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Hewlett Packard


The touch screen of the HP 150 is not a real one. In fact 35 phototiodes are placed around the screen, 21 horizontaly and 14 verticaly, along with their receivers. This allows the system to recognise 900 different positions of a finger for example (40 horizontal positions and 23 vertical positions). This indeed is possible as the system can analyse when the finger "cuts" two infra-red beams at the same time.

The most useful feature is that the commands of the 8 function keys are always displayed at the bottom of the screen with most software. So you just have to point at what you want to do with your finger.

But only a few applications where specificaly adapted to the HP-150 and its infra-red screen: Personal Card File 5file manager), Memomaker (simple wordprocessor) and Diagraph (paint software)... More famous programs were available too (Multiplan, Microplan, Lotus 1-2-3, Wordstar, Mailmerge, dBase II) but there were not using the touch screen feature.

The HP-150 proposed an impressive characters set: 896 different characters! Each were defined in a 9 x 14 pixels matrix.

Several peripherals were developped for this computer : 5.25" floppy disk units, hard disks (5 or 15 MB), plotters and it was possible to connect the new LaserJet printer! The HP-150 could also act as a terminal, communicate with an HP 9000 or emulate an IBM 3270...

Even with the lack of mainstream commercial success, the 150 was widely used, and was quite commonly used for it's dual terminal/PC capability. Press one function key, it's a terminal, another it's a PC. It would also run lotus 123 faster than the 8 bit slower PC, so accountants liked it as well.

There are three versions of the HP 150, which are most strictly distinguished by their product numbers since they have had various different names:

- 45611A: The original HP 150. Normally known as the HP 150A after the release of the B version.

- 45611B: Updated version of the HP 150. This is normally known as the HP150B. Had new ROMs to support new disk drives. Also had an improved RFI shield to lessen radio interference. Many HP 150As had the ROM upgrade and a few had the new RFI shield installed as well. Around this time, HP started marketing the HP 150 as the HP Touchscreen in the USA.

- 45851A: Completely reworked version of the computer. Most obvious feature is the 12" display replacing the original 9" display. Also has 4 expansion slots rather than 2 and used an HP-HIL keyboard interface rather than the HP 150 specific one on earlier models. The touchscreen was an option. Marketed as the HP Touchscreen II in the USA and the HP 150 II elsewhere. Unofficially known as the HP 150C.

Also, there are versions that are localised for different languages by having different keyboard layouts and different system software. The firmware in ROM on the system unit has support for all languages.


Most info comes from the Hewlett Packard Series 100 FAQ. Read it if you want to know more about this system!



Mark Simms reports to us:
The Hewlett Packard HP 150, although an MS DOS system with an 8088 processor wasn't IBM compatible. It would not run programs designed for the IBM PC because of the very different hardware, particularly the display.

Alan Barrow replies:
One small correction on the compatibility issue.... the 150 was designed to be MS-DOS/PC-DOS compatible. Utilize the DOS system calls, and all was fine. The real issue was that very early on people started bypassing the DOS calls and writing straight to hardware. Bad programming, but required due to speed and functionality issues.

Much of the 150's factory hardware was faster/better than the PC's: display resolution, dual serial ports, true 16 bit (faster), memory expansion, etc. But what we now know as the clone experience was on the upswing, and "standard" became better than "better".

Like many HP computers, the 150 was ahead of it's time in concept and packaging. We are now seeing the "all in the monitor" packaging, etc. It also used the HP-HIL family of input devices in later iterations. The disk options were the various CS-80 HP-IB devices shared with the 9000's.

All HP PC/Window Subsystems/terminal'ish devices at the time were required to support "term0", which was a terminal escape sequence standard roughly based on the HP-2622 terminal. As such, the HP-150 mimic'd the terminal, and even had a "fortune cookie"!

I can't remember the exact string, but hit the right sequence, and it would print "my mind is going" on the screen. (HAL 9000 in 2001)

John Hokanson Jr. specifies:
A few notes about the HP 150, since I was the proud owner of one as a kid.
The only widely distributed program I remember that would actually run in both the HP-150 and the PC was Microsoft Basic. Apparently this was because it was programmed entirely with DOS function calls. I remember this clearly because I was able to use the same BASIC disk and executable on both the HP-150 and my later 286. Apparently, the two computers also formatted for FAT12 with no problems so that you could share disks.

It's worth noting that HP *still* uses the function-key display labels in the basic command shell for HP/UX (including the most recent revisions). PAM also soldiered on with a color version used with some of first IBM compatible "Vecta" PCs (this is presumably before Windows made it irrelevant).

I also agree with Alan Barrow that the 150 was *way* ahead of its time. What ultimately killed it was HP's incorrect assumption that it could out-muscle IBM in the early PC market.

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