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Commodore's New Computer Family:
News From The Winter Consumer Electronics Show

Selby Bateman, Assistant Editor

A new line of Commodore computers with built-in software options the 264 family created the biggest stir among computer industry retailers and distributors at the 1984 Winter Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Commodore also displayed a growing collection of 64 and VIC-20 software, a faster disk drive, and a new video monitor. Here's a report on the new products and the new choices facing owners and users of Commodore computers.

Approximately 90,000 people crowded their way into the Winter Consumer Electronics Show, a breathtaking array of almost every conceivable electronic audio, video, computer, appliance, and peripheral product that manufacturers hope to sell during 1984.

Over one-fourth of the 725,000 square feet of exhibit space this year was devoted to computer-related displays, and nearly 300 of the more than 1300 exhibitors represented computer products - a record on both counts.

Among the hundreds of exhibition booths at CES, none seemed to attract more activity and curiosity than Commodore's large gray and blue display on the floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center.

The company announced that during 1983 it became the first microcomputer firm to top the $1 billion mark in sales, more than doubling its $458 million 1982 sales figures. Commodore officials said that all four of its microcomputer models - 64, VIC-20, PET, and CBM - achieved record sales levels during 1983.

But the biggest news was the announcement of the new 264 family of Commodore computers, which will contain a consumer-selectable choice of built-in software; a stronger BASIC language, with 60K available for BASIC programming (the Commodore 64 has less than 40K of usable BASIC RAM) and more than 75 BASIC commands; a new keyboard that includes a HELP key, four separate cursor keys, and other programmable function keys; screen windowing capability; and a built-in machine language monitor with 12 commands.

A company representative says the 264 should be available by April 1. Customers will be able to purchase the 264 with one of several application program options built into ROM, such as a word processor, spreadsheet, or data base manager. The consumer may have a choice of additional software on plug-in ROM chips, but details of the various options were still being developed during CES. Although Commodore announced no price for the 264, company representatives indicate the retail price will be under $500.

 

What the new 264 series does not have is almost as interesting as what it does. The Commodore 64's versatile SID (Sound Interface Device) chip, which features three independent voices over nine octaves, had been replaced by two tone generators. That will mean a reduction in sound and music capability. And the 64's eight programmable, independently moveable sprites have not been included in the 264.

Although Commodore says that virtually all of the VIC-20 and 64 peripherals are compatible with the 264, the software is not. Internally the 264 is significantly different than older Commodores because of its new operating system and BASIC. Even the cassette buffer has been slightly relocated in memory. Also, the central processing unit (CPU) is not the 6502/6510 chip found in the VIC and 64; it is a new chip called the 7501. Luckily, the 7501 appears to be largely compatible with the 6500-series chips, sharing the same instruction set.

[Commodore 264]
Commodore's new 264 computer, showing the four separate cursor keys (lower right) and the four programmable function keys (at left above keyboard). The Commodore 364 will have a similar console, but with a 19-key numeric keypad above the cursor keys.

What does all this mean? BASIC programs written for the VIC and 64 which do not rely heavily on PEEKs, POKEs, sound, or sprite graphics probably will work with very little modification on the 264-series computers. But machine language programs and BASIC programs which manipulate memory with PEEKs and POKEs will need much more translating before they'll work on the 264. Almost all commercial software falls into the latter category. Commodore estimates that 80 to 90 percent of VIC and 64 programs should be adaptable to the 264.

Commodore emphasizes that the new family of computers in no way indicates a lessening of support by Commodore for the 64, the VIC-20, or the company's other microcomputers. As one Commodore,official says, the 264 is not directed at the same set of consumers as are the other products, especially the top-selling Commodore 64. The 264 offers built-in software for word processing, spreadsheet analysis, data base management, or other small business applications, notes Myrddin Jones, Commodore's vice president for marketing (see interview elsewhere in this issue). The 64 is more oriented toward music, sprites, and gaming, he adds.

Commodore is counting on the 264 family to complement the 64, VIC-20, and the others, rather than to compete with them, Jones says.

 

The new Commodore hardware products and options include the following:

The introduction of the 264 line meant that Commodore was one of the few computer companies to introduce a new machine at the four-day CES show, a far cry from last summer's CES in Chicago. Seventeen new microcomputers were introduced at that time.

Atari, Inc. introduced no new computers at the winter CES. Apple showed up for the first time in three years, but chose not to unveil its MacIntosh at the show. IBM had no exhibit at all. Coleco introduced some new peripherals for its Adam computer, including an add-on tape drive, a disk drive, 1200-baud modem, and a 64K memory expander. Spectravideo announced two new computers, and a British company exhibited prototypes of a new machine which might reach the U.S. later this year. But none of these booths were as consistently crowded as Commodore's.

 

Commodore is continuing to expand its software line and announced a variety of personal productivity and game offerings. For the Commodore 264, Sig Hartmann, president of Commodore Software, says that the company plans to have more than 30 software products available on cartridge, disk, and tape when the 264 goes on sale. "The key area we're emphasizing in software for the Commodore 264 is productivity covering such areas as household management, word processing, calculation, business accounting, and education," says Hartmann.

