- The Dusty
Crystal Ball Nostalga Unearthed While Packing
25 2002 with permission
from the man himself, Jim Butterfield
(This article was first published in the ICPUG Journal
July/August , September/October 1991 issues. Permission from Jim Butterfield to
republish on the Internet has been received.)
Moving day grows closer. As I gather things
together, I see ghosts of Commodore past...
Late 1975: I became interested in a company
that made fine calculators, in my opinion, and asked my broker for any data on
Commodore Business Machines Limited. Yes, a Canadian company: "With
subsidiaries, manufactures and sells steel
office equipment and business machines, principally typewriters, adding
machines, and electronic calculators". Principals: Irving Gould (Bahamas), Jack
Tramiel (California). Gould was the major shareholder and no dividends had been
paid in the past ten years. I looked at the data and decided that a small,
closely-held company that traded over-the-counter was a bit risky for me. I
wonder how rich I'd be today if I had put $1000 into the company?
May 1976: I saw the first microcomputer that I
liked: the KIM-1, manufactured by MOS Technology in Pennsylvania. It had a 6502
micro, a 23-key input pad, a 6-digit LED display and a whopping 1048 bytes of
RAM, (that's bytes, not K). I promptly mailed off my $245 and received my
computer in less than a month. Over the next year some friends and I put
together "The First Book of KIM", a book that was promptly reprinted as a pirate
version in Europe.
1977: Commodore acquires MOS Technology,
making the KIM-1 the first Commodore computer. Commodore also acquire, as part
of this takeover, Chuck Peddle. Chuck convinces them that the world needs a
personal computer, to be called the "PET". The original PET was a 4K machine,
but Commodore quickly opted for an 8K version; they quickly discouraged orders
of the limited capacity 4K unit. "Shipments of 8K units will begin in September
1977. Price $795". The order form read: "I attach my check for $795 in full
payment. l understand that delivery will be within 90 days or I will get my
May 1978: The PET now begins to be stocked in
retail stores. Meanwhile, the Apple II and the TRS-80 model 1 have beaten
Commodore to the retail market. At this time I bought my first PET. I hadn't
wanted to send money and wait. I paid $1200 Canadian for my 8K machine with "chiclet"
August 1979: I bought the newly available 2040
disk drive and 2023 friction printer. In Canadian funds the drive was $1166 and
the printer $766; the cables to hook them up were another $80. About two months
ago, (mid 91?), I gave away my 2023, but my 2040, upgraded to a 4040,
still works happily.
As the 80s arrived things started to explode.
Commodore expanded its PET concept to larger machines. Some had an improved
operating system, some had 80-column screens and more extensive keyboards, some
had more memory. The support field mushroomed, software and hardware, both
Commodore and third party.
If you're an old-timer, you might remember
some of these events, perhaps in their European parallels. If not...you can look
at the prices we paid for relatively primitive equipment, and be grateful that
you live in the '9Os (Ed: and even more grateful in the 21st century?).
Back in legendary times - early 1980, to be exact - a late
lamented UK computer magazine called PRINTOUT published their vision of the
future. In a "Future Shock" article, the editors looked ahead for three years or
so and gave a chronology of coming events.
A good deal of it was tongue in cheek. Much of
it dealt with personalities who were well known at that time, at least to
In early 1980 Commodore computers had been
around for a couple of years, more or less (mostly less). These PETs, as all
Commodore computers were called then, had a new "full-size" keyboard to replace
the original tiny "chiclet" unit. They had 40 column screens - 80 columns was
rumoured to be coming, but had not yet been seen. Commodore was now shipping
printers and (model 2040) disk drives. IBM representatives were loudly claiming
that micros were toys and had no place in business.
So here's PRINTOUT's view of the future, our
long-ago past. Sometimes, items that were intended to be funny turned out to be
right on the money. And, gosh, I'll have to step in and explain from time to
1981 April: "PRINTOUT circulation overtakes Practical
1982 February: "PRINTOUT circulation overtakes The Times".
Oh dear. The magazine didn't survive.
1981 February: "Volume 2 number 4 PET User
Club Newsletter printed".
The original PET User Club was owned and
operated by Commodore. (That's why the word "Independent" is in the title of
ICPUG - the founders wanted to be identified as being distinct from Commodore).
But Commodore started to lose momentum in their support of this "owned" group
and the newsletters started to come less and less frequently. The point: "you
might need to wait for a year before seeing the next issue..."
1980 May: "8K PET reduced to £400".
1981 January. "8K PET reduced to £200".
1981 August: "8K PET reduced to £100".
1982 April: "Commodore sales exceed $250m".
1982 June: "Commodore taken over by bank consortia".
1983 April. "Commodore sales exceed $400m".
I'm sure PRINTOUT's editors thought that these
were wild guesses that would cause readers to roar with laughter.
