Computers For The Masses, Not The Classes

Retro is new again, and everywhere you look you’ll find films, documentaries, and TV shows cashing in on the nostalgia of their target audience. There is one inaccuracy you’ll find with this these shows: Apple computers are everywhere. This isn’t a historical truth – Commodore was everywhere, the C64 was the computer the nerds actually used, and to this day, the Commodore 64 is still the best-selling computer in history.

Commodore is gone, replaced with a superfund site, but the people who made the best computers in history are still around. At the 2016 Hackaday SuperConference, Bil Herd gave a talk on the second act of Commodore’s three-act tragedy. Bil is a frequent contributor around these parts, and as always he illuminates the 1980s far better than Halt and Catch Fire ever could.

It’s frequently said by recovering Commodore employees that the story of Commodore International is a tragedy in three acts. The first act is the ascension to the throne of home computers, beginning with Jack Tramiel founding Commodore, building office file cabinets and calculators, and eventually snapping up silicon manufacturer MOS Technologies.

Right around the time of the Apple II, Commodore turned its attention to the microcomputer revolution. The first computer out of the gate was the PET, later followed by the VIC-20 and the Commodore 64. The Commodore 64 is a masterpiece of engineering, but even more impressive is the business side of the development. The C64 used custom chips to push the boundaries of what a home computer was capable of. The VIC-II graphics chip was extraordinarily capable for the day, the SID sound chip is still highly regarded today, and custom logic tied everything together. The argument could be made that Commodore’s business philosophy of vertical integration was more efficient than Apple’s, the current darling of supply chain management.

Bil comes in at the beginning of the second act for Commodore, after Jack Tramiel left to revive whatever was left of Atari. The first project on Bil’s desk was the TED machines, the cut-down Commodores meant to kill the Timex Sinclair. The least expensive of these machines cost $49, one of them talked thanks to a few engineers from Texas Instrument’s Speak & Spell defecting to Commodore, but marketing didn’t know how to sell these machines.

After the TED machines, Bil was put on another forgotten project, the Commodore LCD. At the time, Commodore owned the only US manufacturer of LCDs, and it was logical for Commodore to produce a pre-laptop computer. Alas, this computer never made it to production thanks to a few very dumb marketing decisions, and after a few more months at Commodore, Bil left for greener fields.

What was the last act of Commodore? The Amiga, was a rousing success, but you can’t run a business with just cool tech. You need someone with business sense at the helm.

Every week, a few posts appear on Medium blogs dissecting why a startup failed, and what could have been done to prevent it. These post-mortums are exceptionally entertaining, but they don’t answer the question: did the startup fail because of business decisions or simply because no one wanted the product they were selling? Commodore, on the other hand was the leading manufacturer of home computers and died a premature death. Study the death of Commodore and you’ll get a much better appreciation of how the mighty can fail.

More than that, Bil’s talk is a war story of how hardware engineers actually function. For him, building wire-wrapped MMUs for the Commodore 128 is apparently second nature, and designing computers from scratch is his job. We’re glad to have had Bil speak at the 2016 Hackaday SuperConference, and show everyone how things used to be.

[Image source: MOS chip for sale on eBay]

62 thoughts on “Computers For The Masses, Not The Classes

      1. HCG has been pretty “equal screen time releflecting relevance” in my opinion.
        The fictional company runs IBM as their mainframe / server, and codes on C64 for a mostly C64 user base.
        The “Steve Jobs” type character later gets an Amiga 1000.
        The company often talks about expanding support for other emerging machines.

    1. Commodore fans call that the “Cringely-fication” of history. In the late 1990s, Robert X Cringely (who worked at Apple) made a 3 part documentary for PBS called “the Triumph of the Nerds”, and over the entire series, Commodore isn’t mentioned even once.

      Of course this also led to the “Commodore, a company on the edge” book series by Brian Bagnall and the “Growing the 8-bit Generation” documentary (narrated by Bil Herd).

