My review of CoCo: The Colorful History of Tandy's Underdog Computer

Nathaniel Tolbert's picture

Tandy CoCoTandy CoCoJust recently I received a package in the mail. It was a flat pack type envelope addressed to me. Perplexed as I had not ordered anything recently, I opened the package. A small book slid out of the packing onto my desk. It took a moment to realize; Oh yes I had asked for a review copy of the new CoCo book. I finished the book this last Monday and I have spent the last 5 days collating my thoughts and opinions before sitting down to write this review here. Due to a hiatus on my podcast, I will be posting a review there as soon as possible, and may have to do a side recording specifically for the book. Read more below.

Quick review - Is the book good? Yes. The book is well worth owning especially if you have any sort of passing interest in classic computing of any kind. Next question - Where can I purchase this book? I know that Amazon carries the book, and if there are additional places available, hopefully Mr. Loguidice will be willing to let us know. Now, into the more lengthy review and a bit of backstory.

Just recently when a friend of mine was cleaning out his old Atari MegaST 2 collection and handing it to me, we came across a boxed computer in a cupboard. The box prominently displayed TANDY Color Computer 2. My friend asked me if I wanted it as well. At this point I was taking a complete set up Mega ST 2 with an ICD hard drive and Color Monitor, as well as the complete set up for the Atari 800. I asked if I could return for it later. Two weeks later there was a fire at his house. Thankfully, no one was injured. However the restoration company refused to try and save any of the electronics or computer software of which there was over 800 different games, all boxed. Needless to say, a lawsuit was started and my friend won, but the restoration company refused to attempt any restoration work on salvaging the sealed game boxes and electronics. Thankfully I know another restoration company, and we consulted with them. They were more than willing to restore the electronics, and the software for a modest fee. After the restoration was complete, all of the software and old computer hardware came to live with me. I queried as to where and why my friend had purchased a CoCo 2 as he was extremely attached to Atari computers. His response was surprising. He had been told that the CoCo2 was extremely easy to learn to program for and that many books existed on the subject. Sadly, time and a newborn child stymied his attempt to learn. At this point I was intrigued by this little cream colored computer. I didn't know a lot about it, except that it worked and I could provide endless hours of entertainment to my wife by inputting a simple basic text adventure for her to wander around in. Then I heard that Bill Loguidice and Boisy G. Pitre were writing a book on the CoCo. I had to read it, and so here starts the adventure.

The book starts off exactly as it should, giving an overview of the origination of the Tandy Leather Company and to a lesser extent RadioShack. The book continues on to discuss lightly the first Tandy foray into personal computers, which was the TRS-80. The story continues to the debut of the Color Computer, which unbenknownst to me was originally call the TRS-80 Color Computer. There is a little information about the actual hardware inside the machine and the story proceeds full pelt through time and history towards the debut of the Rainbow magazine, which was a surprising digression from the Tandy history. Nevertheless, it is an important aspect of the history of the CoCo, as it shows that Tandy had a very strong following of CoCo users and admirers. Also it was interesting to see some of the associated people that loved and worked with the Color Computer. The book then returns to the Tandy history and speaks about the debut of the Color Computer 2, which surprisingly aside from more ram and a few enhancements doesn't seem to be much more than the original. Next the book discusses the foundation of Microware, the company responsible for OS-9 which garnered quite a lot of success across various processor types. Tandy at one point endorsed the OS-9 operating system as the defacto OS for the CoCo. This is followed up with some of the most in depth technical aspects of the book. The creation, and production of the custom chips that went into the most advanced of the CoCo line, the CoCo 3. This for me was an incredibly fascinating section of the book and talks about the decisions that were made, the ideas that were cut, and blood sweat and tears that went into designing the CoCo 3. Then sadly as the book winds down, it discusses Tandy's decision to drop support for the Color Computer line very unceremoniously and the far reaching effect it had on the community. Promised hardware and software vanished, or was released for different platforms, the closing of the longest running support magazine, The Rainbow and lastly the unwavering support of the machines' fans. The book ends with a personal story from Boisy Pitre regarding his travel to interview John Prickett, whom pretty much designed all of the custom chips in the Color Computer 3. It is a nice ending for the book and I know I am not covering everything in the book in any detail and that is because you must buy this book.

