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Atari 8-Bit as a Legitimate Business Machine

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I was introduced to the Atari 8-Bit in 1984. I was 12 years old then (stop doing the math) and didn't really know what passed for standard office gear, then. By the time I graduated High School in 1990 (I said stop doing the math), IBM and PC clones had already "won the war", so to speak, with Lotus 1-2-3 and WordPerfect 5.0. Apple was still carving out its niche in desktop publishing and graphics, but was well on the way.

 

I guess what I am wondering is if there was a period, however brief, when an Atari 800XL and pair of 1050's might have been seen on a business desktop and used as a daily driver for spreadsheets, word processing, etc. Did our beloved have it's day in the mainstream sun?

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I was introduced to the Atari 8-Bit in 1984. I was 12 years old then (stop doing the math) and didn't really know what passed for standard office gear, then. By the time I graduated High School in 1990 (I said stop doing the math), IBM and PC clones had already "won the war", so to speak, with Lotus 1-2-3 and WordPerfect 5.0. Apple was still carving out its niche in desktop publishing and graphics, but was well on the way.

 

I guess what I am wondering is if there was a period, however brief, when an Atari 800XL and pair of 1050's might have been seen on a business desktop and used as a daily driver for spreadsheets, word processing, etc. Did our beloved have it's day in the mainstream sun?

There was an article I recall reading recently in one of the old Analog or Antic magazines about a law firm that used all Atari 800's. They said they used Syncalc (or maybe it was Visicalc?)and Synfile for number crunching and client base and Atariwriter for all legal briefs. I think this was from an issue around '82.

 

I remember reading about more businesses, maybe even in the same article, it might have been a broad spectrum article showing what types of businesses were using Atari's. The law firm one just really struck me as cherry on top, so I remembered it. Although...it might have been examples of business using Atari's in old Atari ads I have also seen recently, but they were real examples of real businesses (known leaders in their industry), not made-up poser actors saying they use it for some imaginary business.. I was looking up a lot of classic Atari ads recently too, and seem to remember some ads along the same lines. It might have been both articles and Atari ads with real examples.

 

I use my Atari for my small business, I'm a contractor and lawn care.

 

Oh, and you are younger than me so stop it!

Edited by Gunstar
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I was introduced to the Atari 8-Bit in 1984. I was 12 years old then (stop doing the math) and didn't really know what passed for standard office gear, then. By the time I graduated High School in 1990 (I said stop doing the math), IBM and PC clones had already "won the war", so to speak, with Lotus 1-2-3 and WordPerfect 5.0. Apple was still carving out its niche in desktop publishing and graphics, but was well on the way.

 

I guess what I am wondering is if there was a period, however brief, when an Atari 800XL and pair of 1050's might have been seen on a business desktop and used as a daily driver for spreadsheets, word processing, etc. Did our beloved have it's day in the mainstream sun?

Atari had to shake themselves off as a video game business before their own computers could be consider for use as business machines. Although the 8-bit could display great graphics, it really needed a standard way to display more text (80 column) on screen at once, come standard with the machine. It seemed like once Atari developed the Antic/GTIA set, there was no more effort to advance the display technology until the Atari ST. Even when Jack Tremiel took over the company and attempted to move it away from the gaming business, no one took him seriously because the name Atari brings Video Games to everyone's mind. Its like Nintendo trying to produce a new business/home computer device today. Another thing the Atari 8-bit could had used was a wider keyboard layout with separate cursor keys, possibly a numeric keypad and function keys. The POKEY chip is well capable of reading different keyboard configurations. The 1200 XL had 4 function keys, but was later abandoned when downscaled for the 600XL and 800XL, and was not ported over to the XE line.

 

I am not sure how early word processing, spreadsheet, and database was available for the Atari 8-bit. The one spreadsheet program I have is the one from Compute magazine. The other thing Atari 8-bit needed was a way to network the computers together and to a server so information can be shared within a work environment. I am not just talking about modem, but high speed computer to computer transfers through the serial port.

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I also recall now some old Atari ads for the 800XL too, and I do think a couple were famous novelists who used Atari 800XL to write their books, IIRC, Ray Bradbury was one...and I think either the article or 800 ads also had other famous writers included. I am going to go see if I can relocate where I saw or read this stuff and post images or links to it here...

