A story in the first issue of "Home Computer Compendium" (soon
after known as "microPendium", Texas Instruments having objected
to the use of their trademark "Home computer") in February of
1984 announced the "99/64 (aka Phoenix)" from CorComp. CorComp
had already established itself as a maker
of memory, disk controller, and RS232 cards that worked with the 99/4A's
Peripheral Expansion System.
Features of the announced machine included 64K of RAM exapandable to
1mb, built-in RS232 and disk controller peripherals, an improved Extended
and up to 132-column display. Compared to the 32K (max) RAM, expensive
peripherals, a somewhat clunky but powerful Extended BASIC, and 32/40-column
display, this machine was called a "Dream Machine" by the article.
It turns out that the details would be only partially realized. CorComp
was to release an expansion module that included these features but nothing
more. No new computer. No built-in "super BASIC". No improved
display. This device, the Micro Expansion System, was designed for those
99ers that had not yet purchased TI's bulky Peripheral Expansion System.
However, it was evident that 99ers were hungry for an upgrade path not
even a year after TI abandoned the Home Computer market in Autumn 1983
that wouldn't waste their previous investment in hardware and software.
After TI left the market, user groups in several cities, especially Boston
and Chicago, held "TI Faires" and it was at such events that
new products for the orphaned 99/4A were usually announced.
Myarc (Microcomputer Architects), like CorComp, had its beginnings in
the production of memory expansion, RS232, and disk controller cards.
expanded their line with an improved BASIC and RAMdisk cards.
At the March 1984 TICOFF exhibition in New Jersey, Lou Phillips, owner
of Myarc, announced a new 4A compatible computer. This machine was announced
in two versions – a self-contained model with keyboard (similar
in design to the 99/8 or early Amiga and Atari machines of the time) and
a computer-on-a-card that would fit in the TI Peripheral Expansion System.
The PES (or "P-Box" as it's known) connected to the 4A via a
"Flex Interface Card" and a huge cable that so resembled a fire
hose that it was often called just that.
Further details of the as-yet unnamed machine were given the next month,
at the New England 99 Faire in Boston on April 5, 1984. 256K or 512K RAM
(expandable to nearly 2mb), a TMS 9938 video chip (later produced by Yamaha
in many MSX and other computers) that could handle 80-column text and
graphics at 512x424x256 colors, RGB and composite video output, a mouse
port, PC keyboard interface, SN76496 sound chip (compatible with the sound
chip in the 4A), and TI's TMS 9995 CPU – a 12mhz successor to the
3mhz TMS9900 used in the 4A.
WHERE'S THE COMPUTER?
By 1985, the Chicago TI Faire had become the premier event in the TI
world. The November 2nd show saw 1,700 visitors expecting to witness the
the Myarc computer.
What they saw instead was an Amiga-style computer case with built-in
keyboard and a cartridge slot. Lou Phillips was announcing the machine
would start shipping in the first quarter of 1986 at a price of around
That first quarter came and went.
The vaporware situation was becoming so frustrating for 99ers that in
early 1986, microPendium changed its masthead from "Covering The
Computer And Compatibles" to "Covering The TI99/4A EXCLUSIVELY".
THE GENEVE COMETH
Myarc finally announced that the computer would ship in card-only form
and would be named the Myarc Geneve 9640 Family Computer (more commonly
either "the 9640" or "the Geneve" by users). Rumor
has it that they wanted to use "99" in the name, but TI wouldn't
allow it. The "9640" came about as
the "9" refers to "99/4A" and "640" refers
to the RAM standard in the machine. "Family Computer" was a
nice was around TI's trademark of "Home
Computer." And, feeling that they needed a "friendly" name
for the machine, Lou Phillips and Jack Riley of Myarc saw "Geneve"
on a painting and went
Fancy, glossy, color flyers were mailed out to thousands of 4A owners
as Myarc apparently bought TI's own mailing list (made of names of those
owners who returned registration cards to TI after their purchase).
In February 1987, microPendium again changed its masthead to "Covering
the TI99/4A, the Myarc 9640 and compatibles". The 9640 was to be
the only "compatible" ever produced.
The first formal review of the machine was in microPENDIUM's April 1987
edition. This was reviewing a beta-test machine. The article starts, "The
Geneve 9640 is here! Finally. And it works."
A production model was received the next month, although the May 1987
issue states that the editors were "still awaiting release of M-DOS."
