A Little History

The Color Computer (affectionately known as a Coco and formerly sold by Tandy) has got to be the most underrated computer ever made. It was based on the Motorola MC6809E. The circuit used for the original Coco 1 was, almost part for part, shown in the Motorola spec sheet for the SN74LS783 - MC6883, a synchronous address multiplexer (called by Cocoists a SAM.) The third major chip in the Coco was the MC6847 Color Video Display Generator.

The Coco 1 was an 8/16 bit computer running at 0.89/1.78 MHz. The text screen was 32 letters by 16 lines in uppercase. Graphics resolution was 256x192x2 although owners quickly found that color artifacting produced by the composite video output could increase the color count by one or two orders of magnitude. Memory was limited to 32K ROM plus 64K RAM. With the Coco 3, the final version made by Tandy, the support chips were enhanced to produce a base unit with 128K RAM, 80x25 character text, 640x192x4 or 320x192x16 graphics, and RGB video output. The Coco1 did have one graphics capability that the Coco3 lacks, Semigraphics.

The above description hardly does the Coco justice. With its simple single circuit board hardware and ease of programming at the assembly language level, it became the prime hobbyist computer. Many of these hobbyists started selling their hardware and software efforts and perhaps as many as ten magazines were either dedicated to the computer or strongly supported it. The most influential magazine was "the Rainbow" , 1982-1993, published by Lawrence C. Falk (Falsoft Inc.) Lonnie even started an annual convention (CocoFest) where owners and third party supporters could gather to hear lectures, buy hardware and software, and generally have a great time over a weekend.

Even though the Coco has been out of production for many years, interest in the unit is still strong, as can be seen by the many web pages dedicated to this computer. Originally there were many  discussions at listserv@pucc.princeton.edu, a newsgroup which echoed to the list bit.listserv.coco. Princeton no longer carries the newsgroup and malicious spam forced a move from the listserver to Coco@maltedmedia.com. Information on this newgroup can be found at http://five.pairlist.net/mailman/listinfo/coco and by e-mail to Coco-request@maltedmedia.com. This private service echos on gmane . Many of the web pages can be found via the Coco webring, http://m.webring.com/hub?ring=coco. Another method is to search Google for Coco or Coco3. Such a search will find many fine Coco sites, exemplified by the large site http://coco3.com/community .

Many of the things above could be said about other computers of the day, but the Coco was unique in that Tandy collaborated with Microware to bring to the Coco the OS-9 operating system. OS-9 is a realtime multitasking operating system with many similarities to Unix. Two versions, Level I and Level II were available. Level II supported the full hardware capabilities of the Coco3: up to 2 MB RAM, 16 windows running simultaneously, multiple drives including SCSI hard drives. A GUI point and click desk top (MultiVue), an advanced Basic (Basic09), and versions of C and PASCAL ran under OS-9. Real Time Services, Inc.
Continued support for OS-9 in now in the form of a Sourceforge project NitrOS-9.

While running applications under OS-9, the Coco could compete with any other home computer until the advent of the Internet with its intensive use of graphics. The Coco did not have the memory, speed, or video power to handle 256 color or higher level graphics in real time.