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Adam in the Garden of Childhood

A short rundown of the hopes and shortcomings of the ColecoVision Adam.

The stand-alone Adam, plus TV. Wikipedia

In the early 1980s, early personal computers and video game consoles were a big deal. The world hadn't seen anything like this before, but already knew that they would change everything. Or at least the companies producing such had good reason to believe so.

But this didn't mean that they had a clear idea of just what would work. All sorts of different systems and ideas were tried, and naturally they couldn't all be winners.

One of those doomed products came from a company who's history was littered with big successes and big failures: Coleco. At this time they were the successful manufacturer of the console that was taking the market away from Atari. ColecoVision claimed better graphics and games than Atari or Intellivision, and... well, the market share was going up anyway.

Coleco went after the education and practical-minded parent next. They announced the Adam, a personal computer that came with a built-in word processor and a printer. The system was expensive ($600), but actually not that much more than the price of the included printer.

It came in two versions, one was a plug-in expansion of an existing ColecoVision machine, and the other was an independent unit. Both had the same end capabilities: a slot for ColecoVision games, a tape drive, a word-processor that would start automatically if no other program was inserted, and a daisy-wheel printer.

Despite being a decent all-in-one solution word processor/computer/game machine, it had poor success in the marketplace for a host of good reasons:

  • While the Adam featured one of the fastest and best tape drives built for a home computer, it was still no match for the floppy disk drives that were already becoming a standard.
  • While including a word processor, the machine's graphics were only up to doing 40-column text, shorter than a standard text line, and causing the display to have to wrap each line of text.
  • The printer was advertised as 'letter quality', which it was, using a daisy-wheel system. However, this was much slower than many of the newer dot-matrix printers coming out, and thanks to a fairly open and unprotected configuration, much, much noisier.
  • While $600 was a good price for a computer and a printer at the time, within a matter of months there were printers available for $200, seriously undercutting the savings.

The Adam was also plagued by early production problems, which hampered availability and caused returns. However, it was a physically solid machine, and could take some abuse. There are even some dedicated people who still own and use them, mostly to experiment on simple machines.

In the end, it was on the market for two years, was one of a number of unsuccessful systems of the day, leaving little more than a footnote in the industry at large. But it was my family's first computer, which shows the marketing was not misguided.