In retrospect it was like a wake. Will the recent Frankfurt Computer Fair prove to be the last time Acorn, Oric and all the others were gathered under the same roof?
Over 170 exhibitors, including a large number of UK representatives, gathered together in a desperate and, for the large part, futile attempt to rake in the deutschmarks.
You could sympathise with the German public, though. There wasn't really anything to fire the imagination at Frankfurt, despite enormous publicity given to the event. Amid a mass of PC compatibles only a few items of interest were there to tempt the end user. The Samurai/Elan/Flat/Enterprise made another bid for the most-named micro by emerging in German guise as the Mephisto, "Der zukunftsorientierte Heimcomputer". It is some indication of the state of affairs on the German market that this machine was seen as being possibly the most exciting exhibit at the show.
Acorn was putting a brave face on things. After nearly a year in business in West Germany it had only 12,000 sales. Attempts to launch the ABC series came to nothing when the only specimen arrived from the UK in little pieces. Meanwhile, the high price of the Beeb was causing difficulties. Although great hopes were held out for Electron, Acorn's performance looked shaky beside Amstrad's, which is rumoured to have secured a sale of 40,000 machines under the prestigious Schneider label within weeks of its German debut.
Oric and Sinclair were making quite an impression on the locals. Oric launched the Stratos and the company's top brass was closeted with German retailes, "Over 20,000 machines!" yelled a harrassed lackey, who was too busy keeping dealers in an orderly queue to make much sense.
Sinclair was not quite so buoyant but it looks like having the last laugh. Having secured the number two position in the home market behind Commodore, the company seems a little uncertain about where to go next. There's a modified German QL on the way, but, as European Operations manager Richard Horowitz pointed out: "Until it becomes a cost effective tool, the Germans have no real need for a micro." Certainly the impression is that it's a practical considerations, not euphoric impulse, that sells hardware in Germany. The QL has the advantage of bundled software, but whether the natives will take to the Microdrives is highly questionable.
Other items of interest to the UK observer included MSX business software on cartridge, abundant MSX-DOS systems, but only Spectravideo and Sony machines to run them on, and Seiko's pocket colour TV.
Visitor after visitor, sat down in front of Apple's video screens, or squeezed into one of the many 'presentation booths', but the machines themselves, with one or two exceptions, stayed firmly on the shelves.
Nearly 60 per cent of West Germans, according to a recent survey, consider themselves to be ill-formed about computers. Less than eight per cent own a micro, and with a serious lack of centralised education policies the chances of finding out about new technology are sadly restricted.