Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Some Serious CoCo History

One of the things on my to-do list has been to showcase some very specific Color Computer history. Those who have read the book "CoCo: The Colorful History of Tandy's Underdog Computer" will recognize the machines in the next photo:

These are six Color Computers of historical significance. The top shelf contains the Deluxe Color Computer that was featured in the previous blog posts. It's a rare bird, as only one other is known to exist. To its right is a mock-up of the Tandy Color Computer 4. It's simply a shell without any electronics inside, save the 3.5" disk unit. Like the Deluxe Color Computer, it is unique and is the only one of its kind.

The following two photos give another view (apologies for the poor lighting conditions).


The second and third shelves contain four Color Computer 3s of special significance: two PAL versions and two NTSC versions. These four CoCo 3s were the property of Microware Systems Corporation and used to by Mark Hawkins, Tim Harris, and Todd Earles to develop OS-9 Level Two and the "super" extensions to Extended Color BASIC. 
The black cartridge in between the two CoCo 3s in this last photo is an interesting artifact that I'll devote a whole blog post to later.

If these four machines could speak, they would tell some interesting stories. While I wasn't at Microware at the time the CoCo 3 was being developed, I came on board later. Now I think it's time to tell the tale about how these CoCos were discovered and where they have been since that time. Stay tuned for the "rest of the story" in a subsequent blog post.

For now, enjoy the photos!

10 comments:

  1. I can't wait to hear the stories about those Microware CoCos. That actually raises a question I've had for some time but always forget to ask. Was OS-9 (any version) actually written on a CoCo or did the developers use other machines and simply cross-compile/assemble?

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    1. Good question. I'll cover that in a later post related to "Sybil."

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    2. Cool I'm looking forward to that!

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  2. Bated breath waiting for that black box story.

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  3. Say, do people realize just how sophisticated the Coco III was, with its memory management scheme? It is an exact duplicate of the DEC PDP-11/34, with its 64K virtual memory spaces divided p into 8K blocks. The 11/34 an full blown UNIX, so no wonder the Coco III could do OS-9 L2 so well. No other "toy" computer (C64, Atari, TI, etc.) came close.

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    1. One of my long term goals is to finish my study of Operating Systems and try to port Douglas Comer's "XINU" to the 6809. It's a goal I may never attain due to time constraints and hardware limitations that I'm not yet aware of, but I hope to give it a go someday

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    2. Mike, I think Mark Siegel would agree with you. He's framed the CoCo 3 in those very terms several times to me, and is proud of the architectural achievements that the machine had for its time. I certainly am impressed that this "toy" computer had similar MMU hardware to that of fully fledged industrial OS-9/6809 systems of the time like GIMIX.

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    3. I would like to address is the State of the Art design of the CoCo 3. If we look at today’s computers they comprise a Bit Mapped RGB display, A Processor with an MMU, an interrupt controller, a DAC based audio system and a UNIX inspired Multitasking operating system (Even Windows Qualifies for one of those). Your desktop, your laptop, your pad, your cell phone every one of them have these features. The Color Computer 3 was the first consumer product computer, to have all the features. Apple didn’t have it, IBM didn’t have it, Commodore didn’t have it, and Atari didn’t have it. Just think about how long it was before the next computer that had all these features in it. Then when someone says the CoCo 3 was not state of the art, ask them which computer there cell phone most closely resembles from the early days of computers.

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    4. Agreed. I learned from a (more learned friend than I) about how elegant the CoCo (1 and 2 at the time, and ultimately 3) were designed. That, combined with really clever coding by the likes of Sock Master, with his bouncing ball demo and Donkey Kong port, not to mention MOD player, and Linville with his un-modified, bare metal video player as well as other techniques to squeeze even more performance out of these amazing devices is nothing short of amazing. The only thing the CoCo ever lacked was management who was willing to go up against the tidal wave of the PC taking over market. The Model I/III/IV line, along with the II/12/16 line and CoCo lines were all well built, powerful, original systems created by Tandy, and no one can argue that they didn't compete, and even beat, PCs in many ways. The problem was everyone was getting behind Microsoft / IBM compatibility, and so Tandy followed suit. Apple stuck it out, and if Tandy would have too, they could have continued development of their own original lines, and would have changed (IMHO) the mix, and perhaps even kept the PC from dominating for as long as it has.

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  4. On facebook, some people commented on how the mockup doesn't really have a modern look for being so bulky and all. It indeed really does look like a quick mockup. I suspect the final product may have looked very similar to the gorgeous Tandy 1000 EX and HX.

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