Overall this is a very good history book in regards to discussing the blossoming of microtechnology and the proliferation of personal computers in the 70's and 80's. And while I have a few things I would have liked to see in the book, it does not detract from the fact that if you love the CoCo or are interested in computer history that you must own this book. The writing style is very well thought out and provides a lot of information in a very tight amount of space. Clocking in at only 189 pages, there is a significant amount of information in those pages. At times this can become very dense and difficult to absorb, but do not let that deter you. The images of the RadioShack ads from their catalogs as well as the covers of The Rainbow magazine add nice touches to the book. There are just two things I would have liked to see included in the book. They are as follows - one, I would have like to have seen technical specification sheets for the different versions of the Color Computers. Make no mistake; the information is in the book, but it is given in paragraph format intermixed with the rest of the history. I would have liked to see a breakdown page with columns showcasing the differences between the models and release dates with original pricing would have been very nice for me. The second thing I would have loved to see was an actual transcript of all of the interviews that both Bill Loguidice and Boisy Pitre had with the various important people for the CoCo. I think that would have been incredible to see. Regardless the book is fantastic and aside from a few small quibbles of things I would have liked to see, I cannot recommend this book enough to any member of Armchair Arcade or any Computer Science major in my opinion. Order this book as soon as you can. I know I will be purchasing a copy in support as soon as I get paid next Friday. Excellent work and congratulations to everyone involved with this project.

Nathan

Comments

Mark Vergeer
Mark Vergeer's picture
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Joined: 01/16/2006
Thanks for writing this review Nathan

Thanks for writing this review. I was so bold as to promote it to our front page!

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Nathaniel Tolbert
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Joined: 11/06/2010
Thank you.

Thank you for promoting it to the front page. My writing style is certainly lacking, but I felt it important to write a review here since I am uncertain as to when my podcast will resume and I can talk about it there. I very much enjoyed it, and I think it should be a book on any retro computer collector's shelf, just like Commodore: A Company on the Edge by Brian Bagnall. Again, I would love to see a transcript of all of the personal interviews that they did for the book because I think those would be absolutely fascinating and I am guessing that they just ran out of space in the book. Maybe there will be a part II?

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Boisy Pitre
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Joined: 07/05/2012
Thanks

Hi Nathan,

I enjoyed reading your review very much. Thanks for taking the time to write up a review with substance and style. It shows that you really took time to read the book and understand its "raison d'être."

As Bill noted in his comments, the interviews that we did are pretty well covered in the book. While we do have audio of most of the interviews (the rest are notes), those are held in confidence and we don't expect to be releasing those (at the very least, not without the consent of the interviewee). Creating an entire transcript for the hours upon hours of interviews would be a big task, and while there may be things to glean from reading such a thing, we covered the salient points of each interview in the book.

Did we use all the material that we had? Honestly, no. Some stories were just missed. Others required corroboration that we couldn't obtain, so we felt better not to print. But I dare say 95% of the stories we intended to tell in the book, we did.

Regarding the technical charts on specs and pricing, I have to agree with Bill. We felt that even that level of detail would have possibly detracted from the style and spirit of the book. Every figure and photo in the book is from another source, and flows with the story, and so we avoided compiling our own tables or adding our own self-created illustrations. I think the book leaves just enough of that "wanting more" feeling that you got from it, and that is a good thing, I believe.

Again, thank you for the excellent and thoughtful review.

Nathaniel Tolbert
Nathaniel Tolbert's picture
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Joined: 11/06/2010
It was my pleasure

It was my pleasure to review the book. I did very much enjoy it. I am very much honored that both Authors would comment on my review. I understand why the decisions made were made, I was just commenting on things I would have liked to see. I am thinking I may try to make it to CoCoFest 2014 since it's not terribly far away. We shall see. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to review the book.

Kind Regards,

Nathan

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Bill Loguidice
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Joined: 12/31/1969
Thanks for the review,

Thanks for the review, Nathan, and thanks for putting it on the front page, Mark. We don't have interview transcripts. Honestly, all of the relevant stuff from the interviews is in the book. Nothing important was left out. While there may be further editions of this book, nothing was held back in the writing of this, so there really can't be a part II. It actually would have been quite a bit longer than the 189 pages, but as you can tell, the publisher's style was to really pack in the text in a small space (probably a side effect of them being a mostly academic publisher). Under "normal" spacing, it would have easily exceeded several hundred pages. That's not necessarily a bad thing (though not my preference - I like white space) because it does make for a more compact, easier to hold book.

There were a few things we purposely avoided. One, was the technical charts you desired in your review. This was because we wanted to focus on the story rather than distract with technical charts. That information should be easy enough to locate and in fact there exists some free CoCo-related books that focus almost entirely on that type of thing. The other was focusing too much on the software, particularly the games. As you know, the game part is kind of my thing, but I made a conscious decision to not let that overpower this work. The overriding principle was to keep the focus on the main story and not create too many distractions or diversions. In any case, I appreciate the feedback (will pass it on to Boisy), and I'm glad that overall you liked it.

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Arlene Gilbreath (not verified)
History was types on such

History was types on such item, so we should not underestimate the power of such old classic machine. I had one long ago.

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