Sunday, May 9, 2010

Computer-Illiterate Customers Love ADAM!

Putting it mildly department:  Coleco's ADAM home computer did not repeat the resounding success of the Colecovision console.

Timing was bad, for one thing -- entering the market with a new home computer was not a great idea in 1984, and Coleco's experience in the game market did not translate to courting more substantial investments from more serious users.  The system was inexpensive enough, but the ADAM was a truly shoddy collection of equipment.  The daisy-wheel printers looked impressive in ads but often didn't work as delivered, the included productivity software was seriously buggy, and the newfangled "wafer drive" was unreliable and tended to damage the stringy magnetic tape media early and often.

But this was still the pre-Internet era, and there was a chance that the bad word-of-mouth might not have spread to everyone on the planet.  So Coleco continued to advertise in print -- but its campaign couldn't very well rely on glowing critical quotes from magazines, as there really were none of note.  Instead, it featured letters from customers -- most of whom apparently didn't know enough about computers to realize the glass was mostly empty:

They sound a bit like the kids in the old comic-book American Seed ads, absolutely thrilled at being allowed to be the company's sales force at far less than a living wage.  Many of these people seem to be pleased that they can turn the ADAM on and see that it seems to do something, without any need for reading manuals or actually learning how to use the software.  Coleco's dogged insistence that THE CUSTOMER IS ALWAYS RIGHT tends to be undermined by the general "I spent money on this, therefore it is of great value" tone of the correspondence reproduced here.

I can only presume that Mr. Prohaska, the gentleman who wrote "Your keyboard is better than the Apple," was referring not to the keyboard of the Apple II computer, but to the deliciously awful Golan-Globus 1980 rock musical movie, The Apple.

And even then, I'm not sure I'd agree.

Still, the keyboard was not singled out for critical abuse, to my recollection.  And the quote is brief and likely taken out of context, so perhaps Mr. Prohaska was simply damning the keyboard with faint praise before proceeding to trash the rest of the ADAM components.

As did most of the people who bought one, within a few months, I would guess.


  1. To top things off, the power supply for the computer was on the printer. Who had the... gall at Coleco to have thought such arrangement was the proper way to go?. Incredible :-)

  2. Guess again. As one of the many who did not trash their ADAMs which appeared on the market in 1983, not '84 as you report, allow me please to make comments on some misinformation here because I dont think you ever actually ever set your eyes on one of these computers. The wafer drive using stringy tapes mentioned was never implemented in any retail ADAM sold, it existed as a prototype only; the wafer idea was scrapped before mass production. ADAM shipped with more reliable digital data drives. Not sure what "seriously" buggy software you are alluding to, indeed the one and only productivity software title included was Smartwriter, a word processor that had 1 or 2 insignificant bugs that few avg. users would even be aware of.

  3. Thanks for the insight. I did confuse the wafer technology promoted in pre-release articles with the actual magnetic tape drive shipped with the ADAM. I think the space allocation issue, causing the tape drive to lose available capacity with reuse and sometimes preventing saving a file back to the same tape it came from, counts as a serious operating system bug; the tape drive's tendency to corrupt the data on it (reviews of Buck Rogers: Planet of Zoom mentioned this at the time) is more of a hardware problem than a bug, I agree. The word processor's tendency to misplace lines of text after margins were changed counts as a serious bug, I believe; SmartBASIC's refusal to draw rectangles in certain sizes, producing triangles instead, could be worked around.

  4. Well I guess I was one of the POOR DISAPOINTED folks who had the Adam as well. Before the internet, I ran a BBS on that crappy ADAM, for several years, and ofcourse my crappy ADAM had 2 Hard drives, and as many as 6 disk drives, 1.44 drives. and over 100 regular callers. Also had the honor of co hosting ADAMCon IV the largest ever, and oh yea, I hear ADAM CON 23 YEA 23 years of disapointed folks, is gonna be in Cleveland Ohio in 2011. As with anything else, You get out of it what you put into it. UMMMM 23 years of disapointment and still going...

  5. I have to wonder if you've ever actually used an ADAM computer for any significant amount of time. Granted the machine had quality-control issues when initially released, but once those were fixed from the initial run under warranty (and subsequent production units) they were decent machines. I used Smartwriter quite a bit and as one of your previous posters mentioned, never ran into the bugs that were present in practice. The game selection was good, due to its backward compatibility with the Coleco Vision and the enhanced Super Games. It actually had a pretty good selection of software in general when it was first released.

    The keyboard is indeed one of the best of any old machine, and no doubt that the keyboard was better than the Apple II's. Maybe a personal preference, but I'm a bit of a keyboard snob. :) Another plus for the system was the SmartWriter printer. It was slow, it was loud, but it was affordable! My dad purchased a Silver Reed daisy wheel for our Commodore 64 in the same timeframe, had approximately the same CPS as the ADAM printer, but cost about $450. That's over half the cost of the whole ADAM system when new!

