The latest installment of the excellent A History of the Amiga is now up on ArsTechnica’s website. A small sample:
By July 1985, Commodore had everything going for it. The Amiga computer had been demonstrated in public to rave reviews, and everyone was excited at the potential of this great technology.
That’s when the problems started.
Commodore’s primary woes were always about money, and 1985 was no exception. Sales of the Commodore 64 were still going strong, but the price wars had slashed the profits on the little computer. The company had invested millions of dollars creating new and bizarre 8-bit computers that competed directly against the venerable C-64, such as the wholly incompatible Plus/4, that had no chance in the marketplace. To make things worse, the company had to deal with lawsuits from its ousted founder, Jack Tramiel. Finally, Commodore had invested $24 million to purchase Amiga outright, but as the computer had not gone on sale yet, there was no return on this investment.
All these financial problems put a strain on the company’s ability to get the Amiga ready to sell to the public. Without a lot of spare cash, it was difficult to rush the production of the computer. Further software delays pushed back the launch as well. The end result was that the Amiga did not go on sale until August of 1985.
I always knew Commodore had been making bad decisions almost from the start with the Amiga, but I hadn’t realized the extent of it at the time. This article points out, for example, that Commodore had actually developed a precursor to the laptop and shown it off at a trade show where it was an instant hit:
At the January 1985 CES, Commodore had shown off an innovative portable computer using an LCD screen. The laptop computer had a display that could show 16 lines of 80-column text, which compared favorably to the then-popular Tandy Model 100’s 8 lines and 30 columns. Commodore took orders for 15,000 units of the machine just at the show itself, and it looked like it would be a smash success. That was when the CEO of Tandy/Radio Shack took Marshall Smith aside and told him that there was no money in LCD computers. Smith not only canceled the machine, but sold off Commodore’s entire LCD development and manufacturing division, based solely on this dubious “advice” from his competition! Commodore had a chance to take an early lead in the emerging market of portable computers. Instead, the company would never produce a laptop again.
Marshall Smith was running Commodore at the time, a former steel company CEO, Smith had cheese for brains when it came to running a computer company and he’s at least partially responsible for the downfall of Commodore. It’s so frustrating to learn that Commodore was on the verge of so many great things only to have stupid people at the company make stupid decisions.