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First post, by ThinkpadIL

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While considering to add to my collection legends like Commodore 64 and/or ZX Spectrum, I always have a feeling that they were actually more a toy for kids than a real personal computer for home use.

I didn't own any of them and the first computer I met in person was IBM PC AT 286, so after it all those Commodores and Spectrums class computers looked like a silly toy. Maybe that's why I have the same feeling also today.

So what do you think? A toy or a personal computer for the masses?

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10 May 2022 UPD
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Ok, I think the time has come to make a conclusion (at least to myself).

After hearing pros and cons here and making a research on the Internet my conclusion is as follows:

Home Computers of the late 70's, 80's and early 90's were mostly 8-bit machines. If first 8-bit computers were mostly experimental machines that could be compared to Raspberry Pi based projects of today, very fast they developed into two main lines - Business Computers (for example Osborne 1, Kaypro II, Epson QX-10 etc.) and Home Computers (for example Atari 400/800, ZX-80/81/Spectrum, Commodore 64/128 etc.).

Business Computers in most cases were coming with CP/M operating system, monochrome display and from the start were intended to be used for boring office activities only. Home Computers on the other hand from the start were intended to be used at home for two main activities - learning programming in Basic and gaming.

Later there were attempts to enter business market with modified Home Computers. Some of the attempts were successful (for example TRS-80 Model I --> TRS-80 Model III) and some were fails (for example Commodore 64 --> Commodore SX-64). There were also attempts to go in opposite direction (for example IBM PC --> IBM PCjr) though those were already a next generation 16-bit machines. During those attempts were developed few hardware and software add-ons which supposed to make Home Computer machines to look like a serious machine. For example for Commodore 64 was developed GEOS package, CP/M cartridge, Commodore 1351 mouse ets. Those attempts helped Commodore 64 to become some kind of Personal Computer for home use that was able to do almost anything, from word processing and spreadsheets to math calculations, music composing, BBS communication and commercial software development (games mostly). Though it was mostly suitable for students and freelancers, since there are not so many evidences of making use of Commodore 64 machines in offices.

Who knows, if there wasn't such thing as a technical progress, maybe in couple of decades Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum would become serious machines suitable for business use too, but the 90's have arrived and prices for 16-bit and 32-bit IBM PC compatible Business Machines started dropping and dropping fast. So, in 1995 most of the ordinary people could afford that kind or another of an IBM PC compatible machine and the glorious history of Home Computers like Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum ended instantly. End of story.

Last edited by ThinkpadIL on 2022-05-11, 16:56. Edited 3 times in total.

Reply 1 of 81, by BloodyCactus

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Commodore 64 had LOADS of business software, printers, etc. primarily sold for games for sure, but dont discount its ability to word process or run spreadsheets etc. heck it even had GEOS!

--/\-[ Stu : Bloody Cactus :: http://kråketær.com :: http://mega-tokyo.com ]-/\--

Reply 2 of 81, by Jo22

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Hard to say, I think.

Some people say "PC" means anything IBM PC/WinTel.
To them the IBM Model 5150 was the first "PC" evarrr. Period.
Apple II? Commodore PET? IMSAI 8080? What's that?

At the same time, there are PC users who consider Macintoshs being PCs, as well.

Other say that a "Personal Computer" can be any computer that's used privately / for personal use.

That again eclipsed home computers like the C64, too, which even had "Personal Computer" written on the box art.

Last, but not least, there were many many Z80 computers that could run CP/M - the defacto Personal Computer OS of the 70s/80s.
However, that again is seen as a flaw in the Matrix by today's PC owners:
How on earth can an 8-Bit computer system be a PC?
The IBM PC (-that story again-) was 16-Bit to begin with!

Edit: Personally, I do consider the Commodore 128 (the 128D) to be a real Personal Computer, at least. 😉

Edit: Funfact.. The company known as VTech used to make both home computers and IBM PC compatibles under its Laser brand.
In the 90s, it pretty much became a toy computer (aka learning computer) company.

Edit: Another definition for "PCs" I can think of :
PCs do have a proper keyboard and a video sub-system that can display text properly.
Say 80 columns (80x24 or 80x25).

Mass storage in the form of a HDD, maybe, is required too. Expandibility, also, maybe.

Last edited by Jo22 on 2022-05-06, 11:40. Edited 1 time in total.

