Published Date Written by Robinson Mason Hits: 20596
Full disclosure: I've never been an Apple fanboy. Big surprise on a Commodore-related site, I know! Clearly I have my own slant. But some pushback against Apple gushing in the wake of Steve Jobs' departue from Apple is needed, I say. That said, I do admire recent Apple handheld products such as the iPhone and iPad. The folks at Apple today simply know how to make intuitive quality products, and make them at a relatively affordable price point.
Contrary to popular belief, however, that has not always been the case.
I remember my first experience with an "easy-to-use" Macintosh fifteen years ago. I just wanted to eject a floppy disk. I couldn't figure out how to do it because there was no physical eject button on the disk drive, and no obvious way to do it in the OS after poking around a bit. I had been using computers since the dawn of the home computer era, and I couldn't eject a disk! The owner pointed out to me that one way to do it was to drag and drop the floppy icon onto the garbage can icon. Of course, how intuitive. Throw away the disk! I would never have thought to do that.
There's no question in my mind that Apple has made huge leaps and bounds since then, and more importantly since the 80s. Today, a five-year-old can figure out how to get Angry Birds up and running on an iPhone, and the touch pad technology beats much of the competition that I've had the unfortunate displeasure of owning (I'm looking at you, Samsung). That is a testament to Apple's R&D department of the past ten years or so. But just because Apple products are trendy and easy to use today does not mean they were always so. Just because they lead segments in features and technology today doesn't mean one should write an article revolving around Steve's Jobs departure from Apple (for instance) and offer a slanted rosy picture of how Apple was always at the forefront of innovation, style, and black turtleneck coolness.
I clearly recall my friend's envy in Junior High over my Commodore 64. Well, at least envy over some of the features of my computer. He owned an Apple IIe. What!? An Apple owner envying a lowly Commodore user's computer? Yes. Keep in mind that the Apple IIe was released a year after the Commodore 64, so he didn't own a relic. It wasn't like he had a Commodore PET from 1979. His newer computer came with a black and green screen, terrible sound quality, and grainy monochrome graphics in games like Autoduel or Lode Runner. Scan lines cut through everything. Sure, color monitors were available for the Apple IIe, but I would not be surprised if the Apple IIe's color monitor option alone was as expensive as a Commodore 64 computer, or more so (if you can find a dollar figure on the color monitor I'd like to see it), and even then the graphics weren't all that much better. Do a Google image search on "Apple IIe Game." Better yet, click THIS.
His father and mine bought each respective home computer for occasional business and home use (for doing taxes, etc.), but he and I used the machines far more for the sort of in-depth gaming we enjoyed. He liked Ultima as I did, but he noticed, aside from the graphics, that when it played on my computer, it actually had music, and not just strange ticking noises.
Which would you rather play?
Lode Runner on the Apple IIe:
Lode Runner on the Commodore 64:
Steve Jobs' departure from Apple's top position has served to bring many stories out of the woodwork that praise Apple's continuous success in the "home computer revolution", and they simply run contrary to my experience as a Commodore user. Basically, they rub me the wrong way. I knew friends who were into journalism and used Apple computers on campus all throughout their school days (Apple, to their credit, has always been popular in educational institutions), so I wonder if it's a familiarity thing that makes for the Apple bias. Or perhaps it's just that Microsoft and Apple were the remaining victors after the home computer wars, so they lived to (re)write history.
Several articles that flooded the news recently have only served to reinforce the (post-Commodore and other home computer maker collapse) myths that:
A. Apple has only ever made swanky and sexy products
B. Steve Jobs never had a product failure
C. Apple has always been a market-leading, trendy company that captured the hearts and minds of the American public
So many times the victors write history, but in this case I could not stand by and read articles, blogs, and forum posts joining the chorus to claim that "everyone was always playing catch-up to Apple or copying them during the home computer revolution" without a response of my own.
Notice how this article ties home computers of the 80s copying Apple to iPhones of today.
"It turns out that my beloved Atari 800, like so many products of that era, was really just another me-too response to the Apple II. Atari originally designed the 800 to be the successor to its Atari 2600 game console. But after seeing Apple's early success, Atari switched gears and began adding computer-like features to the design, such as support for peripherals, BASIC programming, and text modes. I think about this today whenever I'm reviewing a smartphone that's particularly iPhone-like."
As great as the iPhone is, it shouldn't be capable of reaching back in time and changing the real reasons that prompted Commodore to make the VIC-20, for example, or its chief targets (the Timex/Sinclair ZX-80/81, etc.). Maybe there's an app for that (the History Altering app).
Did Commodore constantly copy Apple and try to play catch up with them as the news articles would have you believe? Not if you read up on Commodore's history. The book Commodore: A Company on the Edge is well-researched and great counter to media saturation of gushing Apple and Steve Jobs praise.
If I had to choose one area where at least a Commodore-related company appears to have copied Apple, it would be with the 3rd party (Berkeley Softworks) GEOS operating system for the C64 and its similarity to the Apple Lisa/Macintosh GUI look and feel. But GEOS only became commercially available long after the C64's 1982 launch.
Kudos to Steve Jobs for what he did at Apple. But don't let the spin machine spin out of control!
Want to read up on Commodore's ACTUAL history? Check out the excellent book by Brian Bagnall here: Commodore: A Company on the Edge.
And on the topic of books, my own book (shameless plug!) has a bit of history as well, though it focuses much more on getting the fun stuff to work, and you can check it out here: A Commodore 64 Walkabout. It is also available in print format here (thanks to @SleepyITdude for asking on Twitter) and at Amazon's Kindle shop (no you don't need a Kindle device, just one of the free downloadable apps: Kindle for PC, Kindle for Android, Kindle for iPhone, etc.).
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