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
- Some new potential of resources may bring this project back
to life. Some important changes are possibly coming about that have
the potential to reanimate this grand effort that has held so much promise
and hope. For some background on our earlier attempt at this some ten
years ago, the project almost made it out of the prototype stage and
into a marketable product, though with a very narrow and mostly sentimental
potential as envisioned at the time. 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 a couple of years ago 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
Liquidation of a huge collection of
hardware and literature - My years of involvement with the dream
of personal computing dating back to around 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.
The Series Two Project
® IN THE
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.
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
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
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
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:
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!
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.
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
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
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
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
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
November - 2011
- Thomas "Todd" Fischer