With regret, Sir Alan, you’re fired!

I’ve written columns in the past bemoaning the slow death of the British PC industry. Now the ravens really are fleeing the Tower, with the news that Alan Sugar (or Suralan to The Apprentice generation) has resigned as chairman of Amstrad, after selling out to Sky last year.

With regret, Sir Alan, you're fired!

To be fair, Sugar hasn’t really been a prominent figure in the PC industry for well over a decade. Issue 1 of PC Pro from November 1994 gave his Amstrad PC9486 a measly two stars, which I’m sure historians will mark as the beginning of the end for the company as a force in British computing.

Yet, I’ve still got a soft spot for the grouchy old sod, mainly because of the brilliant Amstrad NC200 laptop that saw me through university. This was the Eee PC of its day – ultraportable, easy-to-use, and far cheaper than any Windows laptop of its era. It even came with a soft faux-leather wallet, which was the clincher for me.

It’s horrible little monochrome LCD display was eye-strain waiting to happen, and I seem to remember spending countless hours in the university’s IT room, trying to convert the essays I’d saved on the Amstrad’s floppy disk into a format that Microsoft Word could comprehend. But while my friends were blowing their meagre student grants (remember them, kids?) and their temper with Windows machines, I was rattling out my dissertation on the ever-reliable NC200 and still had enough money to spare for a pint or two in the student bar afterwards.

amstrad-emailer-300x243My affection for Amstrad and its irascible boss definitely began to wane once I started at PC Pro back in 1998, however. I was despatched to the launch of the Amstrad E-m@iler – a frankly terrible product that I only ever saw twice. Once at the press launch and once on the desk of Sugar’s secretary “Francis” on The Apprentice, which is proof indeed that product placement doesn’t always work.

The idea of the E-m@iler was that Granny could send email from the comfort of her sofa, without having to worry about working one of those horrible PC things. The catch was she would have to pay Sugar about 12p every time she wanted to do so, as it all went through Amstrad’s ISP. At the press conference, I plucked up the courage to ask Sugar how many people would be prepared to pay 12p to send an email, for which I was treated to a volley of invective, along the lines of “you bloody journalists haven’t got the first clue about business.”

He might have a point, but for all his early Amstrad success and the wonderful NC200, the E-m@ailer died more horribly than the contestant who didn’t know what Kosher meant in the last series.

I shall miss you Sir Alan. But I won’t miss your awful phones.

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