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What was Atari's reason for launching the STE?


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#1 Mostro OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Mar 20, 2017 5:53 PM

I've seen a thread elsewhere on this site that discusses the STE; however, even that doesn't really answer the one question I've always had- what was Atari's business motivation and rationale for launching the STE in the first place?

 

I know that an enhanced ST had apparently been in the works for a while, but by the time it came out I'm assuming it was supposed to counter the growing threat from the Amiga's recent fall in price. The problem with this- and the likely reason it completely failed in that respect- is that Atari marketed it in a short-termist way that completely destroyed any chance it had of doing this.

 

IMHO, Atari shot themselves in the foot by not having it directly replace the STFM at the same price point as soon as it was available in late 1989. From what I remember, initial reports seemed to think that this was indeed the plan. (#1)

 

However, after a while, it became clear that the STFM had not been discontinued, nor had its price been reduced- it was still the regular £299 bundle model, and IIRC the STE cost more. (Was it £399? Can't remember exactly.)

 

So- who exactly were Atari expecting to buy the STE? Not me; I didn't have enough money, and if I had, it's likely I'd have overcome any Atari "loyalty" (#2) and have spent it on an Amiga, which was selling for £400 by that point. (#3) And that's the problem- I assume that anyone who wasn't already a diehard ST owner would have done the same.

 

I've seen people in other threads here asking why there was very little support for the STE's enhanced features. It seems very simple to me- chicken and egg. No-one supported the STE features because few people owned an STE, and why bother paying more for an STE if its enhanced features weren't supported? (Especially since the Amiga already had well-supported graphics and sound if you wanted to pay more).

 

Had the STE completely replaced the STFM at £299 in late 1989, it would have ensured a larger base of STE models- and fewer STFMs- purely by default. This would have made it worth software houses' time to support the enhanced features. And this might have extended the ST's popularity a bit longer... if Atari hadn't been so shortsighted.

 

Atari seemed to think people were going to pay extra for what- in hindsight- should have been features of the base model if they hoped to see off the Amiga. Ha ha ha- no.

 

So... why did Atari even bother releasing the STE in the first place? What did they expect?

 

(Yes, I know the STE eventually replaced the STFM in mid-1991, but it was already too late by then; the Amiga had completely displaced the ST. I replaced my STFM (#3) with an Amiga- not an STE- at the end of that year).

 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

(#1) Double-checking the Feb 1990 back issue of New Atari User- where I would have read it- confirms I'm remembering this  correctly. It states that the STE had appeared unannounced in place of the STFM in existing bundles (presumably at the same price point) and that they- understandably- took this to mean that the STFM was now "gone".

 

(#2) Even at the time I- as an 800XL owner- realised my fanboyism had its limits. In hindsight, it's clearer that Jack Tramiel's "Atari"- and the ST which was a product of his "power without the price" vision- was philosophically very different to the "Atari" (Inc) that gave birth to the 400/800 series, but I wasn't aware of such subtleties at the time.

 

(#3) In fact, I'm sorry to say- with respect to the ST fans here- that I regretted my decision to buy an STFM. Even then it had clearly been overtaken by the now-affordable Amiga. I sold it just under a year later to buy an A500 Plus, and I never regretted that- the only thing I regret is not getting the machine I'd really wanted in the first place (in part because I was averse to navigating the secondhand market) and missing out on an extra year of it at the top. (#4)

 

(#4) Disgruntled ST owners will like the irony that when I *did* get an Amiga (Christmas 1991), it was- in hindsight- at almost the exact point its popularity had peaked, with only one way to go in the face of competition from rapidly improving PC clones on one side and the Mega Drive (and later SNES) on the other. By the following year, the focus already seemed to have moved away from it. People say technology moves fast today, but in hindsight it's clear that the ST and then Amiga each had a surprisingly short time at the top.



#2 atarian63 OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Mar 20, 2017 7:55 PM

A modestly improved product already developed, we sold quite a few as the ANTI Amiga. We also sold Amiga but preferred our ST's. Always had a few sound demos running on the STE beside the A500.



#3 opcode OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Mar 20, 2017 8:42 PM

The problem with the STE was timing. Had it been released in 87, chances for success would have improved considerably. By 1989 it was already too little too late. Atari wasn't aggressive enough with their hardware, and the STE didn't have the necessary features to compete against the PC/Mac like the ST had back in 85. If we follow Moore's law, by 1989 the new ST should be 4 times faster than the original ST (32MHz maybe) with at least 2MB of RAM. Video should have 4 times more memory bandwidth as well, essentially the TT graphics, but all at the same price range as the original ST (around $1000 with color monitor).

