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What would you do if you were the CEO of Commodore Computers?


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Basically what would you have done if you were working at Commodore Computers in the 1980s after Jack left? 

I mean would you have cut the marketing spending and shifting to funding new software and drivers for the C64. 

Would you can the C128 and do the Commodore Glass Top. 

Would you have stopped the Amiga low end for the Mega 65. 

Would you have run contest for great new software for the C64 and dole out prize money as a marketing gimmick and like wise for new hardware add ons and upgrade the programming manual and so on. 

Or would you have upgraded to optical storage media or higher density 1.44 mb or some other media format. 

Though I am sure people have asked the questions and others. What would have made the company more successful if you could time travel and do it right?

Thank you and I guess you can lump the Amiga Years into that as well.

Edited by Travis Bryant moore
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As much as I love the 8 bit era, continuing on with the C65 in the early 90s was the wrong move (as much as I would have liked to have had one), and the Amiga was the right platform for their future. What it needed was low-cost compatibility with DOS / Windows in the form of hardware.

Also, just as DOS was an independently developed CP/M API for x86, they could have had some success with a CP/M API for 68K, as well as a Windows API to provide source code cross compiling.

I'm not saying any of these things were easy, just that it could have ensured more long term viability for the platform.

Of course, that all would have presupposed that Motorola would have continued the 68K line, which didn't happen.

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Increase the price of the Amiga 600 when released but with a 14 MHz CPU instead of 7 MHz (allowing it to run at the lower speed when necessary).

Otherwise, no development at all for the 300/600 and just sell the 500+ longer until the 1200 is ready.

Edited by Jeff Pare
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I would sell Plus/4 series (models 264, 232, 364) for as low price as possible, like Jack envisioned, and compete with ZX Spectrum on the market. I believe if that happened, these models would become much more widespread. And also would become as popular as ZX Spectrum today.

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The C64 kept on selling into the 90s, arguments that Commodore made any big mistakes with the C64 are a bit hard for me to follow. By the time Jack left there was no big gains to be made from investments in the C64.

However, the C128 could have been refined to make it more attractive as an upgraded C64, given that the transition to a big C128 3rd party software market never actually happened. So refine it, accepting that people are buying it to run in C64 mode AND something else. Build it into a case with a 3.5" drive, fix the z80 chip so it ran at half the dot clock (roughly 4MHz) and accessed memory using wait states like a z80 should when it is faster than its RAM, so that a productivity CP/M bundle would actually work, and bundle that software on 3.5" disks.

But mostly, add a feature to C64 mode so that the 64K extra RAM could be accessed on the expansion pages (like a GeoRAM that only had 64K in it, with a switch to turn the access off for cartridges that used the expansion pages), and take advantage of existing 3rd party fast parallel drive interface systems for the C64 to let the C64 access the built in 3.5" drive at much higher speed, so that the buyer of the C128+ was getting also getting an upgrade if they stayed in C64 mode.

As to what to do to make the Amiga line an even stronger success than it was ... and I reckon it was a success as a product line, even if not the runaway success that the C64 was ... I dunno, I was never an Amiga guy.

 

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On 6/16/2021 at 3:29 AM, Scott Robison said:

... low-cost compatibility with DOS / Windows in the form of hardware.

I don't think so. They tried and it was a waste of money.

What C= really needed was native "professionell" office software like Excel. Because Dos and Windows and Excel + Word were all over the offices and that was the backdoor for home computing. 

Short version: C= should have bought MS while it was possible and should have made them their internal pro application provider. World peace restored 🙂

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On 6/15/2021 at 11:51 PM, BruceMcF said:

The C64 kept on selling into the 90s...

However, the C128 could have been refined...

As to what to do to make the Amiga line an even stronger success than it was ... 

Yes to the above.  The C64 could have, late in life, been a Spectrum killer, the weed-killer to wrap up the 8-bit era.

What did Tramiel do?  The Atari ST... so both Commodore and Atari had part of the picture right.

Wikipedia: "Poor marketing and the failure of later [Amiga] models to repeat the technological advances of the first systems resulted in Commodore quickly losing market share..."

I think Amiga was Commodore's bridge through the 90s.  It was their only bet, and they muffed it.

