We apologise to any readers who may have had difficulty in obtaining a copy of last month’s CRASH (August, issue 19) from their newsagent. Two days before the official ‘on sale’ date, EMAP Business & Computer Publications gained an injunction to prevent distribution of the issue on grounds that there was a breach of Sinclair User magazine’s copyright in four pages of the CRASH August issue. Newsfield Publications was forced to comply with the injunction and recall all unsold copies from the retailers in order to have the four offending pages removed before redistribution could take place. This was duly done, but in the process it was inevitable that some copies should be lost and the issue go on re-sale late.
We hope the inconvenience caused has not been too severe, but in any event, if you failed to get hold of a copy of the August issue, we have plenty of ready trimmed copies to send out.
Sitting in Ludlow, waiting for summer and gathering stamina for the forthcoming Personal Computer World Show, we receive news of the launch of new machines almost daily. Word also reaches us about a bit of a squabble going on inside Sinclair Towers... to do with the launch of a new 128K computer.
A little while ago, Commodore started the 128K ball rolling with their machine, which is capable of pretending it’s a sheep in wolf’s clothing and emulating the C64. Imaginatively named the C128, it allows you to run any piece of C64 software so long as you haven’t pressed the switch that turns it into a completely different, 128K beast. And Amstrad, having launched the 128K CPC 6128 in the States, are bringing it to these shores very soon. So soon, indeed, that some retailers are currently holding stocks under-the-counter, and are awaiting the go ahead so they can start selling them.
With the glut of 64K chips, the existence of established techniques to page memory (see News Input, July Issue) and the news of Commodore and Amstrad’s moves, it came as no surprise to hear that Sinclair are planning to launch a 128K machine.
The new machine is codenamed The Derby, according to a report in CTW, the trade paper read by anyone who is (or wants to be) anyone in the industry. And thus began the race to speculate as to what form the Derby will take, and whether or not it will be launched at the PCW Show this September.
With 128K machines apparently popping up all over the place, a little war is being fought between the technical chaps and the marketing fellows at Sinclair, it seems. Last time a similar dispute took place, Marketing won, and the QL came out a few weeks before the Mackintosh. And we all know the problems that caused Sinclair. Marketing might win this dispute, but it’s unlikely they will, so don’t expect to see a new machine from Sinclair at the PCW Show. (But don’t stay away — we’ll all be there!)
But what of the Sinclair 128K machine? Supposedly it is to be a Spectrum Plus Plus, with a sound chip, the extra memory and a price tag under £200, as well as software compatibility with the Spectrum. In putting together such a package, Sinclair have to trade off three factors: price, software compatibility and the desire to produce a better and more powerful computer.
Software compatibility has to be an important feature, with the massive Spectrum software base that exists. So far there hasn’t been a single change to the Spectrum ROM — a very important fact to software developers — and there are potential problems with adding new features to the basic machine in order to produce a 128K, Plus Plus.
Software incompatibilities between the 128K machine and the Spectrum could be dealt with using the Commodore approach, hiding a Spectrum emulator inside a completely different machine — but the cheapest Spectrum emulator is... a Spectrum, and building onto the basic module is the cheapest way of producing a new machine.
The addition of a proper keyboard is a virtual certainty — and not before time. However the Spectrum and its ROM have been designed around 40 keys, grouped in five rows and eight columns. Changes to the keyboard may mean changes to the ROM, with attendant incompatibilities with existing software. Similarly, the addition of a sound chip — another vital step forward — means that some way has to be found to address this extra hardware. If the BASIC is altered, then software compatibility problems creep in again.
Other goodies, such as a monitor output, and maybe an RGB socket could be included in the new machine. The only reason the Spectrum doesn’t have a monitor output is because there isn’t an appropriate hole in the case, so a monitor output wouldn’t be a total surprise on the new machine. RGB could also be supplied, although an add-on chip would be needed.
A joystick port is more essential, but don’t be surprised if it’s based on Interface 2. Interface 1 could well be an integral part of the computer as well. If Sinclair installs the interface as part of the manufacturing process, then economies of scale would apply and the cost would be acceptably low. And the Spectrum’s potential for networking is very good indeed; schools like to be able to network their computers, and the educational market is up for grabs again...
Who knows, there might just be lots of Sinclair computers in schools before long.
The amendment to the Copyright Act, which brings computer software in line with other works which are protected by copyright has already been passed. Illegal copying, and in some circumstances unauthorised use of computer software will become a criminal offence, punishable by fines or imprisonment when the amendment to the Act comes into full force in the middle of September.
While it will still remain perfectly legal to make back-up copies of programs for your own use, selling, or possessing pirate software by way of trade become a criminal offence, punishable by the courts. Police and Trading Standards officers will be involved in the enforcement of the software copyright legislation and the Federation Against Software Theft (FAST) has appointed Bob Hay, a former Chief Superintendent to act as Enforcement Co-ordinator. FAST is an independent body, which will not initiate prosecutions but will assist its members and the authorities to bring successful prosecutions. Expect a flurry of legal activity as soon as the penalties become law.
Without doubt, there’s something of a double standard associated with software piracy, or ‘softlifting’. Walk into a shop and steal something, and society will condemn you for theft. Copy a program from a friend’s collection and it is unlikely that society’s disapproval will come crashing down upon your head. But the damage done to the owner of the intellectual property you have just acquired without payment is no less tangible.
Partly as a result of piracy, software houses are not achieving the level of sales they were a few years ago on each title they launch. Educational software is disappearing because it was pirated so much — sadly, by teachers. Many companies have found that it is uneconomic to produce educational programs, and have left the market. The same could happen to games software, although not in the very near future.
Quite what effect the new laws will have on software libraries which hire out tapes against the express wishes of the publishers is not yet clear. But if it can be used to prevent people hiring out games for £1.50 overnight and offering a tape copying program for sale to their customers, then the people who have put time and effort into producing games software won’t get ripped off quite so much. Nor will the starving in Ethiopia — one such library included Soft Aid in its list.
Unlike people who make films, which then get offered for hire by video libraries, software companies prefer to sell their programs — you don’t play a game just once, and the comparison with video libraries cannot be made directly. Authorised hiring or lending is fine. Unauthorised library activity is not, and violates people’s rights to what is ultimately their own (intellectual) property.
While the full ramifications and effects of the new legislation have yet to be seen, it is unlikely that the new laws will be used to hit young people who make a couple of copies of the latest game to swop with their friends — a policeman in every playground is just not viable. But it will be used against people who make copies for sale. Piracy for profit will result in prosecutions, and that’s no bad thing.