And it was also a good idea to offer at least cooperative multitasking by then.



#4 oracle_jedi OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Mar 21, 2017 12:56 AM

Everything opcode says is right,

 

And you can replace Atari with Commodore, STE with Amiga 1200 and 1989 with 1992 and it all still makes sense.

 

By the late 80s, both Atari and Commodore were being squeezed by Nintendo dominating the entertainment end of the market, and IBM PC compatibles dominating the productivity end of the market.  And as PCs got better and cheaper, there were fewer and fewer reasons to choose an Atari or a Commodore.

 

Didn't Commodore sell the A600 along side the A1200?  Wasn't the A600 supposed to be a cost-reduced A500 but ended up being more expensive?  The AGA chipset was barely evolutionary, let only revolutionary like the original OCS in the A1000 had been.  Why is there so little AGA specific software? 

 

It's easy to play Monday morning quaterback with the benefits of hindsight.  But what could they have done differently?  Both companies were trying to capitalize on limited R&D budgets to squeeze some market differentiation, but Sega and Nintendo had a lock on the IP that kids wanted to play, and with PCs the advent of affordable sound card standard (Soundblaster), CD-ROM media, Windows 3.x and sheer grunt of the 486 which more than compensated for the lack of hardware accelerated graphics on the VGA, meant that any advantage Atari or Commodore had was fast evaporating.



#5 zzip OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Mar 21, 2017 7:48 AM

The obvious reason was it made the ST line closer in capabilities to the Amiga

 

I agree with others about the timing, 89 was too late.  87 or 88 would have been better,  but after the amazing speed Atari brought the original ST to market,  every R&D effort after seemed slow and behind the times.

 

I would also say that the Tramiels seemed to just dump anything on the market to make a buck, even if it didn't have a great marketing story.   The 7800 that had already been outclassed by the competition by the time it finally got released.  The XE Game System (who was that for exactly?) that went head to head with the 7800.  So it didn't matter if the STe's configuration was the right answer for 1989, they were going to push it to market anyway, dammit!

 

by the way, I did buy an STe after seeing it demoed at a user group.   But it hadn't even been on my radar prior to that, so Atari's marketing (or lack therof) didn't reach me :)



#6 atarian63 OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Mar 21, 2017 10:05 AM

Everything opcode says is right,

 

And you can replace Atari with Commodore, STE with Amiga 1200 and 1989 with 1992 and it all still makes sense.

 

By the late 80s, both Atari and Commodore were being squeezed by Nintendo dominating the entertainment end of the market, and IBM PC compatibles dominating the productivity end of the market.  And as PCs got better and cheaper, there were fewer and fewer reasons to choose an Atari or a Commodore.

 

Didn't Commodore sell the A600 along side the A1200?  Wasn't the A600 supposed to be a cost-reduced A500 but ended up being more expensive?  The AGA chipset was barely evolutionary, let only revolutionary like the original OCS in the A1000 had been.  Why is there so little AGA specific software? 

 

It's easy to play Monday morning quaterback with the benefits of hindsight.  But what could they have done differently?  Both companies were trying to capitalize on limited R&D budgets to squeeze some market differentiation, but Sega and Nintendo had a lock on the IP that kids wanted to play, and with PCs the advent of affordable sound card standard (Soundblaster), CD-ROM media, Windows 3.x and sheer grunt of the 486 which more than compensated for the lack of hardware accelerated graphics on the VGA, meant that any advantage Atari or Commodore had was fast evaporating.

Yeah, I never quite understood the whole pc thing, and I was a dealer who sold Atari, commodore and several pc brands. You had early 8bit vga,adlib sound, and a rotten pc joystick. Games and still photos looked pretty but unless you liked an RPG or the like, it was NO arcade game player at the time, plus all the convoluted memory setups for EACH game, it was just god awful, yet people wanted it for some reason. I do agree Atari and Commodore were behind the times as far as cpu power goes. Lots of vaporware that if it arrived at all it was very late! Also true about Nintendo, though graphics were poor by comparison it filled the arcade game thing really well and was available everywhere. 



#7 zzip OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Mar 21, 2017 10:57 AM

Yeah, I never quite understood the whole pc thing, and I was a dealer who sold Atari, commodore and several pc brands. You had early 8bit vga,adlib sound, and a rotten pc joystick. Games and still photos looked pretty but unless you liked an RPG or the like, it was NO arcade game player at the time, plus all the convoluted memory setups for EACH game, it was just god awful, yet people wanted it for some reason. I do agree Atari and Commodore were behind the times as far as cpu power goes. Lots of vaporware that if it arrived at all it was very late! Also true about Nintendo, though graphics were poor by comparison it filled the arcade game thing really well and was available everywhere. 

