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Commander X16 vs. Mega 65


Perifractic
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I agree with the general sentiments in this thread so far.  The community, the simplicity, the price, etc.  A few points to add:

  • I enjoy soldering.  The X16 will ("99% sure") be available in kit form; looking at the Mega65 it seems unlikely with all that SMD.  Yes, soldering your own computer is impractical.  But this is a hobby, it's okay to have fun doing something impractical.
  • I want something really cool-looking on my desktop. (I almost bought a Spectrum Next just because of how great that design looks, even though I don't know Z80 assembly and have no Spectrum nostalgia.)  I know the clear Mega65 is only a developer prototype, but I really don't like that beige render they have on their website now, either (with the disk drive sticking out the front!).  The X16 is going to look great, though, especially with the custom keyboard with the PETSCII characters.

 

Moving on:

 

On 11/30/2020 at 2:50 AM, TomXP411 said:

The FPGA doesn't bother me one bit. In fact, I think the Ultimate 64 has proven that an FPGA system can be highly compatible and still superior to the original. Gideon's $240 motherboard is both faster and more powerful than anything ever made for the C64 with discrete components: The 48MHz CPU alone is a first for Commodore 8-bit computers, for example.

Wait, the Ultimate C64 runs at 48MHz? I don't remember that from Gideon's website, so I checked again again just now and I still don't see anything about CPU speed.  I assumed it emulated the C64 at the usual speed.

 

19 hours ago, rje said:

In short, the X16 gets closest to what I want:
* a PET with 80 columns, sprites, SIDs, and more RAM. 
[...]
* a VIC20 with 80 columns, sprites, SIDs, and RAM.

Last I heard, SID emulation was not a sure thing in the X16.  The FAQ still says there are "3 designs being considered and tested." Or, did I miss some more recent news about that?

 

On 11/28/2020 at 5:43 PM, paulscottrobson said:

Sound is much of a muchness.

I'm sorry, what?

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On 11/28/2020 at 9:40 PM, Fenner Machine said:

The Commander X16 has a powerful enough CPU with a good GPU to make games that should surpass almost any 8-bit system and match 16-bit consoles.

If I have read the specs correctly, the Mega65’s CPU is about 6 times faster, but the X16 has a significantly more capable GPU, 16 times more sprites.

I know that’s not the whole story, but the X16 should be cheaper and better at games, win win.

Also the X16 development team and community are good enough that it might sell many thousands of units, maybe even enough to make it viable for commercial development by pro studios. (Well, we can hope).

The M65 has other options than Sprites. It's probably more powerful, but at present harder to access. There is almost zero chance of it being taken up for commercial development. It will be like the other Retrosystems and real retro systems, there will be some games produced like say https://www.rustypixels.uk ,  Planet X2 is another example, but mostly it will be people's own work, a mixture of reboots of old games and hack improvements versions of classic games (perhaps), which won't apply to the X16. This doesn't mean the games won't be any good, they'll be the usual mix.

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6 hours ago, John Chow Seymour said:

Last I heard, SID emulation was not a sure thing in the X16.  The FAQ still says there are "3 designs being considered and tested." Or, did I miss some more recent news about that?

I'm sorry, what?

In the latest Vera docs there are 6 (I think) "classic" sound channels which generate the usual square waves and noise and a dedicated PCM channel. Whether this is still the case or not I do not know, but it does rather beg the question of whether there's a point in putting a real chip on the board, I don't think sound has ever been considered.

"Much of a muchness" is a British expression meaning not too different. Mega65 has twin SIDs, it would have to have one as it emulated the C64 as well 🙂 and it also has a couple of D/A channels. So it's sound is better but I suspect in practice it won't make too much difference. The ability of the SID to be able to be tweaked to produced clever effects is negated by just being able to play any recorded sound you like.

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Random, disjointed thoughts...

I like the simplicity of the X16 as a platform for learning and exploring assembly programming. All those boot menu options etc on the mega65 just put me off. Also the case is ugly - ew. I don't care about backwards compatibility either - it never works on the one thing you want it for, and if you want to play an old C64 game there are better ways to do it than on a mega65. And anyway, frankly those old games aren't going to be as interesting to play as any new ones that make proper use of the hardware. Breaking C64 compatibility is a big plus and properly focuses the project. Nostalgia is nice, but keep the dial down low.

