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The Rise and Fall of Commodore 340

Andrew Leigh writes "On The Edge: The Spectacular Rise And Fall Of Commodore by Brian Bagnall is fodder for anyone interested in the buried history of the personal computer. Whether you owned a Commodore computer or want to hear a new angle on the early stages of computer development, you'll find this book easy to pick up and almost impossible to put down. Bagnall has gone to a massive amount of effort in telling this tale, researching and interviewing the real personalities involved. It takes readers on an important and often emotional ride that will many times leave you shaking your head at how painfully it all went wrong." Read the rest of Andrew's review
On The Edge: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of Commodore
author Brian Bagnall
pages 557
publisher Variant Press
rating 9
reviewer Andrew Leigh
ISBN 0973864907
summary Tells the story of Commodore through first-hand accounts by former Commodore engineers and managers

Before Commodore entered the home computer market, they were primarily a calculator manufacturer. The story begins in the mid 70's with the development of Chuck Peddle's famous 6502 chip, through to the release of the first personal computer, the Commodore PET. It then reveals how the VIC-20 became the first home computer to break the elusive one million barrier. Then comes the Commodore 64, and how the company made it the best selling computer of all time. The Commodore 128 is given plenty of coverage, along with the failed Commodore 16 and Plus/4 computers (which are probably better off forgotten). At this point, Commodore seems like it is losing its way, and the story cuts to the struggling company responsible for the original Amiga computer. You'll learn about the various Amiga models that followed, including the successful Amiga 500 and the pre-DVD CDTV and CD32 units. The hirings, firings, disagreements, discontent, resignations and celebrations that occurred during the company's run are given more than their fair share of coverage. It doesn't always show Commodore in the best light, which is what readers should demand from any history.

It's a sad truth, and the book describes this in an often bitter fashion, that the early history of computers seems to focus on Apple, IBM and Microsoft while Commodore's massive contributions to the industry are routinely ignored. The common misconception that Apple started the home computing industry is simply wrong. Commodore was the first to show a personal computer, the first to deliver low-cost computers to the masses, the first to sell a million computers, and the first to arrive with a true multimedia computer. Fortunately this book sets a lot of the record straight.

On The Edge delves deeply into the business strategies behind the company. Students of any business discipline will be well advised to heed the lessons about how not to run a company. One of the book's main characters and the founder of Commodore, Jack Tramiel, was an incredibly ruthless business man. Whether you love him or hate him, he was ultimately behind the incredible success of the VIC-20 and Commodore 64 computers. The book outlines how he managed to be the first to sell his home computers to the mass market through department stores, driving prices down and annihilating most of the competition. It also amusingly tells how he would regularly lose his temper and have what employees referred to as "Jack Attacks" when things went wrong. Many people referred to him as the scariest man alive and he probably was. Jack Tramiel unfortunately does not publicly talk about the Commodore days, so Bagnall was not able to personally interview him, however family members and those close to him give their personal accounts of events.

The book also explains how Irving Gould, the money-man and venture capitalist behind Commodore, constantly interfered when things were seemingly running smoothly. It is widely recognized that Irving Gould and Medhi Ali (the CEO he instated at the time) ultimately caused the sad demise of Commodore through 1993-94, yet the details of how it happened have always been sketchy until now. Thomas Rattigan, former CEO of Commodore, was interviewed by Bagnall and gives his personal thoughts and experiences during his time with the company. He also talks about his untimely dismissal by Gould. The later sections of the book describe how numerous marketing mishaps and poor business sense led to a dwindling stock price and an eventual filing for liquidation. Bagnall accurately describes the heartbreaking end to a great company that deserved much more success and recognition.

This book certainly does not shy away from getting its metaphorical hands dirty with the technical details and manufacturing processes involved in building the Commodore computers. If anything, more detail would be welcome here, as the personalities interviewed obviously drove their designs by an enormous amount of passion. Bagnall has interviewed all the original key players involved on the technical side, including the humble and personable Chuck Peddle. You'll read how he built the MOS 6502 microprocessor, with the talented layout artist Bill Mensch. The chip was used by not only Commodore but rivals Apple, Atari, and Nintendo. Many other notable and significant technical pioneers have also been interviewed and give their experiences and opinions.

You'll learn why your 1541 floppy disk drive was so unbearably slow. You'll learn how millions of dollars worth of Amigas were scrapped because of a cheeky message placed in the ROM by a disgruntled employee. You'll learn how exhausted coders had to take naps at their desks while code compiled on a mainframe. You'll also learn why those tedious "peek" and "poke" functions weren't built in as BASIC commands for easier usage on your C64.

Interestingly, Steve Wozinak, one of the co-founders of Apple Computers, claims in his new book (titled "iWoz") that he invented the personal computer and provided Chuck Peddle with the idea for the first Commodore PET. When you read On The Edge, you'll find that it tells a different story. Chuck Peddle receives a great deal of coverage, and after reading about his efforts you will feel this is deservedly so. His efforts have gone largely unsung and On The Edge may well be the first step towards him earning the title of being the father of the personal computer.