 

That's because you were looking at the situation as a gamer and/or multimedia fan.  As many of us did at the time.

 

People wanted PCs because they used them at work.  They wanted  what they knew. They didn't care about graphics and sound.  "that's great that it can bounce a ball, but does it run Lotus 1-2-3?"   There were apparently more of these people in the world than gamers.   I doubt very few gamers would have picked up a PC in the 80s for the reasons you mentioned.  



#8 opcode OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Mar 21, 2017 1:00 PM

I agree with zzip, but that is why I had more faith in the ST than Amigas. The STs always looked more business oriented. And in fact I believe the initial reaction to the ST was quite positive.
It seems to me that perhaps the Tramiel were expecting to sell millions of STs every year and once it became clear that wasn't going to happen, they just entered "make a buck" mode as zzip mentioned.

#9 Mostro OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Mar 21, 2017 1:58 PM

Thank you for the interesting responses.

 

That said, I still don't think anyone really got to the bottom of the specific reason I started this thread... i.e. to figure out just what Atari were thinking- and expected to achieve- when they launched the STE. And if (as I suspect) they thought it might help against the £400 Amiga 500, why they did so in a manner that seemed counter-productive (for the reasons I explained in my original post) and short-termist.

 

I'll perhaps excuse them on the initial pricing by noting that the Amiga's fall to £399 was apparently in late 1989- i.e. almost exactly the same time the STE was launched- so it's possible Atari still thought a £399 STE was competing against a £499 Amiga. But after that... nope.

 

It's clear from adverts that the RRP of an STE "Turbo Pack" was still £399 circa late 1990. (#) Perhaps they couldn't afford to sell it any cheaper? Perhaps they just got greedy?

 

Yes, I'll admit that I have the massive advantage of hindsight and time to ponder something which is rather academic 25 years on!  ;)  Even so, they could have asked themselves whether it was likely people would buy an STE- admittedly improved over the base STFM, but was it as good as an Amiga, and where was the support?- instead of the already more-popular and supported Amiga for a similar price.

 

Then again, it's quite likely that I've given more thought to this matter than Atari ever did at the time!  :-D 

 

(#) A mail order discounter was selling it for £379 (those typically being around £20 to £30 cheaper than retail).


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#10 Mostro OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Mar 21, 2017 2:18 PM

A modestly improved product already developed, we sold quite a few as the ANTI Amiga. We also sold Amiga but preferred our ST's. Always had a few sound demos running on the STE beside the A500.

 

I bet the demo setup was entirely fair and unbiased? ;) I wasn't familiar with it at the time, but I heard that the STE's PCM audio was hobbled by a very limited range of playback rates- e.g. you couldn't play all notes of a musical scale without multiple samples?

 

The problem with the STE was timing. Had it been released in 87, chances for success would have improved considerably. By 1989 it was already too little too late. Atari wasn't aggressive enough with their hardware, and the STE didn't have the necessary features to compete against the PC/Mac like the ST had back in 85. If we follow Moore's law, by 1989 the new ST should be 4 times faster than the original ST (32MHz maybe) with at least 2MB of RAM. Video should have 4 times more memory bandwidth as well, essentially the TT graphics, but all at the same price range as the original ST (around $1000 with color monitor).

And it was also a good idea to offer at least cooperative multitasking by then.

 

I've observed previously that, while the Amiga's pre-emptive multitasking is great, it- and the rest of the OS- doesn't appear to be reliant upon any custom hardware the Amiga has that the (also 68000-based) ST doesn't.

 

In other words, from a purely technical point of view, there appears to be no reason that the Amiga OS couldn't have been ported to- and run just as effectively on- first-generation ST hardware.

 

I know that the ST got a proper multitasking OS later on, but it'd have been nice if it had that earlier.


Edited by Mostro, Tue Mar 21, 2017 2:19 PM.


#11 zzip OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Mar 21, 2017 3:01 PM

Thank you for the interesting responses.

 

That said, I still don't think anyone really got to the bottom of the specific reason I started this thread... i.e. to figure out just what Atari were thinking- and expected to achieve- when they launched the STE. And if (as I suspect) they thought it might help against the £400 Amiga 500, why they did so in a manner that seemed counter-productive (for the reasons I explained in my original post) and short-termist.

 

I'll perhaps excuse them on the initial pricing by noting that the Amiga's fall to £399 was apparently in late 1989- i.e. almost exactly the same time the STE was launched- so it's possible Atari still thought a £399 STE was competing against a £499 Amiga. But after that... nope.

