The Vic-20, by Max Jensen:
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.
the specs of the Vic-20:
1981 by Commodore LTD.
Built in Ram: 5k
Screen size: 22 columns wide
Storage: Tape, Disk drive, Carts.
Video: 1702 monitor, b/w and color
Printers: There were several of them.
Software: Primarily games, home
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
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!
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.
a tape or disk were still overall easy, but did require a little bit more
to get them up and running:
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.
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
Load “name of file”,8 if it was basic and then you would type
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.
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
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.
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!
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.
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
Open 15,8,15:”n0:name of disk,8”:close 15,8,15
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
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
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
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!!