BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
Outside it was a crisp spring afternoon. The kind that demanded serious consideration for development of one's freestyle Frisbee technique. My reverie was rudely interrupted, only to be replaced by an all-too-familiar moment of transient dread.
"Arlan, it's one of your editors....Are you in?"
I executed a quick panic scan of pending column and article deadlines. Hmmm, nothing more than a few weeks late. "Sure, put 'em through."
"Arlan, this is Stu. You may have a hard time believing this, but Will Jabberon" [name changed for the sake of diplomacy] "from Commodore's public relations firm just called. He invited you and me to meet with the Director of Consumer Marketing at CES next week. Hello?"
Fortunately, a co-worker with paramedic training who had been walking by my office took note of my condition and managed to bring me back to consciousness with a couple of sharp slaps of aftershave.
Over the course of the last four years, Commodore's PR agents had redefined the art of the blank stare and frosty reception. If things got a bit steamy during a Consumer Electronics Show, all it took was a waltz over to the Commodore booth with a press badge stuck to you to get seriously chilled out.
But things have been changing for the better since the arrival of President Harold Copperman and company. In a concerted effort to slip out of character and play Mr. Nice guy for a change, I was determined to the spend the Friday night before the show anesthetizing those portions of my cerebellum responsible for knee-jerk nastiness. The early part of the evening was spent softening my criticality by attending a few preshow parties hosted by home videogame manufacturers. Anyone who can learn to feign interest in Nintendo titles such as The Simpsons, Beetlejuice, and Fester's Revenge has mastered the art of willing suspension of disbelief.
Once again the annual Mindscape Rock-'n'-Roll review was the hardest invite to come by. Although not billed as such, the Mindscape party turned into a haunting evocation of sixties gestalt. Apply a few thousand watts of amplification to an already loud big band, and you come uncannily close to recapturing the three-day temporary hearing loss associated with an early Pink Floyd concert.
We arrived at Commodore's booth Saturday morning with our gray matter still slightly homogenized from the previous night's forays. When it came to matters Amiga, Commodore was taking the C in CES pretty seriously. Its booth was awash in Amiga 500s, with nary a 2000 or 3000 in sight.
Apparently Will Jabberon had graduated from the Lucy Van Pelt school of media relations (Go on and kick the football Charlie Brown; I'll hold it for you!). The first flack I spoke with told me that Will wasn't in yet, so we decided to cruise the booth for a few minutes.
Oddly enough, Commodore was displaying new IBM compatibles in their booth, the most interesting being a six-pound, IBM-compatible, note-book-size computer that could handily hold its own against segment leaders Toshiba and Compaq.
I made a second inquiry as to the whereabouts of the elusive Mr. Jabberon. This time we were told that Will (and the vice president we were supposed to meet with) would definitely be in later, say late Sunday. Could we reschedule for a Monday confab? That wouldn't do me any good—I was flying out to Atlanta Sunday morning to cover COMDEX. Stu remained remarkably calm as I launched into a reprise of Dennis Hopper's performance in Blue Velvet.
To Commodore's credit, someone actually took note of our consternation and hastily rounded up a pair of substitute VPs, who sat down with us and waxed poetic about the new mass-market version of the Amiga 500 and the new Commodore Express support program, which delivers toll-free technical support and rapid door-to-door turnaround of 500s in need of repair.
We were then ushered into a side room where Commodore's new CDTV machine was being previewed. To the CDTV development team's credit, the new machine looked quite impressive, although it gurued three times during the demonstration. Nolan Bushnell, hired on as director of the CDTV project was hanging around, extolling the virtues of his adopted baby.
CDTV's hardware may be ready, but I'll be surprised if you can purchase the product in retail outlets by the time this column hits the streets. From what I can glean at this time, it appears that many applications being developed for CDTV will not be ready until spring.
At the official unveiling of CDTV, I asked what specific CD-based software would be available if CDTV ships in the fall as announced. Bushnell artfully dodged the question, replying that "well over a hundred" packages would be available, and that he didn't want to slight any of the developers by not mentioning their products. Assuming the products appear on a more timely basis than the elusive Mr. Jabberon (I'm not holding my breath), Commodore's CDTV could bring in quite a harvest.