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Undercolor/850104/On Sig

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UnderColor, Volume 1, Number 4, February 1, 1985

  • Title: On Sig
  • Author: empty
  • Synopsis: A transcript of a hot, important, discussion.
  • Page Scans: Link


Some of our readers are familiar with CompuServe; others aren't. The following "discussion" took place on the CompuServe Color Sig, a section set aside specially for Color Computer users. For those of you who have never used CompuServe, you should be aware that sometimes the discussion takes place in very close to real-time (allowing for typing and sending messages), and other times a longer break of hours or days or even weeks is involved. This discussion took place over about a month, and will be presented in Under Color in several parts. Our thanks to the authors, who all gave permission for its use in UC.


The great system tug of war still seems to be on, and no generic winner seems to have emerged. Since l am definitely not an expert in the intricacies of system selection, perhaps my perceptions may be of use when you professionals attempt to crack public apathy.

I bought my first CoCo for my son as a video game. Programs followed... arcade games, educational (?) aids, music, then a gamble on a word-processor. The thing worked! My CoCo and Epson soon followed. The typewriter

grew into a terminal with the ColorCom E ROM. System cost at this time? Under $800. CP/M, Wordstar and terminal programs were selling for over $1500. Boy, was I smug! Frank Hogg started his revivals at this time, promising that great

things were in store for the CoCo. You mean Visicalc! I bought high speed disks. Hardware costs grew to $1250. Another $600 was spent to yield $300 in usable software. Still another $200 went to training time on Dialog, Dow Jones, CompuServe and Startext. In all, I estimate $2000 in computer expenditures over the last three years (exclu-

sive of on-line time traceable to specific projects). I have a chain saw and believe that it has paid for itself; I still don't have a decent database.

With software, I estimate an MS-DOS system of comparable capabilities at $3500. Incidentals and unneeded play-pretties would add another $1500 for a total of $5000 of "chain saw" solution. Wait a minute, what was my problem? Oh yeah . . . I need a computer to save money. Any of you mortals out there have need of a $5000 solution?

I’m trying to expose the real need for a cost-effective tool. The Radio Shack/

Motorola video game is the first of these. Jack TramieI’s Commodore 64 and the Intel PC chip set are others. The other personal computers on the market such as the Apple, IBM and other business machines are just too expensive as a replacement for a typewriter—especially in the home. By purchasing a CoCo or a 64 one can get a generic machine today instead of waiting another four years for IBM to allow Intel to sell their $500 PC. Instead of Visicalc you’ll buy Dynacalc, instead of Wordstar you get Telewriter, and instead of Transend you get

ColorCom E. The competition’s offerings may be slightly better, but you get to purchase yours at a mature market price.

Into this market is flung a new Super CoCo. lt will probably offer all the enhancements the aftermarket makes available for the Plain-Jane CoCo. Only in this case, it’s in one easy-to-use piece—like a Model 4. Well, the middle boy is getting old enough to handle a videogame that can grow into a typewriter—why don't l splurge? Buy the $1000 contraption for myself and give him the $200 game. My system cost will then come to $2800—still within the realm of possibilities of cost recovery (rationalization). What do you mean I can’t run my old software or use my old files.

Slowly the great CoCo camps split apart. Some software providers stay with the game. Others go with the Business machine. Alas, all the new business software is appearing exclusively for the Super CoCo. Unfortunately, the thinness of the market forces the offerings to be priced accordingly. System costs slowly creep up to IBM levels, whereupon customers desert for the safety of blue.

Meanwhile, back at the primeval swamp, where the original CoCo still lurks, it is seen as slowly succumbing to a sickly diet of arcade games—seen as a computer with no redeeming social value. As Super CoCo loses at the upper ends of the market, IBM swoops into the low end of the market with its Intel chip set. Their product is designed to be slower and clunkier than their pricey offerings—but it will run PC software! Programmers desiring to eat flock to IBM. Their chances of selling their wares increase as IBM broadens their base to address even the flint-hearted skeptics (such as myself). By spreading their development costs over a large user base, IBM programmers are able to reduce prices and expand their markets even further. They, like IBM, will seek to become the least-cost producer of a generic product in a mature market. After their competition has been crushed, they will be free to set prices in an oligopolistic fashion at a level just low enough to discourage competition.

I would be interested in the unit volume shipped by the various computer companies. Wouldn't it be shocking if the unit market share of the CoCo or the Commodore exceeded the pc clones by a factor of ten? I would then like to sit down and figure the disposable income available for software/doodad purchases for each of the two groups. Wouldn't it be hilarious if the CoCo/Commodore group was the more profitable market, and that realizing this, IBM introduced a sub-PCJr for this market’s exploitation?

How can one believe that a company with Tandy’s resources would be unable to design an advanced machine that was compatible with its lower brethren? It‘s not a technical decision.

I still have hope. Perhaps the new machine will run CoCo, and OS-9, and CP/M, and MS-DOS. That would be a machine to own.

(This message sparked the following six replies:)

Fm: Van (to A. Doyle)

I'd be willing to bet that the average CoCo owner has more, and more varied, software than the PC owner, if not because of quality, then at least price!

