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Atari 8-Bit as a Legitimate Business Machine

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Were there any decent databases available for the Atari? Something disk based flat-file or DBaseIII-ish?

 

The few I have come across are held entirely in memory and are limited by that.

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Imagine a full screen editor for TurboBasic XL / Basic XL / Basic XE all the back in 1982.

 

I hear you. I've just gotten started with FastBASIC and it's 80-column, full-screen editor. I have to say, it's pretty nice.

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i think *most* of the first wave of computer manufacturers were (for most consumers) dyed in the wool - purpose wise, by their original self promotion.

 

Apple & IBM - established themselves as productivity machines that could also do games. The business first approach established a huge market share that the games machines never had a chance of getting. Brand Loyalty is - and always will be - a significant part of consumer choice.

 

Atari, Commodore, Spectrum etc - they established themselves in the market as games machines that did other things. The "other things" never got a foothold in the already acquired market shares of IBM/Apple.

 

The Apple and PC format then branched out further into games - sound cards, gfx cards etc making 90s games like Doom further establish the beasts as "jack of all trades". By then the other proprietary "games" machines/brands were history.

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...Spectrum etc - they established themselves in the market as games machines that did other things...

 

Sir Clive _hated_ that, he wanted the Spectrum to be a legitimate business/engineering machine and thought games were a pointless waste. In part that is what led to the failure of the QL line, his dogged insistence on making it a 'serious' machine.

 

Sometimes the public make the decision about what your product is for, for you.

 

Just ask Hitachi about their 'Magic Wand Back Massager'!

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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.

 

If wishes were horses. Not that it is impossible to combine tokenized in-memory storage form and full screen editor, but more memory would be required.

 

80-column display and two disk drives are key elements of a small business computer of the time. But these two peripherals cost much more than the computer at the time.

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Atari was their own worst enemy. The machine was certainly very capable, but Atari's blunders held it back.

Atari had an image problem of just being a game company, so what did they do to market to small businesses?
They ran advertisements showing what people could do with them and use lower res, blocky but pretty graphics that looked kinda pathetic. Look at all those colors.
Instead, they should have shown off hi-res professional looking graphs drawn in 320x200 mode.
Print more than 40 characters per line using graphics? Why would anyone want to do that?
Several applications as well as the entire Flex OS on the Color Computer did this starting around 1981... ish.
And don't even get me started with the 400, with only 1 cart slot and a horrible keyboard.

BASIC? It had to fit in 8K... plus the un-optimized math library. The Apple II had a total of 16K for BASIC. FWIW, the math library on the Apple II only takes a little over 2K.
Everyone else used floating point, but Atari used BCD. BCD is arguably better for business, but maybe not so much for scientific applications, and Atari BASIC is horribly slow.
I think I've proven Microsoft didn't exactly take advantage of the 6809 or 6803 in the Tandy machines, but those BASICs were at least competitive with the 6502 and Z80 machines out of the box speed wise. Atari BASIC wasn't even close speed wise on existing benchmarks, and it wasn't very compatible with Microsoft BASIC which was kinda the standard with almost every other system. It's not horrible by any means, but it takes some getting used to. Companies that wrote business software in BASIC couldn't easily port their code to the Atari, but this was a big market for Tandy machines, and Apple was pushing the language system with Pascal & FORTRAN.
Atari could have at least offered the faster OSS versions or the faster math built in once they came out, but no... that would cost money.

Apple moved to 64K of RAM with the language card in 1979, but by the time Atari responded with 64K, Apple had 64K built in, and 128K upgrades.
Aftermarket boards for the IIe had 512K, 2MB, etc... and even budget systems like the Color Computer had 64K as an option by 1983 when the XL came out.
You couldn't easily expand the XL beyond 64K internally. Atari had gone all in on the consumer market and ditched the professional market.
They could have at least offered 1 machine that kept expansion slots and had a business looking design.
To drive the Atari gaming image home further, they put the cart slot on the outside in the XL series, making it look more like a game console.
The XL had BASIC built in, but they should have used a faster version and offered carts/upgrades for sale to existing owners.
I think the XL was the final nail in the coffin for any chance to attract anything but mom and pop businesses.

And then Apple shipped the IIc, the faster IIc Plus, and IIgs. Atari? Well, we have machines styled like the ST... with poor keyboards... but one has 128K now!

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I hear you. I've just gotten started with FastBASIC and it's 80-column, full-screen editor. I have to say, it's pretty nice.

I guess I'll have to try a PC BASIC just to see what the hell you guys are talking about. What do you mean by full-screen editing? I can move my cursor anywhere on the screen I want and edit in Atari BASIC...are you talking about it being like a word processor with cut and paste, etc.? I never really thought about it, but could BASIC code be done in a word processor on the Atari and saved and then listed in BASIC somehow?

