The Commodore 64’s appeal never really ended. I was born in ‘93 so there’s not really any nostalgia in it for me, but I just recently bought a broken Commodore 64 and got it all working.
For one thing, there’s something to be said about the simplicity. 3 screws gets you into the computer, and ~6 more gets the motherboard out. The board is simple, only 2 layers, and you can debug it with a logic probe and not really much else. Most chips have fairly distinct functions, except the VIC-2 and SID chips which each handle a laundry list of things aside from their primary jobs of generating video and audio signals.
It’s an interesting machine because it is a fairly consistent platform. People still write demos and games, and they still run on pretty much any Commodore 64. Well OK, you probably need a PAL one, but that’s a single jumper, a different VIC-II, and a different clock away. (Someone this October just created a module that lets you switch by using 4 relays that connect to the jumper, 2 VIC chips and 2 clocks. I installed this in my C64.) You can count instructions, race the beam, flip registers mid scanline, and all kinds of fun stuff, and it will probably work on another C64 just the same.
The community has created some seriously cool stuff, both software and hardware wise. Hardware wise the 1541 Ultimate-II is mindblowing. It plugs into the userport and floppy drive ports (and optionally, datasette port) and emulates, with cycle accuracy and even a speaker producing drive-like noises, a Commodore 1541 floppy drive, a REU memory expansion, and a host of other devices. It even has ethernet for FTPing to.
In short, the thing is, it’s quite honestly still fascinating. It is a computer you can understand, yet seemingly holds unlimited tricks, and there’s an enormous ecosystem that is somehow still growing.
(Fortunately, modern LCD TVs dont care very much and decode PAL signals fine. Though the cheap one I’m using seems to frequently assume its NTSC50, where the picture is correct but black and white - what the hell outputs that?)
I remember a lot of French software for the 64.
Like the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, the biggest factor was probably the relatively cheap price. Households who may never have considered purchasing a computer otherwise, could dabble in one thanks to the Speccy and C64.
• The sheer hands-on access: You could DO things the instant it was powered on. Even if nothing else (except a TV of course) was connected.
Almost nothing was off limits. You could program right away, unlike the $500+ devices of today that you can't even use as a simple calculator without needing an ""operating system"" and updating it and creating an account and picking a password and giving your phone number then downloading an ""app"" from the internet! (exaggerated snark but you know)
• All of the software that was made for it would run on it.
Let that seemingly obvious statement sink in for a second.
When you purchased a C64 or Speccy game or app, there was a very high assurance that it would run on all C64s or Speccies out-of-the-box. That greatly reduced the barriers for non-techie people to warm up to computers.
If something needed extra hardware, like RAM or peripherals, it would say so on the box right up front, though it was mostly for the 16K/48K Spectrum differences and supporting software for third-party add-ons.
• The subculture.
This is the best part for me. There were lots of weird and funky magazines. Everybody was new to it all. Everyone was excited about everything. Entire new genres were being spawned before your eyes.
All the developers were learning as they went. When you look at early C64 games and compare them with later stuff by say Thalamus or Apex, it will seem like they are for entirely different systems. So even without buying new hardware, it was like you effectively got free upgrades throughout the machine's lifetime! :)
Bruce Lee (1984): https://youtu.be/gRGGWWvvO0o?t=31
Creatures (1990): https://youtu.be/SDDkxfJCB9Y?t=2m35s
and yes, those catchy soundtracks spawned a whole another subculture of their own (see SID chiptune remixes.)
I had high hopes for the Raspberry Pi but in its default configuration, you still have to wait while booting an operating system, provide storage, figure out your hierarchical file system and shell commands, and do on. The Pi should ship by default with a ROM that drops you into Python or something 250ms after you power on.
That 300 baud modem and all those glorious MUDs and news groups.
- It hit the sweet spot of price vs. performance at the perfect time, just as the video game market began to crash.
- Unlike most other cheap computer manufacturers, Commodore took a completely hands-off approach to software, which allowed a rich software ecosystem to spring up very quickly.
Among the computer geeks in my neighborhood at the time, 1982/83 was all about the Colecovision game console, and 1983/84 was all about the C64.
It also had quite a nice keyboard, even by today's standards.
They really don't make them like that any more.
This, this and this. Where & when I grew up - rural Norway in the eighties - just about everybody had one, ensuring that no matter what you wanted to do, someone nearby were into the same thing; magazines with code listings, books and -ahem- evaluation copies of software were all over the place; as were peripherals - this basically meant that any latecomer to personal computing chose the C64 as it was everywhere, creating a huge positive feedback loop if you got into the C64.
Poor kids next door - their parents got a good (for the seller!) price on a Dragon 32; the nearest Dragon 32 to theirs probably was in Aberdeenshire or thereabouts...
Compute magazine published software in the magazine, and you'd have to sit there for hours typing code into the console, but at the end you've have software that someone else designed.
