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The following articles are reprinted solely as items of interest for the independent evaluation by members of The Association of Time-Sharing Users and The 
Association of Small Computer Users. The opinions , statements of fact, and conclusions expressed herein are not those of either Association. 


Service to Offer At-Home 
T/S for $2. 75/Hour 


By Jake Kirchner 

CW Washington Bureau 

McLEAN, Va. — Digital Broadcasting 
Corp. (DBC) next month will begin offering 
what it said is the first low-cost time-sharing 
network for home use. 

The service, called Compucom, will be 
provided by the Washington, D.C.-area 
company for $2.75 per hour. DBC Chair¬ 
man William von Meister said his company 
expects to have 10,000 customers locally by 
the end of the year and reach a financial 
break-even point within six months after 
start-up. 

The low rate for computer time is possible, 
von Meister said, because the service will 
make use of existing computer systems and 
be available only from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m. and 
on weekends and holidays. 

The idea behind Compucom, he explained 
is to answer the question, "What do you do 
with your computer network after 6 o'clock 
at night when business doesn't use it any¬ 
more?" 

"Sell it to home users" was the answer ar¬ 
rived at by DBC, a privately held company 
spun off one year ago from TDX Systems, 


' "That's the problem we've 
licked . . . how somebody in Se¬ 
attle can use a computer in 
Washington , D.C., for $2.75 an 
hour" when long-distance 
phone calls cost $15 to $20 an 
hour.' 


Inc. of Vienna, Va. DBC's primary business 
service, Infocast, transmits data over the ra¬ 
dio frequencies of 56 FM stations around 
the country. 


What makes Compucom practical, von 
Meister said, is that the $2.75 per hour 
charge includes the cost of the telephone call 
to access the firm's computers, located here 
and in Silver Spring, Md. "That's the prob¬ 
lem we've licked," he said, "how somebody 
in Seattle can use a computer in Washing¬ 
ton, D.C., for $2.75 an hour" when long¬ 
distance phone calls cost $15 to $20 an hour. 

DBC solved that problem by "some very 
interesting network configurations." Not 
only does the firm have an extensive net¬ 
work of its own, but it has contracted with 

large companies to use their excess private 
telephone lines during nonbusiness hours. 

The system DBC has put together has 
ports in 200 U.S. cities, so every Compucom 
user will be able to access the system 
through a local, toll-free phone call. The 
system is being tested in the Washington, 
D.C., area now. It will be gradually extended 
to those 200 cities as DBC's marketing and 
management capabilities are developed, ac¬ 
cording to von Meister. 

Access to 2,000 Programs 

Using an existing home computer or termi¬ 
nal or a terminal available from DBC, a user 
can access at 600 word/min approximately 
2,000 programs offering complete business 
packages, computer games and news and in¬ 
formation services. The system already of¬ 
fers stock market quotations, professional 
sports information, classified advertising 
and movie guides, and additional programs 
are being developed. 

DBC is currently negotiating with individ¬ 
uals to produce periodic "columns" on dif¬ 
ferent consumer subjects — such as "Gour¬ 
met Recipe of the Week" — to fill the "homes 
in on programs that were typically written 
for the commercial market," von Meister 








said. The 2,000 currently available programs 
are indexed in a "very, very simple tree" 
which contains 24 "master libraries," each 
having 10 to 200 subheadings (programs). 

Compucom is based on an undisclosed 
number of Prime Computer, Inc. Model 
500, Honeywell, Inc. 1648 and Tandem 
Computers, Inc. minicomputers.The system 
presently offers about 4,000 ports, which 
von Meister reckons as capable of serving 
50,000 customers. The system can be ex¬ 
panded almost infinitely, he said, by adding 
more computer power. 

Terminals Available 


crements. When a user opens his account 
with Compucom, he provides his Visa, Mas¬ 
ter Charge or American Express card num¬ 
ber. At the end of each month DBC will 
compute the user's bill and enter it on a mas¬ 
ter billing tape, which will be taken to a 
bank; the billing will be processed through 
the credit card companies. 

