25 years ago, April 30, 1994, Commodore International didn’t open its doors for business in the morning, after filing for bankruptcy the day before. But without them, you might not be as attached to technology as you are today.
This is a long form of this Twitter thread, so it is written in punctuated bursts with included media.
Most people have heard of the Commodore 64, its flagship computer introduced in 1982, which sold around 15 million units worldwide. Today, everyone has a computer in their pocket, but at that time, most homes had, at best, a primitive game console like the Atari VCS-2600.
Others know of the Amiga, developed independently by exiles from Atari, then bought by Commodore to put the concept into production. The Amiga (later called the Amiga 1000 as the product line expanded) was considered the first “creative” system, designed for multimedia.
The Amiga attracted celebrity talent including Andy Warhol, who created recently-rediscovered digital artwork on the system in 1985. It had graphics and sound capabilities not available on PCs or Macs until many years later.
The graphics and sound capabilities of Commodore hardware was famous throughout the industry. At their price points early on, each machine boasted features several years ahead of the rest of the industry.
Some 1980s bands used C64s to create synthesizer backing tracks. Those sound capabilities are still popular today; the SID chip used in the C64 is a prized possession for analog music enthusiasts, and the Amiga is still used to do digital mixing and MIDI control.
But Commodore didn’t have a particularly stable history. It is, in many ways, a case study of how not to do product development and marketing from the mid-1980s onward. Promising products cancelled or delayed, and unwanted products brought to market only to flop hard.
The company’s journey was such a high speed rollercoaster that Brian Bagnall’s chronicle of its history now spans FOUR volumes:
Commodore: The Early Years [in development]
Commodore: A Company on the Edge
Commodore: The Amiga Years
Commodore: The Final Years [shipping now]
And there are still hardcore devotees to Commodore’s products, who are still making software for them, to showcase just how much these machines were ahead of their time. The “demo scene” continues to live on in old and new geeks alike.
There are even folks still making brand-new video games for these older systems. For the Commodore 64, a seven-year unofficial project just finished to bring Super Mario Bros. to the platform, almost 34 years after it was released for NES.
I was born in mid-1976 so I literally grew up alongside home computing. When I was still a lumbering child, so was the industry. I learned BASIC, then 6502 assembly, then Pascal, then C, then 68k assembly, then C++, and many other things first on Commodore computers.
That was a wild time. Far removed from taking computing for granted like we do today, and much more rough around the edges. There weren’t computing devices in every home, much less every pocket. Still, that time in computing history influenced everything that came after.
Your phone is now thousands of times faster and roomier in memory than the C64, and it can emulate one without even breaking a sweat. For those of us who watched the industry grow from infancy, though, it’s just been a natural progress of evolution.