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Australia and New Zealand are somewhat unique among large, developed, economies because they bridge the culture of (mostly) the West with the geography of the East. I am curious how this may have influenced mass-adoption of 8-bit and 16-bit micros in the 1980s.

Which manufacturers and models of early home/office computers dominated the market in Australia and New Zealand? Assuming there were 1 or 2 dominant "players", what were the main drivers for their success?

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    One popular Australian computer brand in the 1980s was the Microbee. I don't know enough to answer your question but there's something you could read up on if you want. – OmarL May 31 '17 at 14:56
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    Dick Smith was retail chain who resold VideoGenies (TRS-80 clones) but I don't know a huge lot more than that. – PeterI Jun 1 '17 at 8:23
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I had a quick browse of the archive.org computer magazines section, searching for 'Australia' and 'Australian'. The sampling is unlikely to be fair, since I believe archive.org carries only what users happen to have kept and uploaded, but from this I found:

  • a long-running line of Commodore magazines: Australian Commodore Amiga Review, Workbench Magazine, OZAmiga;
  • a decent representation of Micro-80, concerned with the TRS-80;
  • several issues of Softgold, "THE magazine for InterTAN Computer Users!", with InterTAN being the name used in places including Australia by Tandy for the equivalent of the US Radio Shack, though by 1987 it seems to be a lot more about the CoCo 3 than the TRS-80;
  • a few issues of Australian Apple Review and a 1982 edition of APC with only the Apple bits retained (including a review of the Apple III) but also has solitary adverts for the Atari 400 & 800, and a bunch of CP/M machines.

I'm confident a former Commodore user has been disproportionately active but that at least suggests that the American companies — Apple, Commodore and Tandy — had a decent impact.

Addendum: having broadened my search also to include New Zealand, I've found quite a few copies of the NZ Bits and Bytes magazine, which includes a strong showing for the British micros. Leafing through the issue with "The Amstrad Arrives" as a cover story I see separate columns related to:

  • the Apple II;
  • the Atari 8-bit series;
  • the BBC Micro;
  • the Commodore 64 (with the C16 and Plus 4 being discussed therein);
  • the Sega SC3000;
  • the ZX Spectrum;
  • the TRS-80; and
  • the ZX81.

The Amstrad review notes that it "has been designed as competition to the BBC and Commodore 64 ... [i]t is also hoped to attract Spectrum users wanting to upgrade". That issue also contains positive reviews of a couple of PC clones, so it's possible New Zealand adapted more quickly to those than Europe did.

Flipping forward to 1985 (cover story: the Spectravideo X'press), columns now exist for the Amstrad, Apple, BBC, Sega, a Sanyo PC clone, the Spectravideo SV328 (the almost MSX, even more so than the Sega), Commodore, Spectrum and Atari.

An article titled "The Z-80's Finale?" notes with an exclamation mark that Amstrad ensured the new 6128 was available in NZ only ten days after the UK. Given that Amstrad were making an effort, it's likely that the market was competitive. These probably weren't various spotty grey imports.

But I think possibly your thesis is correct. A lot of major European names like Acorn, Sinclair, Amstrad intermingle with the American Commodore, Atari and Spectravideo but there's also room for the Japanese Sega and Sanyo.

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    The Commodore 128 was also somewhat popular here (Australia.) I remember playing that late into the night as a kid, after loading from tape or typing in the BASIC commands listing for a game. – Andrakis Jun 2 '17 at 0:22
  • Nice coverage of NZ. Growing up there (I was 10 to 19 in '80 to '89) I saw a VIC-20, a couple of BBCs, a couple of PCs a few ZX-81s, a few C-64s and even more Apple IIs - going from early to mid '80s. Then more Macs and even more PCs in the late 80's. The Apple IIs stayed strong in education, and I even ported educational software to them in the early 90's. – Nick Westgate Jun 7 '17 at 10:13
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    I brought my ZX Spectrum in 1982 in Southland, New Zealand. One difference with NZ market was the pricing - the Spectrum cost something like $400 which was the money I had saved doing after school jobs to buy a motorbike before I was tempted by the thought of playing 'Spacies' at home. The Apple IIe at school (later replaced by BBC Model B) cost something like $2000 which was a huge sum of money. I never saw a Poly, but should be mentioned when talking about early NZ computing: en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poly-1 – GrantB Jun 7 at 6:20
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As far as the School market in Australia, the locally made Microbee was dominant in the 80's together with the Apple 2e and BBC. The Microbee was mainly sold in Australia (zero to USA) but also sold into Sweden and its neighbours, New Zealand and a few to Israel & Russia. As a result, the USA, UK, etc know very little to nothing about the Microbee.

Microbee also sold well On the home domestic market but never dominant there. The various Commodore's/Amiga's ruled because of their price. The Apple & BBC were to expensive. Then came all the rest of the Spectrums, Ataris, Amstrads, etc. The Exidy Sorcerer and System 80 (TRS-80 clone from Dick Smith Electronics) were also well supported in the domestic market.

All eventually killed off by the cheap IBM Clones of the late 80's/90's.

