In September 1984, MTB (Matériel Technique de
Boulogne, which had up until that time manufactured waterproof
transmitter-receivers for the army, distress-beacons and other electronic
hardware, for 40 years) and Apollo 7 (a small company specializing in
electronics, transmission and data processing) presented a new French computer:
Despite its surprising design and its interesting capabilities, the Squale must
undoubtedly have been the biggest failure in the history of French home
DOES IT LOOK LIKE ?
The external aspect is nice. Instantly recognizable
from its surprising silhouette, the Squale impresses. Its name comes from the
ROM-pack reader, vertically mounted on the right part of the keyboard,
reminiscent of a shark's fin.
The first 1500 specimens had a metal case and the following ones were supposed
to be equipped with an ABS plastic case. But as the Squale didn't sell well at
all, there were undoubtedly never more than 1500 machines ever produced!
The mechanical keyboard was good, composing of 55 keys
including 11 function keys and 1 Reset key. Its main fault was that the
"Return" key was no larger than the others and was very badly located:
between the "DEL" and the "Reset" keys ! Hello typo’s!...
The other disappointment was that there were no accented characters! For a
French computer, that's bad...
On the other hand, the power supply was integrated,
which prevented having 36 wires lying around.
WHAT THE SQUALE CAN DO ?
The Squale was equipped with a 6809 CPU (the same one
used by the MO5, its principal competitor at the time), running at 1Mhz. The
BASIC was provided on cartridge like the other languages available (Logo, Forth,
Pascal, C and Codemachine editor).
The BASIC was called "S BASIC
" (S for Squale) and was specific to this machine, although very similar to
that used by the Goupil. It had 125 statements. In the French computing magazine
“Hebdogiciel” issue N°68 (February 85), we learn that Microsoft BASIC was
not chosen because the cost of the licence at the time was $US15,000, plus $US50
for Bill Gates for every machine sold! These prices were out of the
question for a small company which was just starting up.
The operating system was also the same as that used by
the Goupil - FLEX 09 - not well-known in Europe.
it be noted that the documentation provided at the time with the machine was
deplorable. Some statements were incorrectly explained, others not at all...
If the text mode was traditional (25 lines for 50
characters), the graphics mode was more surprising. It allowed for a display of
256x256 pixels with 16 colors attributable to each pixel. Not bad at all. To use
these capabilities, S BASIC provided several specific statements:
DASH to change the shape of a line,
PLOT to draw a spot or a line,
WINDOW to define a graphical rectangular window,
the drawing of text in various
DRAW to draw small repetitive symbols and to rotate them.
However, we don't find any "SPRITE" statement
and thus the animation capabilities are reduced. The newspapers of the time also
criticized the BASIC editor, which was apparently very badly implemented.
But the greatest defect of S BASIC was that it was very slow, at least on the
prototype presented. The chairman of Apollo 7 swore that the ROM was going to be
re-examined to remove a useless "keyboard scan". But was it ever
regards to sound, there were 3 voices and 5 octaves available.
WHAT CAN BE CONNECTED ON THAT BEAST ?
Well at the back
of the Squale one can find a lot of things:
A Centronics port for printer,
an SS 30 extension bus,
a DIN plug for the tape recorder (1200 bauds),
a modem plug,
2 "Atari" joystick plugs,
a DIN plug for the optional light pen,
a scart plug.
The Squale thus had an "approved" modem, the
Thomson 7510, capable of communicating at the speed of 1200 bauds and 75 bauds
in Minitel mode. Cool.
Here are the peripherals that were available
or rather announced:
80 column B/W printer (3200fr)
40 column color graphic printer (2000fr)
5"1/4 disk drive, double-sided double-density, 320k (2800fr)
8 slot extension box with SS30 bus (1200fr)
This last peripheral made it possible to plug in
eight additional cards connected to the mother board and to add two disk drives.
Here the cards which were available or rather announced:
a "clock-calendar" card,
an RS232c card,
an IEEE 488 ard to connect a plotter,
a speech synthesizer,
a word processing "SQ Text " card,
a disk drive controller card,
a 256k RAM memory card,
an analog-to-digital converter,
a videotex interface card.
What a line-up!
THE SOFTWARE ?
A lot of software was announced with the launch of the
Squale, developed by the likes of Sprites, Loriciels and Hatier. But how many
programs were ever actually produced? Here is a list of the software announced:
Le compte et bon
Morpion en 3D
SQ Volume 3D
Gestion de fichier
Not very exciting... In total, 44 software
packages were announced for release on cartridge, tape or disk.
In fact, only a few of them were effectively produced...
We can safely say that the Squale was a big failure!
This was for several reasons. But it’s probably best to leave the final word
to Hebdogiciel (august 1985), which defined the "Squale" debacle in
Squale : Insane
crazy French people who intend to sell 20,000 expensive and bug-ridden
machines without any software and compatible with nothing and nobody.
Blank order book after three months of activity.
In addition, it is not hard to
imagine that this machine was developed quickly in order to be one of the happy
elected candidates for the lucrative french "Informatique Pour Tous"
school program. Of course our big fish did succeed in being chosen. Thomson had
too many friends in the government at that time, ha ha...
They then tried to sell some machines to the french Army, who for some reason
seemed to be interested in this computer ! The French army certainly knows how
to equip itself well...
In any case, the Squale is a great find for any
collector. There really were very few specimens sold. In 85 Apollo 7 claimed to
have sold 1000 machines in 2 months, possibly these were the only ones...
+ Solid hardware
+ Great graphical possibilities
+ Interesting 3D statements
+ Its announced expansions
+ Its design
Didn't last very long
- Bugged Basic
- Crap documentation
- No accentuated characters
- The "Return" key badly located