The Ohio Scientific
the first day I opened the Computer Mart of New York in 1976, my store
full of computers was a magnet for kids.
They hung around as much as I let them, bright and eager to get
their hands on a computer,
I let them sit at the teletype and play Star Trek whenever it was
not too busy, but many of them really wanted a computer they could
day I read an ad in Byte
Issue #6 for a computer trainer based upon the
6502 microprocessor, the CPU for the Apple and Commodore
computers. The trainer came completely assembled with an instruction
book, and only cost $99. Not
only that, but after completing all the instructions and learning
about the microprocessor, the student could return the trainer and
trade it in for a single board computer kit, or for a blank board with
instructions to build the Ohio Scientific Instruments Superboard
computer. If the trade was
made, the trainer only cost $10 to use.
This seemed like the perfect thing to start the kids on, so I
called Ohio Scientific
Instruments and asked to become their dealer.
I began my long association with Mike and Charity Cheiky,
the founders and owners of OSI. We met in person at the first
computer show ever held, the
wonderful Trenton Computer Show of 1976, when people from all over the
and Charity and their
would also sell you all the "hard to get parts" at a
reasonable price. Mike had
also designed a floppy disk interface (probably the first one for
personal computers.) The documentation and schematics were primitive.
Manuals consisted of Mike's design sketches printed with his
handwritten notes, and it was a little hard to figure out just which
notes applied to the version you were building.
However, one hobbyist helped another until they got it "up
and running," and the finished product was a very good computer.
OSI completed their first complete "factory built" computer,
called the Challenger, Mike and Charity brought it to
and they came completely assembled.
The Basic Challenger 65-IK (1K of RAM!) with serial interface was
$439. If the IK board
sounds strange to you, it was because you could keep adding chips to
an OSI memory board. (They didn't sell a board without chips because
they needed some to check out the machine.)
the Challenger 4K model for $529, you could run Tiny BASIC without
expansion, which allowed small, simple
programs, and if you bought the Challenger 65V 4K model you got
a built-in video terminal so you didn't need a teletype.
The top-of-the-line Challenger
computer cost $675. If
you ordered a memory board with the computer, for $139 you received a
16K board with 4K on board. You
were limited to 3 of these because it was a big bargain.
OSI even had 16K memory boards, which were almost unheard of in
those days! If you ordered 12K or larger, you got the full sized
Extended BASIC free!
in advance of its time, OSI had a floppy disk for the Challengers. It
was a huge bargain: $990 for a single drive, or
$1,440 for two. There was a catch, however. Mike didn't wait until
he had developed a full disk operating system. He immediately sold his
floppy disks with only a preliminary DOS, without a directory! You had
to keep track of what was on the tracks by listing it on a piece of
paper, but for less than $1,000 who cared about a simple thing like
Mike would have his DOS "real soon now." OIS owners might
not have a directory, but they did have faith in Mike.
He was a prolific designer, and when he got an idea he would not
wait until the next revision of the board to put it into effect. No,
Mike would make the changes on the drawings in pencil, and the very
next board made had the new design. His schematics and drawings often
looked like chickens had walked over them, and when you had a problem
with a board and wanted to trouble shoot, it was wise to check with
the factory to find out exactly what modifications had been made to
a pioneer in the use of multiple processors coexisting in the same
system. The Challenger 3
had a 6502, a 6800, and a Z-80, all on the same CPU Board.
At first there was only software for the 6502. If you wanted to
use one of the other microprocessors, you were on your own.
Later, this capability provided the ability to run CP/M as well as
the OSI operating system OS 65.
flexibility of the OSI design was also the reason the Challengers were
one of the first computers to have a multi-user system and a
multi-user operating system, OS 65/U, to go with it.
only was Mike Cheiky one of the first to
design a floppy disk system for his computers, he was the first to add
one problem that Mike never solved was the inability to add large
amounts of memory to his computers. This was not considered too much
of a drawback at a time when 64K was considered the absolute limit to
RAM memory. Because of this lack of RAM, the disk systems had to do a
very large number of disk accesses to load and store portions for the
program and data.
business end of OSI was
always quite haphazard. Delivery dates were long and
often missed. Development time for new
software was very long and seemed to lack priority in OSI.
The dealers were quite fed up, and in 1978 OSI called a meeting at
the plant. We went to
you asked me in 1977 which companies would last into the next decade,
I would have never picked OSI. As
a company they were badly organized and almost impossible to do
business with. They were
undercapitalized and very slow to deliver ordered equipment.
This lost them a lot of the business they could have obtained
because of their technical ability.
1987 OSI attracted
investment capital, and went into both the business computer field and
into the very low end of the business.
For a long time it seemed that the thing they
did best was to advertise and sell equipment.
The low-priced personal computers never lived up to the promised
performance unless the user learned a lot about the machines.
They never could compete with TRS-80, or Apple, or Atari, although
OSI low-priced models sold for less and had more features.
The main problem was lack of software support.
OSI locked out third party software developers, who then turned to
Apple and TRS-80 and wrote no software for OSI machines.
OSI's quest for additional sales, they
established a quota which dealers had to meet to keep their
dealership. Our store did not sell too many OSI computers, and we
refused to sell the cheap models after we found out that we could not
get repair parts. We gave full credit of the price toward an Apple
because we could not repair broken machines.
As a result, we gave up our OSI dealership, and
our former landlord at Polk's Hobby Store picked it up.
and Charity Cheiky started Santa Barbara
Research Company to build super office computer systems.
MaCom looked like they were successful in turning OSI into a business computer company, but the competition was too rough so they sold OSI. The buyer went bankrupt and the company was put up for sale. A company named Isatron purchased the name, but not the company. For a while they built 68000 Unix computers and a few older designs using the OSI operating system OS 65U. The name OSI was used for this line of business computers.