Commodore Business Machines was a company that produced superior computers for the mass market. Their legacy deserves to be told and more importantly heard. Computing history didn't just involve the big players that still exist today. Commodore, Atari, Radio Shack, and others all shaped the future. On The Edge is an experience that will change the way you view computing history and maybe even entice you to dust off that old Commodore computer that's been sitting in the cupboard. Bagnall tells it like it is and also leaves you thinking "what if?" many times. The great stories are filled with characters that anyone who works in the IT industry will recognize in their own workplace. It truly demonstrates the fragility and ad-hoc nature of not only Commodore itself, but the entire industry back then. It really makes you cringe in disbelief at how some stupid and insignificant decisions shaped the future as we know it now. No one could have known how important these decisions were back then.

At a hefty 557 pages, On The Edge is good value. Bagnall's informative and relaxed writing makes it a breeze to travel through decades at a blistering pace. It sheds some much needed light on a period of history clouded by revisionism.

You can purchase On The Edge: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of Commodore from Slashdot welcomes readers' book reviews -- to see your own review here, read the book review guidelines, then visit the submission page.
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The Rise and Fall of Commodore

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  • I never had a C64, but I have fond memories of the Amiga - although it eventually died a death in the face of the PC et al. I guess not many people wanted adventure games that came on fourteen floppies. Strangely, though, there have been multiple aborted attempts to revive the Amiga since then, with the name changing hands several times. Nothing's ever come of it though.
    • by diersing ( 679767 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @04:56PM (#16858728)
      fourteen floppiesWell in my day we couldn't afford the fancy floppy drives, so we stored everything on cassette tapes (Quiet Riot ones if I recall) and we liked it!



    • by dmeranda ( 120061 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @05:03PM (#16858844) Homepage
      Ah, the nostalgia.

      I had a Commodore calculator, the kind you plugged into the wall. It had a single-line orange flourescent display that had an annoying hum (the more digits that were lit the louder it was). It did though have a single register memory key, which was somewhat novel. Otherwise it was limited mostly to just +, -, /, and x.

      I first played on PETs. I still remember the joy of discovering all the different variants of it that people had. Some had green screens, others amber, and I think I remember seeing one that had purple pixels. But the membrane-style keyboard was the most futuristic looking (and hardest to use).

      Then I did all my "serious" programming on the C64 and wore out many 1541 disk drives. In fact my c64 still works, but unfortunately not the drive. Once you learned all those magic PEEK and POKE numbers you could play God, or so it seemed.

      Then it was on to the Amiga 1000 and 2000. I had three floppy drives on the thing (thank goodness for the included schematics) before I could finally afford a newfangled hard drive. Eventually I upgraded it all the way to a Toaster Flyer system before the company folded up and I had to move on. Which was horrible, until Linux came along.

      I remember seeing a C64 in the Smithsonian a few years back. That sure made me feel old.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        Ah, the good old days when a PEEK and a POKE didn't get you slapped.

        If it weren't for the chattering 1541, I'd still have my C64. Mine was the "portable" SX-64 [] with the 5" screen. Weighed at least 100 lbs (45 kg).
        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by iocat ( 572367 )
          A POKE could get you slapped on the PET -- it had "killer pokes" that would totally brick the machine. They're discussed in the book. Which, by the way, is fantastic. I am an Apple fan since the early days, but I though the book was really really fascinating, even if the C64 did totally pale next to the Apple IIe.


    • by DrSkwid ( 118965 )
      I had a Slackware CD Rom in the days before bootable CD Roms.

      I had to copy it on to 22 floppies before I could install it.

      Happy times
  • Amiga 500.

    We will always miss you.
  • by LoadWB ( 592248 ) * on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @04:45PM (#16858498) Journal
    I absolutely LOVE this book. Why not buy it from the author?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Jurrasic ( 940901 )
      I intend to. It's always made me bitter how little Commodore's song is sung these days. In an ideal world we'd all be typing these messages on Slashdot on AmigaOS based PCs rather then Windows-based or 'i'd rather die then use Windows so I use Linux'-based PCs. :(
      • by Golias ( 176380 )
        In an ideal world we'd all be typing these messages on Slashdot on AmigaOS based PCs rather then Windows-based or 'i'd rather die then use Windows so I use Linux'-based PCs. :(

        I had a Vic20, and later a C-64, and I am personally thrilled to be typing this on a Mac.
        • by DG ( 989 )
          Marc Barrett? Is that you?


