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T > TEXAS INSTRUMENTS  > TI 99 / 4A


Texas Instruments
TI 99 / 4A

CC Clarke's memories:
I worked on the TI-99/4A assembly lines as an electronic technician in Lubbock, TX. from Aug 82 to May of 83 amidst big changes at T.I.
 New assembly lines were being created monthly and the demand to hire personnel was frantic.  We couldn't produce machines fast enough to meet the insaitiable demand of the public; especially as the '82 Christmas season loomed.
 The CEO (J.Fred Bucy -a Texas Tech Alum) came up with an unusually  brilliant idea:  why not hire part-time Texas Tech engineering students to help us repair more machines so we could get them out the door?!!  They would gain valuable training, and he would sell more computers, while remaining true to his academic roots.
A pair of student/trainees would sit next to each of us; we were to train them in easy repairs joysticks, power supply swap-outs, keyboard replacement, etc.  Funny thing is, my two students were from Pakistan; their English was about as good as my Pakistani!  There were Koreans, Japanese, Indians, and who knows who else sitting beside all of us, and most had little or no fluency in English.  --Talk about the blind leading the blind!
Needless to say, our productivity sank faster than the Titanic, and as a result, even fewer machines went out the door that season.  It didn't get any better as the computer wars heated up.  We were authorized unlimited overtime for awhile.  Techs were actually sleeping in the parking lot in order to put in more hours.

Another funny story: The main campus football field-sized manufacturing areas had big square carpet tiles made from some exotic material like camel hair.  The engineers deemed it too much of a ESD hazard with folks hand-carrying circuitboards  all over the place, so all were issued thousands of one foot squares of aluminum foil to wrap around the boards to "protect" the motherboards in transit.
It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize aluminum foil is a fairly decent conductor of static electricity, so who knows how many boards were unintentionally "zapped" transporting them in this way.  Thousands of squares of foil littered the floors as the carpet tiles were ripped up (BIG job).  Absolutely hilarious!
Needless to say, when the writing on the wall became legible, I found a new job fast!  Soon after, thousands of my co-workers were layed off as T.I. jettisoned its home computer line.

TI's marketing stategy errors, by Eric Bray:
TI responded to competition in the home computer market by dropping its price on the TI99/4A, but it made critical mistakes in strategy and evaluation of the consumer computer market.

As the TI99/4A began to sell, the company still refused to release the secrets of how it worked, making it impossible for third-party vendors to support the machine with software and peripherals. Instead, TI chose to protect its secrets and gluttonously to keep the software and peripheral business to itself. But the Peripheral Expansion System TI offered was not priced in line with its reduced-price TI99/4A. The expansion system was difficult to understand, confusing to many retailers and consumers, and deemed to expensive.

In the hard-fought sales battle, TI suffered and serious grievous damage and gave up on home computers.

Just as TI was leaving the home computer market the company stated that its TI99/4A home computer could not and would never be able to run a BBS system, have a mouse as a system interface, and connect to and control a MIDI device. Of course the hardware 'Hackers' out there proved the company to be very wrong by developing all of those very things.
Independent parties later developed a MFM hard drive controller, a SCSI interface, and an IDE interface along with memory expansion systems, ram disks systems, and a sound card that had the ability to play 12 different channels at once. 

The software developers proved to be just as resourceful by developing programs like several BBS system software packages, software to use with the mouse interface, MIDI software, a standard for archiving file storage and transmitting programs over a BBS, and several, superior to TI's own modules, disk management systems. Later, there was software developed to allow the machine to used digitalized sound files in its programming.

One of the 'best' software packages that prolonged the use of the TI99/4A was the "Funnel Web" program that integrated all the significant software into a single program that allowed the machine to have a quasi operating system instead of a computer that could only utilize one category of program at a time.

Texas Instruments NEVER realized the full potential of their little home computer! 





 
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