pet

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commodore pet
Bill Loguidice's picture

Do you know what and when the first recognizable modern day personal computer with BASIC was?

Commodore PET 2001-8Based on a lively discussion over at AtariAge, I finally have what appears to be independent confirmation of what and when the first recognizable modern day personal computer with the BASIC programming language was. For purposes of definition, "first recognizable modern day personal computer" means a pre-assembled (non-kit) computer with a built-in display output (typically to a monitor early on and later to a TV) and full keyboard. The BASIC part means having some type of operating system with BASIC commands, preferably (though not required to be) in ROM. Now, we all know the holy trinity of 1977, the Apple II, Commodore PET and TRS-80, which were released (meaning not just announced, but actually available to buy and, more importantly, use) in that magical year, in that order, and each of which set the standard for all others to follow. Logic would dictate then that the first computer to fit our definition would be the Apple II. However, as the French would say au contraire mon frere. After some total misses were brought up, one computer in particular began to generate some legitimate consideration, the Processor Technology SOL-20 (SOL 20; NOTE: Though apparently far less popular, the reduced feature-set SOL 10 was also available). Unfortunately, there is a criminal lack of historical information related to both the company and the computer, so pinning down a release date for the pre-assembled version was difficult (as was customary for the time, kit versions were available--even the Apple II could be bought as a kit, though the Commodore PET and TRS-80 could not). While I've been able to briefly handle a fully operational SOL-20 in the past, due to its high cost on today's open market (easily north of $400 with often questionable functionality), I've been unable to acquire one, so my first-hand knowledge of the system is decidedly limited.

AtariAge user "desiv", was the first to find this article, which is a report from a gentleman who had a computer store at the time and pretty much pegged a general availability of 1976 for the SOL-20. Not satisfied with this single account (for one thing, there were a few mis-remembrances in there, like saying the SOL-20 was never sold as a kit), I decided to end the debate (if only primarily with myself) once and for all by checking my personal library's materials for another contemporary perspective. Luckily, I found one.

According to my copy of Owning Your Home Computer (The Complete Illustrated Guide) (1980) by Robert L. Perry, on page 49, "About the same time [mid-1975], Robert Marsh, a computer engineer, founded Processor Technology, which marketed the first computer complete with keyboard and video screen--SOL, the first personal computer deserving the name." and "Except for the first version of the Processor Technology personal computer, called SOL, there was no complete home computer at the beginning of 1977." Then he goes on to talk about the usual suspects, Commodore PET, Apple II, TRS-80, Exidy Sorcerer and Ohio Scientific Challenger, as being introduced that year (of course actual availability is a different issue).

He mentions another challenger a bit later, the Polymorphic 8800, which was introduced in 1976, which contained connections for a video monitor and a cassette recorder (as well as BASIC in ROM). Unfortunately, you had to add your own keyboard, which disqualifies it. He then talks a bit more about the SOL 20, "The first computer a hobbyist could simply turn on and use was the Processor Technology SOL 20. It had its own keyboard, an audio cassette interface, a complete video processor that used numbers and letters (in upper and lower case...), both kinds of input/output ports (serial and parallel), and an internal power supply. It had neither switches nor blinking lights on a complicated-looking front panel. It did have an internal operating system fixed in its memory, which allowed a user to simply plug it to a video monitor and use it. [description of an operating system] Yet the SOL, too, was too complicated for the average user. A buyer still had to know computer programming to use it." So, while BASIC was not in ROM (just a "simple" operating system was), it was apparently readily available on paper tape and cassette (see more info, here, here, and here (the latter of which points to BASIC availability no later than circa January 1977, still well before the Apple II's actual release)).

Perry then devotes some time to the second generation of kit computers, like the RCA Cosmac Elf II, and Heathkit H-8. Then, towards the end of page 54, he starts in with the TRS-80, leads into the PET, talks about the Apple I and II, the Ohio Scientific Challenger, the Compucolor 8001, and the Exidy Sorcerer (which he says, correctly, was introduced in the Spring of 1978).

On another note, he devotes Chapter 5 to "The Newest Home Computers", which, given sufficient publishing lead time for this 1980 book, would have placed most of these releases between 1978 - 1979, which falls in line with what we already know well (of course, some, like the Mattel Keyboard Component, were only ANNOUNCED at this time and would still be some time away). These systems include: Sinclair ZX80, APF Imagination Machine, Interact Model One, Mattel Intellivision (with Keyboard Component), TI-99/4 (not the 4A), Bally Professional Arcade, and HP-85.

