The first successful home computer: Commodore VIC-20

The first successful home computer: Commodore VIC-20

What was the first successful home computer? Some people would argue it was the Apple II, the TRS-80 Model I, or perhaps even the Apple I. But I argue it was Commodore’s VIC-20.

Maybe I’m biased. I was a Commodore fan growing up and my first experience with a computer was probably on a VIC-20. But I think I can make a case.

Read more

Commodore 64 vs VIC-20

Commodore 64 vs VIC-20

How do you compare the Commodore 64 vs VIC-20?

The Commodore 64 and its predecessor, the VIC-20, look a lot alike, and the VIC-20’s design certainly influenced the 64. The 64 is the best selling computer model of all time, and I argue the VIC-20 was the first really successful home computer.

But even though the two machines are closely related, there are significant differences between them. It’s important to remember that in the 1980s, two years was a comparatively long time because the market was moving so fast. Plus, the VIC-20 was always supposed to be an entry-level machine. In 1982, the 64 was supposed to be fairly high-end. Let’s compare and contrast the two venerable machines.

Read more

Women in tech: The forgotten story of Vector Graphic

I frequently hear lamentations about the number of women in the technology field–or the lack of them. Although there have been a number of successful women in the field, such as Meg Whitman, CEO of HP and formerly Ebay; Marissa Meyer, CEO of Yahoo; and Carly Fiorina, former CEO of HP, men outnumber women in the field and often by a large margin.

That perhaps makes it even more sad that Vector Graphic is largely forgotten today. Last week Fast Company profiled this pioneering computer company that time forgot.

Read more

Commodore hardware viruses–yes, they were possible

Commodore hardware viruses–yes, they were possible

The conventional wisdom is that computer viruses can wipe out your data, but they can’t do physical damage. The exception to that rule was, of course, Commodore, the king of cheap 1980s computers. Commodore’s earliest computer, the PET, had an infamous “poke of death” (POKE 59458,62) that would destroy its video display, but the Commodore 64’s sidekick, the 1541 disk drive, had a couple of little-known vulnerabilities as well. Read more

The Post-Dispatch may be giving the wrong idea about the dollar value of vintage computers

Articles like Top 10 collectibles for value, from the Post-Dispatch this week, frequently make me nervous, mostly because of statements like this one:

[D]id you know that computer parts can bring home cash, too?

Statements like that tend to get people’s hopes up way too high. I find the timing interesting though, seeing as a TRS-80 Model 1 sold at a St. Louis estate sale this past weekend. The estate seller’s reaction? “Normally you can’t give that stuff away.”

Read more

The pizza procession

There’s a plaza over by our house that’s home to, among other things, a pet store, a license office, a Chinese food joint, a mattress store, a haircut place, a Radio Shack, another cell phone store, and a pizza joint. My wife was there last week, getting ready to pull out of the parking lot, when a funeral procession approached. She stopped to stay out of the way.

The pizza delivery guy behind her didn’t.

Read more

LOAD “*”,8,1 – what it means

The smartest guy in the room cited the Commodore command LOAD “*”,8,1 as something he used for years but never understood why it worked except it was the command he used to load games on his Commodore 64.

So I explained it. Now I can explain it to you too.  Read more

Hate is a strong word, but here’s how you irritate your sysadmin

IT World published something with the inflammatory title of “9 reasons your sysadmin hates you.”

I’ve seen most of these things, but I haven’t seen my personal pet peeve, which is something my management structure calls “shadow IT.”

Read more

Commodore was more than a stock scam

From time to time, I see the phrase “Commodore stock scam” or something similar come up in my search engine logs. Commodore, in case you don’t know, was a high-flying computer company in the 1980s that was literally making computers as quickly as they could sell them while Apple struggled for its survival, and was in the enviable position of being the main supplier of chips for its competitors. Imagine if Intel sold computers at retail next to HP and Dell, while still selling chips to Dell. That was Commodore in 1984. I don’t have 1984 figures, but in 1985, Commodore had 38% of the computer market all to itself. IBM and its clones, combined, had 49%. Apple had 13%.

But a decade later, Commodore had squandered all of that away and was out of business. That’s why Robert X. Cringely sums up Commodore as Irving Gould‘s stock scam, then goes back to writing about Apple.

The real story is more complicated than that. More interesting, too.

Read more