Saturday, April 28, 2007

4/29/07 The Sunday CoCoist

The Sunday CoCoist!

This edition of The Sunday CoCoist is either early, or really late. heh! I have to work all night Sunday, and alas it one of those must be done things. So I'm starting this on Saturday night, but it might not get posted until Monday night. On with the show...

In Your Face(book)

Derek Snider and James "RC" McNary have created a Color Computer Facebook network. As I write this, it already has ten members and a nice photo gallery going. Facebook is a great way to network with other people, without the flash, ads, and annoying bits of some other people network sites. Yet another way to join up with other CoCoists!

A New Compiler?

From the oh-man-yes! file, there's an interesting thread on's message board about choosing an assembler. In it, Chris Lomont, who I've profiled here before, mentions the possibility of doing a full blown, modern C++ compiler for the CoCo. While development would take place on the PC, it could potentially compile to highly optimized 6809 code and perhaps even output to a dsk image. Something like this would launch CoCo development about 20 years forward. :)

Downloads O' The Week

Militant Buddist recently posted the Diecom collection archive (originally put together by Briza), so I thought it was a great time bring up his site. While there's plenty of good reading about CoCo's here, there's also a 12MB CoCo download packed full of magazines, games, adventures, edutainment and just about anything else you could want. It is a pile big enough to keep any CoCoists happy for months. Download the Diecom archive as well and you may not get back to your PC for awhile.

CoCo On the Brain - The CoCo 4

Okay, this is the IMHO part. Thought we could try out an opinion section of this post and see how it flies. This week I've been thinking a lot about a the CoCo 4 and the VR CoCo project.

Starting with the "let me be frank" part, I really don't have much interest in a CoCo 4. I like CoCos. The last Color Computer built was the 3 from Tandy. That's it for the CoCo. Anything past that isn't. My personal interest is in those vintage machines, the TRS-80 and Tandy Color Computers. The odd little box with the green screen is it for me.

That said, I do think that a project to build a new system inspired by the CoCo, and even maintaining at least some compatibility and features with the old machines, is a wonderful idea. It's a fabulous endeavor from a hobbyist perspective. Seeing it built would be exceedingly cool. A fast, self contained, built it, program it yourself box that does CoCo-like things, maintains the open spirit of the CoCo, and is built by a like minded community could be a huge deal. Why shouldn't the CoCo 4, or VR CoCo, or whatever it ends up being called, be the next open source hot item? Works for me.

To me, we already have a "CoCo 4," or at least a CoCo 3.5. You can build one yourself. Add mass storage, upgrade the display, add at least 512K (or more), pop in a 6309 and I say you're there. Add an OS upgrade, like NitrOS-9, and you've got a machine that's the same, but still vastly different than the machine we grew up with. Do so, and you've gone way beyond what Tandy intended for the CoCo.

One of the concerns about a CoCo 4 project, and one I share, is that it will take away development from the CoCo 3. There's still plenty to be done, and that can be done, with the CoCo 3. For example, just to take a personal recent interest, we have the wonderful and powerful operating system that takes an advanced degree to learn how to use. Okay, that's overstating a bit, but still, it could be easier. Why isn't NitrOS-9 used on every CoCo 3 by now? We have a few people who put a tremendous amount of work into this thing, did an amazing job making it work, and few people use it or develop for it. The community needs to step up and support it. How about a nice and simple interface, something like the old Norton Commander (NitrOS Commander?), to make operating NitrOS-9 a little easier?

Better programming tools would a boon. Why does it take so much searching and insider knowledge to locate a C compiler for OS-9? There should be a NitrOS BASIC. More people building hardware would be a great idea. Why can't we have a community designed 512K upgrade board, publish the plans and parts lists, and let folks build it themselves? And have half a dozen folks building and selling them to those that don't want to build it themselves? I'm not suggesting undermining the business of those who already offer such products, but let's face it, no one's going to get rich selling CoCo stuff. A 512K upgrade should be so common the cost should be negligible. 1 MB, 2MB and up boards should be premium items, of course. As should the software, hardware, and drivers to make use of them. So for some items, why not do it under some common license. Short of a lack of chips, why don't a dozen people offer 6309 upgrade services? Those are just examples, of course, but there's a lot of stuff like that still doable for the CoCo 3, particularly as community projects.

There are, of course, good reasons why some of the above aren't being done. I'm just saying they could be done. There are plenty of very smart people in the CoCo Community and they're out there doing some amazing things. Alone for the most part. Then there's a bunch of people who, like yours truly, don't have the technical knowledge to pull off some of those amazing things. But there's plenty we could do. Starting with massive support of what's out there already.

The CoCo 4 project is about bringing a bunch of like minded hobbyists together to create something new and exciting out of the Color Computer. I think that's great. But I also think there's plenty of excitement left in the ol' Tandy girl. As such, the CoCo 4 isn't so much about a new machine, but more about a call to action.

It's about getting involved with the CoCo community. It doesn't matter if you can program, understand 6809 machine code as a first language, or dream in binary. It doesn't matter if you don't know the difference between a diode and a dog biscuit, or are not quite sure which end of the soldering iron to hold. I can honestly say I am firmly in that category. But get in there and do something with, for and/or about your CoCo. Submit a game review or a one-liner to Mary's CoCo Nutz E-zine. Buy stuff from anyone selling new CoCo products. Write a blog. Join a chat. Post to the message boards. Write a goofy BASIC program and share it. Offer to scan documentation. Track down an author of an old program and get them to rerelease it. We need as many users as we do creators. But the users can't be the silent majority. Speak up and speak out! Get involved with the CoCo and the people that make it what it is today.

There may be a CoCo 4 eventually. And if so, I'll be the first in line to say hoorah. But to me, we're talking about the next generation Color Computer. A CoCo for the modern hobbyist. The CoCo has always been about the people who use it. The beauty of the design, more than any other 8-bit, is that it takes on the personality of the owner. A 6809 in a box, it's been called. You make the CoCo what you want it to be. If that's the case, then the CoCo 4 isn't in our future. It was done in 1986 and folks have been building it for over 20 years.

Angel's Luck,

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