"Time, it seems, doesn't flow. For some it's fast, for some it's slow.
In what to one race is no time at all, another race can rise and fall..." - The Minstrel

//My video channel//

Reply 3 of 81, by BinaryDemon

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Not sure how much productivity was occurring, but I would say at that time the Personal Computer was an important training tool for how business and communication was about to evolve. Everyone was learning some simple programming (Basic), almost all this platforms had simple word processors for creating text documents.

Check out DOSBox Distro:

https://sites.google.com/site/dosboxdistro/ [*]

a lightweight Linux distro (tinycore) which boots off a usb flash drive and goes straight to DOSBox.

Make your dos retrogaming experience portable!

Reply 4 of 81, by Jo22

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I think the same, but then there were such oddball systems like the Wang 2200 from 1973, years before CP/M and PCs were a thing.. Confusing, at least to me. 🤷‍♂️

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wang_2200

"Time, it seems, doesn't flow. For some it's fast, for some it's slow.
In what to one race is no time at all, another race can rise and fall..." - The Minstrel

//My video channel//

Reply 5 of 81, by spiroyster

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"Personal Computer" phrase comes from the fact that you didn't need a mainframe and thus didn't need time-sharing. So it applies to any computer which you didn't use concurrently with any other user at the same time, hence the name "Personal". Doesn't matter if it is in an office or at home and doesn't have to be IBM or compatible.

Back in the day the likes of SpectrumZX etc were probably the only computers in home, so yes they catered for probably every particular use of a computer at the time and were computers for the masses. The masses were not very big though then.

Reply 6 of 81, by ThinkpadIL

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Jo22 wrote on 2022-05-06, 11:27:
Hard to say, I think. […]
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Hard to say, I think.

Some people say "PC" means anything IBM PC/WinTel.
To them the IBM Model 5150 was the first "PC" evarrr. Period.
Apple II? Commodore PET? IMSAI 8080? What's that?

At the same time, there are PC users who consider Macintoshs being PCs, as well.

Other say that a "Personal Computer" can be any computer that's used privately / for personal use.

That again eclipsed home computers like the C64, too, which even had "Personal Computer" written on the box art.

Last, but not least, there were many many Z80 computers that could run CP/M - the defacto Personal Computer OS of the 70s/80s.
However, that again is seen as a flaw in the Matrix by today's PC owners:
How on earth can an 8-Bit computer system be a PC?
The IBM PC (-that story again-) was 16-Bit to begin with!

Edit: Personally, I do consider the Commodore 128 (the 128D) to be a real Personal Computer, at least. 😉

Edit: Funfact.. The company known as VTech used to make both home computers and IBM PC compatibles under its Laser brand.
In the 90s, it pretty much became a toy computer (aka learning computer) company.

For me it's not a computing power that makes a computer to be considered as a Personal Computer. For example there were, and still are, those Microprocessor Kits, like KIM-1. They can't be considered as a Personal Computers of course, but they aren't toys also. Epson HX-20 and TRS-80 Model 100, contemporaries of Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum, also can't be considered as toys, even though they were even more underpowered.

But when I look at a Commodore 64 for example, what I see? Light blue letters on a dark blue background, great sound chip, a slow cassette tape recorder and an even slower floppy disk drive, and of course a psychedelic raster bar. If it is not a toy or a hippie trip machine, what is it then?

Reply 7 of 81, by Jo22

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spiroyster wrote on 2022-05-06, 12:03:

The masses were not very big though then.

But don't we have overpopulation by now?
30/40 years ago, we had much less humans on earth, as well.
1975.. 4 Billion
1990.. 5, 3 Billion
2022.. 7,95 BIllion
I think that must be taken into relation to the user base, as well.
Not that it matters that much, just saying. 🙂

"Time, it seems, doesn't flow. For some it's fast, for some it's slow.
In what to one race is no time at all, another race can rise and fall..." - The Minstrel

//My video channel//

Reply 8 of 81, by Cuttoon

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I'd say it boils down to a linguistic problem.

A "home computer" is by definition a Computer that is meant for private use and something like games and amateur programming or experimental enthusiast stuff. I'd say the term came to be when anything considered a "real computer" was beyond any home's capability in space and power grid access. And beyond any private citizens financial means.

Consider the FCC rating "for home or office use" - the machine may do both, but home is not office.

They used to be called microcomputers or "micros" as micro-processor based machines were a new thing back then and AFAIK, the first chips were highly integrated, but the machines were by no means anywhere near the mainframes.