 

Whatever the advantages, as I learn to program, I intend to do it all on a real Atari and won't be using any PC apps to make Atari code. My entire enjoyment in it is using my real Atari to do it all. I'm quite happy if other developers develop with new tools on PC's if it inspires them to keep the 8-bit programs coming. Maybe one day in the future, me too. But it's all about using the Atari for me right now. I'm not learning to program a language or languages, as far as I'm concerned at this point, I'm learning to program my Atari in different ways on my Atari.

Edited by Gunstar
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From a computing-potential potential, point-of-view?

 

OF COURSE, it would have offered sufficient power for it, as you can see some very clear signs of it, in a head-to-head short comparo. with IBM/PC 5150:

 

http://atariage.com/forums/topic/286223-a800-vs-ibmpc-5150-because-now-is-the-time/?p=4180692

 

Now, from a PRODUCT stand-point, I don't think so. Atari had the head-start over IBM (and the only PC market space known was Apple II's, which was Atari's main focus). When IBM came out with their solid 5150, they focused on the BUSINESS side of the equation, with a platform capable of growing quickly quite more than the Atari.

 

I also never saw the Atari at a business office, when having to hook it up to a STUPID-looking TV, interfaced via RF with a 40-col output editor, plus the JUNGLE of dumb-ass cables hanging everywhere and in-between your screen, SIO devices, printers, 850 adapters, and the ZOO of power supplies spread all over the floor. That was a pathetic joke indeed (as much as it is today, even in our homes).

 

What was missing really (as lack of product-positioning from the get-go) was A CENTRAL, color/shape-matched [AC & DC Power Supply + SIO hub] to remove / manage all the shitty cables lying around, as well as a BRANDED, office-grade monitor capable of Y/C signal processing, and high-quality and DENSER expansion boards (RAM, at least) since DAY 1 (because the 800 would have been the real office machine, not the later XL or XEs, because of their chopped-down architectures with NO internal expansion slots, and very limited on-board RAM).

 

All that, combined with the INSTANT-SPEED booting capabilities of larger banked-rom carts (even more so with SDX today, for instance), would have killed the IBM/PC in many day-to-day tasks, FOR SURE. Notice that DENSER components (mandatory in Atari architecture) may have meant HIGHER costs, those possibly bringing it closer to IBM's cost, in real terms.

 

The only missing part here is large-capacity storage, which was also addressed on IBM AT machines, very well, but by then, the opportunity window for 8bit machines had already closed, and they were dead-walking.

Edited by Faicuai

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What do you mean by full-screen editing? I can move my cursor anywhere on the screen I want and edit in Atari BASIC...are you talking about it being like a word processor with cut and paste, etc.? I never really thought about it, but could BASIC code be done in a word processor on the Atari and saved and then listed in BASIC somehow?

Yes: that's exactly what he means. Action! has such an editor, as does the aforementioned FastBASIC. The Atari 8-bit screen editor is actually pretty fancy compared to the line-based screen editors of many other machines, but there's no way to get away from line numbers without using a text editor UI. Certainly you can code BASIC in a text editor and then ENTER it into the interpreter. FastBASIC's editor works with most 80-column screen drivers by virtue of the fact it outputs everything through the CIO (Action! doesn't, so it's fixed to 40 columns).

 

Whatever the advantages, as I learn to program, I intend to do it all on a real Atari and won't be using any PC apps to make Atari code. My entire enjoyment in it is using my real Atari to do it all. I'm quite happy if other developers develop with new tools on PC's if it inspires them to keep the 8-bit programs coming. Maybe one day in the future, me too. But it's all about using the Atari for me right now.

You're definitely onto something there. For the first year or so after I returned to the Atari scene (exactly ten years ago, in fact), I was maintaining all my source code using XEDIT and compiling using MA65 (both tools I wrote myself) inside of the Atari800WinPlus emulator. At some point I decided to migrate the TLW source code to XASM (and then later to MADS), and basically did cross-development from that point onward. Problem is, pretty much all I ever did on the Atari (aside from writing when I had no other word processing platform) was develop software, so time spent actually using the hardware productively has been severely reduced of late. All I do with real hardware now is test software, hardware add-ons and peripherals. That could be seen as a sad state of affairs in itself, but going back to a 40x24 or 80x20 text editor with comparatively laggy performance, limited file size and no undo/redo facility (not to mention no version control, slow compilation, laborious debugging workflow) is next to impossible after eight or nine years of Eclipse, WUDSN IDE and MADS. I mean... some of the projects are unwieldy enough even on the PC (tens of thousands of lines of raw assembler).

 

It's probably a question of scale, though. Recent projects would be almost impossible to manage on the Atari 8-bit itself. Smaller projects, on the other hand, would be a lot of fun using MAE, FastBASIC, or one of the other great development offerings we have nowadays.

