Computer Platforms

Personal Computers, or PCs, began life as the "microcomputer" in the mid 1970s, and Byte Magazine used the term "1977 Trinity" to describe the emergence of three major competitors in the new market.

Commodore PET 1977 - 1982

The PET (short for Personal Electronic Transactor)  was designed by Commodore International, an American electronics company. Texas Instruments was the main supplier of central processing units for calculators in the mid-1970s, but increased prices in 1975 to beyond what their customers were willing to pay. Commodore reacted by purchasing the 6502 microprocessor design from MOS Technology, and a small computer kit that came with it. Commodore felt that calculators might have reached a retailing dead-end and sought to focus attention on building a microcomputer in time for the Consumer Electronics Show in June 1977. The very first all-in-one computer designed for home use, the PET 2001, was the result, in either 2001-4 (4 KB of RAM) or 2001-8 (8 KB) models. The machines had built in monochrome monitors with 40x25 graphic character displays, built in data cassette storage unit, and a small "chiclet" style keyboard. The first models shipped in mid-October. Later models featured improved keyboards and memory upgrades. The computers were used mainly in educational settings and were not popular for home use due to limitations in the graphics and sound. Commodore sought to remedy this with the introduction of the VIC-20.

Apple II 1977 - 1993

Approximately 5 to 6 million of the Apple II computer were sold during its lifecycle, owing to its popularity as a classroom model in North America, though it was also a popular business and home computer as well. The Macintosh did not surpass the Apple II line of computers in sales until the early 1990s when that line was finally abandoned. (The Apple I series, incidentally, had been a limited production model with a bare circuit board intended primarily for electronics hobbyists.) The most commonly known and also the model kept in production the longest of all Apple computers was the Apple IIe, which was sold with only minor changes for eleven years.

TRS-80/Tandy 1977-present

Tandy Corporation took the leading position in the so-called "1977 Trinity" because of its Tandy and Radio Shack retail stores in the United Kingdom and North America. It's TRS-80 computer featured a full-stroke standard QWERTY keyboard, a user-friendly BASIC programming language, and included its own monitor for a low retail price. By 1979 the TRS-80 also lead the microcomputer market in terms of available software. TRS-80 Microcomputer (later redesignated TRS-80 Model I) was introduced at a press conference in August 1977, with the intent of directly competing with the Apple and PET. Some 10,000 units sold in the first month, with 55,000 more in the next four. The Model I was discontinued in January 1981 having sold 250,000 units. A Model III had been released in the summer of 1980, with improved monitor (the original created interference with other electronic devices) and other upgrades including a faster processor. The Model 4 followed in April 1984, with the Roman numerals giving way to Arabic in the designator. The Model II had been intended primarily as a business machine for the office and not the home, and Tandy produced several workplace oriented computers as well. In the early 1980s, the move towards IBM-compatibility was made, and eventually Tandy began producing true IBM clones.

Additionally, the TRS-80 Color Computer was aimed at the home market, launching in 1980 and designed to compete with the Commodore VIC-20 and comparable Atari machines. The "CoCo" was discontinued in 1991.

Atari 400-800 1979-1992

The Atari "8-bit" computers were the first home computers designed with custom coprocessor chips, giving them an edge in game graphics over any other machine. The computers went into development as soon as the 2600 video game console was released in 1977, it being felt that the console would be obsolete in three years and need a replacement. While this improved console was being developed, the Apple II, Commodore PET and TRS-80 reached market and began an era in home computing (Byte Magazine refered to the three machines as the "1977 Trinity") and the CEO of Atari wanted to enter the market. The proposed console was altered to support character graphics, peripheral expansion, and the ability to run BASIC, at that time the universally used programming language. The Atari 400 and Atari 800 became widely available in November 1979, named for the amount of RAM available initially, but by release date prices had dropped so that the 400 actually had 8 KB of RAM and the 800 was supplied with 48 KB. A later expanded version with additional RAM was sold as the Atari 1200XL only briefly in late 1982 and discontinued the next year, and several newer models emerged during renewed competition between Commodore International and the traditional supplier of internal components, Texas Instruments. The Atari 800XL became the most popular of all the Atari computers but by late 1983 Commodore was outselling them, and the video game crash of that year caused severe financial hardship to the company which had invested heavily in their video game line.

The final machines in the 8-bit series were the 65XE and 130XE, announced in 1985 at about the same time as the new Atari ST series was announced. Support for the 8-bit machines officially ended on 1 January 1992.

