I am short, fat, and proud of that.
Winnie the Pooh
It was in the late 1960s, when Charles Arthur Muench Jr (born in 1937 in Tampa, Florida), got the idea to design a color graphics terminal for use in the electric utility industry. Muench had a BSc degree in electrical engineering (1955-1960) at Georgia Tech, an MSEE at the University of Florida (1960-1964), and was a Ph.D. candidate in electrical engineering at Georgia Tech (1964-1968). He had already experience with computers as a young engineer while studying at the University of Florida when he worked as the Engineering Dept. Head of IBM 1620 Engineering Computer at Tampa Electric Co., Tampa, FL.
In 1968 Muench founded his first company, Integrated Systems Inc., which manufactured remote alarm and control equipment for the electric utility industry. In his daily work, he was using B/W terminals for test purposes, so he got the idea to design an improved color terminal. Until this time, computer terminals were mechanical Teletype or dumb (text only) electronic devices, using monochrome (black and white, green, or amber) displays. In 1971 Muench sold the company for about one million dollars in stock, and in June 1972 started in his basement in Duluth, Georgia, (together with Terry Hughey, a colleague from his previous company) his second company— Intelligent Systems Corp. (ISC). The initial goal of the new company was to design an intelligent and cheap color CRT (cathode ray tube) based terminal.
Their first product was ready in 1973 and several devices were built, but the production went slow, so the new machine was advertised as late as February 1976 in Byte Magazine, as the Intecolor 8001 A Complete 8 Color intelligent CRT Terminal Kit. It was a $1395 kit to be assembled by the purchaser, featuring a huge 19-inch CRT, and based on Intel 8080 CPU married with additional integrated circuit chips from Texas Instruments. ISC’s new design was a breakthrough in terminal design since it offered an 8-color display with text and graphics capabilities. A phenomenal breakthrough in technology at the time!
In December 1976, the Intecolor terminal was expanded from a computer interface device into a complete stand-alone computer—Compucolor 8001, an expanded, stand-alone micro-computer with a built-in BASIC programming language (After MITS built the Altair 8080 kit and had a Basic Language program for it, Muench reversed engineered the BASIC code and reprogrammed it so that it could run in ROM). He even started a new company, Compucolor Corporation, with the primary design goal to manufacture a low-cost retail color home computer. Compucolor 8001 is often regarded as the “First Desktop Color Graphic Computer”.
The Compucolor 8001 (see the User Manual of Compucolor 8001) is housed in a single cabinet with all CPU and monitor electronics in the same housing, and was powered by Intel 8080 CPU, running at 2MHz. RAM memory was 4K to 32K. The 19-inch color CRT display worked in 2 modes: 80 x 48 text or 192 x 160 graphics (8/8 foreground/background colors). Communication ports are one (or two) RS-232. External storage is a floppy tape (one or two external 8-track, continuous-loop tape drives, running at a 4800 Baud rate, storing up to 1024 KB of data per tape). The floppy tape drive was short-lived due to poor performance, thus by 1978, 8-inch standard Shugart devices were supported (with a formatted capacity of 110 KB each).
Compucolor had up to four modes of operation:
• CRT mode
• Compucolor BASIC mode
• CPU Operating System mode (optional)
• File Control System mode
When initially turned on or reset, Compucolor 8001 boots in CRT Mode, featuring only two-way communication with another computer via the RS-232 serial port (this is how most standard computer terminals of the day operated.) Pressing the keys “ESC”+”W” on the keyboard switches the computer into Compucolor BASIC mode, which allows the user to write, edit and run programs in the Compucolor BASIC programming language.
If so-called option 34 has been installed, pressing keys “ESC”+”P” on the keyboard switches the computer into CPU Operating System mode, which enables the user to manipulate the contents of the system memory, read and write magnetic tapes, and execute programs.
A fourth mode of operation was added to the system in 1978 to facilitate the newly added floppy-drive capabilities. Pressing “ESC”+”D” on the keyboard switches the system into File Control System mode (sort of DOS), to allow the user to access and manipulate the external data storage devices, like the mini-disk drives, to load and save data and programs.
Later Muench developed an updated version of Compucolor 8001, called the Compucolor II. In contrast with Compucolor 8001, which was aimed at the professional market, Compucolor II was marketed as a personal computer.
In 1982, Muench started a company called Colorocs Corp. in Texas to develop a full-color plain paper copier. It took several years to complete the design, which was covered with more than 40 patents and was put into production by the Japanese company Sharp in the late 1980s. Its technology was later used by all color laser printers and by most color copiers.