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There a was a time when it still made perfect sense to try and use your Atari 8-bit in the office, especially when considering the cost differential of buying an IBM and the prerequisite programs to do something useful vs. buying an Atari 8-Bit. Back when the IBM AT first came out, it would have cost you nearly $10,000 to buy a complete system with a relatively small suite of office applications. However the prices steadily dropped, while the machines and the applications got even better and faster. I held out until 1994, but when the AOL fad hit high gear starting the following year, there was no denying that this wasn't something I could pretend could be done on my 8-Bit Atari. In the Summer of 1995 I began to make the transition.

 

For me what would now make the Atari experience good enough to once again compete, really comes down to at least having high quality 80 column output (VBXE), and a number of equally high quality applications that natively supported it. So for instance a word processor that was WYSIWYG would be a great start. Native programming languages without line numbers would be yet another. And it sure wouldn't hurt if they also ran under a GOS. However using a purely text based email client and/or browser, is never going to seriously displace my PC for this usage. If I used any of that at all, it would be purely for nostalgic reasons and nothing more.

 

But as I said in one of the other threads, I don't use my Atari as my daily driver. I use it for a fun exercise in what could have been hardware-wise with the right upgrades. So I enjoy designing the hardware side of things, especially since the machine is relatively simple, and can benefit from this in big ways. But I do try to keep it within the realm of still using the 6502 as the processor, and avoid the idea of the Atari becoming nothing but a terminal for some new, fast, add-on processor.

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But I do try to keep it within the realm of still using the 6502 as the processor, and avoid the idea of the Atari becoming nothing but a terminal for some new, fast, add-on processor.

I'm with you there, half-way. I intend to have a stock Atari, the upgraded 1200XL I have now, which will get a VBXE in the future, but remain 6502. But, I have another 1200XL that I intend to upgrade with the Rapidus because I really do want to play all the old too-slow-to-enjoy 3D vector simulations at a good frame-rate. But it won't be my main machine, strictly for games that can use the boost and that's it. That's the plan with my 3 1200XL's. I now have an 800, which I intend to upgrade the memory, but that's (except for the LED lighting you see in my avatar) it unless an Incognito comes along I can afford.

 

But I also have CP/M capability through my CA-2001 drive, so that would make the Atari just a terminal when I use it, but it's more of a curiosity than anything and I very much doubt it will ever be used in a substantial way, especially since I have The Last Word in 80-columns and upto 320K support, I've no need for Wordstar 80-column on 64K anymore... ;)

Edited by Gunstar
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Back in the early 90s, when I was printing essays with Daisy-Dot II and producing labels and posters with NewsRoom, the printed output of an 8-bit Atari could just about still cut it in the real world. Things have moved on a lot during the past twenty years, though. The GOS word processor is envisaged to be WYSIWYG and driving the printer in graphics mode, but you won't want to be producing your CV with it (unless the potential employer is especially switched on). :)

The lack of a hardware 80 column mode on the 8-bit Atari makes the thing poorly suited to business applications right from the offset, IMO.

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The lack of a hardware 80 column mode on the 8-bit Atari makes the thing poorly suited to business applications right from the offset, IMO.

This is a crucial point that I often forget in these discussions. Of course the Atari has had capable business software, but it's all in 40-columns, maybe with scrolling. This is probably an automatic dismissal from Corporate America except in rare instances. Very small business, like me, can live without if it's due to budget constraints. All referring to "back in the day" of course...regardless that I use it today in 40-column except for WP. And I'm currently attempting to transform as much of the Atari environment I use into 80-column as we speak, with Sparta and OS's and software that supports it like your TLW...so even in my case, I obviously would prefer 80-column too where I can get it on my Atari.

 

It's definitely a good selling point for the VBXE, even with it stuck in a software desert. (a few Oasis have popped up lately in enhancements) But I'm still having fun getting software 80-columns where ever I can because it's my "stock" Atari graphics and not a new video board.

Edited by Gunstar

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Well, Atari had the XEP80:

https://atariwiki.org/wiki/Wiki.jsp?page=XEP80

it worked with Basic XL.

 

Further, we now have TURBAN:

https://atariwiki.org/wiki/Wiki.jsp?page=TURBAN

please click on 'deutsch' for a fast few, english will come soon.

 

If someone does make the parser for ACTION!, we have a >= 80 editor for ACTION!, too.

 

The Atari Accountant with the 815, 850 and 820 or so on, took 7,500 $ in 1981...

 

The Atari Basic was from 1979 and the 1st one! ACTION! is 4 years later! Today, we would say, the 4th generation! So we can expect more, of course.

 

The floating point package was ready in 1979, made by Carol Shaw (RiverRaid), but Atari didn't used it!!!

 

It would have ended in marvelous and exact results! Yes, they could brought out a better BASIC in the XL and XE, 6 years from Classic to XE..., but they didn't...