By not having to handle the billing directly, 
von Meister said, DBC can operate with a 
low overhead. Estimating an average 20 
hours per month per user, he projected reve¬ 
nues of about $275,000/mo once the system 
has 10,000 users. 



DBC is also offering a range of equipment 
for the user of the system. The Source 1, an 
alphanumeric keypad manufactured by Ha- 
zeltine Corp., is available from DBC for 
$595. On a lease-purchase plan, the Source 
1, which comes with an acoustic coupler and 
a hook-up for the users television, costs $90 
down and about $13/mo on a five-year ba¬ 
sis. 

Another terminal, the Source 2, described 
by von Meister as a "full-blown CRT of 
high commercial quality," costs $950. DBC 
will also provide a selection of two printers 
manufactured by Centronics Data .Com¬ 
puter Corp. and Anadex, Inc. The printers 
will operate at 30 char./sec. 

If a customer has his own terminat or home 


'When a user opens his ac¬ 
count with Compucom , he pro¬ 
vides his Visa , Master Charge or 
American Express card number . 
At the end of each month DBC 
will compute the user's bill and 
enter it on a master billing tape , 
which will be taken to a bank; 
the billing will be processed 
through the credit card compa¬ 
nies/ 


computer, he can access Compucom for a 
$100 installation charge which does not in¬ 
clude an acoustic coupler. Couplers can be 
purchased from DBC, von Meister added. 

User access to the system is established 
through a unique identification number and 
a password supplied by the firm. The user is 
billed for computer time in one-minute in¬ 


Such projections are not at all unrealistic in 
the face of the demand for Compucom that 
has developed since the service was first 
publicized last month, according to von 
Meister. "We're being bugged to death" by 
people wanting to sign up, he said. "The 
problem is we don't have enough equipment 
yet. 


"The problem is that the lo¬ 
gistics of the marketing of 
something of this size are sub¬ 
stantial. So we're going to go 
city by city, and Washington 
is the first market, which is 
natural because we're head¬ 
quartered here," von Meister 
pointed out. 

"Compucom will then be of¬ 
fered in one other city, per¬ 
haps Detroit, before being 
made available in New York 
City, which von Meister 
described as "the next logical 

place to go." 

The service is now being 
used on an "experimental" ba¬ 
sis in Washington, where 
"we've got about 50 people 
who are fiddling with it and 
helping us debug" the man¬ 
uals and literature, he added. 

Besides the low cost of the 
service, one of its big attrac¬ 
tions is that it is completely in¬ 
teractive, according to von 
Meister. It offers an "elec¬ 
tronic mail box" through 


which users can leave mes¬ 
sages for each other. 

In addition, a program called 
Chat offers "direct interac¬ 
tion." After calling up Chat on 
his terminal, a user can punch 
in the code number of another 
user and communicate directly. 

In this regard, Compucom is 
much more advanced and at¬ 
tractive than the videotext 
and teletext systems being 
tested in Europe, von Meister 
claimed. "You're not just look¬ 
ing up information" as with 
those systems. 

In addition, von Meister 
contended Compucom will be 
superior to any commercially 
available personal computer. 
"We have Cobol, Basic, For¬ 
tran, PL/I, RPG, Teach and 
several other languages, and 
they are much easier to use 
than micro assembly language 
and micro levels of the higher 
level compilers such as For¬ 
tran and Basic," he said. 


Reprinted with permission from Computerworld , January 1! 





User Learns Cost Isn't Everything 


By Ann Dooley 

CW Staff 

DUNDEE, Ill. — For a microcomputer 
user here, trying to buy micro equipment 
as cheaply as possible was the most ex¬ 
pensive decision he ever made. 

Kenneth Sibrava, president of Syner- 
systems, bought equipment from a 
wholesaler instead of the manufacturer 
and received more than he bargained for 
in malfunctioning equipment, misleading 
promises and costly time delays. 

A year ago Sibrava and his associate, 
Dennis Pikarski, decided to form a con¬ 
sulting firm and service bureau to provide 
accounting and business functions to 
doctors, lawyers and other small or 
medium-size businesses in this Chicago 
suburb. Sibrava planned to use a series of 
microcomputers linked together to main¬ 
tain a low overhead. 

