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K > KAYPRO > Kaypro II

Kaypro II

Untitled Document

The Kaypro I prototype, by Stan Brin, author of the famous SmartKey utility for the Kaypro series:

There was a Kaypro I, but only one of them. I received the Kaypro I for one afternoon to demonstrate at a trade show.
The Kaypro I was the prototype. It had Single-sided, single density floppies, similar to the Osborne, and were mounted vertically, one on each side of the monitor -- which was mounted in the center, not the on the left, as in the Kaypro II. It was colored GREEN.

The first Kaypros came with a really bad WP called "Select" and no MBasic, but at first that wasn't a sales hurdle. The Kaypro's large screen and rugged metal case were major selling points.
Once WordStar became available in 82, it was EXTREMELY popular, especially among students and writers - I sold hundreds to Hollywood screenwriters and many of the great scripts of the 80's were written on KayPros.

But a program was required - SmartKey, my program.
I was the designer and publisher of SmartKey, but I didn't write the code, or come up with its name.
The author, Admiral Nick Hammond of the Royal Australian Navy, wrote an early version while studying in the US.
I discovered that SmartKey could be the basis of an important commercial program, mainly because it was the only way to write a screenplay at the time. It was the first TSR, or Terminate but Stay Resident "popup" program.
In 1985, we came up with a dedicated version of SmartKey for the KayPro with a real popup window.

The KayPro era lasted less than two years. It was outsold by the IBM-PC, which was WAY more expensive and couldn't do any more, but was much better marketed and had the promise of extra - but pricey - memory.

Garr Farrell, former employee of Kaypro/Non-Linear Systems clarifies:

I am writing to clarify what seems to be some confusion regarding Kaypro Corporation's relation to Non-Linear Systems.
During the 1980s, I worked in the purchasing department for Kaypro/Non-Linear Systems. Kaypro Corporation was created as a division of Non-Linear Systems, and both products, Kaypro's line of computers, and Non-Linear System's line of digital readout volt meters, were manufactured at the Solana Beach, California facility.

I have to agree with my former colleague Rick Bartlett. The Kaypros that actually worked when they came out of the box were found to be very durable, as was their original intention when Andrew Kay envisioned a portable computer that could be used at the job site by his daughter and son-in-law in their architectual/building business.
Kaypro had a high out of the box failure rate at the dealer level due to poor quality controls at the manufacturing plant. I can remember siting in my office and watching Grampa Frank Kay accidentally turn the sprinklers on a rack full of brand new Disk Drives waiting to be installed on the line. Although, the majority of units that got into the hands of customers worked well as most Kaypro Dealers tested units themselves before sale to the public.

The original self-contained, aluminum "bread box" design was very innovative at the time, as was the bundling of a variety of software that came with it. I had one of the original desktop models known as the "Robie" at home, and used it for many years.

Kaypro/Non-Linear Systems was a fun and interesting place to work in the early days, and is definitely worthy of a place of honor in the history of personal computers.

Darrel Pittman mentions:

The motherboard of the original Kaypro II was essentially a knockoff of the Xerox 820-II, and the Xerox "BigBoard II". The Kaypro II could run much of the same software.

Lee Patterson reports:

As a Kaypro II owner, I can tell you:
. It arguably had the BEST-engineered keyboard ever produced for a personal computer, made by Keytronics. [Notwithstanding lack of function-keys; those weren't implemented yet]. It had a smooth tactile feedback, good key travel, and the keys were sculpted (indented) both left-to-right and top-to-bottom, across each key. Therefore each key formed a shallow dish to hold your finger [deeper dishes on "F" and "J"], and tended to resist position-creep as you reached for the top row, etc. This is similar to older IBM Selectric typewriters (with the interchangeable font-globes). For some reason, the keys on virtually all modern PC keyboards are merely sculpted in the left-to-right dimension, forming troughs instead of bowls. This sounds relatively insignificant, but makes a difference to a fast touch-typist. And it was built sturdy, if somewhat heavy -- almost mil-spec.

2. The Kaypro II had no fan (it was cooled by convection) and was thus silent, except for the smooth keyboard clicks and occasional floppy disk access.

3. The keyboard hooked up to the main (CPU) unit via a standard telephone handset cord, making replacement a snap (no pun intended). Likewise if you needed a longer keyboard cord, many were thus available at the local phone store. Even though the bottom of the keyboard was too large and flat to make it a useful 'laptop' style, the longer-cord capability made it easier to set up the keyboard on the desktop, and have the cord routed indirectly to a shelf or such above the desk (remember, computer-desks hadn't really been marketed yet), leaving more desk space clear for books and supplies. To transport, you could just unsnap the keyboard cord, and toss it inside the upright CPU (CRT at top), before closing it by snapping on the keyboard against the CRT face. There were little feet on the back of the CPU so it could stand upright. The feet flared out at bottom, so they doubled as posts around which to wrap the attached AC power cord. Kaypro really did think of everything, and engineered it well.

