely in a smaller business. I don't think anybody here today, with that one possible exception, could say that they have an adequate system for small business, so we haven't even started getting into that. It's going to be a long, rough road. If that's where people intend to make their money, I think they're going to be in for a big shock when they try.

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This page was last edited September 11, 2005