 

here are a couple old ads I found. Although Ludlam claims he just got an Atari that he's going to use in the future, but Cooper says he does use it. But these aren't ones I remembered, so I'll keep looking...

post-149-0-24395000-1545252236.jpg

post-149-0-64174100-1545252248.jpg

Edited by Gunstar
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I remember the GMC parts counter guy would type things into an 800 when he went to get your parts. Pretty sure he wasn't playing Star Raiders.

 

SORBUS, a computer maintenance company that did Northstar, Epson, and gear like that, also did Ataris.

 

I tried VisiCalc on an Atari and an IBM PC when they first came out. (no, don't do the math here, either) The Atari actually ran better..Faster screen updates.

 

I think Atari was its own worst enemy when it came to serious computing.

 

Bob

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Our office (legal) is finally migrating to an all-digital document retrieval system this Spring, but until that happens there’s little reason why it couldn’t have been managed by a small network of 8-bit machines. The legal system has always been resistant to change, and we don’t share digital files with other offices or litigants — everything is still litigated on paper. The court now does require MS Word files for a small subset of applications, but we could do that from one wintel machine, along with all legal research our smartphones can’t handle. We’ve been upgraded over the years, but there’s actually been no functional need for it.

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We at Maplins used an Atari for our stock ordering system with a custom in house written bit of code, was dead simple where it just had the code and order quantity and the rest was the model link part...

 

Took years to get a proper EPOS system...

 

But in the mean time it worked for the ordering but the weak link was that someone with the needed knowledge had to go around all the stock cards and enter a min and max order setting as the young lady who answered the phone also did the ordering and its fair to say she wasn't keen on anything but women's mags and going shopping for girly stuff so she had no idea how much of each to order...

 

Happy Xmas......Then again after the jokey lizard thread went walkies it clear some don't like much of a joke at this time of year...Ya miserable sods :)

 

Kinda hoped it would be seen as fun but did say to remove if it wasn't appreciated...Bah humbug :)

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I used Text Wizard on my Ataris to write several magazine articles, 3 of which got published. MACE and BYTE accepted that format on floppy but ANTIC could not, ironically. (They had it retyped and filled it with typos.)

 

Also, I wrote patches for some word processor and spreadsheet programs so they would run on ACE80.

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I know of one Atari 800 that ran a data collection system in an R&D lab at a company I used to work at. It used the Joystick ports to monitor Temperature, Pressure, and Switch positions.

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I know of one Atari 800 that ran a data collection system in an R&D lab at a company I used to work at. It used the Joystick ports to monitor Temperature, Pressure, and Switch positions.

Did it use the AtariLab Interface?!? (not the software, just the interface)

 

I have one and plan to get some more (the 800 can use up to 4), and use them for experiments and sensors, control, all kinds of projects. My Atari robot is going to be developed using them. They make use of every controller line except the joystick fire button. But they have two +5 volt power lines and I'm going to convert one or more to use that one spot for fire button line. I already installed a power switch in my first one, so I don't have to shut off the Atari or pull the plug to cut power to exterior devices.

post-149-0-62876400-1545257691.jpg

post-149-0-44930000-1545257706.jpg

Edited by Gunstar
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I know of one Atari 800 that ran a data collection system in an R&D lab at a company I used to work at. It used the Joystick ports to monitor Temperature, Pressure, and Switch positions.

 

I did a similar thing at a low temperature refrigeration company I worked for in the late 80's through the middle of the 90's. In my case I had it connected to a TTL level serial output on a thermocouple (TC) meter. To enable multiple temperature sensors, the meter was connected to a bank of relays that was switched for a given TC sensor. All of this was interfaced via the joystick ports on an 800XL, using a ML routine in Page 6 memory to read the meter and store the result for use by the main Basic acquisition program. I also muxed the few joystick bits so that I could also control heat, cool, and defrost cycles of up to two circuits, as well as turn the unit under test ON and OFF. There was a cycling program in Basic that could be set-up on the fly for various Cool and Defrost cycle times, depending upon what kind of test needed to be run. The data was sampled and printed out every 5 minutes in a single time stamped line on an atari dot matrix printer.