Although Sibrava and Pikarski had 
some DP background, they had difficulty 
selecting the microcomputer equipment 
needed to set up their business. "The mi- 

cro industry is like a jungle," Sibrava 
said. 

After looking at equipment from a 
number of companies, including Texas 
Instruments, Inc., Intel Corp. and Imsai 
Manufacturing Corp., as well as talking 
to both manufacturers and dealers, Si¬ 
brava decided to use Cromemco, Inc. 
equipment. "It came down to a price com¬ 
parison. The Cromemco equipment does 
as much as most others and costs a lot 
less," Sibrava said. 

Right Choice, Wrong Source 

The choice itself was the right one, ac¬ 
cording to Sibrava: "Pm still amazed I got 
equipment that does what it does for the 
price. The mistake we made, however, 
was trying to get by even cheaper." 

At the time, the company needed a cer¬ 
tain amount of equipment but had only a 
limited amount of money. "We decided to 
go strictly by price and to purchase most 
of the equipment from a Syracuse, N.Y. 
wholesaler," he said, but declined to name 


the wholesaler because he is considering 
suing the organization. 

Sibrava agreed to buy two Cromemco 
computers — a Z-2"fully assembled fac¬ 
tory unit and a Z-2D kit. The fully as¬ 
sembled unit malfunctioned as soon as it 
arrived; it was later found to have been 
assembled in the wholesaler's shop and 
not in the factory at all, according to Si¬ 
brava. 

The kit's seals had been broken, work¬ 
ing parts had been replaced with defec¬ 
tive ones and the wholesaler had sold 
memory that wasn't even compatible 
with the equipment, he charged. 

It took more than two months to get all 
the parts and then everything malfunc¬ 
tioned at least once, including all the 
memory boards, controller boards, disk 
drives and CPUs, Sibrava said. 

Manufacturer to the Rescue 

Since the wholesaler was completely un¬ 
cooperative and refused to do anything 

about the equipment, "in des¬ 
peration I called Cromemco, 
not knowing what to expect 
since it really wasn't the 
manufacturer's problem," Sib¬ 
rava recalled. 

Cromemco's people in 
Mountain View, Calif., were 
hesitant at first, but after Si¬ 
brava talked to Cromemco's 
customer support engineer, 
Allen O'Neill, help began ar¬ 
riving. Cromemco replaced 
the defective parts, many at no 
cost. 

"The people there kept tell¬ 
ing me they couldn't believe 
the poor job that had been 
done just in assembling the 
Z-2," Sibrava said. 

Once most of the parts had 
been replaced, O'Neill spent 
several days working with the 
system and looking for bugs. 

"If it hadn't been for the fac¬ 
tory, I would have jumped off 


a bridge," Sibrava admitted. 

Behind Schedule 

So many things had gone 
wrong at the beginning that it 
took a lot of extra testing and 
debugging to get the system 
going. As a result, Sibrava and 
Pikarski have fallen far be¬ 
hind schedule. 

"There are customers wait¬ 
ing for the service, but even 
now that the system is up and 
running Pm hesitant to open 
for business because I want to 
be sure nothing more will go 
wrong," Sibrava said. 

The complete system con¬ 
sists of seven micros hooked 
together. Each is assigned an 
individual task. One micro 
supports one software func¬ 
tion and then turns the data 
over to the next micro for fur¬ 
ther processing. The system 
can handle quite a bit of data 
at a lower cost, he noted. 

On looking back at his 
money-saving idea, Sibrava 
said, "I've learned a lot from 
this whole thing — the hard 
way." 

One lesson he learned is that 
cost isn't everything; al¬ 
though there was a $5,000 dif¬ 
ference between buying from 
the wholesaler and buying 
from the factory, the time and 
aggravation added up to a lot 
more, he said. 

