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C > COMMODORE  > VIC 20


Commodore
VIC 20

The Vic-20, by Max Jensen:
The first computer I ever had was the Vic-20, by Commodore. I bought it around October 1982. What I would like to do, is take some time and explain to you what the Vic-20 was, and what it was like using it.

First the specs of the Vic-20:
Created: 1981 by Commodore LTD.
Built in Ram: 5k
Screen size: 22 columns wide
Expandable: 32K
Storage: Tape, Disk drive, Carts.
Video: 1702 monitor, b/w and color television
Printers: There were several of them.
Software: Primarily games, home programs, utilities

What it was like using the Vic-20:
The Vic was a great beginners computer. It came with a built in version of Basic for which there were magazines (Compute!) that would print programs that could be typed in. I can honestly say, that I truly enjoyed typing in the programs so that I could see what the program was like. While I never learned to program, I don't think I ever grew tired of typing in those programs.

When I first started using the Vic I could not afford a disk drive, so I used cassettes via a machine called the Datasette. While it was slow, at least it was very accurate. Other computers at the time, would use just a regular audio cassette recorder, that would require the volume to be set just right. With the Vic-20, the datasette was, what could be called an early example of plug and play. I would just plug it into the slot on the back of the Vic and it would be ready to go. Thus all programs would be saved right the very first time!

If I had to use one word for the Vic-20, it would be games! The graphics were always big and bright and thus easy to see. There were a wide variety of games for the Vic, some came on cassettes, some on disks, most came on cartridges. Of the various mediums of storage the cartridges were the easiest to use. All one would have to do is plug the cart in the back of the computer, turn it on and the game would be ready to play.

Using a tape or disk were still overall easy, but did require a little bit more to get them up and running:
For the cassette, if I remember correctly, you would hold down the “commodore key” (sort of looked like a chicken head) while holding down the “shift key”. The screen would say press play on tape, and after pressing play the program would load after a few minutes. If it was a basic program, you would then type “run”, and if it was a machine language program some would automatically run once it was loaded. Some would still require typing run.  Still pretty easy.

I don't remember seeing many programs for the Vic on disks. If you did want to load a program from a disk you would generally follow one of the following commands:
Load “name of file”,8 if it was basic and then you would type run.
Load “name of file”,8,1 if it was machine language, and then it would either run automatically, or you still might have to type Run when it was loaded.

If all you used the Vic for was playing games, then the screen width did not matter. However if you wanted to do something like word processing then you would really notice the 22 column screen. While it worked ok for just basic typing, it was not really useful for any serious work. Still, I think word processing became  one of the killer applications for the Vic, because for the first time one could type stuff out, and make corrections before ever committing it to paper.

I would say that most of the software for the Vic-20 was written to run just fine with 5k of ram. Of course one did not get to use all the 5k, because part of the ram was used by the Vic it's self. When all was said and done, a programmer only got access to 3.5k of it's memory.  While this did cause some problems, it did require programmers to write very tight code.

There was the ability to expand the Vic's memory. With the use of a “daughter” board that would be plugged into the back of the computer various cartridges could be plugged in at the same time. Depending on what you wanted to do all you had to do was flip a switch on next to the cart you wanted to use. With this ability, one could plug in different memory carts and eventually get up to 32k of ram! While this is a very small amount by todays standards, in 1982 that was still quite a bit of memory!

Probably the biggest problem with the Vic-20, that would carry on to the C-64, was the lack of a real Disk Operating System. A DOS is a program that allows one to control the disk drive. At the time of the Vic-20 there were other computers that had a real DOS, such as the Apple //, the Atari 400 & 800 computers, the IBM PC, and others that ran CPM. On some of these computers, for example, if you wanted to format a disk (make it ready to accept data from the computer) you would just type a command like:
Format drive number (ex. Format a) and hit return.

With the Vic, and especially the C64, Commodore never thought the disk drive would become very popular. They thought most people would use cassettes and cartridges. They were wrong, and the 1540 disk drive for the Vic-20, and the 1541 for the C64 became very popular devices. Because Commodore thought the disk drive would not be that popular they left only a very limited way for the computer user to communicate with the disk drive. So if you wanted to format a disk on a Vic-20 you would have to enter this command:
Open 15,8,15:”n0:name of disk,8”:close 15,8,15

This, of course, was not the easiest way to operate a disk drive. It would not be until Commodore released the successor to the C64, the C128 that they would finally bring out a “real” dos. 
Of course most people, who were buying computers at that time, did not look at how good their DOS was, all that was really wanted was a machine that could be used for typing letters, keeping track of the families money, and playing games. The Vic-20 could do all of those things quite well.

Once Commodore introduced the C64, the Vic would begin to loose it's popularity. Before it's decline, though, the Vic-20 would become the first computer to sell over 1 million units! 
Thus you have my story of what I remember about the Vic-20, and why it remains so famous in the history of home computers!

Tom Widauer adds:
In Germany, the VIC-20 was actually sold as the VC-20; “VC” for "Volks Computer" (translated as “the people's computer”).  This name was selected in obvious reference to the "Volks Empfaenger" (translated as “the people's receiver”), which was a rather simple but highly affordable radio receiver sold during the 1930’s.
 

Jorge Windmeisser Oliver specifies:
In relation to the renaming of the VIC-20 to VC-20 in Germany, I've heard that it was done mainly because of the connotation of the word “VIC” in the German language.  In German, VIC is pronounced “fik”.  The similarity between “fik” and “fuck” isn't coincidental.
In German, “fick” means “fuck” as a noun, or “fiken” as a verb.  The words fuck, ficken, fukken, fok and most likely fornicare (latin) share the same etymological origin and all have a similar meaning.
I think that this theory is the most likely scenario and that the later interpretation of “Volks Computer” as an analogy to the Volkswagon (or Volks Empfänger) was purely coincidental.
You will likely agree that a computer named “fuck 20” would have been prey to all sorts of jokes, slanders and conspiracy theories.

The Awful reality... by Mark Dodd:
I loved my Vic-20! However, nostalgia tends to fog the awful reality many Vic-20 users discovered within 1.2 a day of owning the thing.
The inbuilt basic was a copy of the Pet basic and new nothing about the graphic and colour capabilities of the Vic chip!!!
Back to the shop and fork over more dough for the Super Expander cartridge!!
Then you realised the 8K or so of memory you got with the basic unit plus Super Expander was useless for most tape based games so you took another trip to the shop for an 8K or 16K memory cartridge.
Once you got used to the cartrdige swapping and other endearing features the machine was a joy to use and the quality of games released were amazing compared to the console equivalents at the time.
I loved the adverts where Vic-20 owners got the Executive jobs whilst Atari 2600 owners ended up serving french fries!!





 
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