[Coladam] A difficult and simple question for adamites

Geoff Oltmans oltmansg at bellsouth.net
Fri Nov 19 13:39:19 CET 2010

I think in the case of the ADAM the old adage "bad news travels fast" couldn't be more true. It's interesting that the same company that made the second most popular classic gaming system (pre-NES) could also have as you say, one of the most hated vintage computers. That's even more interesting when you consider that very few (relatively speaking) ADAMs were sold through official retail channels when it was first released compared to its counterparts. Most of the people that berate the ADAM have probably never used one or seen one in person, but parrot back what they've heard or read on the internet or in magazines. Tell something long enough and eventually people will believe it without question.

Coleco I'm sure was probably quite scared of the video game crash. It's been said that even if they hadn't pursued the ADAM that they would still have gone bankrupt since they didn't have anything in the works to replace the Coleco Vision or Cabbage Patch Kids dolls to prop up sales. It was obvious by then that the market was gravitating toward home computers instead of dedicated video game consoles since the price of a basic computer (sans storage, monitor, printer) could be had for the same price as a game console, and it could do more. I know in my families' case this was certainly the case. My  Dad wouldn't have spent the money for a game console at all. In that respect, I think they made the right move to make their own home computer (in both standalone and expansion module). 

A large part of their problem was their own doing. In one of the Coleco designer's own words, they tried to go from schematic to shipping product in 4 months which even today is a phenomenally short schedule for a near completely new product. I understand why they did this because making the Christmas '83 buying season was a do or die thing. I think another problem they had was one of the things that made it originally attractive: the completeness of the system by including the printer. This drove the price up and they probably would have done well to offer a standalone option without the printer so that more people could afford it. That seems a lot more attractive I think since it would have been a gimme when introduced for $500 than the $700 it eventually sold for.

As for what I like about it, there's several things:

Excellent keyboard quality. No doubt this was better from all other home computers of the time. Also detached.

Letter quality printer. At that time, in college environments it was very common for professors to reject papers submitted with dot matrix printouts. My dad was a master's student at the time and his certainly were like this.

The Coleco Vision software library. I spent many hours at an aunt's house on the Coleco Vision. Lots of good games.

CP/M compatibility

The data drives. I know they were unpopular with many people, but they were unique, and I'm drawn to the unusual with old computers.

Inclusion of DMA for ADAMNet.

Expansion slots. Overall the ADAM had excellent expansion capabilities, almost on par with the Apple II.

SmartBASIC mostly compatible with Applesoft BASIC. A smart move since most schools used it and it gave them some much needed compatibility for selling the system to parents.

Then there was the packaging of the whole system. It seems like they really took great strides to make the system simple for a non-techie to set up and use. One of the things that people like to gripe about, the power supply in the printer, struck me as a good idea in this respect. This simplified the wiring for the system and only required one power connection for the entire system.

As for our family, my dad opted for the Commodore 64. He still had to add a daisy wheel printer to that setup (see the above comment) at a cost of $400, and it was no faster than the SmartWriter. It felt a little sturdier, but it still suffered some of its own problems (easy to jam). He also had to buy a separate Word Processor program for it. The Commodore 64 was technically superior in both the sound and graphics hardware department. The sound chip was unmatched by anyone particularly at the time and wouldn't be bested until the Amiga came out later (and even that is not really the same type of sound chip). The SID sound chip designer later went on to start Ensoniq. The video capabilities were much better for games (scrolling and bitmapped graphics modes). The Coleco was a more expandable machine though. It also had more momentum by the time the ADAM came out, so even without the manufacturing flaws at the beginning it would have fought an uphill battle. The entry point for both Commodore and Atari machines were set lower since they didn't include a printer or storage device, but their prices were on par once you included them. I spent many hour using a friend of the families ADAM computer when I was a kid though, and always liked it a lot.

On Nov 17, 2010, at 3:46 PM, Daniel Bienvenu wrote:

> Question : In your words, elaborate why do you think that Coleco ADAM is a good computer despite the bad reputation it seems to have?
> It appears that one of the most hated vintage computers (that I'm aware of) is unfortunately the Coleco Adam. At the opposite, Commodore 64 is one of the most beloved vintage computers.
> My personal experience with the Coleco ADAM isn't enough to tell why adamites do annual meetings around this home computer... except that at one time they were ADAM users, while many people consider this computer to be the direct cause of Coleco Industries bankruptcy.
> I will probably get a respond like "SmartLOGO is the best LOGO program and a good example of why Coleco ADAM is a good computer", but I need more than that, something more elaborate.
> Daniel
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