 

Edited by rje
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9 hours ago, DoubleA said:

I don't think so. They tried and it was a waste of money.

What C= really needed was native "professionell" office software like Excel. Because Dos and Windows and Excel + Word were all over the offices and that was the backdoor for home computing. 

Short version: C= should have bought MS while it was possible and should have made them their internal pro application provider. World peace restored 🙂

I think it would have been impossible to buy Microsoft from Bill Gates at any point in C='s lifetime. Gates knew exactly what he had, which is why he licensed his software to IBM in the first place instead of selling it. There's just no way he would have sold to C=, at most he would have agreed to partner with them to provide Microsoft Works or, prior to 1987, to port MS-DOS and/or Windows to a Commodore platform. This wouldn't have been any real competitive edge for C=, though, they would have to compete on price and hardware performance like all the other also-ran companies of the early PC era, most of which died (including C=, which moved into the IBM-compatible market in 1987).

The big competitive edge of the C64 was its low price point, thanks to its relatively simple hardware design and the 6502 processor, something which C= were really never going to be able to replicate, and especially not without their own Intel-compatible CPU that they could manufacture without a license, and turn around to license and second-source to third parties. If C= could have bought AMD, that would have been prescient, but I suspect that AMD's long technical partnerships with Intel may have been written with poison pill clauses to prevent purchases and buyouts, and that their even longer feuds with Intel would have been another poison pill entirely and I question whether their administration under C= would have been willing or able to continue the legal battle with Intel into the 90s.

But I think AMD is a model of what C= needed to do to survive: Lean into the MOS/CSG side of their business and partner with the winners of the CPU competition to co-develop and second-source the x86 platform, while developing their own clean room implementation of Intel's processor. This, too, is no guarantee of survival, just ask Cyrix. But I think that, shy of some miraculous encounter with someone who could drop a "Micralign"-level production advantage in their lap and undercut the competition by laughable margins, it would have been their best shot.

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21 hours ago, DoubleA said:

I don't think so. They tried and it was a waste of money.

What C= really needed was native "professionell" office software like Excel. Because Dos and Windows and Excel + Word were all over the offices and that was the backdoor for home computing. 

Short version: C= should have bought MS while it was possible and should have made them their internal pro application provider. World peace restored 🙂

The operative part of my statement was "low-cost". https://dfarq.homeip.net/amiga-bridgeboard-the-pc-compatibility-option/ describes some history, and the hardware solution was nowhere near "low-cost" relative to a separate box. A software only emulation solution was not a practical way to run the business software that people would want an IBM compatible for.

I'm not saying the price they were charging was unreasonable, but the reality was that people weren't looking to spend as much on a card as they would for an entire computer, by and large.

While more native SW for Amiga would have been great, the problem is the number of people who would have wanted to use it as a bridge to work from home using the same software they were using in the office.

As far as software API compatibility with DOS and Windows, I think that could have supported relatively easy ports of software to Amiga that conformed to DOS / Windows conventions. Certainly not a magic bullet, but it would have been something that people would have been more apt to attempt to port their programs to Amiga after writing a DOS/Win version in the idea that it would be significantly easier than a full re-write.

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23 hours ago, StephenHorn said:

But I think AMD is a model of what C= needed to do to survive: Lean into the MOS/CSG side of their business and partner with the winners of the CPU competition [...]

This really seems correct to me.  Lean into your assets.  Yes.  Tricky doing it well I suppose, but MOS was an advantage.

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I think not pissing off Jack about mis-appropriating the company jet would've been a great start. He was the mastermind behind their success, and while some of his practices were shady to say the least (shipping known-flaky hardware for Xmas to lock in the sale), Commodore had a very sweet position of being both affordable AND performant with the C64. Jack had the vision to leverage that - whereas his successors didn't get it, and look at what the C16 line did w/o his market savvy.

I think the people talking about getting better business software are really on-point though. The era of the "killer app" was dawning. Desktop publishing was the killer app for MAC. Lotus123 was the killer app for PC. Amiga's killer app was video editing and processing. This was a bit too niche & high-end for widespread adoption. I think they could have partnered with a printer manufacturer to do color desktop publishing, and that would've given MAC a run for its money.

