Sorry StarWars fans.. I couldn’t resist… but I think “a new hope” is rather apt for what I’m planning.
I’ve not really done much with this website over the previous year. I’ve not had the time and to be honest, for a while, I’d lost interest. This website has been around now for several years and I do occasionally get an Email from somebody who used to work for, or with Nixdorf computers, but there is still almost no information other than what I’ve uploaded on the Internet. Sometimes I think I’m talking to myself.
Weirdly, this year I’ve had several Email from people asking me to help them identify VDUs already. I don’t know if some old equipment has suddenly come on the to market or it’s just a coincidence, but whatever the reason it’s nice to know somebody else out there is showing some interest.
I’d really like to get my own 8870 M25 back up and running. Christmas eve 2020 the house and out-buildings flooded when the local river burst it’s banks and water got into my M25. To say it dampened my spirits is an under statement, and I started to think the entire adventure was cursed.
I did think about getting rid of everything; I could certainly do with the space, but I’ve decided against it. The 8870 was the first real computer system that I used and got to know well, and every time I think about moving on from it, I find I can’t.
For me, and anybody else out there with an 8870, there are problems with trying to find replacement hardware and ANY software especially operating systems. When my system was running, my biggest problem was backing up the drives. The SMC (Streamer Mode Cassette) drives were terrible when they were new, but now they are basically unserviceable. It’s essential in any computer system to have backups, and with the disk drives now approaching 30 years or more in age, failure is always on the horizon. But what to do?
I’ve previously heard that there are alternative hardware solutions available when it comes to backups; backup to SD-card for example. With an 8870 disk typically between 32Mb and 132Mb (smaller on the M15 and M25), A 1Gb SD-card will hold several entire system backups with ease. The problem is the cost and it still doesn’t help with the rest of the hardware. The CPUs and PSUs, in fact basically every plate (circuit board), contain these horrible Tantalum capacitors that go short circuit as they age and are a real fire hazard. Keeping the hardware running is going to be a serious undertaking for anyone with one of these systems.
Anyway, it occurred to me that whilst having the physical system sat next to me is fun, a complete emulation of a system would be a good second.
For those that don’t know, the 8870 runs an operating system called NIROS (Nixdorf Interactive Real Time Operating System); catchy title. However, whilst NIROS does the work of handling all the hardware, users were never really expected to interact too much with the raw operating system. Nixdorf created an overlay user interface called TAMOS (it stands for Terminal… something… if anybody knows please let me know). Anyway, TAMOS is what gives the 8870 it’s look and feel, and TAMOS is entirely written in Nixdorf BASIC. NIROS has commands like KILL, CHANGE etc, and TAMOS calls these commands as required, but it’s TAMOS that really does all the work as far as the user is concerned.
I’ve been looking at a product called RsBasic, and it emulates Nixdorf BASIC very well. It was designed to allow 8870 customers to move their software; typically COMET, off their legacy 8870 hardware onto a PC platform. To accomplish this the author wrote something that looks a lot like TAMOS and has many of the same features, but it’s not TAMOS; I suspect Nixdorf copyright would have been an issue. However, I’ve a cunning plan. I’m wondering if I can port an 8870 TAMOS version over to RsBasic and run it. Yes, it will need quite a few changes here and there, and some functions in TAMOS would be redundant, but the look and feel should basically be the same.
The plan is to see if I can get my M25 working again. If I can, I will stream off all the BASIC code for TAMOS via some custom software to a PC. From there I can re-load the software into RsBasic and then set about the task of trying to get it running. If nothing else it will be a fun challange. Ultimately I’d like to try and get it running on a Windows VM so people can access it remotely. I’ve not really thought that far ahead as the plan relies on me getting my physical M25 working and streaming off the TASMOS source. If it works, I’d end up with TAMOS from NIROS 7.0/03 which was a pretty common and feature rich version. It would allow me to write BASIC software; I really really really want to write or port some games like StarTrek and NIM etc.
Finding the time to do this will be my first problem. My 8870 M25 needs serious attention. It was quite badly damaged in the floods so I need to see if it’s fixable. The good news is that I have a reasonable number of spare parts as long as the disk is OK; and the water never got anywhere near that. The next problem will be getting a VDU working. The system is useless without an 8870 VDU. After that I need to be ready to type in a program that will allow the transfer of all the TAMOS software and associated data files. If the system starts there’s no guarantee it will start a second time, so I need to be ready to do everything in one go. TAMOS is completely parameter driven and internationalised, and without all the supporting TF. files, it will be impossible to get anything working. Once I’ve got all that data migrated over to a PC then I no longer need to worry too much about keeping the 8870 hardware running. One task that will have to be completed which I’m not looking forward too is going through all the TF. data files and translating from German to English. My German is terrible… I suppose it will get better.
It’s a plan… maybe not a great plan, but a plan.
So, what do people think ?