Was Thomson the French Apple? | The Story of Thomson Computers (Pt1, revised)
This episode, is supported, by monster, joysticks, calm level, up your Raspberry Pi with our all-in-one arcade, kit using genuine Sanwa, arcade, barks. Hello. Cave dwellers make yourselves comfortable, because today we travel to France to. Learn about a company who like many others desperately, wanted to mimic Apple success in the US. Mania. Caprichos, Dupre soup Tila sale effect of Qi. They. Wanted to emulate acorn, computers success. In the British educational, market. And they. Wanted to set the standard, for future micros. In Europe. Today. We dust off the story of Thompson, computers. This. Mean looking machine is the Thompson mo5. And this, is my, mo 5e, which was designed for export, to countries like Italy, Germany and Spain they're. Just two models in a range which tell the story of French company, Thompson, or Technicolor. As the company has been known since 2010. And their decade-long attempt, to emulate the success of Apple and corner, the home in educational, microcomputer. Market in France in. This series we'll take a look at this machine in action and we'll learn of the trials and tribulations Thompson. Went through from, 1979. Through to 1989, when it was active in the home micro market, but. First where, exactly did Thompson, come from. It, is perhaps ironic. Then that the story in which France wants to impress its identity, on the nation's fledgling, home computer, industry, begins, outside its borders with this man Elihu, Thompson, an English man born in 1853. Who, migrated, with his family to the USA, aged five by. 1879. He'd become an engineer and formed the thomson-houston. Electric company. With, Edwin Houston, a company. Which went on to merge with the prolific inventor, and businessman, Thomas. Edison, to, form the famous General Electric Company in 1892. Only. A year later in 1893. A sister company was set up in France which would go on to become the modern Thompson, group as we know it its, goal to exploit, its patents in transport, production. And the electricity, industries, in France in, the 20th century Thompson. Became independent, of General Electric and spawned, sub companies, including, Alstom for railways brand, for washing machines and fridges EF, C is for semiconductors. Who would go on to become, STMicroelectronics. Through subsequent mergers, and Master. No, not the car manufacturer, but the makers of batteries, and light bulbs the. List of industries, and products, they're involved, in covered everything from sewing machines and movie projectors, to weapons radars, and much more, further. Acquisitions and, restructures saw the company renamed to Technicolor, in 2010, a name, by which the group is still known today although the Thompson, branding, is still, used as we'll find out later but. The period of this company's history I'm really interested in is that of their home computer, efforts starting, from 1979. It. Was in this year that Jose Arad an employee of Thompson was, chosen to create the micro computer prototype, for widespread home adoption, Thompson. Did specify that it needed to have a character. Set compatible, with, their fledgling Minitel service as well as connectivity, functionality. He. Should first and foremost be, a consumer, product was, very forward-thinking in, the way that the users may interact with the system and of. Course France had to address the wider issue that. High import, taxes, meant foreign, companies like Apple were less likely to come into their market, unless major concessions, were made by the state to, make it worthwhile for them to regionalize, their products. The, goal then was, to create Frances own homegrown Apple. 2 computer. Its. 1980, now and the prototype specifications. Are revealed for Thompson's first computer, and they are proficient for the time it houses an 8-bit Motorola, 6809. ECP. You as also, used in the trs-80, color computer with, up to 32 k of ram, another. Division of the company Thompson, EFC, is was. Already manufacturing. Motorola, compatible, processors for, the French military thus, the division who would go on to become. STMicroelectronics, so. The 6809. II was a natural, choice for them very. Interestingly though, they specified, a 320. By, 240. Boot. Menu mice, were not yet in the mainstream but, an electronic, pen was bundled is standard. Innovative. And high resolution stuff. At the time, some. Thompson executives, is reported, still, needed convincing as to how consumers, would put this shiny new technology, to use but, nevertheless they, said we we and they approved the design for the Thompson, to7, which, went into full development. By. 1981, the world was waking up to the idea of home computers, following, Apple's success in the US with the Apple to Apple, had made a turnover, of over 330. Million dollars, in 1981. A quarter, of which was made abroad an, Apple turnover Thompson. Very much wanted a sly self and, now the Apple had opened European, offices in France, Thompson.