Gaming was obviously the killer app for Amiga in the UK. The Amiga was just a hair too expensive to truly dominate in that space, especially with the NES dominating gaming in the US. Nintendo didn't push as hard on Europe which is one reason Amiga fared so well over there, or at least so it seems to me. I think if Amiga had color laser desktop publishing + gaming, then it may have gotten more traction in the US.

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For my first act as CEO, I would make everyone refer to me as "The Commodore", as if it was a military rank.  This would create confusion, with no one ever knowing if Commodore meant the computer, or me, or the company.  It would get people talking and put Commodore Computers back into the public conversation.  People would create memes, sharing them on floppy discs and over fax machines, laughing at the crazy new Willy Wonka CEO.  But since we have all of the C64 nerds sitting in front of their obsolete computers with nothing else to use them for, they would be able to make the bulk of the memes.  We would steer this meme into me as Willy Wonka saying pithy and sarcastic comments, gradually earning the respect and admiration of the MTV generation.  

Then we would put the word out about how Bill Gates wants to sterilize us all with vaccines, and that would eliminate competition from Microsoft.  Apple was dead in the water until they crapped out the iPod, so since I'm a CEO from the future I'll make sure to release all their successful products before them.  In keeping with that strategy, I would release the Commander X16 in time for Christmas 1991.  The marketing slogan: "This will eventually be retro, you'll buy it on purpose even though you'll have a more powerful computer in your pocket that can show you every movie in the world for free at any time."

And people will buy it, but they'll also start asking about this pocket computer with movies on it.  So I'll be like, "It doesn't have movies ON it, idiot.  It's called streaming.  Just make sure to buy Commodore or you'll never find out."

Anyway I'd make the Amiga CD32 more powerful than a PlayStation, and cheaper, and release it first.  It will support existing Commodore software as well as becoming the best home game console ever made.  But I'd put 2 analog sticks on the controller.  Then I would patent the new optical video disc format so Sony couldn't put it in their next console and use it as a loss leader for their home movie sales.  

In fact, most movies would be edited on Amiga, and they'd have to pay us royalties.  Then we would own Hollywood, and we would stop them from doing sexual misconduct all the time.  Again tying together Bill Gates, Jeffrey Epstein, all the worst people in society, and any computer company other than Commodore.  If your friend or neighbor bought an Apple or IBM compatible, we'd use another little technology from the future called "getting you fired by telling everyone you're a bad person and probably racist."

Other than that, I'd just wing it and hope for the best.  Maybe spend $500 million on R&D into trinary processors, just so the competition will get wind of it and try to do it too, and then I'll just shut it down and never mention it again.  Maybe I'll also tell people that quantum computers exist and can do things LOL.  

 

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9 hours ago, Guy.Brush said:

People would create memes, sharing them on floppy discs and over fax machines

This reminds me of a stash of faxes from the 70s that were from my grandfather's desk at AT&T. They were totally memes, and early fax adopters did share them with their social network. Like, political memes from the 1972 election, but then they would have just called them cartoons.

Anyway, to get back on topic, if Commodore did the right thing and hired me (a grade school kid) to replace Jack, I would have made much better decisions. I mean, it would be hard to make worse decisions. First off, when the C128 failed to expand the 8-bit market, that would have been the end of it. Keep selling C64s and software and peripherals until the market dried up, just like Apple did with the ][ line, meanwhile concentrating R&D and marketing efforts on the Amiga. If they hadn't tried coming up with 50 different 8-bit platforms that nobody wanted, they could have made the investment that would have prevented PCs and Macs from overtaking the Amiga in capability in the early 90s. As I recall, the Amiga barely existed in the US -- I only knew it was still around because of magazine articles mentioning that certain games were also on Amiga (to only a slightly greater extent that Atari ST support). They should have been matching Apple's marketing budget dollar for dollar, and making sure the tech stayed just ahead of PCs as Apple did and managed to survive long enough for Jobs to refocus and reinvigorate the company. Who knows who the savior of Commodore could have been in the mid 90s (besides a now-adult me, of course), but I bet they could have pulled through if they didn't make half of the staggeringly bad choices they made in the late 80s and early 90s.