"I've also learned to check 
for references. We had done a 
little checking on the whole¬ 
saler, but he refused to give us 
any references, saying it 
wasn't worth his time to fool 
around with them. From now 

on we'll know better," Sibrava 
said. 



ry 15, 1979, ©Copyright 1979, CW Communications, Inc 



Another RCS Vendor Plans 
To Introduce Minicomputer 


By Don Leavitt 

CW Staff 

GREAT NECK, N.Y. - The trend 
continues. Another remote computing 
service (RCS) vendor has announced 
plans to sell or lease an IBM 
370-compatible minicomputer, com¬ 
plete with software and support, for a 
cost "well below alternatives." 

To handle this side of its business, 
Time Sharing Resources, Inc. (TSR) 
has organized a subsidiary called Mega 
Systems Associates. The hardware 
Mega will offer is the same 
370/138-class machine developed by 
Two Pi Co. and already available from 
National CSS, Inc. as its System 3200. 

Installed at a user site, Mega's system 
is "the first sensible alternative to the 
high costs of outside APL time¬ 
sharing," a vendor spokesman as¬ 
serted, adding "it provides at least 5:1 
price/performance breakthrough, with 
no conversion delays or costs." 

The difference between the Mega 
system and those offered by other RCS 
vendors will be in the software and 
services provided users, Mega said. 
TSR is an APL-oriented RCS vendor 
and the Mega system will be delivered 
complete with all the system software 
and application programs in the TSR 
public library. 

The spokesman claimed TSR's APL 
system is the most comprehensive in 
the industry, adding, "it is fully com¬ 
patible" with major APL time-sharing 

vendors such as Scientific Time 
Sharing Corp. (STSC). An official at 
STSC noted, however, thatTSR's APL 
does not include STSC's Automatic 
Control of Execution (ACE) functions 
[CW, Aug. 28]. 

As part of its product, Mega said it is 
prepared to convert any user program 
to run in APL on the Two Pi hardware 
at no cost to the user. Although that 
support is generally expected to be 
used in connection with programs al¬ 
ready in APL, the vendor claimed the 
support — still free — will be provided 
no matter what the source language of 
the original program. 

Along with the APL compiler and its 
support system, the TSR software in¬ 


cludes a keyed file system and pro¬ 
gram products for financial, econome¬ 
tric and data base management appli¬ 
cations, the spokesman said. The di¬ 
rectory published by the Association 
of Time-Sharing Users lists items such 
as a portfolio analysis and evaluation 
program, support for Box-Jenkins 
time series analysis, and a text and let¬ 
ter writing system. 

The various data bases that can be ac¬ 
cessed through TSRs communications 
facilities presumably will not be part 
of the package offering, since they 
would effectively be impossible to 
maintain and update as they must to 
be remain useful. 

Sixth to Enter Arena 

TSR's entry — through Mega — 
brings to a full half dozen the number 
of RCS vendors now in or almost in 
the hardware arena. In addition to Na¬ 
tional CSS, others include Keydata 
Corp., General Electric's Information 
Services Division, Automatic Data 
Processing, Inc. (ADP) and STSC. 

Most of the equipment being offered 
by those vendors is in the IBM 370 138 
and 148 classes, although GE moved in 
a different direction with hardware 
comparable to IBM's 8100 minicom¬ 
puter. 

Mega expects to deliver its first sys¬ 
tem in june. When STSC announced 
its APL-oriented Quad 100 minicom¬ 
puter, [CW, Dec. 4], it said deliveries 
would start in the first quarter of 1979, 
but a spokesman last week admitted 
his firm has yet to select a hardware 
supplier. 

Mega is offering its hardware/soft- 
ware/support package under a six- 
month lease plan for $15,000/mo. It 
can also be purchased for $100,000 or 
leased, under a facilities management- 
type plan in which Mega would oper¬ 
ate the system (at a Mega site), for 
$20,000/mo. 

Under any of these plans, the system 
should be an attractive offering to the 
"heavy" time-sharing user who cur¬ 
rently spends $100,000 or more each 
month for RCS support from an out¬ 
side vendor, Mega said from 777 
Northern Blvd., Great Neck, N.Y. 
11022. 


Reprinted with permission from Computerworld, January 22, 1979, ©Copyright 1979, CW Communications, Inc.