TI-99 Home Computer Timeline

Bill Gaskill

part 1 of 4

* For more TI history from Bill Gaskill, visit his new 99er site at http://timeline.99er.net/ *

1993 marks the 10th anniversary of the decision by Texas Instruments to abandon the Home Computer. I have compiled the information in this timeline not in celebration of TI's decision to orphan the 99/4A, but rather to honor the community that remains ten years after TI's decision. I hope you enjoy the reading.


1947: Bell Labs engineers John Bardeen, Walter Brattain and William Shockley invent the transistor, which paves the way for the creation of smaller computers.

1955: IBM becomes the first computer manufacturer to offer plug-in peripherals for their computers. Although the computers are of the mainframe type, the concept will catch on and become an integral part of microcomputer technology.

1959: Texas Instruments releases the first integrated circuit after its engineers figure out how to put more than one transistor on the same material and connect them without wires.

1964: John G. Kemeny and Thomas E. Kurtz develop the BASIC programming language at Dartmouth College. BASIC will become a mainstay in the microcomputer world.

1969: Intel, then a one-year old company, releases a 1K-bit RAM chip, which is the largest amount of RAM ever put on an integrated circuit up to that time.

1972: Intel introduces the 8008 chip in April 1972. It becomes the first 8-bit microprocessor to hit the market.

- Nolan Bushnell founds Atari and ships the Pong game.

1973: The first "mini" floppy disk is introduced.

1974: Intel introduces the 8080 chip in April 1974. The 8080 is the first microprocessor capable of addressing 64K bytes of memory.

-Texas Instruments releases the TMS 1000 4-bit chip. It becomes an immediate success as over 100 million are sold for use in video games, microwave ovens, calculators and other electronics products.

- In an article appearing in the July 1974 issue of Radio Electronics, author Jonathan Titus tells readers how to build the Mark 8 "personal minicomputer."

- Motorola begins work on the M6800 chip, designed by Chuck Peddle. Peddle would later leave Motorola to join MOS Technology, the creators of the 6502 chip. Peddle ultimately became Commodore's Systems Division Director, responsible for the release of the PET 2001 in October 1977, after Commodore acquired MOS Technology in order to have its own chip source.

- Naval Post-graduate School instructor Gary Kildall creates a new operating system for Intel's 8080 microprocessor called CP/M, an acronym for Control Program for Microcomputers. It sells for $70.

- Creative Computing magazine is founded by David H. Ahl in Morristown, New Jersey.

- Brian W. Kernighan and Dennis M. Ritchie of Bell Labs develop the C programming language.

1975: Texas Instruments introduces the TMS 9900 microprocessor, the first 16-bit chip on the market, but it does not sell.

- Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems, a company founded by Ed Roberts as a vehicle for supporting his experiments in electronics, introduces the MITS Altair 8800 microcomputer in January. MITS becomes the first company or corporate venture into microcomputers for sale to the general public and the Altair becomes the first microcomputer to have software written for it by third-party programmers. Its open bus architecture also allows people to begin making hardware peripherals, making it the first microcomputer to also have third-party hardware add-ons created for it. The whole Altair kit, including the 8080 processor, motherboard, power supply, and 256 bytes of memory sold for $395.

- MOS Technology introduces the 6501 microprocessor, a short-lived predecessor to the famous 6502 that would power the Apple, Atari and Commodore machines from their introduction to their obscelescence.

- Byte Magazine publishes its first issue in September.

- Bill Godbout and George Morrow (who would later build the Morrow Computer) build the first 16-bit computer with RAM and a built-in cassette interface. An advertisement for the unnamed computer appears in the first issue of Byte Magazine, but not one of the computers is sold.

1976: Zilog, a computer chip company which is founded by former Intel employee Federico Faggin, introduces the Z80 microprocessor.

- Shugart introduces a 5 1/4" floppy disk drive in December that sells for the unheard of price of $390. It is housed in a cast aluminum case. In 1979 the company will enter into an agreement with Matsushita of Japan to produce the now familiar sheet metal enclosed case that would retail for $125 and sell for $50 in OEM quantities. This is the same disk drive that Texas Instruments would sell to 99ers for almost $500 in 1979-83.

- Apple Computer Inc. is formed in April by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak.

- Texas Instruments makes the decision to produce a personal computer built around its unpopular TMS 9900 microprocessor. This is Mistake #1 according to Joseph Nocera, in his "Death of a Computer" article.

1977: The Radio Shack Division of Tandy Corporation and Commodore Business Machines join the new microcomputer market with introductions of the TRS-80 and PET 2001 (Personal Electronic Terminal) respectively. The TRS-80 is announced in August and the PET in October.

- Computer Shack, later known as Computerland, opens its first store in February.

