Ask Howard: Would it have been possible to run MS-DOS on the ADAM?


I’m not as brainy as a lot of the Coleco ADAM users, so sometimes I ask questions that may seem obvious to them.  However, asking these obvious questions to the right person sometimes reveals interesting tidbits of history I knew nothing about.  So I asked Howard Eglowstein, a Senior Software Engineer at Coleco, if it would have been possible to run MS-DOS on the ADAM.  Howard writes:

“On the face of it, no. MS-DOS was written as 86-DOS and then Microsoft bought it.  From conception it was written for the 8086 processor (but designed to feel like CP/M) and never existed for a Z80 or 8080.  ADAM seriously failed a requirements test because it was the wrong chip.”

“That said, there was a proposal floated around that would have changed that.  The IBM-PC Jr was a lightweight PC for the home.  To make sure that it didn’t dominate the space, Steve Perlman (who later went to Apple, then came up with WebTV and OnLive) had proposed a box that sat on the side of the ADAM and had an 8088 processor.  The ADAM served as a platform to emulate the peripherals that a PC clone needed.  So when the chip wanted to talk to a disk, it talked to the Z80 and said “pretend you’re a disk and get me a boot sector”.  The Z80 then talked to the ADAMNet master, etc. and did what it could.  If you decided that was too slow (and it would have been awful) you could buy addons with real PC hardware in them.  In particular the memory emulation alone would have made the scheme unworkable.  Steve certainly thought outside the box though, and had that gone forward we would have turned ADAM into the world’s slowest PC compatible.  I have the original spec here somewhere. I should find and post it. It’s beautifully written and quite clever.”

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A Coleco ADAM commercial I’ve never seen before


There are several commercials for the Coleco ADAM computer and I’ve seen them all.  Well, I thought I did.  TV Retro Promos uploaded a commercial for our beloved system that I’ve never seen before.  In it, we see a young man with sister & father in tow bringing an ADAM into their home and straight to his room.  This is the only time I recall someone holding an ADAM box in a commercial.  For those that seen this commercial back when it aired, they must have been blown away by the size.  Next we see him setting up and connecting his ADAM to a television that matches the color of the system.  Interesting.  It’s like the monitor we wish Coleco made for the computer.  I tried to see what other items were in his bedroom, but sadly, the video has some tracking issues.  I do see that he has a thing for lamps…

Anyway, the commercial ends with the siblings playing some Buck Rogers and the usual tagline about commanding the powers of ADAM.

Ma and Pa Caponi still enjoy playing Frenzy!


Caponi

I am always surfing the world wide web for anything having to do with the Coleco ADAM computer.  Not long ago I came across an interesting video of an older couple playing Frenzy (the sequel to Berzerk) on an ADAM computer via the ColecoVision slot built-in.  I wanted to know more about what I was watching so I reached out to the poster of the video and this is what he AND she had to say. OH, and watch the video at the very bottom.

Hey Justin,

The older couple in the video are my in-laws and my wife as well. The back story is in 1983 my father-in-law Sam, bought this Adam computer for his oldest son who was starting college at the time. Based on what Sam tells me about buying this computer, a big draw for getting an Adam was it came with a $500 college scholarship. There is a YouTube video of the commercial highlighting the scholarship incentive. My wife was supposed to get that scholarship but it never panned out.

My in-laws used the computer for a couple of years until in 1985 when they made their way from Long Island down to Greensboro, NC. I’m not sure when, but sometime after arriving in NC they mothballed the Adam. So the Adam collected dust in their attic where it was out of sight out of mind for a couple of decades. Around 2010 my in-laws offered the Adam to my wife and I when they were doing some clean up in their attic.

Not much changed for the Adam. My wife and I didn’t have much use for it so we took it home and it collected more dust in our attic for the next six years. A couple of months ago we decided to clear out some of the clutter and sell what we could on Craigslist.

I got the Adam down from the attic, dusted it off, set it up and hooked it to a small non-digital TV I was also trying to get rid. To my amazement the Adam started up without issue! I didn’t test it out too deeply but I did test out the handful of games my in-laws had bought over the years. All but one worked.

One of the games was a knock off of the old 80’s shoot-em’ up arcade game “Berserker” which Coleco branded “Frenzy.” When I told my in-laws I the system up and running my devoutly religious mother-in-law confessed that she loved playing “Frenzy” as a way to get out her frustrations by shooting at the robots in the game. So while I had the Adam set up I invited her to come over and play it before I sold the system. The video I posted is from that day. I especially like how my father-in-law is backseat driving her while she is playing!