The X16 feels way more accessible, and I can see it being much more successful at introducing younglings to the craft of writing programs.

I know you said 'chips aside', but...

I don't have a problem with FPGAs as such, but I like that the lack of one makes for a more stable platform. I don't want to have a game that will only run after hunting down some 'enhanced' core that someone made on some forum somewhere. Perhaps an unfounded fear, but there it is (Please nobody make a Vera+).

Also, as a developer, I appreciate the sense of being closer to the metal that seeing the real chips gives you. There's something less satisfying about coding for a virtual or emulated platform, and I'd put FPGAs in that category purely for the feeling of abstraction and instability.

I think 8MHz is also a great balance between capability and constraints. You could make some really great games for this system, well within those constraints, and treat is as a 'lowest common denominator'. Porting X16 games to the mega65 or zx next would be obviously possible and an interesting project. 

All that said, I am a zx next KS2 backer, and my nostalgia for the speccy has won out over my fear of forking FPGA cores, and I will absolutely be playing old speccy games on that when it arrives. I'm sure there will be some C64 superfans with the same feelings about the mega65 who will wonder what the point of the X16 is.

I won't pay what I was prepared to spend on a zx next on a mega65. I will pay for a cheaper, new, interesting and capable platform like the X16. I will also watch mega65 videos on youtube and have thoughts like "wow, 40MHz", and "holy crap 1000 multiplexed sprites, that's so cool", and "Oh, if only the X16 had an HDMI port too..."

For me though, I'm really enjoying learning to code for the 65c02, and the vera chip is awesome.

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6 hours ago, paulscottrobson said:

"Much of a muchness" is a British expression meaning not too different. 

Thank you for teaching me that!

6 hours ago, paulscottrobson said:

Mega65 has twin SIDs, it would have to have one as it emulated the C64 as well 🙂 and it also has a couple of D/A channels. 

So, the Mega65 page at C64 Wiki says "Dual soft-SIDs + dual 8-bit DACs".  But, the Mega65 page itself says "four soft SIDs (and the ability to use hard-SIDs in a cartridge) plus four-channel stereo 16-bit digital audio."  So I guess sound design is still being decided in that project as well.

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2 hours ago, John Chow Seymour said:

Thank you for teaching me that!

So, the Mega65 page at C64 Wiki says "Dual soft-SIDs + dual 8-bit DACs".  But, the Mega65 page itself says "four soft SIDs (and the ability to use hard-SIDs in a cartridge) plus four-channel stereo 16-bit digital audio."  So I guess sound design is still being decided in that project as well.

Would seem so. Though the M65 is almost entirely FPGA - you can make one out of a Nexsys A7 that is identical except for some of the connectors. As you can with Vera, but not of course with anything on the main board.

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On 12/1/2020 at 7:08 PM, John Chow Seymour said:

I enjoy soldering.  The X16 will ("99% sure") be available in kit form; looking at the Mega65 it seems unlikely with all that SMD.  Yes, soldering your own computer is impractical.  But this is a hobby, it's okay to have fun doing something impractical.

For me, the kit form is a huge portion of the draw.

At the same time I was learning to program on 8 bit computers, I was also doing a bit of learning to assemble electronics. I reminisce about HeathKit projects, and helped assemble one of their computers.

I'm also old enough, with the eyesight to show for it, and suffer a bit from tremors, so soldering through-hole is about all I can do. SMD components, even the larger ones, are essentially impossible.

Even if it costs more, the X16 in kit form is a huge draw for me.

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I really respect the MEGA65 project and what they are achieving. With the injection molded replica case, refurbished floppy drives and completely custom keyboard (even managing to recreate the size of the original C65 spacebar and achieving the PETSCII chars on the front of the keys) they really are bringing Commodore's final 8-bit machine to life.

For me the appeal of the X16 is the simple VIC-20 like architecture, the real [socketed] 65C02, strong community and the potential for completely new software and hardware add-ons.

Only... this time I get to choose the essentials that need to be purchased instead of my parents!

It's also an ideal educational system for teaching children hardware, assembly language, computing history etc.

