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The Commodore Portable Typewriter Company was founded in 1954. The company became Commodore Business Machines the following year, as Japanese typewriters had flooded the market, and moved into selling adding machines. Japanese adding machines flooded that particular market in the late 1960s, and then-named Commodore International moved into the electronic calculator business. The calculator market was, however, taken over by Texas Instruments in the mid-1970s, and Commodore went into PCs.
The Commodore Personal Electronic Transactor (PET) came out in 1977 to an enthusiastic reception in the education sector, but it was 1981's VIC-20 — as endorsed in TV ads featuring Wiliam Shatner — that made Commodore a familiar brand in the home.
It was that model's successor — 1982's Commodore 64 (pictured) — that remains the company's most enduring legacy. Already cheaper than rival 64K systems, the C64 enjoyed a price cut the following year, kicking off a pricing war in the home computer market. Commodore won: with 22 million sold, the C64 became the best-selling computer ever.
In 1984, Commodore bought Amiga Corporation. Around the same time Commodore founder Jack Tramiel, who had just quit to form his own company, bought Atari from Warner Brothers and released the Atari ST as a rival to Amiga. The rivalry between Commodore and Atari continued through most of the remaining decade, but in the end the PC market was won by the IBM PC and Apple Macintosh platforms.
Following several releases that failed to replicate the success of the C64, Commodore declared bankruptcy. The brand is now used by a completely different company, which sells an Atom-based netbook PC in a replica C64 shell.
Photo credit: Bill Bertram
Tandy began life in 1919, in the business of leather goods — making it something of a US analogy to Finland's Nokia, which started off making paper. Along with Commodore (another entry in this list), Tandy was at the forefront of the PC industry in its time.
The 1977 TRS-80, sold through Tandy's Radio Shack stores, was one of the first popular personal computers. The company later moved to IBM compatibility, and its PCs' video and sound capabilities led the market in the early 1980s. However, the introduction in the early 1990s of VGA graphics cards and Sound Blaster audio cards killed this competitive advantage. Tandy even moved into notebooks for a time from the end of the 1980s, with products including the 1400 (pictured).
Tandy sold its PC business to AST in 1993, and the new owners soon shut down their newly purchased manufacturing facilities. Radio Shack began to sell other brands of PC, and the Tandy brand disappeared for good in 2000.
Photo credit: Retep412
Acorn was founded in 1978 by Clive Sinclair colleague Chris Curry and his friend Hermann Hauser. The company was actually called CPU Ltd, with Acorn Computer Ltd the trading name for its PC business — CPU also had a consultancy business.
The £80 Acorn Microcomputer was launched in early 1979 for engineering and laboratory use. Four more iterations followed, with the last Acorn rack-mounted product being 1983's System 5. Meanwhile, Sinclair had launched his ZX80 system, prompting Curry to target the home computing market with the Atom (which is unrelated to Intel's processor family of the same name). Acorn then wanted to provide a 16-bit successor to the Atom, and found a willing partner in the BBC.
The BBC was keen on launching a computer literacy drive, as were the Department of Industry and the Department of Education and Science. Throughout the 1980s, the Acorn-made BBC Micro series of microcomputers became a British staple, and Acorn became extremely profitable.
At the same time, Acorn decided to create a business computer using its existing technology. This became the Acorn RISC Machine (ARM) project, which now manifests itself in the architecture used in almost all mobile phone processors today. However, Acorn's Electron — a competitor to Sinclair's ZX Spectrum — suffered supply issues in the Christmas 1983 period, and the company was also spending much of its resources on development. Acorn's finances hit a rocky period and, in 1985, the Italian firm Olivetti took a controlling share.
Acorn went on to work alongside Apple on ARM, which was spun off in 1990. It also enjoyed some success in the set-top box market, and had an educational computer joint venture with Apple called Xemplar. However, ARM became much more successful. The Acorn brand disappeared in 1999, as the company became a silicon developer for digital TVs.
Photo credit: Stuart Brady