J.L.S. Computers

Dublin Core

Title

J.L.S. Computers

Subject

computer hardware

Description

Historical context
(by Z. Stachniak)

The North American personal and home computer market of the late 1970s and early 1980s, witnessed a proliferation of manufacturers and rapid growth in computer sales. In 1980, Apple Computer sold 130,000 Apple ][s while Tandy sold 175,000 of its TRS-80 computers. By the end of 1982, there were over 800,000 Commodore VIC-20s world-wide. The sales reached the one million mark in early 1983. These numbers were particularly noteworthy when juxtaposed with the global sales of mini and mainframe computers during the same period.

On August 12, 1981, IBM entered personal computer market with its announcement of the Personal Computer (PC). Much to IBM's surprise, the business community, traditionally hesitant to adopt microcomputers, responded with overwhelming enthusiasm. By the close of 1981, IBM had sold tens of thousands of its PCs, facing challenges in keeping up with the escalating demand. The momentum persisted as IBM sold 538,000 PCs in 1983, a figure that more than doubled in the following year with sales climbing to 1,375,000 units (see [1]). The success of the IBM PC in the marketplace, coupled with its informal adoption as de facto industry standard for business desktop computers, had a positive impact on software and hardware compatibility. Numerous software and hardware companies promptly capitalized on the PC's surging popularity and IBM's disclosure of the machine's design. IBM PC-compatible systems began cropping up everywhere, offering compatible functionality and performance at a lower price. However, the introduction of the IBM PC also had a detrimental effect on the diverse microcomputing landscape. Many computer manufacturers, opting to resist IBM's entry into the PC market and defend the unique hardware platforms of their computers, were forced out of the personal computer market or closed their doors altogether. By the mid-1980s, the vast and lucrative PC market became saturated with IBM PC-compatible computers and IBM PC clones — affordable microcomputers that were both hardware and software compatible with IBM PC (and later, IBM XT and AT) products.

Possibly the earliest IBM PC compatible computers were manufactured by Compaq Computer Corp. in the U.S. (the Compaq Portable) and Dynalogic Info-Tech. in Canada (the Hyperion). These two companies were soon followed by a fast growing group of other manufacturers who were cloning not only the IBM PC hardware but also its case and documentation. In many cases, the only visual distinction between these IBM PC clones and the IBM PC was the absence of the `IBM PC' logo on the computer's case. Notably, even the documentation and packaging for these clones mimicked the style and packaging of the original IBM PC documentation.

The Canadian PC cloning industry was particularly strong in Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia. Compiling a comprehensive list of Canadian manufacturers of IBM clones proves challenging due to the clandestine nature of the industry. Many clones were offered with unauthorized copies of the Basic Input-Output System (BIOS) program compelling the "cloners" to conceal any traces that could reveal their identity. Nevertheless, the list of reputable cloners adhering to industry regulations is long and includes, among other manufacturers, Microelectronics (Richmond, BC), Aftek (North York, ON), Computech Micro Designs (Mississauga, ON), Dynalogic (Ottawa, ON), ECS Computers (Mississauga, ON), IDM Research Industries (Etobicoke, ON), COR BIT Computer Industries Ltd. (Toronto, ON), Dynasty (Mississauga, ON), Exceltronics Components and Computing (Toronto), HAL Computer Company (Toronto, ON), J.L.S. (Toronto, ON), Lanpar (Toronto, ON), Soltech Industries Inc. (Surrey, BC), Solare (Quebec, QC), and Universal Computer Systems (Montreal, QC).

In 1983, Joe Loren Sutherland founded J.L.S. Research (later renamed as J.L.S. Computers) in Toronto while he was working at Exceltronix—a prominent electronic store in 1980s Toronto—repairing computer hardware. Sutherland began his professional carrier as an electrical designer and detailer working at Ontario Electric on lightning and power installations. Then came his involvement with film industry and photo-electric art during his studies at Toronto's Ontario College of Art. However, the rapid development of desktop and home computing industry turned Sutherland attention to computer hardware design. His first single-board computer was the result of the major redesign of the popular Big Board II single-board computer designed by Jim Ferguson. Operating under the CP/M operating system, Sutherland's computer seamlessly ran "classic" CP/M software, including the Wordstar word processor from MicroPro International Corp., the Supercalc spreadsheet from Sorcim Corp., and MBASIC from Microsoft. When it was offered in 1983, the J.L.S. board was arguably one of the most advanced and cost-effective Z80-based computers in the Canadian market. In a 1983 article titled "The Legend of J.L.S." published in Computing Now!, Steve Rimmer characterized Sutherland's company as follows:

"J.L.S. Computers has the distinction of being the world's most unknown computer company. This, and possibly the distinction of making the world's best value in powerful, low cost computers." (see [2])

By the end of 1983, Sutherland had designed yet another comouter, this time producing an IBM PC compatible hardware — the J.L.S. OBM-100. The computer's design differed from that of the IBM, opting for readily available components, ultimately resulting in a more cost-effective desktop solution. The J.L.S. PC was functionally identical to the IBM PC, could be interfaced with PC compatible peripherals and run all of the software developed for the IBM computer. Sutherland's  IBM PC compatible motherboards, packed in IBM-look-alike cases, began appearing not only in Ontario but also beyond, with diverse model and company name stickers affixed to the cases. Manufacturers such as Aftek and HAL Computer were among those which built their products around Sutherland's clones of the IBM PC motherboard.

In 1984, J.L.S. introduced a clone of the IBM XT — the second generation of IBM's PCs. It was the first made-in-Canada desktop compatible with the XT. The final product released by J.L.S. was the clone of the IBM AT motherboard offered by Sutherland in 1985.

Museum Holdings:
  • J.L.S. OBM100 (IBM PC compatible matherboard), 1983,
  • Aftek XT (J.L.S. IBM XT compatible matherboard designed for Aftek),
  • 64-256KB System Board (J.L.S. IBM XT compatible matherboard),
  • J.L.S. AT board (IBM AT compatible unpopulated matherboard),
  • HAL Computer memory/serial card,
  • The JLS Single Board Computer: Assembly Instructions and User's Manual, JLS Research, March 1983,
  • BIG BOARD II Assembly Manual, preliminary draft, Cal-Tex Computers, 198?
  • Assembly and Instruction Manual for the HAL Computer and HAL Computer Memory, preliminary edition, HAL Computer, 1983.

References:
[1] Cringely, R. X., Accidental Empires, Harper Business, 1996.
[2] Rimmer, S., The Legend of J.L.S., Computing Now!, August 1983.
[3] Rimmer, S., The Further Legend of J.L.S., Computing Now!, December 1983.
[4] Rimmer, S., Fables of Three Blue Clones, Computing Now!, June  1984.
[5] Campbell, S. and Stachniak, Z., Computing in Canada: Building a Digital Future, Canada Science and Technology Museum Transformation Series 17, 2009.

Creator

J.L.S. Computers

Coverage

Canada, 1983-1985

Files

JLS_promo_small.jpeg
OBM-100.jpg
Aftek_XT.jpg
64-256.jpg

Citation

J.L.S. Computers, “J.L.S. Computers,” York University Computer Museum Canada, accessed June 15, 2024, https://museum.eecs.yorku.ca/items/show/346.

Output Formats