x86 reaction and rebellion
Moir's platform picks after the BBC Micro? Acorn, again, with the Archimedes following a brief flirtation with the Atari ST. Xara's website calls the Atari ST "revolutionary" - the first affordable 32-bit architecture that was "a delight to work with compared to the x86-based processors in IBM PCs." The Atari ran a Motorola 680x0 8MHz processor, came with between 512KB and 4MB memory, and had a Mac-like interface all running the Digital Research GEM operating system. The Archimedes, meanwhile, was a 32-bit ARM-powered design that Moir's Xara says "easily beat the rather poor 8086 16-bit processor that powered the IBM PC at the time". The Archimedes line ran Acorn's RISC OS and RISC iX operating systems.
Moir's enthusiasm for those early platforms is clear: power and performance at a price affordable to the average person without a corporate expense account behind them. His preference for excellent systems meant he initially passed over the IBM and Intel architectures because he thought they were inferior even though they set the standard.
According to Moir "the early Intel processors were awful" - the first IBM PC ran a 4.77MHz Intel 8088 CPU. IBM PCs running Microsoft's DOS stormed the desktop. "Had I taken a purely commercial view of it, I should have done IBM," he says.
He might also have plumped for Apple's platform, which today has around 7 per cent of the desktop market thanks to Mac OS X, but he didn't. A declared "Apple fan", Moir considered programming for the doomed Lisa but decided against it because Apple's machines were extremely expensive compared to systems like the BBC Micro. Also, there weren't enough Mac computers in the UK to justify the software development. Moir already had a 250-strong packaging and manufacturing channel operation in place.
"I almost had a rebellion on my hands because the developers said they didn't want to work on x86 processors" – Charles Moir on his staff's reaction to switching from Acorn
And he made this decision even though Computer Concepts had a successful vector-graphics design package called Artworks and Mac computers were popular among designers. The people he consulted at the time thought Apple, which had dumped Steve Jobs, was a doomed vessel. This was long before the return of Jobs and ahead of all things 'i'. "It would have been nuts to do stuff for Apple even though it dominated the graphic design market and we were doing design software," he said.
Moir eventually succumbed to the PC and Windows in 1992 out of frustration with Acorn. "We knew Acorn had had it. They were doomed," he says. The company that had inspired him at 17 had fallen under the control of accountants, he said, who overpriced the Archimedes to protect the BBC Micro. Then: "There were a series of marketing cock-ups from Acorn that I found frustrating; that's when we made the decision to switch."
Going to the x86 PC wasn't an easy move. "We were vilified in the Acorn market because we were now developing stuff for Windows. We had a lot of loyal customers," Moir says. His own engineers objected, too - not helpful given Artworks, which became Xara Studio for Windows in 1994, required a complete graphics-engine re-write. It was the second re-write - the first put Artworks on ARM.
"I almost had a rebellion on my hands because the developers said they didn't want to work on x86 processors," Moir recalls. A re-write that had been scheduled to take one year instead took three. It also ran out of money.
Today, under MAGIX, Moir hopes for greater international exposure and the kind of marketing and sales funding and support that was missing before. Does he regret not going with Intel-based systems sooner? Yes, he says, and he's been open about that.
"Had we been more successful on the whole marketing side, things would have been different but then again, it's largely a platform decision: the fact I hadn't done IBM software in the beginning... I think the whole story would be completely and totally different."
He's hopeful Xara's new owner MAGIX will mean a change - at least when it comes to communicating with the world. "MAGIX are very good at the whole marketing and distribution thing... that's one of the good fits because we are strong on engineering and technology side," he said.®
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