Retrochallenge 2014 Winter Warmup: IXO Telecomputer

A table of contents to allow me to keep this chronological:


1 Jan, 2014 The plan

The plan isn’t foolproof. For it to work, certain things must happen. But the plan is at its essence to try to get the IXO Telecomputer and its peripherals running.

I recently came into possession of an IXO Telecomputer TC-102 and what I believe to be the full set of the peripherals ever released for it.

Ixo suitcase

When this set came up on eBay, I’d already done some of the research into the IXO Telecomputer before, because I have two other Telecomputer units, a TC-101 with a box and all its manuals, and a TC-200 with a “Metromedia” mark on the front.

Ixo tc101 box

Ixo tc101 box contents

Ixo tc200 mm

I don’t know much yet about what differentiates the three models, but I have the documentation that came with the TC-101. It is scanned here.

Ixo users manual Ixo module info sheets
Ixo batt cord order
Ixo tcs brochure Ixo tymnet directory
Ixo warranty card Ixo reprints
Ixo periph brochure 1 Ixo periph brochure 2

Apart from the pictures in the brochures and a couple of very small pictures in reproduced/scanned magazine articles, there really wasn’t much out there documenting the complete IXO system. So, one of the goals of this project is to document what I can of the peripherals as well.

So what is the IXO Telecomputer? It is essentially a little terminal with a built-in modem that allows you to connect to remote machines. So that is challenge number two, after cleaning everything up and connecting it. There’s nothing to dial into anymore, but the terminal doesn’t do very much until it connects. So, first I want to see if I can just connect it over the phone line to something on the other end (with a 300 baud modem). Challenge number three is to figure out what it is expecting to hear over the line. When you connect this thing at first, it expects you to connect with the IXO Access Center over Tymnet. There, you register (entering your name, address, mother’s maiden name, birthplace, date and place of telecomputer purchase, serial number, and a password). And then it receives some kind of communication that will provide the local password lock and some login scripts for certain online databases.

Trying to get this thing actually online with a machine of mine at the other end is going to prove challenging. When I get further into this project, particularly if I get stuck, I have at the back of my mind the possibility of attempting to contact the creator of the system, who happens to be in the Boston area and might have either some memory of the protocols or some internal documentation describing it. But I want to do my homework first before attempting that, and that part may well be after the end of the Retrochallenge Winter Warmup.

So, here I will document what I do on this project, with the hopes that I will actually do something on this project beyond this initial write-up. I know for certain that I will only be able to work on it during the second half of January, so no need for concern when it becomes clear that there have not been any updates for a couple of weeks after this posting. That was part of the plan.

3 Comments

  1. The Telecomputer uses what is referred to as the IXO-TAP protocol. It was (and still is) used by many paging companies. These devices were very popular with the hearing disabled. The most popular was a larger device made by Motorola. If you Google “IXOTAP” you will get a hit or two I’m sure. If not, I have the official protocol scanned if you would like to see it. It would not be that hard to write a program that would answer the phone (using modem) and perform the handshake with the IXO devices.

    I know this because in the mid-90s (heyday of alphanumeric paging) I was a partner in a company called EVTEK which provided most of the paging companies with their software applications sold or given away to customers so they could send pages on their DOS, Windows, Mac, or HP-LX computers.

    Regards,

    Mark

  2. For what it’s worth, I still have one of these that used to belong to Peter Grace, of WR Grace & Co. It is still in the brown travel case, with the instructions and phone cord. I think it is one of the most appealing pieces of industrial design that I have seen.

  3. I used to own that small suitcase of gear for the ixo.
    It disappeared with the demise of the Boston Computer Exchange which I once owned.
    In those days I knew the developer Bob Doyle.
    I’d be please to buy the acoustic coupler or the whole case from anyone who wants to sell.
    I acquired the core keyboard unit on eBay a while ago.
    Still looking for the acoustic coupler for my university museum.

    I have been rebuilding my whole history of computers I’ve owned as a display about evolution of technology…

    Alex Randall

    http://www.kurzweilai.net/alexander-randall-5th
    http://computernetwork.rubyan.com/history/qa-a-lost-interview-with-eniac-co-inventor-j-presper-eckert/

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