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 Canon Cat: tForth on a 68000, source available 
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Joined: Wed Jan 09, 2013 6:54 pm
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Hugh Aguilar wrote:
The Canon Cat is another interesting computer. The source-code is in the public-domain now.


It certainly is interesting: 5MHz 68000, running tForth, implementing an innovative word-processor - but you can escape to the Forth interpreter. There's an online emulator, and many docs, and indeed several versions of the source code, all on the Internet Archive:
https://archive.org/details/jefraskin

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The Canon Cat was a task-dedicated, desktop computer released by Canon Inc. in 1987 at a price of US$1495. On the surface it was not unlike the dedicated word processors popular in the late 1970s to early 1980s, but it was far more powerful and incorporated many unique ideas for data manipulation.

The Canon Cat was primarily the creation of Jef Raskin, originator of the Macintosh project at Apple. After leaving the company in 1982, he began designing a new computer closer to his original vision of an inexpensive, utilitarian "people's computer"; BYTE in 1987 described the Cat as "a spiritual heir to the Macintosh". It featured a text user interface, not making use of any mouse, icons, or graphics. All data was seen as a long "stream" of text broken into several pages. Instead of using a traditional command line interface or menu system, the Cat made use of its special keyboard, with commands being activated by holding down a "Use Front" key and pressing another key. The Cat also used special "Leap keys" which, when held down, allowed the user to incrementally search for strings of characters.

Keyboard of the Canon Cat and the red "leap" keys, used for instant inline searching. The machine's hardware consisted of a 9-inch (229 mm) black-and-white monitor, a single 3½-inch 256 KB floppy disk drive and an IBM Selectric–compatible keyboard. It used a Motorola 68000 CPU (like the Macintosh, Lisa, Atari ST and Amiga) running at 5 MHz, had 256 KB of RAM, and an internal 300/1200 bit/s modem. Setup and user preference data was stored in 8 KB of non-volatile (battery backed-up) RAM. The Cat's array of I/O interfaces encompassed one Centronics parallel port, one RS-232C serial port (DB-25), and two RJ11 telephone jacks for the modem loop. The total weight of the system was 17 pounds (7.7 kg).

An extensive range of application software was built into 256 KB of ROM: standard office suite programs, communications, a 90,000 word spelling dictionary, and user programming toolchains for Forth and assembly language.

Often considered a text-only machine, the Cat included graphics routines in ROM as well as connectors for a mouse or other pointing device that were never used.


Thu Jul 27, 2017 5:44 am
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Joined: Tue Dec 31, 2013 2:01 am
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Location: Sacramento, CA, United States
I had never heard about it until today. It's a shame that it wasn't packaged and publicized to its full potential, because it might have made a wave or two.

Mike B.


Thu Jul 27, 2017 7:22 am
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Joined: Wed Jan 09, 2013 6:54 pm
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Agreed - could certainly have been a revolution.

I made some posts previously, with some collected links and some more in the comments:
https://plus.google.com/107049823915731 ... t2d1WHM2wz
https://plus.google.com/107049823915731 ... 1qhzu9FD1D
https://plus.google.com/107049823915731 ... 3ihiSqzxQa

There's a video demo of Leap Technology here:
Image

(Although this one might be better: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jErqdRE5zpQ)


Thu Jul 27, 2017 7:46 am
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Joined: Sun Jul 23, 2017 1:06 am
Posts: 93
barrym95838 wrote:
It's a shame that it wasn't packaged and publicized to its full potential, because it might have made a wave or two.

Well, $1495 was a lot of money in 1987. I don't know what the Commodore-64 was going for in 1987, but I'd guess about $400. I think I bought mine in 1985 or 1986, and I was making $6.00/hr working for the City of Santa Barbara Public Works. I used a word-processor called "Paperback Writer" that provided 80 columns on the C64 (it used graphics to do this, so it was somewhat slow). It cost maybe $30 or thereabouts. The big problem in those days was that my dot-matrix printer produced low-quality output, but a laser-printer was very expensive (according to Wikipedia, the HP LaserJet II came out in 1987 at $2695).