The ad for the Adam sat out on Craigslist for about three weeks or so without a single bite. Finally a guy, an Electrical Engineer, who lived over 100 miles away on the other side of Raleigh came out and bought it. We sold it for $80. That price included the small TV. Later the same day we had another person who was interested in buying it. Perhaps I could have gotten more. Well it’s not an exciting story but that’s the story.

– Mike

Additional:
Thanks for your interest, Justin. Mike pretty well summed it up, except that I was supposedly the one who was to reap the benefits of the mythical $500. scholarship – it didn’t happen (Oh, I had to pay for school without Coleco’s help, thanks) but “the struggle” propelled me to academic excellence.

– Marie

What is this & who is Mr. Dolan?? The answer. Maybe.


On May 1st, I got an itch to play with SmartBASIC on my ADAM and found that the digital data pack was… altered.  As I explain last month, the DDP didn’t launch SmartBASIC.  It launched a custom-made program that required a password.

I wanted to know what was on that DDP so I used SmartWriter to access the files.  I eventually found the password after loading the files on SmartWriter.  The password was related to Star Trek, guess Mr. Dolan is a fan.  Former Coleco Software Engineer, Howard Eglowstein, thinks this is from a school, possibly Mr. Dolan is a teacher.  Makes sense to me. Once I got in, here’s what I saw:

WP_20160501_14_21_30_Pro

So I went through to each option and got the following:

<H>elp!

WP_20160501_14_21_43_Pro

<M>ail

WP_20160501_14_22_05_Pro

WP_20160501_14_22_38_Pro

WP_20160501_14_24_57_Pro

<B>oot

WP_20160501_14_32_50_Pro

<G>ame

This was a silly paragraph of text that really wasn’t even a game.  It was about Star Trek though.

<C>hat

WP_20160501_14_34_06_Pro

WP_20160501_14_34_30_Pro

Althought “M-DRAW” is not an option but is a program on the DDP, I decided to record a video of what it is.

What is this & who is Mr. Dolan??


So I decided to fire up the ADAM today and check out SmartBASIC.  After throwing in the digital data pack and pulling the reset key, I was presented with this screen:

screen1

I have multiple SmartBASIC cassettes which explains why I haven’t seen this before; I simply haven’t ever loaded this until now.  Anyway, I type in “1234” and was presented with this:

screen2

Then I tried to see the contents using the GET option in SmartWriter.  Here are the files on the tape.

screen3

Sadly, for whatever reason, when I tried to boot the tape by pulling reset, the tape wheels would spin but ultimately brough me back to SmartWriter..  I don’t know the reason.  However, I can still access the program(s) by first loading SmartBASIC from another tape, then loading the “HELLO” program.  More on this later.  Oh and who is Mr. Dolan?

Was the Coleco ADAM really expensive at first?


Listening to vintage computing podcasts when the Coleco ADAM computer is brought up, you would have thought the ADAM was ridiculously expensive when it came out.  That just doesn’t make sense to me, because when I look at the ADAM I see a robust product: keyboard, memory console with a software controlled tape deck, printer, controllers with one attaching to the keyboard to act as a numeric keypad and a built-in word processing application.  The only thing it didn’t come with was a monitor.

So I did some simple digging through the world wide web and found some things.  It seems the ADAM was going to be sold for $600, but when it finally came to market, it was priced at $749.99.  That does seem like a lot of money, but I’m thinking about this from a modern day perspective.  So I went to see the prices of other computers of the time.  In 1983, Tandy’s TRS-80 Model 4 was selling for $1999.  Also in 1983, the Apple IIe was priced at $1400.  In 1981 the IBM 5150’s base model sold for $1600.  And finally, the most popular home computer of all time, the Commodore 64 was selling for $595 when it was released in 1982.

4dc84631636e72cce1701eaf1db02007Apple_IIe IBM_PC_5150_ad_1980 computers_for_everybody_compute_aug83

Now before you send me messages about how each one of those computers would decrease in price, some dramatically, the ADAM did as well.  However, at those original prices, the ADAM looked like a great deal.  The Tandy did come with everything you needed to get up and running out of the box, but you had to take out a bank loan to get it.  The Apple IIe and Commodore 64 were computers with built-in keyboards, but the customer still needed to buy a disk drive separately if you wanted to run serious software.  The Commodore’s saving grace was that software cartridges could be inserted into the back of the unit without the need for a peripheral.  The C64 would eventually drop to about 200 dollars but adding a 1541 disk drive and printer would set the price close to, if not more than, the ADAM’s introductory price.

C64 and Coleco ADAM