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I would have tried to have gotten into the company earlier, so that I could gave made some good buddies in MOS Technology/Commodore Semiconductor Group.  Sometime around 1979 would have been just about right.

I would have either begun the R&D on the 6502 core followup, or else licensed the 65C02 from Western Design Center, doing it behind the Commodore board and Tramiel's back if necessary, and using the proceeds from betting on sports (using a World Almanac I took with me to the past) to keep it off Commodore's books.  I would base it on the Hudson HuC6280, and yes I'd keep it a CMOS chip.  I'd add a(default) low memory mode to maintain backward compatibility with 6502's addressing modes, double the tranche size of the high memory to 16K (using pin 23 as address bus bit 21, making the total addressable memory space 4 MB), change the functions of pins 13 and 14 to permit more than two possible clock speeds (may need an external clock chip) and, since surface-mount packaging is still under patent by IBM until 1987, use a crisscross DIP package to accommodate all the necessary pins without the need for multiplexing. While the first generation of this line will only be on a 3 micron process, I plan to leave off the controller interface logic and wavetable sound channels on this preliminary  version.  Besides, 6.144 MHz is still more than enough clock speed to stick on the ca. 1981 CBM series (successors to the PET) and leave the IBM PC, Apple III, and HP 95 series in the dust.  Okay, that means dropped support for the 6502 illegal opcodes with the backward compatibility issues that causes, but neither Commodore nor Microsoft ever used them in the first place.

I would initiate a stacked memory joint venture with Micron, philosophically similar to High Bandwidth Memory, but scaled up to then current process nodes.  Specifically, it would feature anywhere from two to eight DRAM dies (in the beginning) with an I/O die at the bottom and a refresh logic die either at the top or just below the I/O die, resulting in an extremely dense pseudo-SRAM package, perfect for pizza box and keyboard-console hardware form factors.  If I start work in 1979, it should bear fruit by 1982, just in time to put on the motherboard of either the original model of the 64, or its first revision.

My proposed follow up to Commodore 64 will have to wait for the next thread in my post.

Edited by Kalvan
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Well the first thin i would have done was stuck true to the original plan for the TED models.  The Plus 4 was, at least in my opinion, a failure of foolish business since.  With more complex OSs on the way, i think a hybrid DOS/Basic Computer would have been a smart move.  Or even a modular machine that could be combined into a dos/basic hybrid.  Would be a bit of a timing mess at first, but the ability to switch between the two could have made some interesting programs.  Probably science fiction but that would be the move that i think would have saved Commodore.

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Continued from my previous post.

My followup to the Commodore 64 would have debuted at the 1984 Summer CES, as the Commodore 256.  It would have been based on the spec of the Commander X16, except as follows:

1: all the previous video modes of the PET, CBM Number Series, VIC, and VIC II

2: New Native Resolution Modes for VERA would be 288x224 ( 8 bit pixels, 256 Colors per CLUT), 320x224 (6 bit pixels, 64 Colors per CLUT), 576x224 (4 bit pixels, 16 colors per CLUT), 576x448 (2 bit pixels, 3 colors + transparency per CLUT), and 816x612 (Monochrome).  This is to maintain as close to 3:4 aspect ratio as possible, while keeping the addressing math fairly even and confined to 64K, and allowing more options for sprite and tilemodes.  VERA will be able do display a maximum of either 128 4-bit sprites, 96 6-bit sprites, or 64 8-bit sprites, or any combination in a ratio of 4-3-2, respectively, with free mixing between pixel densities onscreen in 288x224 resolution.

3: Scrolling registers for the bitmap, and better integration of the bitmap (at 6 bit per pixel or lower) with tilemodes.

4. Since Yamaha will not sell the YM2151/3012 combo for love or money in 1984, I will have to settle for the YM2203, YM2412, or YM2413.  I'll pick the middle: it's a four channel, four operator chip with eight possible waveforms and a fairly flexible tone generation system.

5: I will use the previously developed 6280 as the basis for the CPU core, with a max clock speed of either 8.195 or  8.925 MHz.

