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Matra Hachette

Matra-Hachette ALice

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:

MICROSOFT 1.0 1982

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...



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...


coin_vert_1.gif (126 octets) dotclear.gif (172 octets) coin_vert_2.gif (127 octets) coin_rouge_1.gif (147 octets) dotclear.gif (172 octets) coin_rouge_2.gif (146 octets)
Good points dotclear.gif (172 octets) + Its original look
+ Its nice documentation
+ The improvements of the Alice 32
dotclear.gif (172 octets) Bad points dotclear.gif (172 octets) - 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
dotclear.gif (172 octets)
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