Fm: Wayne Day (to A. Doyle)

Arthur, you raise some good points . . . lemme see if I can respond to a couple of them.

It is highly likely that the Color Computer is the largest selling computer that Tandy has ever sold. Unfortunately, their demographics say that most purchasers are probably not interested in dBase II or APL or whatever.

It's obvious from Tandy's marketing efforts that they are selling the computer to America (and all over the world) as a "home computer" that can also have fun. In the case of the new O9 (or whatever) machine, understand that everyone, except for folks who work for Tandy's designers and executives, are guessing as to what the future will bring. It's entirely possible that the new machine will be compatible with Tandy's older software.

But, in the case of a lot of CoCo software from third parties, I'll guess that quite a bit won’t be compatible, just as a lot of software became incompatible with the new 1.2 Basic and 1.1 Disk ROMs. Programmers take snort-cuts and/or are lazy, and the user gets the short end.

I feel there is room in this world for a lot of different machines, operating systems, and that, today, there is no machine that is all things to all people.

Buying a car and expecting to buy new parts for it 20 years down the road is expecting the unrealistic.

Buying a computer (any computer) and expecting compatibility in perpetuity is also unrealistic, due to changes in the state of the art.

Again, I go back to what I said before ... first, decide what you want to do with a computer, then find the software that will do it, and then and only then, go out and buy the hardware.

If your needs change, and you’re using the computer in business, you can write it off as a normal cost of doing business. That’s what those deductions are on the income tax statement for.

If your needs change, and you’re in this as a hobby, you have a couple of options:

a. change systems to one better suited to

your needs

b. keep the old system and write software

that does what you need

c. keep the old system and accept its


(This message had one reply, marked by a *.)

Fm: Dennis Bathory Kitsz (To A. Doyle)

Interesting argument, but it doesn't address the non-pop market too well. Do you suppose it’s the general public that has snapped up nearly a million CoCos in four years? Look in schools, laboratories, industries and other applications where compact, cost-effective control systems are imperative. I am doing a custom project now for a company buying CoCos in 100 lots for industrial control. Maybe that’s only 20-25 percent ot the market, but that’s a lotta CoCos.

(This message has three replies, marked by ☆.)

Fm: Dennis Bathory Kitsz (to A. Doyle)

I ain’t no professional, that's sure, and those kind of economic arguments make me resort to church bulletins for intellectual stimulation. Lissen, if you lost track of your goal $3000 worth, then I fail to unnerstand why I should believe you now. Eh?

Fm: Marty (to A. Doyle)

My info on the "09" is that apart from simple Basic programs and those assembly language programs that use their own DOS or use only documented ROM calls (and most not useful third-party utilities and applications fit that description), the new 09 will not have access to the CoCo software base. In

any case, you make a number of very good points, and time will tell what will actually happen.

(This message had one reply, published next installment, and marked by ★★.)

Fm: Sandy Trevor (to A. Doyle)

Reportedly, Tandy is going to great pains to make the System 9 "software compatible" with the CoCo. I guess we'll see what that means after Marty gets one.

(This replay had one response, to be published next month, marked ✩.)

★Fm: Marty (to W. Day)

I beg to differ with you in one point you just made. You implied that "lazy programmers" in the third-party market were to blame for software incompatibilities related to ROM changes. And that this laziness was also responsible for the probable incompatibility of third-party stuff with the coming 09 machine. You're completely off base there, Wayne.

While it is true that there were some

cases of laziness of that sort by third party types (Telewriter in its early releases was such an example), the main cause of most assembly language application program software incompatibility (and the reason most CoCo third party stuff will probably not be usable under the new Tandy 6809 system) is not laziness on the part of third-party programmers, but the inexcusable stupidity on the part of Microsoft in not providing file-handling vectors—documented vectors—for their R/S DOS system, and the equally inexcusable stupidity of Tandy in accepting such an abortion of an "operating system" from Microsoft.

More than anything else, this one so-called oversight has scared off programmers from writing serious stuff for the CoCo.

You are to be condemned for blaming the third-party market in general for the minor mistakes of a few of its programmers, and for excusing the monumental mistake made by Microsoft and Tandy!


(This has one reply, to be published next month, marked by ☆☆.)

✩Fm: Art Gavasso (to D. Kitsz)

Just thought I'd throw my two cents in. If there was not a market for all the CoCos, then who is buying them all? Also, I can buy software for my "game" machine that is as good or better than the PCs at 1/4 the price. I wouldn't trade my CoCo and disk drive and printer for a PC for anything. And my cost was $800 complete with DSDD drive . . . hope that helps the fire glow a bit . . .

★Fm: Marty (to D. Kitsz) Note carefully, Dennis, how in my fanciful design of a dream CoCo ("Dream" article I posted in XA1), I carefully suggested that a minimal machine in a professional box be available for just that market: the industrial and scientific and medical lab and control market . . . a cost-effective, smart, dedicated device.

★Fm: Arthur Doyle (to D. Kitsz)

Maybe I wasn’t crazy after all. It does seem to work better than some other machines I've tried. Why doesn’t someone repackage it with a few more features? (end)