COMMODORE INTERNATIONAL (or
Commodore International Limited) was a
North American home computer and electronics manufacturer. Commodore
International (CI), along with its subsidiary Commodore Business
Machines (CBM), participated in the development of the home
–personal computer industry in the 1970s and 1980s. The company
developed and marketed one of the world's best-selling desktop
Commodore 64 (1982) and released its
line in July 1985.
* 1 History
* 1.1 Founding and early years
* 1.2 "Computers for the masses, not the classes"
* 1.3 Tramiel quits; the
Amiga vs. ST battle
* 1.4 Demise
* 1.5 Post-
Commodore International Ltd.
* 2 Product line
* 2.1 Calculators
* 2.2 Computers
* 2.3 Games consoles
* 2.4 Monitors
* 2.5 Software
* 3 References
* 4 External links
FOUNDING AND EARLY YEARS
Original Commodore logo: all-lowercase company name
(1962–1984). Commodore PR-100 programmable calculator
The company that would become Commodore Business Machines, Inc. was
founded in 1954 in
Toronto as the Commodore Portable Typewriter
Company by Polish immigrant and
Jack Tramiel . For
a few years, he had been living in New York, driving a taxicab and
running a small business repairing typewriters, when he managed to
sign a deal with a Czechoslovakian company to manufacture their
designs in Canada. He moved to
Toronto to start production. By the
late 1950s a wave of Japanese machines forced most North American
typewriter companies to cease business, but Tramiel instead turned to
adding machines .
In 1955, the company was formally incorporated as Commodore Business
Machines, Inc. (CBM) in Canada. In 1962, Commodore went public on the
New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), under the name of Commodore
International Limited. In the late 1960s, history repeated itself when
Japanese firms started producing and exporting adding machines. The
company's main investor and chairman,
Irving Gould , suggested that
Tramiel travel to Japan to understand how to compete. Instead, he
returned with the new idea to produce electronic calculators , which
were just coming on the market.
Commodore soon had a profitable calculator line and was one of the
more popular brands in the early 1970s, producing both consumer as
well as scientific/programmable calculators. However, in 1975, Texas
Instruments , the main supplier of calculator parts, entered the
market directly and put out a line of machines priced at less than
Commodore's cost for the parts. Commodore obtained an infusion of cash
from Gould, which Tramiel used beginning in 1976 to purchase several
second-source chip suppliers, including MOS Technology, Inc. , in
order to assure his supply. He agreed to buy MOS, which was having
troubles of its own, only on the condition that its chip designer
Chuck Peddle join Commodore directly as head of engineering.
Through the 1970s, Commodore also produced numerous peripherals and
consumer electronic products such as the Chessmate, a chess computer
based around a MOS 6504 chip, released in 1978.
In December 2007 when Tramiel was visiting the Computer History
Mountain View, California , for the 25th anniversary of the
Commodore 64, he was asked why he called his company Commodore. He
said: "I wanted to call my company General, but there's so many
Generals in the U.S.:
General Electric ,
General Motors . Then I went
to Admiral, but that was taken. So I wind up in Berlin, Germany, with
my wife, and we were in a cab, and the cab made a short stop, and in
front of us was an
Opel Commodore ." Tramiel gave this account in
many interviews, but Opel's Commodore didn't debut until 1967, years
after the company had been named.
