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ACT History

ACT (Applied Computer Techniques) was founded in 1965 and developed a number of lines of business, including writing software, operating as a computing bureau renting out computer time to other companies, and selling preprinted computer stationary. ACT's headquarters was in Birmingham (England) and it had a research and development section in nearby Dudley.

It was a natural progression therefore for ACT to begin selling their own computer during the computer boom of the early 1980s and their first machine was the ACT 800, which was designed and built by an American company.
This was followed in 1982 by the Sirius 1, which was actually a rebadged Victor 9000. Again it was imported from America, and made by the Victor company which was headed by Chuck Peddle, the designer of the MOS 6502 microprocessor. The Sirius 1 sold well in Britain, though apparently not in the US. This is mainly because IBM launched their PC at about the same time and IBM's reputation and marketing allowed it to overshadow the Victor, even though the Victor was the better machine.

However IBM delayed launching the PC in Europe and this allowed ACT to build up a large user base for the Sirius 1. It was followed in September 1983 by the Apricot which was designed by ACT themselves (with some outside help) and assembled in Glenrothes in Scotland using PCBs built in Japan.

Like the Sirius, the Apricot used an Intel 8086 microprocessor and ran MS-DOS 2, but despite having similar hardware to an IBM PC the Apricot had a different BIOS. This meant software written for the IBM design would not run directly on the Apricot, though partial compatibility was achieved via an IBM emulator supplied with the Apricot.

One solution to this problem was that taken by the British-owned company Control C (the common keystroke for COPY.) Its Soft Clone programs went on sale at the beginning of 1986 and worked by intercepting calls to the IBM PC's BIOS and converting them to calls compatible with Apricot's Xen microcomputer. Separate versions of Soft Clone had to be written for each IBM application and initially ones for Lotus 123, Multimate, WordStar and Sidekick were produced. The end result was that it became possible to run software written specifically for the IBM PC without needing to directly clone the latter's BIOS.

A large number of programs were however written or converted for the Apricot and it was compatible with the successful Sirius 1, so it sold steadily in the UK, where the IBM PC was not yet established as the 'standard' and therefore IBM compatibility was not seen as too important.

Apricot logo

The Apricot was particularly noted for its high graphics resolution of 800x400 pixels, its stylish design and for being supplied with a semi-graphical user interface, making it easier to use than IBM PCs. It also used a fully 16-bit processor, rather than the cheaper and slower 8/16-bit processor of early IBM PCs.

Over the next couple of years several improved versions of the Apricot appeared including the F1 (aimed at the home market), the F1e (a cheaper F1), and the Apricot portable with a liquid crystal display. In 1985 ACT renamed itself Apricot Computers, mainly to allow it to enter the US market where ACT was already registered to a different company.

By 1985 Apricot had a turnover of more than £90 million pounds and about 25% of the British business computer market.

The Apricot range of computers always received good reviews and were often considered better than their IBM clone rivals, but gradually software and hardware compatibility were seen as more important than technical superiority. Despite respectable sales in the UK Apricot never made any significant inroads into the American market, and by 1986 it was no longer viable to be selling a computer which was similar to an IBM PC but not compatible. Thus Apricot Computers gave in to the inevitable and launched the XENi which was the first in a range of fully IBM compatible machines.

Like so many other British computer makers, Apricot were eventually unable to compete and were bought by Mitsubishi. In 1999 the factory at Glenrothes was closed and sold off, and a few months later Apricot Computers was closed down with the loss of 400 jobs.

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