Anything hooked up to a flimsy television screen via some HF adapter can't be considered a real office computer, IMHO.
Atari sold much of the same gear as both a game console and home computer, with different package, it seems.

Then again, you could also attach some kind of printer. Maybe something real (that no one can afford), maybe some primitive, proprietary joke that may feel like a "my first computer" set from Mattel. But in any case: Writing a school paper or letter on a screen before printing it out is already light years ahead of any conventional type writer.
- That could be considered a more than toy application.

The "killer app" for the Apple II apparently was this spreadsheet application in 1979:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/VisiCalc
- Making the Apple II a true "Personal Computer". It was too expensive for a toy, anyway. Apple Inc. liked to cultivate an image of selling smart, creative and individual solutions - an easy niche to fill when opposing a stalinist global apparatus like IBM back then. But in "desktop computing" it initially was the other way round.
But, it appears, since no one ever got fired for buying IBM, their sheer market force made them surpass both Apple and VisiCalc, with Lotus 1-2-3.

First office PC my parents had was a Amstrad PCW, branded "Schneider Joyce":
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amstrad_PCW
Twin proprietary floppy setup with CP/M OS utterly incompatible with both Commodore and IBM systems, so any game traded in the school yard. Was of little interest to us kids and situated inconveniently and off limits anyway. The 386 we got in 1993 changed a lot...

I like jumpers.

Reply 9 of 81, by ThinkpadIL

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spiroyster wrote on 2022-05-06, 12:03:

"Personal Computer" phrase comes from the fact that you didn't need a mainframe and thus didn't need time-sharing. So it applies to any computer which you didn't use concurrently with any other user at the same time, hence the name "Personal". Doesn't matter if it is in an office or at home and doesn't have to be IBM or compatible.

Back in the day the likes of SpectrumZX etc were probably the only computers in home, so yes they catered for probably every particular use of a computer at the time and were computers for the masses. The masses were not very big though then.

I'm talking about difference between Personal Computer (computer for a personal use anywhere, suitable to be used for serious purposes) and Home Computer (any computer for a home use).

Reply 10 of 81, by Grzyb

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In the early 80s, when prices of 16-bit machines were still prohibitive, 8-bit ones were definitely more than toys.
Around 1985, however, there was the massive surge of IBM PC clones, prices dropped, and the PC became the universal standard of business computers - and that was the point when 8-bit stuff got demoted to toys...

Reply 11 of 81, by Cuttoon

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ThinkpadIL wrote on 2022-05-06, 12:25:
spiroyster wrote on 2022-05-06, 12:03:

"Personal Computer" phrase comes from the fact that you didn't need a mainframe and thus didn't need time-sharing. So it applies to any computer which you didn't use concurrently with any other user at the same time, hence the name "Personal". Doesn't matter if it is in an office or at home and doesn't have to be IBM or compatible.

Back in the day the likes of SpectrumZX etc were probably the only computers in home, so yes they catered for probably every particular use of a computer at the time and were computers for the masses. The masses were not very big though then.

I'm talking about difference between Personal Computer (computer for a personal use anywhere, suitable to be used for serious purposes) and Home Computer (any computer for a home use).

AFAIK, in 1977, computers in a business sense were not supposed to be used by "serious people wearing suits" but merely by some eggheads in lab coats who would provide data printouts to management.

Desks had type writers on them, but those were for secretaries. (So would be personal computers for quite some time.)

Anyone putting an Apple II on his work desk would have been considered a nerd, anyone doing the same at home both a nerd and a snob, as those cost roughly $6000 in today's money.
It seems, VisiCalc in combination with a cocaine-fueled "get rich quick" stock trading rush chanced perception a lot.

But, with all the other little boxes from Atari, Commodore, Tandy whatever - bit of a chicken egg problem.
Back then, it was mainly a cheap and simple computer that mortal people could put in their living room - making it a home computer.
Today, we call those machines "home computer" because that's what they were used for.
Also, we use the term as opposed to IBM and, to a lesser extend, Apple machines - which is mainly arbitrary in later years, as IBM compatibles became the main home computer, as well.

I like jumpers.

Reply 12 of 81, by ThinkpadIL

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Grzyb wrote on 2022-05-06, 12:39:

In the early 80s, when prices of 16-bit machines were still prohibitive, 8-bit ones were definitely more than toys.
Around 1985, however, there was the massive surge of IBM PC clones, prices dropped, and the PC became the universal standard of business computers - and that was the point when 8-bit stuff got demoted to toys...

