Feeds

Sinclair's FORGOTTEN Australia-only micro revealed!

Behold the 'Telecom Australia Computerphone' in all its splendour

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

In early 1980s Australia if you wanted a home computer, chances are you were a Commodore user, a TRS-80 user or … a Commodore user. Famous British micros from the likes of Sinclair and Oric never really got a foothold down under, leaving the field to the Vic 20, C64 and the occasional local contender like Microbee.

British micro companies didn't appoint disties down under, so while the mother country enjoyed its golden age of home-grown computing, Australia was left to deal with inferior tat.

That changed in 1984 when Telecom Australia, at the time sloth-like government instrumentality that was to customer service as Vogons are to poetry, was prodded towards greater innovation by regulators and government. And one of the things it decided to do was buddy up with ICL, which showed it a curious new product: the ICL One Per Desk (OPD).

The OPD was based on the ill-fated Sinclair QL, Sinclair's attempt to build a business computer. Sinclair worked with ICL and British Telecom to create the OPD, which included an integrated telephone and the ability to handle two phone lines – one for voice and the other for data. The product was also sold as the Merlin Tonto.

In Australia it was released as the Telecom Computerphone.

The Telecom Australia Computerphone

The Telecom Australia Computerphone, as depicted in an early brochure

Just how Telstra and ICL got together to Australianise the product has been lost to history, but Telstra historian Stefan Nowak provided this PDF of the speech delivered to announce it, that says Telstra scoured the world for such a product, found the One Per Desk and felt it better than anything on sale in the USA or Japan. The speech is a scream. Here's a portion, but you'll enjoy the full document too.

The launch speech for the Telecom Australia Computerphone

Nowak also leafed through other old Telstra marketing material for The Reg and surmises the machine “was directed towards the executive and small-to-medium business market.” He's also found it was sold by Telecom's PABX division, another piece of evidence showing it was business kit.

“It wrapped together several services like e-messaging and Viatel,” he added, “It was an advanced telephone, personal computer, view data terminal and messaging terminal.”

It was also expensive. The basic model with a monochrome monitor cost $AUD2,950, a packet at a time a new home on the fringes of cities like Canberra could be had for around $25,000 and the C64 sold for around $500. A printer added another $450 to the price while a colour monitor took the total to $4,400.

Another Telstra worker of the time who requested anonymity said he recalls Telstra sold a few to Toyota, who sent the devices out to dealers to they could look up spare parts inventories online.

Nowak says that seems like just the kind of application telecom imagined at the time, but has no records of who bought them. Quite a few, he said, ended up on the desks of Telecom executives, who were given the machine so they could experience the bold new reality of online communications over the machine's 1200 bits-per-second modem.

An email ad for the Telecom Australia Computerphone

Email, Australian-style, circa 1985

The Telecom Computerphone also seems to have made it to New Zealand, where computer collector Terry Stewart said he recently bought one that had seen use in the union movement.

Stewart's machine works and he's posted the video below of the Computerphone in action.

Watch Video

Telstra's Nowak said that by 1987 IBM and compatible PCs had come to dominate Australia's business market and the Computerphone was shelved. But the machine made a mark: Nowak says he's seen plenty of them in cupboards over the years, and that it is often recognised by baby-boomer visitors to the Telstra museum. ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
iPad? More like iFAD: We reveal why Apple fell into IBM's arms
But never fear fanbois, you're still lapping up iPhones, Macs
Sonos AXES support for Apple's iOS4 and 5
Want to use your iThing? You can't - it's too old
You didn't get the MeMO? Asus Pad 7 Android tab is ... not bad
Really, er, stands out among cheapie 7-inchers
Apple winks at parents: C'mon, get your kid a tweaked Macbook Pro
Cheapest models given new processors, more RAM
4K video on terrestrial TV? Not if the WRC shares frequencies to mobiles
Have your say with Ofcom now, before Freeview becomes Feeview
Leaked Windows Phone 8.1 Update specs tease details of Nokia's next mobes
New screen sizes, dual SIMs, voice over LTE, and more
YES, iPhones ARE getting slower with each new release of iOS
Old hardware doesn't get any faster with new software
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
The Essential Guide to IT Transformation
ServiceNow discusses three IT transformations that can help CIO's automate IT services to transform IT and the enterprise.
Maximize storage efficiency across the enterprise
The HP StoreOnce backup solution offers highly flexible, centrally managed, and highly efficient data protection for any enterprise.