Another step towards the return of the iconic Commodore computer brand

News articles

The Commodore name licensed again for a line of keyboard PCs – Engadget

Commodore Is Back – Le Journal Du Geek (France – French language)

My comments

What was this legendary brand?

Think of watching these films: “Fame”, “Flashdance”, “Back To The Future” or “Ruthless People” at the cinema or on the VHS video recorder. Or think of these songs “Fame”, “Let’s Hear It For The Boy”, “Caribbean Queen”, “The Power Of Love” or “Ruthless People” playing out of that ghetto-blaster.  The thing that is common with all of this was that it was part of life of the mid 1980s, in which a certain brand became part of personal and educational computing life. 

This brand was “Commodore” who got their claws in to the personal-computing market with the “VIC-20” home computer in 1982. This machine had the processing power installed in the same chassis as the keyboard and was able to be connected to a regular TV set whereupon it provided a display capable of rendering in 8 colours as well as basic musical audio output through the TV’s speaker. You were able to load software from ROM cartridges, audio cassettes (with an optional cassette drive) or 5.25” floppy disks (with an optional disk drive).

Then, in 1984, they launched the Commodore 64 which had improved memory, graphics and sound capability but could use any peripherals that worked with the VIC-20. But this computer had a large collection of software, especially games, written for it and had attracted a larger legion of computer hobbyist followers with it.

The VIC-20 and the Commodore 64 used a compact chassis that was just as big as the keyboard itself both of them had set a standard for highly-capable “keyboard computer” designs. Most earlier “keyboard computers”, especially those that offered sophisticated display or sound capabilities, typically were deeper than the keyboard itself due to the extra electronics and inefficient circuit design that existed at that time. As well, Commodore released the Executive-64 series of transportable computers which were simply a Commodore 64 with a disk drive, small display, speaker and power supply in a “sewing-machine” case with the keyboard being the system’s lid. Compared to machines of its type, this unit offered a lot more capability, especially in the form of colour display and sound capability.

By the late 80s, Commodore had released the Amiga which had greater processing ability, a WIMP-based user interface and the basic unit used 3.5” disks as secondary storage. This unit became popular with video produces as a machine for editing video or inserting graphics in to a video production. But it was also released at a time close to the “acid-house” craze and these computers were used by hobbyists to create many “demos” which were animated graphic display loops that were accompanied by an “acid-house” music soundtrack generated by the computer. Some of these were shown off at competitions or used as part of the “acid-house” parties of the day.

But this brand disappeared in the early 90s when they tried ideas that the market wasn’t ready for, such as selling a games console and a “lounge-room” PC based on the Amiga platform; as well as releasing in to a crowded market, regular desktop computers based on the MS-DOS platform.

The revival of the Commodore brand

There have been “placeholder companies” who are protecting the Commodore brand with its “chickenhead logo” in order to make sure it only ends up on suitable computer and consumer-electronics products. They also are reviving the classic games that were available for the Commodore 64 by porting them to mobile phones, Java-based online play and other current platforms. Through this decade, they are releasing contract-built products in a way as to revive the nostalgia associated with this brand and its market position in its heyday of the ‘80s. One of these companies released a series of customisable tower-style “gaming-rig” PCs in 2008 to evoke memories of the Commodore 64 and the Amiga being considered “games machines of all time”.

Now this company is releasing a “keyboard PC” which has a similar footprint to any of these Commodore classic machines but is slimmer than them. It also has secondary storage built in to it like the Amiga 500, but it is in the form of a large-capacity hard disk, an optical drive and a multi-format card reader. The idea behind this machine was to evoke the nostalgia associated with these machines.

The main question with Commodore resurfacing is whether there will be broad takeup of any of these products. The people who will value this brand more will be those of us who lived through the 1980s where the brand was considered to be significant, but others may just consider it insignificant in a crowded home or small-business IT market.

Also, could this story of Commodore be like a lot of other classic brands who previously produced iconic products then closed up shop or left the market due to differing conditions in their market, only to be used as a marketing tool by other firms as a way of selling “ho-hum” products to the generations that remember these brands?

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