6: If Bob Yannes insists on leaving, I will put the 6280's wavetable channels back into the chip.  If I can get him to stay, I'll put in the DOC (Ensoniq ESS5503, used in the Apple IIGS, several Ensoniq keyboards, and the Ensoniq Dragon sound card, and the predecessor to the sound chip in the Advanced Gravis UltraSound card).  This is to compensate for there being no PCM source available.  (The Okidata MSM chips are rather dinky, except for the 6295, which is merely up to the capabilities of PAULA).

7: There will also be a SID II, with either 9 or 12 channels, and the octave range increased to 11 (to cover all complete tonal range of a piano).

8: The controller ports will feature native support for up to 16 digital and 4 analog inputs, with 2 new input to Atari CX-9 dongles packed in with the computer itself.

9: The base model will feature 128K System RAM and 128K Video RAM (Hence the Name).  I am toying with a horizontal upright or monitor tower form factor version with 512K and GEOS in ROM, a CPU Core based on the Nintendo SA-1 but with the addition of the 6280's mass move instructions, and a two or three button mouse for (much) less than $1,000, called the 640.

10:  It will feature BASIC 10, as rewritten to take full advantage of the new graphical and sound hardware, and a very well written sound stack, just in case the generation after this one I want to change Yamaha FM chip series.

 

also, @rje, what's so funny about my post?

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33 minutes ago, Kalvan said:

also, @rje, what's so funny about my post?

I'm not @rje and I haven't talked to him about it. I didn't *laugh* at your specs, but they seem overly optimistic to me for the technology that was available in the day for "consumer hardware" or effectively a game console.

Don't get me wrong, I loved my C=64 & C=128DCR back in the day. Wish I still had them. That's what appeals to me about the CX16. But I don't see any 8-bit being a realistic path forward for much past the C=128. I think they could have created upgraded C=128s that had more RAM and perhaps had a few more sales (I mean, 5.7 million C=128s were sold, that's not bad, it's only bad in comparison to how many C=64s were sold over the years in combination with the profit margin of the more expensive hardware). But the world was moving away from all in one computers other than for game consoles. By all in one I don't mean the modern definition, I mean "you get this one video chip and this one sound chip". The world was demanding expandable / upgradable hardware. That's why I think they had to focus more on 16 bit / 32 bit platforms. They just didn't know how to market anything that wasn't a toy, more or less.

Edited by Scott Robison
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12 minutes ago, Scott Robison said:

I'm not @rje and I haven't talked to him about it. I didn't *laugh* at your specs, but they seem overly optimistic to me for the technology that was available in the day for "consumer hardware" or effectively a game console.

Don't get me wrong, I loved my C=64 & C=128DCR back in the day. Wish I still had them. That's what appeals to me about the CX16. But I don't see any 8-bit being a realistic path forward for much past the C=128. I think they could have created upgraded C=128s that had more RAM and perhaps had a few more sales (I mean, 5.7 million C=128s were sold, that's not bad, it's only bad in comparison to how many C=64s were sold over the years in combination with the profit margin of the more expensive hardware). But the world was moving away from all in one computers other than for game consoles. By all in one I don't mean the modern definition, I mean "you get this one video chip and this one sound chip". The world was demanding expandable / upgradable hardware. That's why I think they had to focus more on 16 bit / 32 bit platforms. They just didn't know how to market anything that wasn't a toy, more or less.

The 256 would have two cartridge slots a-la the MSX architecture, plus the user port and the RS-232 port, not to mention the standard datasette port and the daisy-chainable floppy port.  The 640 in either horizontal upright or monitor tower versions will have at leas four and possibly as many as eight expansion slots, each with at least four times the bandwidth of ISA as implemented at the time.  Either having MOS Technology develop an FPU solution for an expansion card or cartridge, or commissioning a third party to do so would have hardly been beyond Commodore's means.  And there is a logical CPU upgrade path in the form of the upcoming 65832 core architecture.

And as for computers with good chipsets already baked into the system being on their way out, consider that the Sharp X68000 sold over 16 million over a lifetime of seven years (1987-1994) and three major chipset revisions.  If Sharp had marketed a version in the West without the expense of the Kanji font ROM and the Video RAM to support it, it could have sold at least half as many more, allowing it to beat out the Commodore 64 and NEC PC93/98 for best selling computer series before the Windows 95 era.