On a final note, in Chapter 6, "The Handiest Home Computers", he discusses the TRS-80, Commodore PET, Apple II/III, Ohio Scientific Challenger series, Compucolor II, Exidy Sorcerer, and the Atari 400/800. Definitely a good book, and definitely an end to the "mystery". Nevertheless, if you want all of the usual qualifiers above and BASIC to reside in ROM, you're still looking at the Apple II, which was released in June 1977.

Any thoughts out there to the contrary?

Bill Loguidice's picture

Issue 41 of the Commodore Free magazine - June 2010, Now Available!

The latest issue of the excellent Commodore Free magazine is now available in the usual .PDF, .txt, .seq, .d64, and .html formats. Get your copy in the format of your choice here! (contents listed below)

Bill Loguidice's picture

Issue 40 of the Commodore Free magazine - May 2010, Now Available!

The latest issue of the excellent Commodore Free magazine is now available in the usual .PDF, .txt, .seq, .d64, and .html formats. Get your copy in the format of your choice here! (contents listed below)

Bill Loguidice's picture

Issue 39 of the Commodore Free magazine - April 2010, Now Available!

The latest issue of the excellent Commodore Free magazine is now available in the usual .PDF, .txt, .seq, .d64, and .html formats. Get your copy in the format of your choice here!

Bill Loguidice's picture

Issue 38 of the Commodore Free magazine - March 2010, Now Available!

The latest issue of the excellent Commodore Free magazine is now available in the usual .PDF, .txt, .seq, .d64, and .html formats. Get your copy in the format of your choice here!

Bill Loguidice's picture

Photo of the Week - Know your History! (01 - Commodore PET 2001-8)

Welcome to the first of an ongoing series of exclusive photos here at Armchair Arcade from my private collection, the Commodore PET 2001-8.

The photo's main page.
The full-size image.

Without further ado, here are some neat facts about this week's photo (feedback welcome!):

Bill Loguidice's picture

Photos from VCF East 4.0 2007 - Saturday Session - Vintage Computers and Commodore Engineers

Chuck Peddle on the Big Screen: VCF East 4.0 2007Well, I finally got around to posting the VCF East 4.0 2007 photos from the Saturday session on June 9, 2007. Unfortunately I was not able to find a single online photo sharing service (since I didn't want to kill bandwidth here at AA or on my personal Website) that met all of my needs, but Flickr took care of the album part of it all and Photobucket took care of the easily-embed-photos-on-here part (though I doubt I'll use it much as it's a lot of work to get it to display right).

Check out the full set of photos here. I'm still working with Bill Degnan of the MARCH club on getting the audio hosted, so hopefully I'll have that back up soon and easily accessible. Enjoy and don't forget to leave your comments here!

Bill Loguidice's picture

Exclusive VCF East Audio - Hear Commodore Engineers Chuck Peddle, Bil Herd, Bob Russell, Dave Haynie and more!

I have made the zip files available of the WMA-converted (downgraded) WAV recordings from some of the panel seminars at the 2007 version of VCF East (4.0) in Wall Township at the InfoAge Learning Center, from Saturday, June 9, 2007. There are some true gems in there, so if you have ANY interest in the origins of personal computing and Commodore, I suggest you give these a listen!

The panel's star was legend Chuck Peddle, inventor of the famous MOS Technology 6502 chip, used in a wide variety of classic single-board computers and in microcomputers such as the Commodore PET, C-64 and the Apple II. Peddle was piped in via videoconference (Skype) from Sri Lanka. Multi-generational Commodore engineers Bil Herd, Bob Russell, and Dave Haynie were live onsite.

The recordings:

Bill Loguidice's picture

Reminder: Fourth Annual Vintage Computer Festival this weekend in New Jersey

This is just a reminder that VCF East 4.0 will be held this coming weekend in Wall Township, New Jersey. There will be talks with some past Commodore greats from around the PET era, plenty of displays and a flea market. I'm going to try and make the Saturday session if all goes well.

http://www.vintage.org/2007/east/index.php
From the Website:

Matt Barton's picture

Scorched Parabolas: A History of the Artillery Game

Author: Matt Barton
Editing: Bill Loguidice
Online Layout: Matt Barton
Special Thanks: Bill Loguidice, Erwin Bierhof, Gavin Camp
All screenshots by the author using various emulators.
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