 

Apple, afaik, never made a FORTRAN native on a 6502. You had to add a 8080 card... So there was FORTRAN, but with dirty trick... The C64 FORTRAN was real, done by Abacus. :-)

Edited by luckybuck

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Unfortunately the XEP80 was too little too late and too slow for corporate America to care one iota. If the 800 didn't have 80 column to start with, if Atari wanted their machine to be seriously considered by corporate America, they needed to introduce such a device with the 800 and continued from there. Newer, faster versions via PBI/ECI from there. But Atari waited until the XE line, when businesses were already moving onto 16-bit, and the 8-bit business market was not only long since lost, but now obsolete by corporate America. Then they cripple it by making sure it's backward compatible to the 800 through the controller port instead of PBI/ECI. it would have been a decent design solution back in 1980 for the 800, but not in '87.

 

Even today, I'd rather find 80-column software solutions rather than get an XEP80 and use up a controller port I may want for external projects while developing programming/control for them on screen. 80-column software can allow me to do this. Besides, and XEP80 these days probably costs as much or more than a VBXE.

 

Also by '87 the Atari 8-bit lines keyboard had degraded to the point that no business would consider it on that too, no numeric keypad included still, adn not even a new version of the CX85. I'm sure that was a big reason for keeping the ST line from having any success in the business world in a big way either. Not just the mushy feel that could hinder typing speeds, but longevity in the corporate world would probably be a few months of regular use before needing a replacement.

Edited by Gunstar
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That could be seen as a sad state of affairs in itself, but going back to a 40x24 or 80x20 text editor with comparatively laggy performance, limited file size and no undo/redo facility (not to mention no version control, slow compilation, laborious debugging workflow) is next to impossible after eight or nine years of Eclipse, WUDSN IDE and MADS. I mean... some of the projects are unwieldy enough even on the PC (tens of thousands of lines of raw assembler).

 

I don't see that as sad at all. If it makes it easier (or even possible at all) to create new software for the Atari, then it's a happy thing! In your list of cross platform tools, don't forget to mention Altirra and its debugger. I know you've often mentioned it before.

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Oh - I'm sure the end users aren't sad at all. It's just me lamenting the fact I don't actually use the hardware (or my own software) for creative purposes any more.

 

As for Altirra... although I was a fairly early adopter, I was using Atari800WinPlus for quite a while, and even cross-compiled software ends up being tested on real hardware part of the time.

Edited by flashjazzcat

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Were there any decent databases available for the Atari? Something disk based flat-file or DBaseIII-ish?

 

The few I have come across are held entirely in memory and are limited by that.

 

 

I do remember seeing an ad for DBase II for the A8, but to my knowledge, it was never released.

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Yes Gunstar, very true, but the XEP80 was fast! Just the source code had to be adapted. Our Floppydoc found out why and made it fast, it is in the Wiki.

 

I still found 80 columns hard to use owing to the problem of not owning an XEP80. And if I had owned an XEP80, I'd have had to wait twenty years for someone write decent drivers for it.

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Unfortunately the XEP80 was too little too late and too slow for corporate America to care one iota. it would have been a decent design solution back in 1980 for the 800, but not in '87. Also by '87 the Atari 8-bit lines keyboard had degraded to the point that no business would consider it on that too, no numeric keypad included still, adn not even a new version of the CX85.

 

The IBM PS/2 Model 80 came out in '87. 16mhz 386, 1.44MB floppy, 200mb hard disk, VGA on-board, and a Model M keyboard. Yeah, I think the Atari was out-gunned.

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The IBM PS/2 Model 80 came out in '87. 16mhz 386, 1.44MB floppy, 200mb hard disk, VGA on-board, and a Model M keyboard. Yeah, I think the Atari was out-gunned.

 

Wow a machine with those capabilities that early in computer history :-o .

 

Do you recall what it sold for?

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In answer to my original question, I suppose that, in the time period during which the Atari 8-bit was as good a computer as any other, the ubiquity of the office desktop had not yet been established. If it had, however, how cool would it have been to work in an office that had an 800XL on every desk, tricked out with an ICD MIO, a pair of 1050's. Add a Star NX-1000 or a Panasonic KXP-1091i and you have computing nirvana.

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Wow a machine with those capabilities that early in computer history :-o . Do you recall what it sold for?

 

The Google machine says it was a whopping $8,495. Remember, however, that this was the state-of-the-art desktop computer from the company that defined business machines; hell, it was their name! Corporate money would have gladly paid four times as much for the IBM against even a competitive machine with the name Atari on it. And it wouldn't have been only the gaming association, although that would certainly have been part of it. The fact is that Atari was not ready to provide the kind of volume, build quality, and day-two support that businesses who could afford to invest in desktop computing would demand.

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