- Ohio Scientific Instruments offers the first microcomputer with Microsoft BASIC in ROM.

- Axiom Corporation of Glendale, California enters the microcomputer printer market with the first low-cost electrosensitive line printer in the industry.

- The research and development process for TI's planned personal computer is in full swing and a corporate decision is made to assign the task of creating the computer to the Consumer Products Group which makes watches and hand held calculators at TI. Chief Operating Officer J. Fred Bucy decides to move the Consumer Products Group from Dallas to Lubbock, Texas, which is only 29 miles from his home town of Tahoca. This is Mistake #2 according to Joseph Nocera.

1978: The Plato computer aided instruction system is developed at the University of Illinois. Control Data Corporation would license these applications to Texas Instruments late in 1983, but by then, the fate of the Home Computer was already sealed.

- Machine and operating system independent UCSD Pascal is released by the Regents of the University of California at San Diego for $200.

- In March, Texas Instruments begins trying to recruit personal computer specialists by running full page ads entitled "Your Experience with personal computers is going to open an unlimited career at TI." in trade publications. The ads seek qualified applicants for Personal Computer Product Marketing Managers, Systems Programmers, Digital Design Engineers, Product Design Engineers, Application Software Specialists and Marketing Support Engineers. The recruitment efforts are largely unsuccessful when potential applicants discover the job is in Lubbock, Texas rather than close to the center of the microcomputer industry, which is northern California's Silicon Valley, situated only an hour's drive from San Francisco.

- In April, Texas Instruments releases a recreational Solid State Software Leisure Library module for the TI58 and 59 programmable calculators, coining and trademarking the term Solid State Software.

- Intel introduces the 8086 microprocessor.

- In August MICROpro releases Seymour Rubenstein's Word-Master word processor, which is the predecessor to WordStar.

- Illinois residents Ward Christensen and Randy Suess create the first microcomputer bulletin board system, conceived, designed, built, programmed, tested and installed in the 30 day period between January 16th and February 16th 1978.

- The $895 Exidy Sorcerer is released in October by Exidy Computers of Sunnyvale, California. The machine sports 8K RAM, a 64 column by 30 row screen and the ability to use plug-in modules which are the size of 8-track tapes. The Sorcerer appears to be the first "Home Computer" to support ROM cartridge use.

- In December Axiom Corporation introduces the EX-801 printer and EX-820 printer/plotter for $495 and $795 respectively. Both have available interfaces for the Apple II, TRS-80, PET and Exidy personal computers.

- Epson introduces the MX-80 dot matrix printer, shocking the industry with its low price and high performance.

- Over 14 million microprocessors are manufactured by year's end, with the 8-bit 6502 chip and TI's 4-bit TMS 1000 chip leading the pack.

JAN 1979: Double sided disk drives are announced but few are available as manufacturers run into difficulty gearing up for production.

FEB 1979: Rumors begin to fly about TI's new personal computer, despite the fact that it has not been formally announced. The rumors say the computer will have 40K of ROM, it will generate 20 lines of 40 characters on a standard television, have provisions for accommodating video disk players and video tape recorders, and it will have support for sophisticated sound production.

- Atari enters the personal computer market in February by announcing the 400 and 800 models. The 400 is a non-expandable 8K computer with a membrane keyboard, a single cartridge slot and a cassette port. It will sell for $500. The 800 is an 8K computer expandable to 48K. It comes with a cassette recorder, a full keyboard, 8K BASIC built in and high resolution graphics capabilities. It will sell for $1000. Neither machine appears until August, and then only in limited quantities.

MAR 1979: The FCC begins regulating microcomputers that employ radio frequency modulators. Their action is spurred by the rash of previous complaints received when Citizen Band radios created havoc for TV viewers.

- Texas Instruments releases the new Speak and Spell learning aid for children. It is based on the TMS 1000 chip and two 128K DRAM chips, each with the ability to store over 100 seconds of speech.

APR 1979: McGraw-Hill buys Byte and onComputing magazines.

- Tandy begins selling their TRS line of personal computers through their own stores. Several other makers of personal computers withdraw their products from department store shelves after meeting with poor sales and low product acceptance.

- Despite early failure by U.S. department stores to move personal computers, department stores in Europe begin to surface as the major source of sales for Commodore's PET and Radio Shack's TRS-80.

- The CompuServe on-line information service is founded.

MAY 1979: Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston release their new Visicalc spreadsheet, written for the Apple II computer.

JUN 1979: Texas Instruments announces the TI-99/4 Home Computer at the Consumer Electronics Show in June at a retail price of $1150 with a 13" color monitor. It will not appear in any quantity until almost a year later however, and then it will prove to be a flop in the market place.

