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16th June 2001

THE DUSTY CRYSTAL BALL
NOSTALGIA UNEARTHED WHILE PACKING

Jim Butterfield


 

(This article was first published in the ICPUG Journal July/August , September/October 1991 issues. Permission from Jim Butterfield to republish on the Internet has been received.)

Moving day grows closer. As I gather things together, I see ghosts of Commodore past...

Late 1975: I became interested in a company that made fine calculators, in my opinion, and asked my broker for any data on Commodore Business Machines Limited. Yes, a Canadian company: "With subsidiaries, manufactures and sells steel office equipment and business machines, principally typewriters, adding machines, and electronic calculators". Principals: Irving Gould (Bahamas), Jack Tramiel (California). Gould was the major shareholder and no dividends had been paid in the past ten years. I looked at the data and decided that a small, closely-held company that traded over-the-counter was a bit risky for me. I wonder how rich I'd be today if I had put $1000 into the company?

May 1976: I saw the first microcomputer that I liked: the KIM-1, manufactured by MOS Technology in Pennsylvania. It had a 6502 micro, a 23-key input pad, a 6-digit LED display and a whopping 1048 bytes of RAM, (that's bytes, not K). I promptly mailed off my $245 and received my computer in less than a month. Over the next year some friends and I put together "The First Book of KIM", a book that was promptly reprinted as a pirate version in Europe.

1977: Commodore acquires MOS Technology, making the KIM-1 the first Commodore computer. Commodore also acquire, as part of this takeover, Chuck Peddle. Chuck convinces them that the world needs a personal computer, to be called the "PET". The original PET was a 4K machine, but Commodore quickly opted for an 8K version; they quickly discouraged orders of the limited capacity 4K unit. "Shipments of 8K units will begin in September 1977. Price $795". The order form read: "I attach my check for $795 in full payment. l understand that delivery will be within 90 days or I will get my money back".

May 1978: The PET now begins to be stocked in retail stores. Meanwhile, the Apple II and the TRS-80 model 1 have beaten Commodore to the retail market. At this time I bought my first PET. I hadn't wanted to send money and wait. I paid $1200 Canadian for my 8K machine with "chiclet" keyboard.

August 1979: I bought the newly available 2040 disk drive and 2023 friction printer. In Canadian funds the drive was $1166 and the printer $766; the cables to hook them up were another $80. About two months ago, (mid 91?), I gave away my 2023, but my 2040, upgraded to a 4040, still works happily.

As the 80s arrived things started to explode. Commodore expanded its PET concept to larger machines. Some had an improved operating system, some had 80-column screens and more extensive keyboards, some had more memory. The support field mushroomed, software and hardware, both Commodore and third party.

If you're an old-timer, you might remember some of these events, perhaps in their European parallels. If not...you can look at the prices we paid for relatively primitive equipment, and be grateful that you live in the '9Os (Ed: and even more grateful in the 21st century?).


Back in legendary times - early 1980, to be exact - a late lamented UK computer magazine called PRINTOUT published their vision of the future. In a "Future Shock" article, the editors looked ahead for three years or so and gave a chronology of coming events.

A good deal of it was tongue in cheek. Much of it dealt with personalities who were well known at that time, at least to Commodore users.

In early 1980 Commodore computers had been around for a couple of years, more or less (mostly less). These PETs, as all Commodore computers were called then, had a new "full-size" keyboard to replace the original tiny "chiclet" unit. They had 40 column screens - 80 columns was rumoured to be coming, but had not yet been seen. Commodore was now shipping printers and (model 2040) disk drives. IBM representatives were loudly claiming that micros were toys and had no place in business.

So here's PRINTOUT's view of the future, our long-ago past. Sometimes, items that were intended to be funny turned out to be right on the money. And, gosh, I'll have to step in and explain from time to time.

1981 April: "PRINTOUT circulation overtakes Practical Computing".
1982 February: "PRINTOUT circulation overtakes The Times".

Oh dear. The magazine didn't survive.

1981 February: "Volume 2 number 4 PET User Club Newsletter printed".

The original PET User Club was owned and operated by Commodore. (That's why the word "Independent" is in the title of ICPUG - the founders wanted to be identified as being distinct from Commodore). But Commodore started to lose momentum in their support of this "owned" group and the newsletters started to come less and less frequently. The point: "you might need to wait for a year before seeing the next issue..."

1980 May: "8K PET reduced to 400".
1981 January. "8K PET reduced to 200".
1981 August: "8K PET reduced to 100".
1982 April: "Commodore sales exceed $250m".
1982 June: "Commodore taken over by bank consortia".
1983 April. "Commodore sales exceed $400m".

I'm sure PRINTOUT's editors thought that these were wild guesses that would cause readers to roar with laughter.

1980 April. "PET advertised on TV".
1980 June "SOUND added to PETs".
1981 March. "Colour PET with high density graphics".