The 640 would have all the ease of use of the Macintosh, but in living color, with better sound than the beeper, an actual language baked in ROM, and be just as upgradable, for less than half the price, with at least double the RAM, and with all the PET, CBM 400-800, VIC-20, Max Machine, and 64 software stack available right away (with caveats involving PET's 8' floppies and {for the 640} VIC-20 cartridges, but still).  The then new Mac, on the other hand, would have had the Microsoft Office suite and that's about it, and to program it, they would have hade to write a compiler or interpreter for it from scratch (Smalltalk and Hypercard only came out in '86 and '87, respectively) with a data analyzer.

Apple would have been (even more) screwed, and even the PC cloners would have gotten a run for their money.  The 16/32 bit era can wait for 1987 to fully blossom, by which time, I would have had the next machine in the series ready...

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5 hours ago, rje said:

I'm veering off topic, but it seems like many companies just decide to die at some point, and the stakeholders take their profit and are done.

I think a lot of this is because a successful business tends to interpret their success to mean that what they're doing is, in fact, strategically correct instead of just a consequence of some stroke of dumb luck or a temporary gap in the market. I wouldn't be surprised if Scott Robison has it correct and that C= leadership simply didn't know how to market anything that wasn't ultimately a "toy" - a non-upgradeable piece of purchase intended to be deprecated by a future model. Though I might look at it more similarly to the case of THQ Chapter 11, that even if they recognized that the "toy computer" market was drying up then they failed to understand how desperately they needed to reorganize under a new market strategy, perhaps telling themselves that it was a temporary market contraction and hoping that the toy computer market would pick up again. Perhaps they even convinced themselves that they saw signs of this turnaround on the horizon, fooling themselves into the belief that they didn't even need to change.

("THQ Chapter 11", otherwise known simply as THQ and originally known as Toy HeadQuarters, was a toy company turned videogame publisher, which made a killing in the 90s and early 00s on the back of mediocre licensed game franchises, particularly those made with Nickelodeon IPs. As an employee working for one of the studios they owned, my opinion is that they died as a result of multiple top-level failings: First, they continued to sign new, unprofitable licensed games deals, even years after having recognized that they were no longer able to negotiate competitive licenses with which they could break even, let alone make money. Second, they never really learned how to market their own IPs, having built their business on licensed IPs that needed little or no marketing whatsoever, and failed to more broadly adopt the successes and capabilities of their much more savvy European marketing teams. And third, they never learned how a well-run studio creating original IPs should operate, which wound up costing the company huge quantities of money as they went on an enormous buying spree to try and purchase their way into a more robust library of IPs, only for most of those studios to be shuttered within a year or two. These days, I refer to the company as "THQ Chapter 11", as they filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2012 and the THQ trademark was subsequently bought at auction by Nordic Games, who subsequently rebranded themselves "THQ Nordic" in 2016.)

((Huh. Well, that was a heck of an aside.))

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I would have pushed the 65c832 to production, and developed a new 80 column C64/128 style machine with a CBM PETSCII Unix style OS while trying to keep it usable for the masses with a BASIC built in, etc. 
Many of us back then liked the platform as it was CLI and basically a gaming console with the ability to develop your own stuff.

Edited by codewar65
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Commodore had no interest in the 816 much less the never produced 832. Prior to buying the Amiga IP, they were very much a "Only Invented Here" shop (for the most part) in that they wouldn't make things with other people's IP. Once Jack was gone, they seemed to go the opposite direction betting on Motorola which would have ultimately been a dead end for them had they not died first.

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14 minutes ago, Scott Robison said:

Commodore had no interest in the 816 much less the never produced 832. Prior to buying the Amiga IP, they were very much a "Only Invented Here" shop (for the most part) in that they wouldn't make things with other people's IP. Once Jack was gone, they seemed to go the opposite direction betting on Motorola which would have ultimately been a dead end for them had they not died first.

Never the less, I would have loved to have seen a 832 and a real CBM using it. I left the Commodore scene when the Amigas started to pop up and went full IBM. I never cared for the GUI OSs until OS/2 Warp and then Win XP.

 

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