There are people who are young. There are people who are old. Then there are people who are really old. Then there are people who are really really old. I’m not sure if I’m young or old, but before I get started, let me say that I’m not insinuating that I’m really old.
Even if I’m not old, the item I found out today makes me feel old: the Commodore 64 computer was announced 19 years ago this week. Jeez. That means I was like 5 when it was announced. I don’t remember when I got one, but I do remember my parents getting me one for Christmas. I recall that that year I told them (or Santa, either one) I wanted one, and then a few weeks before Christmas changed my mind – I had heard about these things called “video cameras”. Wow, make your own TV shows? Kickass! So I asked for one, knowing nothing about the truth about Santa Claus or the concept of prior notice in the Christmas shopping season, to say nothing of cost (remember, this was back when the simplest camcorders cost like $2000). I remember thinking that my prior obsession, the Commodore 64, was rather lame in comparison to what I had in mind now, and how bad that would suck if I got that instead. Yeah, I was a spoiled brat.
Then Christmas morning came and I opened my biggest present to reveal a Commodore 64 computer. I instantly forgot about that video camera concept and fell in love with the box of this thing. Then I opened it up, had my dad hook it up to the TV (since I had no idea how) and started messing with it. There was no turning back. I sat there and played some of the games my folks bought for me, including Fort Apocalypse, which my dad and I played endlessly over the years with our crappy joysticks.
It was a different time to be sure. The C64 hooked up to a television set, not a monitor. Granted, Commodore did make a monitor for it, which was basically a small TV. I still have the monitor – and it still puts out a kickass pucture (probably related to the fact that I didn’t use it for many years). Programming languages were built into the system, and programs were printed out as listings in magazines. For a science fair project one year I wrote a program which played Tic-Tac-Toe – and won every time. I got a honorable mention. The conditions at the cafeteria were such that the disk drive refused to work after that.
Now I see projects to run Linux and X-Windows on the Dreamcast, along with efforts to get Linux to run on things like the PSX, PS2 and X-Box. There’s actually a small amount of “hype” surrouding the notion that the PSX could be turned into a “low cost, low powered” computer. How bizarre – it’s like we’ve come full circle. Toy machines like early game consoles gave birth to toy computers like the C64 and Apple ][. These computers gave way to “real” computers like the PC and Macintosh, whose barrier to entry costwise in the games market led to the rise of consoles. But now consoles show signs of convergence, like the DC browsing the web and the use of keyboards and mice to play games. It’s almost like what people really want (or seem to want) is a computer with all the functionality, but that plays games and hooks up to a TV, which is exactly what they had back in the day of the C64. In light of all of this, perhaps Microsoft’s XBox has more of a chance – if it becomes the new PCJr. and that’s what people really want, then they win.