The X16 development has been a bit below radar, I'm hoping once it is released there will be regular YouTube content. If so, I'm all in. In fact, I'd love to be a patreon of an official dedicated X16 YouTube channel with curated content from the community and thoughts/discussion from the project leaders. I would even have some ideas for the format and some episode ideas...

Back to you in the studio @Perifractic

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12 minutes ago, isedwards said:

The X16 development has been a bit below radar, I'm hoping once it is released there will be regular YouTube content. If so, I'm all in. In fact, I'd love to be a patreon of an official dedicated X16 YouTube channel with curated content from the community and thoughts/discussion from the project leaders. I would even have some ideas for the format and some episode ideas...

 

I think (hope?) that the handful of people "in charge" of the project are heads down (and probably have "day jobs"). But I'm sure I'm not the only one who's concerned about the lack of any updates. Wouldn't really take but a few minutes every month to say "here's where we are and here's what's left".

I don't want to write software for the X16 at this point because from where I'm sitting it looks stalled. I suspect (again hope?) I'm wrong about this, but I've been involved in many many community projects over the years and most of them stall out right at this stage.

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1 hour ago, mrdoornbos said:

I think (hope?) that the handful of people "in charge" of the project are heads down (and probably have "day jobs"). But I'm sure I'm not the only one who's concerned about the lack of any updates. Wouldn't really take but a few minutes every month to say "here's where we are and here's what's left".

I don't want to write software for the X16 at this point because from where I'm sitting it looks stalled. I suspect (again hope?) I'm wrong about this, but I've been involved in many many community projects over the years and most of them stall out right at this stage.

I get that, but I also understand not giving frequent updates, because updates lead to questions. Especially when the team is at a point where they've not taken anything from those interested - once they start collecting money, then expectations change and periodic updates are a good thing.

For me, personally, I'm mostly interested in updates when something is accomplished. 

The last update I recall was the team was debugging a boot problem on the latest board revision, other than Perifractic giving us an update on some line art and case/keyboard designs.  Until something changes, I don't see value (instead, I see headaches) of "We're still debugging the board" - if they start giving public updates about that, then they have to handle the influx of commentary about "Have you done this?" "You should try this?" etc.

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On 11/28/2020 at 2:14 PM, Perifractic said:

Hello Commandos,

As you know the Mega 65 is another great project and based on Commodore's never-released C65 computer. Obviously the hardware is a bit different as it is FPGA-based, but I was curious, what do you prefer about the Commander X16 (chips aside) and its specifications and software, over the Mega 65's OS (if anything). What drew you here?

Your friend in retro, Perifractic

My summary, for Perifractic.

Chips aside,

Here's what I like about the Commander X16 over the Mega 65:

  1. The preferred intent to use COTS hardware (and some cost control).
  2. Faster/better than the 64, but isn't "out of my league" and over my head.
  3. The memory model is simple and "smells like" a Commodore. 
  4. Banked RAM is usable, fun, and handy.
  5. Commodore-friendly expanded KERNAL + hacked BASIC.
  6. The banked ROM allows additional things beyond the KERNAL + BASIC.
  7. The keyboard port (and the WASD keyboard!  (I love it!!))
  8. Up to four "joysticks".  Yes, this is a good feature!

 

And, unasked for, here's what I like about the Mega 65 over the Commander X16:

  1. A hacked Commodore 65 ROM.
  2. Sounds like the video is easier to program for.
  3. Dual SIDs.
  4. HDMI out.

 

Most of these points leverage my familiarity with the Commodore platform in general.

I was considering getting the Mega65 prototyping board a few years ago, before the Commander X16 videos came out.  The videos switched me over, because, as I mentioned, the scaled-down philosophy hit me in several ways as closer to what I wanted.

 

... I suppose this means if the Commander X16 had the Commodore 65 ROM, and VERA's sound generator was essentially dual SIDs, and VERA's graphics were "easier to use" (even at the expense of power), that I'd be more satisfied with the X16, but meh.