          (old time comp.sys.amiga guys will get the joke)
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Monsuco ( 998964 )

        In an ideal world we'd all be typing these messages on Slashdot on AmigaOS based PCs rather then Windows-based or 'i'd rather die then use Windows so I use Linux'-based PCs. :(

        Interestingly, Linux would not exist without the PC. Linus Torvalds wrote it to learn about the 386 processor so he would never have written it (he first learned to code on an early commodore/vic model so I suspect he would not have needed to learn more about that CPU). Also, without the PC and it's stardardized hardware Linux would h

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Bertie ( 87778 )
          I'm one of the generation who grew up with these sorts of computers, and I was exceptional in that I actually tried to make use of the built-in programming capabilities that you find so cool. Most people - parents, kids, whatever - got these systems home, tinkered around for a while, and came to the conclusion that it was all very clever, but they couldn't work out what it was for. Apart from games. And that's what everybody did with them - they played games and not a lot else.

          Nowadays, thanks to user-ce
    • Linky [] (I think).
  • Rise: Chuck Peddle
    Fall: Jack Tramiel
    • by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @05:56PM (#16859856) Homepage Journal

      Well, Peddle was only there for a short time. Jack Tramiel built Commodore up in the beginning, being Commdore's founder and everything.

      He did do something in the early eighties which nearly killed Commodore. Tramiel went to war with TI in the so-called video game wars, furious that TI had undermined its calculator business in the eighties. The Commodore 64, which was selling well at $600 (supposedly close to 10x what it actually cost to build, even then) was repeatedly subjected to price cuts and a massive marketing campaign, which ultimately came close to destroying Commodore's cash flow.

      At the end of the period, Irving Gould, Commodore's effective owner, fired Tramiel, who left and then went to Atari, which he basically saved from oblivion.

      Commodore went bankrupt for the first time shortly afterwards. It recovered. And then went bust again.

      Commodore's main problem at the end were a bunch of technical managers with agendas, and some lousy decisions made as a result of it. A case in point, the AGA chipset.

      The AGA chipset was supposed to debut in an enhanced A3000 (the 3000 was a very respected, if expensive, 32-bit Amiga system), called the A3000+. Shortly before the A3000+ was supposed to be finished and shown to Commodore's international affiliates, there was a change of management, and the project cancelled. Instead, AGA was to be put first into a lower cost machine, called (IIRC) the A2200. Low cost consumer machines were suddenly considered Commodore's future direction, and they also designed an "A300", a replacement for the Commodore 64 based on old Amiga (ECS) technology, and an "A600", an AGA and standards compliant replacement to the A500.

      All of which made some kind of sense, I suppose, but there was no replacement for the A3000.

      After that, Commodore's managers decided to rename and reprice everything before announcing these wonderful machines to the public. The A2200 became the A4000. The replacement to the A3000. (This would be like Ford replacing the Lincoln Town Car with a design based upon the Escort.) It, and the A600, were delayed.

      Meanwhile, the A300 was renamed (at the last moment) to the A600, and sold at the same price as the Amiga 500, which was abruptly dropped. The A600, as released, had some of the keyboard missing (so it couldn't play some Amiga games), and was no more powerful anywhere else. The machine did have a PCMCIA slot and a laptop hard drive interface, but these didn't really pacify anyone.

      A few months afterwards, the AGA machines were released. Despite AGA, the A4000 was considerably less desirable than its "predecessor", and far more expensive than the A2000 it was supposed to replace. The A1200 was a good replacement for the A500, but was sold at a much higher price.

      So in 1993 or so, you have Commodore:

      1. Seriously short of money, partially thanks to "Business is War" champion Tramiel.
      2. Seriously short of money, mainly (at this point) thanks to an ill-fated entry into the PC market (dumb managers)
      3. Releasing two lemons and a bitter orange as replacements for long-in-the-tooth but popular machines, and having no money to back it up (dumb managers)

      If they hadn't had cashflow problems, it's tempting to speculate that all four machines would have been launched, and done so as replacements for the machines they were supposed to replace. As it was, they needed the money. That said, the A3000+ appears to have been killed by a manager of the type who wants to make an impression, rather than out of any technical or marketing awareness.

      Tramiel can't really be blamed for all of this. He made one error, and he'd probably argue it wasn't an error to begin with, by the end of the "war" Commodore pretty much owned the home computer market, or was one of a top two (depending on country: ie Sinclair and Commodore in the UK owned the home computer market.) Irving Gould, who appointed a series of replacements for Tramiel and kept firing them until Medhi Ali, who was reponsible for the period where most of Commmodore's death was sealed. The PC fiasco. The numerous incompetent PHB-style heads of engineering. The mismanagement of the AGA transition.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by jesup ( 8690 ) *
        The nail in the coffin was one of Mehdi's final decisions:

        AGA GFX chips were made under contract by HP (the Commodore ex-Mostek fab couldn't handle better than 2 micron). This required forecasting so they'd reserve fab time for us.

        Some of us pushed hard for dropping all the non-AGA models and selling the A1200, A2400 (aka A4000), and A3000+ for Christmas.

        In summer of '93, when told that (because he'd been unwilling to commit to production of enough AGA chipsets earlier) that Commodore could only make somet
  • Commodore 64 + external floppy drive + 300 baud modem = endless fun dialing into local BBSs until all hours of the night.
    • "Commodore 64 + external floppy drive + 300 baud modem = endless fun dialing into local BBSs until all hours of the night."

