SINCLAIR RESEARCH now has an official target date for release of the Microdrive. The company is keeping the precise date secret but a spokesman said:
"The release will be within the next month or so. We are at such an advanced stage that we have our target date."
The Microdrive will be offered to the first 1,000 people who ordered a Spectrum last year. The reason is that Sinclair wants to compensate for the long periods of waiting experienced by many customers last year.
The device was announced last year when the Spectrum was launched. Since then customers have been promised several launch dates but the Microdrive never appeared.
The delays have been caused because Sinclair has had difficulty with the prototypes of the device. The drive contains a floppy tape cartridge and the tape which was tried at first started to stretch in tests. Sinclair had to find a replacement, and metal tape, costing considerably more than ordinary tape, was discussed.
Sinclair met criticism from the Advertising Standards Authority about its advertisement for the device but the company now hopes its new target date will be met.
MORE THAN £2,000 is being offered in prizes in a new award for programming being sponsored by Sinclair User and CCS. The award will be launched in Sinclair User next month and it is intended it should be made annually. There will be a theme each year and this year the judges will be looking for the best strategy and adventure program.
The idea is to stimulate good programming skills and one of the considerations for finding the winner will be programming style. Other features such as originality and the ease of using the cassette will also be taken into account.
The winner will be awarded £1,000 and have the opportunity to have the program published. The winner can be a program for either the Spectrum or the ZX-81 but the second, third and other prizes will be split between the two machines.
The judges will be well-known figures in the Sinclair market. The award will be made at the ZX Microfair before Christmas. Sinclair User is also looking to expand the interests it covers each month. We are looking for short stories of about 2,000 words with a computer theme. Any budding authors should send typed manuscripts for consideration.
THE FALL in the price of the ZX-81 has given rise to fears that W H Smith, the biggest retailer of Sinclair products, is reducing its stocks of hardware and software to withdraw from the ZX-81 market.
It has been said Smiths reduced the price £10 lower than other dealers because it had 20,000 ZX-81s in stock and wanted to sell them faster. A spokeswoman for the company denied the fears. She said:
"The ZX-81 is still a very popular machine and we will continue to stock it. We have no plans to drop either the ZX-81 or its software."
The company says that the only reason for falling stock levels of ZX-81 software is that few companies are still producing tapes for the machine.
Bob Denton, managing director of Prism Microproducts, which is the wholesale distributor for Sinclair Research, is worried by the moves in the market.
He regards the new price ridiculously low.
A COMPUTER trade association has been formed by some of the biggest companies in the computer market. The association has been formed by Virgin Games Ltd, a division of Virgin Records, which specialises in computer games.
Representatives of retailers, distributors, software houses, manufacturers and consultants have been asked in a mass mail-out campaign to join the group, which is pledged to achieve a professional code of conduct to govern dealings in the trade and with the public.
Some of the smaller companies in the Sinclair market are beginning to worry about the Computer Trade Association and what it could mean to their businesses.
SINCLAIR RESEARCH is to launch an adaptor for the Spectrum which will allow owners of the machine to use plug-in ROM cartridges. The launch date is set for late summer.
They will allow the user to have instant access to programs stored in the permanent Read Only Memory of the cartridges.
The adaptor will cost less than £20 and each cartridge will cost approximately £10.
One advantage of the system is that 16K machine owners will be able to run 48K programs, because the cartridges will not use the internal RAM of the Spectrum.
The range of software which is to be put on to ROM will include new languages, such as Forth, assemblers, disassemblers and arcade games.
Sinclair Research is already starting to approach software houses which it thinks can help with programs to go on to cartridge. The company hopes that its software will do well because cartridges sold by other computer manufacturers tend to be more expensive. It hopes to reduce the cost of cartridge software by almost half of current prices.
FOR THE first time Sinclair computer owners can insure their machines after the guarantee period has expired. The Personal Computer Insurance Scheme is run by Graham Brown and Co. It is the first specialist insurance scheme designed specifically for personal computers.
The scheme covers computers and peripherals in the home, in educational environments and in an office. The protection is against 'all risks', through both internal breakdown and accidental loss or damage during travel.
The cost of the insurance starts at £7.50 for a year on a system of a value up to £100. That increases depending on the value of the system involved.
Chris Bower, a director of Graham Brown, is confident that there is a need for the scheme. He says: "Many owners are now losing the benefit of their guarantees. Under most home contents policies, the only protection an owner can expect is against fire and theft."
To be eligible for insurance a computer must be no more than two years old at the time the policy is effected. The policy can then be continued until the owner sells the equipment.
THE MICRONET adaptor for the Spectrum is due to be launched. The adaptor will allow users to connect machines to the Micronet system and to use the telesoftware facilities which are available. It will also provide the opportunity to use the thousands of pages on the British Telecom Prestel databases.
The adaptor was due to be launched in May but difficulties arose between Sinclair Research and Martochoice, which was to supply the device.
Prism Microproducts, a sister company of EEC Publications, took over development of the adaptor. Bob Denton, managing director of Prism, says: "The adaptor for the Spectrum is a Prism product entirely."
Martochoice was the joint winner of the Prestel ZX-81 Adaptor competition in 1981. Its adaptor was accepted as the official device for the ZX-81 and the company was to have helped with its manufacture.
The other joint winner was Lion Viewdata. Its device is still available and at £50 is £150 less expensive than that from Martochoice. The features of the Lion device include auto-dialing and automatic identity checking. It has also been modified for use on other computers, including the Spectrum.
It is possible to link the Spectrum to the Micronet system using several interfaces, including the Lion. All members of Micronet, however, have to buy an adaptor produced by the company before they can receive a password and are allowed to enter the system.
The software controlling the Prism adaptor has been designed specifically for use with Micronet and includes the routines to allow a user to enter the system.
BRISTOL-BASED independent radio station Radio West has been transmitting programs for popular microcomputers, such as the ZX-81 and Spectrum.
The transmissions have been made during the station's Datarama program on Monday evenings and after close-down each night.
The programs have been transmitted on VHF/FM and medium-wave frequencies. The VHF transmissions can be received over fairly long distances on a domestic radio receiver with a telescopic whip antenna. Medium-wave transmissions have been used because of problems caused by ground-wave and co-channel interference. The signal has to be strong and clear if it is to be recorded for loading into a computer.
Martin Schimmer, a spokesman for the company, says the broadcasts of computer programs will continue. He says:
"We have so much material that we can go on for a long time. We will continue with the programs until we run out of them."
Datarama covers many areas in computing, as well as broadcasting programs. The programme is broadcast each Monday between 7.30pm and 8pm. Listeners can tune in on 96.3MHz, 230 metres medium wave.
THE MALVERN Microcomputer Fair will be held at the Winter Gardens, Malvern, Worcestershire on Saturday July 2, from 10am to 5.15pm.
As well as the usual software, hardware and information exchange, visitors will have the chance to sell unwanted programs, books and computers.