  1. “The argument could be made that Commodore’s business philosophy of vertical integration was more efficient than Apple’s, the current darling of supply chain management”

    But were they the “darling” at that particular time?

    1. No, we were hated and distrusted by our distribution and suppliers. We had a tendency to do things like cancel a parts order and then buy them cheaper after they panicked.Likewise CBM had been known to drill out the RAM locations so the resellers couldn’t make “our” money.

      Regarding resellers, Jack felt that they should not make money on the hardware but should make money on the software, and he meant it.

      1. Is this the real Bil Herd or just a phantasy… Caught in a… Cough… Sorry, got carried away there…

        Regardless of what may or may not have happened on the engineering/management side of things, the true villain of the piece was Marketing, of which I was a VERY junior member at the time.

        The senior marketing guys were a bunch of talentless, self-entitled jerks who would whine and bitch whenever they had to do any actual work but would often put enormous effort into finding reasons for not doing something.

        They would get very ‘offended’ if they felt their ‘advice’ wasn’t being given the consideration they felt it should and would ‘drag their feet’ and on some occasions, actively try to ‘sabotage’ the project.

          1. It doesn’t sound anything like most of the programmers that I have worked with. So either you have been extremely unlucky or your your difficulty with programmers is more a reflection of yourself rather than programmers.

  2. Kind of a load here compared to what I saw in Silicon Valley back then. Anyone every make an expansion board for a Commodore? Ever try to write custom software to use the awesomely slow and horrible HP-IB based drives? I think there are 3, or is it 4, 6502’s in each drive and maybe a couple 6520 PIA’s. If you wanted RAM-disks, video capture and display, accelerators, math co-processors, networking cards, analog I/O, or anything cool, you went Apple or CP/M, or later, the IBM-PC was an option. To learn BASIC, maybe they were OK. I only knew a few people who actually owned one, and then it was because they sold software and needed to port it.

    OMG they were awful after you had used something else! Being tasked to support something migrated to Commodore was a nightmare. (I’m sure there are plenty who loved it, not that there is anything wrong with that.) My 2 cents.

    1. Agreed, businesses and schools had the Apple II, II+, IIe, and to a small extent the GS and IIc (that’s a lot of years there). I had the Atari 800 and it compared favorably with the Commodore 64. But by the time Commodore and Atari really got it together (well kind of anyway) the revenge of the clones was at hand. ;-)

      Of course my explanation is grossly oversimplified.

      1. Our school only had TRS-80 what i learned on. when i got to high school we had the tandy 1000 which was worse. always froze and died. (these were very outdated even when i was in high school)

    2. I think you’re confusing the speed of the early Commodore GPIB (IEEE-488) drives with the 1541 which was the floppy drive for the C64. The GPIB drives were as fast as they could be, because of the parallel interface, and they also had superior capacity: The top tier drive could store a megabyte on a double-sided, double density 5.25″ floppy disk. When IBM came out with the PC later, they stored 320KB per disk, later 360K. It took IBM two more years to get more than a megabyte on a floppy disk, and you had to use expensive High Density disks.

      The 1541 (which most of us know from the C64) used a cheaper serial interface which was already slower than the GPIB interface (but cheaper), but also was hindered by a hardware bug in the chip that was in the C64 to control it. The way I remember it, the GPIB drives ran circles around the 1541.

      The Commodore drives all contained one or two 6502s (not 4) to control them (which made them into complicated computer systems by themselves). Sure this made them more expensive, but it also meant that the computer didn’t really need to know how files were stored on the floppy disk, it just asked for a file and the drive would take care of finding all the sectors and would send it to the computer.

      You are talking about RAM disks, video capture, accelerators, math coprocessors, network cards, etc. but in those days, not many people even considered those. RAM was outrageously expensive, video capture used a lot of RAM and storage so it wasn’t something that the average Joe could afford. Accelerators were probably built by many hobbyists; it was easy to get a 2MHz 6502 but if the rest of the computer’s chips couldn’t run that fast, it wasn’t very useful. Networks weren’t taken seriously until the days of Novell, Microsoft Lan Manager, Banyan Vines etc. and by that time, the IBM PC was the standard. Before that, there were some attempts at networking with serial ports (and GPIB!) but it was all expensive of course and only interesting for schools that wanted to share a printer with a number of machines in the lab, or businesses. There was no Internet to speak of.