      Modern version not that different:
      "AMD 64 + external USB drive + 384 kbps modem = endless fun surfing into until all hours of the night.
      • Have you noticed a distinct lack of USB 5.25" drives? I'm fine with a wall wart for power, but nobody even makes a USB floppy controller chip that recognizes 360k as a valid format. (There's one [] that'll do 1.2MB, but not 360k.)

        I've been encouraging Jens Schoenfeld [] to make a USB Catweasel controller [] for those of us without PCI slots. I suppose it's probably easier to put PCI slots on a laptop [], though.

        Perhaps I'm just in it for the absurdity factor.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by DaveM753 ( 844913 )
      At the risk of being modded a Troll, I used to be able to pick up my telephone handset, whistle into the mic and convince my 1660 modem that I was a carrier signal. Never lasted more than about 5 seconds though: frail humans need oxygen.

      Yeah, I miss those Commodore 64 days, too. I once sat up until 5am trying to block-send an entire disk to a buddy of mine at 300 baud. The very last block failed. Freakin' DRM was alive back then, too.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by SydShamino ( 547793 )
      I bought the Commodore 2400 (or was it 1200?) baud modem in 1989 for my Commodore 128. Wow, that was such an improvement over 300 baud! BBS text flowed line at a time on my screen, instead of character at a time.

      All that hardware - computers, monitors, lots and lots of probably-broken floppy drives - is in the closet of our computer room.
  • Hidden ROM message? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by RobertB-DC ( 622190 ) * on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @04:51PM (#16858628) Homepage Journal
    I went from the TRS-80 to MSDOS, so I missed the Amiga wave. But this part of the review intrigued me:

    You'll learn how millions of dollars worth of Amigas were scrapped because of a cheeky message placed in the ROM by a disgruntled employee.

    Some Googling brought me back to Slashdot, and a previous story involving the Amiga []:

    The 500, while still a cool box, wasn't a great technological leap forward. It was merely a mass-marketing-wrapped version of the 1000. (And Commodore poorly mass-marketed it!) As the easter egg [] hidden inside one of the later versions of Workbench said: "We made Amiga, they [Commodore] f*cked it up".
    • by flnca ( 1022891 )
      Actually, it's "We made Amiga, Commodore f***ed it up!". Also included were the OS credits.

      It was in AmigaOS 1.2, if I remember correctly, and was generated by triggering one of every input event there was. Hold down all Ctrl-Alt-Amiga keys, press F10, and eject a disk at the same time! (or something, I remember because it was hard to do and either involved a second person or ejecting the disk with your nose!)

      The message was in one line, though! (not two as the guy in the article said)

      I've seen it myself ba
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward
        The ROM Message triggered by pressing 4 keys was:

        "Amiga - A Great Computer"

        When you ejected the disk, the message read:

        "Until Commodore Fucked it up."

        The A500 thru 3000 had the same message, but the second line, visible after pressing eject, was changed to

        "Still A great Computer"

        The really cool thing is that this message still works in UAE -- the Universal Amiga Emulator -- Just depends on what ROMs you choose to run.
    • You mean the hidden message wasn't: "Steve Jobs was here! :P"
  • It's a good read (Score:3, Interesting)

    by opusman ( 33143 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @04:53PM (#16858670) Homepage
    I'm ploughing through it in my spare time (up to 75% so far) and am enjoying it. Its style is quite casual - it's a bit of a rambling tale, all over the place. It also could have done with a bit of copy-editing (grammar, spelling, etc) but other than that, a fascinating insight on the birth of the home computer industry.
  • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @04:55PM (#16858686) Homepage Journal
    If Commodore owned KFC they would have marketed it as "a greasy warm dead bird in a cardboard bucket".

    At the time take a look at the Amiga vs the IBM PC AT and the Mac as far a cost vs features.
    The Amiga was so far ahead it makes your head hurt.
    That is the proof that marketing is the most important thing in computers. If having the best product wins then the PC would have died the death that DOS deserved back then.
    • But the marketing went beyond stupid tv or press ads. At a time when the Amiga really stood a chance to cash in on the presentations/art biz, C= releases the 500 with a BLACK AND WHITE composite port! Why? They saved about 25 cents on additional components.

      Then the color adaptor came out, and it's like 6 friggin inches long (oh, and the monitor pass thru was also on the end of this), making your machine stick out even further from the wall. What in the hell were they thinking?!

      I do not blame the engineers -
    • As you say, when the Amiga came out (I had one of the first Amiga 1000s) it was far and away the most impressive personal computer on the market - processing power, graphics, sound, multi-tasking OS, etc. Five years later (or maybe less) Apple and the PC market had caught up and passed it and the Amigas that were being sold were only marginally better (woo-hoo, now it has a hard drive and more memory). Putting everything into the custom chipsets was a fantastic way of squeezing out that performance when it
      • by jonabbey ( 2498 ) *

        My list..

