Polycorp Poly 1
In 1980 microcomputers were starting to gain visibility. TRS-80s, Commodore PETS and Apple IIs in the hands of hobbyists and the occasional small business wetted the appetite of educators. Indeed, a number of hobbyists WERE teachers. Microcomputers were the future and surely these interactive tools could be used for learning.
The responsibility of educating the young was largely up to the New Zealand Government. They set the curriculum, and built and managed the schools. At the time therefore, it made sense that the State should have involvement in supporting and funding a "school computer". This ethos (as it did with the BBC Micro in Britain) resulted in the computer you see opposite: The Poly 1 - New Zealand's custom-built school computer.
The Poly 1 was designed by staff and students at Wellington Polytechnic, hence the name "Poly". In 1980 the idea of the Poly as New Zealand's "school" computer was sold successfully to the NZ Government who provided the finances and partnered with a local company, Progeni Computers, to form Polycorp. Polycorp's role was to manufacture and distribute the computer to secondary schools, along with providing support.
The machine's specifications were impressive for the day. A full-stroke keyboard with numeric keypad and arrow keys for editing, colour graphics, 64KB of RAM and an "enhanced" 8-bit CPU. The Poly was designed to be networked i.e. daisy-chained together with storage provided by an 8-inch floppy disk drive at the end of the chain. The latter also allowed a printer to be connected. A fleet of contracted teacher/programmers wrote software for the computer.
Despite its sophistication, the Poly failed to saturate the school system. In 1982, business interests successfully lobbied the government to pull funding and allow "the market" to determine which computers appeared in schools. After that the writing was on the wall. There was no way the expensive Poly could compete with discounted Apple II+/IIe machines and the like.
Given my interest in computer history, I always wanted one of these computers. I've now got two, along with a disk drive unit (untested at the time of writing), documentation and software. Both units are in good shape physically and one works.
For more information see a write up on the acquisition and initial impressions. There are lots of photos and also some links to websites which have information on the Poly.
The most striking thing about this computer is its retro-futuristic shape. An all-in-one unit in a fiberglass body with carry handles. One can imagine it featuring in a science fiction movie of the time. It came in six different colours including the cream one shown here.
I've tested the drive and it works! I'll now try to fix the other Poly so I can network them as they would have been in the day. In the meantime, it's just great to own this piece of New Zealand history!
This page last edited 14th March, 2018