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Were Atari 8 bit, C64 and others mainly gaming machines?


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#1 toptenmaterial OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Mar 28, 2017 1:38 PM

Growing up, my dad had the original IBM PC which he used to run his business. He also let us play games on it, but retrospectively is was a business machine first. As a boy in elementary school we had the Apple IIGS and that could do it all. And of course, we got an NES and it's pretty clear what that did. I was never in contact with most of the 8 bit machines discussed here until adulthood.

So my question is this: were the Atari 400/800/ect and C64 and others like it pretty much just gaming machines? Did students use them as word processors? Did businesses have them in the office? And if there were other uses, how widespread was that? Was there a decent amount of use for these machines outside of gaming? Thanks.

Edited by toptenmaterial, Tue Mar 28, 2017 1:38 PM.


#2 Hyperboy OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Mar 28, 2017 1:46 PM

The SX-64 I have was given to my Uncle when he was an Executive at Nabisco in the 80's and my Father got my brother and I a Vic-20 then a C-64 for schoolwork and learning to code.
When I went to College in 1987 the SX-64 went with me and was my computer in school until I switched to PC stuff. So essentially they were all originally intended to be "work" machines but ultimately became "game" machines as well.

Side story: On the last day of highschool in 1987 when no one actually did any work I took the SX-64 to school and had a game tournament. Each class we played a different game (I think there was 8 of us playing) until the period was over. In our last class the top 2 players squared off in a best of 5 tournament with the game being chosen by the first place person. I was second and the other guy decided on Karate (IK). It came down to the final match and I lost. That thing weighed an ass ton but I didn't think a thing of it because I felt 10 feet tall walking the halls with a "portable" computer. :)

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#3 carlsson OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Mar 28, 2017 2:01 PM

I think both the Atari 8-bit and C64 were used in many smaller home offices and other places which could not afford an IBM PC or an Apple II series computer. There were quite a bit of word processing, budgetting, spreadsheets, register handling and other "serious" software for those who needed the job done, not relying on being compatible with market leaders. You also have programs for drawing, composing music, learning programming and other more creative arts.

 

For a brief while you also had various Videotex services using a modem, but then again you could use a specific, "dumb" Videotex terminal to access the same services so using a computer, whether it was a C64 or IBM PC, was not strictly needed for that purpose.

 

On my C64 connected to a MPS-801 matrix printer, I wrote some essays for school, arranged some music that I printed, drew/touched up some images and of course programming, but honestly I spent a far deal more of my time in front of the computer playing games than all those other activities together.



#4 zzip OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Mar 28, 2017 2:39 PM

Growing up, my dad had the original IBM PC which he used to run his business. He also let us play games on it, but retrospectively is was a business machine first. As a boy in elementary school we had the Apple IIGS and that could do it all. And of course, we got an NES and it's pretty clear what that did. I was never in contact with most of the 8 bit machines discussed here until adulthood.

So my question is this: were the Atari 400/800/ect and C64 and others like it pretty much just gaming machines? Did students use them as word processors? Did businesses have them in the office? And if there were other uses, how widespread was that? Was there a decent amount of use for these machines outside of gaming? Thanks.

 

For me, I learned to program with it.   I did also use it for word processing for school.    I remember the program "Print Shop" becoming a major thing for producing flyers and banners in school too.

 

Also BBSing

 

As for businesses,  I wouldn't be surprised to see them in mom-and-pop shops, but not serious business



#5 save2600 ONLINE  

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Posted Tue Mar 28, 2017 2:47 PM

I mostly used the Apple, TI, C64 and Atari 8-bits as machines for playing games or programming, but knew people that used them for much much more and that was very cool. Even though I had a 9-pin dot matrix printer, never had a real reason to do much of anything "productive" with it. Maybe to print out the random user group letter or when trying to debug a program I typed in. Think I made a greeting card or two (always thought computer generated "cards" were kinda cheesy) and certainly no banners or anything like that. And when it came to reports and homework, our school did not accept anything produced by a 9-pin, and wasn't going to blow $400-$500 on a 24-pin. We had an old typewriter for that kind of stuff and honestly, found a regular typewriter to be much more friendly to use. Printing from computers BITD was always a PITA. Rare when the output came out the way you expected.