The VIC-20 in fact arrived in the Spring of 1981. The Commodore 64 followed in late 1982.

I980 November: "2 Mbyte SuperPET with 64K RAM and 12" 80 column monitor".
1981 April: "30 MByte hard disk offered by Commodore".

There was indeed a SuperPet, which arrived in the summer of 1981. It had 96K RAM and a 12 inch 80 column monitor; it could be used with an 8250 disk unit, which came with a little over 2Mbyte of storage. (Gosh! I'm impressed!) Commodore did indeed offer a hard disk - the 9060/9090 - but it was of limited success

1981 September: "IBM announce $1000 micro".

Not a bad guess But that price? Perhaps the crystal ball was showing the ill-fated "PC Jr " ?

1982 Febuary: "Read/Write video disk Storage".
1983 January: "24bit micro-based mini-mainframe ".

Optical disks have been shown from time to time, but up to the present time CDTV is Commodore's only serious use; and that's read-only.
(Ed: Now, in the 21st century, we have read/write CD-ROM and read only DVD, with a writeable version at a sensible price on the horizon).
24 bits? Well, the Amiga fits the 16/32 bit slot, so 24 is not a bad average.

1980 July: "Petsoft release PASCAL for PET ".
1980 September: "PET Fortran released ".
1980 October: "Algol package launched ".
1980 December: "Commodore Basic compiler released".

There have been several languages released for 8-bit Commodore computers, but none have dominated the field. There were at least two good BASIC compilers produced early in the PET's life cycle

1981 March: "ACT publish complete business suite in ROM".

Perhaps they were envisioning "Silicon Office"?

1982 October: "AUT0 PROGRAM 1: Super high level language released".

Around that time a program called "The Last One" came onto the market. The concept: you'd never need to write a program again after you got this package, making it "the last program" you would ever need In practice, it produced decent business report packages

1980 July: "Chuck Peddle joins Apple again".
1980 August: "Chuck Peddle goes back to CBM".
1980 November: "Chuck Peddle joins Atari".
1980 December: "Chuck Peddle goes back to Commodore".
1981 July: "Chuck Peddle joins IBM".
1981 August: "Chuck Peddle rejoins Commodore".
1982 January: "Chuck Peddle joins the Foreign Legion".

Chuck Peddle conceived the original PET computer, and a good concept it was, too. In 1979 he left Commodore to go to Apple, but soon returned to Commodore. Perhaps PRINTOUT thought of him as fickle, and thus made the above predictions. In fact, Chuck left Commodore to design a new 16-hit computer called either Victor or Sirius, depending on which continent you were on. It was a good design which anticipated IBM's concept by a year; but the IBM label was impossible to beat and Chuck's enterprise is no more. Rumours from a few years back had Chuck working for Shugart, the disk drive manufacturer, but I have been unable to confirm this.
(I heard he is now CEO of Tandon - Ed SEPT 1991).

1980 September: "Kit Spencer promoted to International Marketing Manager, Santa Clara".
1981 June: "Kit Spencer returns to UK to head High Street multiple".
1982 March: "Kit.Spencer knighted".

Kit Spencer has been with Commodore since 1974! He ran the UK marketing operation. The first item is close. In the autumn of 1981 Spencer became Commodore's Vice President of Marketing, located in Pennsylvania . Kit is now managing Commodore's affairs at the corporate headquarters in the Bahamas. What do you think? Is a gentle job in the Bahamas as good as a knighthood?

1981 December: "Nick Green receives promotion".

I don't know what has happened to Nick lately, but for a while I thought of him as Commodore's court jester. He would shower you with ideas and poetic concepts, but 1, for one, was never sure how much of it I should believe. "Heard anything of Nick Green" is the characteristic phrase of the real Commodore UK old-time user.
(Nick now owns Compunet - Ed SEPT 1991 )

1982 May: "Jack Tramiel retires".

The long-time president of Commodore, much in the public light. Tramiel left Commodore abruptly in Spring of 1984. Then he acquired Atari computers. It's said that Tramiel now leaves most of the work to his sons and is in virtual retirement. Those of us who have met him doubt he'll ever be a spectator.

1982 August: "Commodore publish debugged handbook".

Murphy was an optimist, too.

1983 May: "Creg Yob completes PET handbook".

Yob, (the creator of the Wumpus), announced his PET Handbook almost as soon as the PET existed. He even took orders, but we haven't seen the book yet. It was left to Raeto West to publish the most definitive description of the PET.

1982 September: "Jim Butterfield elected Pope".

Well, yes, that happened. (All right, I'll try to explain). The summers of 1984 and 1985 I was invited to speak at the Commodore shows in Frankfurt, Germany. I discovered that I was listed on the program as the "Commodore-papst" ..... the Commodore Pope. And just to prove that it was no accident: I still get postcards regularly from Lourdes.


This article was reprocessed from the ICPUG Journal by Ken Ross.


 

 

 

 


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