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Latest News Update (9-20-2013)

I have had a couple of emails recently stating that there were broken links and navigation.  I suspect that some files and navigation links were corrupted when I moved this web site to a new server.  I'll try to get these issues cleared up in the next couple of days.

The IMSAI web site is now being hosted by jumpline.com with a far better package of services at about 1/3 what I was paying before to succeed.net which bought out my original isp Coastal Web Online.  DNS service is hosted by GoDaddy.com. 

The "WarGames IMSAI" seems to have been rediscovered yet again, this being the 30th anniversary of the 1983 MGM film "WarGames, which starred the then-unknown Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy.  And "Yes", it's still in my possession and still for sale.

Itworld.com's Phil Johnson contacted me to ask for photos of some of the props that I provided for the original film in 1982.  I sent him some photos that I took in 2006 when I provided the props for an AT&T commercial shoot in Playa Del Ray, California in one of Howard Hughes' immense airplane hangers which are now being used for film and commercial shoots.  Phil has put together a slide show that highlights some of the early hardware used in the filming.  We're talking Computer Revolution Rev. 1!

Phil's link is here:  http://www.itworld.com/slideshow/106464/technology-wargames-361406

8080 Front Panel Switch Escutcheons are back in stock!

I had a run on demand for the front panel switch escutcheons and have knocked out a fresh batch.  These are identical to the original IMSAI 8080 switch escutcheon, and painted with the same charcoal gray textured urethane paint.  Our part number is 93-3010010 and price is $72 plus shipping.

Also, I made another run of the IMSAI 8080 System User Manuals, price is $100 each plus $15 S/H for USPS Priority Mail (International S/H based on destination).  They include full-size 11 x 17 copies of schematics and assembly drawings as originally produced by IMSAI.  It is the most complete version of the 8080 manual ever produced!

I receive emails regularly from around the world from folks wishing to obtain parts and support for their IMSAI equipment, information regarding the "WarGames IMSAI", status of the IMSAI Series Two project, and more.  Many I respond to immediately, some I just don't have an answer for, and some need some time for me to contemplate.

As a pioneering company dating back to the beginnings of the "personal computer revolution", I am proud to state that we are by by far first the oldest and possibly only remaining pioneering company that still provides support for the legendary IMSAI product line.  But time and circumstances have caused a significant sea change in how I envision our future.  -Thomas "Todd" Fischer

The IMSAI Series Two Project - This was a grand effort that almost made it out of the prototype stage and into a marketable product, though with a very narrow and mostly sentimental potential.  In 2002 Howard Harte brought in some exciting concepts that I was able to embody into the classic IMSAI form factor, and we attracted the initial development support from at least one talented individual who mysteriously disappeared just when we had reached a point of viability.  There were still some troubling aspects such as designs based on parts that were of limited lifespan, and a very awkward software architecture that lacked an intuitive and user-friendly interface.  Howard dropped out as his interests drifted to other projects he was working on, so nothing progressed much beyond 2006.

The WarGames IMSAI and related props - Yes these treasures are still with me.  I had planned on sending them to Christie's Auction House in London last year for their "Movies and Memorabilia" auction, but as time grew shorter and lack of verifiable security for these irreplaceable items loomed, I decided to cancel.  These items will one day find a new home and possibly enrich me both monetarily and in comfort in knowing that they will be treasured in their new home.

Liquidation of a huge collection of hardware and literature - My years of involvement with the dream of personal computing dating back to 1972 led to my "gathering and hoarding" of hardware, software, documentation for IMSAI and competitors, and so many smaller treasures that were reminders of the great past we witnessed and lived through.  Now this represents a tremendous clutter that I must resolve and dispose of while the importance is still recognized.  Donating to a "museum" is NOT an option, as my work with museums in general has been a bitter realization that this will serve little benefit to the true individual collector and enthusiast, and I could use the money to support my lavish lifestyle!  Yeah, right!

The Series Two Project

® IN THE MOVIES

Everything you want to know and more about the 1983 MGM film "WarGames"

UPDATE:  The "WarGames IMSAI" and associated props were prepared for shipping to London where they were tentatively scheduled for auction on November 24th, 2011 by world-class auction house Christie's in their scheduled Film and Entertainment sale. 