Commodore is continuing to encourage third-party software development for its computers, and introduced a number of new packages which were created for it by such companies as Data 20, Digital Research, Infocom, Island Graphics, and others. For example, Data 20 Corporation of Laguna Hills, California, created word processing, spreadsheet, and graph software on ROM chips for the new 264 computer line, some of which will be built-in and some will be cartridge add-ons.

Of the more than 200 Commodore-brand software products now in distribution, more than half were produced by outside developers, a company official notes. Among the new products are seven personal productivity packages, which are scheduled to be available by late spring on cartridge or disk for the Commodore 64 and 264. Several of the programs are planned as built-in software options for the 264 as well. The packages are:

Commodore announced its intention to provide 100 different application templates for its Manager 64 data base system used by the Commodore 64. The templates will include five to ten specific applications per disk which, when used with Manager 64, will allow the user to computerize home budgets, index recipes, keep track of sports statistics, track business accounts, and carry out other functions.

 

Among the other software packages announced at CES by Commodore are:

 

Independent companies continue to develop and market a growing number of hardware and software products for the Commodore microcomputers.

Chalk Board, Inc., developer of the PowerPad touch tablet, announced six new software packages scheduled for release in the first quarter of 1984. They include Leo's 'Lectric Graphics, a graphics system which allows users to do finger painting, multiple-contact drawing, or a fine, point-to-point drawing; Leonardo's Logo, a turtle graphics program which employs push-button symbolic graphics in place of keyboard entry; Leonardo's Philharmonic, a music composition package; Boolean Blueprints, an advanced BASIC tutor for the novice; Runway, an aircraft navigation and piloting simulation program based on geometric principles; and Borderline, an international relations simulation game.

AtariSoft, the third-party software publishing division of Atari, announced conversions of seven hit arcade titles for the Commodore 64 and VIC-20. The games are Joust, Battlezone, Pole Position, Ms. Pac-Man, Moon Patrol, Galaxian, and Jungle Hunt. Suggested prices for each game are $34.95 on disk and $44.95 on cartridge.

Waveform Corp. introduced MusiCalc I, a software package designed to transform the Commodore 64 into a three-voice synthesizer with realtime sequencing, slide controls, modulators, and transposers. The program allows users to play along with preprogrammed melodies, or create and store their own melodies for later playback. The suggested price is $74.95.

 

Brøderbund Software has converted its popular word processing program, Bank Street Writer, to disk format for the Commodore 64. Previously available for Apple and Atari computers, Bank Street Writer displays all functions and commands at the top of the screen in order to eliminate the need for memorizing codes or command words. Suggested retail price is $69.95.

Human Engineered Software (HesWare), the largest single-source supplier of software for the Commodore 64, announced seven new educational and productivity programs for the 64. Turtls Toyland Jr., produced for HesWare by ChildWare Corporation of Menlo Park, California, operates with a joystick and teaches turtle graphics and programming concepts to children. HesWare also announced three new educational titles from Sunburst Software - Factory, for those eight years or older, places the user in the role of a design engineer who must create geometric products on an assembly line; M-ss-ng L-nks, ages ten and above, is a language puzzle designed to improve spelling, grammar, comprehension skills, and writing; and Tri-Math, ages 6-12 years, uses an alien space intruder, a dinosaur, and a mysterious mansion as a part of a math skills program.

Creative Software, of Sunnyvale, California, introduced seven software programs for the Commodore 64. Three of them - Joe's Writer, Fred's Filer, and Jack's Calc - are components of an integrated personal productivity series the company calls the People's Choice. Designed for older children and adults, the series features a word processor, a file manager, and a spreadsheet. Each program will be sold seprately at a suggested price of $49.95.

Also introduced by Creative Software were Crisis Mountain, an action game on cartridge; In The Chips (see a review of this game elsewhere in this issue), a popular VIC-20 program now available on cartridge for the 64, that teaches the player the economics of business by pitting him against a rival computer software company; I Am The C-64, two three-program disks (sold separately) that teach the user about 64 programming, graphics, and sound; and Bumblebee, an educational cartridge-based program for children six years and older, which introduces the concepts of computer programming. Each of the programs sells for $34.95.

Program Design, Inc. (PDI), of Greenwich, Connecticut, announced the availability of ten new program translations for the Commodore 64. The programs include Analogies, Vocabulary Builder 1 and 2, Reading Comprehension: What's Different?, Preschool IQ Builder 1, Memory Builder: Concentration, Story BuilderlWord Master, Code Breaker, Number Series, and Shaft Raider.

PDI President John Victor no doubt spoke for quite a few software firms when he stated, "We have decided to translate many of our titles into the Commodore 64 format...based on its growing popularity in the marketplace."

Victor's comment is a good indication of what Commodore 64 owners and, to a slightly lesser degree, VIC-20 users will be finding during 1984 improved and more plentiful software in all areas of computing. The Winter CES not only introduced a new line of Commodore computers, it revealed more clearly that the company's growing installed base of 64s and VIC-20s is fertile ground for software producers.


Published in COMPUTE!'s Gazette, Issue 10, April 1984. Copyright © 1984 COMPUTE! Publications, Inc.



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