*** UNDER CONSTRUCTION ***
- Commodore TOI
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Was the Plus /4 The Evolution of the Max Machine?
When you talk to Commodore people about the MAX Machine, they think, stripped down Japanese C64 with bad keyboard. However, Michael Tomczyk, former assistant to Jack Tramiel (and self described product manager) still has (in 2004) an early MAX Machine prototype. You will be surprised at the specifications; “It was a small black machine that was going to revolutionize the home computing field. I had identified the four basic killer apps for home computing: word-processing, spreadsheets, database management, and graphics. All four apps were built into the HARDWARE of the MAX, along with a terrific 256 word speaking vocabulary (I researched and selected the words myself). We also planned to fix any bugs and provide software updates on a plug-in cartridge, a very elegant way to do upgrades that addressed the problem of having the software apps on chips in the motherboard.” What follows is a description of the early MAX Machine history taken from a September 2003 interview with Mr. Tomczyk.
“…The MAX machine I describe was a prototype that was actually product engineered and built by Commodore as a next generation computer. We were growing very impatient with the poor and slow support from software vendors, so we decided to license some of the best software around the simply include it with the machine. The vendors were happy because they would be in every machine, and were prepared to license their software at an affordable rate, as a result. This allowed us to include a word processor, spreadsheet, database and graphics package – the four primary “killer apps” that were driving home computer uses at the time.”
“The MAX was a small sleek black computer with grey keys and red highlights. It had a built in vocabulary of 256 words and could be programmed to speak. It was also compatible with the low-cost modems that we pioneered (actually the first $100 direct connect modem on a cartridge was my idea and I contracted with a small engineering firm to do the work since our engineers were overloaded at the time). Anyway, this was an innovation we perceived as a “next generation” home computer that would expose first time users to some of the real “power” of computing – and we figured they would find their own individual uses for the database and spreadsheet features. We were also going to provide software programs to go with the spreadsheet, database, etc. – templates – for such things as mortgage calculations, some rudimentary accounting and so on.”
“Unfortunately, Jack was voted off the board the season we were supposed to launch this product, and the leadership left in place – mostly men from outside the computer industry, mostly in their 50s and 60s – had a penchant for getting back into the business computer market, where they thought the price margins would be higher. That shift in strategy from home and personal computers to business computers – including the development of PC clones sold in Europe – was the beginning of the end for Commodore, and it began with the cancellation of the MAX. This machine – although taken to final design – and as I’ve indicated, I still have one at home – was killed by the incoming management team that took over when Jack Tramiel left the company.” “The Plus/4 was salvaged from the MAX concept, but lacking the strong support of the product managers and technical staff who departed in 1984, it faltered in the marketplace.”
“As you can imagine, the six months following Jack Tramiel’s departure were extremely frustrating for me and everyone else at the company, except the new “professional” management group who really messed up the company after we had become the world market leader in home and personal computing. I’ve never in my career seen such squandering of market power, or such disastrous strategic decision making. Frankly, I was always surprised that more people weren’t sued by the shareholders. ”
“Also, 6 months after Jack departed, about 35 of the top talent in the company all walked out in one fateful week, in May 1984. Nearly all the top middle management and technical management team left the company in that single week (including me, the president of the U.S. company, many of the top engineers, etc.). The top management including Irving Gould the chairman, did nothing to stop anyone from leaving. They basically let all the “gurus and geniuses and wunderkind” of this remarkable company walk out the door…. Anyway, (managements) hostile attitude may explain why some hot new products like the real “MAX” were simply killed. Politically, the transition from Jack Tramiel and the team he built was extremely messy and inept, and what happened to the company subsequently reflects the result of all this turmoil…”
This is just an update or additional information regarding the B Series 700 Lo/Hi Profile and co-processor boards.
I was involved with Protecto Enterprises in Barrington, Illinois as I took over the sales of the B series and support for them when the numbers weren’t there anymore. I ran a music business called Northwest Music Center, Inc and we moved more and more into computer mail order and stayed with Commodore up to the C series.
I also dealt directly with Commodore and am liquidating my remaining Pet/B inventory on Ebay right now. A couple new products in boxes and other used equipment that I’ve had in storage since those days.
I also worked closely with Norman Deletzke from the B-128 User Group. He ran CBUG. I took over that operation after his death but by then the interest had wained in the group as either people already had everything they needed or just moved on.
A few notes.
The North American Hi-profile never came with disk drives. I’m not sure if there were any produced in Europe but there were many issues. I had the proto-type assembly and it was a great idea but not practical.
These include but are not limited to:
Power supplies under-rated for all the internal peripherals that were designed for it. This also went for the lo-profile as it was either inadequately ventilated or the power transistor should have been upgraded to dissipate more heat for the required power. MJE8503 should have been used.
The power supply was too big, the drives wouldn’t fit in and the the co-processor board was also an issue in terms of fitting. The cables were also too long and according to one of the engineers, the capacitance was a problem in reliability of the interfacing. Contrary to popular belief, I did get a co-processor running in a lo-profile. But, also ran a fan over the power supply. Better than ice cubes I guess.
I bought all the 8088 boards from Commodore’s facility. There never was a production Zilog board (I asked my contact there) and it was only on a wireup scheme from what I understand. 8087 wasn’t functional as there was a bug. I have at least two of the functional 8088 boards so that makes 5 now. Maybe more as I uncover more boxes and sold several back in the 80’s. I even modified one to almost 8 mhz and that ended up with one of the techies in the group back then.
A gentleman named Gary Anderson developed a fast bus adapter to allow 1571 and 1581 drives to be interfaced directly to the B and Dennis Jarvis wrote the software which loaded into a Bank 15 memory cartridge also developed by Gary. Gary also did a one meg expansion as did Fred King and also had developed a co-processor board that was far more advanced and functional than Commodore’s. Problem was that all of this came too late as IBM type machines now had a stranglehold on the business market and you know that story.
Now the CP/M-86 ran every piece of software that I could buy up other than graphical stuff. That means and not limited to Wordstar, Supercalc, Dbase II, NewWord, Move-it and on and on. There was a minor problem and that was called slow. Due to the design, as stated by one of the engineers, it actually was much slower than it should have been. I think the C-128 was a far better implementation although it was for the Z-80 and not 86.
If you have any further questions, please feel free to ask before I forget all this stuff. I have taken some time off of work and decided to sell most of the stuff remaining so I’m really into it again for at least a few more weeks.
Bruce Faierson, CPA
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