Thursday, May 28, 2015

Part I: The Discovery

In my previous blog post, I shared photos of six unique Color Computers; four of them are CoCo 3s from Microware Systems Corporation of Des Moines, Iowa (Microware has changed hands a couple of times since that time). In this post, I'll give some background on my Microware experience and how these CoCos came to my attention.


I joined Microware in the summer of 1992 as a software engineer. Getting my foot in the door had everything to do with my ownership of a CoCo and familiarity with OS-9, so everyone at the company knew of my Color Computer interests. I worked directly with Mark Hawkins and Todd Earles, two of the "CoCo 3 mugateers" that you see when you hit CTRL-ALT and the reset button on the CoCo 3. I was told first-hand of the lore and war stories behind the development of the Color Computer 3's BASIC and the ports of OS-9 to the Color Computer family. But I never actually saw any evidence of the development of the product. That is, until late one night...

Finding Gold

The Microware building on 1900 NW 114th Street was arranged in somewhat of an L-shaped fashion with much of the work areas filled with cubicles. I worked on the side of the building that would be considered the bottom of the L. Near my workspace were other cubicles of other employees, as well as a few empty ones where miscellaneous equipment would tend to accumulate.

I was working late one evening when I walked by a cubicle next to the "machine room" (a large air-conditioned enclosed area where Unix servers and OS-9 VME crates used for development were housed). This particular cubicle had been empty earlier in the week, but now housed a bunch of boxes of recently moved equipment. Curious, I stepped in and poked around, whereupon I discovered several Color Computer 3s. In another box were a few more Color Computer 3 cases and some documents scattered about, including the specs for the CoCo 3 on a Tandy letterhead. Still in another box were loads and loads of game and application software cartridges from Tandy. Another box held a DS-69B digitizer and some unrecognizable cartridges. There was even a huge GIMIX 6809 computer named "Sybil" which I later discovered held all the OS-9/6809 sources (even the source to the fabled Level 2 Upgrade), but that's another blog post...

Back to the find... I was ecstatic to see all of this CoCo equipment in one place, and it began to dawn on me that this was Microware's stash of Color Computer goodies they used for development some 10-odd years earlier.

The next day at work, I shared the discovery with another CoCo aficionado and Microware employee, Scott McGee. Scott had started working for Microware about a month before I did and also got his foot in the door through his Color Computer experience. He was keen on viewing the CoCo stash, so together we went to the cubicle and looked through the boxes to get an idea of what was there.

I brought up the idea of cleaning up all of the CoCo equipment and putting it in an area of the building that would showcase Microware's legacy work, but that didn't go anywhere. My impression was that no one at Microware really cared to pay homage to the work that was done on the Color Computer. No matter how I viewed these machines and their legacy, for the rest of the company, there was no interest in celebrating the past.

Everything CoCo related in that cubicle stayed in place for a while, and then it happened...

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