      Yes, many Commodore computers had many faults. I thought at the time that it was a big flaw that the BASIC in the C64 didn’t support the hardware, but now I see that the C64 was basically meant as a gaming machine, and games were programmed in Assembler anyway. BASIC was basically thrown in as a little extra for those who still wanted to do their own programming, but because they were short on ROM space, they used a less advanced BASIC than the business machines, so that’s why you have to use LOAD “$”,8 to see the directory of a floppy (and you lose any program that’s stored in memory) instead of using DIRECTORY or CATALOG (which would just print the directory without erasing program memory). Besides games, there were definitely lots and lots of cartridges with BASIC expansions, speedup tools for the floppy interface, modems, interfaces with external hardware etc.

      Just sayin’ :-)

      1. The 1541 drive was also useful for producing an earsplitting squeal by lightly dragging a palm and fingers across the vent slats on its top from back to front. Had to apply just the right amount of pressure and not have too dry skin.

      2. I had a ZX-81 kit, but within a year bought a C64. With a printer, it got me through college. Wanted a +4 until I found it was not software compatible with a C-64. Nearly bought a C-128, but broke down and bought a single floppy PC clone as i could take disks from home to work. My screaming 8088 had a 10 Mhz Turbo mode! It also cost $1200 (including the amazing CGA monitor). And that was 1989 dollars.

        1. Boy that brings back memories. I still have my Commodore 64. Built a voice synthesizer that interface to the C64 for a senior project. It worked and sounded great, if you were a Klingon. My first PC was an 8086 with 10M HDD and 10M of memory and a bulletproof Epson dot matrix printer. $1400. 1987. Got my wife and I through grad school. We have come a long way since then. Wow!
          Still have 2x Sinclair ZX81s. Brilliant for their time. But programming on resistive switch keyboards sucked.

      1. The apple ][ was super popular in Brazil, except it wasn’t, clones were popular due to Brazil’s import ban on computers until 1992.

        Then came the IBM PC and clones of it, which the Brazilian companies were able to produce as easily as they had the apple ][.

        Then came the Mac and the Unitron debacle that saw Apple foolishly ceding the Brazilian market to PC clones.

  3. I guess it is different for each country. I’m in the UK and did’nt see my first Mac till the mid 90’s. As a kid growing up in the 70s / 80s Sinclair was king. The BBC was what rich kids had, but everyone had a speccy. I then moved onto the Amiga 500 etc….

    I learnt not to be a fanboy after seing a 386 running wolfenstein, I soon sold my A1200 and got a PC.

    1. C64s were around too. In school in the early ’80s, it was very much C64 vs Spectrum. An interesting observation is that the C64 kids used to trade games between each other, whereas the Spectrum ones used to just take a copy…

      Then there were the rich kids with the BBCs, and the odd one with the ‘educational’ Atari 800, Sharp MZ80K, Dragon 32…

  4. The only person I knew with an AMIGA wanted desperately to borrow my APPLE ][ PROMS so he could copy them for his AMIGA. He liked the AMIGA case, I guess but secretly liked the Apple ][ operating system better. I had updated my ][ to 2, then 4MB of memory, installed a double sided floppy drive and added a SCSI port. This required new PROMS. I found someone to put all of it onto EPROMs and kept the original PROMs around. It was the PROMS that I loaned to my friend, and he was happy as a pig in slop. Ie had an Apple ][ for a while then ‘upgraded’ to the AMIGA. He had an AMIGA that booted up like an Apple ][ . Did he really upgrade?

    1. Having started with an Apple ][ and moved to Amiga (1000,2000,3000,4000) I can’t parse that story at all. The Amiga OS was like an F-16 (and remains an impressive feat today) to Apple’s Piper Cub.

