CC Clarke's memories:
I worked on the TI-99/4A assembly lines as an electronic technician in
Lubbock, TX. from Aug 82 to May of 83 amidst big changes at T.I.
New assembly lines were being created monthly and the demand to hire
personnel was frantic. We couldn't produce machines fast enough to
meet the insaitiable demand of the public; especially as the '82 Christmas
The CEO (J.Fred Bucy -a Texas Tech Alum) came up with an unusually
brilliant idea: why not hire part-time Texas Tech engineering
students to help us repair more machines so we could get them out the
door?!! They would gain valuable training, and he would sell more
computers, while remaining true to his academic roots.
A pair of student/trainees would sit next to each of us; we were to train
them in easy repairs joysticks, power supply swap-outs, keyboard
replacement, etc. Funny thing is, my two students were from
Pakistan; their English was about as good as my Pakistani! There
were Koreans, Japanese, Indians, and who knows who else sitting beside all
of us, and most had little or no fluency in English. --Talk about
the blind leading the blind!
Needless to say, our productivity sank faster than the Titanic, and as a
result, even fewer machines went out the door that season. It didn't
get any better as the computer wars heated up. We were authorized
unlimited overtime for awhile. Techs were actually sleeping in the
parking lot in order to put in more hours.
Another funny story: The main campus football field-sized manufacturing
areas had big square carpet tiles made from some exotic material like
camel hair. The engineers deemed it too much of a ESD hazard with
folks hand-carrying circuitboards all over the place, so all were
issued thousands of one foot squares of aluminum foil to wrap around the
boards to "protect" the motherboards in transit.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize aluminum foil is a fairly
decent conductor of static electricity, so who knows how many boards were
unintentionally "zapped" transporting them in this way.
Thousands of squares of foil littered the floors as the carpet tiles were
ripped up (BIG job). Absolutely hilarious!
Needless to say, when the writing on the wall became legible, I found a
new job fast! Soon after, thousands of my co-workers were layed off
as T.I. jettisoned its home computer line.
marketing stategy errors, by Eric Bray:
TI responded to competition in the
home computer market by dropping its price on the TI99/4A, but it made
critical mistakes in strategy and evaluation of the consumer computer
As the TI99/4A began to sell, the company still refused to release the
secrets of how it worked, making it impossible for third-party vendors to
support the machine with software and peripherals. Instead, TI chose to
protect its secrets and gluttonously to keep the software and peripheral
business to itself. But the Peripheral Expansion System TI offered was not
priced in line with its reduced-price TI99/4A. The expansion system was
difficult to understand, confusing to many retailers and consumers, and
deemed to expensive.
In the hard-fought sales battle, TI suffered and serious grievous damage
and gave up on home computers.
Just as TI was leaving the home computer market the company stated that
its TI99/4A home computer could not and would never be able to run a BBS
system, have a mouse as a system interface, and connect to and control a
MIDI device. Of course the hardware 'Hackers' out there proved the company
to be very wrong by developing all of those very things.
Independent parties later developed a MFM hard drive controller, a SCSI
interface, and an IDE interface along with memory expansion systems, ram
disks systems, and a sound card that had the ability to play 12 different
channels at once.
The software developers proved to be just as resourceful by developing
programs like several BBS system software packages, software to use with
the mouse interface, MIDI software, a standard for archiving file storage
and transmitting programs over a BBS, and several, superior to TI's own
modules, disk management systems. Later, there was software developed to
allow the machine to used digitalized sound files in its programming.
One of the 'best' software packages that prolonged the use of the TI99/4A
was the "Funnel Web" program that integrated all the significant
software into a single program that allowed the machine to have a quasi
operating system instead of a computer that could only utilize one
category of program at a time.
Texas Instruments NEVER realized the full potential of their little home