Happy 35th birthday, Commodore PET!

It’s sometimes hard to imagine that computers, tablets, smartphones etc. saw the first day of light only 35 years ago this week when the industry was “launched” at the West Coast Computer Faire (WCCF).

The WCCF, was the idea of Jim Warren, a computer hobbyist who had been toying with the idea to setup a special event where only microcomputers would be on display.
As Chuck Peddle (the genius behind the 6502 CPU) later noted, it was the first true gathering of hobbyist and computer companies and effectively the true legitimization of the nascent computer industry.

No big companies like IBM , DEC or HP were present, but amongst the many others, two companies were there to show off something very remarkable and they both had built it around the MOS 6502 CPU: Apple with its Apple II and Commodore with the PET.

Many people still consider the Apple II to be the machine that really launched the whole industry. I tend to disagree, as Apple indeed did have a nice product to showcase, but as it would do with all its future products, sell it as an elevated price, putting it well outside of the reach of many early enthusiasts.

The press coverage (magazines like Byte for instance) back then also completely (or to a large extent anyway) omitted any mention of Apple.

On the other hand though, the PET was something most people could afford, it had a better user interface and included the cassette recorder and the monitor (peripherals you had to buy “on top off” your Apple).
As even Bill Gates later recalled: “The Commodore machine, the PET, was actually the most aggressively priced machine. It had some very innovative things.

Furthermore, in one of the articles of Byte magazine, the PET is credited as the first personal computer.
So if you come by an article this week that talks about how the Apple II started it all back in 1977 and was the first personal computer, look at it as part of history being written by those who come out as victors, with indeed Apple still being around and Commodore not, but the truth of course, is that it was the Personal Electronic Transactor and certainly the MOS 6502 CPU that started it all, or as Dave Haynie puts it: “When Steve Wozniak built the Apple II, he started with one of Chuck’s chips (the 6502)… when Chuck built the PET 2001, he started with sand.

So happy birthday Apple II, happy birthday Commodore PET and happy birthday MOS 6502!

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