Commodore VIC-20 1980-85

The VIC-20 was the first microcomputer to sell one million units. While it contained only 5 KB of RAM, and used the same CPU as the earlier PET, it was designed to be more economical than the earlier machine. The VIC-20 was originally intended to compete directly with the Apple II, but when quality components were too long in coming, a low-cost color computer intended to beat the Japanese to the U.S. computer market was settled on instead. The machine was marketed in Japan as well as in the U.S. User-friendliness was insisted upon, and a retail price of $299.95 (by way of comparison, the Atari ST was the first to break the $1,000 dollar price level when it offered 1 MB of RAM). Text-based adventure games helped generate revenue for the new computer, but sales almost immediately started to decline with the release of the Commodore 64 in 1982, which was outwardly identical but with a much more powerful processor, higher resolution graphics, better sound and more RAM. The VIC-20 was permanently removed from the marked in January 1985 after selling two million units. With a small memory and low-resolution display, the machine had been primarily used for games and educational software by its users.

IBM PC and Clones 1981 - present

The personal or home computer market was dominated by 1981 by the Commodore PET, Atari 8-bit machines, Apple II and TRS-80, with various other small manufacturers also providing machines in either built or kit form. IBM was keen on entering the market, having produced a complete desktop microcomputer in 1975 for scientists and professionals. Their model had cost $20,000, however, and they assembled a special team to create something new for the retail market. The PC model 5150 debuted with an 8088 processor in August 1981, followed by the XT in March 1983, the first model to have an internal hard drive as standard. Incremental improvements followed over time. The IBM had a dramatic effect on the home computer market in that the other machines were eventually seen to disappear. Increasing processor speeds and the rise in popularity of Windows eventually resulted in only two major players in the home computing market - IBM-compatible machines with Windows as an operating system, and Macs.

Commodore 64 1982 - 1994

With 30 million sold, the Commodore 64 was the highest selling personal computer model of all time and dominated the market in North America in the mid 1980s. Approximately 10,000 commercial software titles were developed for the Commodore 64.

Apple Mac 1984 - present

The Apple Macintosh was the first commercially successful personal computer to make use of a mouse and a graphical user interface, as opposed to a command line interface (i.e. one in which the user typed commands into the computer). The Macintosh eventually became known familiarly as simply the "Mac" and as it grew in popularity, it also became supplanted by the IBM PC compatible machines running MS-DOS and Windows operating systems. While Macs have remained competitive, many software developers have been reluctant to program games for them. In the tactical gaming world, Combat Mission was a notable exception; being programmed on a Mac, the first three releases of the original game engine were released in two versions, one for Windows, one for Mac. The release of the first title of the new game engine, Combat Mission: Shock Force, was Windows only. Changes in the Mac's operating system are cited as the reason for discontinued products for Mac owners.

Atari ST 1985-1993

The Atari ST (short for "Sixteen/Thirty-two", a reference to the Motorola 68000 processor's 16-bit external bus and 32-bit internals) was a bid by videogame company Atari to enter the home computer market, designed to compete with the Apple Macintosh and the Commodore Amiga. The ST was the first computer to have a full colour graphical user interface and integrated Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI).

The ST supported either a monochrome (640 x 400 resolution) monitor or colour monitor (a 4-colour monitor of 640 x 200 resolution or a 16-colour model with 320 x 200 resolution). An RF modulator on upgraded model (the 520ST) permitted the use of a television by late 1985. Later upgrades in 1986 resulted in the 1040STF, with double-sided floppy drive located internally and including 1 MB of RAM, but dropping television support, as did the 512KB 520STFM. Other improvements followed, particularly after 1989, including increased colour palette and sound. In 1993 Atari cancelled development on ST computers to concentrate on videogame consoles.

The computer was especially popular in Germany for business applications, but was popular enough in North America as a gaming machine that popular software had many titles released with Atari versions. The earliest tactical game, for example, being Computer Ambush by SSI.

 

 

 


Commodore PET

 

 

In 2006, Microsoft introduced the "Games for Windows" brand in an effort to regulate the PC game market in a way similar to the console game market. First and third party game publishers were both invited to adopt the brand. Company of Heroes was one of the first certified titles; other tactical wargames have included Operation Flashpoint sequels and other less serious "video game" fare such as Call of Duty, Codename Panzers, etc.

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