In some ways, 1985 was a really pivotal year for computing. The industry was changing fast, but in 1985, many relics from the past were still present even as we had an eye for the future. Here’s a look back at computers in 1985 and what made that year so interesting.
I think 1985 was interesting in and of itself, but it also made the succeeding years a lot more interesting. A surprising amount of the technology that first appeared in 1985 still has an impact today.
The IBM PS/2 line, released in April 1987, was IBM’s attempt to reinvigorate its aging personal computer line and fight off cloning. Although the line sold fairly well, it failed to hold off cloning and IBM never regained the market dominance it enjoyed in the first half of the decade.
The IBM PS/2 did offer numerous enhancements over the PC line it replaced, but IBM’s customers came to resent the high price and the perception that IBM was trying to lock out third party peripherals. IBM’s decline was slow, but the PS/2 was the beginning of the end for IBM’s personal computer business.
Retro computing fans, especially Commodore and Atari enthusiasts, all know the story. Jack Tramiel left Commodore, the company he founded, in early 1984 at the height of its success. Then, within a few months, he gained control of Commodore rival Atari.
Looking at the Commodore 64 vs Amiga seems a little odd, at least to me. After all, the machines were never intended to be rivals. The Amiga was supposed to succeed the 64. Commodore bought Amiga because they couldn’t make a 64 successor on their own, so they intended for the Amiga to replace it. It didn’t fully succeed, and maybe that’s why the comparison is still interesting.
Looking back, the machines may seem similar today. But in 1985 they sure didn’t.
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. The success of the two machines allowed Commodore to surpass Radio Shack as the sales leader in the computer industry. Yes, both Commodore and Radio Shack outsold Apple.
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.
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 original breadbin 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.
The ultimate DOS gaming PC is a topic that I’ve seen come up in forums frequently, and that I’ve been asked directly a number of times. I guess since I published advice on running DOS games on Windows PCs on two continents, people figured I knew something about that. I guess I fooled them!
The trouble is that no single PC can really be the “ultimate” DOS game machine. Well, not if your goal is to be able to optimally run everything from early 1980s titles designed for the original IBM PC up to the last DOS version of Quake. I learned that the hard way in 1995 or 1996, even before Quake existed. Read more
Before the Amiga was a computer, Amiga was a struggling independent company trying to stay in business so it would get its chance at changing the world. In order to make ends meet while they developed their multitasking computer, Amiga produced and sold joysticks for the game systems and computers that were already on the market.
These joysticks turn up on Ebay fairly frequently.
All in all it sounds reasonable to me. His recollection of DOS and some DOS version 8 confused me at first, but that was what the DOS buried in Windows ME was called. But mentioning it is appropriate, because it shows how DOS faded from center stage to being barely visible in the end, to the point where it was difficult to dig it out, and that it took 15 years for it to happen. He’s completely right, that if Microsoft had pulled the plug on DOS in 1985, Windows would have failed. Read more
I saw a question on a vintage computing forum this week: How did the IBM PC become the de facto standard for PCs, and the only desktop computer architecture from the 1980s to survive until today?
It’s a very good question, and I think there were several reasons for it. I also think without all of the reasons, the IBM PC wouldn’t have necessarily won. In some regards, of course, it was a hollow victory. IBM has been out of the PC business for a decade now. Its partners Intel and Microsoft, however, reaped the benefits time and again.