        • TRS-80 Model I, 16K RAM, Level 2 Basic
        • IBM PCjr (relatively quickly sold off, for..)
        • Commodore Amiga 1000, bought November 1985, bright and early

        8 years pass..

        • Dell Pentium 60mhz box
        • Hand-built white box
        • Hand-built white box the second
        • Hand-built white box the third
        • etc..

        Oddly, I still have the TRS-80 Model 1 and its Monitor in custom-built cases in the garage. All the others are long since gone, though.

      • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )
        My list of computers I own. At work I have more than I can count.
        Atari 2600 with a basic cartage.
        Commodore 64.
        Amiga 1000
        Amiga 2000HD
        Pentium something with Windows 95.

        IBM thinkpad, a PII server, an AMD X2, MacPlus, Ti 99/4a and Amiga 3000T:)

        I really want an Atar Falcon, Atari 800, Commodore 128, Commodore 64, and a Colorcomputer. My wife's mother has an Apple IIC that I will bring home at Christmas.
        Someday I may add an Amiga 4000 or Amiga 1200 to the list as well.

        I would love a NeXT cube but those are exp
        • My List:

          TRS-80 MC10
          C=128 (Apples suck, dude!)
          Apple Macintosh SE (well, it's not a ][e)
          Amiga 500
          Mac Colour Classic
          Quadra 630
          Unremembered Windows laptop #1 (Win95)
          Performa 6400
          Acer (I think) Windows laptop #2 (Win98)
          PowerBook G4
          Graphite iMac
          HP something or another that everyone in the company received free (it was big news then)
          Power Mac G4 Quicksilver -- still have, about to sell
          Homemade something or another #1 -- still have, for sale if I get home
          Tivo from Sony -- I telnet'd in, so that counts, right?
    • That is the proof that marketing is the most important thing in computers. If having the best product wins then the PC would have died the death that DOS deserved back then.

      Where was the marketing for the IBM PC, then?

      I hazily remember a TV commercial touting the PCjr, and the "How ya gonna do it? / Gonna PS/2 it!" jingle is still a brainworm fifteen years later -- but both of those models were failures.

      IBM PC's didn't sell well because of good marketing; they sold well despite a lack of marketing, because
      • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )
        The TV ads are such a small amount of marketing that it really isn't funny.
        That only counted for the home user. The Amiga was actually very successful in the home market. I would guess that a lot more people had Amigas at home than Macs or and maybe PCs.
        PCs sucked for games.
        It was in the bussness/corprate and education world that Commodore got killed.

      • The marketing campaign for the original IBM PC (in the UK at least) consisted of a magazine page with picture of it and a Charlie Chaplin look-alike, the words "IBM PC", and a little IBM logo (the old one with three letters made out of stripes) at the bottom right-hand corner of the page next to a phone number. It was so bewilderingly meaningless that people ended up turning it around and folding it in strange ways in the hope that there was some hidden message, but AFAIK nobody ever found one.
    • I think it was really that Commodore couldn't decide if the Amiga was a home computer for games/education, a business computer, or a professional multimedia computer. Of course, it could be all three, though least of all the business computer since it didn't do text very well.

      You really can't market the Amiga 500, with a picture on the box of a kid in open mouth glee playing games, along with the Amiga 2000, with business/multimedia production, at the same time successfully. But it was when Commodore got di
      • You really can't market the Amiga 500, with a picture on the box of a kid in open mouth glee playing games, along with the Amiga 2000, with business/multimedia production, at the same time successfully.

        Was that the issue, though? I don't think so; it makes perfect sense to view one has a compatible "home" version of your office computer.

        I worked in television broadcasting, and as late as the mid 1990s, it was Amiga 2000 in the office and Amiga 500 at home. That was me, that was co-workers, etc. A few w

    • Granted that Commodore shot themselves in the foot on marketing, there were other factors involved. IIRC, Consumer Reports featured the Amiga in an issue in 1985, at a time when there was little software, at least compared to the IBM PC (out since 1981), Apple ][ (1977), and Mac 128K (1984). It was derided in the article as "the world's most expensive doorstop." With America's premiere consumer goods hand-holder saying, in essence, "hell, no" to its readership, and by extension, most of the potential mar
    • If Commodore owned KFC they would have marketed it as "a greasy warm dead bird in a cardboard bucket".
      At the time take a look at the Amiga vs the IBM PC AT and the Mac as far a cost vs features. The Amiga was so far ahead it makes your head hurt. That is the proof that marketing is the most important thing in computers. If having the best product wins then the PC would have died the death that DOS deserved back then.

      There's a great irony here, too. Consider VIC-20's amazing marketing, all the way down to

  • Of the Amiga (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Shadow Wrought ( 586631 ) * <> on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @04:55PM (#16858694) Homepage Journal
    Anyone who's interested in Commodore and/or the Amiga should also sheck out this Journal Entry [] by squiggleslash. Its a good read and very informative.

    *sniff* I miss Amigas.

