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  1. Technology
February 22, 1989


By CBR Staff Writer

As reported yesterday, the limelight of the 1989 Which Computer? Show was unashamedly stolen by the launch of the Atari Folio, a UKP200 IBM-compatible pocket computer. In fact, the pocket computer has surfaced a year later than the company originally predicted (CI No 819) and does not appear to feature the promised facility for sending telexes. The model is described as a folding clam-shell with catch, and its vital statistics are 8 by 4 by 1 and it weighs just 1 lb. It features 128Kb RAM, including a configurable RAM disk, and 256Kb ROM, it uses an 8088 CMOS processor, runs at 4.9MHz, and is claimed to be compatible with standard text-based IBM MS-DOS software. The three standard AA batteries are claimed to run for six to eight weeks with typical to heavy usage, with no loss of data when the batteries are changed. A connector for a mains adaptor is included in the price. The Folio has a 40 character by eight line supertwist LCD screen with IBM extended ASCII character set. An optional moving window is available for an 80 by 25 text screen when using data from a desktop MS-DOS box. The built-in software is a low-level ROM BIOS with automatic power-down for battery conservation, and the ROM operating system is claimed to be functionally compatible with Microsoft’s disk-based MS-DOS. At the touch of the help button on the 63 key Qwerty keyboard all programs can switch between English, French, and German, making the Folio a product for the 1992 European Single Market. The pocket computer comes with five built-in user programs that can exchange information between themselves, or be printed. There is an address and phone book which is accessed like a card indexed system. The program can sort entries, merge files, and includes a telephone tone dialler. Also included is an editable calculator with multiple display formats, five memories, and a percentage analysis; a diary and calendar which runs up to the year 2049, and has the potentially irritating if useful ability to set off alarms even when the computer is switched off; and a text processor which can cut, store, paste, mark, and move text but which does not do desktop publishing! Finally, a Lotus 1-2-3-compatible spreadsheet with 127 columns and 255 rows is also built-in, as is communications software for file transfer and printing when using the Folio with the Smart Cable. The memory card interface for the storage of data and programs is the size of a credit card and plugs into the desktop MS-DOS machine like a disk, but the card drives for desktops are not yet available and will be offered as an option. There is an expansion connector for optional peripherals including an extra memory card slot, RS232 and parallel communications, and cable for two-way file transfer with a personal computer. The memory cards are made by Mitsubishi and offer a software library that includes Finance, Maths, and Spellchecker. The brains behind the design and development of this product comes from a private British company based in Guildford, Surrey called Distribute Information Processing Ltd, which likes to call itself DIP. The company was set up in 1985 to specialise in providing hand-held computer systems and consultancy for clients including Bull HN Information Systems, Radio Taxicabs, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and HM Customs and Excise. These initial systems were based around hardware from other companies with custom written software. Because, however, no other manufacturer came up with a machine that was compatible with industry standards, easy to program, and powerful, Distributed began developing its own pocket computer in 1986. Funding for the project came from private individuals through the Business Expansion Scheme, and from the British venture capital group Octagon. Competition on the way from Psion Plc, Poqet Computer Corp Both the company’s managing director, David Frodsham, and its development director, Peter Baldwin, have worked for Psion Plc which produces a non-compatible pocket computer, the Organiser, marketed as an electronic Filofax, and so

had, respectively, marketing and technical expertise in this product area. Anticipating the launch of its pocket computer Distributed has recently created two divisions: DIP Research which offers the pocket PC technology under licence to companies, the first of these being Atari Corp of Sunnyvale, California which will manufacture the Atari Folio in Japan; the second division, DIP Systems will market the pocket computer in co-operation with Atari, but will also supply the product in the UK for specialist applications requiring customised software, as well as supplying technological derivatives of the pocket computer to international OEM markets. Atari will be ready to ship the Folio in April, and is aiming to shift 500,000 units before the end of the year, particularly targeting users who need a truly portable system such as field engineers and salesmen. Meanwhile Distributed, which developed all the hardware and software for the product in house, is intending to work on the development of more powerful pocket computer technology compatible with 80386 machines, under the watchful eye of chairman Sir Kenneth Corfield (formerly chairman of STC Plc) who took up the position in 1987. In direct competition with Atari, however, is the Poqet Computer Corp, also of Sunnyvale, California, where Dr Robb Wilmot is chairman and which has just opened its international headquarters in Weybridge, Surrey. The company will launch its own pocket computer in the spring, and argues that it will be a true IBM compatible in the sense that it runs the MS-DOS operating system, not a proprietary derivation as the Folio does. Meanwhile, the last word goes to Psion which says it will launch a new portable computer in the summer with a screen and keyboard the size of an A4 sheet of paper because, the company claims, text processing cannot be done well on anything smaller.

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