    2. How was that supposed to work? The Amiga had a 68000 processor. The Apple ][ had a 6502. The 68000 was a 16 bit processor with some 32 bit abilities with its 32 bit registers and 24 bit address space. The 6502 was a pretty unrelenting 8 bit processor. It divided memory up into 256 byte pages. For example, you couldn’t use an index register to cross a 256 byte boundary, it wrapped around. It surprised me the first time I tried that. Made sense, given the architecture, but…

      There was zero code code compatibility between the two.

      Besides, the Apple ][ didn’t really have an OS.

      1. “Besides, the Apple ][ didn’t really have an OS.”

        Only true in that it didn’t have one OS, it had many.

        Apple alone released DOS 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, and the ProDOS 1 and 2 series.
        Then there was CP/M, System II, ANIX, MuSYS, GEOS, GEMs, and the A2Desktop. There is even Contiki today.

        Not to mention it seemed like everyone and their cat was releasing a modified DOS 3 every month and modifications to both default basic interpreters. I wouldn’t count those as separate OSes but mention it only to show how many people and groups that felt the need or want to expand on the OSes provided.

        If you include the 16 bit Apple// gs then there are even more options for the OS, as you have the entire 8 bit series of OS above that will run, as well as additional 16 bit OSes and GUIs such as ProDOS-16, Apples System Software, GEOS 16, and GNO for another Unix like option.

        1. The DOS was more of a file system/program loader. It supplied very little else in the way of services. It was common to hit the hardware directly to so what needed to be done.

          Compare that to what the Amiga had. It abstracted the hardware, there was little need to program directly to the hardware. It also was a pre-emptive multitasking system with a message passing protocol for inter-task communication and shared libraries. Not to mention a fairly sophisticated GUI.

          There is just no comparison between the two.

          1. I didn’t realize “it has no OS” means “it does clearly have an OS but it’s not as advanced as others”. Good to know.

            Seeing as three of the OSes I listed all have pre-emptive multitasking, drivers, APIs and libraries as well, I’m glad you finally admit Amiga has no OS either :P

          2. Just to clarify the Amiga OS, yes it did all that, *but* it was too slow for the best games. Most games dumped the OS and just hit the hardware and did amazing things.

      2. Even with the most generous reading of the story, it doesn’t make any sense. The processor architecture *and* system hardware of the 8-bit Apple and 32ish-bit Amiga were in no way related. Putting the ROMs of the Apple into an Amiga would execute garbage.

        The story might make some sense if someone had written an emulator of the Apple (both processor and system hardware), but in that case, you wouldn’t need the ROMs. Just buy or borrow a serial card, and slap together a handful of code in BASIC that read bytes and dumped them to the serial port. The longest part of the process would be the usual finding the right combination of gender changers, null modem adapters, and random cables with unknown wiring that everyone had in that box in the basement to transfer the characters.

      3. ” It divided memory up into 256 byte pages. For example, you couldn’t use an index register to cross a 256 byte boundary, it wrapped around.”

        A couple of instructions would do a work-around, and fixed in 65C02 (Apple IIe).

    3. I never heard of that but there was a product called shape shiftier that used mac roms to allow an Amiga to boot up Mac OS.
      You could buy an Amiga 2000 for a lot less than a low end mac but it was closer to a Mac II in capabilities so it was a common solution to get a Mac system on the cheap.

  5. That’s nonsense. The Commodores (Pet, C64) were built like crap and felt like crap to use. Just plain cheap feeling all around. With the Apples of the time you had more expansion options (videx 80 column cards come to mind), a better keyboard, a built-in stand (the cpu itself) that helped hide all the cabling and just a generally better-supported environment all around. Shame that kind of Apple is no longer around today.

    Sure, later the Amiga had great potential, shame Commodore couldn’t get out of it’s own way.

