All Change at Commodore!   4 comments

A Commodore 16 with data recorder


Finally, Commodore founder Jack Tramiel left the company in 1984, claiming it was because he couldn’t see eye to eye with the President of the company on how to do business.  He actually left before I got a Commodore 64 later in 1984, but the damage was done and Commodore continued to sell this crap until 1995!

In January 1984 Commodore did something they’d never done before. They showed a new range of computers with a new version of BASIC on ROM, which included those all important commands for colour, graphics, and sound! These computers were called different names in different countries, but in Britain they were known as the Commodore 16 (with 16K) and the Commodore Plus/4 (with 64K). Jack Tramiel appeared alongside these computers at the CES, but left the company a few days later. The computer he’d specified was just the Commodore 16, but someone had extended this design into the Commodore Plus/4, complete with 4 built in software packages on ROM. I didn’t even hear of these events until months later, after buying a Commodore 64. In any case, these computers didn’t come out until about September 1984, months after I’d bought the Commodore 64 and by then I think I’d already discovered what shit it was!

A Commodore Plus/4


For some strange reason, the new BASIC was called Commodore BASIC 3.5, although this was after the release of a Commodore BASIC 4.0 on their PET, 4000, or 8000 series computers. Commodore BASIC 4.0 lacked commands for colour, graphics, or sound, though. Previously, Commodore had produced “expander” cartridges for the VIC-20 and the Commodore 64, which included additional BASIC commands written or commissioned by Commodore themselves, instead of paying Microsoft about $3-$10 per unit for the use of their powerful Microsoft Extended BASIC. These commands included SCNCLR to clear the screen, instead of the standard CLS. Other commands included were BOX, CIRCLE, COLOR, DRAW, GRAPHIC, GSHAPE, PAINT, SCALE, SOUND, SSHAPE, and VOL! The syntax of these commands seems overly complicated, as well as unique to Commodore, so non standard. The version of BASIC that came as standard on the Commodore 16 and Commodore Plus/4 seemed to be about the same as the BASIC on the previously issued expander cartridges. They even had 121 colours. Unfortunately, there were no sprites and the sound was only a 2 channel tone generator, so these computers wouldn’t have made it onto my original shortlist, due to the lack of a 3 note polyphonic synthesiser chip. The Commodore Plus/4 even had about 60K free to BASIC, though! They weren’t compatible with the Commodore 64, but there was no reason why they should have been. Even the cassette data recorder and disk drive were different.

I was amazed by the news of these new models of computer. They even made me consider writing a begging letter to Commodore asking if I could exchange my Commodore 64 for a Commodore 16!

Not long after this, a company produced an extended BASIC which they said was “language compatible with BASIC 3.5”, but I didn’t bother buying it, because programs saved on a Commodore 64 data recorder couldn’t be loaded on a Commodore 16 or Plus/4 data recorder, so it wouldn’t have enabled me to write software for those machines, which never became popular anyway.

Only a few months after the Commodore 16 and Commodore Plus/4 came out, Commodore showed off another new computer called the Commodore 128. This was actually more like 3 computers in one case. It had 3 different modes of operation. These were Commodore 128 mode, Commodore 64 mode, and CP/M mode. It had an even more advanced BASIC called BASIC 7.0. Don’t ask me whatever happened to 5.0 and 6.0. This still included Commodore’s own BASIC commands, but now had a Microsoft Copyright notice, so it looks like Commodore had finally agreed to pay them some more money for the first time in about 8 years! This was Commodore’s chance to finally lay the Commodore 64 to rest and encourage existing users to upgrade, as well as new users to buy the C128, but they failed to do this and continued to sell the Commodore 64. To get Commodore 64 software to run, they even reused the old VIC-II video chip with only 16 colours.

Posted August 29, 2012 by C64hater in Uncategorized

4 responses to “All Change at Commodore!

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. if this website is a joke or the product of someone with an IQ of 63… Well done! You’ve either got the reaction you were looking for from various Fanboys or risen above your disability and managed to create a functioning website. Kudos!

    If not, then you need to go and see a psychiatrist. This is not healthy. The C64 is just a computer. An old computer with a relatively hard to learn basic that tens of millions of people owned and presumably enjoyed. You didn’t like it. So what? It’s just an old computer. You need to talk to someone professional who can get to the real reason why you’re still banging on about this 30 years later.

    • The reason for this site is as a reaction against the recent Commodore 64 30th anniversary celebrations. I’m trying to show people why this is nothing to celebrate. I bought a Commodore 64 to learn programming and write and play music on, but I was prevented from doing this thanks to the crappy BASIC supplied on ROM. I’ve recently read various comments about the Commodore 64 making outrageous claims such as that it made computers affordable and got people started in programming. This isn’t true, because there were already cheaper computers around, which also enabled people to program graphics and sound using simple BASIC commands, instead of wrestling with a whole load of PEEKs and POKEs! My time as a Commodore 64 owner caused me a lot of stress and when I sold it I felt a sense of defeat.