 

It's clear from adverts that the RRP of an STE "Turbo Pack" was still £399 circa late 1990. (#) Perhaps they couldn't afford to sell it any cheaper? Perhaps they just got greedy?

 

Yes, I'll admit that I have the massive advantage of hindsight and time to ponder something which is rather academic 25 years on!  ;)  Even so, they could have asked themselves whether it was likely people would buy an STE- admittedly improved over the base STFM, but was it as good as an Amiga, and where was the support?- instead of the already more-popular and supported Amiga for a similar price.

 

Then again, it's quite likely that I've given more thought to this matter than Atari ever did at the time!  :-D

 

(#) A mail order discounter was selling it for £379 (those typically being around £20 to £30 cheaper than retail).

 

Again I'd blame slow R&D post-ST launch.  For instance, I remember their blitter chip was in development for what seemed like an eternity.   I saw a demo of it at an Atari show in 1987 and it still "wasn't ready" for release at that point.   By the time the STe was ready for market, it was too little too late.   A 16mhz option would have at least been nice, but that didn't come until the MegaSTe three years later!   What they were thinking--   they needed to support the ST line and stay relevant.  The Amiga was becoming cost competitive with the ST, so they needed to make the ST feature-competitive with the Amiga

 

Why the STe competed against the STfm?   My guess is pure Tramiel, they had STfm stock left so they dumped it on the market

 

Why didn't the STe get much support?   This is always a problem when you enhance devices midway into their generation.   Developers want to support the least common denominator to guarantee the most sales.  You need a large market to be immune to this problem.

 

I also think the Tramiels were blind to the PC threat at first.  They thought the 16-bit market would mirror the 8-bit market, and Tramiel could win again by simply being the low cost provider.   That only worked for a short while.   One problem was 8-bits were cheap, so they could easily sell tons of C64s,  but the 16-bits were not cheap.   In a sense, people bought C64s instead of game consoles for a few years.  But now people were again buying actual game consoles with the NES, and the STs and Amigas were far too expensive for many people to buy as just a game machine, so that market dropped out from under them.  The serious computer market increasingly wanted PCs and Macs. 

 

When they hit that point, they didn't seem to know what to do, so they did a little bit of everything.  They dumped their stock of old 7800 videogame consoles on the market, they created a new console from the 8bit line.  They bought a workstation-class computer design (the Transputer) they planned to sell.  They created a couple of PC-compatible systems.  Bought the handheld Lynx design from Epyx, did the TT, STe, then the Jaguar and Panther.  But it seemed to lack focus and weren't gaining traction anywhere.

 

TL;DR-  Atari didn't really know what they were doing.  Tramiel's "win by selling everything cheaper than the competition" didn't work, and there was no backup plan. 



#12 Mostro OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Mar 21, 2017 3:10 PM

By the late 80s, both Atari and Commodore were being squeezed by Nintendo dominating the entertainment end of the market, and IBM PC compatibles dominating the productivity end of the market.  And as PCs got better and cheaper, there were fewer and fewer reasons to choose an Atari or a Commodore.

 

That may have been the case in the US. However, AFAIK the ST and Amiga never really took off there in the first place- you can't lose what you never really had!- and since they enjoyed their greatest success in Europe, the US-centric perspective may be unintentionally misleading.

 

The threat from Nintendo? Not in Europe, so much. Here's the thing. During the late 80s, the NES was never remotely close to being as popular in the UK as it was in the US. It wasn't a flop by normal standards, but it wasn't that big either- it even was outsold by the Sega Master System- and neither console came close to unseating the home computer formats as the NES had in the US. (#) It wasn't until the Game Boy came out here circa 1990 that Nintendo really took off. As far as I'm aware, there was a similar pattern elsewhere in Western Europe, not helped by Nintendo's well-known indifference to European markets in general compared to the US and Japan.

 

So, no. Nintendo wasn't the cause of the ST's decline in its largest market around the turn of the decade; that was more obviously due to the Amiga.

 

The PC? Yes, they started to take off here when Amstrad launched affordable PC clones from 1986 onwards. But those were never really popular among gamers, who still tended to go for the ST initially, and then the Amiga later in the 80s and during the early 90s.

 

Eventually the Amiga itself did start to decline in the face of the Mega Drive- and later, SNES- on one side and increasingly cheap (and higher-specced) commodity PCs on the other. But that was from 1992-93 onwards, long after the late 80s US market you describe.

 

I'd say that the European market appears to be far more similar to the US one nowadays, but please don't assume this was always the case.

 

(#) This article makes essentially the same point that I've been railing about for years regarding Nintendo-centric rewriting of history.