Several major considerations about safety and security prior to the announced sale for these extremely unique, rare, and influential film props made me cancel the plans.

They will still be sold, but likely without having to ship for consignment to another country unless a sizeable bond and/or insurance is in place.

I've had several inquiries about private purchase prior to possible auction, and will consider each on its own merit.

The year 2013 strikes the 30-year mark since the release of "WarGames".  The year 2012 marked the 30-year anniversary of my shipping these original props to Mandy Films/MGM Studios for the WarGames filming.  With this in mind and given the influence and popular culture that still reveres the "WarGames IMSAI" as an icon of the "Computer Revolution", the value and irreplaceable artifacts that remain of possibly one of the most influential films to alter (to some degree) the careers and directions of a young generation will increase.

The Apple®  Connection

(iMSAI ?)

Personally, I think Matt Bors absolutely nailed Jobs in this parody!

Yes, this is another forgotten anecdote from the early days of IMSAI, then known as IMS Associates, Inc. There was a time many years ago when IMSAI might have been the birthing place for a grand idea of two Steve's who were so poor they could only afford one first name!  That would be Jobs and Wozniak who would go on to found Apple Computer®.

The two approached Bill Millard and Joe Killian, founder and Chief Engineer respectively of IMSAI, in the late summer of 1976 with their pitch, vision, and plan of supplying a 6502 processor-based computer to the masses.   This was at the first Wicks Blvd. building in Hayward, CA that we had recently occupied.

I had been working for IMS Associates for a few months previous (which would become IMSAI a few months later), and was not present when Jobs and Wozniak gave their spiel.  Joe Killian stated in later reminiscences that he told the pair that IMSAI was too constrained in its own projects to consider taking on another product line.

At the time I had recently moved to the engineering department and recall one of the early programmers, Al Levy, stating at that time that he felt that the 6502 held great promise for graphical interface support and that it would be a processor worth exploring further.  This might have been just after Jobs and Wozniak were shown the door out.  Al Levy was gone not too many months later.

Nothing further developed, save for this remembrance.  Had IMSAI prevailed in early support, perhaps we'd have IPHONES rather than iPhones; IPADS rather than iPads, IMSMacs rather than Macs, ad infinitum!

Ironically, Millard later went on to found the Computerland (nee Computer Shack) sales franchise and company stores.   He was declared the first computer billionaire in 1979 by Fortune Magazine, largely from profits made from sales of Apple Computers!


Ed Roberts, creator of early PC, dies
(Credit: DigiBarn Computer Museum)

An e-mail from Bob "the weasel" Weatherford alerted me to this sad note.  Ed Roberts and his company MITS created the ALTAIR 8800, first publicized in the January 1975 and February 1975 issues of Popular Electronics magazine.  I am proud to state that the e-mail communications I had with Roberts in 2004 started on a contentious note, but ended with a cordial and mutually respectful tone despite his past bitterness and claims of IMSAI as being a "thief of intellectual property".

Ed died April 1, 2010 (no, not a joke) after being hospitalized for an ailment.  More on Ed can be found on the CNET link at:  http://news.cnet.com/8301-13860_3-20001616-56.html.

The Air Force Connection:  Though it's been many years ago, I believe Ed was one of my instructors when I went through Cryptographic Equipment Repair School at Lackland Air Force Base in 1964.  I was able to bypass six weeks of Basic Electronics instruction due to my previous knowledge of the subject.  I had an admittedly weak understanding of vacuum tube theory, and I believe it was Ed who made me aware that the grid element of a tube could be made "more negative than ground" than the power supply by tying it to ground through a large resistance.  This added knowledge allowed me to skip week six of the training and immediately get into the eight month instruction program for Crypto equipment repair.

As an aside, when I joined the Air Force I wanted to go into the Motor Pool as a mechanic.  Guess I tested too high, though in these times with the degree of technology that vehicles possess, that might not be the case anymore!