Were Feeling threatened. Meanwhile. Over the English Channel Sir Clive Sinclair's, mail-order zx80. Computer, was making, waves the, applications, for home micros were becoming clear and the, demand was increasing, as was the competition, Thompson. Was very nearly not a part of that competition because before, their first computer even made it to market the, wider Thompson, group was in a lot of trouble by 1982. In, this year while Sinclair was thriving, Thompson, was hemorrhaging money with reported, losses of over 1 billion francs, that's. Around 120. Million pounds or 170. Million u.s. dollars whether. It was due to national pride, or they were simply too big to fail the, French government stepped in nationalized. And restructured. It cutting, losses in Deadwood from the company in the process, as. A result the state is now the main shareholder, of Thompson, but crucially, development, of the to7, survives, the. State considering, not only the development of micros to be important, but, also potential, advances, it could deliver to its Ministry, of Defence and, so. The to7, was presented, to the press that same year who praised his exceptional. Image quality and colors complemented. By an integrated, scarf socket while. It impressed visually, it notably, lacked a proper sound chip and contained, only a beeper for audio, it. Performed well despite, the 7000, franc price tag making, it more expensive than a Commodore 64 but, significantly. Cheaper than an Apple 2 Thompson. Was now in the shops and crucially, in the home computer business. Those. Machines would become more affordable in 1983. When they have the price that brought them in line with the Commodore, 64 in. Terms of price but not in terms of specification. Because. It still had half the RAM of the Commodore 64 K, that. Was until 1984. When the new tio 717. Model was released which, addressed, various, issues found, in the original model it, also expanded, the RAM to 64 K extendable. To 128. K and introduced, a video gate array the, result was a machine that could display 16 instead, of 8 colors on the screen at once as, well as an improved keyboard, instead, of the chiclet style keys, on the launch model, the. Launch of the to7 70 was also complemented. By a cut-down version the. Mo 5 the. Hat 48k, of ram and it retailed, at two thousand three hundred and ninety francs, which is about two hundred and fifty five pounds or four hundred US dollars, the. Mo 5 ee here was also released for export, although, it was popular within France because the improved, keyboard built-in. Joystick, port and ever, so slightly upgraded B, / 4b Pierre beeps made, it a more attractive proposition. While, the tio 770, was targeting, the Apple twos and the Commodore 64's, of the world the, mo 5 was target in the humble, ZX Spectrum, market but. There was a problem, mo. And tio models, were, not cross compatible, software had to be adjusted by developers, in order to make them work on each system, that. Would go on to be a recurring. Problem that would haunt Thompson, over, the duration, of its microcomputer. Lifetime. Which. Basra G solid. Animal Tom's turn the, mo sangrita, F single amico illative. Just. As the UK had a thriving computers, for schools program which saw the BBC, micro land, in most schools, across the country France, launched, planning from a deep pot - although computers.
For All plan this, plan was initiated, and led by politician, georgette servants Gruber who made it clear that his preferred choice for the program of, 120,000. Machines in 50,000. Schools was. A customized Apple Macintosh, I. Mean. Again Macintosh. Probably. Get that up earlier and you know I'm on Yahoo any point for making and, so meetings, took place with Apple Steve Jobs and John Sculley and which Jobs explained, to the French delegates, his vision for them of a computer, that would liberate people, give them creativity. And freedom, sentiments. Echoed in the famous Apple George Orwell, commercial, of 1984. Liberation. Freedom and creativity surely. Enough to take the boxes of any proud, French politician. The. Mcintoshes, would include, 256. Kilobytes, of RAM doubled. The standard specification. After, Jobs initial rejection of, a requested, 512. Kilobytes and, networking. Ability should be built in Apple, also signaled their intention, to build an ultra-modern, manufacturing. Unit in France shifting. From its planned Irish site which, would allow them to supply. 120,000. Machines at a cost of 10 to 12,000, francs per unit that's about 1050. Pounds, or. 1350. US dollars and that. Which was inclusive of favorable, bulk pricing was. The worm in the Apple the. French state could purchase five homegrown, Thompson, demo 5s for the cost of one Apple, Macintosh, the, Apple was just too expensive to swallow France. Needed its own Apple and turned to French companies, Excel vision Leonard, SMT. Group Bill bull, log. A backs and Thompson. Thompson. Won a contract to initially deliver 40,000. Computers, a boon, for the company although it was won at the expense of very. Tight profit margins. Thompson. However were hopeful, that schoolchildren, would want the continuity. Of owning the same micros at home as they, had at school and. Also attempted to profit from the ongoing maintenance of, the machines in the school but. They press their services, so highly, that it soon became obvious that it was more economical for schools to operate their, own in-house, IT