Really wasn't until the Amiga that I started using a computer for more serious or productive things. Word processing and WYSIWYG finally came of age. Spreadsheets, databases, sound sampling, desktop publishing, paint, animation and so much more - all finally realized and affordable.
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#6 Keatah OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Mar 28, 2017 2:54 PM

The Apple II was popular in scientific circles as a personal machine at home and in industry. Just a few short years ago, major defense contractors were still using the II+ with an amber monitor. Used as a controller of some sort. It works so why get rid of it?

 

Despite having tons of z-80 cards, I don't recall too many stories of the Apple II being used with CP/M much.

 

But the other computers, like the Atari 400/800, and Commodore Vic-20 and C64, yes they were games machines. It seemed like the marketing departments used games as the reason to get one into the home, and then get you involved with real applications which then required upgrading.

 

At least that's how I saw it.



#7 spacecadet OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Mar 28, 2017 3:15 PM

I think it's more that they were "home" or "consumer" machines, although the Apple II straddled the line between home and business better than most. But people used all these systems for word processing, desktop publishing, BBS's, etc. in addition to games. Games were definitely a big part of their appeal, though. But they weren't "just" gaming machines.

 

I don't think most businesses used Atari or C64 computers in the office. I'll tell you one little anecdote, which is that my mom's office had a single Atari 800XL... for kids to play with that came in with their parents. The rest of the company used IBM PC's. That's actually my own personal nostalgic memory of the Atari 8 bit line and it's why I own an 800XL now :)

 

The PC was definitely *not* a gaming machine. I think that'd be an interesting story, tracking the rise of gaming on the PC. I do remember it had Flight Simulator pretty early on, and some really rudimentary ASCII games, but in the beginning most of the games it had were the equivalent of Angry Birds or Candy Crush today... they were time wasters for bored office drones. It was only over time, and maybe coincidental with the decline of the more consumer-oriented machines, that a real gaming culture started to develop around the PC.



#8 Retro-Z OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Mar 28, 2017 4:04 PM

Pretty much every single Commodore 64 or Atari 8-bit computer I've purchased from the original owners included a printer, some games, educational games/software, and some word processing and database software. Several others lots also included several books on BASIC programming, and in some rarer cases, books for more advanced programming. 

 

It's always seemed to me that most people, being cost-conscious consumers, simply tried to get the most utility as possible out of their then new home computers.

 

Some people actually DID use 8-bit home computers for serious work. I know a guy that ran a motorcycle repair shop in the 1980s and he used a modified Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer (1st model) to run his business and keep track of inventory. He used this setup till well into the 90's when it got set aside in favor of a Pentium-powered MS Windows PC. That old CoCo 1 still works great!


Edited by Retro-Z, Tue Mar 28, 2017 4:07 PM.


#9 jhd ONLINE  

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Posted Tue Mar 28, 2017 5:38 PM

I mostly used the Apple, TI, C64 and Atari 8-bits as machines for playing games or programming, [...] And when it came to reports and homework, our school did not accept anything produced by a 9-pin, and wasn't going to blow $400-$500 on a 24-pin. We had an old typewriter for that kind of stuff and honestly, found a regular typewriter to be much more friendly to use. Printing from computers BITD was always a PITA. Rare when the output came out the way you expected.

 

I strongly agree! 

 

I had a Coco, and the small (32x16) screen did not really lend itself to writing or editing text, especially with the inability to display lowercase letters. The low-resolution printer made the output look lousy, as well. I think that I tried to write one high school paper with it, and ultimately I gave-up after a few pages. 

 

I did not do anything serious with a computer until I started University (in 1988) and I discovered WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3. 



#10 JamesD OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Mar 28, 2017 5:39 PM

Word processing is sort of a universal thing.  Students have to write term papers, adults have to write letters, etc...
Almost every machine has some sort of word processing.

I think a lot of 8 bit machines got used for general business purposes, but look at what programs were available and it's pretty obvious which machines were used that way the most.
The VIC wasn't exactly a word processing and business wonder due to the number of characters on screen, but it it's all you had, you could certainly do a lot of things with it.
Atari and the C64 are somewhere in the middle here.  I think a lot of people had them for games, but there were certainly some being used for business. 

TRS-80 Model I/III/IV's and Apples were more popular with people that wanted to use a computer for business from the start.  They had a good business software base before the TARI or C64 were even released, and there were several companies writing custom business applications for these machines.

I've seen a lot of people saying the Amstrad CPC was used quite a bit for business in Europe due to the 80 column screen.. But the software was pretty much CP/M.



 

 

I strongly agree! 

 

I had a Coco, and the small (32x16) screen did not really lend itself to writing or editing text, especially with the inability to display lowercase letters. The low-resolution printer made the output look lousy, as well. I think that I tried to write one high school paper with it, and ultimately I gave-up after a few pages. 

 

I did not do anything serious with a computer until I started University (in 1988) and I discovered WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3. 

 

 

I used my CoCo 1 and a program called VIP Writer for years.  It could display 51, 64, or 82 characters per line using graphics.  82 was basically to view the page layout, but it worked.  I had custom control sequences programmed for superscripts, subscripts, etc... on my Citizen printer and I never had any complaints about print quality since it printed text with two passes.

My brother used his CoCo 2 for the family's personal accounting after I showed him what I could do with mine.
Actually, thanks to FLEX and OS-9, there was a lot of really good professional business and development software for the CoCo.
FLEX was one of the first things that used CoCo graphics to display upper and lower case text.    
Spyrograph and Dynacalc were probably better than what was on CP/M.  The CoCo version of Dynacalc included built in graphing.

 


Edited by JamesD, Tue Mar 28, 2017 5:41 PM.


#11 BassGuitari OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Mar 28, 2017 5:43 PM

...he used a modified Radio Shack TRS-80 Color Computer (1st model) to run his business and keep track of inventory...

How was it modified, just out of curiosity?



#12 BydoEmpire ONLINE  

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Posted Tue Mar 28, 2017 5:43 PM

I did non-game stuff on my 8-bits - Print Shop, word processing, programming, etc.  The vast majority of time on those machines was spent playing games, though.  The exact ratio depended on the machine, though.



#13 JamesD OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Mar 28, 2017 11:01 PM

I did non-game stuff on my 8-bits - Print Shop, word processing, programming, etc.  The vast majority of time on those machines was spent playing games, though.  The exact ratio depended on the machine, though.

I knew people that bought their computer just to run Print Shop.  
One of the dumbest mistakes Tandy made with the CoCo was not paying to have Print Shop ported to it..
 



#14 carlsson OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Mar 29, 2017 1:42 AM

We should also consider that there was a time before personal and home computers. Businesses were ran quite successfully when everything had to be done by hand - writing letters and documentation, balancing checkbooks and setting budgets, keeping registers and inventories etc. The availability of software vs the investment costs vs the size and profit of your company probably decided to which degree you wanted to digitalize it.

 

A company usually invests in machinery in order to make savings or earnings from it, whether it is in form of money, time or just to make it look better to others. I'm sure there were several "serious businesses" in the early 1980's who quite could not write home an investment on a $2000+ computer, but could afford a $500 computer. Of course the real drawback is that if they locked themselves in with C64 software, migrating to IBM PC later on when the company so required and could afford it, would be troublesome. Possibly that was a factor for some companies that thought of themselves as "serious businesses" to overspend on PC with room for expansion, so they would be less locked in if and when they needed to migrate. Thus I think a lot of early PC's, and likely a good deal of Apple systems, were grossly under utilized.



#15 Mayhem OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Mar 29, 2017 4:36 AM

It was mostly for gaming here. Once I did get a disk drive and printer however, then I did start using it for word processing, I wrote and submitted a number of my course work for A-level via the medium of the C64!



#16 Grimakis OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Mar 29, 2017 5:08 AM

They were "Home Computers". They are truly built as games machines, as Graphics and Sound clearly are focused on heavily, while 80-col was ignored.