Edited by Mostro, Tue Mar 21, 2017 3:15 PM.


#13 Nebulon OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Mar 21, 2017 3:27 PM

I didn't get to really try out an STe until recently and have since added a couple of them to my collection.

 

Can it perform like an Amiga 500? Yes it can! Once I saw Stardust running on the STe, I realized that it was one hot little machine.

 

As for the ST running AmigaDOS/Workbench, it should be noted that the Blitter is implemented in running the desktop environment.

 

Why did Atari release the STe? To compete with the Amiga of course. Back in the day an Atari user told me that the intention was to include the blitter in the Atari ST from the start. Judging from the motherboard layouts, I tend to believe what he said.

 

Why did Atari keep the other machines on the market? Part of it has already been mentioned (excess stock). However, a lot of companies adhere to the strategy of filling in 'gaps' in the market. They make many iterations and 'levels' of product to fill in just about every price point (think about HP and their inkjet printers). The problem is, when you're dealing with a machine that runs software, having too many variations of hardware can kill your platform. For example, the single-sided drive on the early Atari ST machines. That should never have happened. Someone on the decision-making team should have warned them that it would lead to development and production hell for software titles and inter-user compatibility.

 

Why weren't there more titles that used the STe's enhanced features? The same reason why there aren't more AGA titles on the Amiga platform (or more titles specifically for the Tandy Color Computer 3). As mentioned, software development is a numbers game. You put resources into the platforms that will sell enough units to justify the expense and effort.

 

Why did business people run out and buy a PC? This is why:

https://www.youtube....h?v=yuIbfx62X5A

 

Regardless, the ST had a really good thing going with the monochrome high-resolution mode. It really should have been marketed better. There's no reason why it couldn't have taken a larger chunk of the market from the Mac and PC in the early years.

 

As for regrets, a good friend of mine purchased a TT030 when it first came out. He's a programmer and has no regrets whatsoever.


Edited by Nebulon, Tue Mar 21, 2017 3:31 PM.


#14 opcode OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Mar 21, 2017 3:35 PM

It doesn't matter if it was the amiga, since that platform also died not long after. Which means they were both making mistakes and fighting over a niche market where neither had a chance to survive long term.
The crucial market was business, and the ST enjoy some success while it was seen as a viable business machine. Instead of keep using the Amiga as a reference, I suggest using the Mac, as it was the only surviving platform other than the PC.
zzip's last post has so far the best analysis on Atari modus operandi under the Tramiels.

#15 Mostro OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Mar 21, 2017 4:03 PM

 

Again I'd blame slow R&D post-ST launch.  For instance, I remember their blitter chip was in development for what seemed like an eternity.   I saw a demo of it at an Atari show in 1987 and it still "wasn't ready" for release at that point.   By the time the STe was ready for market, it was too little too late.

 

The Amiga was also a victim of lack of development. It was so utterly state-of-the-art (and expensive) when it launched in 1985 that the barely-improved (and still 7.14 MHz 68000 based) architecture was still desirable five years later. But ultimately I think this led Commodore to get used to resting on its laurels and the need to plan ahead- so that when everyone else *did* start to catch up, there wasn't really enough inertia.

 

The AGA-based A1200 and A4000 were a nice improvement, but evolutionary rather than revolutionary, and came out just a bit too late to reverse the trend. Had they come out 18 months earlier, the Amiga might have survived longer. Might.

 

From what I understand there were quite a few talented designers working at C=, who were quite proud of the high-end Amiga 3000 from 1990. That seems to have been the closest it came to a significant improvement in its heyday. But nice though its design may have been, I'm not sure it had much that could have led the way forward in mass market terms.

 

Perhaps Commodore (like Atari) was just too small- and too cynically run- to take on the changing marketplace and the threat from commodity PCs and better-equipped console manufacturers.

 

 

Why didn't the STe get much support?   This is always a problem when you enhance devices midway into their generation.   Developers want to support the least common denominator to guarantee the most sales.  You need a large market to be immune to this problem.

 

Indeed, that's why I thought the STE *had* to entirely replace the STFM when it first came out- to ensure that there were enough people with the STE (by default) to make it worth supporting and overcome the "anti-network effect" (i.e. no software -> no buyers -> no software -> no buyers...), whereas continuing to sell the STFM *increased* the proportion of lowest-common denominator STs.

 

Early Amiga games had a reputation for being straight ports of the ST version not taking advantage of the enhanced sound and graphics. However, from the late 80s onwards, this applied less and less, and most games took advantage of it. You couldn't have been sure that was going to be the case even if the STE had been as good as the Amiga, so which machine would most people go for at the same price point? Enough said.