      I don’t need to see a psychiatrist! The people who have recently been celebrating the Commodore 64’s 30th anniversary are the ones who need their heads examined!

  2. Perhaps you should have subscribed to Compute’s Gazette or Loadstar to learn programming instead of buying cheap dime-store books with crappy type-in programs. I have enjoyed my Commodore computers (VIC-20, C-64, and C-128) for many years and I still tinker with programming on them to this day.

  3. I didn’t read Compute! magazine in 1984 because it wasn’t widely available if at all, as I lived in Britain, not the USA. I may only have heard of this magazine in the last 2 years. It may have been available at a few newsagents in central London, but I bought most of my magazines in southeast suburban London. I’m fairly sure I heard of Compute! Books some time ago, though.

    I’ve recently found an archive of scanned copies of Compute! magazine and the April 1984 issue (No. 47) makes very interesting reading with its review of the January 1984 CES. This was a legendary event which featured MSX, the Elan Enterprise, and some new Commodore models called the 264 and 364V. These prototypes eventually became the Commodore 16 and Commodore Plus 4, selling at much higher prices than Jack Tramiel had planned, while a very basic model with rubber calculator type keys, called the C116 for under $100 or under the inflated much higher price of £100 or possibly DM100 in Germany, designed to compete with very cheap computers was hardly produced or sold at all! It was sold in Germany as a package to teach people BASIC programming. The Compute! CES review covers features and BASIC commands on this range of computers, comparing them to the Commodore 64. On page 18 it says that the 264 and 364V have 60K free to BASIC, while the Commodore 64 has only 39K free to BASIC. This revelation alone may have been enough to put my Dad off buying the Commodore 64. It also says that the 264/364V function keys are preprogrammed and easily reprogrammable by “an average user”, because “One line of BASIC does the trick”. This implies, but doesn’t clearly point out that Commodore 64 users couldn’t program their function keys to input BASIC commands with Commodore BASIC V2. A very interesting section is headed “MORE POWERFUL BASIC”. This lists various BASIC 3.5 graphics commands, but doesn’t point out that the Commodore 64 has no equivalent to these commands at all, so readers may have been left wondering what commands the Commodore 64 used for graphics. On page 20 this review goes on to explain that C64 users could plug in a Simons’ BASIC cartridge “to get a similar array of advanced commands”, but points out that programs written under Simons’ BASIC won’t run on another C64 unless it also has that cartridge plugged in. All this means that reading this issue of Compute magazine could have saved me from the ordeal of trying to program a Commodore 64 for several months!

    Unfortunately, I could’ve read the above information in various British magazines, such as INPUT No. 3 and Your 64 No. 1, but my first issue of INPUT was No. 4 and I stopped buying it later, while I didn’t buy any magazines dedicated to a single computer until after I got a Commodore 64 because I wasn’t sure which computer I was going to get. Luckily, there were also weekly computer magazines, such as Popular Computing Weekly, keeping us up to date with the news instead of having to wait months, like in the USA. Unfortunately, Popular Computing Weekly later launched a spin off games only magazine and also faced new competition from the New Computer Express. Popular Computing Weekly was forced to close down, then New Computer Express also ceased publication, leaving only monthly magazines.

    The Compute! CES review also has a heading “Superfast New Commodore Disk”, which explains that a new type of disk drive called the SFS481 was planned for the 264 and 364V, which was much faster than the existing 1541 drive simply because it was a parallel disk drive, instead of serial, therefore exchanging data in byte sized instead of bit sized chunks!

    As for your comment about cheap dime store magazines with type ins, there was no real equivalent to dime stores over here, but in more recent years there have been “Pound Shops” where everything costs £1. Apart from this, I notice that the issue of Compute! which I’ve just read contains type ins anyway! I’ve also heard that there were copies of these available on disk. They wouldn’t have been any use to me, because I didn’t own a disk drive. If you didn’t type in programs, this means you have never programmed your C64. This blog is about programming not just using other peoples’ programs! I recently compared Commodore hardware prices in the USA during 1984 to the prices in Britain. What I discovered was that although the 1541 disk drives were about the same price as over here, the C64 itself was available for $199, which was a lot less than the £199 recommended price in Britain, although I can’t remember the exchange rate. I’ve also heard it was possible in the USA to get special deals by buying a C64 with disk drive.

    I hope this fully answers the points you made in your comment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: