Tweet from a Commodore 64? We Do That and More to Celebrate the Beloved PC's 30th Birthday

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Day 2: Cruising the Information Superhighway

Setting up was fun, and I'm glad you've read this far. But I know what you're really here for: to see me tweet from a Commodore 64.

How is it even possible to tweet from a 30-year-old machine?


Well, there are two ways to go about it. The first, and most obvious, method is the "vintage" way, which I will describe in a moment. The second is to buy a modern C64-to-ethernet adapter and run Breadbox64, a native Twitter client written for the C64 in 2009 by Johan Van den Brande.

Since I had decided to stick with vintage hardware and software, I felt the latter route would be cheating. So I went the "simulated ISP" route—the same method I used with the IBM PC 5150 last year. Back in the day, one used serial ports for everything. If one wanted to use information services, one called up a bigger, more powerful machine with a modem, and that machine fed info to the C64 through the serial port.

I did the same thing, hooking my C64 to my "virtual ISP" (a semi-modern PC running Linux) through a serial port. On the C64 end, I ran ASCII terminal emulator software (the same kind you'd use with a modem).

Hooking the machines together was more complicated than using a single cable. On the C64 end, I had to use a Omnitronix Deluxe RS-232 Interface. This Interface connects to the C64's I/O port and converts the signals to allow usage of standard RS-232 serial devices. I attached a null modem serial cable to this interface that led to the serial port on the Linux PC.

Omnitronix Deluxe RS-232 Interface
The Omnitronix Deluxe RS-232 Interface.

Once connected, I had access to the entire Linux system as if I had a "shell account" on a remote ISP.

From there, I could check email, browse the Web, and even send tweets. As I mentioned in my 5150 piece, this may seem like cheating, but this method, which involves connecting to a bigger, more capable machine, is very similar to how one would have accessed a larger computer network in the 1980s.

I decided to kick things off with a tweet from the C64 using a Linux-based command-line program called Twidge, shown on the screen below:

The program Twidge displayed on the Commodore 64
The program Twidge displayed on the Commodore 64.
And here is how the tweet looked from the Twitter website, as rendered by an iMac. As you can see, I received both incredulous and congratulatory responses on Twitter.

How the Tweets looked when displayed on a more modern computer.
How the Tweets looked when displayed on a more modern computer.

Surfin' the Web, 64 Style

Next, I decided to try browsing the World Wide Web. As with Twitter, I had a few ways I could go about it. I could utilize modern browsers that C64 diehards have created for the C64, but what fun is that?

Instead, I went the "vintage" ISP route. I loaded Lynx, the famous text-based Web browser, on the Linux machine. I called up a few websites—or what I think are websites—and watched them unfold like literary spaghetti on the screen. Here is in 40 columns, text-only:

Browsing the web: in text only, 40 columns wide
Browsing the web: in text only, 40 columns wide.
And here's what Google looks like if you access it from a C64. If you squint the right way, you can hardly tell any difference from Firefox :-)...

Browsing the web: in text only, 40 columns wide
Browsing the web: in text only, 40 columns wide.
The sites work, albeit not very well. They'd look much better with a better software solution, but time was a-tickin', and I needed to move on.

Checking Email

What is computing without checking email? Dutifully, I loaded up Pine, a popular command-line email client for Linux. It did not look good in 40 columns. I knew there were other solutions that would work better with 40 columns, but by the time I got to email, I was out of gas.

Next: Day 3, Word Processing

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