  6. Forgive me, all. I was thinking about my early Mac WITH the 68000 processor, not the Apple ][. The numbers alone (2 meg/4 meg) should have alerted me to my error. The Mac in question was one of the original “Test Drive Macs” from the initial release. I bought it used from a friend who moved up to a Mac Plus. It already had the 2MB upgrade and I added another ‘mod’ for the 4MB, newer floppy and SCSI port. New ROMs/EPROMs were required at each upgrade. That box is still around here somewhere, in the original Mac Carrying case, just large enough for the Mac, Mouse, Keyboard, one outboard drive and various cabling.

    Again, sorry for my blatant error a few hours back.


    1. I had an Emplant card in my Amiga 3000 that ran a Mac emulation. I did this because I had a digital camera that I ran tethered through SCSI, but no drivers for Amiga.

      PowerPC Macs had come out. But the Mac OS was still emulating the 68k CPU on the PowerPC. So my 68060 50MHz Mac emulator was faster than the fastest Mac at that time. When the company I bought the camera from demo’d it for me on a PowerPC Mac, it took about 5 minutes to transfer a 1MB file over SCSI. My Amiga 3000 took about 10 seconds in the Mac emulator.

      Later, I switched to Shapeshifter to free up the Zorro slot.

  7. I’m a 3d animator who learned my craft on an 68040 Amiga 3000 with 64 mb of Ram in 1990. Try that with an Apple or an PC of that time. SGI Irix was easy to learn after Amiga DOS.

    1. I have, in my basement, a working SGI Indigo (small desktop case) received as a discard from work (who used it for mechanical CAD, years ago). I purchased adapters to use PC keyboard, mouse and monitor, and upgraded it (painfully, using a Linux system as a TFTP server) to the most recent version of IRIX it would handle. Finding a 50-pin SCSI HDD (so I could keep the original intact) was a challenge.

      Kinda fun, having a piece of retro hardware, running a retro OS.

      1. I have one (A 10000? Something like that) that is meant to be the host for an Archipel Volvox supercomputer. But it came with no drive or CPU. I have a drive and CPU now but no software. Any ideas where to look?

        I also have the Volvox, which is a pair of enclosures full of boards full of Transputers, and the interface board. I’m not sure that the effort to get it all working would be worth it, but it would be cool. I don’t really want to learn Occam.

  8. A couple of notes:
    I worked for a year under Jack Tramiel on the TED series, he planned it as a Sinclair killer but when he left the company during the 85 CES the product then died on the vine without someone at the helm to drive sales and marketing (and 3rd party developer) to support the new machines.

    The C128 does double its clock to close to 2Mhz when in 80 column mode. It’s Basic supported all of the sprites, colors and sounds command as well as structured commands: loop while/until, etc. The programmer that wrote that version of Basic didn’t like or want to depend on Gotos and made it so you didn’t have to use a goto if you didn’t want to. Basic also suppoorted DMA commands allowing animation to run directly from the Ram Expansion of the day.

    There is a whole story behind the slow serial bus. The tragedy was when one of the offices didn’t know what the other was doing and removed two traces from the artwork that would have allowed the hardware serial to work, so it remained a slow software serial bus that had to withstand being interrupted by 40us DMA fetches from the video chip.

    At the end of the day the C64 sold 27 Million, literally 5 times more than its named competitors. It was made for the masses, not the classes to quote Mr. Tramiel, it was way more affordable at $199 compared to the $1300+ of the competitor.

    1. I figure the closest competitor to the C64 in sales was the similarly priced COCO2 which had a better CPU,and basic along with faster mass storage but inferior graphics and sound capabilities.

  9. My first job at 15 1/2 years old (December 1984) was repairing C-64s at ComSoft Computers in Sun Valley, CA and Reseda, CA. With several years of basic electronics kit-puttering around, I volunteered to be the repair guy when they had a falling out with their regular guy. I taught myself how computers work, soldering (and especially de-soldering!), oscilloscope use, and lots and lots of troubleshooting lessons the hard way!