services. The. Project they would popularize, the, Nano risu or nano network a small, computer network of Thomson computers, for example managed. By a central PC which, could send programs to the terminals, to execute. Like. Every, kid my age who grew up in France I was, exposed to Thomson computers, for, the, better part of the 80s, even, though I never owned one because, it was computers, where. At school, primary. School middle school. And, I even remember the computer, room, at ski camp with, angle fives and tio sevens, the. Keyboard, was, funny because, there. Were two versions people. Who had a demo 5 at home like, decent it's, like a keyboard but, the keyboards, we had we're rubbery. And gummy, and re sucked I think, maybe it was because they didn't want the classrooms, to be super noisy so, they put, it like a keyboard there the. Classrooms, had like a bunch of fimo fives and were, all hooked up with I couldn't. Tell you what type of cable -. PC. Running dos and the, teacher would, load. Whatever. Programs, he wanted to use from a floppy, on the PC who, would then push, the. The programs, of all the mo fives in the room at the same time and, then the class would start but. I remember, from that time was, that loading. The programs, from, the. Network, was like super, fast compared, to loading, cassettes, like I was doing at home and. I remember learning. Two. Languages there, so, the, beginner, languages. This. Was. Long ago the, point of. Logo. Which we do as a kid was programmer, little turtle that was just a green triangle on the screen and, you. Would give it instructions like. If. The pen. Look 50 turn, right look. Down the pan. 3. Etc. To, make drawings. The. Second language we were, learning was, a Microsoft. Basic it. Came in a cartridge, and, while.
That Was just a normal basic, what. Was called learning, it at Computer, Club was that I, learned. A little more than what I could pick up by myself, copying. Listings from magazines, and books on my home computer. So, only now I'm really, grateful, for these little computers because I learned a lot from them. And. I'm. Also grateful, for the opportunity, to have. Access to them and I, think, it was pretty, good that every. Kid could access these computers, especially for kids who couldn't even kids. Who couldn't afford any because, it was not a given at the time. However. As. A conclude I would say that I was free, relief, a few years later when. I needed a new, computer, that my, parents didn't give me one of these I, got. Our Terry ST instead, and. That's. About it about the Thomson computers, back to the cave. Outside. Of the educational, arena the arrival, of the Amstrad CPC in France introduced, a well-priced, competitor. In the home micro market, while, the debut of the Amiga 1000, potentially, painted a picture of, the future of computing beyond a bit micros until. Now Thompson's focus had been on recreating the success of Apple and, with the help of the computer, plan for all it, had managed to sell over half, a million machines, many of them airmote fives the foresight. That had led them to create the machine in the first place however was, now waning, and their, focus on the 8-bit market, was at the detriment, of having, a 16-bit, machine prepared for the next generation, come. You now did they start making moves to develop a 16-bit, Micro in collaboration. With the British company acorn and it's, now parent, company, Olivetti, after. The Italian firm bought out acorn in 1985. The, machine was optimistically. Planned for release in. April 1987. And so, came the second, generation of Thomson computers. Or did they. The. To9 was, launched in 1985. With, 128, K of RAM upgradeable, to 192. K, the, disk drive was included, and a PC like case with a detachable keyboard, to, give the Machine a more classy, look although, it was somewhat let down by its plastic, construction, while. The tio 770. Was intended, to be a French Apple to the to9, was to be the French Macintosh, with, new video modes including, a 2 color 640. By 200, high resolution, mode and, a total palette of 4096. Colours. Until. Now the pen had been the standard peripheral, but now a mouse bought was included, and a six bit audio DAC but, at the heart of the to9, Thompson's. New powerhouse on the computing, scene was, the very same one megahertz 8-bit, CPU of, first generation models. This. Was second generation, by age alone, and not by technical, advancement. Thompson. Would go on to repeat its mistakes with, a slew of new model releases in the, face of an increasingly, popular and easy-to-understand. Amstrad. CPC range, the. Four six four six, six four and six. One two eight. Demonstrated. Here by Thomas. Thompson. Released no less than six models, between 1985. And 1987. Including. The mo6 with joystick, and sound upgrade, the, mo 5 NR which was an mo 6 with built-in networking, to support those nano networks the. To8, which had 256. K of RAM and more video modes the, tio 9 Plus which was a to9 with, 512. K of RAM and a built-in modem and the to8. D which, was a tier 8 with a built-in floppy drive, and of, course what they all had in common was. That one megahertz 8-bit, CPU used. All the way back in their 1982. Model. One. Man who experienced, this second wave of machines, firsthand was, mo 6 owner Nicolas and, here he is sharing, his memories of that time with us. I. Got. The name of 6 around 87. Maybe we. Didn't. Buy it actually, but.