The "Thief of intellectual property" e-mails
from Ed Roberts

I've kept these e-mails private between Ed Roberts, myself, and Joe Killian (creator of the IMSAI 8080) until now because I felt that Ed might have somehow been offended.  I believe that now he is gone the e-mails show an understanding and compassionate side to a quirky and at times, petulant personality.

 

Buddy Miles

This may seem an unusual entry to have on a site dedicated to early personal computing history, but Rock 'n Roll is what got me into the formulative currents that would evolve into the beginning of the personal computer revolution. 

I worked with many early Rock groups out of San Francisco including Carlos Santana, Sly Stone (Sylvester Stewart), The Who, Stevie Winwood, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, and countless others.  My chance meeting andtouring with Buddy, and later touring for four years with Uriah Heep got me to where I am today:

Buddy Miles and Carlos Santana at the Sunshine '71 Crater Festival in Diamond Head Crater, Honolulu, Hawaii"

 

Stolen W.O.P.R. prop update:
The Strange Journey of the W.O.P.R. from L.A. to L.A.


(February 25, 2006)

On the set for the 2006 filming of a commercial shoot for A.T.&T.'s "Voices" campaign.  Robbie's shown whipping up a batch of strawberry daiquiri's for us.  A couple of hundred gallons goes a long way!

Update: 2-2-2011:  After the still-unanswered and mysterious disappearance of a recent, though iconic replica of the original prop used in the film "WarGames", the remains of the W.O.P.R. replica built for the 2006 AT&T commercial shoot have surfaced in Los Angeles, not far from where it was supposed to be picked up by me in 2008! 

As reported in late 2008 on this web page, the prop was sold in early 2008 on the eBay auction site to a Dutch buyer who had commissioned me to travel to Los Angeles to secure, document, and ship the item to the Netherlands for his group.  The Seller stalled, was a no-show in Los Angeles for delivery, and ultimately disappeared, leaving us to rightfully believe we'd been ripped off..

Last Friday, I received an email from a fellow in Los Angeles with some attached cell phone images of the remains of the very same prop, though now not much more than the original shell, which now sported a hokey and amateurish partial lighting arrangement which, at some later time, had replaced the original lighting and 10-channel controller as used during the commercial shoot.  This same fellow was kind enough to send me additional photos which confirm the authenticity.

I believe the prop was reported by the Dutch buyer as stolen in late 2008 after many attempts to contact the eBay Seller without success.  The Dutch buyer was out of pocket more than $4000 from this unfortunate series of events, and I've made it a mission to try to locate and return this item to its rightful owner.  I'm hopeful that the recent e-mailer will help to resolve this situation.

Meanwhile, this particular replica is still considered as stolen or misappropriated property.  Updates will be posted as they occur.

Last One Standing?

The IMSAI 8080 Microcomputer System came into being in 1975, some 35 years ago.  Created from the mind and talent of IMSAI co-founder and Chief Engineer Joe Killian, it remains an icon with strong heritage and a legacy of classic elegance that also lays claim to perhaps being an incubator for some of the earliest and most successful enterprises formed by former principals and employees, unrivaled by any of its contemporaries of the time.  IMSAI was the first company to commercially license the CP/M operating system from its creator Gary Kildall, once the most popular operating system in the world for microcomputers until eventually eclipsed by Microsoft's DOS in the early 1980's.

IMSAI's founder Bill Millard went on to form Computerland, once the largest and most successful computer retailer franchises of the 1970's and '80's.  A major infusion of capital and urgency came with the support of  former IMSAI client and early investor Phil Reed, who eventually went on to form Computerland's rival, Businessland, and later bought into a kit aircraft firm in Idaho.  When last heard from, he was involved in venture capital and business development.

IMSAI's former Marketing Manager Seymour Rubinstein went on to found MicroPro International, along with former IMSAI Chief Programmer Rob Barnaby to eventually create and market, among a number of early and successful software applications, WordStar, once the most popular word processing program in the world. 

