Aztec C

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Aztec C
Welcome to the Wonderfully Ancient World of Aztec C
Developer(s) Manx Software Systems
Type Compiler

Aztec C is a C compiler for a variety of older computing platforms, including MS-DOS, Apple II DOS 3.3 and ProDOS, Commodore 64, early Macintosh, CP/M-80, Amiga, and Atari ST.


Manx Software Systems of Shrewsbury, New Jersey, produced C compilers beginning in the 1980s targeted at professional developers for a variety of platforms up to and including PCs and Macs.

Manx Software Systems was started by Harry Suckow, with partners Thomas Fenwick, and James Goodnow II, the two principal developers. They were all working together at another company at the time. Suckow had started several companies of his own anticipating the impending growth of the PC market, with each company specializing in different kinds of software. A demand came for compilers first and he disengaged himself from the other companies to pursue Manx and Aztec C.

Suckow took care of the business side, Fenwick specialized in front-end compiler development, and Goodnow specialized in back-end compiler development. Another developer, Chris Macey, worked with them for a while on 80XX development and in other areas.

The name "Manx" was selected from a list of cats for no particular reason except that the name Suckow wanted to use was taken.

One of the main reasons for Aztec C's early success was the floating point support for the Z80 compiler which was extended to the Apple II shortly after. Suckow insisted on adding floating point.

During the move to ANSI C in 1989, Robert Sherry who was with Manx at the time and interested in the minutiae of standards represented them on the ANSI committee but left shortly after. He also fixed numerous bugs in the Aztec C after Chris Macey and Thomas Fenwick left the company.

By this time Microsoft had targeted competitors for their C compiler and Aztec C was being pushed-out of the general IBM-PC compiler market, followed by competition with Apple's MPW C on the Macintosh side and Lattice C on the Amiga after SAS bought them.

In 1989 Thomas Fenwick left to work for Microsoft, and James Goodnow worked on Aztec C occasionally but was pursuing other projects outside the company and eventually left the company altogether. Suckow employed about 20 people at that time. Chris Macey returned as a consultant but eventually left to become chief scientist for another company. Mike Spille joined Manx as a developer along with the late Jeff Davis (embedded systems).

Throughout the 1990s they continued to make their Aztec C. As their market share dropped, they tried to make the move to specializing in embedded systems development,[1] but it was too late. They disappeared a few years back following the loss of market presence of some of their target platforms (various 6502 machines, Atari and Amiga 68xxx, etc.).[2]

In the end, Jeff Davis and Mike Spille helped Harry Suckow keep the company going before Suckow finally closed it. Suckow is still the Copyright holder for Aztec C.

Many professional developers used the Manx Software Systems' Aztec C compiler until it became operationally extinct.[3][4]

Current status[edit]

Aztec C remains copyrighted and has not been placed into the public domain. Harry Suckow, who started Manx Software Systems with partners Thomas Fenwick and James Goodnow II, is the copyright holder.

Manx Software Systems native Aztec C compilers for Apple II development have been available for free download from the Internet for a number of years as disk images for Apple II emulators without copyright infringement action being sought by Manx Software Systems.

At least two free Internet distributions exist for native Aztec C Compilers for the Apple II; one for Apple II DOS 3.3 and the other for Apple II ProDOS 8.[5] A third free Internet distribution exists for Aztec C for the Commodore Amiga.[6] A fourth free Internet distribution exists for their MS-DOS 8086 native compiler,[7] and a fifth exists for a limited version of their MS-DOS cross-compiler for Apple II ProDOS 8.

Current Use[edit]

Emulators for these older now-obsolete platforms have become popular with enthusiasts and hobbyists, and most emulators are free or almost free. No commercial market exists for programs or development environments that run on these older now-obsolete platforms.

Despite the fact that these compilers are no longer of any commercial value, the native Aztec C Compilers for these platforms are still as usable as they ever were on their respective native platforms, and the MS-DOS Aztec C cross-development compilers for these platforms work under Windows XP. This means that a C programmer-enthusiast can create programs in an emulator or in the Windows environment then run them on an emulator or transfer them to a real (but obsolete) target computer using a serial cable or some other means.

Where Are They Now?[edit]

Today the 3 partners who started Manx Software Systems maintain a very low public profile, despite the fact that they were industry leaders in the 1980s.

Harry Suckow[edit]

Harry Suckow is still in New Jersey and works with a service providing background checks for adults who work with children in sports.

Thomas Fenwick[edit]

Thomas Fenwick, the main person behind the Aztec compiler, went on to create the kernel for Windows CE.[8][9][10] The latter reference suggests: "Thomas Fenwick is one of those guys at Microsoft that I think they put in the corner in some closet, and ... they throw him at the hardest problems they have in the company. A genius of the nth order, an absolutely brilliant guy. And he came in and his job was to create something new." Which, by implication, he did. "And so Thomas came in and he looked at Mimosa and he said, basically, 'This is crap. I don’t like it. Let’s throw this away.' He didn’t tell anybody though, and so for two months, he set out to write a new operating system and he called it NK, because I think that it was called New Kernel... Thomas told us that he had written this New Kernel, and that the compilers were working just fine, and he had built it and it was running on the SH3 reference board, and all was well, so we continued to cruise down that path. And New Kernel, or NK, subsequently became what people know as Windows CE today."

This modus operandi, of producing a new program ab ovo in record time after hours, is representative of Fenwick's work on Aztec C and Jim Goodnow's work on vi for the Apple IIe, completed during a long weekend of binge programming. (Goodnow was responsible for the Aztec backends for the Apple, Commodore and Amiga platforms.)

Fenwick is now a photographer and lives in Washington.

James Goodnow II[edit]

James Goodnow worked extensively on the Amiga during and after leaving Manx Software Systems.

He is now in California.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ PC chipsets build a firm foundation for embedded applications
  2. ^ History of PC based C-compilers
  3. ^ Hardware and software vendor contact information, L-P
  4. ^
  5. ^ The Unofficial Aztec C Online Museum
  6. ^ The Unofficial Aztec C Online Museum
  7. ^ The Unofficial Aztec C Online Museum
  8. ^ The Windows CE Networking Team WebLog
  9. ^ Inside Microsoft Windows
  10. ^ Microsoft Word - Bill Baxter FINAL.doc