    • Being the owner of an original A1000, and then an A3000 (still functioning - dual booting AmigaOS 3.9 and Debian Sarge) - I was impressed with the technology. You can see what I have at: ml []

      I thought so much of it, that I bought enough shares to paper a good sized room - and lost it all :-(

      I bought the book to understand what kind of cluster f**k management was. I would make the book required reading for any graduate level business management (MBA type) co

      • I still have my A1200 from college but haven't touched in a couple years. This winter I'll hopefully have time to get it out, up, and running again.
  • by Danathar ( 267989 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @04:59PM (#16858792) Journal
    And to top it off....

    Commodore's former chip fab facility is on the EPA's superfund site for extreme damage to the environment. 74/index.htm []

    I hope Medi Ali and Gould burn in hell for what they did. They ruined a perfectly good computer/OS AND dumped toxic waste!
    • Big deal.... (Score:4, Informative)

      by Foerstner ( 931398 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @09:42PM (#16863058)
      (Cue jokes about Microsoft dumping toxic waste with every new Windows release.)

      Virtually every manufacturing plant operating prior to 1980 or so is on the Superfund list. Dumping (or "storing") toxic waste was just part of doing business until then. Practically every company making anything at or before that time has at least one Superfund-listed plant somewhere. IBM has at least three. HP has four or so. Sun and Unisys each have one. Intel has two.

      These days, companies have wised up. They've learned that China has no such legislation.
  • by Red Flayer ( 890720 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @05:02PM (#16858826) Journal
    At a hefty 557 pages, On The Edge is good value.
    Hogwash. I get the Gideon's Bible for free every time I travel, and that thing's got like a thousand pages -- now there's a bargain!
    • But does the ending ever change?

      I find swiping in-room hotel coffee packets to be far more satisfying.
  • by bort13 ( 96346 ) * on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @05:03PM (#16858860) Homepage
    I had a family member who worked at Commodore during the twilight years. The story I remember most was CEO Medhi Ali's weekly routine. He'd spend two days a week in Canada, two in the USA and three days in the West Indies to avoid paying taxes on his exorbitant salary in any of the countries. This is in the days before widespread cell phone usage and I remember having to manually route mail (SMTP addresses with a series of %) to my family member.
  • by jesup ( 8690 ) * <randellslashdot&jesup,org> on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @05:11PM (#16858980) Homepage
    At a recent get-together of a half-dozen or so ex-Commodore/Amiga engineers, we were discussing this book. The overall opinion, including of the one person who was interviewed for it, was that it was pretty good at covering the early Commodore days, the C64 and Tramiel issues, but the coverage of the post-Tramiel Amiga days (especially the later parts) was a bit spottier and had some factual problems. The author's main contacts are with the C64 and Atari ST/Tramiel crowd, so this isn't surprising.

    I personally don't remember any large number of Amigas scrapped for the "they f***ed it up" message; in fact I'd seriously doubt that. And there were easter eggs in every version of the OS, usually far more extensive than that one.

    Also, there were no "mainframes" at Commodore; the biggest iron was a Vax 11/780(if I remember right). And none of the software builds were done on that; all the Amiga SW was built on Sun-2's (early on) or on Amigas directly. By 1989ish, only a few libraries were still built on Suns - I think Workbench.lib was the last holdout, or close to. For AmigaOS 2.0, I ported AmigaDOS and all the remaining BCPL filesystems and commands to C and assembler built on Amigas. The "darkest before the dawn" story is likewise close, but not quite correct. (It is legendary, though.) However, while we weren't waiting for compiles, there were interludes in the 2.0-2.04 days when we did sleep in some offices and storage rooms on cots, and had a freezer full of frozen meals, plus lots of delivered pizza, italian, etc.

    Admittedly, the employees were upset enough about the (mis)management by Mehdi Ali (much more so than Irving Gould) that at the "Deathbed Vigil" party when bankruptcy was declared, we burnt Mehdi Ali in effigy in my backyard.

    The old offices are now QVC Studio Park; you can tour them. A few people at QVC know about this; when selling the C64-in-a-joystik a year or two ago, the host mentioned that the building used to house Commodore. It is truely absolutely huge....

    Note: I haven't read the book yet, though others in the group discussing it had, and one was a major interviewee.

    • by DG ( 989 )
      Dude, how the hell are you?

      Good to see some of the old stalwarts are still kicking around.

      Heh, I found my copy of Deathbed Vigil just the other day.

      BTW, I tried running BLAZEMONGER! in emulation a couple of weeks back, and it set fire to my computer and knocked up my cat. :D

    • This is off topic but thanks for my house and my job.
      I learned how to program on a Commodore 64 I got in November of 1982. I then learned how to do even driven programing on an Amiga 1000 I got in 1985. I love to program the Amiga. It was a good ten years ahead of the PCs of the day.
      The Amiga taught me so much that I use everyday on PCs.

    • Nice to see you! Hope you've been doing well.

      I don't have a copy of the book; thanks for pointing out the rough spots.


