After having imported the Victor Sirius for years in the UK, ACT produced its own computer largely inspired by the Sirius : the Apricot PC.
It was supposed to be transportable as there is a handle on the main-unit ! If you really want to move your Apricot this way, the keyboard can be clipped to the main-unit.
Several features made this computer quite technically innovative :
• the Apricot PC was possibly the first computer outside Japan to use 3.5'' disk-drives (315k or 720k),
• the graphics quality and features were excellent (800 x 400) and came directly from the Victor Sirius,
• the keyboard was quite original with 8 "normal" and 6 flat programmable function keys along with a built-in LCD screen (40 characters / 2 lines) which displayed the function of the keys. This feature was largely used by the included software, but not much by third-party software.
This small LCD screen could also display the current line of text you're working on and there's even a contrast knob on the right of the keyboard.
It's possible to transfer files and some software from a Sirius or an IBM PC to the Apricot PC by connecting them with a special cable.
There's also an IBM PC emulator which forces the Apricot to act like an IBM PC. It works well for some applications but not all.
Some software was supplied with the Apricot PC : Supercalc, various system tools, asynchronous communication, IBM-PC emulator, Microsoft Basic-86, Basic Personal and ACT Manager (a graphical interface for MS-DOS). Word, Multiplan, Wordstar, dBase II, C-Pascal, Pascal UCSD, C, Fortran, Cobol and Basic Compiler 5.35 were available optionally.
In 1984, ACT launched new versions of the Apricot PC with built-in hard-disks and a different colour case. They were called Apricot Xi.
About IBM/PC compatibility, Greg Taylor specifies:
Concerning the early Apricot PCs (including the Xi) the reason they could not run all MS-DOS programs is that while they came with a copy of MS-DOS, they did not have an identical BIOS so any calls to specific BIOS modules could often fail.
For example, dBase III could not run (on mine anyway) but a competitor product called (I think) DBXL did run. That apart, they were very nice computers for their time with 3.5" disks (nearly everyone else was still using 5.25") and high-quality graphics.
Ian Foggon reports:
The original Apricot PC also came in another flavour you have not listed. It was possible to have these units upgraded to 286 IBM compatible standard by Apricot UK. This involved the replacement of the motherboard and the addition of a 20Mb Miniscribe HDD in the place of one of the Sony 3.5” FDDs. My Father had this done to his Apricot PC back in 1988. These units had their own specially written manuals, and the keyboards were re-keyed to make them IBM compatible too.
My first ever contract was with Apricot Computers in Birmingham in the R/D, England. I wrote all the test software for their computers (except the hard drive).
Apricot PC/Xi, F1 and another one I can''t remember.
The software tested the computers and did burn-in test in production. I wrote an O/S that loaded the programs and ran them. Even did a simple GUI menu. After a few months I went down to manufacturing and saw my program running on loads of computers. So satisfying.
The S/W development team was really looked after. Even had own lunches cooked to order and eat them at the computers while still working. We were paid to work during meals!
I recently acquired an Apricot xi. It posts but the main transformer in the power supply is over heating$ smells a bit. Can you help with parts?
Tuesday 23rd December 2014
Graham Smith (New Zealand)
Besides a F1e originally purchased back in 1985, I also have 3 Apricot PCs in differing stages of repair. I have pilfered the ram of 512k out of one to add to the 256k already in another to bring it up to its maximum of 768k. All the PCs have 720k double sided drives (as opposed to the 315k single sided drive). I did get one with an external 20meg Winchester drive. From memory I think the PCs were about NZ$7500 and up to 10grand+ for the xi version. The 20meg drive (back in the mid 80s) we''re about 5 grand - a bit ridiculous by today''s standards. I had a variety a software with the various computers, which included Wordstar a fairly good word processing package. All the previous F1 programmes worked including the activity. I seem to remember that the PC also came with its own version of activity ...but not too sure. One of the PCs was running the ACT version of DOS3.2. Unfortunately this eventually failed and I had to fall back to 2.1..doh! As an aside I got two 12 inch screens and one 9 inch with these computers. Unfortunately we had problems with ants in our roof and one of the 12 inch monitors became a fairly big ants nest!!! Strike out one monitor!! I loved the keyboard of the PC with the extra screen that brought up certain features of the software being run. Why oh why did ACT not make these IBM compatible, it would have been fantastic. I did see a pic of the ACT Zen with a telephone as part of the keyboard. I think this was the 286 version with the 20meg drive.
Wednesday 1st January 2014
John Moore (New Zealand)
BUILT IN LANGUAGE
Microsoft Basic-86 and Basic Personal delivered on disks
Full-stroke keyboard, 101 keys, 8 function keys, 6 dynamic function keys (membrane keys) Built-in 40 characters x 2 lines LCD screen