Gary Kildall’s death investigation

I was selling computers at retail when I heard of Gary Kildall’s death. We had a few copies of Wordstar for Windows and someone asked about it. I said it was easier to remember the keyboard shortcuts in Wordstar than Wordperfect.

“You sound like a CP/M guy,” said someone who overheard me. “Did you hear that Gary Kildall died last month?”

I hadn’t, and he wasn’t surprised. I was curious, so I went to the library and found a whole lot of nothing. A month or two later, I found a mention in a computer magazine column that Kildall had died in a barroom fight but it gave no specifics.

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Commodore 64 vs 64c

The Commodore 64 went through a number of revisions throughout its long life. The most outwardly visible of those revisions was the transition from the tan, boxy C-64 to the thinner, lighter-colored 64c. If you’e wondering about the Commodore 64 vs 64c, here’s what you need to know.

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C64 vs. Apple II

C64 vs. Apple II

The C64 vs. Apple II was perhaps the most epic battle of the 8-bit era. Both companies sold millions of machines, yet both nearly went out of business in the process.

Comparing the two machines with the largest software libraries of the 8-bit era is a bit difficult, but that’s what makes it fun. The two machines are similar enough that some people ask if the Commodore 64 was an Apple product. The answer is no.

As a weird aside, it was possible, with a Mimic Systems Spartan, to turn a C-64 into an Apple II. Not many did, but the reason why is another story.

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Marx vs. Lionel

In the 1950s, Marx and Lionel took turns being the biggest toy company in the world, largely riding on the popularity of O gauge trains. Neither company particularly liked the other, but both owed some degree of their success to being compatible with one another. Because of their interoperability, the two makes of trains are frequently compared and contrasted even today.

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Why Bowman sold out to Topps, or how Topps bought Bowman

Why Bowman sold out to Topps, or how Topps bought Bowman

Virtually every schoolboy who is interested in baseball cards knows the story of how Topps bought Bowman. After World War II, Bowman was the leading brand of baseball card, or, at least from 1948 until 1951. Then, in 1952, Topps released its landmark 1952 set. Bowman and Topps battled for baseball fans’ nickels and pennies until 1955. Then, in early 1956, Topps bought Bowman, and that was the end of Bowman until the late 1980s, when Topps dusted off the brand name and started issuing Bowman cards again. And Topps faced precious little competition in the baseball card field until 1981, when Fleer and Donruss won the right to produce cards.

That’s the story as I knew it. But there’s a lot more to the story, starting with the details of the purchase. In January 1956, Topps bought its once mighty rival for a mere $200,000. Normally a company sells for 10 times its annual revenue, and Bowman had sold $600,000 worth of baseball cards alone just two years before. The purchase price makes no sense, until you dig a bit deeper.

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Download more RAM — Safe? Scam? Joke?

Download more RAM — Safe? Scam? Joke?

A software developer asked me today about a website called Download More RAM. I don’t think he heard my other coworkers snicker. He asked if it’s possible to download RAM, then asked if it was a security issue. I said it’s best not to visit it, and spared him the history lesson.

Yes, there’s some history to it.

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Ex-Commodore Prez Mehdi Ali proves you can spin anything

I found the thumbnail biography of one Mehdi Ali recently. It reads, in part:

“His prior experience includes serving as the President of Commodore International, where he accomplished a major operational turnaround.”

I don’t think he and I share the same definition of “major operational turnaround.”

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Why were early computers beige?

It’s a common question: Why were early computers beige? In some ways it seems a curious color choice today.

Due to their tendency to yellow with age, there’s some occasional debate over what color early home computers really were. But, having spent about a decade working with them starting with when they were new, I can tell you that the Commodore 64 was definitely a tan or beige color. It’s not terribly far off from a Sherwin-Williams color that they call Keystone Gray, or a Benjamin Moore color they call Bennington Gray. Its official color match is called RAL1019. It’s a dark beige with gray undertones. But the color definitely runs toward tan or brown much more than it runs toward the gray color of, say, an Atari XE or Atari ST computer of the mid-late 1980s.

Early computers from Apple and Atari were similar colors. They weren’t a spot-on match for the color Commodore used, but much closer to that color than to the light beige that became associated with PC clones for a couple of decades before black came into vogue.

I have no insider knowledge but I think I can provide some insight into the design choices.

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