 

 

TL;DR-  Atari didn't really know what they were doing.  Tramiel's "win by selling everything cheaper than the competition" didn't work, and there was no backup plan. 

 

That sounds about right.

 

 

I'll also note that the thing Tramiel got right with Commodore in the 8-bit days was the vertical integration that gave them a huge advantage in both price terms and ability to design and manufacture (e.g.) the C64's custom chips. When he fell out with the C= board and formed Atari Corp, he didn't have the same advantage. Perhaps that was also a factor?

 

I've heard it argue that Tramiel's approach didn't shift with the changing market. In the late 70s and early 80s, Commodore practically had people coming to *them* to find out about- and buy- their computers. I've also heard it said that Tramiel was a hardware- not software- guy. (#)  This worked for him first time round, and he didn't feel- or understand- the need to market the computers or that- by then- software sold hardware.

 

At the time- though I might not have admitted it as an Atari fanboy- and more obviously in hindsight, Atari's marketing and software development felt utterly shoestring and third-tier compared to anything their "rivals" were doing. Even in the early 90s, the technically-brilliant Lynx was marred by crappy marketing and "knock off unlicensed soundalike" game titles reminiscent of small companies in the early 80s (e.g. "Dirty Larry" (cough), "Blue Lightning" (Afterburner clone, name obviously nicked from Blue Thunder, etc.)

 

The XEGS was originally meant to be released in Europe instead of the 7800, but we eventually got the latter here anyway. Why? They were competing against each other and going nowhere even compared to Nintendo or Sega. (Despite criticism of the XEGS, however, there's a very interesting Usenet post from the late 1980s that suggests it was never quite the "sad attempt to compete with the NES" it might have appeared, but a slightly more knowing attempt to "trojan horse" the 65XE in disguise to retailers who were more interested in consoles).

 

Contrary to what some US-centric viewpoints claim, the ST *was* pretty successful for a while in Europe during the mid-to-late 80s, but overall Atari Corp gives the impression of a damp squib.

 

(#) Which might explain the lousy BASIC and OS in the C64- that, and the fact they wanted to keep taking advantage of the dirt-cheap royalty deal they'd got on the original, but dated, Microsoft BASIC!



#16 Mostro OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Mar 21, 2017 4:54 PM

you can replace Atari with Commodore, STE with Amiga 1200 and 1989 with 1992 and it all still makes sense.

 

Didn't Commodore sell the A600 along side the A1200?  Wasn't the A600 supposed to be a cost-reduced A500 but ended up being more expensive?  The AGA chipset was barely evolutionary, let only revolutionary like the original OCS in the A1000 had been.  Why is there so little AGA specific software?

 

There's actually more AGA-specific software than you (or I) might have realised. (Bear in mind that the CD32 console was essentially an A1200 plus CD drive and "planar" chip, sans keyboard.) Some of it came out surprisingly late- I was surprised to find out recently that there had been an AGA-specific version of Street Fighter II Turbo released in 1995. (#) But- like the A1200 itself- it came out just a bit too late for most people to shift their attention back to the Amiga.

 

The A600 on the other hand? An indefensible debacle. Most accounts make clear it was intended as the budget "A300"- which might have worked- but for some reason they positioned it as the successor to the A500 at the same price, despite the core spec being unimproved and inferior in many ways. At just about the point (it's clear in hindsight) that the Amiga was starting to prove vulnerable, this utterly pointless muddying of the waters would have given the impression that the format was stale and dated. The "new" Amiga? Ha ha ha. :( The A1200- more obviously the true successor to the A500- came out six months later, but it never attained the same status and looking back, the A600 was probably the Amiga's "jump the shark" moment at which it lost its former desirability and never really recovered.

 

(#) To put this in perspective, C= were already bankrupt by this point- they went under in 1994, and after more than a year of inactivity, Escom's plan in late 1995 to relaunch the (by now three year old and unimproved) A1200 at £100 more than it was selling for before the bankruptcy(!!!) was so obviously destined for failure that even I knew it was dead.



#17 opcode OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Mar 21, 2017 5:00 PM

Sincerely I think Jay Miner's computers were overrated. There, I said that. They were glorified video games (in the sense they were too concerned with graphics and sound) that were powerful in regard to AV but unnecessarily complicated to program for. Processing power was always average at best. Basically he was creating machines that were expensive to manufacture and not that superior for serious applications, except maybe for a few specific AV applications. And to make things worse, his architectures, with tons of bus sharing, were probably a nightmare to replace components with faster versions without redesigning the whole system.

