MSX was conceived by Kazuhiko Nishi of Microsoft Japan, now ASCII Corporation, who was attempting to create a single standard by which any company could build a compatible computer. Inspired by the success of VHS as a standard for video cassette recorders, many Japanese electronic manufacturers along with Philips and Spectravideo built and promoted MSX computers. Any piece of hardware or software with the MSX logo on it was compatible with MSX products of other manufacturers.
Nishi's standard consisted primarily of several off-the-shelf parts, the main CPU was the Zilog Z80 running at 3.58MHz, graphics were provided by the Texas Instruments TMS9918, in use in their own failed TI-99, and sound by the General Instruments AY-3-8910. None of these were particularly advanced examples of contemporary design, although when Nishi proposed the standard in 1982 they added up to a reasonably competitive machine.
In the 1980s Japan was in the midst of a powerful economic awakening that many in the 'western world' thought unstoppable -- a new yellow peril as it were. The large Japanese electronics firms should have been able to crush the early computer market had they made a concerted effort to do so in the late 1970s. Their combined design and manufacturing power would have allowed them to produce better and cheaper machines than anyone else. But they initially ignored the home computer market and seemed to be very hesitant to do any work where there wasn't some sort of standard in place.
Thus when MSX was announced and a slew of big Japanese firms announced their plans to introduce machines, it set off a wave of panic in the US industry. However by the time machines built to the standard started to arrive in late 1984, they were no longer competitive, IBM had introduced the 16-bit IBM PC, and Apple had recently changed everything with their Macintosh.
Consequently, MSX never became the worldwide standard that its makers envisioned, mainly because it never took off in the United States. In Japan and Korea, MSX was the major home computer system in the 1980s. It was also popular in several European countries (especially in The Netherlands), South Korea and Brazil and even in Arab countries and the Soviet Union.
The exact meaning of the 'MSX' abbreviation remains a matter of debate. At the time, most people seemed to agree it meant 'MicroSoft eXtended', referring to the built-in MSX-BASIC programming language, specifically written by Microsoft for the MSX system. However, the truth, according to Kazuhiko Nishi during a more recent visit to Tilburg in the Netherlands, MSX stands for 'Machines with Software eXchangeability'. The MSX-DOS disk operating system had file compatibility with CP/M and was similar to MS-DOS. In this way, Microsoft could promote MSX for home use while promoting MS-DOS based personal computers in office environments.
MSX spawned four generations: MSX 1 (1983), MSX 2 (1986), MSX 2+ (1988) and MSX turbo R (1990). The first three were 8-bit computers based on the Z80 microprocessor, while the MSX turbo R was based on an enhanced Zilog Z800 known as the R800. The turbo R was introduced in 1990 but was unsuccessful due to lack of support from any other company. In 1995 the production of this last MSX computer stopped as well. In the end, 5 million MSX computers were sold.