The age of Aquarius

The author has previously spouted about Commodore as though they were the only company to produce a BASIC with issues. This is, of course, completely untrue as anybody who has experience with BASIC programming on 8-bit computers will attest and your correspondent was recently reminded of another example since the Mattel Aquarius turned thirty this month and IT journalists at The Register posted an article about its history. The machine itself was built from off-the-shelf components in a similar way to the MSX series, which meant it could be sold for a price in the UK that undercut even the 16K Spectrum. But rumour has it that this lead to Mattel’s own staff being less than complementary about the machine, with one even dubbing it “the system for the Seventies”.

The onboard BASIC was from Microsoft and critics were similarly harsh; according to the Register piece, Chris Palmer of Personal Computing Today lamented the “total lack of command to let you clear the screen” – in other words, there was no CLS or similar command so programmers had to use PRINT CHR$(11) instead. This is also true of Commodore BASIC V2 where PRINT CHR$(147) does the same job, but holding shift and hitting clear/home does the same thing from direct mode and these can also be embedded into PRINT commands where they appear as inverted heart characters. More importantly, the author’s nemesis the POKE command reared its head as well, as El Reg’s Tony Smith explains:

Placing a character on the screen involved POKEing the character code to the character grid memory, then using a formula to convert the desired foreground and background colour values into a single, decimal value which had to be POKEd into the correct place in the colour memory. Repeat for as many characters as you have in the string you want to show.

So why bring this up, considering it’s just another flavour of good old Microsoft BASIC with similar issues to the one included with the C64? Well, since the author didn’t mention the Aquarius in his wide-reaching “happy birthday” post in April it only seemed fair to bring Mattel’s machine along to the party. But your correspondent also feels that it demonstrates that, despite the author’s attempts to demonise them, Commodore weren’t the only company making these kinds of decisions; Mattel arrived at the party after the VIC 20 had shifted around half a million units so, by choosing to stick with a similar solution on the BASIC interpreter front, we can infer that they didn’t see what Commodore had done as a particularly bad move.

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