wood_jl, on Thu Jan 12, 2012 2:07 AM, said:
The trouble is that once they established the lowest common denominator of single-sided 360K 3.5" drives, it could not be abandoned. Software had to be forevermore distributed on these wasteful, low-capacity disks. They *did* eventually upgrade the 520STfm to double-sided, but the first sentence of this paragraph still applied.
This is always the case though. You either aim at lower cost/price and a broader market, or you push for a higher minimum standard at the expense of higher price/cost and more limited market. (in the US, 720k probably would have made sense -as would aiming at a higher-end market in general, but it could have ruined them in Europe as well as losing a fair chunk of the lower-end niche in the US -and whether they actually would have been more successful pushing mainly towards a higher/mid-range price even in the US is debatable -the bigger issue for the US market was marketing/distribution -albeit not having a desktop form factor hurt market perception too)
However, a better compromise would be making 360k the low-end standard, but prominently offering a 720k option from day 1 and making that the standard on higher-end models.
Also, lowest common denominators will change over time . . . look at PCs. 360k 40 track DSDD 5.25" disks was the bottom standard, but with 1.2 MB 5.25" and DD and HD 3.5" gradually becoming more and more popular, there was a shift in favor of higher densities, with both 1.2 and 1.44 MB disks becoming common by the beginning of the 90s (and most software transitioning to one or both of those formats by the early 90s -often with mail-in options for older formats), and eventually dropping 5.25" all together (around 1994, not long before most software switched to CD-ROM)
And with the ST, we'd be talking a much simpler situation than with PCs too, since you'd have 3.5" standard from the start, so only the matter of going to DSDD and then DSHD.formats later on. (with both users and publishers transitioning between those)
Plus, if you standardized a higher density for later models with other specific hardware features, than software specific to those newer features (graphics/sound/CPU/etc) would naturally cater to the newer disks too, without even having to offer lower-end options. (since it wouldn't be able to run on those models anyway)
The bigger issue would be maintaining the market such that users consistently transition to the newer hardware. (and, obviously, offering said hardware in a timely and affordable manner)
Asking for more colors, different processors, or even a 1.44MB drive is a MUCH taller request. There are way too many factors to "after-the-fact armchair quarterback with 25 years hindsight" on those complicated issues. 720K drive is a VERY uncomplicated, existing drive mech swap that was eventually done, and as Lynxpro said, Amiga had 880K.
Again, there's still the cost issue.
And, as for the upgrades hardware (graphics/sound/CPU/etc), that was mainly in the context of expanding/evolving the line to keep it competitive (and expand the range of market segments it catered to). (albeit things like DMA sound and/or scrolling and/or chunky pixels and/or lower res modes -and certainly an expansion port/enhanced cart interface- may have been possible without compromising the price or release date -more an issue of design direction . . . though it probably would have been delayed if all those features were added -cost/price still probably wouldn't be a problem though)
Lack of consistent, timely, well-thought-out, efficient upgrades were one of the biggest problems with the ST (and Amiga for that matter).
Single-sided drives didn't hurt so much in the 5.25" era, as you still got 360K per double-density disk by flipping it. As you obviously couldn't flip a 3.5" disk, it resulted in tremedous media waste. As is any other hindsight consideration, it's easy to overlook how much things (as with RAM and hard disks, too) cost back in 1985. Floppy disks were NOT cheap, and it was a travesty to waste half of one with a single-sided 3.5" drive, especially for a kid in 1985 throwing newspapers or working at McDonald's.
But drivers weren't cheap either . . . so the question would be just how much more expensive a DSDD drive was compared to SSDD. (even Apple made that decision with the original Mac)
Another argument could be for using cheaper/common 5.25" disks/drives instead (common 40 track DSDD 360k disks -like PCs were using), and that would have had the advantage of greater potential (out of the box) PC compatibility on top of cost . . . but there's a whole other set of trade-offs. (from the practical -possibly media reliability issues- and aesthetic -3.5" made the ST look more high-tech)
Plus, 40 track disks also are a bit funky to move forward with since there's some level of incompatibility with 80 track (720k and 1.2 MB) disks (namely issues with old 40 track disks reading 40 track disks written/modified on 80 track drives) . . . PCs experienced this problem. (albeit, if Atari had used 720k DSDD 80 track disks from the start, they'd avoid that problem and have higher capacity than the SSDD disks used -plus cheaper drives and media- though PC compatibility would be more limited -the 80 vs 40 track issue as well as the limited support for 720k DSDD 80 track 5.25" disks on PCs -unlike 360k and 1.2 MB, which were both standardized by IBM)
Hell, they could have used a single-sided 80 track DD drive and still allowed 720k via flipping.
I already started a discussion on just this issue back here:
(from a practical sense, I still think 5.25" disks may have been better than what Atari used -be it 80 or 40 track, but from a marketing perspective it's a bit of a mess)