Apple seems to be the only company that understood what the market wanted (raw processing power and expansibility), selling their machines at 80~100% profit margins while by the late 80s Atari and Commodore were mostly after the hobbyist market and fighting for peanuts.



#18 Zogging Hell OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Mar 21, 2017 5:28 PM

I may be wrong but I believe the STe's pricing was in part influenced by a rise in the price of RAM at the time, which Commodore was slightly better insulated from (did they have their own memory production?). IIRC the STe came out at £399, then rapidly dropped to £299, before rocketing up to £399 again as RAM prices peaked. At £299, the STe was clearly a better price performance choice than the Amiga, at £399 though, the opposite is true.

 

I sure it has been said before, but I suspect the STe was clearly hobbled so it would not eat up sales for the upcoming Mega STe and TT. I suspect the Tramiels had noticed that having a professional option which is basically the same as the budget number (as in STFM/ Mega STFM relationship) with a different box and nicer keyboard, isn't enough of an upgrade to charge twice the price for. If the STe had been too good, why bother to buy the swanky models. I understand why they did it, but it failed in practise as you end up having to support three different machines instead of one (plus all the legacy STFMs).



#19 atarian63 OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Mar 21, 2017 5:59 PM

 

That's because you were looking at the situation as a gamer and/or multimedia fan.  As many of us did at the time.

 

People wanted PCs because they used them at work.  They wanted  what they knew. They didn't care about graphics and sound.  "that's great that it can bounce a ball, but does it run Lotus 1-2-3?"   There were apparently more of these people in the world than gamers.   I doubt very few gamers would have picked up a PC in the 80s for the reasons you mentioned.  

Oh I am aware of it, just did not agree with it, has a retail store for 20+ years all through that era, we sold tons of pc's but never liked them. Could be of the 5000 skus we sold 96% were games!



#20 Mostro OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Mar 21, 2017 6:01 PM

I may be wrong but I believe the STe's pricing was in part influenced by a rise in the price of RAM at the time, which Commodore was slightly better insulated from (did they have their own memory production?). IIRC the STe came out at £399, then rapidly dropped to £299, before rocketing up to £399 again as RAM prices peaked. At £299, the STe was clearly a better price performance choice than the Amiga, at £399 though, the opposite is true.

 

I sure it has been said before, but I suspect the STe was clearly hobbled so it would not eat up sales for the upcoming Mega STe and TT. I suspect the Tramiels had noticed that having a professional option which is basically the same as the budget number (as in STFM/ Mega STFM relationship) with a different box and nicer keyboard, isn't enough of an upgrade to charge twice the price for. If the STe had been too good, why bother to buy the swanky models. I understand why they did it, but it failed in practise as you end up having to support three different machines instead of one (plus all the legacy STFMs).

 

I vaguely remember that the STFM- which had come down to £299 in late 1987- went up to £399 the following year due to increases in the cost of RAM. (Atari tried to mitigate this by bundling it with a lot of games.) This article confirms that RAM prices went up massively in 1988; ditto this contemporary report. Perhaps you're thinking of that?

 

I've no idea if you're right about the STE or not- but unless it used completely different memory chips to the STFM (and couldn't be easily redesigned to accept different ones), surely any increase in RAM prices for the STE would have affected the STFM as well? The Wikipedia article doesn't indicate a "chip famine"(!) circa 1990 or 91.

 

Also, by 1990-91, wouldn't prices have fallen enough in general so that even a (proportionately) similar increase to the 1988 one wouldn't increase the cost of 512KB by as much as it had then?



#21 atarian63 OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Mar 21, 2017 6:55 PM

 

I vaguely remember that the STFM- which had come down to £299 in late 1987- went up to £399 the following year due to increases in the cost of RAM. (Atari tried to mitigate this by bundling it with a lot of games.) This article confirms that RAM prices went up massively in 1988; ditto this contemporary report. Perhaps you're thinking of that?

 

I've no idea if you're right about the STE or not- but unless it used completely different memory chips to the STFM (and couldn't be easily redesigned to accept different ones), surely any increase in RAM prices for the STE would have affected the STFM as well? The Wikipedia article doesn't indicate a "chip famine"(!) circa 1990 or 91.

 

Also, by 1990-91, wouldn't prices have fallen enough in general so that even a (proportionately) similar increase to the 1988 one wouldn't increase the cost of 512KB by as much as it had then?

It did, supply for ST's here in the US was nearly non existent, just in time for a500 which we could get in good supply.