"COMPUTERS FOR THE MASSES, NOT THE CLASSES"
Commodore PET 2001 (1977)
Chuck Peddle had taken over engineering at Commodore, he
Jack Tramiel that calculators were already a dead end, and
that they should turn their attention to home computers . Peddle
packaged his single-board computer design in a metal case, initially
with a keyboard using calculator keys, later with a full-travel QWERTY
keyboard, monochrome monitor , and tape recorder for program and data
storage, to produce the
Commodore PET (Personal Electronic
Transactor). From PET's 1977 debut, Commodore would be a computer
Commodore had been reorganized the year before into Commodore
International, Ltd., moving its financial headquarters to the Bahamas
and its operational headquarters to
West Chester, Pennsylvania , near
MOS Technology site. The operational headquarters, where
research and development of new products occurred, retained the name
Commodore Business Machines, Inc. In 1980 Commodore launched
production for the European market in
By 1980 Commodore was one of the three largest microcomputer
companies, and the largest in the
Common Market . BYTE stated of the
business computer market, however, that "the lack of a marketing
strategy by Commodore, as well as its past nonchalant attitude toward
the encouragement and development of good software, has hurt its
credibility, especially in comparison to the other systems on the
The PET computer line was used primarily in schools, where its tough
all-metal construction and ability to share printers and disk drives
on a simple
Local Area Network were advantages, but PETs did not
compete well in the home setting where graphics and sound were
important. This was addressed with the introduction of the VIC-20 in
1981, which was introduced at a cost of US$299 and sold in retail
stores. Commodore took out aggressive ads featuring William Shatner
asking consumers "Why buy just a video game?" The strategy worked and
the VIC-20 became the first computer to ship more than one million
units. A total of 2.5 million units were sold over the machine's
lifetime and helped Commodore's sales to Canadian schools. In
another promotion aimed at schools (and as a way of getting rid of old
unsold inventory) some PET models labeled "Teacher's PET" were given
away as part of a "buy 2 get 1 free" promotion. Commodore 64
In 1982, Commodore introduced the
Commodore 64 as the successor to
the VIC-20. Thanks to a well-designed set of chips designed by MOS
Technology, the Commodore 64, (also referred to as C64), possessed
remarkable sound and graphics for its time and is often credited with
starting the computer demo scene . Its US$595 price was high compared
with that of the VIC-20, but it was still much less expensive than any
other 64K computer on the market. Early C64 ads boasted, "You can't
buy a better computer at twice the price." Australian adverts in the
mid-1980s used a tune speaking the words "Are you keeping up with the
Commodore? Because the Commodore is keeping up with you."
In 1983, Tramiel decided to focus on market share and cut the price
of the VIC-20 and C64 dramatically, starting what would be called the
"home computer war ". TI responded by cutting prices on its TI-99/4A ,
which had been introduced in 1981. Soon there was an all-out price war
involving Commodore, TI,
Atari , and practically every vendor other
than Apple Computer . Commodore began selling the VIC-20 and C64
through mass-market retailers such as K-Mart , in addition to
traditional computer stores. By the end of this conflict, Commodore
had shipped somewhere around 22 million C64s, making the C64 the best
selling computer of all time.
At the June 1983 Consumer
Electronics Show , Commodore lowered the
retail price of the 64 to $300, and stores sold it for as little as
$199. At one point the company was selling as many computers as the
rest of the industry combined. Its prices for the VIC-20 and 64 were
$50 lower than Atari's prices for the 600XL and 800XL. Commodore's
strategy was to, according to a spokesman, devote 50% of its efforts
to the under-$500 market, 30% on the $500–1000 market, and 20% on
the over-$1000 market. Its vertical integration and Tramiel's focus on
cost control helped Commodore do well during the price war, with $1
billion in 1983 sales. Although the company and Tramiel's focus on
cost cutting over product testing caused many hardware defects in the
64, by early 1984
Synapse Software —the largest provider of
Atari 8-bit software—received 65% of sales from the
Commodore market, and Commodore sold almost three times as many
Atari that year.
Despite its focus on the lower end of the market, Commodore's
computers were also sold in upmarket department stores such as
Harrod\'s . The company also attracted several high-profile
customers. In 1984, the company's British branch became the first
manufacturer to receive a royal warrant for computer business systems.
Kennedy Space Center
Kennedy Space Center was another noted customer, with over 60
Commodore systems processing documentation, tracking equipment and
employees, costing jobs, and ensuring the safety of hazardous waste.
TRAMIEL QUITS; THE AMIGA VS. ST BATTLE
Second Commodore logo, with mixed-case company name
Although by early 1984
Creative Computing compared Commodore to "a
well-armed battleship rules the micro waves" and threatened to
destroy rivals like
Coleco , Commodore's board of directors
were as impacted as anyone else by the price spiral and decided they
wanted out. An internal power struggle resulted; in January 1984,
Tramiel resigned due to intense disagreement with the chairman of the
Irving Gould . Gould replaced Tramiel with Marshall F. Smith, a
steel executive who had no experience with computers or consumer
marketing. Tramiel founded a new company, Tramel Technology
(spelled differently so people would pronounce it correctly), and
hired away a number of Commodore engineers to begin work on a
next-generation computer design.
Now it was left to the remaining Commodore management to salvage the
company's fortunes and plan for the future. It did so by buying a
small startup company called
Amiga Corporation in February 1983, for
$25 million ($12.8 million in cash and 550,000 in common shares) which
became a subsidiary of Commodore, called Commodore-
Commodore brought this new
32-bit computer design (initially codenamed
"Lorraine", from 1979, and had been called High-Toro from 1980 to 1981
then later dubbed the Amiga, under
Amiga Inc. in early 1982. There
were three unsuccessful attempts to release the
Jay Miner and
company. These were: 1982, 1983 and one more after Commodore bought
Amiga in 1984, after which it was released only to the local public.
Then in 1985 Commodore re-released it to the world. Cost was
But Tramiel had beaten Commodore to the punch. His design was 95%
completed by June (which fueled speculation that his engineers had
taken technology with them from Commodore). In July 1984 he bought the
consumer side of
Atari Inc. from
Warner Communications which allowed
him to strike back and release the
Atari ST earlier in 1985 for about
Atari ST was technology-wise almost out, however the Amiga
was out sooner.
During development in 1981,
Amiga had exhausted venture capital and
was desperate for more financing.
Jay Miner and company had approached
Atari , and the Warner-owned
Atari had paid
continue development work. In return
Atari was to get one-year
exclusive use of the design as a video game console. After one year
Atari would have the right to add a keyboard and market the complete
Amiga computer. The
Atari Museum has acquired the Atari-
Atari engineering logs revealing that the
originally designated as the 1850XLD. As
Atari was heavily involved
with Disney at the time, it was later code-named "Mickey", and the
256K memory expansion board was codenamed "Minnie".
The following year, Tramiel discovered that Warner Communications
wanted to sell Atari, which was rumored to be losing about $10,000 a
day. Interested in Atari's overseas manufacturing and worldwide
distribution network for his new computer, he approached
entered negotiations. After several on-again/off-again talks with
Atari in May and June 1984, Tramiel had secured his funding and bought
Atari's Consumer Division (which included the console and home
computer departments) in July.
As more execs and researchers left Commodore after the announcement
to join up with Tramiel's new company
Atari Corp. , Commodore followed
by filing lawsuits against four former engineers for theft of trade
secrets in late July. This was intended, in effect, to bar Tramiel
from releasing his new computer.
One of Tramiel's first acts after forming
Atari Corp. was to fire
most of Atari's remaining staff, and to cancel almost all ongoing
projects, in order to review their continued viability. In late
July/early August, Tramiel representatives discovered the original
Amiga contract from the previous fall. Seeing a chance to gain some
leverage, Tramiel immediately used the contract to counter-sue
Commodore through its new subsidiary, Amiga, on August 13.
Amiga crew, still suffering serious financial problems, had
sought more monetary support from investors that entire spring. At
around the same time that Tramiel was in negotiations with Atari,
Amiga entered into discussions with Commodore. The discussions
ultimately led to Commodore's intentions to purchase
which would (from Commodore's viewpoint) cancel any outstanding
contracts - including
Atari Inc.'s. This "interpretation" is what
Tramiel used to counter-sue, and sought damages and an injunction to
Amiga (and effectively Commodore) from producing any resembling
technology. This was an attempt to render Commodore's new acquisition
(and the source for its next generation of computers) useless. The
resulting court case lasted for several years, with both companies
releasing their respective products. In the end, the
outlasted the Atari.
Amiga 500 (1987)
Throughout the life of the ST and
Amiga platforms, a ferocious
Atari-Commodore rivalry raged. While this rivalry was in many ways a
holdover from the days when the
Commodore 64 had first challenged the
Atari 800 (among others) in a series of scathing television
commercials, the events leading to the launch of the ST and
served to further alienate fans of each computer, who fought vitriolic
holy wars on the question of which platform was superior. This was
reflected in sales numbers for the two platforms until the release of
Amiga 500 in 1987 which led the
Amiga sales to exceed the ST by
about 1.5 to 1, despite reaching the market later. However, the battle
was in vain, as neither platform captured a significant share of the
world computer market and only the
Apple Macintosh would survive the
industry-wide shift to Microsoft Windows running on PC clones .
Adam Osborne stated in April 1981 that "the microcomputer industry
abounds with horror stories describing the way Commodore treats its
dealers and its customers." Many in the industry believed rumors in
late 1983 that Commodore would discontinue the 64 despite its great
success because they disliked the company's business practices,
including poor treatment of dealers and introducing new computers
incompatible with existing ones. One dealer said "It's too unsettling
to be one of their dealers and not know where you stand with them."
After Tramiel's departure, another journalist wrote that he "had never
been able to establish very good relations with computer dealers ...
computer retailers have accused Commodore of treating them as harshly
as if they were suppliers or competitors, and as a result, many have
become disenchanted with Commodore and dropped the product line".
However, upon the 1987 introduction of the
Amiga 2000, Commodore
retreated from its earlier strategy of selling its computers to
discount outlets and toy stores, and now favored authorized dealers.
Software developers also disliked the company, with one stating that
"Dealing with Commodore was like dealing with Attila the Hun." At the
Comdex , an informal
InfoWorld survey found that none of the
developers present planned to write for Commodore platforms. Although
Comdex was oriented toward business computing, not Commodore's
traditional consumer market, such a response did not bode well for
Commodore's efforts to establish the
Amiga as a business platform.
Commodore faced the problem, when marketing the Amiga, of still being
seen as the company that made cheap, disposable computers like the 64
and VIC were perceived to be. By the late 1980s, the personal
computer market had become dominated by the IBM PC and Apple Macintosh
platforms and Commodore's marketing efforts for the
Amiga were less
successful in breaking the new computer into this now-established
market than its promotions for the 8-bit line had been in making
Commodore the home computer leader. The company put effort into
developing and promoting consumer products that would not be in demand
for years, such as an
Amiga 500 -based
CDTV . As early as
1986, the mainstream press was predicting Commodore's demise, and in
1990 Computer Gaming World wrote of its "abysmal record of customer
and technical support in the past". Nevertheless, as profits and the
stock price began to slide, The Philadelphia Inquirer's Top 100
Businesses annual continued to list several Commodore executives among
the highest-paid in the region and the paper documented the company's
questionable hiring practices and large bonuses paid to executives
amid shareholder discontent.
Commodore failed to update the
Amiga to keep pace as the PC platform
advanced. CBM continued selling
Amiga 2000s with 7.14 MHz 68000 CPUs,
even though the
Amiga 3000 with 25 MHz
68030 was on the market. Apple
by this time was using the 68040 and had relegated the 68000 to its
lowest end model, the black and white
Macintosh Classic . The 68000
was used in the
Sega Genesis , one of the leading game consoles of the
era, PCs fitted with high-color
VGA graphics cards and SoundBlaster
(or compatible) sound cards had finally caught up with the Amiga's
performance and Commodore began to fade from the consumer market.
Amiga was originally conceived as a gaming machine,
Commodore had always emphasized the Amiga's potential for professional
applications. But the Amiga's high-performance sound and graphics
were irrelevant for most of the day's
MS-DOS -based routine business
word-processing and data-processing requirements, and the machine
could not successfully compete with PCs in a business market that was
rapidly undergoing commoditization . Commodore introduced a range of
PC compatible systems designed by its German division, and while the
Commodore name was better known in the US than some of its
competition, the systems' price and specs were only average.
In 1992, the A600 replaced the A500. It removed the numeric keypad,
Zorro expansion slot, and other functionality, but added IDE , PCMCIA
and a theoretically cost-reduced design. Designed as the
Amiga 300, a
nonexpandable model to sell for less than the
Amiga 500 , the 600 was
forced to become a replacement for the 500 due to the unexpected
higher cost of manufacture. Productivity developers increasingly moved
to PC and Macintosh, while the console wars took over the gaming
market. David Pleasance, managing director of Commodore UK, described
the A600 as a 'complete and utter screw-up'.
In 1992, Commodore released the
Amiga 1200 and
Amiga 4000 computers,
which featured an improved graphics chipset, the AGA . The
custom-designed and custom-built AGA chipset cost Commodore more than
the commodity chips used in IBM PCs, despite lagging them in
performance. The advent of PC games using 3D graphics such as Doom and
Wolfenstein 3D spelt the end of
Amiga as a gaming platform, due to
In 1993, the 'make or break' system, according to Pleasance, was a
CD-ROM -based game console called the
Amiga CD32 , but it was
not sufficiently profitable to put Commodore back in the black.
In 1992, all UK servicing and warranty repairs were outsourced to
Wang Laboratories ., who were replaced by ICL after failing to meet
repair demand during the Christmas rush 1992. By 1994, only its
Germany and the
United Kingdom were still profitable.
Commodore declared bankruptcy on April 29, 1994 and ceased to exist,
causing the board of directors to "authorize the transfer of its
assets to trustees for the benefit of its creditors", according to an
The company's computer systems, especially the C64 and
retained a cult following decades after its demise.
POST-COMMODORE INTERNATIONAL LTD.
Following its liquidation, Commodore's former assets went their
separate ways, with none of the descendant companies repeating
Commodore's early success. Both Commodore and
Amiga product lines were
produced in the 21st century, but separately with
Amiga, Inc. being
its own company and Commodore computers being produced by Commodore
USA , an unrelated Florida-based company that had purchased the brand
name. Other companies develop operating systems and manufacture
computers for both Commodore and
Amiga brands as well as software.
"Commodore's high point was the
Amiga 1000 (1985). The
Amiga was so
far ahead of its time that almost nobody--including Commodore's
marketing department--could fully articulate what it was all about.
Today, it's obvious the
Amiga was the first multimedia computer, but
in those days it was derided as a game machine because few people
grasped the importance of advanced graphics, sound, and video. Nine
years later, vendors are still struggling to make systems that work
like 1985 Amigas.
Byte Magazine , August 1994 ”
Commodore UK was the only subsidiary to survive the bankruptcy and
even placed a bid to buy out the rest of the operation, or at least
the former parent company. For a time it was considered the front
runner in the bid, and numerous reports surfaced during the
1994–1995 time frame that Commodore UK had made the purchase.
Commodore UK stayed in business by selling old inventory and making
computer speakers and some other types of computer peripherals.
However, Commodore UK withdrew its bid at the start of the auction
process after several larger companies, including Gateway Computers
Dell Inc. , became interested, primarily for Commodore's 47
patents relating to the Amiga. Ultimately, the successful bidder was
German PC conglomerate Escom , and Commodore UK went into liquidation
on August 30, 1995.
In 1995 Escom paid US$14 million for the assets of Commodore
International. It separated the Commodore and
Amiga operations into
separate divisions and quickly started using the Commodore brand name
on a line of PCs sold in
Europe . However, it soon started losing
money due to over-expansion, went bankrupt on July 15, 1996, and was
In September 1997, the Commodore brand name was acquired by Dutch
Tulip Computers NV .
In July 2004, Tulip announced a new series of products using the
Commodore name: fPET, a flash memory-based USB Flash drive; mPET, a
flash-based MP3 Player and digital recorder; eVIC, a 20 GB music
player. Also, it licensed the Commodore trademark and "chicken lips"
logo to the producers of the C64 DTV .
In late 2004, Tulip sold the Commodore trademarks to Yeahronimo Media
Ventures for €22 million. The sale was completed in March 2005
after months of negotiations.
Yeahronimo Media Ventures soon renamed
Commodore International Corporation and started an operation
intended to relaunch the Commodore brand. The company launched its
Gravel line of products: personal multimedia players equipped with
Wi-Fi, with the hope the Commodore brand would help them take off. The
Gravel was never a success and was discontinued. On June 24, 2009, CIC
renamed itself to Reunite Investments. CIC's founder, Ben van Wijhe,
bought a Hong Kong-based company called Asiarim,. The brand is now
owned by C= Holdings (formerly
Commodore International B.V.):
Reunite became the sole owner of it in 2010, after buying the
remaining shares from the bankrupt Nedfield , then sold it to
Commodore Licensing BV, a subsidiary of Asiarim, later in 2010. It
was sold again on 7 November 2011: this transaction became the basis
of a legal dispute between Asiarim (which, even after that date, made
commercial use of the Commodore trademark, among others by advertising
for sale Commodore-branded computers, and dealing licensing agreements
for the trademarks) and the new owners, that was resolved by the
United States District Court for the Southern District of New York on
16 December 2013 in favour of the new owners.
The Commodore Semiconductor Group (formerly MOS Technology, Inc.) was
bought by its former management and in 1995, resumed operations under
the name GMT Microelectronics, utilizing a troubled facility in
Norristown, Pennsylvania that Commodore had closed in 1992. By 1999 it
had $21 million in revenues and 183 employees. However, in 2001 the
United States Environmental Protection Agency shut the plant down. GMT
ceased operations and was liquidated.
Ownership of the remaining assets of Commodore International,
including the copyrights and patents, and the
Amiga trademarks, passed
from Escom to U.S. PC clone maker Gateway 2000 in 1997, who retained
the patents and sold the copyrights and trademarks, together with a
license to use the patents, to Amiga, Inc., a Washington company
founded, among others, by former Gateway subcontractors Bill McEwen
and Fleecy Moss in 2000. On March 15, 2004,
Amiga, Inc. announced that
on April 23, 2003 it had transferred its rights over past and future
versions of the
Amiga OS (but not yet over other intellectual
property) to Itec, LLC, later acquired by KMOS, Inc., a Delaware
company. Shortly afterwards, on the basis of some loans and security
Amiga, Inc. and Itec, LLC, the remaining
intellectual property assets were also transferred from
Amiga, Inc. to
KMOS, Inc. On March 16, 2005, KMOS, Inc. announced that it had
completed all registrations with the State of Delaware to change its
corporate name to
Amiga, Inc. The Commodore/
Amiga copyrights were
later sold to Cloanto.
AmigaOS (as well as spin-offs
MorphOS and AROS
) is still maintained and updated. Several companies produce related
hardware and software today.
Commodore's former US headquarters is currently the headquarters to
In February 2017 an exhibition room for about 200 Commodore products
was opened in Braunschweig, commemorating the European production site
of Commodore which had up to 2000 employees.
This product line consists of original Commodore products.
774D, 9R23, C108, C110, F4146R, F4902, MM3, Minuteman 6, P50, PR100,
SR1800, SR4120D, SR4120R, SR4148D, SR4148R, SR4190R, SR4212, SR4912,
SR4921RPN, SR5120D, SR5120R, SR5148D, SR5148R, SR5190R, SR59, SR7919,
SR7949, SR9150R, SR9190R, US*3, and The Specialist series: M55 (The
Mathematician), N60 (The Navigator), S61 (The Statistician).
KIM-1 - single board computer (1976)
* Commodore PET/CBM range (1977)
Commodore VIC-20 - a.k.a. VC-20 and VIC-1001 (1981 / 1984)
Commodore CBM-II range - a.k.a. B-range a.k.a. 600/700 range (1982
Commodore MAX Machine - Predecessor to C64 (1982)
Commodore 64 - including C64C (1982 / 1994)
Commodore Educator 64 - 64 in a PET 40xx case (1983)
Commodore SX-64 - all-in-one portable C64 including screen and
disk drive (1984 / 1986)
Commodore 16 - including C116, incompatible with C64 (1984)
Commodore Plus/4 - compatible with C16 (1984 / 1985)
Commodore LCD - LCD -equipped laptop (never released)
Commodore 128 - including 128D and 128DCR (1985 / 1989)
Commodore 65 - C64 successor (never released)
Commodore 900 workstation (never released)
Amiga range (
Amiga models and variants ):
Amiga 1000 (1985 / 1987)
Amiga 500 - incl
Amiga 500 PlusA500+ (1987 / 1991)
Amiga 2000 - incl A2000HD (1987 / 1991)
Amiga 2500 (1988 / 1991)
Amiga 1500 (1987 / 1991)
Amiga 3000 - incl
InfoWorld in 1984, for example,
stated that "so far, the normal standard for Commodore software is
mediocrity". Third parties developed the vast majority of software
for Commodore computers.
AmigaOS - Operating system for the
Amiga range; multitasking,
micro kernel, GUI based on Unix
Amiga Unix - Operating system for the Amiga, based on Unix System
V Release 4
* Commodore BASIC - BASIC interpreter for the 8-bit range, ROM
resident; based on
* Commodore DOS - Disk operating system for the 8-bit range;
embedded in disk drive ROMs
* KERNAL- Core OS routines for the 8-bit range; ROM resident.
* Simons\' BASIC - BASIC extension for the C64; cartridge-based
Super Expander - BASIC and memory extension for the VIC-20;
Super Expander 64 - BASIC extension for the C64
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