 

Edited by rje
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  • Super Administrators
I think (hope?) that the handful of people "in charge" of the project are heads down (and probably have "day jobs"). But I'm sure I'm not the only one who's concerned about the lack of any updates. Wouldn't really take but a few minutes every month to say "here's where we are and here's what's left".
I don't want to write software for the X16 at this point because from where I'm sitting it looks stalled. I suspect (again hope?) I'm wrong about this, but I've been involved in many many community projects over the years and most of them stall out right at this stage.
Please understand that the openness we've already exhibited is fairly unprecedented. I can't think of many projects that had 20,000 people following things 2 years before crowdfunding even started.

That said, if you look at the Facebook David did respond very recently with an update that we're resolving some issues with the second prototype board.

I also posted an update in official announcements just yesterday.

But yes, every time we make an announcement it does trigger a number of questions, and answering those can take time away from the actual work. So it's a balance.

Thanks for understanding.
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2 hours ago, mrdoornbos said:

I think (hope?) that the handful of people "in charge" of the project are heads down (and probably have "day jobs"). But I'm sure I'm not the only one who's concerned about the lack of any updates. Wouldn't really take but a few minutes every month to say "here's where we are and here's what's left".

An 8 Bit Guy update video would be welcome, it's true.

I don't want them "stalled", but I'm kind of glad they're going slow, because I'm toying with a "shell" interpreter on the X16, and it's going QUITE slow as I haven't written a compiler since university, a looong tiiime agoooo.  Maybe this thing can be useful, and maybe I can squeeze it into 16KB, and maybe it can be finished enough to go onto one of the ROM banks, maybe maybe maybe... a total long shot, but worth shooting for. 

Of course, even if it doesn't squeeze down into 16K and isn't done by any perceived deadline, it can still be software.  The trick is first making it work and be useful.

 

Edited by rje
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11 hours ago, Perifractic said:

That said, if you look at the Facebook David did respond very recently with an update that we're resolving some issues with the second prototype board.

I too have been a bit concerned about the lack of updates, just because there's some clear momentum happening in the community and excitement that I think is important to the cause and shouldn't be overlooked. But I do understand folks are busy, and it's a pandemic! I quoted the above just to point out some of us have fled Facebook and no longer wish to use that platform. It's certainly a good community over there, but I think all the work done on this site should be celebrated and be really the first place information is posted. Just my $0.02 - I think ya'll are doing a great job, particularly given how much of a dumpster fire 2020 has been and look forward to things yet to come!

Now, back to the question at hand. I've been keeping an eye on the Mega65 too though I don't know it's ins and outs. I'm definitely excited about all the New-Retro enthusiasm! I rather liked the C256 Fenix as well, though for different reasons than the X16. In brief, what draws me to the X16:

  • It's own platform, granted with some compatibility with Commodore, but not an enhanced C64 compatible machine - it has departures in design which I like
  • External keyboard
  • Expansion Slots (for MIDI, Network, etc.)
  • The RAM/ROM banks are a really clever way to manage larger amounts of RAM
  • It doesn't seem to have some the complicated bagged of the C64 and is easy-ish to learn on (more VERA tutorials might be nice though)
  • Nearly 16-bit graphics, but overall it's not too powerful and still largely will require assembly which I have found incredibly fun to learn (haven't touched it since college when it was LC2 and MIPS). I'm not too interested in writing in other languages as I can already do that on a modern machine
  • Limited use of FPGAs
  • Potentially different default sound solutions (I ❤️ the SID a ton too but I thought at least evaluating FM and trying to use real chips is an interesting approach)
  • Basic kernel/OS and full direct access to the hardware
  • Offline-first. It might be a great machine to do computing on without distractions (I'm looking forward to tracking music, maybe using it to write blog posts offline)
  • But could be online capable (excited to see if we end up seeing any X16 BBS's pop up, for example), but only if/when I want it

I know it's debated, but I don't like the all-in-one design of the Mega65. I know many do but I never found all-in-ones good to type on and they are an odd form factor to store. I do like the floppy though, maybe in concept if not practice.

I do have a wishlist of things I would like to see but given the goals of the project are unlikely, but overall I'm extremely excited about the direction of the X16. I think it hits the concept of a modern Retro computer perfectly without going too far overboard. I feel like it's less about nostalgia and retro and more about simplicity and approachability whereas the Mega seems more about nostalgia first. Not trying to take away anything from them by the way!