    As for why Coleco decided to place the power supply in the printer, I can only deduce from the packaging of the system that this was done as a matter of simplifying the connections for non-computer saavy users and/or a cost savings measure.

  6. Hey have no idea what you're talking about on the ADAM. I've used my ADAM since the beginning and it's still going strong. Any bugs are minor - software or hardware - do some actual research before you trash a computer you have probably only seen pictures of.

  7. This is the wonderful thing about the Internet -- I'm glad to know the ADAM had, and has, passionate fans and defenders. It sounds like the initial run, which of course all the reviews were based on, had a lot of issues which were in fact later worked out to at least some users' satisfaction. Thanks, guys!

  8. I have nothing but fond memories of my ADAM. I always heard about the first wave of ADAMs and their problems. However, my mother must have missed that batch when she bought one for me, because mine never had any issues. I learned how to program on it through SmartBASIC. I remember copying programs from 3-2-1 Contact and reverse engineering them to understand what was going on in the programs. I also printed many letters for my father for his business. As for trashing it, that didn't happen until 5 or 6 years later, because it was so obsolete. Then, a few years ago, I had this nagging feeling of loss. I realized I missed the very first computer I have ever owned. And now, I can happily say, I am the proud owner of a Coleco ADAM once again. ADAM lives!

  9. Thanks, Justin. I feel very much the same way about the Radio Shack TRS-80 "Trash-80" Model I -- it was my first computer, the one I learned to program on, and a platform I will always love despite the machine's limitations.

    My point with this post was not to excoriate the ADAM itself, but to poke fun at Coleco's approach to advertising it circa 1984. The ad couldn't say things like, "Popular Computing calls it the best home computing deal ever" or "Electronic Games says, The ADAM does it all!"; the initial issues meant that the early coverage was generally negative. And apparently Coleco didn't yet have, or chose not to use, meaningful testimonials from people putting the ADAM to actual use -- someone running a BBS or using it as a business tool would have made this ad a lot more impressive. The quotes they actually used just sound naive and easily-impressed, with a young kid depicted at the keyboard. That's no way to sell a major investment (of time, as well as money) like a brand-new computing platform. As lousy and overpriced as the original IBM PC was, its marketing and brand name made it seem like it should be taken seriously. That's something Coleco clearly hadn't figured out.

  10. I agree with the other posters here... I still have my ADAM from 84 and never had any issues. I still have my original ADAM and two backups. In fact, I just bought another! I never had the issues mentioned in this blog. And while you are correct in stating that it was a bad time for any company to come out with a new PC, you are clearly bashing it without any knowledge of the product. You are entitled to an opinion, that opinion becomes invalid when nearly all points are found to be inaccurate.

    As for your last comment, unfortunately, I do not think you are being upfront either. You are saying that your point is not to excoriate the ADAM itself, but to poke fun at Coleco. While they deserve that, you say "ADAM was a truly shoddy collection of equipment. The daisy-wheel printers looked impressive in ads but often didn't work as delivered, the included productivity software was seriously buggy, and the newfangled 'wafer drive' was unreliable and tended to damage the stringy magnetic tape media early and often". All of this is completely false, and are comments that only someone who never used an ADAM for more than a day would make.

    I'm glad you decided to write a blog about this, but with a little research, and using sources other than the initial reviews and ads from Coleco would have served you better. What you did seems a bit lazy and disingenuous.

    George, Los Angeles

  11. Guilty as charged, George -- at least on the lazy side. This was a quick weekend post, based on this ad, and echoes only my impressions of the ADAM from the mid-1980's. I can recall NO positive press coverage of the system in 1984, when this ad ran in one of the very last issues of Electronic Games magazine. The general tone of the reviews I remember was that this was not a system ready for prime time -- and whether it was the industry crash or those initial release issues, third-party software support failed to materialize to any great degree; again, to my limited knowledge.

    If I were doing a video podcast reviewing the ADAM system and its games, I would spend some serious time with it and look at its advantages and disadvantages. That was not really my intent here -- every weekend I grab a couple of old ads and see what I find amusing about them.

    So let me offer this to all the ADAM folks who have recently made this old post the most-commented item on this blog. What ADAM games should I take a detailed look at that I, and my readers, might not be familiar with?

  12. For a self proclaimed "expert who has been there from the beginning" it seems like you've never even touched an Adam. The mistakes/misinformation in your article are numerous.

    I guess calling me an illiterate made me want to respond in kind. Maybe I'm not getting the humor there...

  13. Um... have I used the word "expert" at any time??? I have been around for much of the history of video and computer games, true, but human memory is unreliable, the topics I am interested in are broad-ranging, and I'm completely open to factual corrections and varying opinions. I moderate the comments here only to keep spam out of the system -- honest, genuine criticism is always welcome. This post has received a number of such replies, and that's a good thing.

    The humor (it's the most subjective of qualities, mind) I was seeing here is in the way Coleco approached this ad. I am NOT saying that everyone who bought an ADAM was computer-illiterate -- only that the evidence offered here by Coleco, some months after the ADAM's release, seems to indicate that its happiest customers are a bit clueless.

