Globe Editorial

Commodore 64: When boxy was beautiful

(The Boston Globe)
April 22, 2011

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While the updated new version of the old Commodore 64 computer plays shamelessly to the nostalgia of aging Generation Xers, the appeal of the beige, boxy machine is still easy to understand.

Introduced in 1982, the original version would barely qualify as a toy today. It didn’t need a dedicated monitor; instead, you plugged it into your TV and saved your work on a cassette tape. But the machine was widely available in retail stores, for the modest price of $595. And while it was a favorite among young hobbyists, who spent many hours writing their own programs in BASIC, it was empowering for a much broader swath of teenage America. As millions of Commodore 64s found their way into homes, they helped establish consumer electronics as one area of human endeavor in which children were on much firmer footing than their parents.

Now, most of the people who once used Commodore 64s walk around with vastly more powerful devices in their pockets and purses. But those machines evoke decidedly mixed emotions — they’ve long since become vehicles for around-the-clock office work and sources of news both good and bad. It’s refreshing to remember a time when a new computer was a symbol of exciting possibilities yet to be explored.