In November of 1997 Microsoft announced availability of Microsoft BASIC for the 8080 and Z80 microprocessors. Tony Rundle was involved in the discussions with Microsoft to source BASIC for the Nascom. At the time, there were less than nine employees at Microsoft. Tony does not clearly remember speaking to Bill Gates, but it is possible that he did.
The 1977 Calendar Year revenue for Microsoft totaled $380,715. Even before the Nascom-1 was fully hatched, software was already demonstrating that it had the potential to become a more important business than hardware.
Other than Nascom, there is a further connection between myself and Tony Rundle. He worked at Logica from 1970 to 1974. I worked at Logica from 1986. Tony was instrumental in giving Logica their first contract with the European Space Agency (ESA). I also worked in Logica's space division. So Tony was in some way doubly responsible for my career in computing.
Tony remembers the launch event for the Nascom-1. Held at the Wembley Conference Center, the meeting was announced in Practical Electronics magazine. Over four hundred people turned up. Tony had written a random number generator, to run on the Nascom, to pick out a prize winner.
Sales were projected to be 200 following the event. In fact, 400 orders were received in the first week. The company initially ran into trouble with orders due to unavailability of keyboard units from a supplier. They were forced to source a different and more expensive keyboard. At £199 for a complete Nascom-1 kit, the company was already making a loss on the deal. Later, world wide shortages of RAM chips led to further supply chain difficulties.
Nascom went on to be featured on the front page of Personal Computer World. Units were also demonstrated at PCW Computing Show, selling off the stand. As the stand emptied of kits, new kits were brought in from a lorry sitting out back. Distributors were given 30%.
Soon Nascom was selling over 100 units per week. The company continued to suffer from lack of its own manufacturing capability. It was impractical to manufacture in the Fast East due to the complexity of assembly and test. The units were price sensitive. Timex was approached, but volumes were too low for them. They eventually were the manufacturer for Sinclair.
Nascom never got beyond twelve employees. Total sales are in the 1000s. Lack of funding, not being in full control of manufacturing and UK attitudes to start ups, contributed to the events that led to the sell off of the company to Lucas Logic. There were even brakes on the firm as a result of shortages of the Z80 processor. John Marshall who had interests in the component supply chain, managed his best to beg, steel and borrow batches, which are the time were being equitably shared between countries, and US states, according to industry procedures.
To give you an idea of the 'wild west' nature of the industry during the late 70s, Tony and his team met with a guy who distributed floppy disks. The salesman's normal targets, at that time, was perhaps to sell in quantities of five or six to a single buyer company. When Nascom told him they would need 100 per week, he nearly fell off his chair.
There were little or no 'intellectual property' considerations in the development of the Nascom.
Zilog, who supplied the processor, naturally provided lot of advice and data sheets on how to build applications for the Z80. Nascom soaked up this information in designing and adapting the processor to their ideas. A critical piece was the 80 bus and the BIOS. This work was carried out by Shelton Instruments Ltd.
Later, Tony had an idea to expand the bus to 16-bit 8086 to allow for a Nascom system to expand beyond simple cards, but this was not realized.
Such was the frenzy to get into the home computing market that one start up, a 'one man band operation' went to the extent of cloning the Sinclair ZX81. Sinclair had thought they had been clever and locked the software to the board by mixing up address lines. A hacker used the same trick to obfuscate the stolen code, mixing up the lines in a different way.
When Nascom folded, some engineers started a new company called Gemini. It is possible that John Marshall (component supply) was also involved in that venture.
Tony had heard that it is possible that Kerr Borland (Nascom sales and marketing) may now be ill, but does not have contact details.
Tony's career was long and varied after Nascom. One interesting story relates to the Elliott 803 computer. Tony set up what he believes might be the first company selling computer time on a bureau basis.
Tony is not in touch with any other founders of Nascom. After the company was sold to Lucas Logic, everyone quickly lost touch with each other.