Whatever Happened to the Texas Instruments Home Computer? — This should be a must-read for anyone in marketing.


The once famous TI 99/4



  1. Uncle Dave says:

    With all the separate modules that plugged together in a line, we called it the choo choo train computer.

  2. J says:

    I wouldn’t give up the power I have today but I miss those great adventures with machines like these.

    Does anyone have a reputable link to a dealer of old equipment like this and others?

  3. Tom 2 says:

    I wanna know what ever happened to the typewriter.

  4. JoaoPT says:

    In europe what killed it was the Sinclair Spectrum, a huge success and one you should do a “whatever happened” report on…

  5. Eideard says:

    And what killed it here was the Tandy TRS80 Model 100. Widely and instantly adopted by journalists all over the country as “their” laptop”. I used to go to 100UG meetings hosted by the Boston GLOBE.

    Yes, I still have mine!

  6. Kevan Heydon says:

    Hey that’s a picture of my TI-99/a! You can find more pictures of my old computers at http://www.heydon.org/kevan/collection

  7. Peter Rodwell says:

    At some computer show I entered a competition
    for journalists on the TI stand. We had to play
    some awful game based, I seem to remember, on
    fighting dinasaurs. First prize was a TI 99/4.

    I came second and was disappointed to learn that
    the rumours were untrue – the second prize wasn’t
    two 99/4s.

  8. Peter Rodwell says:

    And I second João’s suggestion about “whatever
    happened to the Spectrum.” I have a good Spectrum story
    too, not to mention the Great Commodore Press Trip to
    Hannover, if you’re thinking of “what happened to the
    PET” some time.

  9. That was my first computer back in 1981. All hail the 9900 processor.

  10. That was my first computer back in 1981, and indeed I used it for much more than games. I learned to program on it, using Basic, Pascal, and my favorite, FORTH. Too bad the marketing sucked, the computer itself was excellent.

  11. Ballenger says:

    In addition to shooting themselves in the foot with bad marketing, picking distribution channels not technical enough to do vacuum cleaner support and the “you mean there’s no software for this machine yet?” problem, Don Estridge and his team in Boca did a lot to slam the door shut on the 99/4A and other early proprietary PCs, by making them no longer relevant. He and Bill Lowe may not be the “fathers of the PC”, but they certainly deserve credit for giving the rest of the industry a standard to meet or beat. When he died in the crash in Dallas he was identified as simply an IBM executive, with little mention of his role in the tech history. Just getting a relatively open system through IBM red-tape and to market at the time was a monumental achievement. The resistance to producing something that might threaten the “big iron” sector was alive, well and strong in those days. In some places it was so unpopular within IBM, the group was referred to as, TBFB, Those Bastards From Boca.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philip_Don_Estridge

  12. The Other Tom says:

    I’ve got one of these (or similar) in the basement at my mom’s house.

    When I was young, I would just look at it and wonder what people used to do with these things?

    I’m not sure why, but it really just looked alien to me. What kind of screen do you hook it up to anyway?

  13. Jim says:

    The monitor was the TV set. Then we were going to have interactive TV. What happened to interactive TV? Your phone was going to be hooked to the TV, so you could talk and see. Somehow everybody ended up slaving over keyboards and the webcam couldn’t hook up to the TV. Now our phone company is going into cable TV. The Net is good for connecting devices together, so you have to figure at some point everything will work with the Net, TV included.

  14. JoaoPT says:

    Hey Peter, you are aware of the tilde… funny. I gather you live in Spain, as your cagematch profile states…
    Anyway take a look of them all here:
    http://www.old-computers.com/museum/computer.asp?c=63
    opening on my first working machine (ie. my first job was in a video production house and I had one of these…)

  15. J says:

    #6 Kevan Heydon

    Kevan,

    Do you have a resource for purchasing?

