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This question is about the era of the TRS-80 Model I, ca. 1977-1979. Originally there was no software you could buy, other than BASIC itself, which was in ROM. You would write your own, or type in source code from books and magazines. Then at some point it became possible to buy software commercially on cassette tapes, such as, if I recall correctly, an editor-assembler (EDTASM) and a Star Trek game. I think these tapes came in plastic boxes the size of a large book, which you could buy at a Radio Shack store. Later still, floppy drives became available.

Is it true that Radio Shack originally had a business plan in which they would have a monopoly on software for the TRS-80? I seem to remember being told this at the time. I do think there probably was a period ca. 1978 when a Radio Shack store was effectively the only sales channel for TRS-80 software. Later (maybe 1980?), you could find ads in the back of computer magazines, and you could order games on floppy disks.

The idea of monopolizing software seems kind of goofy from today's point of view, when desktops are generic appliances, but this was a different era, and also Radio Shack did make many dumb decisions. You could also look at this as a brilliantly evil, although unsuccessful, prefiguring of the kind of walled-garden approach that Apple now takes with their phones, or of some of Microsoft's behavior.

  • I tried to create a trs-80-model-i tag for this, but I don't have enough rep. – Ben Crowell Feb 22 '18 at 23:19
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    Do you got any reference for this claim, beside a vague memory of hearsay? – Raffzahn Feb 22 '18 at 23:29
  • @Raffzahn: Nope. – Ben Crowell Feb 22 '18 at 23:43
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    I created and added the [trs-80] tag. There has not been significant use for this topic; the only related tag is [trs-80-model-iii] which has only been used once. Maybe it should be collapsed into this one, with the older one becoming a synonym. – RichF Feb 23 '18 at 1:28
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    Hardly an evil empire! Radio Shack was like a second home when I was a kid in the early 80s. I'd walk in with my one floppy disk, ask the store manager if I could use the computer, and stay for hours hacking away on Level II Basic. – Brian H Feb 23 '18 at 2:29
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I never heard of such a thing. I never read anything in any of the magazines. I've never heard any lingering of "remember when..." that you would think would flood the internet, even in this day in age. We all know about the Microsoft monopoly, but never a word about Radio Shack.

That said, I have no "proof" that this didn't happen.

I'll tell you what did happen, though.

What did happen was Radio Shack went "all in" on the micro computer. More so than any other entity at the time especially one as large as Radio Shack.

Through their Radio Shack Computer Centers, and their catalog, they tried to be "one stop shopping" for the entire array of computer related stuff. From computers to printers to desks to software and boxes of green bar printer paper. They really took the idea of the "citizen computer user" to heart by having these public showrooms of stuff available to any and all comers.

They sold sophisticated hardware as well. Sure, we all remember the "Trash 80", but, honestly, with everything going on at the time, the idea of an out of the box computer that had all of the components that the TRS-80 had, all matched up, again, one stop shopping, along with the market pressures that were occurring, that they were pioneering, seriously, the TRS-80 family was a wonder, despite its issues.

Not to mention the Model II, their 68000/Z80 combinations, early XENIX releases, the later Model III and IV, etc. They were hot for the office market, not so much the consumer market. And, appreciate that that the time (as today), much of the micro world was dominated by "consultants" and "vars" and what not. It was actually difficult to walk in and buy off the shelf, well, anything. But not at a Radio Shack Computer Center.

I never knew if they had any kind of consulting arm outside of the store. Specialized, trained people, kitting up solutions for businesses. What we did learn after the utopian idea of widely available computing at all, was how specialized it all worked out to be. One stop shopping works well for hardware, but business solutions -- not so much.

There's a zillion accounting packages out in the world for a reason.

So, no, I don't think Radio Shack ever went for any kind of monopoly. Rather they went all in, projected the vision to get the Every Man (or, more rightly, the Every Businessman) a computer solution and lowered the barriers of access.

Didn't quite work out for them, but hey, it was all new back then. Who knew what was going to happen.

  • In the UK there was always a problem with the TRS-80 displays. They were synced at 60Hz, which was great for the US market but UK mains are synced at 50Hz so you always got a wave running up your screen. Made some people ill. – cup Feb 23 '18 at 11:04
  • @cup I don't remember seeing that effect in UK Tandy stores (which, like another commenter, were almost a second home). Might it only have happened if you used your own monitor/TV? (This Wiki page mentions several problems with their display, but doesn't mention waves). I had a Video Genie (clone of the TRS-80) and that was quite stable to an ordinary B&W TV. – TripeHound Feb 23 '18 at 13:00
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    Your mention of accounting software made me smile. My own accounting system was born on a Radio Shack Model II. It still runs today on DOS and Windows. I personally started with a Model I but my father also had a Model II. – Bill Hileman Feb 23 '18 at 16:59
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    @BillHileman my doctor wrote his own back office system running back on a Model II. Back when Doctors could write their own software. – Will Hartung Feb 23 '18 at 17:13
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    Actually, I'd say it did work pretty well for them. Their problems arose primarily when they decided to move on from the computer market and mostly try to sell cell phones instead. – Jerry Coffin Feb 23 '18 at 17:30

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