MECC


2021-09-12 (updated 4 days and ago)

(This is a future article for company pages)
Founded as the non-profit Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium (MECC) in 1973 to coordinate and provide computer services to schools in the state of Minnesota. Their software became popular world wide. At first they arranged time sharing on mainframes owned by various institutions and businesses using terminals in Minnesota schools. They briefly had their own mainframes and began offering time sharing to schools outside Minnesota. But they soon recognized that microcomputers were a better fit. An evaluation and bidding process was an opportunity for companies like Atari, Apple, Radio Shack, and more to sell many computer systems to MECC who in turn would sell them to schools. Apple won the contract. But, in 1981 they switched to Atari*. 1981 was also the last year MECC operated their own mainframes. Many of MECC's educational games were first available for mainframes before being offered to microcomputer uses via download and until finally MECC began fully porting their software to Apple II and other microcomputers and began directly selling microcomputer software. MECC had originally depended on state subsidies but by 1983, software sales to individuals, site licenses for educational institutions, and membership fees had made the organisation more than self-sufficient. The state of Minnesota withdrew remaining subsidies and MECC was incorporated as the for-profit Minnesota Educational Computing Corporation (MECC). Technically, the company was still owned by Minnesota; it functioned independently from government as long as they didn't ask for money to expand. Minnesota government (the owner) was content with MECC's alliance with Apple (there were millions of Apple II computers and far fewer of all other computer systems in schools. in North America). MECC used its profits to expand into software for other microcomputers to some degree but the owners would not invest additional funds into these efforts. So MECC became fully privatized in 1991. This allowed the company to engage in riskier** ventures, taking on millions in cash investments and fully transition to software for Macintosh, IBM-PC, and eventually Windows. In 1994, MECC became a publicly traded company. It was bought by SoftKey in 1995 while Softkey also purchased The Learning Company and changed its name to The Learning Company. MECC continued to develop software for The Learning Company(Softkey) until all MECC employees were laid-off in October 1999 and MECC's Minnesota offices were permanently closed.

*
This is so baffling to me. MECC had absolutely no software available for the Atari 8-bit platform at this time. Apple II was their main platform. MECC would go on to create fewer than 30 games and applications for Atari but make well over 300 for the Apple II. Granted, the Atari 8-bit platform, by 1981, was used as a terminal for their mainframe services with over 100? titles at the time, but so was Apple II, and far more of MECC's software had been tailored to, or was downloadable to, Apple II than Atari 8-bit. The majority of their mainframe titles were written in BASIC. But you can't just type any BASIC code in ATARI BASIC and expect to make just a few minor changes to make it work the same as with many other 8-bit BASICs. Things have to be restructured. ATARI BASIC, for example, did not support string arrays. MECC did not use the less popular Atari Microsoft BASIC either (which would have made conversion a bit simpler). I have to suspect outside political intervention was a factor. It need not be sinister, Atari 8-bit computers were much cheaper than Apple. But, the same could be said of Tandy and Commodore which were cheaper yet and even more cheaper.

In September 1983, two years (and about 25 Atari titles) later, Linda Schreiber would write in ANTIC magazine (VOL. 2, NO. 6) "Although some of the programs available for the ATARI were originally written for the APPLE computer, MECC would rather develop original programs for the ATARI computer. The majority of the programs are teachers written. MECC also sponsors contests during the year for new and original programs."

In 1984, MECC released twice as many titles for Apple II as they did for Atari 8-bit. There were no more Atari games after that.

**Risk in terms of spending tax-payer's dollars. Their expansion was low risk by business investor standards.