 

The program also had a mini word processor window that could be opened for entering a note that could then get printed to a line with a time stamp added. I was also working on a graphics 8 chart recorder display for the temperatures, but unfortunately left the company before it was finished. There were a total of 3 of these systems built. I believe the company used these up into early 2000, before switching over to PCs and LabView.

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I remember running into a C64 being by a newsagents to keep track of his accounts and addresses for deliveries. I see no reason an A8 couldn't have done it.. and probably quicker too.

I also created a program (I refuse to call them 'apps') back in the late 80's to keep track of the hours I worked so I could present a print out to my boss.

 

For small businesses, I actually see no reason why the A8 couldn't be used today.

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Did it use the AtariLab Interface?!? (not the software, just the interface)

 

I have one and plan to get some more (the 800 can use up to 4), and use them for experiments and sensors, control, all kinds of projects. My Atari robot is going to be developed using them. They make use of every controller line except the joystick fire button. But they have two +5 volt power lines and I'm going to convert one or more to use that one spot for fire button line. I already installed a power switch in my first one, so I don't have to shut off the Atari or pull the plug to cut power to exterior devices.

No, the interface was custom, made by the "instrument pool" at the company. That's where I first heard about it. Working in the instrument pool was the bee's knees. They had drawers full of TTL and large Motorola IC's that they weren't using any more since they switched to Intel micro-controllers. I got to raid the drawers for all kinds of stuff for the Atari. Since they had sockets and de-soldering stations, all my Atari's got the chips socketed. I even got to use their etching tank to make "Rambo" boards to upgrade the ram. I wish I had grabbed all that stuff when they cleared it out.

 

The Motorola chips were all the pretty white ceramic ICs with the gold pins and lids. You don't see them around much anymore. Something like this:8347331_orig.jpg

Edited by Geister
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I'm sure there were isolated cases here and there, and especially in very small businesses, and in particular, home businesses, but I doubt usage extended much beyond that in a significant way. By the time the Atari 800 hit and had a decent selection of software, CP/M-based systems, the Apple II, etc., probably were far more attractive targets for those businesses who didn't have terminal/mainframe/minicomputer setups.

 

I remember back when I got my first job at 16 in a variety store (like a small K-Mart) circa 1988, the store manager was using a CoCo 2 and a cassette player to keep books for the store! I think that's as good evidence as any that even the most modest personal computers were put to use in professional settings.

 

On a side note, I wonder if Atari had some issues with business adoption because they couldn't offer a complete branded system, e.g., they never badged their own monitors until the ST?

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Hi together!

 

Well, the Atari could have made it, but Bob is right, they were their own enemy with double developements and so on... Really sad. :-(((

 

The Blade Runner vision for 2019 could be true, if they would have decided wisely.

 

Here:

https://atariwiki.org/wiki/Wiki.jsp?page=Articles#section-Articles-Applications

are some examples for serious stuff on the Atari.

 

More to come in Winter, stay tuned. A really big one! Btw, Bob, did you receive my e-mail regarding to handle the native 815? The community really need your help...

The manual is already scanned by a good soul form Portland, I will do the dtp, but the 6 DD disks are a big problem...

The goal is, it should look like this here:

https://atariwiki.org/wiki/Wiki.jsp?page=Atari%20Personal%20Financial%20Management%20System

But that is, without any question, the biggest and sophisticated Atari program ever, of course...

 

 

Besides all, in 1979 Atari published:

https://atariwiki.org/wiki/Wiki.jsp?page=Atari%20Calculator

please scroll down to the MS Excel chapter and compare the results with the Atari... You have to see for yourself to believe.

 

As JAC! always tells: "8 bit are enough". He is dam right.

 

@Bob: if you deactivate in VisiCalc immediate calculation, then it is even more faster... ;-)

 

Yes, the main problem were the bugs and reliable software, the customer can and must trust in.

 

Bill Lange did a marvelous research for example in:

https://atariwiki.org/wiki/Wiki.jsp?page=Atari%20Personal%20Financial%20Management%20System

this is the VW scandal in software in the golden age to my mind, from there on it was really difficult to gain back trust, you already lost.

