Tech cult No. 4: The Commodorians
Gathering of the tribes: CommVEx, C4 Expo, World of Commodore
Major deity: Jack Tramiel
Minor deity: Jim Butterfield (1936-2007)
Sacred relic: Commodore C65
Commodorians know there is only one true path, and it is 8 bits wide.
From 1982 to 1994, the Commodore 64 was the most successful personal computer ever made. More than 30 million units were sold, and many are still in use today. It's probably the only machine to have a "nerdcore" rap band named after it or to have inspired a revival band (Press Play on Tape) that plays nothing but rock versions of themes from C64 games.
[ Relive the Commodore 64's 25th birthday celebration. ]
There are dozens of Web sites and multiple conferences devoted to the C64 (and its more recent sibling, the Commodore 128), as well as a small but thriving community of developers, says Jim Brain, an applications architect for a Fortune 500 life insurance firm. Brain says he started out with a VIC-20 in 1983 and graduated to a Commodore 64 before he "downgraded to a PC" in 1992. He develops new hardware for the Commodore Business Machines platform and contracts with overseas manufacturers to build the units.
"The Commodore 8-bit crowd is the computer world's analogy to old-time Volkswagen bug fanciers in the car world," says Eric W. Brown, president of Saugus.net, whose ShellTown operation provides Net access via shell for old hardware like the C64 and C128. "Believe it or not people are still writing new software for the C64/128, and these days there are people who handle all their e-mail and even surf the Web via their old C128 boxes."
"It's hard to distinguish among retro-folks, but I do think [Commodore 8-bitters] stand out as a collective group," adds Brain. "They appreciate game play over glitzy graphics, appear to be more willing to tear into something that is broken rather than just pitch it and buy something new. They like to modify things, and they tend to come up with creative solutions to problems."
Their most sacred relic: the Commodore 65, an improved version of the C64 that never made it past the prototype stage. Yet many Commodorians reject the notion of being a part of a cult; they tend to see themselves more as keepers of the eternal C64/128 flame.
"The cult is the Amigans," says one closely placed source who requested his name not be revealed. "These are people who worship the Commodore Amiga operating system and expect that one day its superiority will cause it to rise again. Some of them are really annoyingly crazy."