Commodore moved into the “Computer Wars” or the early days of the computer slowly at first, and when I received my first computer, it was the “friendly” Vic-20 that arrived. William Shatner had advertised the new machine and apparently, my parents had seen the ads and decided the kids needed that computer. It was under $300, so it was far below many of the other machines and it certainly beat the high prices of the Apple machines of the time.
To our collective joy, they decided that we each needed our own Vic-20. So, on that Christmas morning, the presents were opened and besides the usual toys and other Christmas items, there were two large boxes. Well, at least they were large to us. All these years later the boxes seem small compared to computers that came later. The box had fascinating words written on it like “The Friendly Computer,” Arcade Game Excitement” and “Does A Lot More”. I glanced over the split picture on the cover that featured what appeared to be a father and his two sons playing a game. The second picture showed the father running a checkbook ledger of some sort, apparently pleased with the results. I quickly focussed on the game screen- realizing that it looked a lot like the popular arcade game, Space Invaders. The back side of the box offered more words and just as importantly more pictures of games!
Needless to say, I was hooked. My sister seemed to take the present with a grain of salt, but I had been watching William Shatner’s Star Trek since I was little. Since William Shatner was advertising the computer, it made perfect sense to me that this machine should be able to do everything the Enterprise computer could do. I imagined myself charting new star systems, scanning for life forms in local creeks, and writing programs to cure the world’s many problems.
I spent the next several days looking at the blue screen on the television, reading and trying to understand the Basic language and asking my parents for specific games. Like many other early Vic-20 users, it did not take me long to figure out that the Commodore was limited. I could type programs all day long, but the moment I turned off the machine, al the work was gone. I may have had the computer type or say, “Hello Clint” but it quickly evaporated with loss of power. I began to look over the friendly documentation and suddenly found a “Tape” drive was available.
With the knowledge that a tape drive was out there, waiting for my hard earned lawn mowing and allowance money, I began to plan. I was back on track. I would explore the universe yet and my Vic-20 only needed the tape drive to keep my programs ready and waiting for the moment Captain Kirk called on my growing computer skills to aide the Enterprise in some dangerous endeavor. I decided I would be ready, but that’s a story for another time. For the time being, the box was put away and the pretty white, keyboard computer known as the Vic-20 sat waiting on my desk and hooked to my small television where I knew I was destined to grow in the Commodore world!
Clinton S. Thomas, Th.D. is a writer and the editor for the Four States News (https://fourstatesnews.us) and the owner of a consulting company. His first computers came from Commodore and inspired a lifelong love of computer interactions from games, to development and even to writing on them.