This was a very unique system with an extraordinary design. It was conceived by Ampere and produced by Nippon-Shingo in 1985. Sadly, it failed the US FCC certification tests and so was not available on the US market, which helps explain why it is so rare nowadays (along with its high price and narrow-targeted market)...
One of the main characteristics of the Ampere WS-1 was the use of the APL programming language : an interpreted language extremely synthetic and very rich. APL doesn't use English but rather a mathematical syntax which makes the programs legibility quite difficult... The language offers a large number of system functions especially for vector and array. Thus matrix inversions, multi-linear regressions, and sorting functions are language primitives. Moreover, the APL-68000 (the APL version of the WS-1) had very powerful string manipulation functions such as finding and replacing a word by another word. Overall the language was very compact and one line of APL would take for example up to ten lines of Basic depending what you have to code. This is why it was possible to include LPA (Langage Pédagogique Audiovisuel) programs (developed in APL by the Saclay's C.E.A.) into the system. They act as a natural interface between the user and the application. For example it is possible to type "Who am I meeting on the 7th of march ?" or "What is the telephone number of the IBM chairman ?", and to get an answer ! LPA interfaces exist on other systems and were developed for different languages, but only APL made it possible to include LPA into a "micro-computer" like the Ampere WS-1.
The WS-1 was a real portable computer with its 80x25 LCD screen, a power-supply through built-in cells and a micro-tape recorder (300k) to store data or to record sound. The keyboard was compact and had thus no separate numeric keypad. Several keys had special signs used for APL programming. Eight function keys were placed directly at the bottom of the LCD screen. It was an excellent idea as explanations of the function of each key could be displayed directly above them according to the context of the running application.
The WS-1 offered many connection possibilities. It had one Centronics and two RS-232c ports, as well as an expansion port for optional disk-drives (700k each) or a hard-disk. It also had a VME-compatible connector which is an instruments measurement standard.
The system was powered by Ni-Cd cell batteries. Thus if the main power were accidently cut, all the memory would be saved and found intact when the main power returns. You may find that feature "normal" nowadays, but it was quite a rare feature back in 1985 !
The WS-1 had 64k RAM, upgradable to 512k through CMOS cartridges, and 128k ROM in which are stored the operating system and the APL interpreter. The system offered a multitasking environment, or rather bi-tasking : two APL programs could run simultaneously, and in this case two windows could be opened on the screen showing the results of each program. The Ampere WS-1 ran under Big-DOS, the Operating System dedicated to the WS 1.
Several programs were supplied with the computer: tools for the system configuration, communication and character redefinition. Optional software included Big Screen (word processor, spreadsheet, editor and painting applications for 2700 FF), APL-Calcand and very expensive specialised applications with LPA interfaces (agenda, travel agency management, Avocatix/lawyer management, etc.)
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David, do you still have the Ampere? Iâ€™ve been trying to get my hands on one for years. Can you email me at helforamaATgmailDOTcom? Iâ€™m in the USA (Alabama)