RETURN LEVELS for the Spectrum Plus are still high, according to a Boots spokesman.
"It seems to take one person to sell a computer and three to deal with the complaints. The acceptable returns level is five to six per cent. Returns are running at four or five times that amount and 90 per cent of those faults are genuine."
The biggest problem occurs with the power supplies. Boots has had 14 different types from Sinclair in the past year. Many have suffered from overheating but most have been caught before distribution by rigid soak testing. "Timex does random spot checks but not enough. We hope that the quality control gets better as Sinclair switches from Timex to AB Electronics."
Simon Treasure of RAM/C, a company which distributes the Spectrum Plus to independent retailers, has been meeting executives at Sinclair Research to try and resolve the problem of quality control. "We are trying to set up an independent organisation which will monitor returns. We hope to be able to tighten quality control, which is certainly not as good as it should be."
Despite the heavy burden of returns which the industry is shouldering, news on sales of the Spectrum Plus is good, although gloom and a contraction of the market is being forecast.
Treasure believes that prices are going to come down and that the Spectrum Plus could be £99.00 before Christmas. "Machines will be priced at under £100.00 and there will be more of them. It will be hard for users to justify upgrading to a £400 machine such as the QL when there are so many cheap ones on the market. As a result computers will move into the consumer electronics field and be treated like washing machines or hi-fi systems."
He also believes that on current trends three quarters of a million computers will be sold this year, a drop of about 50 per cent on last year.
Sales will still be high but the market will contract considerably.
THE CULT adventure, Multi-User Dungeon, will soon be available to Spectrum owners via an enhanced version from British Telecom.
The original MUD was written by Richard Bartle and Roy Trubshaw for the Essex University DEC computer. They have formed a company, MUSE, in conjunction with Simon Daily, to market the game.
"It will have everything the original MUD had plus about twice as much again," says Dally. Players buy an initial starter-pack for £20.00 mail order, and credits for 20p each in batches of 50. A credit lasts six minutes, so to play the game will cost £2.00 an hour plus the cost of the phone-call.
The game consists of a vast dungeon, in which players, using a modem, interact with each other and attempt to gain power and experience by solving problems or killing monsters.
To make sure the system is not abused BT MUD will have arch-wizards, experienced and dedicated players who play free of charge and in return make sure players behave properly.
Spectrum owners will need a modem with software to make the screen scroll, which Modem House says it is able to provide, according to Dally. The popular VTX5000 modem does not do that by itself.
Those brave enough to get involved in what can be an expensive hobby will get the first month's play free if they join before November 5. It will be launched at the PCW show on September 4.
Dally is also involved with a book, Introduction to MUD, written by Duncan Howard and published by Century-Hutchinson at £4.95. It is aimed at people who want to know what MUD is, as well as providing practical advice for novice players and will be available in October.
A WARNING to retailers has been given by Sinclair Research as machines targeted for markets abroad find their way back into Britain.
The Spectrum Plus machines were released by Timex to Zeta Services in a deal to pay off some of the debts owed to the company by Sinclair. The units have an overseas power supply and distributors, such as Terry Blood, will refuse to repair any returns from the stock.
A spokesman from Boots says he is confident that none of the products could get into the stores. "Our rigorous standards of testing and approval are well known. We test every batch we sell and any product which does not come up to scratch does not go to the shops."
The overseas Spectrum Plus carries a label which says: 'Export sale only not guaranteed in the UK'. Potential Plus customers be warned.
THE C5 may be heading for further trouble. Hoover, which manufactures the electric tricycle at its South Wales washing machine factory, has obtained a writ against Sir Clive Sinclair for a little more than £1.5m, supposedly for work done from November 1984 onwards.
At the time of going to press, the writ had not been served, and Hoover has not gone so far as to cease production of the C5, still running at the minimal 100 a week level. A spokeswoman for Sinclair Vehicles, Eileen Counihan, says "The writ would be vigorously contested if issued against Sir Clive personally". That presumably implies that it is Sir Clive's personal liability which is at stake, and that matters might be different if the writ was against Sinclair Vehicles itself. Counihan was unable to comment on whether the money had been paid or not.
Sinclair Vehicles is also awaiting the publication of the Advertising Standards Authority report on the C5 advertising campaign. A leaked draft of the report suggested that serious criticisms would be made of the campaign. "We would comply with any ASA rulings," says CounilCounihanian, "Although all ad claims were based on extensive research."
On another front, Bill Nichols, long-running PR man for Sinclair Research and later Sinclair Vehicles, has resigned the C5 account from the agency he now runs. The account returns to Kinnear, which handles Sinclair Research and Psion as well.
CREDIT CARD software is on the way. It could help retailers and curb piracy.
The device used to program the cards is a PROM blower from Electric Software. The company sells the package to shops together with a stock of master cards on which are the latest software titles.
When a customer requests a piece of software its master card is placed in the black box PROM blower together with a blank PROM. The software is then copied to the blank card. The process takes less than a minute.
Using the system, retailers can dispose of the long racks of software and the difficult decision of which titles to stock. The benefits are also passed onto customers, although they will have to purchase an adaptor for their machines, priced at £7.00. The software is more robust and the device provides instantaneous LOAD. The main stumbling block is, however, that titles will cost £15.00. Electric Software is confident that it will soon be able to get the price down to £9.95.
The PROM cards should pose problems for pirates. They are almost impossible to copy.
A NEW chief executive has been appointed to Sinclair Research. Bill Jeffrey has been appointed following a confused period during which a number of candidates were inspected.
Maxwell - thumbs up for Jeffery?
Jeffrey's is an internal appointment. He joined the company in March of this year with responsibility for the flat-screen pocket TV, and appears to have had some success with it, obtaining a deal with chain-store Dixons and increasing the retail base generally.