    And … WOW! It’s so cool to here a bit about the PLA reliability story – I feel like a missing part of my life has been filled in! Since we were not an authorized Commodore dealer, we had such a hard time getting PLA chips and needed them all the time! I remember the shop owner telling me “Don’t worry about where I got them.” – there was some kind of black market for them!

    I talked the shop owner into buying an EPROM burner and used to sell customized ROMs – custom colors, their name on the start screen, etc. And aligned more 1541’s with Dysan alignment disks and the oscilloscope than you can shake a 6502 at! We actually sold 1541 alignments as a maintenance service.

    I think I still have the one-fold-out-page C-64 schematic out of a Sam’s guide somewhere…..

  10. I was there. Service Manager of a Large Metropolitan Area’s #1 Apple dealership. President of the Computer User Group for that City. My employer had the business market pretty much locked down for anything desktop (aka Banking). All the other business computer systems were mainframe. Installed and serviced the first twisted pair ethernet for Apple ][‘s…. (again, banks) and Profile Drives (YOU call them networked hard drives). The next closest systems were CP/M (also on Apple ][ as well as 8080/85, and MP/M for distributed systems but these were just “nearly mainframe” yet really CP/M-MP/M… and had endless hours of contract work for them… lotta pinwheel printers, lotta RS-232, abundant Xmodem and Zmodem mods and interfacing. (Heh! Taught the ex to do all my RS-232 cables to pinwheel printers- she made us a ton, albiet at fair pricing) was getting sick of banks. Taught the ex to repair Apple ][ to component level with a simple chart…. $$$$$. Aim/Sym/Kim (and OSI…. but why was OSI always left out?) were what ONLY systems the hobbiests paid attention to… and my beloved 1802 fell aside early as if mention of “space and NASA” scared them away.

    Now.. the point which unfortunately is personal and gives glory to those before me…. which there are may of….. I’ll have to thank my Father. USAF veteran, one of the early mainframe guys of the 70’s. Taught me electronics, computers, and engines, mechanics, welding, from my first electrocution in front of him at age 3 or 4 to which he LAUGHED! (Pissing me off so much I declared WAR on this “electricity thing”)…. to the day I left home for USAF and flight simulators. My Uncle… Broadcast engineer for half the “State back in the day” with whom I drooled over his teletype…. and MARS receiver… and EME transceiver….

    Thank you Dad. You did RIGHT. Jerk to his son…. again I say he did things right. Did NOT feel good at the time for me. It’s called Slap In The Face, and I guess, then laugh. Alzheimers. 70+. He got to dance with 20 yr olds tons! Huge Smile Lots. RIP. Well done Sir! U.S.A.F. Veteran. RIP.

    Mom was greater than he. Death due to Smoking Disorder but was a rock that held us all up.

    Now…. I tell this not so you can comment. But so that you can know. It’s long long past for me.

    There are more in the family that are of some fame…. and you might try to compare…. but honest to God… not a single one of us is any less or more important than another.

    Just be what you can be. And be ALL of it.

    1. I leaned a lot using AIM-65’s to prototype hardware that later went into Apple IIe’s and OSI. I liked OSI and had the really big table top units (not the floor standing “business” systems with a huge hard drive) with matching dual 8″ floppy. I loved the super cheap backplane with 18 slots and the huge prototyping boards.

      There was FIG-Forth for AIM and OSI which allowed a lot of code to fit in the small RAM. I think I expanded AIM-64 from 1K to 4K and the OSI had 28K. You could embed assembly in the Forth an optimize for speed where needed.

      I would like to write up the OSI and the cryogenic UV fluorescence spectrometer and photon counter that it was built into. It
      could be worth having a little reference on what was done with 2MHz, 28K, and a floppy back then.