But the X16 seems like a great computer to learn how a computer works in more ways than an Arduino or Pi can. I know assembly can be scary for some but it does really help in learning, on an intimate level, how computers work - including modern ones, and it's nice to see a compelling computer which, in a way, celebrates it by necessity?

Simplicity is maybe the wrong word here, but so is Retro. "Retro" games on modern hardware pays homage but often I find it awkward as they're imposing false limitations that are of their own making that don't actually exist. Some games have done it amazingly well (Shovel Night comes to mind) but overall, the X16 will have games the X16 is capable of without sort of "faking it." and the limitations will be inherent to the platform rather than wishfully invented.

I dunno, I'm not articulating that well but it's the thing I find most compelling about it. I don't feel like the X16 is paying homage to retro computer or looking backwards. Rather it's, well, David said he wanted a modern successor to the VIC20 and that's essentially what this. Modern creature comforts, enhanced designs, but still a computer of fundamentals.

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I think I will get the X16 firstly. Once I get the hang of the programming, I might consider the MEGA65 out of curiosity.
The X16 does seem to trigger my nostalgia on the basis of the architecture and limitations.
The Mega65 seems to trigger my nostalgia on the basis of physical design.

Nothing is perfect, would probably, be without a doubt, happy with either or both.

I like these for different reasons.

X16:

  • Strictly consistent with the 8-bit experience. The MEGA65 is a bit too much on the modern side.
  • Expansion slots.
  • Adds some performance compared to the old computers, and not by too much.
  • New platform.
  • FM tone generator.
  • SNES gamepad support. (USB would've been better though).
  • The Community.

Omega 65:

  • C64 compatibility.
  • Formfactor / Classic Design. This gives some nostalgic feel, because modern computers aren't built like this today.
  • HDMI output.
  • Mechanical keys as standard.
  • I kinda like the idea of a floppy drive. Too bad more advanced features defeats it's purpose.

 

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On 12/1/2020 at 5:08 PM, John Chow Seymour said:

Wait, the Ultimate C64 runs at 48MHz? I don't remember that from Gideon's website, so I checked again again just now and I still don't see anything about CPU speed.  I assumed it emulated the C64 at the usual speed.

Yes, it's a real thing. Gideon released the turbo update back in June, but I don't think he's advertising that feature yet.

If you want to talk more about it, I started a new thread so we don't hijack this one:

 

 

Edited by TomXP411
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I will definitely be buying the Mega 65 and X16...and will have the new cost reduced C256 very shortly.

The main draw for the X16 for me is that the userbase will be huge, relatively speaking. I do worry that the lack of updates will negatively impact that potential large userbase - as they move on to other things. I thought this forum was the main repository of X16 stuff; I can’t stomach doing much on Facebook these days. I suppose if announcements will be made over there then I could make a sock puppet to use.

 

I’m torn on the Mega 65’s floppy drive. I keep three 5-1/4 floppy drives connected to an Atari 800XL, but I also use modern storage devices with it (including FujiNet, which is the bee’s knees). I have a soft spot for the old school home computer style computer in the keyboard styling of the Mega. 
 


 

 

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I don't say much around here but my interest is community involvement.  I'm interested in an active community with both hardware and software for the foreseeable future and I think the full size X16 is the ticket!

Looks like things are taking shape and Dave will probably have something to show the community shortly.

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  • Super Administrators
I will definitely be buying the Mega 65 and X16...and will have the new cost reduced C256 very shortly.
The main draw for the X16 for me is that the userbase will be huge, relatively speaking. I do worry that the lack of updates will negatively impact that potential large userbase - as they move on to other things. I thought this forum was the main repository of X16 stuff; I can’t stomach doing much on Facebook these days. I suppose if announcements will be made over there then I could make a sock puppet to use.
 
I’m torn on the Mega 65’s floppy drive. I keep three 5-1/4 floppy drives connected to an Atari 800XL, but I also use modern storage devices with it (including FujiNet, which is the bee’s knees). I have a soft spot for the old school home computer style computer in the keyboard styling of the Mega. 
 

 
 
Official updates will always be made here, and usually first.
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On 11/28/2020 at 8:14 PM, Perifractic said:

What drew you here?

