Sunday, October 9th, 2011

A letter from Commodore Business Machines, or Harry Copperman was no Steve Jobs

On June 1, 1989, Harry Copperman, President/COO of Commodore Business Machines, wrote me a letter.
Going through some old boxes today I came across a letter I received in 1989 but didn’t remember, a letter from the President of Commodore Business Machines that was in response to a letter that I’d written but had long since forgotten.

It’s rather apropos that I came across this letter this week of all weeks given how everyone is remembering Steve Jobs, their connections to him, however tenuous, and the development of Apple Computer and the Macintosh. This blog post, however, is only tangentially about Steve Jobs. In my long-time job, starting in 1983, for a publishing company, I did work with Macintosh computers including some original Macs and lots of Macintosh Pluses and Mac SEs and Mac PowerBooks and Mac IIs and iMacs and G3s and more. However, although I did have various company-owned Macintoshes assigned for my use over the years, I never owned a Macintosh personally. Sacrilege, I know!

The first computer I ever owned was a Commodore Amiga 1000
The first computer I ever owned
was an Amiga 1000.
No, the first computer I purchased with my own money was none other than a Commodore Amiga. (The first microcomputer I used on a regular basis was my mother’s Osborne 1.) I wasn’t a Mac fanboy in the 1980s, but I sure was an Amiga fanboy. Amigas were better than Atari STs and IBM PCs and Macintoshes. Amigas ruled!

Except that they didn’t. They should have. For less than the cost of a Macintosh (around $1,600 including color monitor, compared to around $2,500 for a Mac) an Amiga provided sophisticated color graphics and stereo sound and true multitasking. But the folks running Commodore failed miserably at marketing their wonderful computer, which is why few people today remember the Amiga. I could go into all the ways Amigas were better than Macs and PCs, but that’d be rather pointless given that Amigas failed and Commodore died — if you are interested, see this 1994 eulogy for Commodore and the Amiga from BYTE magazine subtitled, “A look at an innovative computer industry pioneer, whose achievements have been largely forgotten.”

I don’t remember what I wrote to Harry Copperman, but re-reading his response to me, it seems I was complaining about Commodore’s failure to get more companies to develop business software for the Amiga. Amigas did become somewhat successful in the specialized niche of video processing, but that niche was small in comparison to the larger but still fairly small foothold in corporate America carved out by Apple for Macintosh (really succeeding for years only in publishing). Macs at least had Microsoft Office (bet you didn’t know that Microsoft Excel was released first on the Mac, did you?). I suppose I could have written, “Harry Copperman, why can’t you be more like Steve Jobs?”

Except Harry Copperman, bless his heart, couldn’t, which is why you’ve neve heard of him and why, unlike Steve Jobs, he doesn’t even have a Wikipedia entry. But because I’m a pack rat and kept his letter from 22 years ago, Harry Copperman does get this blog post on my obscure blog, for whatever that’s worth.

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