Priming the Pump:
How TRS-80 Enthusiasts Helped Spark
the PC Revolution

  -- From Chapter Seven:
TRS-80 and the IBM PC

The InfoWorld article mentioned that Tandy’s stock prices had slid by $25 per share in the previous year and had been dropped from the recommended list of many brokerage firms. That must have been heavy on [John] Roach’s mind when he decided to abandon the old base to try to improve the company’s image and its bottom line.

Tandy was trying its hand at getting a different kind of customer, but the game had changed. The new customers they wanted did not know Radio Shack. A 1983 InfoWorld review of the IBM PC echoed the old refrain of realtors about "location, location, location" by saying there were three things corporate buyers liked about the IBM PC: it’s name, it’s name, and its name. Imitating IBM was not on Tandy’s original agenda, but they were finally forced into it by the loss of their old customers and their inability to get enough new customers. It seemed the IBM name was magic and whether Tandy called its new machine a Tandy computer or a TRS-80 computer, what mattered to customers was that it was not an IBM.

When the IBM PC first appeared, not everyone thought it would be the marketplace winner. Mark Lautenschlager of Micro Systems Software, which sold DOS-Plus, says he and Steve Pagliarulo went out and bought an IBM PC for $3600 right after it came out. They brought it back to the office and set it up next to Lautenschlager’s TRS-80 and he recalls "I had a machine that had a 10 or 15 MB hard drive, internal double-sided 80 track drives, speed kit, custom monitor… this machine was tricked out, a state of the art computer and we looked over at the IBM PC and we said, 'this machine has no chance.'"

The TRS-80 was a mature product, with all kinds of add-ons and loads of top quality software while the IBM PC had none of those things. But the business world did not seem to care about that. The magic of the IBM name and the IBM clout was drawing customers away from anything Tandy offered. It was a gloomy time for those of us who had poured years of our lives into producing TRS-80 software. For the software-makers, the magazines, and the user groups — the eco-system that kept us all going — time was running out.

In 1984, Tandy hired Bill Bixby, an actor who played The Incredible Hulk on TV, to be their spokesman, hoping that, like the Hulk who changed from a mild-mannered guy into a monster on the show, Tandy Corp. could transform itself from a collection of stores for electronics hobbyists into powerful business centers catering to corporate leaders. But no such transformation was possible; eventually all the Computer Centers were closed and Tandy went out of the computer manufacturing business, its schlock image intact.

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