We Wanted my, mother she filled the contest entry form with, about, Underpants, that she bought for me and surprise. Surprise two, months later we had a big, box waiting for us I was, so excited but. My mother wanted to wait for my father to come back from work before planning it. Initially. I didn't, really realize that there were other computers. Out there and possibly better ones I did. Happen though maybe, one year after we got to Samsung I went. To visit friend who had a Commodore, 64 and we played Bruce Lee on it and I. Remember thinking at the time yeah. I wish I had had this one instead I used, the mo 6 exclusively. For games one. I really liked was four-legged, or the, Golden Eagle I guess it. Was an adventure slash, RPG game, where, you had to extraordin. Another. One I liked was on, hockey and hockey but. It actually scared, me a little with, its, dark graphics, and ominous, sound effects and weird, enemies so I didn't, play for too long usually by. The time we thought about grading. Some, Sun had stopped making computers, and it. Didn't really make sense stick with a bitch anyway, so, we, got the not hairy XD instead but, this one didn't get set up in my bedroom and fortunately, and the. Mo6 was quickly, forgotten. It's. Still in my parents, basement soil. And my. Father actually dug it up when I was talking about it a couple of days ago and looking. At it the poor thing is already in a need of a trash to treasure of, style restoration, I think. In. 1986. Thompson had a decision to make with no third generation, machine to expand on their questionable. Second generation range Amstrad, now dominating. The French home computer, market and the, threat of MSX, computers, becoming the new standard, Thompson, decided, to adopt the IBM pc-compatible approach. The, educational, sector was still Thompson's primary, target, and they did manage to win a tender to supply and not unsubstantial. Thirteen thousand IBM pc compatibles, to schools and colleges in 1987. With their new tio 16, PCM. And XP range of computers, five. Prototypes of a motorola 68000. Based tio 16, were, produced, but consigned, to the scrap heap as Thompson committed, fully to IBM pc compatibles. As. 1988. Rolled around after, selling just 60,000. Over forecasts 150,000, computers, the, writing was really on the wall for Thompson and by, January 1989. The. Inevitable, announcement, was made Thompson, had now abandoned. Micro computing, citing. That they intended to focus on consumer and, defense, electronics the. French home computer, market was Amstrad to dominate until, the Ataris amigas, and eventually, pcs took a hold and Thompson. Became yet. Another footnote in. 8-bit micro, history. In. Many ways the Thompson story eights that of the mini tail over here Thompson's. Attitude, of build it and they will come was. A great mentality in the application, of their creation, their. Entry into the market was well-received despite, a slightly higher than normal price tag sales, were good but. Over, time whether, it was due to state, ownership or just, mismanagement, that foresight, was lost and with it the reputation of the company, despite. Producing a high-quality PC. In their tio 16 which, was very well received by the press the. Damage was done Thompson's. Were associated, with old computers, that lived in the corners and cupboards, of neglected, classrooms, Thompson. Didn't vanish though they. Continued to produce and sell consumer electronics. As was their focus now and. Then in 2015, their name appeared on laptops. In the style of the slimline Apple. MacBook. So. While the story of their first foray into micro, computers, didn't end well for them the story is far from over maybe. This time they'll, think different, I. Hope. You'll join me in part 2 where we look at the mo 5e, specifically. Show, it in use and put. It head-to-head with his archrival the, Amstrad CPC, until. Then thank, you for watching and take, care. If. You enjoyed this video and you'd like to support future similar content, then why not join the list of people scrolling, up the screen here on patreon, with a small donation to the cave thank, you each and every one of you for your ongoing support. You.