Previously Jeffrey worked for Mars Electronics, with particular responsibility for marine systems. He speaks fluent German, which is seen as an asset in terms of Sinclair's plans for expansion in Europe.
The appointment may surprise some, who thought Sinclair Research required financial expertise as a priority at the top. Robert Maxwell, who is buying the company - a deal which should be finalised by October - is said to have been fully consulted over the appointment. Since Maxwell must surely have had a veto over any prospective chief executive, it looks as though Bill Jeffrey will be around for some time.
Sir Clive Sinclair praised Jeffrey's management and marketing skills, and says they "have already made an enormous contribution to the company." Since Nigel Searle, the former managing director, had already been put in charge of the American QL launch as early as January, it seems that Sinclair Research may have been grooming Jeffrey for the top job ever since his arrival in March.
Jeffrey has already announced his intention to increase Sinclair's involvement in overseas markets, which should mesh well with Maxwell's known plans to deal with surplus stock by obtaining contracts in Eastern Europe. Those plans have already been somewhat disappointed by the Soviet Union's decision to go for the Japanese MSX standard, but there remain markets in Poland and Bulgaria.
SOFTWARE PIRATES face a bleak winter now that the amendment to the Copyright Act has been passed through Parliament.
What the new law does is simply to add the words 'computer software' after 'literary acts' and 'video works'. Lawyers have tended to believe that programs were covered anyway, but since there has been no test case to prove it, software houses have in the past been reluctant to prosecute.
The Federation Against Software Theft has therefore been lobbying for a clarification of the law, and now that has been achieved FAST has appointed an enforcement co-ordinator. The man in the hot seat is Bob Hay, a former chief superintendent of police. His previous experience includes the notorious Grunwick dispute in North London and the Iranian Embassy siege. On the piracy front he was active in breaking a large operation pirating Indian films.
A spokesman for FAST says Hay will be involved primarily in sorting out the evidence gathered by FAST members and organising some sort of central monitoring system.
FAST will not actually initiate prosecutions, but seeks to ensure that members, which range from IBM to Virgin Games, can bring successful prosecutions.
"We are interested in commercial pirates in particular," says the spokesman, "which means anybody who is pirating software for commercial gain."
The new penalties in the legislation, with unlimited fines and up to two years imprisonment for serious offences, come into force on September 16, so prosecutions will be delayed until then. "But I have no doubt that Trading Standards officers are aware of a number of operations in being at the moment," says Bob Hay. "I talked to one police force, north of the border, where counterfeit software was being sold blatantly in street markets.
"I hope it will be a long cold winter indeed for the pirates. Very cold."
IF YOUR business is in chaos, SMT, in conjunction with Rotronics, may have just the package to sort out the mess.
The package comprises a Spectrum Plus, Rotronics wafadrive, Rotronics DX85 printer, four wafers, a Centronics lead and three pieces of software - Finance Manager, Address Manager and Stock Manager - from Oxford Computer Publishing. The package would cost £540 if items were bought individually, but is currently available at £485 inclusive.
Contact SMT, Northamptonshire.
The DX85 is a high speed dot-matrix printer combining a number of features.
The printer costs £199.95 from Rotronics Ltd, Buckinghamshire.
THE GOLDEN SUNDIAL of Pi, subject of Pimania, the longest unsolved adventure quest, has finally been found.
On July 22, Sue Cooper and Lizi Newman of Ilkley, Yorkshire, unearthed the sundial which was buried in the mouth of the chalk horse at Hindover Hill in Sussex. "Sue and Lizi bought Pimania in 1982," says Automata's Christian Penfold. "They've travelled thousands of miles and toured like mad."
The all important clue was the letters CAGG - CA, the chemical symbol of calcium and therefore chalk and GG, a gee gee or horse. Many players worked out the day on which the quest would be solved - the twenty-second day of the seventh month - but not where to look for it.
A printed book of the solution is available from Automata, Hampshire for £1.00.
TAKE PART in Activision's Ballblazer, the ball game of the universe, played simultaneously with a friend or against droids. Ballblazer will be up and running in September at £7.99.
Also from Activision is the Great European Cross Country Roadrace in which you take the wheel of a rally car and do Europe the hair-raising way. Keep an eye on your car's performance as it won't run on air and bald tyres won't get you far.
Defeat the evil being which has turned the villagers of Nightshade into the walking dead. Ghastly skeletons, demons and plagues await anyone brave enough to cross the village's boundary. Ultimate's latest is out now for £9.95.
Following the theft of your report in Skooldaze, Microsphere is giving you the chance to replace it. Life is not easy for a grubby skoolboy and distractions include a girls' school on the other side of the playing field. Ahem! Back to Skool will be out in early November at £6.95.
Robin Hood, that legendary figure of Sherwood Forest is now performing great deeds on your Spectrum. In this adventure, from Adventure International, help Robin restore the Touchstones of Rhiannon to their rightful owner. Robin of Sherwood is out now for £9.95.
Following hot on the heels of Komplex is Komplex City, from Legend. Collect the target letters of Komplex City while scoring maximum points. It's on the streets now at £9.95.
A further effort to help the starving in Ethiopia is being masterminded by Gremlin Graphics, which is bringing out Tinderbox with all profits donated to the Ethiopia Appeal. Tinderbox is an adventure featuring a soldier who has been put under an evil curse. To break the spell he must find and marry a beautiful princess, although the road to her castle is not easy. It is priced at £4.99.
In September Kempston releases Chicane, a racing simulation based on the Formula Ford 2000. You will have to qualify first and then take part in the race itself. Chicane will cost around £6.50.