This is weird. We heard of a new computer from small startup company in Texas called TechnoWizards. Well, OK, that’s not so weird. What’s strange about this particular machine is that it’s a hybrid, which accounts for its name, the Hybrid/3. It can run Mac software at about the speed of a IIcx, PC software at the speed of a 33 MHz 386 clones, and it sports its own operating system as well.
TechnoWizards achieves this compatibility in an interesting way. Hybrid/3 includes a 16 MHz 68030 CPU (and its associated math coprocessor) from Motorola and a 33 MHz 80386 from Intel, along with a custom controller that allows either one to be used independently (one at a time) or can use both CPUs in tandem. This gives the machine three basic modes, which you control with a hardware switch. The first mode addresses only the 68030 and will use the NuTek chipset for Macintosh compatibility. It’s unclear how well the NuTek chipset will perform as far as compatibility goes, but it’s likely to work with most applications. For those of you who weren’t paying attention when we talked about NuTek a while ago, that will mean that TechnoWizards will not be able to ship their machine until well into 1992, since NuTek wasn’t going to release the chipset until late in 1991. TechnoWizards said they weren’t committed to NuTek and could switch to another company’s Macintosh emulation if necessary. It’s possible that Apple might be interested in licensing the MacOS to TechnoWizards by then, what with Sculley’s talk about licensing the ROMs.
Anyway, the second mode addresses the 80386 and uses a Phoenix BIOS. In that mode, you pretend that you are working on a normal PC clone. This, being easier than the Mac stuff, already works, and TechnoWizards says that both Windows and various flavors of Unix run fine. The third mode is the most interesting by far, because it uses both chips simultaneously to run both Mac and PC software in a windowing environment as well as tools specifically written for the Hybrid/3’s native OS. So why wouldn’t you always want to be running in native mode? Since TechnoWizards’s own operating system is completely different from the MacOS and DOS, there is a noticeable speed hit, and some ill-behaved PC applications might not appreciate being forced into a window. Those sort of programs tend not to run well under Windows either.
Hardware-wise (and note that I’m no hardware whiz, so I might get some of this slightly wrong), the custom controller handles all the I/O, and a separate graphics chip handles all the screen displays. Each of the microprocessors, including the custom controller, lives on a SIMM-like card for easy upgrades, and TechnoWizards says that the Hybrid/3 will support the 80486 and 68040 at some point. In addition, the Hybrid/3 has a Motorola 56001 digital signal processor (DSP) chip that will aid telecommunications and sound applications. The Hybrid/3 uses SCSI-2, so you can add up to seven hard drives, each of which can be partitioned or combined (into one or more volumes spanning several physical drives) as you desire. Macintosh and DOS (or Unix or A/UX) files are stored in the appropriate type of hard SCSI partitions, which avoids the danger of a soft partitioning scheme that simulates a volume within a large file. TechnoWizards built in Ethernet (thin and thick) and included two serial ports and a parallel port as well. For market compatibility, the company chose to use Macintosh monitors, so in theory any monitor that works with the Mac should work fine. For expansion capabilities, TechnoWizards included both three NuBus slots and three ISA (AT-bus) slots, though it’s unclear if all PC and Mac boards will indeed work well, especially under the native OS. You never can tell with strange hardware.
This new operating system, appropriately called NewONS (pronounced “nuance” – and ONS stands Operating/Network System), is a 32-bit, object-oriented, windowing environment probably closest to PenPoint, GO’s handwriting recognition operating system. There is a single “Overseer” that controls all of the various “Projects,” where a Project is considered to be a data file (but one which can contain multiple data types) or a stand-alone environment such as a game. The Overseer provides each Project with the necessary tools when appropriate, so if you want to create text in a data file, you call up the text tool and create away. Once the text is created, the Overseer makes sure that whenever you are in that area of text, the text tool is available. TechnoWizards intends the tools to have a very narrow purpose, so a single tool in NewONS is equivalent what we know as a single tool in a graphics program. NewONS will ship with a standard set of tools that most people will want, a text creation/editing tool, a line tool, a rectangle tool, an ellipse tool, a database tool, a calculation tool, and a few others. Needless to say, these tools will not be terribly sophisticated, which leaves room for third parties to develop more powerful versions, say an ellipse tool that has an optional modifier to constrain the ellipse into a perfect circle or a rectangle tool that includes size information as you draw. The beauty of the way NewONS handles these tools is that you can put together the functionality of a current program like PageMaker without having to pay for or store all the parts of PageMaker you never use, like color printing or the Story Editor. For that matter, you can use a far more capable set of text tools, like the sort that Nisus includes, instead of the Story Editor, so you would get full editing power as well as powerful layout capabilities. Companies will no doubt break current Macintosh products down into sets of tools and sell them together, but it’s up to the user to pick which ones to use.
I’m extremely interested in the Hybrid/3 because it seems to play both sides of the fence quite well. The older standards are supported along with a new 32-bit operating system. No one loses. In addition, because the custom controller chip handles all I/O, interesting new forms of input devices will be easy to hook up and use in all three modes. I wouldn’t be surprised to see devices like the Gold Brick (the interface controller that allows you to use Nintendo 3-D controllers) and the BAT chord keyboard show up, along with even stranger controllers, such as devices that can read your brain wave to move the cursor and perform simple actions (more on this in a few weeks). Of course, just being technically wonderful doesn’t mean much these days. After all, I think I’ve mused before on how all the world’s a marketing scheme.
MacWEEK — 26-Mar-91, Vol. 5, #12, pg. 1
InfoWorld — 25-Mar-91, Vol. 13, #12, pg. 5
PC WEEK — 25-Mar-91, Vol. 8, #12, pg. 6