Alan

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    looks like MicroBee is planning a comeback: microbeetechnology.com.au/classic-plus-kit-computer.htm – scruss Jun 2 '17 at 15:13
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    The Microbee has already "come back" when Microbeetechnology launched the Microbee Premium Plus+ in 2012 as a kit. These units are fully compatible with the originally released Premium units of 1985 but using modern components and able to boot from an SD card, boot uCLinux, ethernet port, etc. The soon to be released Classic Plus I believe will also be fully compatible with the 1980's units, cant wait for it to be available :) – Alan Laughton Jun 3 '17 at 1:04
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I started programming microcomputers in 1979 as an 11-year-old in Melbourne, Australia. This is how it is in my memory, which I am sure is only a rough approximation of reality.

  • I never saw anything like an Altair or Apple I in the very early days. I did see a couple of kit computers with hex keypads. I never saw a ZX 80 but there were a small number of ZX 81s around. I also never any saw CP/M machines.
  • I knew Apple IIs from at least 1979. They had a good reputation and were popular for serious users only because they cost over $2000.
  • I knew TRS-80 Model I and III from 1980. These were more popular for serious users because they were cheaper. I think a bit over $1000. I couldn't afford one but I often went with a friend to a couple of TRS-80 clubs. TRS-80 Model II, Model 4, etc were very uncommon though. Even cheaper than the TRS-80 was the cheaper lower-quality Taiwanese knock off System 80 sold by Dick Smith, also sold around the world under various names. TRS-80s were actually also games machines. The clubs were mostly swapping software and by 1982 all arcade games had impressive ports despite the very low res graphics.
  • In contrast to Apple IIs and TRS-80s I saw very few Commodore PETs.
  • The Vic 20 seemed to be very popular. It was heavily advertised.
  • The Sinclair ZX Spectrum became popular. It was good for learning to program and to play games and was very affordable for a teenager at around $300. My Spectrum friends took over some of the TRS-80 clubs. But you had to know where to buy one.
  • The Commodore 64 either came out a bit later or was more expensive. I also found it much less programming friendly. None of my programming friends at that time had one. But it had much better graphics and sound and games much closer to arcade quality and better than the TV game consoles of the time. It took the Vic 20's momentum and became wildly popular over here.
  • The MSX received a fair bit of hype. I remember people that weren't into computers telling us they would make us regret buying our Spectrums and Vic 20's and C64s. That didn't happen. I never saw one outside a shop.
  • I only ever saw a couple of Atari 400s and 800s. I think they were too expensive for kids and for serious users the Apple II owned the market.
  • I only saw a small number of Tandy CoCos. Mostly at Radio Shack shops. At the time the original came out it didn't seem to be good enough for games or serious use. 40 years later I can see they were actually pretty impressive.
  • I only saw one or two TI-99/4As. I remember being impressed, at least by the design but they didn't succeed.
  • More popular than the last couple, though I didn't know it at the time, were the Amstrad CPCs.
  • The MicroBee was in all the magazines here and I remember it being very slick. I also remember it being very expensive, at least in comparison to what it could do. Apparently they were popular with schools but I guess only the richer schools. My schools had a TRS-80 Model III and a number Apple IIe's and Europluses I think.
  • I saw very few Acorns or BBC micros. I think these were also expensive. My impression at the time was that they tended to be owned by British expats and immigrants who moved here with some money.
  • Everyone I knew who had Spectrums migrated to Amigas. I seriously considered the Atari ST but bought one of the first used Amiga 1000s I saw advertised. I found out that it was also very popular to migrate from the Commodore 64 and the Amstrad CPC to the Amiga. The 1000 was not popular here but the 500 and 2000 were very popular for both games and programming, but not serious/business users. I didn't know anyone with an ST but I think they were also popular, just less so. Musicians preferred them.
  • My recollection is that the Macintosh was successful from the get-go, which is not what I read these days online. Serious users from the Apple II moved to them. They were huge for desktop publishing. I worked for a print shop at the time and you couldn't not have one in that business.
  • The early IBM PCs mostly did boring serious stuff. People that didn't have much interest in or knowledge of computers bought them due to IBM's name.
  • Everyone with an Amiga acquired a 486 PC within a few months of Doom coming out in 1994. Some kept using both for a couple of years.

The only computer I would seriously apply the word "dominate" to would be the Commodore 64, even though I never had one or was interested in them. It truly dominated the home market for years. The 16-bit and 32-bit eras were more fragmented and the business and serious market was also divided. Initially between the Apple II and TRS-80, then between the IBM PC and the Apple II and Macintosh.

The only seriously special thing here was the MicroBee. They look very nice and their specs look very nice. And they're unique to Australia. You don't see them for sale though. Looking on our equivalent to Craigslist I only see a wanted ad (-:

MicroBee

Oh, one computer I remember being advertised in the magazines, and that I saw in at least one shop was the Hitachi Peach. It had pixel-addressable hi-res colour graphics that were better than what a TRS-8-, Apple II, Vic 20, or Spectrum could do. That must've been around 1981-82 because I doubt its graphics were any more impressive than a CPC or C64. These days they're hardly mentioned anywhere on the internet.

UPDATE

I had a nagging feeling there was an early "luggable" I was missing. Indeed the Osborne 1 was prominent here among serious computers and it ran CP/M which I was unaware of, or uninterested in back in the day, since CP/M was not associated with graphics or games.

FINAL UPDATE!

EEVblog did an episode (#1194) pretty much on this topic just over a year ago. He goes through an Australian computer magazine from 1985, commenting on many ads, systems, software, etc. along the way.

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