4. The software included BASIC by a little company called "Microsoft"; last I heard they're still around ;-) It could be programmed, as well as run public-domain games like "Adventure!", one of the CLASSIC one-person role-playing games. (Starts something like, "You are standing in a dry streambed by a rusty metal grate that is locked..." You would [after retrieving the key from a nearby building] get into traps like "You are trapped in a maze of small twisty passages, going off in every direction"). Some people even worked out a 'map' of the locations, based on exact phrasing of such 'maze' passages. A lot of fun, before decent graphics
were available.

5. The 5x8 character-matrix did include true 'descenders', if I recall correctly. Without them, it was harder to read lower-case type on screen. Such features as that, plus the 80-character lines and bundled software (new idea) like (professional-level) Perfect Writer etc., made it a smart choice for serious writers, which is why we chose it. We already had a Commodore 64, which was a great machine, but not for writing. (The Commodore had 40-char. lines, no descenders [?], mushy keys, non-standard layout, no number pad, fuzzier display on NTSC video to TV, proprietary printer port [only went to thermal printer, mainly good for listing code] instead of IEEE-488 parallel interface on the Kaypro going to, say, an Epson MX-80.)

6. Perfect Writer was not WYSIWYG - there wasn't the ability to draw characters on-screen with essentially graphic-functions. It was an ASCII-based layout (I can't remember the name for that standard). So if you wanted to have a boldface phrase "This is really boldface" with the word "really" in bold italics, you would have to type it as, "@B[This is @I[really] boldface]". So of course, your on-screen layout could be very different than your printed output. Likewise, the onscreen display was fixed 80-character lines, so if you had selected a proportional-spaced font on your printer (we had a JUKI daisy-wheel printer that did some of that), your line-lengths would not be the same either. I think the rationale was that, in a world where modem protocols (and printer drivers, for that matter) were still being developed, it was an attempt at standardization and simplification of transmission; though others may have better information on the subject.

7. There were some aftermarket upgrades that came out near the end of Kaypro's transition to MS-DOS. I remember we had our floppy disk drives upgraded to quad-density, double sided drives. 960K (?) each. Likewise, there was a faster replacement processor (I forget which one, but I think it was 2X the speed) which I had installed, that could be invoked by a standard switch on the back panel. (Not all the software would run at the faster speed). Also, there was an anti-glare screen cover (our Kaypro II had a standard high-gloss CRT face); it was a very fine cloth mesh which was surrounded by a plastic frame, and the cover slid over the CRT face trim on the console unit. It worked pretty well.

8. Speaking of the display, I found it much easier on the eyes -- even restful -- to have Kaypro's dark screen with green letters, than a white screen with black letters (which I realize looks somewhat like a piece of paper -- more important for today's desktop-publishing capabilities). I attribute this to Kaypro's reduced illumination requirements, compared to today's white-screens with full-screen, full-spectrum, full-time illumination of a low-persistence phosphor, flickering at [whatever the refresh rate is]; which I suspect may have something to do with workplace discomfort (cf. various studies of the effects of working under flourescent lights --- same principle). But I could be wrong. (Of course, with today's desired full-color multimedia functionality, it's a moot point.)

9. As you have said, the machine was incredibly rugged and well-engineered. That kind of durability is generally not designed into consumer equipment today. I truly miss the Kaypro II's friendly and durable presentation, and would use it again if it ran today's software.

In 1985, Arthur C. Clarke published a sequel to 2001 : 2010 Odyssey Two. He worked with Peter Hyams in the movie version of 2010. Their work was done using a Kaypro computer and a modem, for Arthur was in Sri Lanka and Peter Hyams in Los Angeles. Their communications turned into the book The Odyssey File - The Making of 2010.

SBasic bug, by Jacques Guy:
I don't think that the Kaypro came with Microsoft Basic, though. SBasic (a compiled dialect of Basic) yes. But not Microsoft Basic. I have an anecdote about SBasic. I was writing a program to compute the mean and standard deviation of a data set. It gave obviously wrong values for some data. A bug? Must be. I spent a whole night looking for the bug. Eventually, in despair, I tried calculating sqrt(10^20). The answer? 10^17. Ahem!

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