expansion differences (was Re: Micro$oft Biz'droid Lusers)

From: Richard Erlacher <edick_at_idcomm.com>
Date: Fri Apr 26 10:46:31 2002

----- Original Message -----
From: "Tony Duell" <ard_at_p850ug1.demon.co.uk>
To: <classiccmp_at_classiccmp.org>
Sent: Thursday, April 25, 2002 6:17 PM
Subject: Re: expansion differences (was Re: Micro$oft Biz'droid Lusers)

> >
> > This thread has become shanghaied down a path different that the one I
> > intended to take.
> I am not sure why you feel _you_ should be able to decide how threads
> develop here...
Nobody owns a given thread. I didn't say I did, but I did lament that the
cost-related remarks I made and the references to the timeline seemed to go by
the wayside, when they're what was at the core of my point with respect to
Jeff's remarks about the relative cost of the various systems one could get in
the very early '80's. It's simply been my contention that building a computer
from components intended to be a computer was, in fact, less costly than
building a similarly capable system starting with toys as components, though
the costs might have been more burdensome since one had to buy the parts more
or less at the same time if one wanted somthing functional after the first
purchase. It doesn't help when people attempt to compare items from different
> >
> > My point was that you didn't have to write code when you bought a computer
> > that was intended to be used as a computer in order just to get it to run
> > OS and applications. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that
> That certainly applies to all those computers you claim are 'toys'. I
> don't think you ever had to write code yourself to get the
> computer-manufacturer's disk drive to boot/run the
> computer-manufacturer's chosen OS. Certainly not with the Apple ][,
> TRS-80 (any version), C64, Pet, etc. You just plugged it all together and
> booted.
The Apple][ didn't really need a lot of plugging. It was designed to be a
computer, though its predecessor, the Apple I had signal names on its
schematic that clearly indicated it was intended as a video device more than
as a general purpose computer. That was probably reasonable since everything
had to be slaved to the video refresh timing. The TRS-80 was in the stores
nearly a year before the expansion interface, disk drives, and OS were
available. I don't know what the story on the PET was, as there were no
outlets for them here in the Denver area that kept 'em in stock. They
certainly didn't have an OS or anything of the sort until well after their
market window in the U.S. had closed. AFAIK, their successes were mainly in
the European market. I remember seeing their ads in mags brought back from
Europe, but in the entire time I was looking ad commercial systems, the only
PET I ever saw, in private hands or in the hands of a merchant, was the
original 4K PET with the toy (Chiclet?) keyboard. The C64 doesn't fit in the
same generation with these early machines.
> > When you opened the box with your COCO, what useful work would it do with
> Depends on what you consider useful work :-)
> > $399 you had just spent? Could you write a letter? Could you write and
> Write a letter? There was a word processor ROM (Color Scripsit Program
> Pak) that you could plug in. I have it somewhere. I think it came out not
> long after the CoCo itself
The latter was my point, though in any case, it wasn't included in the $399
bundle. The hardware preceeded any useful application, though it was produced
long after there were microcomputers with plenty of useful software available.
While I've never maintained that the "$399" CoCo was incapable of anything if
enough equipment was added, it's clear that you can't compare the CoCo as
purchased in, say '82, if it was even available that early, with a low-cost
system, e.g. the Ampro Little Board, costing, I think <$200 (as a kit, of
course) including the OS on floppy disks. It required a serial terminal, of
course, but provided the ability to run anything CP/M. As usual with
5-1/4"-diskette-based systems, there was a media issue, but that could be work
ed out by means of Modem7.
> > compile a Fortran program? Could you save your work in any meaningful
> I know of no home computer that had Fortran in ROM. The CoCo (of course)
> had a BASIC interpretter in ROM, so you could type in and run programs
> (it came with a fairly good BASIC tutorial manual).
ROM wasn't the issue. The fact that the CoCo would run only software on ROM
puts it in a different category than that of a general purpose computer, which
it only became after the addition of additonal hardware. That, BTW, was my

In 1983, which was the last year in which I purchased any CP/M software, I
had no fewer than 6 different 'C' compilers, 4 Pascal compilers, 2 Fortran
compilers, PL/1, 3-4 BASIC interpreters and compilers, several assemblers, and
a number of cross-assemblers, not to mention many other tools of various
sorts. None of these were on ROM. All were from different vendors and not
just different versions of the same program. There was the popular WordStar
editor/word-processor, Dbase II, SuperCalc, and a pretty wide range of other
"stuff" that one could find useful. I assume there were some such programs
for the CoCo, as there were for a range of others. The Commodore boxes that
had a Z80 inside could run CP/M in one version or another, and, if they had
the appropriate means, e.g. a modem, they could get their software moved to
that system easily enough. Ultimately, IIRC, one could even buy CP/M
distribution media for the Commodores, which suggests they became pretty

