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Excellent article: How Atari took on Apple in the 1980s home PC wars

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How Atari took on Apple in the 1980s home PC wars

BY BENJ EDWARDSLONG READ

Forty years ago, Atari released its first personal computers: the Atari 400 and 800. They arrived in the fall of 1979 after a prerelease marketing campaign that had begun the previous January when the company unveiled the machines at what was then called the Winter Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

 

Then as now, “Atari” was synonymous with “video game,” and the new machines packed more technological potential than any game console at the time, with custom graphics and sound chips, support for four joysticks or eight paddles, and the ability to play games on cartridge, cassette, or disk. At launch, one of the machines’ first games, Star Raiders, defined cutting-edge home entertainment.

 

And yet Atari initially marketed the 800 and its lower-cost counterpart, the Atari 400, as “second-generation” PCs—productivity machines with enhanced graphics and sound capabilities over the 1977 holy trinity of personal computing: the Apple II, Commodore PET, and TRS-80. The company intended them to crunch home budget numbers just as often as they simulated space battles.

 

Idiot-proof and rugged, Atari’s Home Computer System machines (I’ll call the platform “HCS” for short) represented a huge leap in consumer-friendly personal computing. Unlike many PCs of the time, the Atari machines exposed no bare electronics to the consumer. Unique keyed connectors meant that all of the machines’ ports, modules, and cartridges couldn’t be plugged into the wrong places or in the incorrect orientation. The 400 even featured a flat spillproof keyboard aimed at fending off snack-eating children.

 

And due to restrictive FCC rules that precluded the open expansion slots on the Apple II, Atari designed a suite of intelligent plug-and-play peripherals linked together by a serial IO bus that presaged the ease of the much-later USB.

 

More:

https://www.fastcompany.com/90432140/how-atari-took-on-apple-in-the-1980s-home-pc-wars

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Great article. I really can't get my head around how my parents managed to afford a 400 and portable TV for us back in '81, we were by no means a well off family and remember stories of my parents eating bread and jam for weeks on end because one of us kids would need new shoes.
What they did give all 3 of us kids is boost in to the IT industry where we all work today. So yes it was an investment, but a costly one!

 

 

Edited by mimo
went off too early
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It's really nice to read articles like this one, written by someone obviously familiar with the platform and its history, and who can convey the things we find special to a general audience.

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I loved the commentary on Star Raiders development.  Until then, my PC exposure had been a Sinclair ZX-80 which I built and learned to program on.  I was looking to move into something with more power and that's when I met Claus.. :)  When Claus demonstrated Star Raiders for me, I was blown away.  I had never seen anything like that before.  That was definitely a major selling point for me.  

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Great read thanks for posting. What I take away from it is that Atari not opening up to 3rd Parties early was a huge mistake and also the lack of 80col mode too. Still can’t imagine how the Apple II got so popular given it’s price. But being from the UK I  didn’t get exposed to what was going on in the US from that point if view, nor probably would I have been interested given I was born in 1970. 

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Nice to find the Bushnell and ETAK GPS connection article there as well. Today we know it as TOM TOM to a degree.

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On 12/25/2019 at 2:38 AM, Ely said:

Great read thanks for posting. What I take away from it is that Atari not opening up to 3rd Parties early was a huge mistake and also the lack of 80col mode too. Still can’t imagine how the Apple II got so popular given it’s price. But being from the UK I  didn’t get exposed to what was going on in the US from that point if view, nor probably would I have been interested given I was born in 1970. 

The only people I knew around my age at the time (~12 - 15yo) with Apple II's got them because that was what the School was running. In Australia we also got the BBC Micro (Model B and Master 128), IMO they were 'vastly' better systems than the Apple's used in some schools. Better DOS, more functionality, and an excellent BASIC interpreter - With the final icing on the cake being BBC's Econet implementation, Econet was way ahead of it's time, especially on 8bit machines.

 

I wasn't even remotely interested in Apple devices, it was either Commodore or Atari. The TRS-80 was totally aimed at business, and TBH, in that market it was a great machine - With certain models even compatible with Xenix.

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the article definitely gives a reminder of one mistake atari made, and that was not making the naming conventions for their home computers in the 8 bit years

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