    I find that amusing, because I think it misses the point of running such an ad -- if they had been patching the system and making major improvements for production that were lacking in the pre-production review units, they should have focused on that in the new ads to counteract the negative press everyone had already heard. They should have solicited testimonials from tech-savvy users who were happy with the system, and could comment on the qualities of SmartBASIC, or CP/M, or discuss productive real-world usage of the machine. The replies this post has received indicate that such users were indeed out there, but Coleco failed to track them down, or consciously chose not to use such material in its advertising.

    What Coleco ultimately ran here didn't come anywhere close to making a strong case, even an anecdotal one, for the ADAM as a viable long-term platform. Instead, the general impression given is that the machine... actually works! It plays into the general perception of the ADAM that the general public had at the time, unfair or not. If Coleco saw basic advertised functionality as the primary point to emphasize, when better-established competitors were in the marketplace and the industry was going through a serious rough patch, then something was wrong somewhere in the company's marketing department.

    I know, I know -- jokes are never funnier when they're overexplained. So in the vein of some potentially more positive ADAM coverage, let me reiterate that this is a blog about vintage video and computer GAMES. Nobody in this thread has suggested any ADAM games for me to take a look at, but I have tracked down 2010 - The Ultimate Text Adventure, and plan to cover it in my regular Adventure of the Week series sometime soon. It was exclusive to the ADAM platform, and I might never have become aware of it if not for all the discussion here.

  14. For a tremendous amount of info about the ADAM, go to the following webpage by a friend of mine:

    On it you will find hundreds of ADAM newsletters (most in PDF format) that were produced by Users's Groups. I am partial to the NIAD Newsletter since I was the editor from '88 on.

    Also, browse through the many pages of the ADAM Software List that included pictures as well. This will give you a good idea of what was made for the system by 3rd party developers after Coleco and the industry abandoned it.

    As far as games go, there are the obvious ColecoVision cartridges and Coleco made ADAM games like Super Buck Rodgers, Super Donkey Kong, Super Donkey Kong Jr., Super Zaxxon, Family Feud, Jeopardy, etc. etc. and definetly do not overlook the following outstanding 3rd party games:

    - Temple of the Snow Dragon
    - ADAM Bomb
    - ADAM Bomb II
    - MicroChip
    - RoboThief
    - Dinosaur Dig
    - Diablo
    - Brainstorm

    to name a few and let's not forgot all the new CV Homebrews that have been released like:

    - Kevtris
    - Ghostblaster
    - Jeepers Creepers
    - Pac-Man Collection
    - Space Invaders Collection
    - Mario Bros.

    and on and on.

    Productivity software? Well, Coleco made some outstanding programs like ADAMCalc, SmartFiler, ExperType and also the 3rd party developers released some outstanding stuff like:

    - PowerPAINT
    - Clipper
    - SpritePower
    - SpeedyWrite
    - The Label Works
    - The Print Works

    I understand you stated that you were poking more fun at the Ad than anything else, but you have certainly stepped on some feet with your comments and I am glad to see so many come to the defense of the ADAM and rightfully so. The syatem was far superior to any other 8-bit on the market at the time. You will probably argue this fact and have your own opinion, but I had other systems that pailed in comparison and used a number of others in school as well that couldn't hold a candle to the ADAM.

    The problem with the ADAM wasn't poor design, it was the President of Coleco, Arnold Greenberg, and other execs who pressured the research and development teams to get the system out in time for Christmas '83. If they would have done the right thing and delayed the systems release 'til mid '84 to iron on the bugs (and they weren't as bad as a lot of people made/make them out to be), Coleco could have done some serious damage.

    Just think what a strong Coleco would have meant to the likes of Nintendo and Sega. These companies would have continued licensing their arcade games to Coleco and therefore would have delayed or totally stopped any plans of their own to release game systems here in the States.

    Would-da, could-da, should-da. I can go on and on!

    Jim N.

  15. Jim, thanks for the detailed information. I think you're very right about the rush to market -- the perception of the ADAM, right or wrong, was that it was not ready for prime time. Every review and "tops'n'flops" roundup I remember cited something seriously wrong with the system -- I now get the impression that many of those problems were later addressed, and may even have been fixed in the actual production units sold to consumers, but the PR damage done by the review units was already done. What I recall is that the BYTE reviewer had to go through multiple units to get everything working, Electronic Games thought the printer was slow and noisy, and Electronic Fun noted that one game on the new tape medium became unreliable and glitchy after extended play. The crash meant that those who didn't buy ADAM at release had little opportunity to buy it or even reevaluate it later.

    Coleco should have taken the criticisms seriously and taken them head-on -- this ad only seems to indicate that some people are happy with the system, but provides precious little detail as to WHY. If even one of them had said, "I heard the ADAM was a piece of junk, but..." and acknowledged the general reaction in some way... but would-a, could-a, should-a, as you say!