Take Your Mind For A Run
I cut my first computer teeth on an Amstrad PCW9512, a machine that in the late 1980s introduced me to the world of word-processing, cut and paste, pagination, file management and printing thanks to the marvellous Locoscript Software.
In 1992 along came Ambra, an IBM-compatible PC made by an offshoot of IBM themselves, called ICPI (Individual Computer Products Ltd.). That IBM marketed its own clone was something of a conundrum, as the Ambra was pitching itself against the IBM PS/VP (Personal System ValuePoint) entry-level PC and others, where price was everything. Maybe the close competition and rivalry would keep each on their toes.
Ambras were smart and sharply priced and unlike every other PC on the market they had unique German styling that made them an attractive-looking machine. The first batch of Ambras was built by Wearnes, but the second tranche would be assembled in Scotland by IBM (Greenock) and I just HAD to buy one!
Ambra had three machines, the Sprinta slimline desktop, the Hurdla full size desktop PC and the Treka notebook.They started life with DOS 5.x and Windows 3.1.
My Ambra Hurdla had 4MB of RAM, a 100MB disk, a floppy drive, no less than six ISA expansion slots and room for a 487SX Intel Overdrive maths co-processor. You could choose 386 or 486 processors. It was a fast machine and trounced the opposition in some magazine reviews; no-one ever called it slow or ugly.
I upgraded my Hurdla 486SX to DOS 6.22 in due course, also adding a DX co-processor, more memory and a second hard disk as my confidence and knowledge grew on a need-to-know basis. It also had splendid printed manuals (which I still have). I recall that adding a sound card and parallel card to add a second printer (no USB then) was a pig of a job, all those IRQs to juggle with.
It would be some time before I ventured out onto the web (as far as there was one), installing a 14.4k Trust ISA internal modem, and battling against the mysteries of the Trumpet Winsock, Compu$erve, Pegasus Mail, Demon Internet and KA9Q. A parallel port Trust single-pass scanner was a total disaster. But it happily drove an HP LaserJet IIIP and HP Deskjet when inkjet printers became more sensible. Overall, the expandable Ambra took in its stride everything that I threw at it over many years.
The handsome Ambra product range also benefited from some stylish marketing to some degree and everything bore Ambra’s corporate branding. The Ambra’s colour scheme was battleship grey and off-white. Its 14” SVGA monitor had a large smooth futuristic off-white bezel and was crowned by a weird grey plastic platform stuck on top. It pivoted on a cross-shaped moulding fitted onto the base unit. The stylish base unit was well made, having a smooth curved grey front. Problem was, if you wanted to add a (single or twin speed) CDROM drive, you were stuck with a standard beige drive stuffed into the curvaceous fascia, as that’s all there was.
Probably its most controversial feature was the Ambra PS2 mouse, a half-round dome that you didn’t so much click downwards as click the buttons towards you, as if curling your fingers up. I didn’t mind it but others were affronted by the sheer weirdness, designed by designers not users, and many quickly chose an ordinary Logitech mouse instead. It was redesigned in due course.
Ambra also included their own slim keyboard and it wasn’t a bad thing. Software bundled with mine included Lotus Ami Pro, great word processing software that launched much of my work in the 1990’s.
Later (1993/ 94 ) came the Ambra Hurdla mT mini tower and the Ambra Sprinta II; it looks like the full size desktop was dropped in favour of the mini tower. The marketing was looking a bit cheap and frayed at the edges by then. The ‘less is more’ arty style was waning, which was maybe a sign of desperation or perhaps the writing was already on the wall.
Overall I enjoyed many years ownership of my first Ambra PC before passing it over to my Mum to teach her basic word processing: which she did, using the same Lotus Ami Pro. It was a sad day when the Ambra Hurdla finally went to the rubbish tip, but the Intel Pentium, Windows 95 and Dell PCs came along and I was hungry for more speed by then.
It was a crying shame when IBM suddenly axed Ambra, the stylish and powerful IBM clone that probably proved to be a thorn in the side for IBM.
Legacy Ambra literature (PDFs)
December 1993 brochure extracts, showing the Ambra Sprinta II 486 and Ambra Hurdla mT mini tower which replaced the full size Hurdla desktop. Note the redesigned mouse.
I had a nice email from the Ambra's designer, who said he designed it for IBM while working for frog design in Altensteig, spending a lot of time in Taiwan producing it. The Ambra was a great project, he says, and he met a lot of enthusiastic people.