  11. When I was in high school in the late 80s, I took every computer class offered. The computers used were the Apple IIgs and II/e as well as PS/2 machines. At home I used a C64 and Amiga and couldn’t believe how lame the school’s computers graphics and sound capabilities were. I was known as a bit of a computer nerd in town and so I was invited to a computer show at the local college. I had business guys scoff as I showed the graphics and sound capabilities of the Amiga and one guy even said, “Yeah it makes a good game machine.” 5 to 6 years later when the PC world finally caught up, they called it multi-media. Pricks. I used to take my Amiga to school and demonstrate it to the teachers and kids. After class, we’d gather around and take turns playing games on it. Someone had a lame version of Test Drive for the PC with CGA graphics and bleeps and bloops for sound. When I fired up the Amiga version, they got pissed and stormed out. Ah the good ol’ days of computer rivalry. Amiga really was the best personal computer in its day.

  12. IMHO, the reason why you see so many Apple IIs in retro vids is that the Apple II was more influential than the C64 (at least to the show’s creators, and in schools, and in businesses, and in government, …). The Apple II line was also available from 1977 to 1993 vs the C64 1982 to 1994. That gives the Apple II line a longer time span to intersect with the timeline of any retro show (post-1985, most were looking at PCs and mouse driven systems (Mac, IIgs, Amiga, ST, etc…) limiting the peak of 8-bit systems to 1977-1984ish (at least as far as nerds care)).

    Re: C64 as the number one selling computer of all time. What’s never counted is the number of Apple II clones world wide. The Apple II, like the IBM PC was very cloneable, creating a massive ecosystem. The openness of both the Apple II and the IBM PC (e.g. slots) also increased its popularity and longevity. From my own personal experience, I rarely saw a C64 in the 80s. My school and friends all had Apple IIs or clones (like myself). By 1986 everyone I knew switched to Mac or Amiga (lot of Apple II users got Amigas too).

  13. I disagree. observed and interacted with more Apple II’s than any other machine during that time period. In fact, I only knew two people in my social group of the time that had Commodores. Outside of the 50 or so around me in libraries and schools, I would say about 15 people around me had Apple’s. And thanks to the world having a sick sense of humor, my first machine was a Tandy, so… I’m actually grateful for that :D

  14. “The least expensive of these machines cost $49, one of them talked thanks to a few engineers from Texas Instrument’s Speak & Spell defecting to Commodore, but marketing didn’t know how to sell these machines.”

    Well, then the marketing suits should have been kicked out of the company asap. Looks like incompetence at C= even predated Mehdi Ali.
    How about making a talking machine for the disabled then possibly give one to Mr. Stephen Hawking?
    When was that, early-mid 80s? He was still able to speak barely, but had much better muscle coordination so that simple switches could have been used, no fancy sensors required. It would have represented a huge help to people in need, give great media coverage to the company and beat Intel by a few years.
    They could also license the chips to be put in ATMs and cars.. damnit it was the Knight Rider era, couldn’t those beancounters make 1+1? Idiots!

  15. Meanwhile, in east europe (if anyone cares), the point was largely moot. The educational was still on punch-cards, the hobbyist scene was looking at Z80. Magazines were publishing Z80 assembly instructions from games to antenna calculators. Later ‘superseded’ by TV episodes from which you could record the pirated games (copyright wasn’t a public issue back then),

    A few years later (East-Europe, again), the only platforms still were: punch-card machines, IBM compatible and ZX80. Amiga was pretty much exotic (except for the current Czech Republic), Z80 was strong because of the tape cassettes, C64 was still “bourgeois” as the main components and software had to be smuggled from Western Europe.

    A (few) years later IBM took over and everything was PC-based. C64 was a viable cost-competitor to the PC and Z80 was the poor-man’s way of doing it. We’re talking about the 1990s here, when the red curtain finally came down. So a bit off-time compared to the US or UK market. That is when you started seeing Commodore and Amiga in the wild, being sold as “PCs”, but at cheaper prices.

    It took 1990-1995 for Eastern Europe to reach parity with the western world on computers (really, only IBM PC at that time) and you also got the nice MBR viruses (virii?) like CIH to worry about. It was a wild wild west (except it was east) because copyright wasn’t enforced and neither were protection laws.

    Just a tidbit of history from another era. Too young to write assembler, too old to watch vlogs.

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