    • by XSforMe ( 446716 )
      I'd like to thank you and everybody else who worked on Commodore for introducing me to computers and giving me access to these beautiful toys (proud owner of a C64 and a A500). You guys shaped my life, and I suspect the life of many others around here.

      • by abigor ( 540274 )
        Yes, same here. I learned assembler on a C64. Those snowy days spent coding read/data statements to poke values into the 4k memory space starting at 49152 were well worth many others remember typing 'sys 49152' and getting a screenful of random blinking squares and crazy sounds because of bugs? Then I got an assembler (I believe it was made by a company called French Silk? Something weird like that) and that helped a lot.

        Remember the C64 Programmer's Reference Guide? It included a memory map of the
    • by Spit ( 23158 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @06:32PM (#16860492)
      The misrepresentations are this article's only, the book is accurate about the Vax and the Workbench easter eggs.
  • I still have mine (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Steveaux ( 1027754 )
    While I used other pc's the first one I ever personally owned was a C64. Later I sold it and bought an Amiga 500 which I used up until grad school. It sits in my closet and occasionally I will pull it out and play some of the games that were specific to the Amiga. Its still the only pc I own (no macs so I can't speak about them) that can access two seperate floppy drives and not grind every other system process to a halt.
  • by Danathar ( 267989 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @05:18PM (#16859128) Journal
    Linus Torvalds first computer was a Vic-20. over/linus-9719.html []

    He says the simplicity of the design of the Vic-20 enabled him to learn in a way that today is much more difficult. Read the last paragraph below.


    IN 1981, LINUS WAS A toothy, pale-skinned kid with a blond cowlick living in a suburb of Helsinki, where the weather is cold year-round, save for a few 70-degree weeks in the summer. That year, 11-year-old Linus inherited a Commodore Vic-20 from his grandfather, a professor of statistics at the local university.

    As the cathode ray tube's blue light cast a glow on his face, he sat in his bedroom, books lining the wall from floor to ceiling. Ivanhoe, Treasure Island, Robin Hood and all the Tarzan books. On a shelf: a plastic model of the Wasa, a Swedish ship that sank on its maiden voyage in 1628. The Wasa, painted in meticulous detail and outfitted with working sails and rigging, took months to finish.

    When the first computer arrived, the other projects fell by the wayside. Long past his bedtime, small fingers tapped the dark brown keys of the Vic-20 keyboard. His first achievement on the Vic-20 was the simplest computer program possible: a two-line "GOTO" program in Basic. Once he tried to impress his little sister, Sara, by programming the Commodore to repeat "Sara is the best."

    Next he tapped out his first full-fledged video game written in machine code, in which a submarine sails through a moving underwater tunnel, remaining stationary as the operator controls its vertical movement. The craft's captain must stay alive by dodging the "large nasty fish" in the tunnel. As the game progresses, the tunnel constricts. This amused Linus for hours in his bedroom. He stored the program on an audiocassette and took it to school to play with friends.

    In hindsight, Linus believes starting on a very simple computer gave him an advantage that today's whiz kids don't have. "Modern PCs are much more complex," he explains. "No kid sitting in front of a Pentium could ever understand all its parts thoroughly."
  • My uncle had a TI994A. It was the _only_ computer to have. He talked my dad into buying me one. At age 13 I used it to learn basic (type in them line number!). My uncle made fun of commodores. He called them "commodes." I didn't realize the fan following until years later and /.

    I still have my TI99/4A. It doesn't work though. Heavy as heck....

    • Did your uncle buy it before or after the 99/4A's were $50 and had zero support? I loved the TI's sound and some of its graphics capabilities but it was waay too slow and unusable for my tastes.
      • by Himring ( 646324 )
        Yea. We got it after the price fell out. Apparently, according to my uncle at the time, TIs were bombing because they were quality and too expensive. They punted and dumped 'em. We got it cheap. I did BBSes back then -- early 80s. You used a casette tape to write stuff. When we got a 5.25 floppy that was a huge thing. They keyboard actually had brains! I still look at keyboards as though they matter some times. Funny how they don't. You can use the expansion box to chock-up your car. Parsec rule
    • by LWATCDR ( 28044 )
      The TI had some real issues.
      Notice that almost all the software came from TI?
      TI made it a very closed system. To sell a program that was written in assembly you had to go through TI or require people to have an Assembly cartage!
      That and they crippled the speed of the system.
      The lack of software "Games" really killed it more than anything else.

