Commodore 64 vs 128

Commodore 64 vs 128

Commodore introduced the Commodore 128 in 1985 as an upgrade path from the Commodore 64, the most popular model of computer of all time. The 128 addressed the 64’s biggest shortcomings while remaining mostly compatible with its hardware and software. That makes the Commodore 64 vs 128 a natural comparison, even more natural than comparing the 64 with the VIC-20.

The Commodore 128 was an extension of the Commodore 64, with more memory, a faster disk drive, a faster CPU, and 80-column video. It also featured a very high degree of compatibility, which helped both machines sell better.

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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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Women in tech: The forgotten story of Vector Graphic

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.

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Tinkering isn’t dead, but it is changing

When Radio Shack announced its bankruptcy, I read more fears that the age of tinkering is dead than I read laments for the store.

I follow the logic, because Radio Shack was the only national store chain that ever tried to cater to tinkerers. But I don’t think people abandoning Radio Shack means tinkering is necessarily dead. I have plenty of indications that it’s still very much alive, but it’s also very different from how it used to be.

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The forgotten computer that changed the world

A rather hastily written and sloppily edited piece showed up on Slashdot yesterday morning that caught my attention, because it was about the Amiga 2000. The Amiga 2000 is a dear machine to me; in 1991, our family upgraded to one from a Commodore 128. I still have both machines, and there isn’t much that I know today that I didn’t first experience on one of those two machines.

This is an Amiga 2000 that looks fairly pristine. Inside there was lots of room for hard drives, memory, CPU upgrades, and video devices.
This is an Amiga 2000 that looks fairly pristine. Inside there was lots of room for hard drives, memory, CPU upgrades, and video devices.

Although I think the piece was little more than a used computer store’s effort to unload some hard-to-move inventory, I do agree with the premise. For a machine that had a tremendous impact on the world as we know it today, the A2000 is criminally unknown. Read more

Happy late 50th birthday, z/OS!

It was 50 years ago this month that IBM released the first modern mainframe, the System/360. The System/360 was notable for being the first series of systems built with interchangeable parts, rather than being custom-built. It’s also notable because its direct descendants are still in production: In the 1970s, it became the System/370, the System/390 in the 90s, and the z series today. The systems originally ranged from 1 MHz to 50 MHz in speed, and came with anywhere from 8 KB to 8 MB of RAM. To put that in perspective, the low-end model was comparable in power to an early Apple II desktop computer from 1977, and the high-end model was comparable in power to the 486 PCs we ran Windows 3.1 on in the 1993-94 timeframe. Or you could compare it to one of my souped-up Amigas, if you prefer (I do). But the same software that ran on the low-end model would run on the high-end model, and there’s a pretty good chance that software from the 1960s will run on a modern Z series mainframe today, with little to no modification.

Twenty years ago this architecture was supposed to be on its way out, but it never really went away. IBM keeps modernizing it, so I expect z/OS has a long life ahead of it. It’s entrenched, and when technology gets entrenched, there’s no getting rid of it.

There isn’t much new, young mainframe expertise in training these days, and it turns out there are certain jobs that mainframes do better than smaller PCs do. Most large companies have at least one mainframe, and it’s not going anywhere, but the people who can care for it and feed it are retiring fast. If you want some job security, you can do a lot worse than learning everything you can about IBM Z series mainframes in addition to the other things you know.

The trade off of fidelity and convenience in marketing, and how it doomed my favorite company

I’m reading a book called Trade-Off, by former USA Today technology columnist Kevin Maney. It’s primarily a marketing book.

Maney argues that all products are a balance of fidelity and convenience, and highly favor one or the other. He additionally argues that failed products fail because they attempted to achieve both, or failed to focus on either one.

An example of a convenient product is an economy car. They’re inexpensive to buy and inexpensive to keep fueled up, but don’t have much glitz and you probably won’t fall in love with it. A high-end sports car or luxury car is a lot less practical, but you’re a lot more likely to fall in love with it, and gain prestige by driving around town in it. 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.”

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IBM PCjr and Tandy 1000

IBM PCjr and Tandy 1000

On January 29, 1984, two computers hit the market. One was Apple’s Macintosh. It needs no introduction. The other was the IBM PCjr. It was a little less successful. We’ll talk about what this has to do with the Tandy 1000 in a minute.

The PCjr is one of the biggest flops in computing history. Few people know much more about it than that. It ended up being an important computer, but it certainly didn’t meet IBM’s expectations. Read more

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