It's not about 8-bit vs 16-bit. There were plenty of professional 8-bit personal computers like Kaypro II, NEC PC-8801, Amstrad PCW, Osborne 1 etc.

Reply 13 of 81, by konc

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ThinkpadIL wrote on 2022-05-06, 11:02:

I didn't own any of them and the first computer I met in person was IBM PC AT 286, so after it all those Commodores and Spectrums class computers looked like a silly toy. Maybe that's why I have the same feeling also today.

Try to think of them in the correct time frame: compared to what exactly would someone consider the C64 a toy for kids in 1982-83? The first IBM PC? 😂

Reply 14 of 81, by ThinkpadIL

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Cuttoon wrote on 2022-05-06, 12:48:
AFAIK, in 1977, computers in a business sense were not supposed to be used by "serious people wearing suits" but merely by some […]
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ThinkpadIL wrote on 2022-05-06, 12:25:
spiroyster wrote on 2022-05-06, 12:03:

"Personal Computer" phrase comes from the fact that you didn't need a mainframe and thus didn't need time-sharing. So it applies to any computer which you didn't use concurrently with any other user at the same time, hence the name "Personal". Doesn't matter if it is in an office or at home and doesn't have to be IBM or compatible.

Back in the day the likes of SpectrumZX etc were probably the only computers in home, so yes they catered for probably every particular use of a computer at the time and were computers for the masses. The masses were not very big though then.

I'm talking about difference between Personal Computer (computer for a personal use anywhere, suitable to be used for serious purposes) and Home Computer (any computer for a home use).

AFAIK, in 1977, computers in a business sense were not supposed to be used by "serious people wearing suits" but merely by some eggheads in lab coats who would provide data printouts to management.

Desks had type writers on them, but those were for secretaries. (So would be personal computers for quite some time.)

Anyone putting an Apple II on his work desk would have been considered a nerd, anyone doing the same at home both a nerd and a snob, as those cost roughly $6000 in today's money.
It seems, VisiCalc in combination with a cocaine-fueled "get rich quick" stock trading rush chanced perception a lot.

But, with all the other little boxes from Atari, Commodore, Tandy whatever - bit of a chicken egg problem.
Back then, it was mainly a cheap and simple computer that mortal people could put in their living room - making it a home computer.
Today, we call those machines "home computer" because that's what they were used for.
Also, we use the term as opposed to IBM and, to a lesser extend, Apple machines - which is mainly arbitrary in later years, as IBM compatibles became the main home computer, as well.

If bringing an 80's Personal Computer vs Home Computer comparison to today, I think the best analogy will be Desktop/Laptop PC vs Tablet PC. The former is designed more for a serious use and less for fun, and the latter more for fun and less for a serious use.

Reply 15 of 81, by Intel486dx33

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Its like John Scully from Apple said “The Mac is NOT a Toy”.
Neither is the IBM PC. A computer with a dial up modem can be used to go online and program so many things.
Ask any I.T. Professional that is “On Call” from home. They work 24/7/365 days a year.
E-commerce never sleeps. Corporate servers never sleep.
Webservers never sleep.

All you need is a computer with a dial up modem to access the “internet of things”.

Last edited by Intel486dx33 on 2022-05-07, 01:52. Edited 1 time in total.

Reply 16 of 81, by Cuttoon

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Intel486dx33 wrote on 2022-05-06, 15:11:
Its like John Scully from Apple said “The Mac is NOT a Toy”. Either is the IBM PC. A computer with a dial up modem can be used t […]
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Its like John Scully from Apple said “The Mac is NOT a Toy”.
Either is the IBM PC. A computer with a dial up modem can be used to go online and program so many things.
Ask any I.T. Professional that is “On Call” from home. They work 24/7/365 days a year.
E-commerce never sleeps. Corporate servers never sleep.
Webservers never sleep.

All you need is a computer with a dial up modem to access the “internet of things”.

Sure, weren't TRS-80s mainly used to hack the pentagon via acoustic couplers? Those thermonuclear ICBMs wont launch themselves!

I like jumpers.

Reply 17 of 81, by Jo22

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konc wrote on 2022-05-06, 13:03:
ThinkpadIL wrote on 2022-05-06, 11:02:

I didn't own any of them and the first computer I met in person was IBM PC AT 286, so after it all those Commodores and Spectrums class computers looked like a silly toy. Maybe that's why I have the same feeling also today.