If you had a modem you could dial a bbs and talk to people or trade games. Copying games and software was trival which allowed all sorts of things to flourish.
I even had a point and click mouse for mine and had purchased a module that would do speech to text, albeit very rudimentary.
Apple IIs were popular but largely limited to proprietary products. Commodore was built around the idea that the computer is just a processor for something larger.. whatever you wanted to build, and not limited to software.
Could you please expand on this thought? I'm genuinely curious as to what you mean by proprietary.
I cut my teeth on an Apple ][ with integer BASIC one would load from a tape. (Later, a ][+ with built-in Applesoft Basic and a floppy drive.) I'm puzzled what you mean when you refer to proprietary prouducts. I had an Epson dot-matrix printer, a 110/300 baud Hayes modem, and later AppleCat modem (1200 baud, full duplex, oh yeah!), a time/calendar card. A few different no-name joysticks, etc. The Apple ][s expansion bus slots actively encouraged aftermarket support. Anyone could create a peripherial.
Software came from magazines, commericial sellers (back of Nibble or Popular Computing magazines), shareware, my own imagination, BBS downloads, etc.
I think in more ways than not, the experience with the Apple ][ was in common with Commodore 64/128 users. The industry was blossoming, and competing by offering wildly different solutions with a common core.
Many MANY magazines supported it with type-in software that adventurous users could freely modify. (Among them, 'The Transactor' dived deepest.) And empowered -many- users to comprehend important basics.
There were at least two models of the C64... the brown breadbin style one and the sleak white model from the 90s.
An IBM PS/2 30 is a vastly different model of computer from a PS/2 70, but they're both IBM PS/2's.
The bread bin C-64 and the 128-looking C-64 were the same† computer in a slightly different shaped case.
† Yes, the motherboard was a different revision, but even in the breadbin 64, the motherboard was revised several times.
I would argue that they're for all intents and purposes the same computer, just like a desktop PC is still the same machine if you put it in a different case.
The most sold computer of all time is probably the iPhone 6, with 220 million devices sold.
Edit: wow, people feel very strongly about this! :)
I've been a proud c64 owner (and programmer) myself. It was more than anything else to point out that smartphones are personal computers, just very "evolved".
The c64 was still extremely impressive for its day and its impact (I used mine through 1993!), but computing is now mostly mobile.
The C64's lack of change is perhaps a reason why Commodore died. Jack was brilliant at squeezing hardware to get the max performance on a thin dime, but he didn't really give much thought to software compatibility, having a hardware-centric background. Thus, attempts to make a C64 follow-on that was compatible with the original C64 had too many problems.
Without backward compatibility in a follow-on, it had no immediate advantage to existing competitors in the next performance bracket (generally, 16 bit). They considered entering the PC clone business, but it was already getting margin-thin and moving offshore at that point. They also considered a PC clone that was also C64 compatible, but couldn't make it viable.
Bill Gates knew that software was where the lasting fortune was, not hardware.
That said, if you took any disposable diaper product line, say Pampers, and accumulated all the revenue and profit since its launch in the 70s, it still wouldn’t come close to the iPhone. I think that goes for pretty much any specific product line. The Toyota Corolla gets close in terms of revenue - 44 million cars is pushing near a trillion dollars, but that’s also over 50+ years. You’d have to get into entire inflation-adjusted product categories (like all mobile phones, or all automobile sedans) to cross into a few trillion dollars.
Disregarding the price barrier, Apple made computing accessible to everyone in a way almost no-one has replicated. Much like what Nintendo did for gaming and non-gamers with the Wii, yet gatekeeping snobs don't regard that as a ""real"" console either. :)
Apple products are not cheap (I never owned one, partly for this reason) but I think that when I bought my c64, around 1984, it costed the equivalent of about 1000 euro. Of course, the reasons to own one, and the alternatives, were completely different from today's.
Because of this I didn't get a disk drive for a year.
I don't see how that takes anything away from the C64. It was still a pioneering product with a lasting legacy.
You need to factor in that the market has grown a /bit/ since the 80's. World population has grown, middle classes have grown, interest in computing has grown.
Of course, it doesn't. It's a completely different world.
But I liked the idea that there still are single computer models (not families) that break sales records. It's just that we don't think about them as machines, but as products within a family and on a steady development iteration.
Sales peaked at 30,000 a week in January 1983, but on 10 January 1983 Commodore lowered the price of its computers. In February TI responded with a 99/4A retail price of $150. In April, the VIC-20's bundled retail price reached $100 and the 99/4A followed suit. In May it began offering the PEB for free with the purchase of three peripherals. In August the company reduced prices of peripherals by 50% and offered $100 of free software; in September, it reduced software prices by up to 43%.
The president of Spectravideo later said that "TI got suckered by" Jack Tramiel, head of Commodore. TI was forced to sell the 99/4A for about the same price as the VIC-20, even though it was much more expensive to manufacture.