As the ZX-81,
the Alice was clearly marketed as an initiation machine.
In 1981, Matra
signed a deal with Tandy/RadioShack to developp a MC-10 clone for 1983 : the
Alice. Matra then worked with Hachette (both were owned by the Lagardère
group) to produce the documentation and to organize the distribution. The well
known and excellent french illustrator Moebius drew a beautiful illustration
for the docs and the box of the Alice.
The Alice is
right in the pure french computer tradition: it's crap ! But charming in some
ways... Its dress is whole red and the computer really looks like a toy. The
first version (1983) had only 4kb of RAM, leaving only 3 kb for programming.
It's a shame !! Ok, the ZX-81 had only 1 kb but if was a pionneer and cost only
590fr, whereas the Alice cost 1200fr for 4kb, it's just theft !
A memory extension pushed
the RAM up to 16kb and cost 590fr. It also brought new graphic possibilities
only programmable in machine code, but the doc sold with it and called "Allez
plus loin avec Alice" wasn't very clear on this subject...
The keyboard is a calculator
type one but the touch sensation is ok. On the other hand they are bit too small
for those who type fast. At the rear you find an extension bus, a serial DIN
plug, a tape-recorder DIN plug, a TV DIN plug and a useful RESET button. The
TV plug is peritel but if you wanted to plug the Alice to an aerial plug, there
were a special adaptator produced by Matra, resulting in a black & white
display !! Bravo Matra engineers, the Alice really didn't need this...
An on/off switch on the right side of the case allows the Alice to be switched
on, then appears a message on the screen with green background:
Note that this Basic was
already shiped with the old TRS-80 Model 1, apart from colours related statements.
The graphic mode is very
simplistic! Ok, there are 9 colours, but the Basic doesn't allow to draw directly
with useful statements such as Line, Plot or Circle. The only way to draw is
to place semi-graphic symbols on the screen just like text characters ! The
resolution is of 32 colons by 16 lines (crap) or 64 x 32 pixels. This amazing
resolution results in fact from an infamous trick: the resolution is still 32
x 16 but with the semi-graphic symbols which are combinations of 2x2 squares,
they can announce a pseudo "graphical resolution" !!
You can only obtain capitals
on the screen, but you could print small letters with a printer from the Basic.
Using the unique SHIFT key (on the right) you could reach the semi-graphic symbols.
Like some english machines (were english people lazy ?), each keyboard key,
if used while the CONTROL key was pressed, could also display one of the 38
most used Basic statements.
About the editor to correct
typing mistakes, there was none : you could only delete the last typed character
or the whole line !!
Hopefully, the Alice was
a bit saved by its excellent documentation made by Hachette, which was, for
once in the computers world, very well done. It didn't take costumers for "born-computer-scientists"
and it was quite humorous. But the drawback was that when more technical information
was needed, err..., big silence...
> THE NEW ALICE 32
First months of 84, Matra
presents two new versions of the Alice in replacement of the old version :
The 12 kb Alice: 4kb RAM with 3kb left for programming; 8kb ROM with the Basic
Microsoft (1190fr). This version is in fact nearly identical to the original
Alice, but the whole electronic is much more integrated, some chips have changed
and the mother board takes much less room in the case.
The 32 kb Alice shipped in a special box with a tape recorder, 2 docs and 4
softwares: 16kb RAM with 8kb left for programming, 16kb ROM with the Microsoft
Basic and its editor plus a code machine editor (2495fr). This version is really
a new one. There is at last a real Basic editor to correct typing mistakes,
a code machine editor which let you program directly in machine code, and new
display possibilities: 3 text modes (32x16, 40x25, 80x25) and 3 graphic modes
(64x32, 160x125, 320x250) the last one being only reached with machine code
! In the same way, to enjoy 13 colours instead of the 9 of the Basic, you had
to learn machine code.
The Alice 90 which in fact only an Alice 32 with a 40 kb RAM and typewriter-style
keyboard, but that is another story...
Its original look
+ Its nice documentation
+ The improvements of the Alice 32
The lack of memory for the first version
- The keyboard is quite small
- The possibilities of the first Alice
- The graphic mode 320x250 on accessible from machine code
- The sound (only one voice)
- Its price for only 3kb left to program