#22 zzip OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Mar 22, 2017 9:03 AM

It doesn't matter if it was the amiga, since that platform also died not long after. Which means they were both making mistakes and fighting over a niche market where neither had a chance to survive long term.
The crucial market was business, and the ST enjoy some success while it was seen as a viable business machine. Instead of keep using the Amiga as a reference, I suggest using the Mac, as it was the only surviving platform other than the PC.
zzip's last post has so far the best analysis on Atari modus operandi under the Tramiels.

 
Wasn't the Mac the ST's original target anyway?   It's early nickname was the "Jackintosh" after all.   I think ST did go after the then young desktop publishing market,  and did steal a lot of the MIDI musician business from Apple--   unfortunately that's the only real niche where ST dominated.
 

The Amiga was also a victim of lack of development. It was so utterly state-of-the-art (and expensive) when it launched in 1985 that the barely-improved (and still 7.14 MHz 68000 based) architecture was still desirable five years later. But ultimately I think this led Commodore to get used to resting on its laurels and the need to plan ahead- so that when everyone else *did* start to catch up, there wasn't really enough inertia.

 
Perhaps Commodore (like Atari) was just too small- and too cynically run- to take on the changing marketplace and the threat from commodity PCs and better-equipped console manufacturers.

 
​Yes.  Jack left Commodore in Jan 84.  In Jan 85, he was owner of Atari showing off STs at Winter CES.  It was on store shelves within 6 months of that. That's remarkable development time!  If they could have released ST upgrades that quickly it would have been amazing.  But  he slashed R&D at Atari quite a bit.   Every project seemed to take forever after about 1986.   I think they were definitely too small to be competitive.
 

Contrary to what some US-centric viewpoints claim, the ST *was* pretty successful for a while in Europe during the mid-to-late 80s, but overall Atari Corp gives the impression of a damp squib.
 
(#) Which might explain the lousy BASIC and OS in the C64- that, and the fact they wanted to keep taking advantage of the dirt-cheap royalty deal they'd got on the original, but dated, Microsoft BASIC!

 
Yes it was, especially Germany.  I had lots of great German language software that I used because there were no English equivalents for them. 
 
 

I sure it has been said before, but I suspect the STe was clearly hobbled so it would not eat up sales for the upcoming Mega STe and TT. I suspect the Tramiels had noticed that having a professional option which is basically the same as the budget number (as in STFM/ Mega STFM relationship) with a different box and nicer keyboard, isn't enough of an upgrade to charge twice the price for. If the STe had been too good, why bother to buy the swanky models. I understand why they did it, but it failed in practise as you end up having to support three different machines instead of one (plus all the legacy STFMs).


There's probably a lot of truth to that,  but seems like the Megas should have been released alongside the consumer models, instead of years later.    It would have made the ST seem more of a professional machine.



#23 rdemming OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Mar 22, 2017 9:28 AM

 

I wasn't familiar with it at the time, but I heard that the STE's PCM audio was hobbled by a very limited range of playback rates- e.g. you couldn't play all notes of a musical scale without multiple samples?

 

It's true that the STE only has 4 playback rates (unlike the Amiga that has variable playback rates) but that doesn't mean you need multiple samples to play other notes.

The STE replay rates are 50KHz, 25KHz, 12.5KHz and 6.25KHz and there are only two channels (left and right). For Amiga like tracker music you need to mix the 4 channels and adjust the sample frequency in software. So it indeed costs more CPU time to prepare the sample buffer than just playing the 4 separate samples as on the Amiga. But this makes it also more flexible because the software mixing makes for example stereo panning and more than 4 channels possible.

 

The same software mixing techniques were applied on the Amiga as well to enable 7 channel TFMX replay (were one Amiga channel was used for the software mixed 4 channels) and OctaMed tracker to play 8 channels.

 

The Atari Falcon added a DSP processor were the software mixing of samples could be done in the DSP thus offloading the main 680x0 processor.

 

Robert



#24 opcode OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Mar 22, 2017 9:50 AM

I am a believer that the ST initially succeeded not because it was an affordable machine, but because it was a capable machine. People just saw value on it and bought. So I agree with zzip that the moment they stopped being agresive with hardware development, they just lost it. By 1989 Apple was offering a compact model with 68030@16MHz, not to mention the Mac II, which was also 32bit and had way better video (available since 1987). With the Mac LC in 1990, apple had a 32 bit "low cost" system with the same video as the Mac II. Atari had the STE. Mac LC was also less expensive than the TT. By then Atari was behind times.

#25 opcode OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Mar 22, 2017 10:04 AM

And we aren't even talking about the OS. By late 1987 the Mac was already capable of cooperative multitasking. By the time we got TOS 1.4, Mac users were already enjoying System 6.




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