      A good example of the joys of DRM.
      People never learn...
  • by enc0der ( 907267 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @05:35PM (#16859478) Homepage
    What makes me smile about todays computers is that the PC versus the MAC was very similar to the Commodore versus the Atari. I was an Atari user, both the 800XL and 130XE. I always felt that these machines were MUCH better than the equivalent Commodore machines of the time. Especially with sound voices and graphics capability. Of course, looking back now, wow...I will NEVER enter another program into my computer from a magazine into a hex editor. Nothing describes disappointment like spending 7 days entering in hex code for a game I will refer to as Tekken 0.000321, only to discover you can't move forward or backward, only kick or punch...kind of like rock, paper, boredom. So, for nostalgic purposes only... Commodore sucks! Atari for life! (And now I want to go find an emulator for either and play Bruce Lee)
    • Someone created a Windows executable of Bruce Lee. (Actually, it might be available for multiple OSes.) I've played it and it runs well. You don't need an emulator. I don't remember where I downloaded it otherwise I'd post it. Just do a search. You'll find it.
  • by WidescreenFreak ( 830043 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @05:39PM (#16859554) Homepage Journal
    I'l never forget that little beast. I remember saving up for months on my paper route until I was able to go into Service Merchandise, plunk down some $700 in cash, and walk out with a brand new Commodore 64, 1701 monitor, and 1541 hard drive. Hell, I still remember the days of the ol' VicModem running at a screaming 300 baud. When my friend got 1,200 baud, the speed difference was incredible.

    I will definitely be getting this book. What wonderful nostalgia! "poke 53280,0" anyone?

    One of the T-Shirts at ThinkGeek is of the exact setup that I mentioned above with the phrase "I Adore My 64". My shirt finally came in on Monday after being back-orderd for about a week.

    I Adore My 64 [] (My apologies if someone already posted this, but I didn't see it.)
  • AMIGA FOREVER (Score:5, Interesting)

    by smellsofbikes ( 890263 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @05:40PM (#16859568) Journal
    To chime in with everyone else: AMIGA FOREVER.

    I can't claim I'm posting this from my 1000 or 2000 since I'm at work, but they both still run. In 1987 I was, to my knowledge, the only person on campus with a full-color, stereo, multithreading PC, at a fraction of the cost of the monochrome Macs and the VAX mainframe. When someone else got one, we cabled them together and played full-color, networked jet fighter games and people's heads exploded watching them.

  • All the pages of gushing over the 6502 is pointless.

    The Intel 8080 was first home computer system microprocessor chip. The Motorola 6800 was next. And after that came the MOS Technology 6502, which was a variation of the 6800. Then Zilog introduced the Z80, which was the basis for a whole lotta CP/M systems.

    All were very good micro chips and had a lot of systems based on their use. I wouldn't say that the 6502 was the best of the bunch.
    • All were very good micro chips and had a lot of systems based on their use. I wouldn't say that the 6502 was the best of the bunch.

      Having first learned 8080 assembly, I ended up fairly despising the 6502 for its dearth of, well, everything -- registers, speed, 16-bit operations, stack space...

      The 68000 was a very nice architecture by comparison, and the ARM was even nicer than that. I rather liked them both.

      As fate would have it, I have my hands in an HCS08-based part at the moment (6800 derivative),

      • The 6502 was the best because it was cheap.
        I so wished that Commodore had used the Z-80 in the C-64. It was so much better then the 6502.
        Of course very few chips could match the 6502 for speed. It was much faster at a given clock speed than just about anything.
  • My favorite bit wasn't the Amiga easter egg mentioned in the review (which generally required two people, and a long series of events like ejecting the floppy with several keys held down, each event done in a specific sequence to trigger), but a comment in the source code of the original Commodore 128 ROMS:

    "This kludge made necessary by the engineers at Commodore, makers of the finest semi-functional devices in the world"

    For the curious. I believe the comment in the Amiga's ROM was from a hardware engineer
  • by dpbsmith ( 263124 ) on Wednesday November 15, 2006 @07:29PM (#16861478) Homepage
    I hadn't thought about it, because having lived through it the importance of Commodore is obvious to me, but on consideration I realize it has sort of dropped off the PC history radar.

    To put it very simply, even though I was a programmer of PDP-12's, -8's, and -11's, and very familiar with Apple ]['s because I was working in a research institution that was in the process of adopting them, my first home computer was a VIC-20. For the simple reason that... I could afford one. The base price was $300. I bought a bunch of add-ons and my total cost was about $600.

    At the time, an Apple ][ cost something like $2000 if I recall correctly.

    The only thing in the same price neighborhood as the VIC-20 was the Atari 400 with a full QUERTY keyboard--of membrane keys. Ugh. Practically unusable. The VIC-20 had what the time was a very nice keyboard with a very comfortable, responsive "feel" to it.

    Commodore's VIC-20 and Commodore 64 were the Model T of the personal computer era. Aficionados scoffed at them as cheap junk, but they were real computers that ordinary families could afford.

    Hey, at a time when standalone modems cost $500, the VIC-20 had a crude but usable modem for about $60. If I recall correctly instead of frequency-shift keying between two frequencies, it just used one of the frequencies and turned it on and off. Like the Apple color video output, it was a nonstandard signal which standards-compliant modems could nevertheless tolerate. I did some work from home with it, and it was my gateway into CompuServe.
  • My first computer was a C64, and I still have it.

It is not for me to attempt to fathom the inscrutable workings of Providence. -- The Earl of Birkenhead