Chapter 5

Enter the.... Atmos

By now the Atmos was much more than a gleam in its designer's eye. It is interesting to note here that as far back as the original launch party Peter Harding was contemporaneously quoted as saying,

"Sales of the Oric-1 will last for 15 to 18 months before being replaced by the Oric-2 with a typewriter keyboard, followed by the Oric-3."
What now of all the theories about the V1.0 bugs causing a rethink that led to the Atmos? Those who had obtained their Oric-1s directly from the company were sent a special Christmas offer in December 1983. For 49.95 they could upgrade to an Atmos, said the personal letter from Terry Shurwood, Oric's new Sales and Marketing Director. Peter Harding was said to have assumed responsibility for "new vertical markets including Viewdata".

Oric Owner issue 6, February/March 1984, announced that the Oric Atmos had been in full production since the 16th January, 1984, and had been launched at the Which Computer Show in Birmingham. The price was 170 from Tansoft. It was admitted that the number of Oric-1's delivered in 1983 was 160,000. Observant readers will note that is less than 50% of the figure predicted when Edenspring injected their millions.

The Which Computer Show had been held on the 17th January, 1984, and Rob Kimberley was there again for Oric Computing:

"Surprise surprise, not only a brand new Oric disc drive (prototype - no price yet),but a 170 revamped Oric called the 'Atmos'... My dictionary definition of 'atmosphere' is 'spheroidal gaseous envelope surrounding heavenly body'. OK, so it contains the new V1.1 ROM but that's going a bit too far! Personally I didn't like the new keyboard, but I'm so used to the nice positive click of my trusty Oric-1 that 'standard' keyboards feel sloppy and alien. The new Oric is a bit faster than the old, and comes with an extra 'Function key' - which unfortunately none of the Oric sales staff could explain to me (perhaps in the heat of the moment it was a mirage!)."
M.C.P. duly advertised their goodies in January s Oric Computing - a speech synthesiser/ joystick interface for 79.35, a programmable joystick interface for 23.70, an 8-channel A/D converter for 77, a hardware clock/calendar for 30, and an RS232 interface for 38.50. It would be interesting to know if anyone bought any of these items, and whether any still exist.

An Oric press release gave details of the manufacturing side of things:

"Oric Products International has formed a joint venture company with Kenure Plastics Ltd to manufacture PCB's, microcomputers and opto electronic systems. Called 'M3' the new company has already acquired a 20,000 sq. ft. factory on the Hampton Farm Industrial Estate (at the end of the M3 motorway) where the new Atmos 48K micro will be the first product to be made using the latest auto assembly and test techniques. Kenure Plastics already manufacture the Atmos cases and assemble, test and distribute all the Oric micro computers. Till now, however, all the printed circuit boards have been manufactured in the Far East, at jointly owned plants in Singapore and Japan. Oric plans to retain this arrangement, whilst catering for the increased production requirements by manufacturing in the UK. To this end, Oric has also signed a PCB manufacturing agreement with Assembly and Automation Electronics in South Wales where some of the Atmos PCB's are already being made. When the 1 million 'M3' facility comes on line this summer, it will take over this work and produce around 10,000 units (a third of the planned production) each month."
The keyboards, incidentally, were manufactured by Stackpole in America.

First with a review of the new Atmos was Personal Computer News on the 18th February 1984, written by Bob Maunder. Noting that the launch of the Atmos had been put in the shade by Sinclair's announcement of the QL, he described the new Atmos manual, published by Pan Books, as 'aeons ahead of the Oric-1 manual'. But then he tried to load the welcome tape:

"On typing in the appropriate command the message 'Searching...' appears at the top of the screen,soon followed by a 'Loading * C' and then 'Ready'. Instinct further dictates the typing of 'RUN', giving the disappointing result of another 'Ready' message. Further attempts with the cassette on the other side, wound on,and with other recorders still proved fruitless, and as the manual gave no information on the welcome cassette, it did not live up to its title."
Mr. Maunder had alighted on the now familiar faulty error checking routine in the first V1.1 ROM. He also found the new ROM to run BASIC routines at up to twice the speed of the V1.0 ROM. A second opinion from Bryan Skinner was caustic:

"At 170 for a 48k micro, the Atmos is considerably more expensive than its competition. Being so similar to the Oric-1, it offers much the same competition to machines with similar features as the Oric-1 did - virtually none."
The news pages that week were full of Oric items, not least Barry Muncaster's vision for Oric's future:

"The next Oric system will be an integrated micro. It will incorporate integral drives, a modem - probably with autodial - and could be based on a Z80. The likely name is Stratos, and it is due to be launched in the first half of this year... We feel that the buying pattern of micro enthusiasts is going to shake out many of the current manufacturers, leaving about four to make the most of the home market. Apart from Oric (of course) we will find (in descending order) Sinclair, Commodore and Acorn... Later in the year we hope to produce yet another member of the Oric family, this time based around the 8086 processor."
Our Barry strikes again!

On the 4th February, 1984, Oric set up a press demonstration of the new Microdrive - and then promptly cancelled it. Still we all waited.

Your Computer was the next to review the new machine. Again the tape loading came in for criticism:

"The computer still seems to be over-particular as to the correct volume level set on the recorder playback... The level seemed to vary from tape to tape so it often took several attempts to load each program."
In April 1984 Oric duly purchased the Kenure (rebuilt) factory, production and servicing facilities, stating that 1200 machines per day were being produced. A further review of the Atmos appeared in 'What Micro?' that month:

"If the tape loading problems on early machines can be sorted out it should do well as an all round machine. It may not have any great strengths that make it stand out above its rivals, but nor does it have their individual weaknesses."
It needs me to make no further comment on the tape-loading problem, save to note that Oric stubbornly kept using the first issue V1.1 ROMs until they were gone, and only then, much later, did they fit the second issue corrected ROMs.

In France, April 1984 saw the first issue of Théoric, undoubtedly the best and most professionally produced Oric magazine ever. The first print of 25,000 copies rapidly sold out, and a further 3,000 had to be printed. Oric, it was reported, were now aiming at Germany, Italy and Spain, and were discussing a distribution deal for America. That month also saw the release by Loriciels of that peak of French Oric programming, 'L Aigle d Or' - and the announcement of an AZERTY keyboard for the Atmos, something that never did come to pass. And Oric Computing published a medical records type-in from Dr. Ales Satanak of Prague - proof at last that the machine had penetrated the Iron Curtain via Opel.

We left the official Microdisc story back in August 1983 - could be released in September.... . As far as I know, it never did appear in the blue and grey livery. But, in Oric Owner issue 7, April/May 1984 there was the advert - Atmos 170, Printer 150, Microdisc 260.

The same month ITL Kathmill launched their Byte Drive 500 disc drive, in development since the previous July, and first previewed in the press in December 1983; it was well reviewed in What Micro? that April for its extended instruction set compared to the Microdisc, but criticised because the DOS sat under screen memory. The BD DOS had been written by Peter Halford.

It was a summer when many bought their Atmos, and when things really were looking optimistic for Oric....

Back to Chapter 4
Forward to Chapter 6