They were later joined by Bruce Van Natta (former IMS Associates co-founder and visionary, along with Bill Lose and  Joe Killian (Van Natta's counterpart and designer of the IMSAI 8080), Dianne Hajicek (former IMSAI Chief Programmer who succeeded Rob Barnaby), and Glen Ewing (former IMSAI Chief Engineer and former fellow instructor along with CP/M creator Gary Kildall at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California), all part of the "Inner Circle" of talent that envisioned and implemented IMSAI's earlier offerings.

Other notable talent from IMSAI went on into wildly successful enterprises such as venture capital investment, computer retailing, software development, etc.  Some former employees faired lesser achievements, but all certainly hold some indebtedness to a degree from their early association with IMS Associates, later to become IMSAI Manufacturing Corporation.

Which leads me to the point of the "Last One Standing".  When my wife Nancy and I, as former employees, took over the IMSAI product line in 1978, little did we envision what life would be like in 35 years.  I believe that we as Fischer-Freitas Company can legitimately claim title as being  the oldest remaining hardware firm from the dawn of the personal computer era.  We continue to support the IMSAI name and legacy products to the best of our ability, and have provided parts and support over these many years to enthusiasts and users who keep the legacy and hardware alive.

This dedication and continuation of a true classic comes from a personal obsession and pride that will eventually ebb with time.  One night in 1980, after a successful showing of our product line at San Francisco's West Coast Computer Faire, my wife and I met with former co-worker Seymour Rubinstein and several of his staff for dinner at Scoma's on Fisherman's Wharf.  During dinner and talk of our prospective ideas and goals he offered one million dollars for my company and the IMSAI trademarks as he was planning a new hardware venture.  I turned the offer down, citing my passion for what I was doing as being stronger than a need for money. 

I never regretted that decision, as Seymour's hardware venture was essentially dead two years later.  Two other offers to buy us out came later from companies who bought our hardware and re-branded it for proprietary applications.  I failed to see any permanence in either of these offers and so, like Rubinstein's offer, I declined.  In reflection I believe that had I relinquished ownership of the IMSAI product line we would have seen its demise long ago.

While major computer and software companies are swooning and folding with the current economy, I can safely say that my firm remains unaffected due to being very small and not dependent upon a workforce or significant cash requirements.  Such has been the case since the mid-1980's when my wife and I decided to de-camp from the Bay Area to the Sacramento region of California. 

I made a major move to create a new embodiment of the classic IMSAI 8080 in 2002 when I chanced to meet a talented and eager hardware and software engineer.  Together we created the IMSAI Series Two which promised to embody legacy elements of the original IMSAI 8080 system along with modern PC architecture to create a hardware platform that would provide the best of the old and new worlds of personal computing.  Additionally, we had an offer of help with software and applications development from a fellow in Mississippi who was following our progress with great interest and valuable input.  We sent him a prototype system in 2004 and never heard from him again, and neither did anyone else on the comp.os.cpm newsgroup.  We thought that he might have been a victim of a major hurricane, but this was only speculation.

Prototypes and proof-of-concept platforms were built, tested, modified, and evaluated to a point where we were almost ready to go to market, provided we could raise capital for the initial run.  Several supposedly capable individuals approached with offers to fund us, but nothing of substance was realized.

In early 2003 I was diagnosed with a malignant pancreatic tumor.  After my first operation and being bedridden for 2 months, I got the news that I needed a second, even more dangerous operation that had a 20% survival rate.  I could write a book about how this affected my thinking and values, and what a life means in the end.  Apple's Steve Jobs was in a similar position as I originally wrote this, and I am saddened that he, as a fellow victim of such an insidious agent of eventual death, was not able to overcome that which eventually consumed him.  Jobs tried to deal with his holistically.  I, on the other hand, put my faith in my doctors.  Today I feel better than ever, and live an active and adventurous life in semi-retirement.

While many more of my peers are either dead, retired, or just plain tired, I haven't lost my hopes and vision for continuing the IMSAI name.  I also manage to keep active in my spare time working a gold mining operation in the mountains with my faithful dog Gir when weather and finances permit.  I don't know how many good years I have left, but each day that I can walk and breathe is a blessing I'll never take for granted.

November - 2011

-  Thomas "Todd" Fischer