I think minimum-wage was about $4.00/hr in 1987, and is $10.00/hr now. With that as a guide, the Canon Cat was being sold for about $3750 in modern money.

I'm interested in the Canon Cat now though. It was supposed to be pretty innovative. I am interested in writing a text-editor (I've never found one that I really liked) --- maybe I could incorporate some of the Canon Cat innovation into it --- it wouldn't hurt to learn about the Canon Cat, and maybe run it under an MC68000 emulator to see if I like the innovation or not.

Considering that the Canon Cat used an MC68000, and the Commodore Amiga, Atari ST and Apple Mac all used the MC68000, I have to wonder why Canon didn't port their system over to one of these computers and sell it as software. That could have really helped the Amiga or ST compete against the over-priced Mac. I doubt that Canon Cat hardware was anything special, so the program should be able to run on a different MC68000 computer with no problem. The fact that Canon didn't do this seems to support the conspiracy-theory that Apple had demanded that they kill the Cat because it was competition against their Mac. Apple has their "Macintosh Way" and they want all software to conform to this idiom --- the Cat didn't even have a mouse --- it was definitely a different way of using a computer.

Out here in consumer-land, innovation is considered to be a good thing --- in corporate-land, innovation is considered to be the work of the Devil --- most corporations will do anything to kill innovation, and they aren't over-burdened by ethics in implementing this policy.


Fri Jul 28, 2017 2:19 am
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I very much like the idea of an appliance: Amstrad's PCW is also close to being an appliance. On the inside, it's a computer, of course, but it's very user-friendly as a word-processor. Being sold as a business tool also helps with price stability - not such a race to the bottom as with home computers. Price wars are not good for suppliers, as Commodore found out when TI killed their calculator business, and as TI found out when Commodore killed their home computer business.

In both the PCW and the Cat case, the supplier was kind enough to allow us an escape from the appliance layer to the OS layer: Cat comes with a Forth, and the PCW came with a Basic and a Logo.


Fri Jul 28, 2017 6:04 am
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Joined: Sun Jul 23, 2017 1:06 am
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BigEd wrote:
I very much like the idea of an appliance: Amstrad's PCW is also close to being an appliance. On the inside, it's a computer, of course, but it's very user-friendly as a word-processor. Being sold as a business tool also helps with price stability - not such a race to the bottom as with home computers. Price wars are not good for suppliers, as Commodore found out when TI killed their calculator business, and as TI found out when Commodore killed their home computer business.

In both the PCW and the Cat case, the supplier was kind enough to allow us an escape from the appliance layer to the OS layer: Cat comes with a Forth, and the PCW came with a Basic and a Logo.

I had never heard of the Amstrad PCW before --- I'm learning computer history every day on this forum!

I agree that an "appliance" computer is a good idea --- that is what a lot of people want --- you don't want to confuse them with technical details, but just provide them with built-in software that they can use with a little training to get their work done.

I also agree that providing a way to write software is a good idea, as that is what some of the people want. Built-in software can only go so far --- there will always be people who want custom software --- there will also always be people (me) who just enjoy programming!


Fri Jul 28, 2017 7:18 am
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Joined: Tue Jan 15, 2013 10:11 am
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Location: Norway/Japan
Hugh Aguilar wrote:
barrym95838 wrote:
It's a shame that it wasn't packaged and publicized to its full potential, because it might have made a wave or two.

Well, $1495 was a lot of money in 1987. I don't know what the Commodore-64 was going for in 1987, but I'd guess about $400.
Around 1987, or definitely not earlier than '86, I bought an AT-compatible Taiwan clone. It was somewhere between $3000 and $5000, depending on whatever the currency exchange rate was at the time.. but I remember someone in Byte magazine commenting, over a period over several years, that "the PC you want will always cost $3000" (even when prices generally went down). That was certainly still true up to the end of the eighties, if not longer.

So $1495 doesn't sound too bad for that time period. Certainly much cheaper than my AT clone..


Fri Jul 28, 2017 9:02 am
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