1980 April. "PET advertised on TV".
1980 June "SOUND added to PETs".
1981 March. "Colour PET with high density graphics".
The VIC-20 in fact arrived in the Spring of
1981. The Commodore 64 followed in late 1982.
I980 November: "2 Mbyte SuperPET with 64K RAM
and 12" 80 column monitor".
1981 April: "30 MByte hard disk offered by Commodore".
There was indeed a SuperPet, which arrived in
the summer of 1981. It had 96K RAM and a 12 inch 80 column monitor; it could be
used with an 8250 disk unit, which came with a little over 2Mbyte of storage.
(Gosh! I'm impressed!) Commodore did indeed offer a hard disk - the 9060/9090 -
but it was of limited success
1981 September: "IBM announce $1000 micro".
Not a bad guess But that price? Perhaps the
crystal ball was showing the ill-fated "PC Jr " ?
1982 Febuary: "Read/Write video disk Storage".
1983 January: "24bit micro-based mini-mainframe ".
Optical disks have been shown from time to
time, but up to the present time CDTV is Commodore's only serious use; and
(Ed: Now, in the 21st century, we have read/write CD-ROM and read only DVD,
with a writeable version at a sensible price on the horizon).
24 bits? Well, the Amiga fits the 16/32 bit slot, so 24 is not a bad average.
1980 July: "Petsoft release PASCAL for PET ".
1980 September: "PET Fortran released ".
1980 October: "Algol package launched ".
1980 December: "Commodore Basic compiler released".
There have been several languages released for
8-bit Commodore computers, but none have dominated the field. There were at
least two good BASIC compilers produced early in the PET's life cycle
1981 March: "ACT publish complete business
suite in ROM".
Perhaps they were envisioning "Silicon
1982 October: "AUT0 PROGRAM 1: Super high
level language released".
Around that time a program called "The Last
One" came onto the market. The concept: you'd never need to write a program
again after you got this package, making it "the last program" you would ever
need In practice, it produced decent business report packages
1980 July: "Chuck Peddle joins Apple again".
1980 August: "Chuck Peddle goes back to CBM".
1980 November: "Chuck Peddle joins Atari".
1980 December: "Chuck Peddle goes back to Commodore".
1981 July: "Chuck Peddle joins IBM".
1981 August: "Chuck Peddle rejoins Commodore".
1982 January: "Chuck Peddle joins the Foreign Legion".
Chuck Peddle conceived the original PET
computer, and a good concept it was, too. In 1979 he left Commodore to go to
Apple, but soon returned to Commodore. Perhaps PRINTOUT thought of him as
fickle, and thus made the above predictions. In fact, Chuck left Commodore to
design a new 16-hit computer called either Victor or Sirius, depending on which
continent you were on. It was a good design which anticipated IBM's concept by a
year; but the IBM label was impossible to beat and Chuck's enterprise is no
more. Rumours from a few years back had Chuck working for Shugart, the disk
drive manufacturer, but I have been unable to confirm this.
(I heard he is now CEO of Tandon - Ed SEPT 1991).
1980 September: "Kit Spencer promoted to International
Marketing Manager, Santa Clara".
1981 June: "Kit Spencer returns to UK to head High Street multiple".
1982 March: "Kit.Spencer knighted".
Kit Spencer has been with Commodore since
1974! He ran the UK marketing operation. The first item is close. In the autumn
of 1981 Spencer became Commodore's Vice President of Marketing, located in
Pennsylvania . Kit is now managing Commodore's affairs at the corporate
headquarters in the Bahamas. What do you think? Is a gentle job in the Bahamas
as good as a knighthood?
1981 December: "Nick Green receives
I don't know what has happened to Nick lately,
but for a while I thought of him as Commodore's court jester. He would shower
you with ideas and poetic concepts, but 1, for one, was never sure how much of
it I should believe. "Heard anything of Nick Green" is the characteristic phrase
of the real Commodore UK old-time user.
(Nick now owns Compunet - Ed SEPT 1991 )
1982 May: "Jack Tramiel retires".
The long-time president of Commodore, much in
the public light. Tramiel left Commodore abruptly in Spring of 1984. Then he
acquired Atari computers. It's said that Tramiel now leaves most of the work to
his sons and is in virtual retirement. Those of us who have met him doubt he'll
ever be a spectator.
1982 August: "Commodore publish debugged
Murphy was an optimist, too.
1983 May: "Creg Yob completes PET handbook".
Yob, (the creator of the Wumpus), announced
his PET Handbook almost as soon as the PET existed. He even took orders, but we
haven't seen the book yet. It was left to Raeto West to publish the most
definitive description of the PET.
1982 September: "Jim Butterfield elected
Well, yes, that happened. (All right, I'll try
to explain). The summers of 1984 and 1985 I was invited to speak at the
Commodore shows in Frankfurt, Germany. I discovered that I was listed on the
program as the "Commodore-papst" ..... the Commodore Pope. And just to prove
that it was no accident: I still get postcards regularly from Lourdes.