Several pieces of software were announced with the Geneve, including:
1. Cartridge Saver – Most of the software produced during by TI
production run of the 4A was in cartridge format. Since the Geneve lacked
a cartridge port, a program that ran on the 4A allowed a 4A user to dump
cartridges to disk in a format that would work with the Geneve. This format
turns out to be the same as that used with the GRAMkracker – a cartridge
port device for the 4A that also allowed cartridge contents to be saved
to disk and, optionally, manipulated (such as changed default filenames
saving data to disk with some programs, or changing default printers from
the serial port TI preferred to the parallel port which everyone else
2. Advanced BASIC – this was a rewrite of Myarc's own Extended
BASIC II and was for a time known as Extended BASIC III. It's largely
compatible with 4A BASIC and Extended BASIC, although it allows access
to the Geneve's features such as advanced video modes.
3. 4.21 Pascal runtime– At the time of development, PASCAL was seen as the way of the future. The 4A has a USCD Pascal card that allowed
it to run USCD Pascal programs. In essence, this card gave the 4A and
Pascal-based operating system. While powerful, the user base of the 4A
included mostly computer novices and families who had little use for such
device. Since the 99/8 Pascal built in, Myarc promised (but ultimately failed to deliver) a Pascal Runtime environment that was used to help sell the system!
4. TI Writer upgraded to 80 columns – The de facto standard in
4A word processing was TI Writer largely because it was released by TI
public domain when TI left the Home Computer market. TI Writer was largely
based on the text editing system used on TI's 990 minicomputers. Instead
WYSIWYG display, "dot" commands were entered within the text
to produce things like bold text or centered lines, similar to those used
by the WordStar program found on other micros. The text editor was used
to edit text, and a separate formatter program was used to interpret the
dot commands and print formatted text. The principal limitation was the
4A's own 40-column display. For years, and 80-column display was the Holy
Grail of 99ers, and this modification of TI Writer allowed it to work
in 80-column text mode. Additionally, whereas the 4A's computer made entering
commands tedious (as well as text…FCTN P was the keystroke used
to type simple double quotes!), the Geneve's IBM-style keyboard was far
easier to use for word processing. Dedicated function keys made this particular
task even simpler.
5. Microsoft Multiplan Upgrade – Since Multiplan was still a copyrighted
program by Microsoft, it could not be included in its entirety. However,
owners of the 4A's version of Multiplan (which included a cartridge and
a disk) could use Cartridge Saver on the cartridge and this patch on the
disk to get a Geneve-compatible version that ran faster and in 80-column
mode. A 236 cell sheet took 2 minutes and 18 seconds to recalculate on
a 4A, but only 23.73 seconds on a Geneve.
6. Myarc Disk Operating System – The 4A had no "real"
DOS. Although BASIC programs and data could be loaded from and saved to
disk, and programs could be written to obtain a disk catalog, all other
DOS functions (formatting disks, copying files, etc.) had to be achieved
with a Disk Manager program.
MDOS changed that, with a command-line and syntax very much like Microsoft's
AND THEREIN WAS THE PROBLEM
Myarc was under pressure from two fronts concerning the Geneve. First,
they had announced the machine 2 years previously and announced in December
1986 that production had started. They really wanted to get the machine
into production as did their retailers, who had been taking advanced payments
– a practice that stopped when production delays plagued the machine.
Second, they had spent a lot of money in developing this machine and
had very few resources (perhaps 5 employees and a couple of contractors)
designing it and the company had to start recouping its investment.
When released, it was painfully obvious that the Geneve was rushed. Although
the MDOS manual indicated users would see an "A:" prompt, the
first pre-release featured a "DSK1." prompt. "DSK1"
was how the 4A referred to disk drive 1. A user would launch a program
by typing its name from this
prompt. Most MDOS commands mentioned in the manual were not yet implemented.
In fact, what Myarc was calling MDOS was actually its GPL Interpreter.
GPL – or Graphics Programming Language – was a TI-invented
akin to assembly. Most cartridges were programmed in GPL, and it was this
interpreter that allowed a Geneve owner to run the cartridges they had
with Cartridge Saver. So while the Geneve could run most 4A software it
could run little else.
The first official Geneve column in microPENDIUM was a September 1987
article by Mike Dodd that largely talked about the various pieces of
software meant to come with the machine, and what the status was of each.
Finally, MDOS v.97 was released in October of 1987 and incorporated most
of the commands from the manual that shipped with the computer. v.99 added
batch file processing. Updated software was distributed on numerous information
services (such as CompuServe) and from time-to-time disks would
be mailed from Myarc to registered Geneve owners.
It was expected that a boot ROM would be released containing the "final"
version of MDOS so that users would no longer need to boot from disk.
However, the fact that MDOS was incomplete shelved this idea.
Ultimately, version 1.0 of MDOS shipped around December of 1987. GPL
Interpreter was at version .98 and ran from within MDOS. With the exception
of 6 minor differences, MDOS was now the same program described in its
APPLICATION SOFTWARE AND "MY-ART"
Shortly after the Geneve's release, Myarc let fly a series of announcements
on software. They blamed the production delays mostly to the complexities
of the Geneve hardware and the need to write MDOS from scratch. They claimed
to have a system in place whereby certain pieces of PC software
could easily be ported. Early announcements included My-Number (a Lotus
1-2-3 work-alike), My-BASIC (a BASIC compiler), and My-Data (a dBase III
clone), none of which were ever released.
