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Interview of William Poel
ex-director of Ambit and founder of Amsoft

by Charles da Silva - july 2003


William Poel


  What was your role at Ambit ?

Managing director and joint owner

Amstrad PC-1512  On which Amstrad projects did you work on ?

All up to and including the PC1512

  When did you left Amstrad / Amsoft ?

errrr- November 5th in the year of the PCW launch

  Why did you left Amstrad/Amsoft ?

Founded software companies for PCW and PC (Paperbaack Software UK, NewStar Software UK)

  About the CPC : what was your first reaction when Amstrad asked you to work with/for them on the CPC project ?

Great interest - it was quite a moment at the start of the home computer buisness - time of the Sinclair Spectrum, Oric, Lynx, BBC Micro and Commodore 64

 What was your reaction when you first saw the 6502 based prototype they had ?

Start again - it was barly begun

  Does it mean that you have kept absolutely nothing about the work that has been done ? And why did you go for the Z80 instead of keeping the 6502 ?

We kept the plastic mouldings, nothing else. Everyone I knew was a Z80 specialist and the Z80 was gaining ground at the time.

 How was the CPC known by then (code name) since there's a polemic on this matter (was it IDIOT or ARNOLD) ?

ARNOLD - (an anagram of Roland)
IDIOT was the disk based version - CPC664/6128 (Insert Disc Instead Of Tape)

  What did you think of the machine ? And what do you think of it now ?

We thought it was pretty neat - certainly the best of its era in terms of design and documentation and completeness of package. Reliability compared to the competition was great - Sinclair and the rest sufffered over 20% warranty returns, the CPC was under 4%. It could have used hardware sprites, but we were on a tight deadline. The CPM thing was a bonus. Looking back, it was still probably the best combination of ideas of its time at the price.

  Is it true that you came with the idea of the 664 by making a mix of the 464 and the DDI-1 floppy unit ?

I can't remember who came up with it - it was pretty obvious

  The 664/6128 story had and still has a negative impact about Amstrad. What do you think of all that's been said about Amstrad giving up the 664 ?

Evolution happens and there are occasionally irritated people - but you can't take your Peugeot 104 back and moan when the 204 comes out, can you?

  About your work at Amstrad: what was your relation with Alan Sugar, Amstrad and MEJ electronics ?

AMS was the boss, the other Amstrad people were all HiFi people and a bit bemused by it all, and MEJ was Roland's contact - extremely capable and understood exactly what was needed - and did it.

  What was your relation with Roland Perry ?

I have known Roland since we were at school together. I tended to be the "translator" of AMS raw ideas into a technical primer- Roland took it from there

  Are you still in touch with him ?

Yes - but he moving to the US where his wife came from

 Which software company was the more enthusiastic about supporting the CPC ?

Spectrum and BBC were big dsitractions for the software developers at the time - most wanted to wait until the CPC sold in numbers before boithering - but HiSoft with their Z80 tools development suit got the developers going; some of the first people were Indescomp - the spanish games developer, Virgin games

 How was it at Amsoft ?

How was what? A fairly simple user club

  What did you do at Amsoft ? What do you think of the experience today ?

Mostly tried to start the software effort and set up a user magazine to start the support process that regular publishers would not until they saw a critical user mass. There were several BBC, Spectrum and Commodore titles already out there.

  What was the more interesting project you worked on when working at Amstrad/Amsoft ?

The PCW8256 was the most "ground breaking" project

 What do you think of what has happened to Amstrad ?

It's a pity they got too involved with Intel and Microsoft and lost the innovative edge - but they never really understood why they were successful - however, there is a new surge at Amstrad and I think there could be some very interesting new ideas and products shortly

  What do you think of today's personal computing landscape ?

I wish Linux applications to appear in sufficient numbers to undermine Microsoft.

 Have you or any relative still got a CPC or other Amstrad machine ?

Still got one in the loft somewhere

  Were you in touch with Amstrad France or Indescomp ?

Amstrad CPC-472I knew of both at the time - but lost touch long since

  Did you know of the existence of the CPC 472 ?

No - you got me there. What was that supposed to be?

  Why do you think Amstrad didn't meet success in the US ?

No one but the yanks themselves are successful in the US with technology products - and plenty of yanks fail utterly and completely anyway - but generally speaking, the cost of entry is too high. And even if someone like Wal-Mart decides to stock a product, I guess the costs of financing production are quite scary..

 About you : what is your favorite Amstrad machine ?

The PC1640

  What is the worst Amstrad machine ?

The transportable PC with the awful LCD, PC6640 (I can't remember the name)
(Note from : it was the PPC-512 and PPC-640)

  Is there any project which was not finished that you regret ?

A follow up to the PCW, based on a PC but with big A4 screen and integral ethernet - when hardly anyone took LANs seriously. A genuine office workstation.

 Have you any regret about this period ?

Not cashing in my share options at the right time

  What is your job today ?

I am the founder and MD of - we are about to launch a raft of new ISP services so I am pretty busy at present. Maybe we should offer special terms to all the Amstrad fans?

  What do you think about people collecting old computers and especially CPC machines ?

It's inevitable I suppose - and I hope it's worthwhile - although I wonder if any computer will achieve true antique status, since the value of antiques is that they are used and cherished on an everyday basis. There is no point in using an old PC unless you are a complete masochist and have endless time and patience.

And I still hear about too many PCWs still in use to believe there is any rarity value just yet!


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