Two of the biggest names in personal computing have taken direct aim at the home computer buyer.
IBM has introduced the compact and innovative Personal System/1 while Tandy brought out the 1000 RL, nearly as trim as the IBM model and loaded with software meant to appeal to home users.
I'll describe the IBM PS/1 this week and then devote my next column, in two weeks, to the Tandy 1000 RL.
Priced at $1,999, IBM's top-of-the-line PS/1 model comes with a high-resolution VGA color monitor, a hard disk with storage for 30 million characters of data and programs, a fast 2,400-baud modem for telecommunications and excellent built-in software.
With its Intel 80286 microprocessor running at 10 megahertz and a megabyte of RAM operating memory, the PS/1 is more powerful than IBM's classic PC/AT design, but a modest performer compared with today's 386 powerhouse computers for the office.
Three lesser-equipped models are available, beginning at $999 for a black-and-white monitor, 512 kilobytes of memory and a single floppy disk drive. One intermediate model costing $1,499 adds a color monitor to the base model, while the other retains the black-and-white monitor but adds the hard disk and one megabyte of memory for $1,649.
To get full benefit from the PS/1 you need the hard disk. Color adds greatly to your enjoyment, too, especially if anyone in your household plays computer games. So I would recommend the top model for most people.
The PS/1 is IBM's best job of packaging ever. From the computer's single box to the opening image on its screen to the software it contains, the PS/1 is designed for easy access. This is a computer you could give to your mother. She would love you for it and probably not even have to pester you too much with questions about how to work it.
I set it up in five minutes and loved it. It is small and quiet and elegant. You plug it in and something actually happens. Impressive images pop onto the screen and you can understand what to do. Move the mouse to point at an image of what you want to do and, in an instant, you are ready to go. All the software is already installed on the hard disk. (That's one important reason to get the hard disk model.)
A few seconds after you switch it on, a handsome and detailed opening screen appears, illustrating the program choices available. The screen is divided into four quadrants. The upper left ''Information'' section has a picture of a globe, a telephone and four books. Move the mouse-controlled arrow into that area to select either of two well-done tutorials, the on-line information and entertainment service Prodigy or the PS/1 User's Club that IBM has created.
Moving the mouse pointer to the upper right screen, with its picture of a calculator, diary, letter and pie chart, gets you into Microsoft Works. This is a superb integrated software package providing word processing, spreadsheet, database and telecommunications that is perfect for home or business use.
The lower left quadrant depicts file folders. This is where you reach the programs and games that you install in the PS/1. Every time you put a new program on the hard disk in its own subdirectory, a new folder is created and labeled automatically. It is the easiest way to manage programs in an MS-DOS computer that I have seen -- a lot nicer than Microsoft's vaunted Windows 3.0.
The last quadrant, on the lower right, takes you into the DOS commands. You can even get to the old-fashioned C prompt, if you really want to.
The PS/1 is just fine for its intended home and education market, and probably will find its way into small business offices, too. But it haslimited expansion and networking capabilities that make it unsuitable for corporate use.
There is enough power to run all of the popular DOS software programs such as Lotus 1-2-3, Quattro Pro, WordPerfect, Paradox 3.0 and Microsoft Word. It also runs Microsoft Windows 3.0, Excel and Word for Windows, but those graphics-intensive programs are better on faster machines.
Musicians will enjoy the MIDI interface that allows the PS/1 to be connected to musical instruments. It will also accept joysticks for controlling games.
If you need to expand its capabilities, there is an external three-slot expansion chassis available. Using that chassis, RAM memory can be expanded to seven megabytes. Alternatively, cards for fax, CD-ROM players or tape backup units could be installed.
For the first-time buyer or the casual user with no ambitions of running processor and memory-hungry graphics software such as desktop publishing, the PS/1 is a dandy machine.
Richard O'Reilly is a Los Angeles Times staff writer. Readers' comments are welcomed. Write to Richard O'Reilly, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053.