I'm sure plenty of folks bought into the advertisements and thought they were getting productivity machines. However, the C64 versions of real business applications like Multiplan, were horrendous.

Sort of the opposite today, if you need a machine for business, you'll get a low to midrange laptop, and if you want to game, you'll need the high end gaming desktop.

#17 zzip OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Mar 29, 2017 8:26 AM

I knew people that bought their computer just to run Print Shop.  
One of the dumbest mistakes Tandy made with the CoCo was not paying to have Print Shop ported to it..
 

 

yeah, Print Shop was kind of a killer app in the mid 80s, wasn't it?



#18 zzip OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Mar 29, 2017 8:31 AM

The PC was definitely *not* a gaming machine. I think that'd be an interesting story, tracking the rise of gaming on the PC. I do remember it had Flight Simulator pretty early on, and some really rudimentary ASCII games, but in the beginning most of the games it had were the equivalent of Angry Birds or Candy Crush today... they were time wasters for bored office drones. It was only over time, and maybe coincidental with the decline of the more consumer-oriented machines, that a real gaming culture started to develop around the PC.

 

Even the early PC got many of the same games that other platforms did.  It seemed well-supported as a gaming platform from the magazines I was reading.

 

But it was ill-suited for action games, and those were usually inferior to the 8-bit versions.  It was fine for other genres though.

 

Oh and there was the short-lived PCjr which was better for games.



#19 JamesD OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Mar 29, 2017 4:11 PM

We should also consider that there was a time before personal and home computers. Businesses were ran quite successfully when everything had to be done by hand - writing letters and documentation, balancing checkbooks and setting budgets, keeping registers and inventories etc. The availability of software vs the investment costs vs the size and profit of your company probably decided to which degree you wanted to digitalize it.

 

A company usually invests in machinery in order to make savings or earnings from it, whether it is in form of money, time or just to make it look better to others. I'm sure there were several "serious businesses" in the early 1980's who quite could not write home an investment on a $2000+ computer, but could afford a $500 computer. Of course the real drawback is that if they locked themselves in with C64 software, migrating to IBM PC later on when the company so required and could afford it, would be troublesome. Possibly that was a factor for some companies that thought of themselves as "serious businesses" to overspend on PC with room for expansion, so they would be less locked in if and when they needed to migrate. Thus I think a lot of early PC's, and likely a good deal of Apple systems, were grossly under utilized.

Electric typewriters were a huge business right before the shift to personal computers.  
Anyone remember when corporations had secretarial pools filled with people dedicated to taking dictation and typing for people?
Some companies had people that just retyped documents all day long.
Photocopiers and personal computers caused a drastic change in how businesses did things.
 

 

I think it's clear that a lot of 8 bit machines were used for more than games.  Most people at least know someone that used an 8 bit for word processing, spreadsheets, managing the checkbook, or for a database.  (remember when recipe file programs where a reason to buy a computer?)


This is a bit beyond the scope of the original question, but when it comes to more serious business use, I think word processing with built in mail merge was the first killer business app for personal computers.  That would have been 1978 with Wordstar, then came Visicalc and dBase in 1979.  The shift to PCs was becoming apparent by 1984 with Lotus 1 2 3, Wordperfect, and Microsoft Word starting to take over.  Wordstar sales were falling quarter by quarter in 1984.

 

In spite of the shift to PCs, the TRS-80 Model IV stayed in Tandy's lineup until 1994.  
I think that is later than any other 8 bit in the US except the C64, which was discontinued the same year.  
Amstrad's PCW series appears to have lasted a few more years in Europe.

I'm guessing the late exit from the market for the Model IV and PCW was due to businesses still using them.
I'm pretty sure the C64 stuck around that long mostly because of games.  :D

FWIW, Tandy originally intended the Model IV to have a Z800.  
The Model IV would have been able to run all Model III, CP/M, and new 16 bit software all at faster speeds, with access to a lot more RAM, and yet at a lower price than PCs.
It would have given Tandy quite an advantage with small businesses in 1983, and the Model V prototype was supposedly faster and had color support.  