Try to think of them in the correct time frame: compared to what exactly would someone consider the C64 a toy for kids in 1982-83? The first IBM PC? 😂

Hi there ! 😀 Speaking of time frames..
To be fair, I had similar thoughts on the DOS gaming scene in the 1990s already. "320x200 pels? Are you kidding me?"
That really felt like home computer territory to me. In the 90s.
Not something that's worth a Macintosh or PC/AT.
- Please let me elaborate: Back then (mid 90s) I had a 286, like ThinkpadIL,
but enjoyed both DOS shareware games and Windows 3.1 games - which also used 640x480 pels resolution.
The Windows games were from the desktop games category, I think.
Atari ST and Macintosh had them too, years before Windows was mainstream.
So 640x480 seemed "normal" to me, at least for the view-port.

Now let's feel my confusion when, by the turn of the century and thanks to more internet access,
I found out about the majority of commercial DOS games running merely in a mediocre 320x200 pels (MCGA) resolution.

It was a huge disappointment to me.
As if the PC platform was turned into a C64 or an Amiga.
Or was degraded to "toy computers", to use the wording of ThinkpadIL.

And to make matters worse, at the time, all those "retro" games turned up out of nowhere, glorifying the 320x200 cult.
I was confused and I really didn't understand why no sophisticated DOS games with "real" VGA (Standard VGA) were made anymore.

You know, games in the spirit of Flight Simulator, SimCity, Gateway, Spellcasting 101 or ST: A Final Unity.

"Time, it seems, doesn't flow. For some it's fast, for some it's slow.
In what to one race is no time at all, another race can rise and fall..." - The Minstrel

//My video channel//

Reply 18 of 81, by Repo Man11

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Back in 1984 National Lampoon had a letter (their letters were all fake for you youngsters who don't know) that read:

"Sirs - Well, we turned it on, now what?

Signed, the thousands of families who got home computers for Christmas, but aren't smart enough to use them."

"Everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects." - Will Rogers

Reply 19 of 81, by Gmlb256

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Jo22 wrote on 2022-05-06, 23:15:
Hi there ! 😀 Speaking of time frames.. To be fair, I had similar thoughts on the DOS gaming scene in the 1990s already. "320x20 […]
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konc wrote on 2022-05-06, 13:03:
ThinkpadIL wrote on 2022-05-06, 11:02:

I didn't own any of them and the first computer I met in person was IBM PC AT 286, so after it all those Commodores and Spectrums class computers looked like a silly toy. Maybe that's why I have the same feeling also today.

Try to think of them in the correct time frame: compared to what exactly would someone consider the C64 a toy for kids in 1982-83? The first IBM PC? 😂

Hi there ! 😀 Speaking of time frames..
To be fair, I had similar thoughts on the DOS gaming scene in the 1990s already. "320x200 pels? Are you kidding me?"
That really felt like home computer territory to me. In the 90s.
Not something that's worth a Macintosh or PC/AT.
- Please let me elaborate: Back then (mid 90s) I had a 286, like ThinkpadIL,
but enjoyed both DOS shareware games and Windows 3.1 games - which also used 640x480 pels resolution.
The Windows games were from the desktop games category, I think.
Atari ST and Macintosh had them too, years before Windows was mainstream.
So 640x480 seemed "normal" to me, at least for the view-port.

Now let's feel my confusion when, by the turn of the century and thanks to more internet access,
I found out about the majority of commercial DOS games running merely in a mediocre 320x200 pels (MCGA) resolution.

It was a huge disappointment to me.
As if the PC platform was turned into a C64 or an Amiga.
Or was degraded to "toy computers", to use the wording of ThinkpadIL.

And to make matters worse, at the time, all those "retro" games turned up out of nowhere, glorifying the 320x200 cult.
I was confused and I really didn't understand why no sophisticated DOS games with "real" VGA (Standard VGA) were made anymore.

You know, games in the spirit of Flight Simulator, SimCity, Gateway, Spellcasting 101 or ST: A Final Unity.

320x200 (and 320x240 to a lesser extent) was the lowest common denominator on PC platform for DOS games because early SVGA was a mess supporting around until VESA came around much later. Still the CPU has to do almost everything to draw something into the screen and there were inconsistencies with VESA implementations on many video cards which is why UniVBE was created.

The lack of skilled programmers at the level of John Carmack and Michael Abrash also didn't help.