Just a love for the simplicity of 8 bit systems and the power and flexibility of 16 bit systems. I was never "tribal" in my support of any platform, I've always been a Commodore kid but most of my friends and relatives had Spectrums, so I spent most of my teens wanting one of everything 🙂

 

I have thought for some time that a text based, 8 bit system with a built-in programming language would be far more suitable for kids than a Windows PC with the distractions of the internet and social media (and worse), even though I'm not a parent, so I hope that both platforms succeed and produce a new generation of code and hardware hackers.

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 12/11/2020 at 8:46 PM, Ffin72 said:

I have thought for some time that a text based, 8 bit system with a built-in programming language would be far more suitable for kids than a Windows PC with the distractions of the internet and social media (and worse), even though I'm not a parent, so I hope that both platforms succeed and produce a new generation of code and hardware hackers.

Absolutely. But you don't want it running Microsoft BASIC. It's horrible. You also need more powerful keywords - something like STOS basically.

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2 hours ago, paulscottrobson said:

Absolutely. But you don't want it running Microsoft BASIC. It's horrible. You also need more powerful keywords - something like STOS basically.

From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STOS_BASIC :

Quote

...the high-level graphics and sound commands it offers is suitable for developing multimedia software without knowledge of the internals of the Atari ST.

Ah, yes, I agree with Paul.  You need more than the 8K Commodore BASIC 2.0.

I think it would fly with the EQUIVALENT of:

  • The sound and graphics extensions to BASIC 2.0 from Martin Kees' "SuperBASIC" (Compute's Second Book of Commodore 64, pp215+).  3K expansion of BASIC 2.0.
  • The "Disk  Wedge" functions currently in the X16.  
  • Labels instead of line numbers. 

...and it would take 16K, I'm sure.

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5 hours ago, paulscottrobson said:

Absolutely. But you don't want it running Microsoft BASIC. It's horrible. You also need more powerful keywords - something like STOS basically.

While I mostly think we've moved on from the need for line numbered BASIC in Computer Science, I don't see a lot of replacements that can fill the shoes of Advanced BASIC as a first language:

1. BASIC is everywhere. Or it was in the 80s. So it meant that if you learned on the Apple, Atari, Commodore, or PC, you could still take your skills to any other computer platform and use it. 

2. It didn't require compilers or a runtime, so you can just type RUN and see your program work.

3. Graphics routines make it an attractive option for many things, even teaching how GUIs work. (Commodore needs a BASIC extender.) 

Python is often pushed as a starter language, but it has too many dependencies and requires too much setup. There's no simple way to simply say "draw a box on the screen" and actually have that happen. Maybe if someone wrote a BASIC-like runtime for Python, that could work.

In the meantime, I think something like the Maximite comes very close to meeting those goals.. but it's a single-purpose computer. What I'd like to see in the classrooms is, perhaps, something like the Maximite operating software running on a desktop operating system. So when you start the runtime environment, you're looking at the Maximite interface, but you still have a modern PC that can be eventually used for other programming languages and applications. 

So in some ways, this makes the Commander emulator actually more attractive for a classroom environment than the actual Commander.... and as i say that, I'm starting to picture something like a bare metal BASIC OS for the Raspberry Pi... I need to see if there's something like that out there. 

 

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4 hours ago, rje said:

From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/STOS_BASIC :

Ah, yes, I agree with Paul.  You need more than the 8K Commodore BASIC 2.0.

I think it would fly with the EQUIVALENT of:

  • The sound and graphics extensions to BASIC 2.0 from Martin Kees' "SuperBASIC" (Compute's Second Book of Commodore 64, pp215+).  3K expansion of BASIC 2.0.
  • The "Disk  Wedge" functions currently in the X16.  
  • Labels instead of line numbers. 

...and it would take 16K, I'm sure.

Depends. You could probably chuck all the floating point stuff in its entirety ; it's only there really because MS Basic comes from Dartmouth Basic. No-one's going to do their accounts on an X16. Whether 16 or 32 bit integers, it's questionable. The nice thing about STOS is the bank/task switching design, so you can have multiple programs running at once ; a sprite editor in one block, tile editor in another, music editor in a third, and so on. Might as well add in REPEAT/WHILE/Block IF/ELSE/ENDIF and named Procedures ; doesn't take up much space, nor do locals.

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