 

Further, this:

https://atariwiki.org/wiki/Wiki.jsp?page=Atari%20The%20Dow%20Jones%20Investment%20Evaluator

coud have been big, when it would have been realized. :-(((

 

The most expansive Atari program of all times:

https://atariwiki.org/wiki/Wiki.jsp?page=The%20Atari%20Accountant%20Series

could have been a big hit, but due to data loss with the 815... who wants that?

 

HP did a major job with the HP-41C, which gets 40 the next year. The big success was the ability to exchange programs for free.

So get back in time, in 1979, there was the Atari Calculator, way superior to the HP-41C, programs could be exchanged via cassette, diskette or via Telelink, but guess what? Yes, Atari hold it back 2(!) years, before publishing. But in the US only. It took 2012 to get the manual in Europe.

 

Saying this, there is no wonder...

Or to say it with Nolan's words: "... my biggest mistake ever..." ; to sell Atari to Warner... ;-)

 

Anyway, we now have the possibility to show once and for all, that the Atari is the(!) 8 bit machine, we just have to do work...

 

All the best. :-)

Edited by luckybuck

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On a side note, I wonder if Atari had some issues with business adoption because they couldn't offer a complete branded system, e.g., they never badged their own monitors until the ST?

I'm sure this was a real contributing factor. Imagine a business calling to get 10, 20, 30 or more computer systems, either individually complete, or wanting to network, and Atari not having monitors or networking hardware of their own, they would either have to send the tell the potential customer to go elsewhere for those things, or even if they would provide 3rd party monitors and networking (and Hard drives like Corvus for that matter) it still doesn't look good. And all Atari ads for the 8-bit whether business oriented or not, almost always showed a TV in the ad which didn't match, was big and bulky looking and was a fricken TV! Not a business monitor with 80 columns. Of course the ads above seem to be the exception with nice looking monitors pictured.-actually, those could be small Sony Trinitron's with the TV controls underneath...like this (198x 13" Trinitron) or a similar model:

post-149-0-00299200-1545269773.jpg

Edited by Gunstar
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In the late 80's we made a bookkeeping software for a local bookkeeper. One client per floppy. First they used standard Indus GT clones, later on moved to TOMS 720 when books started to exceed 180KiB. The whole thing was coded in assembler and was accessing floppies directly, no DOS, just reading/writing sectors, printing via MicroPrint, of course.

It was blazing fast in comparison to standard PC-XT Clipper apps available at that time.

The guy is long retired, contacted him to get a copy of the software, but he couldn't find anything :(

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Whilst our stories of amazing uses of the Atari are wonderful entertainment and proof that it could have had bigger uses the actual thread boils down to Atari's insane ideals and business practice, if anyone has watched or read the inside Atari things it become clear very quickly that they were trying to spread thin with outlandish idea's that The Amiga and ST were also put through, ie the notion that they could compete with PC's for the last couple..A platform that had an established (even then) hold with business.

 

I'm sure the old Atari could have done more in the business sector but Atari's push was little and too late....Also iirc they tried to sort of distance the machine as being a games machine at that same time, double screw up...

Edited by Mclaneinc

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someone with the needed knowledge had to go around all the stock cards and enter a min and max order setting as the young lady who answered the phone also did the ordering and its fair to say she wasn't keen on anything but women's mags and going shopping for girly stuff so she had no idea how much of each to order...

 

well, she was clearly capable of completing the orders - so perhaps you do her a disservice?

 

I'm not sure that this is the kind of comment that should be made about women - especially in the year we celebrate the centenary of women's voting rights.

Edited by brenski

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well, she was clearly capable of completing the orders - so perhaps you do her a disservice?

 

I'm not sure that this is the kind of comment that should be made about women - especially when as 2018 is the centenary of women being allowed to vote.

 

Sigh, I was there then, back in the 70s, you were not. Karen would be the first to admit she was non computer and didn't like them but they were part of the job, my wife is the same and she was an under manager for Barclays, neither liked computers and in Karen's case she didn't understand them much and needed a lot of help. While unemployed in 2000 I attended a business job club college course on IT and the number of folk on there who were IT afraid was quite a shock.

 

As said, I'm talking about back then in my own branch, something you cannot comment on except to make stupid accusations in an attempt to keep the ongoing problem you have with me going.

 

Do I support women in the work place, yes and I did it when I was in charge of my own branch, I was the only manager to employ a woman as a sales person and also the only person to employ Black people in the shop against the wishes of the head office.