Futher vaporware included a C Compiler (considered critical since so
much software was written in C, and this would allow a great amount of
to be ported to the Geneve) and My-Word Pro, an advanced graphical version
of My-Word that would support the Myarc Mouse.
However Myarc also announced, and actually released, its first and only
standalone application package. This was My-Art, a drawing program
retailing for around $149 and including the Myarc Mouse.
Hot on the heels of the Geneve was Myarc's announcement of the Hard and
Floppy Disk Controller. This card allowed up to 3 134mb MFM hard drives
be used with either a 4A or the Geneve. A streamer tape backup port was
also on the card, but never really worked.
It was therefore common for users who could afford a Geneve to also have
an HFDC card, and enjoy an added speed boost in booting MDOS and loading
software from hard disk instead of floppy disk.
Although older disk controller cards could make use of 720K 3.5"
floppy drives, the HFDC allowed the use of 1.4mb (high-density) 3.5"
A special version of MDOS was created to work with the HFDC. For several
years, you had to use an "H" version of MDOS if you wanted to
use a hard
drive or an "F" version if you wanted to use floppy drives.
Neither version would utilize both types of drives, and a few bugs remained
The 4A supported its Speech Synthesizer via the expansion port found
on the right side of the 4A console. This is the same port used to connect
Peripheral Expansion System (and its "fire hose" cable). The
synthesizer had a pass-through connector, so most consoles had speech
attached to the
console, and the fire hose plugged into the pass-through port of the synthesizer.
Of course, the Geneve had no such expansion port. A company called Rave
99, best-known for a keyboard interface that allowed PC-type keyboards
attached to the 4A, developed a "speech adapter card." This
card allowed a user to remove the Speech Synthesizer from its housing,
plug it in the card,
then plug the card into the TI expansion system.
This remains the only way to get speech on the Geneve.
Few pieces of software were released that ran natively from MDOS. The
Printer's Apprentice by McGann Software, was an advanced desktop publishing
package that ran on the 4A but was so complex that few 99ers could figure
it out. An MDOS version was released that utilized the Geneve's graphics
TRIAD was a package that bundled a text editor, terminal emulator, and
A collection of games that were originally released on the TOMY TUTOR
computer were also released. These ports were made simpler by the fact
the TUTOR shared much of the hardware found in the 4A and Geneve, including
the Geneve's 9995 CPU.
Much of the better TI software was written in Assembly language. Although
some of this software included Extended BASIC loaders, a few had to be
loaded using TI's Editor/Assembler cartridge. While Extended BASIC would
autoload a program on the first disk drive if named "LOAD",
E/A had no such
niceties, and programs could be notoriously difficult to launch. An E/A
Program file loader was released to allow a user to launch these programs
from the MDOS command line. The only other way to do it was to boot MDOS,
load the GPL Interpreter, load in the Editor/Assembler cartridge, then
the desired program in the usual way – adding burden to an already
ENTER BEERY MILLER
Beery Miller launched 9640 News, an on-disk magazine with the debut August
1988 issue. In 1990, he released three significant pieces of software
Baricade (a game running out of Advanced BASIC), Tetris (which ran directly
from MDOS and is one of the few games to do so), and Windows 9640.
By the time MDOS was finalized enough to be really usable, the GUI market
was heating up in the rest of the computing world. The Amiga, Mac, Atari
ST, and DOS programs like OS/2, GEOS, and of course Windows, were proving
to the world that graphics and a mouse would make computing simpler for
Beery released Windows 9640 as a response. Although lacking in the graphical
prowess of the aforementioned systems (developed by teams of
programmers), it allowed task switching of up to 8 programs.
A similar program was under development by Myarc at one time. Named GEME,
it was completed and released by Beery with Myarc's permission in November
9640 News shut down in 1999
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH – THE BUYOUT
By the middle of 1992, development of MDOS had stalled. Paul Charlton
was the developer of MDOS for Myarc and after a dispute with the company,
refused to do any more updates to MDOS or release the source code so they
could update it themselves (this is a good reason to have clear ownership
and release provisions in software contracts).
Beery founded and facilitated a program to buy out the source code to
MDOS. The deal was that Beery would gather the funds ($XXX) for Paul and
would release the source code to Beery. When enough supporters chipped
in, Beery flew to New York, met with Paul, gave him the money, and was
personally handed the source code to MDOS. At long last, MDOS was in the
hands of the community with source code freely available. Versions 5 and
of MDOS were direct results of Beery's efforts.
Auhtors: Andy Frueh and the TI Community.