When Zilog didn't release the Z800 it pretty much screwed up Tandy's plans.  It was released as the Z280 in '87(?) but by then Tandy must have thought it was too late.
Funny thing, Zilog delayed the Z800 so they could produce the Z8000.  
The Z8000 was to be used in a new Commodore, but Commodore dropped that machine in favor of the Amiga. 
Zilog probably lost a lot of sales over that decision.  Who knows how many other Z80 based machines would have followed the Model IV's switch to the Z800.
 



#20 carlsson OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Mar 29, 2017 4:23 PM

 (remember when recipe file programs where a reason to buy a computer?)

Say what? :)

kitchen-computer1.jpg

kitchen-computer2.jpg

 

But neither of those two were any business power horses to speak of. Perhaps the '81 after you had rebuilt it entirely with a full sized keyboard, internal memory expansion, new power supply and storage options but the money you would've spent on rebuilding it could've bought you a better mid-range computer to begin with.



#21 ClausB OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Mar 29, 2017 6:08 PM

No. My Stats prof used his 800 to simulate random processes and teach analysis. I used my 400 and 800 to program utilities and demos and educational software. Of course we played games sometimes. That's what's great about them - their versatility.

#22 Nebulon OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Mar 31, 2017 1:14 PM

 

I strongly agree! 

 

I had a Coco, and the small (32x16) screen did not really lend itself to writing or editing text, especially with the inability to display lowercase letters. The low-resolution printer made the output look lousy, as well. I think that I tried to write one high school paper with it, and ultimately I gave-up after a few pages. 

 

I did not do anything serious with a computer until I started University (in 1988) and I discovered WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3. 

 

The CoCo can do lowercase -- with the right software (the VIP desktop series).  Problem is, not many people seemed to know about it.

 

The Color Computer was an unusual platform. Intended to be a farm terminal, then considered to be a potential successor to the Model series, re-marketed as an entry-level machine -- yet containing a relatively powerful CPU with a ton of expansion options, fast drive access speeds, and the option to run a multitasking operation system. Very strange. Neat, yet strange. Certainly a platform that didn't know where it belonged.



#23 Grimakis OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Mar 31, 2017 1:22 PM

No. My Stats prof used his 800 to simulate random processes and teach analysis. I used my 400 and 800 to program utilities and demos and educational software. Of course we played games sometimes. That's what's great about them - their versatility.

 

I think the question though asks were they mainly gaming machine. Sure, they are computers and you can do a lot with a computer. Very versatile. 

 

However, they did not perform especially well for business and science uses. There were other computers out at the time that were more useful for that, namely CP/M machines. However they did do a fantastic job with games, and the Atari 8-bits when they came out were incredibly advanced with their POKEY and ANTIC chips. 



#24 Nebulon OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Mar 31, 2017 1:25 PM

Say what? :)

attachicon.gifkitchen-computer1.jpg

attachicon.gifkitchen-computer2.jpg

 

But neither of those two were any business power horses to speak of. Perhaps the '81 after you had rebuilt it entirely with a full sized keyboard, internal memory expansion, new power supply and storage options but the money you would've spent on rebuilding it could've bought you a better mid-range computer to begin with.

 

Imagine how food-encrusted a machine like this would have been after a few years:

https://en.wikipedia...computer_ad.jpg



#25 davidcalgary29 OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Mar 31, 2017 1:34 PM

My 800 (and then 130XE) were mainly used for edutainment while I was stuck with a 410. Gaming took over after I got a disk drive in 1985.  Gaming hogged the system until 1200 baud modems became affordable to students-on-allowance in Canada, which was around 1988 for me. Then, with the SX212, I mainly used the 130XE as a telecommunications device (I spent hours each night on BBSes!) until I entered university in 1991. After that the main use of my 130XE was for writing essays with Atariwriter+, because 24 pin colour LQ dot matrix printers (Star NX-1000 shout out!) finally became affordable to college students. I had a crappy direct-connect 9 pin printer before that which lacked descenders, and would have died of shame before printing out university work on it.

 

It seems that the evolution of peripherals dictated the main use of the central computer for me.






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