VHS and Betamax

Since the author has presumably been slaving away at saving the world from “Tramiel hell” his blog has been quiet and there has been nothing for your correspondent to respond to until he received an automated notification of both a comment and response on one of the author’s posts. Let us take a moment dear reader to debunk that response.

Why exactly did you find the Commodore 64 to be a great computer at the time?

Presumably because it did what he wanted and offered a huge library of software.

You criticised other computers for only being able to move the cursor forwards or backwards. I assume you mean they had a BASIC line editor instead of a BASIC full screen editor, like Commodore, Atari, and MSX computers used. I abandoned the Commodore 64 for the Amstrad CPC664, which had a BASIC line editor with the ability to copy text from elsewhere on the screen using a copy cursor and copy key, instead of a full screen editor, but I enjoyed its much better BASIC interpreter, with about 160 commands, instead of only about 72 commands on the Commodore 64.

The commenter was referring to one thing, but the author “answers” him by dragging the discussion away from that towards the BASIC interpreter once more…

The spec of the Atari ST was put together by Jack Tramiel, who was also responsible for the Commodore 64 spec.

This isn’t actually true because Tramiel merely dictated a couple of basic requirements in each case (he said that the C64 should have 64K for example because he knew that the chip prices would soon come down) but the actual specifications of the machines came from the teams of people working on them. The Atari ST’s mostly-off-the-shelf approach is far more akin to the Amstrad CPC or BBC Micro.

Finally, you ask me if the Commodore 64 was so bad, then why was it the best selling computer? Quite simply, it’s because early C64 buyers didn’t do enough research about buying a computer, they only considered the price and the declared 64K RAM, then later on after a lot of Commodore 64 computers had been sold, some more potential computer buyers thought “If so many people have bought a Commodore 64, then they can’t be wrong”, but unfortunately they were!

In the author’s bizarre fantasy world we’re told that tens of millions of people worldwide went out and purchased a reasonably expensive piece of electronics without doing even the slightest bit of research beforehand; that simply doesn’t happen in our universe of course and things like magazine reviews, recommendations or hands on experience all shift computers far more than salesperson pitches, advertising or sales figures ever will. Even if we take the foolhardy step of entering the author’s mind to visit this fictional computer marketplace for a moment (pausing only to sign the appropriate health and safety waivers first of course) it doesn’t logically follow that people buying blind in this way will actually dislike their purchase either, so if the majority are happy (which, as we’ve noted previously dear reader, they appear to be) that’s still going to be a ringing endorsement for the product.

Similar things happened with video equipment. VHS video recorders became more popular because they were cheaper and available to rent instead of Betamax, which was a more expensive higher quality system usually only available to buy. Another example was camcorders (i.e. video camera recorders), where at one stage in Britain, a camcorder by the company Amstrad was outselling all the other camcorders. Why was this? I think it was because it was the cheapest camcorder on the market in Britain at that time and lots of people didn’t know why they should pay more.

These analogies both fail miserably because the C64 was rarely the cheapest option in a specific market but still managed to do well; for the UK, the equivalent of VHS was the Sinclair Spectrum which was cheap, cheerful and sold by the absolute bucketload but the C64, placed somewhere in the middle of the pack on pricing and nowhere near the Betamax end of the scale, still romped home second by selling significantly more machines than the third place Amstrad CPC or other home grown options.

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