The MSX is a computer architecture standard devised by Microsoft and ASCII Corporation for the Eastern market and licensed in 1983-06-16. The goal was to create a standard hardware architecture which any company could license and build a compatible hardware and consumers could rest assured that any software written for it would work on every MSX computer.
The initial release of the MSX saw a lot of popularity in Japan. Over a dozen major companies ended up creating almost 200 different computer models, and over 100 different software companies released thousands of titles. It eventually saw a combined sales of around 9 million units. Even with so many companies embracing it, MSX couldn't supplanted the hugely popular PC-8800 and PC-9800 computers. MSX also saw some success in Korea, Europe, South America, and various other countries. Only two companies tried to market MSX computers in the USA, but they couldn't put a dent in the already hugely competitive market dominated by the Commodore 64 and Apple II.
In 1985, the MSX2 standard was released, then the MSX2+ in 1988, and finally the MSX TurboR in 1990. Each subsequent release saw fewer adopters and even fewer sales, and the MSX standard was eventually discontinued in 1993. I would estimate that a major part of the failure of the MSX was that it used very low hardware specs. This no doubt kept manufacturing costs down, but it would also make the line seem really inferior. For example, the Commodore 64 entered the market in 1982 with 64 KB of RAM, but MSX computers were still using 64 KB as their base level of RAM as late as 1988!
Being an American, I never even heard of the MSX standard until I started seeing it show up on MobyGames while I was researching games. After that, I started looking into the system and found it fascinating, and played around with MSX emulators. However, since I was primarily using it for games, which the MSX wasn't designed for, I didn't find anything all that interesting. Most of the popular games released for the MSX were also released on the more impressive NES, and most of the obscure games, were mostly written in Japanese, so I couldn't play them anyway.
I do not own any MSX hardware, nor have I ever used any in real life.
While it may seem like the MSX standard was built by a team of engineers, its design was actually based heavily on Spectravideo SV-328, a rather obscure home computer. The SV-328 was chosen, not because it was especially well-designed, but because it was built almost entirely from off-the-shelf components, which would allow licensees to easily source components for their MSX computers.
The MSX specifications expected the hugely popular Zilog Z80A 8-bit processor and the initial model supported 8-128 KB of RAM, used a Texas Instruments TMS9918 video chip, and General Instrument AY-3-8910 audio chip. Both the video and audio chips were replaced by Yamaha variants in all subsequent models. Every MSX version supported ROM cartridges, data cassettes, and floppy diskette drives for media.
Although it wasn't designed to be a video game system, the MSX actually saw the birth of several game franchises which would grow to popularity including, Antarctic Adventure, Bomberman, Eggerland, Metal Gear, Parodius, and Puyo Puyo. It also saw a lot of attention from existing popular franchises.
- msx.org - Fan site.