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%% R.I.P. COMMODORE 1954 - 1994                   By: Tom R. Halfhill    %%
%%                                                BYTE Magazine          %%
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[Emulation Ed's note:  Amiga Report feels that the use of this article is
not only a legal Fair Use of copyrighted material, but that is important
for Amiga and Commodore users to read.  Taken from BYTE Magazine, August
1994.]

     "Obituaries customarily focus on the deceased's accomplishments, not
the unpleasant details of the demise.  That's especially true when the
demise hint's strongly of self-neglect tantamount to suicide, and nobody
can find a note that offers some final explanation.
     There will be no such note from Commodore, and it would take a book
to explain why this once-great computer company lies cold on its deathbed.
But Commodore deserves a eulogy, because its role as an industry pioneer
has been largely forgotten or ignored by revisionist historians who claim
that everything started with Apple or IBM.  Commodore's passing also recalls
an era when conformity to standards wasn't the yardstick by which all
innovation was measured.
     In the 1970s and early 1980s, when Commodore peaked as a billion-dollar
company, the young computer industry wasn't dominated by standards that
dictated design parameters.  Engineers had much more latitude to explore
new directions.  Users tended to be hobbyists who prized the latest
technology over backward compatibility.  As a result, the market tolerated
a wild proliferation of computers based on many different processors,
architectures, and operating systems.
     Commodore was at the forefront of this revolution.  In 1977, the first
three consumer-ready personal computers appeared: the Apple II, the Tandy
TRS-80, and the Commodore PET (Personal Electronic Transactor).  Chuck
Peddle, who designed the PET, isn't as famous as Steve Wozniak and Steve
Jobs, the founders of Apple.  But his distinctive computer with a built-in
monitor, tape drive, and trapezoidal case was a bargain at $795.  It
established Commodore as a major player.
     The soul of Commodore was Jack Tramiel, an Auschwitz survivor who
founded the company as a typewriter-repair service in 1954.  Tramiel was
an aggressive businessman who did not shy away from price wars with unwary
competitors.  His slogan was "computers for the masses, not the classes."
     In what may be Commodore's most lasting legacy, Tramiel drove his
engineers to make computers that anyone could afford.  This was years before
PC clones arrived.  More than anyone else, Tramiel is responsible for our
expectation that computer technology should keep getting cheaper and better.
While shortsighted critics kept asking what these machines were good for,
Commodore introduced millions of people to personal computing.  Today, I
keep running into those earliest adopters at leading technology companies.
     Commodore's VIC-20, introduced in 1981, was the first color computer
that cost under $300.  VIC-20 production hit 9000 units per day - a run rate
that's enviable now, and was phenomenal back then.  Next came the Commodore
64 (1982), almost certainly the best-selling computer model of all time.
Ex-Commodorian Andy Finkel estimates that sales totaled between 17 and 22
million units.  That's more than all Mac's put together, and it dwarfs IBM's
top-selling systems. the PC and the AT.
     Commodore made significant technological contributions as well.  The 64
was the first computer with a synthesizer chip (the Sound Interface Device,
designed by Bob Yannes).  The SX-64 (1983) was the firt color portable, and
the Plus/4 (1984) had integrated software in ROM.
    But Commodore's high point was the Amiga 1000 (1985).  The Amiga was so
far ahead of its time that almost nobody - including Commodore's marketing
department - could fully articulate what it was all about.  Today, it is
obvious the Amiga was the first multimedia computer, but in those days it
was derided as a game machine because few people grasped the importance of
advanced graphics, sound, and video.  Nine years later, vendors are still
struggling to make systems that work like 1985 Amigas.
     At a time when PC users thought 16-color EGA was hot stuff, the Amiga
could display 4096 colors and had custom chips to acclerate video.  It had
built-in video outputs for tv's and VCRs, still a pricey option on most of
today's systems.  It had four-voice, sampled stereo sound and was the first
computer with built-in speech synthesis and text-to-speech conversion.  And
it's still the only system that can display multiple screen at different
resolutions on a single monitor.
     Even more amazing was the Amiga's operating system, which was designed
by Carl Sassenrath.  From the outset, it had preemptive multitasking,
messaging, scripting, a GUI, and multitasking command-line concoles.
Today's Windows and Mac users are still waiting for some of those features.
On top of that, it ran on a $1200 machine with only 256 KB of RAM.
     We may never see another breakthrough computer like the Amiga.  I value
my software investment as much as anyone, but I realize comes at a price.
Technology that breaks clean with the past is increasingly rare, and rogue
companies like Commodore that thrived in the frontier days just don't seem
to fit anymore."