Posted Sat Aug 11, 2018 3:39 AM
I read somewhere on the internet (so it must be true), that Jack Trameil had negotiated a deal with a niave Bill Gates back in 1977, for 8K Microsoft BASIC for the Commodore PET at $1 license per unit shipped.
That is what we knew as Commodore BASIC V2.
The deal had no end date, and did not limit the agreement to any Commodore product line, so as long as they made no changes to the code, Commodore could keep shipping V2 BASIC for $1 a unit as long as they wanted.
Hence the weak V2 BASIC is what we got on the PET, VIC20, Commodore 64 and Commodore MAX. I don't know if the V3.5 BASIC on the 16 and Plus/4 or the V4 BASIC on the later PETs were covered under the agreement or not, but Commodore was more focused on driving down cost than delivering a more adequate BASIC.
As others have stated above, alternatives such as the ZX Spectrum came along later, and even though Sinclair BASIC might be a better option for the new programmer, the god-awful rubber keyboard and single key entry system negated much of that benefit.
In 1981, the alternatives in the U.S. would have been the more expensive TRS80 Color Computer with its chiclet keyboard, the Atari 400 with the touch sensitive keyboard (and extra cost Atari BASIC cartridge) or the TI99/4A. TI BASIC was probably better, but I think in 81 there was a very large price delta between the TI and the VIC, and the double-interpreted TI BASIC is extremely slow, something that was highlighted by reviewers of the time. The Apple II was just too expensive to be considered.
In the UK, the alternatives would have been the ZX81, expensive options like the Sharp MZ80 or the Acorn Atom.
I don't know much about Atom BASIC, but the machine was monochrome only, and Commodore highlighted the VIC's color "graphics" and sound.
For the beginner on a limited budget in 80/81, the VIC20 was really a good option, especially if you added a Super Expander, which added another 3K of RAM and also provided rudimentary commands for color graphics and sound. Commodore planned a Super Expander for the 64, but ultimately released Simon's BASIC instead.
As later alternatives appeared, the magazines of the era often pointed out the poor Commodore BASIC V2. But the VIC continue to sell through 84 as it was cheap and had a good library of games, and the 64 relied on its superior graphics and sound capabilities.