The Commodore Legacy – Part II

Last week I started talking about the history of the now bankrupt computer manufacturer Commodore; a company that undeniably had a profound effect on the IT industry.

We left off last week after talking about the Commodore 64.This was a machine priced so aggressively that, along with bringing down the cost of computing to the home user, also marked the departure from the market place of several high profile computer companies.

Despite Commodore gaining a large market share during this period the board of directors didn’t agree with the slashing of prices and profit margins.This sparked a power struggle which ended with the departure of Commodores founder, Jack Tramiel who later started his own company along with a number of key Commodore loyalists. A year later Tramiel purchased the Consumer Division of Atari who one of Commodores most high profile rivals at the time.This situation was made worse as Tramiel began recruiting Commodore employees which resulted in several court appearances over theft of trade secrets allegations.

The remaining Commodore management was left to salvage the company and did so by buying a small company known as Amiga who had a strong interest in developing a 16-bit computer.In 1985 Commodore released the Amiga 1000; a fantastic piece of equipment at the timewhich boasted a 7 MHz processor and 256kb of RAM.Unfortunately the Amiga 1000 was outside the budget of many home users which is a shame when you consider the price point of the Commodore 64 was so low that it made computing accessible to all.

The Amiga 1000 went head to head with the Atari ST and both machines secured a pretty much equal market share until Commodore went on to release the Amiga 500 in 1987.This machine was released at a much more accessible price to the average home user and as such outsold the Atari ST 1.5 to 1 in the United States.

Whilst Commodores fortunes were fairly strong at this point in time the company was now facing the beginning of the end; the reasons for this downfall were numerous and in hindsight seem obvious.

Whilst previous machines such as the C64 had enjoyed a large amount of mass media advertising that the current management were reluctant to repeat, Commodore also began to favour authorised resellers rather than mass outlets such as supermarkets and toy stores that they had exploited in the past.These two factors alone meant that the machines weren’t in the public eye and when the market began becoming saturated with PC’s and Apple Macs in the late 1980’s there seemed little reason to choose an Amiga.

The technology also failed to keep up with the advances that were being made in the PC market and in some instances the company released computers that were actually a step back from what they were previously offering. The Amiga 600 for example which was released in 1992 didn’t offer any real improvements on the A500 which was released 5 years earlier.In reality there were actually several disadvantages to the A600 such as the absence of a numeric keypad and the industry standard SCSI functionality which many A500 users appreciated.The processor was exactly the same speed and the only noticeable improvement was that the machine included a little more memory.

Commodore also released several consumer related products which simply weren’t in demand at the time; the CDTV and CD32 home entertainment systems are just two examples.These were commercial failures for the company which never received any significant market share.

The final nail in the coffin came when software developers began moving away from the Amiga in favour of the PC and Apple Mac.There simply was no reason for a consumer to choose an Amiga system and with sales floundering, Commodore eventually declared bankruptcy on 29th April 1994.

Whilst the twilight years of this company were ultimately very disappointing, the advances made in the early years to make home computing more enjoyable and affordable will be remembered in IT history forever.



About the Author - Chris Holgate works for Refresh Cartridges who supply a wide range of printer cartridges at the UK’s lowest prices.