Software titles announced as being available for the new Home Computer include: Beginning Grammar, Demonstration, Diagnostic, Early Learning Fun, Early Reading, Football, Home Financial Decisions, Household Budget Management, Investment Analysis, Number Magic, Personal Record Keeping, Physical Fitness, Speech Construction, Tax/Investment Record Keeping, Video Chess, and Video Graphs.

Peripherals announced as being available are a Speech Synthesizer, an RS232 interface, joysticks, disk storage and a thermal printer. No memory expansion is available. The price for the console/monitor bundle is $1150 with the Solid State Software command modules listed running anywhere from $19.95 to $69.95 in price.

Actual release dates on several of the announced products would vary from the June 1979 release information.

Beginning Grammar, 2q/1979
Demonstration 2q/1979
Diagnostic 2q/1979
Disk Storage 2q/1980
Early Learning Fun, 2q/1979
Early Reading, 4q/1979
Football, 2q/1979
Home Financial Decisions, 2q/1980
Household Budget Management, 2q/1979
Investment Analysis, never released under this name
Joysticks 2q/1980
Number Magic, 2q/1979
Personal Record Keeping, 4q/1979
Physical Fitness, 2q/1979
RS232 interface 2q/1980
Speech Construction, never released under this name
Speech Synthesizer 2q/1980
Tax/Investment Record Keeping 4q/1979
Thermal Printer 2q/1980
Video Chess, 2q/1979
Video Graphs, 2q/1979

- MicroPro releases WordStar.

- Color monitors for personal computers are expected to drop below the $1000 mark by late 1979.

JUL 1979: Milton Bradley Company begins advertising in national trade publications for Electronic Product Engineers, Software Engineers and Microcomputer Programmers, and Electronic Technicians.

- Wayne Ratliff develops the Vulcan Data Base at the Jet Propulsion Labs in Pasadena, California. Ashton-Tate later picks up the program and markets it as dBase II.

- Word of a Japanese invasion into the personal computer market hits the media, much like the never-to-appear MSX invasion of the mid-80's, after Nippon Electric Corporation (NEC) enters the market with their Astra series of 16-bit systems.

AUG 1979: TI releases a $250 hand held language translater that features speech, which means translated words are not only displayed, but are also spoken. The unit will have $50 plug-in modules available for English, Spanish, French, German, Russian, Chinese and Japanese. Each module displays 1000 words in the resident language, 500 of which can be spoken by the speech synthesizer.

SEP 1979: New England Electronics proudly announces that it has been selected to be an authorized distributor of the "revolutionary TI-99/4 Personal/Educational Computer!"

- Computerland begins advertising the 99/4 also, calling it "The Remarkable Home Computer". They also carry the Atari 800 and refer to it as the "Timeless" computer.

Several other major distributors are also lined up by TI in the closing months of 1979. They begin advertising the 99/4, but fail to receive them and are forced to placate the few people who are willing to pay $1150 for the machine. TI has already gotten off on the wrong foot with their retailers.

OCT 1979: Texas Instruments releases the TMS9927 Video Controller chip.

- Rodnay Zaks, who would author the book "Your First TI-99/4A Program" in 1983, releases "6502 Games" through Sybex Publishing.

NOV 1979: Moore Business Systems agrees to market the TI-99/7, a $5000 business computer based upon the TMS 9900 microprocessor. The 99/7 is one of three computers to be built on the TMS 9900 chip, but it will eventually die, due to internal squabbling at TI, without any production units being shipped.

- Zenith buys the Heath Company, manufacturers of the H-8 and H-11 computer kits.

- Computer Shopper publishes its first issue. A special charter subscription of 12 issues for $10 is offered.

- Milton Bradley releases Big Trak, a programmable toy vehicle. The chip in Big Trak allows the user to program intricate travel paths and fire the truck's weaponry in single burst, short burst or long burst modes. It sells for $43 with trailers that may be purchased separately for $13 each.

- Milton Bradley also releases its Microvision hand held mini video game machine, which has its own screen. Microvision comes with the game BlockBuster. Six other games, Bowling, Star Trek, Phaser Strike, Connect Four, Vegas Slots and Mindbuster are also available, sold separately.

DEC 1979: Len Buckwalter reviews the new TI-99/4 Home Computer for Mechanics Illustrated magazine on page 46. He calls the machine easy to use and delivers a generally positive review, discussing Home Financial Decisions, and Milton Bradley's Connect Four, Hangman, Yahtzee and Zero Zap cartridges.

- Image Computer Products of Northbrook, Illinois announces the TI Six Pack, which consists of six BASIC games on cassette. They are; Mind Master, Skill Builder, Strategy Pack, Tournament Brickbat, Wall Street Challenge, and Wildcatting.

Go to Part 2

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