VideoBrain Family Computer - runs APL! On an F8!

What a very unusual machine: no Basic, but there was an APL subset available on cartridge. The microprocessor is the F8, a two-chip microprocessor from Fairchild, possibly a machine based on espionage. Much more in the article:

Due to the high cost of RAM at that time, the machine came only with 1 kB. However, it had 4 kB of ROM, providing four built-in programs: a simple text editor, a clock, a count down timer, and a color bar generator.

The basic computer itself does ntot have any possibility to save data, you had to buy the “Expander 1” if you wanted to have cassette tape recorder interfaces (and two RS232 interfaces). The “Expander 2” was a 300 baud modem.


Good grief!

However there is a thread elsewhere (on a Facebook group) about what might have existed if there were no BASIC back then… APL? However it sounds like this was not even as “popular” as the Jupiter Ace with Forth as standard…


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Both APL and Forth require a very different mentality than BASIC, but APL was rather popular as a business language in IBM mainframes so it wasn’t a totally unreasonable option. Note that the original BASIC had features for dealing with arrays that got dropped when it came to smaller machines.

The IBM 5100 “portable” (1975) had a switch to select between BASIC and APL when both options were present. The MCM/70 (1973 and quite a bit more portable) managed to put APL on a 8008 processor, a feat almost as impressive as doing it for the F8.

The August 1977 issue of Byte Magazine was dedicated to APL (the very first yearly language issue), so not everyone at the time was convinced that BASIC was the only option.

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Thanks @jecel those were the two other personal machines that came to mind. There’s a nice user story about working with APL in an insurance business: Pair Programming With The Users. It gives the impression that APL isn’t so alien after all. (via this discussion on HN)

And I don’t want to derail in to an APL vs BASIC thread, but I do believe that BASIC was a key factor in the organic growth of computing. It’s much more “friendly” than may other systems, including APL.

The idea of seeing magazines with pages of APL source code for hobbyists to type in, I think that would scare more people off than not, honestly. I always go back to the just awful, horrible code my Dad would create, but in the end it didn’t matter because it solved his problems. Especially on a personal computer, having a problem solved is far more important than how it was solved.

There seems to have been a popular niche market (is this a thing or concept?) for APL on portable machines in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Take for example the Convergent Technologies Workslate, where everything was a spreadsheet implemented in APL:

[Edit: Please take the previous remark regarding the Convergent Workslate with a grain of salt. While I have definitely filed the Workslate under “APL, but inaccessible” in the humble vaults of my brain, I am unable to find any documents verifying this or giving any hints at all regarding the internal software of that machine. Accordingly, this is better to be regarded as an erroneous claim.]

or the Ampere WS-1, a 1985 laptop running APL-68000 by Nippon-Shingo (production design by Kumeo Tamura, who also designed the Datsun 240z), which may have been the last of the portable APL machines:

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Oh, nice finds! The WS-1 is certainly qualified - but I can’t find any statement connecting the Workslate with APL - do you have a reference or a link?

I did find this page setting out not one, not two, but three spreadsheets implemented in K, one of the successors of APL:

Actually, I can’t remember where I picked that up. (I guess, once there had been more sources available on the Workslate than can be found now.) While it would make some sense to implement a machine which handles everything as a spreadsheet in APL, I can’t verify it. Contemporary reviews just talk about a proprietary OS [1]. So, please read the above comment with a suitable amount of salt. (I’m going to edit a suitable remark in the original comment.)

[1] Review in InfoWorld, Apr. 1984:

That said, it’s still a beautiful and very peculiar little machine. For a bit of context and detail, have a look at this series of restoration videos:

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