My First PET – Commodore PET Computer

My computing odyssey began around 1979 when our school district Math Department purchased a Commodore PET computer.  Not that I was allowed to touch it, I was not in the Math Department.  The Commodore PET was locked in a closet.  This thing cost over $2000 (I was only earning $6200 a year) and only certain Math teachers and students were allowed to use it.  But I was interested, who wouldn’t be interested in a tool that was so precious that it had its own closet!  I had read about the PET, there was an article in the October 1977 issue of Popular Science.  (You did not go to a blog in those days to find out what was happening in technology, you went to Popular Science Magazine.)  And now our school had one, unbelievable. 

This thing was loaded:

  • Integrated keyboard with number pad
  • 9 “ black and while monitor
  • 40 column screen with upper and lowercase letters
  • A real storage device, cassette tape
  • 4K of memory
  • And, and an operating system burned into ROM that was immediately available at boot up, WOW (Could it get any better, no more loading in the operating system!)
  • Best of all, the PET had a plastic case, no wooden case or metal case like other supposed computers, plastic

Needless to say I became very good friends with the Math Department.  I wanted to see what this PET could do, not sure why, just curious.  Of course I had no idea how to make it work, that would come next!

The Commodore Basic operating system for the Commodore PET was written by Bill Gates and Paul Allen.  Their new company was called, Micro-Soft Corporation and many of the Basic commands that I had to learn back then still work on the latest Windows 7 operating system.

I moved on fairly quickly from the Commodore Pet to the Commodore VIC 20.  Why did all of our schools purchase a Commodore Vic 20, because one of the school principals owned one?  There were no technology committees back then and no one knew a thing about computers so if a principal gave a recommendation and the district felt they should learn about these new things called computers, this recommendation was good enough. 

The VIC 20 was produced for the “home market,” cost less than $300 and was the first color computer.  Well it was color if you had a color TV.  No monitors back then, you had a switch on the back of your TV.  Move the switch one way and the computer signal showed up on your TV, move the switch the other way and you were connected to the “rabbit ears” of the TV for TV programs.  The VIC 20 was also the first one integrated circuit board computer.  Everything was in the keyboard case.  Externally, you had a Commodore Cassette Drive to store you programs.  I always loved the cassette counter, if you did not have the counter in the right place when you began loading your program, then you would miss part of your program instructions and have to start all over again.

The VIC 20 came with a massive 5.5K of RAM, but 2K was used to load the BASIC operating system.  This left you with 3.5K in which to write your programs.  No boated code on this computer.  You learned very quickly how to write efficient code.  I remember we used to have contests to see who could write the most complicated one character line program!  That was fun!  I don’t think the word “Nerd” was born yet.