Monday, March 18, 2013

Blast from the Past: Old Computer Commercials

Bill Cosby image from
I'm going through some computer woes with my MacBook Pro (more about that later), so I have been running through my past experience with the dreaded beasts. My experience with computing goes back to the Commodore 64 if you're talking hands-on experience with keyboarded computers. Prior to that, I had some exposure to my uncle's Commodore Vic-20, and the early home gaming units like Sears Tele-Systems (Atari) Pong, and the RCA Studio II gaming console. Of course, after that I've had some experience with countless gaming systems, and numerous other computers, to the point that I'm considered something of a guru, though sadly not with the Apple iUniverse.

Back in the early days, everyone was a novice. And picking which system to align yourself with was all guesswork. Commodore won out for a long time--at least with home systems--but eventually collapsed. Strong contenders were Atari, Texas Instruments and Radio Shack, all of which eventually died off. But it was a fun time, and there's a reason I included gaming systems. . .there was significant cross-over between them and dedicated computers, to the point that they usually took gaming cartridges.  Here are some of the commercials from the days when computers were nerdier versions of video games. See if you remember them. Or if you're too young, see what you missed!

#1 - Commodore 64 - This was the best of the bunch. A computer console with a scant 64K of memory, but endless expandability and creativity. They pushed this baby as far as it could go, and it was wildly successful for many years.

#2 - Atari 400 - This is a generic ad for an Atari computer from 1981, probably the 400. Atari tried so hard to capitalize on their arcade and home video game successes with a home computer. But they never really caught on. Noble effort though, and a great commercial.

#3 - TRS-80 - This commercial is from a later model. Radio Shack's little computer chugged along for years on fumes. I remember a friend touting the superiority of his first-generation TRS 80 to our Commodore 64. The truth was, his TRaSh 80 was little more than half-step past Pong.

#4 - Texas Instruments TI99/4a - TI made it big with calculators, and so they tried to get in on the home computer craze. The case was cheesy, and the computer was lame. But they got Bill Cosby for their ad!

#5 - Coleco Adam - Adam was the logical outgrowth of the popular ColecoVision, and both systems had adapters for the Atari 2600 game cartridges. Probably was a victim--like the others--of trying too hard too soon. Technology just wasn't there to make these things practical workhorses.

#6 - Apple II - Apple probably got to where it is today by insinuating itself into schools early. Every school with a computer lab in the early 80s had the Apple II, Apple IIc, Apple IIe or Apple III. I knew nobody who had them at home, but this was right before the first Macintosh, and really is where they got their start as a known entity.

Sadly, I couldn't find commercials for other early computers like the Timex Sinclair, and after that they get pretty obscure anyway. Of course. Atari, Commodore, Radio Shack and Texas Instruments tried other models, and some were moderately successful for a while. But when first the Mac and then Windows caught on as home systems, it was all she wrote for these other guys.

So, that's it for this weekend's edition. Have a great week, everyone. Happy Monday!

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