Microsoft open sources GWBASIC

Jim Brain brain at
Sat May 23 22:13:53 CDT 2020

On 5/23/2020 1:55 PM, Liam Proven via cctalk wrote:
> The C64 also had a very expensive floppy disk drive (with its own
> onboard 6502 derivative, ROM & RAM) but a _serial_ interface to the
> computer, so it was both dog-slow and very pricey.
The serial interface would have been fast enough, if the MOS folks had 
talked to the design team about the bug and squashed it early. But, they 
did not, and on the VIC-20, which did not expect to move many drives, no 
one cared.  When the VIC-40 (c64) came out, by then the drive was more 
important, but no one was going to redo the drive again (they tried to 
put a new trace on the IEC bus to enable fast mode later, but it got 
optimized out in final layout in Japan).
> All because CBM cheaped out and used a late-1970s MS BASIC in an
> early-1980s machine with for the time quite high-end graphics and
> sound.
You say that like CBM was known for not "cheaping" out and this was an 
anomaly.  Bil Herd noted that they designed the 64 to last just as long 
as the warrantee.
> It is also largely responsible, all on its own, for a lot of the bad
> reputation that BASIC has to this day, which in turn was in part
> responsible for the industry's move away from minis programmed in
> BASIC (DEC, Alpha Micro, etc.) and towards *nix programmed in C, and
> *nix rivals such as OS/2 and Windows, also programmed in C.
Oh, I think that's a stretch.  Because of the system's ubiquity, there 
are plenty of BASIC upgrades available to add the requisite audio and 
video options.  BASIC had other issues, Commodore can't take credit for 
giving it a bad name.
> It sounds ridiculous but I seriously propose that much of this is
> because *the* #1 home computer vendor in the Western world kept using
> a cheap and nasty BASIC for nearly a decade after its sell-by date.
As a home user of the machine back int he day, I highly disagree. We all 
had fixed the BAD BASIC and slow drive issues a few years after intro.  
By 1984, everyone had fastload or JiffyDOS or SpeeDOS or similar, and 
BASIC 4.0 or even better BASICs were always available.  It was a games 
machine, with a rightly limited BASIC (you want more feature, buy the 
add-in.  It was like the in app purchases of today's games)
> CBM had no real idea what it was doing. It sold lots of PETs, then
> lots more VIC-20s, then literally millions of C64s, without ever
> improving the onboard software to match the hardware.
I think you just don't agree with what they were doing.  Jack was 
selling game machines that had enough computing power to satisfy Mom and 
Dad's edict that the kids not just have a game console.  If you wanted 
good use of video or audio, you bought from CBM or the third party.  
BASIC was minimal, because you had to have something to load the game :-)
> So what did it do next? A very expensive portable version, for all the
> businesspeople who needed a luggable home gaming computer.
Oh come on.  The Osborne had the same size screen and sold well. Dipping 
their toe in that market to sell hardware doesn't seem such a stretch to me.
> Then it tried to sell incompatible successor machines, which failed --
> the Commodore 16 and Plus 4.

I can't argue that, but the machines weren't supposed to exist. Jack 
wanted a Sinclair killer to mop up the low end of the market.  The C116 
was that machine (complete with crappy chicklet KB and wedge form 
factor, priced at $USD49.00.  It was Jack and Gould's falling out that 
caused Jack to quit caring about the machine (which less competent 
minions decided to promote up into a business machine (+4) and a 
slightly larger form factor without the hideous chicklet KB (C16). They 
even toyed with a supersized +4 for a time (CV364), but I will agree 
with your angst on this line of machines.

> Better BASIC, bundled ROM business apps -- why?! -- but *not* superior
> replacements for its best-selling line. Both flopped horribly.
Yep, as did the C116, which I think was only released in Japan.
> CBM apparently still had no real clue _why_ the C64 was a massive hit,
> or who was buying it, or why.
Jack knew.  Sell low cost machines with good value to mop up market 
share and make money.  Put only the bare minimum in them. Folks after 
him did not agree, which I do think fits in with your statement.
> Later it offered the C128, which had multiple operating modes,
> including a much better BASIC and an 80-column display, but also an
> entire incompatible 2nd processor -- a Z80 so it could run CP/M. This
> being the successor model to the early-'80s home  computer used by
> millions of children to play video games. They really did not want,
> need or care about _CP/M_ of all things.
Again, misleading.  The Z80 was not a design goal.  a 2MHz C64 
compatible with 80 columns was the design goal.  THank the Z80 on some 
Marketing shmuck that promised CP/M compatibility on the unit (thinking 
the C64 CP/M cart would work, which it can't, because the cart is badly 
designed, I am told it was a bit f plagiarism from an Apple II CP/M 
card, but failed to take into account the strange C64 bus cycle).  Bil 
is around and can happily tell you the story of simply designing the Z80 
cart into the main motherboard to checkoff the requirement and quit 
having to fight to get the cart to work.
> There was _nearly_ another, incompatible of course, successor model
> later still, the C65:
> *That* would have been a worthy successor, but by then, CBM had bought
> the Amiga and wasn't interested any more.

CBM really wasn't interested as soon as the Amiga purchase happened.  I 
think the C128 only got greenlit because CBM needed some cash flow and 
the Amiga was taking too long to ramp up sales.   In my opinion, the C65 
was an early retro machine, trying to bring back some of that 80's home 
computer vibe.



Jim Brain
brain at

More information about the cctech mailing list