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Jupiter Cantab History


Richard Altwasser had worked for Sinclair Research and had been in charge of the hardware design of the ZX Spectrum computer.
In 1980 Steven Vickers joined a company called Nine Tiles, which had written the BASIC for the Sinclair ZX80. Along with John Grant, Vickers developed the BASIC/operating systems for the Sinclair ZX81 and Spectrum, and wrote their highly regarded manuals.

After the Spectrum was launched in early 1982, Altwasser and Vickers left Sinclair and Nine Tiles and set up their own computer business, called Jupiter Cantab. The company's first and only machine was the Jupiter Ace. Perhaps not surprisingly this bore more than a passing resemblance to the Sinclair ZX81, both externally and internally, with an almost identical keyboard layout and the same microprocessor.

When the Ace was launched in September 1982 there was already considerable competition in the home computer market, and to try to create a niche for their product Jupiter Cantab gave it two selling points. The first was its low price of £89.95, making it not much more costly than a ZX81 for a better specification. The second was that whereas virtually all home computers were supplied with a version of the BASIC programming language, the Ace came with FORTH.

FORTH is a compact language, which was useful since the Ace had only 3 kilobytes of RAM, and it also runs very much faster than BASIC. FORTH was tipped to be the language of the 1980s and reviewers always praised the speed of the Jupiter Ace, especially compared to the notoriously sluggish BASIC of the Spectrum. In the event the Ace sold quite well to enthusiasts who wanted to experiment with the new language, but never built up a large following.

Lack of sales meant that Jupiter Cantab went into liquidation at the end of 1983 and the remaining stock of Aces was sold to Boldfield Computing. They continued to sell the Ace along with software and peripherals by mail order, but only until all the stock from Jupiter Cantab had been sold off.

The Jupiter Ace is now quite rare and can sell to collectors for more than its original purchase price. Richard Altwasser went on to work for the computer division of Amstrad.



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