Unfortunately, by the time you could buy a complete, OS-9-ready CoCo system,
I'd bet you could by an MS-DOS capable system for about the same money and,
likewise, for the Commodores. If you didn't mind plugging things together,
you could buy a Ferguson Big Board in '80-81 (?) maybe '82, for about $299 and
hook it up to your own 8" drives. By that time the drives were pretty cheap
(not as cheap as today's 3-1/2" drives, of course) and the enclosures weren't
badly priced. It came with the OS and didn't require a terminal. You'd hook
it up to a keyboard and a modified TV or one with a video input, just as you
might with any of the video-game-based computers.
> For saving, you had the cassette port. It worked pretty well in my
> experience (you could load the stuff back in again :-)). Yes it was slow,
> but it worked.
> Look, nobody is disputing there were better computers around at the time.
> The CoCo was what, 1980? If you were rich enough you could buy a VAX :-).
> But these home computers were cheap enough that people could actually
> afford them and use them. IIRC, a 5.25" floppy drive cost a couple of
> hundred dollars at that time (at least). So it's hardly suprising that
> few home computers included them as standard.
ISTM that your monthly power bill for a VAX would have exceeded the cost of a
current microcomputer of the early '80's. They didn't have the microVax yet.
> > Given that you had a printer, could you attach it and use it? What
> The serial port was intended to be used as a printer port. For some
> reason it ran at 600 baud by default, but.... I suppose you believe that
> all printers have a parallel interface? I do not!
The serial printers of the time seemed to work fine at low baud rates since
they were most often the daisywheel types. Those cost WAY more than a person
wishing to save money on a $399 CoCo would have wanted to pay.
> > was there, that you could install and use? How and where would you
> > it? When you finally decided you had to build your own hardware and write
> There was a fair amount of software available on ROM cartridges (aka
> Program Paks). You just plugged them into the slot on the right hand side
> of the machine.
> > your own software, wouldn't it have been easier to use a wirewrap card and
> > CPU chip and start from scratch rather than having to work around all that
> > stupid, Stupid, STUPID hardware they used? ... hardware you had to work
> Actually, the CoCo hardware was pretty nice, apart from the display (you
> seem to regard this as being the most important part of a computer, I do
> not). The hardware did _not_ generally get in the way of homebrew add-ons
> (I speak from a lot of experience here, I've built all sorts of add-ons
> for the CoCo).
It IS the most important part of the computer, since it's what you saw. The
user interface seems, still, to be the primary issue in deciding on one system
over another for home use. It's like the speakers in your sound system. I
normally tell people to spend at least half their home stereo budget on
speakers, half the remainder on their receiver/amplifier, and the remainder on
signal sources.
> There was one big advantage to starting from a home computer rather than
> just a CPU chip. You had a 'base system' that included enough software to
> PEEK/POKE bytes to your homebrew add-on for testing. That alone made life
> a lot easier when you were starting out.
If you were smart enough to build anything at all. you were smart enough to
get a monitor program for some other system and build your hardware so it
could execute that monitor. You had to start with something. True, a
resident ROM was handy, provided you could make it go away.
> > hardware didn't cost less if you used one of the "toy"-based systems, and
> > software wasn't any more available than if you'd used a "real" computer.
> > probably would have cost less to use an Apple with a 6809 board in it
> I am well aware of the Apple 6809 board. I have one somewhere....
> > there were some of those) than to make a COCO into a comparable computer.
> > IIRC, RS computers were always priced near the top, while their quality
> > near the bottom. For something equal to, say, and Apple][,. I'd say you'd
> Odd... I've owned at least half a dozen TRS-80s. I've had very little
> trouble with any of them. Unlike my Apple ][s which seem to be very
> marginally designed....
Yes, the Apples were marginally designed, and, I would suspect, continue to
> There was one _big_ advantage to Radio Shack machines (at least for me).
> You could get documentation. Real documentation with schematics and
> pinouts and the like. No hassle -- just walk into the shop and buy the
> technical manual off the shelf.
True, not to mention that, back then, (1980) they were the only computer maker
with a world-wide retail/service/distribution network.
> > nearly twice what a well-purchased Apple][ would have cost for a RS
product of
> > nearly similar actual capabilities. RS never did build something
> > intended for expansion though, did they?
> Well, I guess the Multi-Pak was designed to have 4 cartridges plugged in
> at once so you didn't have to keep on unpluging them when you wanted to
> change programs. But I can assure you that most of them were used as
> expansion backplanes so as to have the disk controller, serial port and a
> couple of other hardware add-ons plugged in at the same time.
That's something I wasn't aware of, though I still maintain that RS really
didn't intend for it to be used for 3rd party hardware. They certainly didn't
provide paths, in general, by means of which one could expand a system beyond
their own designs, which other mfg.'s often (possibly unintentionally) did.
Received on Fri Apr 26 2002 - 10:46:31 BST

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Oct 10 2014 - 23:34:34 BST