|★ PEOPLES ★ CPC STAFF ★ Poel's opinion ★|
|William Poel - Good Bye William (Amstrad Computer User)||William Poel - Poel's Opinion (Popular Computing Weekly)|
Christina Erskine talks to William Poel- head of Amsoft
Amstrad were very much 1984's young pretenders. In April, the low cost hi-fi and TV manufacturers announced they had developed a home computer, which would be in the shops in June. First deliveries of the CPC 464 actually took place on June 11 - an industry first in meeting delivery dates.
The machine caught the public's imagination almost immediately. The format - cassette, monitor and computer in one unit - was popular, programmers enjoyed working on it, and there were no serious drawbacks - good keyboard. Basic, attractively priced - it was universally liked.
Two hundred thousand sales on. Amstrad is looking forward to its next computer developments. I visited William Poel at Amstrad's headquarters in Brentwood. Essex, to talk about the success story so far. and plans for this year.
William Poel heads Amsoft, which while dealing mainly with CPC software, is a deépartment within Amstrad rather than a separate company. Previously he worked with Ambit International, the company which co-ordinated Amstrad's home computer project from the very beginning. When it became clear that Amstrad was going to be in home computers for quite a while, seven Ambit staff, including William, were taken on.
"Setting up Amsoft as a distinct deépartment was quite important for us," he said. "At the launch of the CPC, there was a fair amount of criticism on the lines of 'so Amstrad is into computers this year, next year it'll be microwaves'. We wanted to show there was a level of commitment to home computers in the company."
No-one is arguing that 1985 is going to be a tough year for hardware companies, with price cuts already announced by some, and more, doubtless, on the way. William feels that Amstrad's experience of the consumer/electronics market as a whole will serve the company well.
I asked what proportion of mono to colour screens were being sold. "In this country, it's about 65-35 in favour of colour. Overseas, the proportion of green screens is higher - a lot are sold for business use there.
"Obviously we've always been very conscious of trends within the industry, and home computers are definitely a trend like any other. Hopefully, by applying consumer electronics principles, we can continue to do well. I say hopefully, because the MSX companies are presumably working on the same lines, and they don't seem to be setting the world alight at the moment. But then 1 like to think of MSX as keg beer as against
Amstrad's emphasis in 1985 is going to be very much centred around the disc drive as storage unit. "We're trying to create the image that cassettes are a very bad medium for data storage and software. The peculiar British passion for cassettes has strangled progress in this area."
"Last April, the market was such that we had to include it. Remember, Amstrad has always had a policy of including everything you need in the one unit."
"However.one of the things we have always said with regard to home computers is that we are committed to the idea of portability. We're not going to bring out a machine which immediately makes the old one redundant. When we bring out a new machine, we want all the existing software to rim on it without any problems. And we've never said that the CPC464 is Amstrad's sole contribution to the home computer market.
"This is why we're so concerned that programmers don't poke addresses straight in ROM and alter it. And we do explain in the manual how to get around that."
So far, the software support for the CPC has been healthy, and is growing fast. Amsoft has licensed about 100 programs, many of them well-known from other machines. Independent software houses have so far released around 70 different titles. William now feels it's time to push for more disc-based packages.
"Now that the disc drive is finally in the shops, we want to get going with both CP/M based programs and those on AMSDOS.
"Then we hope that people like, say, Infocom, would bring out CP/M based adventures because we don't want to discount games altogether. There's no reason why we shouldn't get arcade/ adventure type games on disc either, though using AMSDOS for colour access."
"Also, I'm not sure how tough the competition will be for Amstrad. The new Atari ST range, which looks excellent on paper - so did the QL, remember - would, 1 imagine, take the slot above us in the market. We're also placing great stress on our overseas sales this year. We've sold about 50,000 machines in Germany, and we're beginning to reach other European countries, Australia, the Far East and the Middle East."
"However, we have launched a promotional offer with the CPC this year -well, everyone wants a sale after Christmas, don't they? We now have a 'twelve-pack' that comes free with each machine sold - mono or colour screen."
Amstrad is popularly said to be a one-man company, that of Alan Michael Sugar, whose initials gave it its name. How much does this hold true, I asked.