I jotted down this mini-essay just after this year’s fest. Hopefully others can comment and add to it.
The idea of a CoCo 4 has been around for over almost two decades. Attempts have been made to create systems and dub them the worthy successor of Tandy’s line of Color Computers.
Fast forward to today: emulation and the virtual creation of older computers has reached a point in modern computing that the design of such virtual vintage systems raises confusion and deep questions. At what point does a CoCo (or any other vintage computer) become just a PC with an emulator? What truly makes a computer unique and special with a sense of identity?
[b:4a28514c0b]What Makes A CoCo?[/b:4a28514c0b]
Ask any Color Computer user this question, and a variety of responses can be expected, but all would agree that what makes a CoCo a CoCo is a combination of several factors:
the exterior: the case, keyboard, ports and general layout
the interior: the motherboard and all of the chips/parts that make it up
The unique combination of common integrated circuits, along with special chips like the GIME and the stylized case make a Color Computer what it is. Years of using this oddly shaped computer known as the CoCo has created a bond that endears us to this hunk of plastic and metal.
So if there is a soul to a CoCo, it is embodied by its design, its look and its feel.
[b:4a28514c0b]Can There Be A CoCo 4?[/b:4a28514c0b]
In name, there will probably never be a CoCo 4. The Color Computer was a creation of Tandy and sold through Radio Shack Corporation. The relationship between the CoCo and its progenitor is a connection that is embedded in the brains of all Color Computer owners. It is historically significant and a part of the CoCo’s legacy that cannot be changed.
If Tandy were to somehow miraculously decide to create a new CoCo, then it would be fair to consider that the CoCo 4 could exist. However, the likelihood of that happening is very close to nil.
In spirit, there can be something akin to a CoCo 4. The idea of a community coming together to design what they wish they had in a successive CoCo, but never got the chance to make, could be the foundation for a new and unique computing system. This new ideal could be a computer which would retain compatibility with the CoCo 3, yet gently but firmly push the envelope in ways that would enhance the user’s experience and still keep it a CoCo experience.
[b:4a28514c0b]Does a PC emulating a CoCo make the PC a CoCo?[/b:4a28514c0b]
No. A PC emulating a CoCo does not make that PC a CoCo, no more than a pauper pretending to be a rich man makes him rich. The CoCo exists in reality as a product born solely of Tandy. Emulating something that already exists is simply that: emulating it.
[b:4a28514c0b]What About Emulating a CoCo successor?[/b:4a28514c0b]
The answer is not so cut and dried here. Much like the GIME made the CoCo 3 what it was, could an x86 based chip running a low level operating system and the MESS emulator become the heart and soul of a so-called CoCo 4?
Emulation is emulation only if it emulates something that exists. The CoCo 3 exists, so hence it can be emulated. The CoCo 4 does not exist; hence, it is reasonable to conclude that a PC configured to be a CoCo 4 could indeed be thought of as a real CoCo 4.
It takes some time to get used to this way of thinking, but if you abstract out the fact that an Intel (or AMD, or whatever) processor is under the hood, and think of that as the fabric of the whole computer, just like the GIME or the 6809 is the fabric of the CoCo 3, then it is easier to picture. The computer is the sum of is parts, not just the individual parts themselves.
An x86 emulating a Hitachi 6309 is, from a purely physical point of view, no different than a real 6309. Both are made of silicon, both have conductive paths and transistors. The difference is the make up and organization of each chip. Programming an x86 to act like a Hitachi 6309 could be akin to a PAL being programmed with specific equations for a specific application. Even the Hitachi 6309 is a microcoded microprocessor, meaning that it has some internal programming to maintain flexibility.
We still think of it as a 6309.
It is easy to become hung-up on identities of specific chips, and no doubt, the lack of love for the Intel architecture may keep many CoCo users from seeing the abstract beauty of this chip as a basis for a CoCo 4. However, there is no denying that the scaling up of power in modern computer processors has provided ample room for them to morph into whatever creative minds can comprehend.
This type of power and flexibility wasn’t at everyone’s fingertips 20 years ago when the CoCo 3 was introduced. Today, this power is everywhere, and it opens the doors for all sorts of creations.
[b:4a28514c0b]Is Emulation An Artificial Experience?[/b:4a28514c0b]
As pointed out earlier, emulation can be found at the hardware level and has been around in some form for a long time. How close one is to the levels of abstraction that make up a product will change the view that that person has to what is being considered. For the engineers of the CoCo 3, they probably did not see a lovable, easy to use computer that would win the hearts of thousands, nearly as much as they saw a collection of ICs, capacitors, resistors, and other parts.
In much the same way, the builders of a CoCo 4 will see the creation of such a computer as a collection of hardware and software which will come together to create a unique system. Whether or not this new machine will have the same appeal as the Color Computer is to be seen, but it is not likely. That’s because the CoCo 4, as an emulated system, could conceivably be run on any PC with minimum hardware requirements. Gone is the small hardshell plastic case and unique keyboard. There is no unique external identity which marks a computer as a CoCo 4.
And that is probably the sense of loss that any CoCo 4 would experience at the hands of its user. The idea of a CoCo in the sense of what Tandy gave us is probably gone forever. That idea is replaced by a newer, more modern version of what a CoCo successor can be: a mostly software invention that pulls together the collaboration of many people to make it what it is. That is truly the empowerment of technology that was unattainable in the days of the original Color Computer.[b:4a28514c0b][/b:4a28514c0b][b:4a28514c0b][/b:4a28514c0b][b:4a28514c0b][/b:4a28514c0b]