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Micro for Hire—Four Bits or Eight

Ask her, and Head Librarian Marion Boben will tell you that she isn't at all threatened by the machine. The fact is, she's fascinated by it. It's been earning extra money for her library, and she hopes it stays right where it is—near the card catalog, just within sight of her checkout desk.

With the exception of its coin slot, the cassette-equipped Model I is not very exotic. There is no disk drive, no expansion interface, no printer. The '80 has generated a lot of interest among library regulars in Strafford, a suburban community of 23,000 just outside of Philadelphia. It even achieved date-line status for the town on the Associated Press wire when a story about the library's new addition appeared in several newspapers across the country.

There aren't many microcomputers in public access settings yet and even fewer for rent. In Strafford, however, if you've got the money, the Tredyffrin Public Library has the microcomputer: four bits for 15 minu^s or $2 an hour.

Who is using the rent-a-brain? Marion Boben says it's hard to categorize the users. There are 15-year olds who plunk down 50 cents for 15 minutes of Space

Taxi, local businessmen getting their feet wet in computerized Accounts Receivable and general ledger bookkeeping, middle-aged parents trying to become computer literate before their children, and students from the Junior and High Schools doing their computer programming class homework.

Marion Boben's machine has been swallowing change at a respectable rate since last December. Use has fallen off slightly during the summer, but she's sure the soothing silence of the library will once again be broken by the clink of dropping quarters come fall.

Straightforward Installation

The Model I installation in the Tredyffrin Public Library is straightforward. A TRS-80 is connected to a power-interrupt device controlled by a timer. Drop 50 cents into the slot and the '80 comes alive—for 15 minutes. Three minutes before shutdown the user is warned that a crash is imminent. At that point more money can be deposited or operations terminated. The microcomputer has not been specially modified: it has no kid-proof keyboard or protective enclosure. The only precaution taken is bomb-proofing the coin box.

The one-armed '80 is the brainchild of a Philadelphia firm called Compuvend, Inc. Compuvend, a division of Computer Systems, Inc., has placed the coin-operated micro in the Tredyffrin Library strictly on a trial basis. Compuvend's president, Will Zimmerman, is encouraged by the results.

Zimmerman told 80 Microcomputing his new company has been besieged by requests for information since the AP article about the mercenary microcomputer appeared. One group that has exhibited exceptional interest is the electronic arcade game industry.

Response has been so encouraging Zimmerman is planning to offer several versions of his coin unit. The Series 10 will accept only coins, the Series 20 will be a "dollar bill recognition unit" and, eventually, a version that will accept credit cards will be marketed.

Coin-Op Printer

Zimmerman has other plans as well. He hopes to have a companion coin-operated printer available soon for those who need a printout and are willing to pay for it. In addition, he intends to make large data bases such as The Source available on an auto-dial, cost-per-minute basis from public access settings.

In the meantime he is dickering with Tandy, Apple, Atari and other microcomputer manufacturers for the right to sell their equipment on a non-exclusive dealer basis. Two of these deals have been secured already, but Zimmerman isn't willing to name them.

Zimmerman supplies a variety of software with his system, selected to be of interest to homemakers, businessmen and students. The machine Marion Boben is using came with a 20-program library that included games, Basic language tutorial tapes, statistical analysis programs, home-budgeting routines, vocabulary drill programs and a payroll program. Users are free to purchase software from other sources if they desire or write their own.

Though only one prototype is being field-tested by Compuvend at present, Will Zimmerman is confident that great potential exists in the public access market. He told 80 Microcomputing, "My gut feeling is that this (the rent-a-comput-er) market could be as lucrative as the photo copier market has proven to be in public settings." He also said that since libraries are in the information business and the microcomputer is the tool of the information age, its placement in libraries is inevitable.

While the information age may have finally arrived at Marion Boben's library, its premier tool, the microcomputer, is being used mostly for game playing and teaching computer programming. Marion Boben is not disheartened, though. In her opinion, public access computing may take the microcomputer out of the realm of mystery and place it in the hands of the masses, providing, of course, that they have the ability to pay.B

by Chis Brown 80 Microcomputing staff

"Zimmerman told 80 Microcomputing his new company has been besieged by requests for information since the AP article about the mercenary microcomputer appeared."

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