 

Why?

 

Because they were the best for the job in both situations...I had an area manager taking the mickey for having both a woman and black staff but it never stopped my branch being the lead profit taker...

 

So please don't try to stir up out of nothing...As said, if the then Karen Jay could answer she would be the first to say she didn't know the electronics side or the computer side at all well as she was hired to do general administration and to answer the phone, the stock side added to her role afterwards, she did it well but needed help....Hardly a hanging offence..

 

Way to go for trying to derail a thread with accusations of a silly nature..

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Sigh, I was there then, back in the 70s, you were not. Karen would be the first to admit she was non computer and didn't like them but they were part of the job, my wife is the same and she was an under manager for Barclays, neither liked computers and in Karen's case she didn't understand them much and needed a lot of help. While unemployed in 2000 I attended a business job club college course on IT and the number of folk on there who were IT afraid was quite a shock.

 

As said, I'm talking about back then in my own branch, something you cannot comment on except to make stupid accusations in an attempt to keep the ongoing problem you have with me going.

 

Do I support women in the work place, yes and I did it when I was in charge of my own branch, I was the only manager to employ a woman as a sales person and also the only person to employ Black people in the shop against the wishes of the head office.

 

Why?

 

Because they were the best for the job in both situations...I had an area manager taking the mickey for having both a woman and black staff but it never stopped my branch being the lead profit taker...

 

So please don't try to stir up out of nothing...As said, if the then Karen Jay could answer she would be the first to say she didn't know the electronics side or the computer side at all well as she was hired to do general administration and to answer the phone, the stock side added to her role afterwards, she did it well but needed help....Hardly a hanging offence..

 

Way to go for trying to derail a thread with accusations of a silly nature..

 

I didn't accuse you of anything. where do you get that idea? you're clearly a little touchy about it. I made a friendly suggestion as to how to consider the way you word things on public forums. i don't have any ongoing problems with you. You're far too sensitive about this if you think you're even a dot on the radar. My issue is with comments like those you made. This is 2018, not 1978! - try (for a change) to address your own attitude instead of deflecting blame at the person who raises a valid point.

who you employed (colour, religion, sex) is not relevant and doesn't make your comment okay. the only point is your comment is inappropriate.

 

however, your reply has just made my point perfectly. You back up your first sexist comment with another.

 

Perhaps if you'd referred to "someone else you knew who couldn't operate a computer" who happened to be male, then you may have a point. But using another female as evidence only goes to make your original comment more blinkered.

Edited by brenski

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As I've pondered what Atari was, and then could have been, I come to the conclusion that their best work was done innovating tightly-timed, integrated hardware systems. If they could have seen and embraced the evolution of the personal microcomputer industry toward a standardized, modular system architecture, they might have been the first and best version of companies like Cirrus Logic and Creative Labs; churning out things that made PC systems better.

 

I wonder if one of the problems at Atari wasn't that they couldn't escape their beginnings in hardware gaming systems. And I don't mean it from a public perception standpoint. I mean, was their leadership and brain pool so hardware systems-focused that they couldn't climb up to the next abstraction. If you watch interviews with modern-day physicists, you'll eventually hear a journalist ask what the scientist thinks Einstein would say about current theories and practices of the science. The answer invariably given is that Einstein, while brilliant, was not a mathematician at the level required to participate in the current state of the art. I think Atari might not have had enough academy-level computer scientists in its leadership to understand and participate in an industry whose players no longer competed with each other on the grounds of hardware innovation.

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i think you're probably right ^.

 

in much the same way that Dunlop are known for tyres and Kellogs are known for Cornflakes. 'cept - I supposed, that both companies when producing other things were successful. Peraps they managed to address the reputation thing that Atari couldn't.

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Something I thought would had helped Atari, and other companies like Commodore, Apple, Tandy, IBM, etc. earlier if someone came up with an easier way to enter and edit computer BASIC programs (and other languages like Assembly, Pascal, C) We went from typing LIST, line numbers, and needing to press Enter to using full screen editors by the end of the 1980's. I don't even bother with doing assembly on Atari MAC 65 anymore, use PSPAD + MADS Assembler. Imagine a full screen editor for TurboBasic XL / Basic XL / Basic XE all the back in 1982.

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