I’m always amused to find anything written about the Coleco ADAM computer, whether positive or negative, because it was never as popular as the Apple II or Commodore 64. However, it has, in my opinion, an important place in personal computing history for both positive and negative reasons, though fools will only mention the negative. FOOLS I SAY!
So while looking through Family Computing magazine before bed (I have a few issues, need more) I found some letters to the editor about the ADAM in the 1984 May edition. ADAM user Tom Tisby thought the publication made a mistake by citing the digital data tape drive capacity as 500k. No biggie, but offered some advice on how to get a clearer picture on the TV screen.
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Then George Knochel wrote in and I have to say, what he wrote is spot on. This would have been something I would have complained about as well. Read the letters for yourself to see what I mean.
Several days ago I wrote about a short documentary produced by the University of Hartford. After I posted to my Facebook page, a gentleman name Dan Weaver commented that he worked at Coleco on the loading docks. I reached out and he filled me in on some stories, photos, and a magazine article that he would like to share with the rest of you. So, I will let him tell you about his time at Coleco.
“I worked at Coleco in Amsterdam, NY from 1978-1983. I started out as a night watchman, then cleaned offices for awhile and then became the receiving clerk in Building 6. I was then promoted to Receiver. On the receiving dock, we unloaded parts and toys that were manufactured elsewhere for Coleco. Some of the trailers came from overseas and a customs officer had to be present when they were opened up.
While crawling around the world wide web searching for information about the Coleco ADAM computer, some lost nugget of undiscovered information I hope to dig up, I came across a recently published documentary about Coleco which was produced by the University of Hartford. It’s very well edited and includes an interview with Arnold Greenberg. Of course, the subject of my favorite computer came up. His reasoning as to why it failed may not be the same reasoning why many of us think it failed, but there is some truth in what he is saying.
Regardless, do yourself a favor and watch the video. It’s only 14 minutes long, which, for the enthusiast like me, is much too short, but for academics looking into what Coleco was, it’s the perfect length.
Earlier this year I was having some printer issues with my Coleco ADAM computer. It seems some soldering needs to be done to put some loose stuff back in place on the motherboard inside the printer. I, being a bit busy and sadly without an iron, realized I had a working printer thanks to Paul Thurrott, a tech writer who gave me his Coleco ADAM. Once I got everything back in order I took the opportunity to write to Santa for some things I want. Here’s the video.
Williams Hicks, who most of us call Milli, is what I call a “super-fan” of the ADAM computer. He doesn’t just use it, he makes games and hardware for this rare system. On Milli’s YouTube page, you can find his videos on how to repair ADAM computers, revisit old computer magazines and look at some software. He also has a Store for those necessary ADAM components. Milli is also working on an ADAM archive which he needs the community to get involved. He even has his own Coleco ADAM blog. Lets get to know Milli.
Every once in a while I will go on Twitter and type “Coleco ADAM” in their search to see what people are discussing when it comes to this computer. As you may have guessed, it’s usually negative and those making those negative comments almost always never owned an ADAM. Once in a blue moon, a tweet regarding the ADAM takes me by surprise. One such tweet is from user Geoff Wozniak.
A contest to win an ADAM involving a peanut butter jar? When I asked him about this, he responded with:
So now I ask you, the ADAMites, do you know anything about this contest? Do you have some details you can share with the rest of us? If so, please tell us in the comment section below for others to read. Thanks!
A few days ago I came across a photo that had me asking questions. Shortly after, James Notini contacted me. He sent some documentation which I’m sure fans of the ADAM computer will find interesting. The first is a Coleco Introduces ADAM Software Lines discussing the 170 software titles coming to the system. They include video games in this, but it’s clear that some programs never made it to the system.
Mr. Notini also included scans of a few pages of a brochure of the software included in “Home Information Management” which relates to my post about the photo and mysterious product. Some of the products discussed came to market and some of those had their product name changed.
I came across a photo on Getty Images that I have never seen before. It appears that Coleco’s CEO Arnold Greenberg is showing off the Coleco ADAM computer at a trade show. In the background of the image, sitting on a shelf is a package with the ADAM logo. If I was willing to pay a huge amount of money, I could download a very large image which would most likely reveal what that item is. I’m not willing to pay that. If you know that ADAM item, let me know in the comments below. Thanks!
EDIT: I was looking at this photo some more and you can see that the console is one of the prototype/mock-ups we seen in publicity shots. The tape drive doors and lack of eject button on top is what drew me to that conclusion. Perhaps those doors do work or maybe the tape drives are just for show, but still has the built-in word processor. I want my hands on those prototype models even if they are just empty shells.
You may recall that I made a video about the Coleco ADAM a few years ago. Basically, I took an audio podcast by The Retroist and made it a video podcast. Well, I redid the whole thing, completely. The only thing that’s the same is the audio. It’s now widescreen, in 1080, and it’s a minute longer. Enjoy!
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.”