  16. Spooof says:

    I still have my TI99 4A and my favorite game… Tunnels of Doom. Maybe I should fire it up over Christmas and play for a few hours… “who will drink from the fountain?” I loved that game

  17. Curmudgen says:

    I no longer have the computer but I do have the RGB monitor. It is about a 10 or 12 inch screen. I can’t remember much more about it (too lazy to dig it out of the garage) except it cost about $500 1981 dollars. All the peripherals were extremely costly. IMO this was their downfall.

  18. Frustrated Consumer says:

    My favorite game was “Parsec” – sigh…I wish I could play it again…

    http://www.videogamehouse.net/parsec.html

    Oh the memories….

  19. Julie says:

    My dad (programmer/electrical engineer) made a skeleton and bones naming game for me that I remember putting in a texas instrument tape deck and plugging into my TI computer and playing. And there was the math game with the bunnys in hats. And one of the first books I bought at the school book fair with my own money was a Basic programming book for kids. Makes me feel warm and fuzzy, er something.
    ready
    10 print “i heart dvorak uncensored gang”
    20 goto 10
    run

  20. doug says:

    we had one of those when I was a youngun. Hooked it up to the TV. My mom, a speedy touch-typist, took one look at the keyboard and never touched it. What kind of maroon omits basic QWERTY keys?

    About all I remember about the software was that it had a pretty decent Star Trek game …

    And then we got our C64 and the TI gathered dust on a basement shelf.

    Ah, memories.

  21. Peter Rodwell says:

    Hi João – I learned about the Portuguese tilde when I lived in Brazil!

  22. Jell-O Bob says:

    I remember my family owning one of these, I can’t imagine why.

    In fact, I learned to type in the summer of 1985, not with a TI 99/4 of course, but on old manual typewriter from the 70’s. That speaks to how worthless the keyboard was.

    However, It was fun to play games on, and I was able to buy a new game every week on my $5 allowance from the local computer store.

    So it didn’t have a question mark? I guess that would keep people from asking questions!

  23. The other Tom says:

    13
    My grandfather’s television had the telephone integrated into it. I’d venture to say he got the TV early-to-mid-80′s. I think it was called the “SpaceTV” or something similar.

    Some crazy technology, huh?

  24. Jim says:

    Termed one of the most visible flops in communications technology history.
    A couple of pic linx.
    L.H. Meacham and A.D. Hall on the experimental PICTUREPHONE. 1962
    http://www.bellsystemmemorial.com/telephones-picturephone.html
    Pittsburgh Mayor Pete Flaherty made the world’s first picture phone call.
    http://www.bellsystemmemorial.com/images/tvphone.gif
    Details
    Video phones finding niche after 40 years in development
    by Al Moyers
    Air Force Communications Agency Office of History
    http://zia.hss.cmu.edu/miller/eep/news/video2.ne.txt

    It was way ahead of its time. It was like Youtube live.

  25. Fred says:

    That was my brother’s and my first computer prior to the IBM PC Clone. It was an interesting machine and we did extended basic on it (games and databases) and stored data on the external tape recorder (used to save twice each time just to be sure). Funny thing was that we used cheap tapes from PicNSave. Such fun times. I remember the excitement of dialing into a BBS back in those days and compuserve.

    One drawback was the fact that the clumsy daisy chain would sometime cause it to lock up if you accidently bumped it.

    I agree about parsec. With TI, we always felt superior to Vic20 and Trash80, Com64 (except for the amount of apps on it). The Amiga was another story…

  26. Ben Yates says:

    Um – The TI had the ?-mark, just not on a separate key. I don’t remember WHAT key it shared on the 99/4, but on the 99/4A it was the key-combination “function-I”.

    He really should have reviewed the Sinclair ZX-81!

    As for it not having storage, even cassette, EVERY TI had cassette storage available. Most could operate two cassettes (latest model only one).

    And when the Mini-Memory cartridge came out, you could store your DATA or program on a cartridge.

    For a computer that was such a dud, there is still an avid following.