What can your Atari 800 do for you?

Matt Barton's picture

What can your Atari 800 do for you? Well, according to this You Tube video of an Atari 800 in-store demo (see below), mostly business and professional applications (yeah, right). It's almost sad to see Atari working so hard in this demo to impress the very people who dismissed Atari as nothing more than a maker of game consoles. Both Atari and Commodore shunned the "game machine" label, even though the most loyal fans of both systems probably played more games than any other type of software (though I'm sure any of these fans would be quick to defend these machines as "real computers.") Although the demo mentions the popular hit Star Raiders, it's obviously designed to minimize the game-playing potential of the system. Interestingly, companies like Alien Ware (and increasingly Dell) seem willing to offer "gaming rigs" without bothering to play up the business/professional potential of these systems.

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Mark Vergeer
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It's hard to compare Dell and Atari...

It's hard to compare Dell and Atari when it comes to playing up their offerings in "Gaming Rigs". They actually approach a vastly different personal computer market from a 180 angle different perspective.

For Atari it was important to play up the professional mode of the machine since at the time it needed to start competing with the up and coming IBM/PC compatible machines. Otherwise they'd just be a games console and nothing else. A part of that strategy was those commercials that showed that doctor guy from M.A.S.H. talking about the professional pheriperals like disc-drives and printers. (M.A.S.H., great show btw).

For Dell, right now it is important to offer more than just another WindowsXP machine and expand into 3d game playing. Otherwise they are just another PC clone builder with help desk. Dell's usually sucked at playing 3D games because of the integrated hardware they use in most of their systems. So they play out the possibility to play games on part of their systems.

But the need to build a games-fähig machine might dissapate with the coming of Windows Vista as your computer actually needs to have a powerhouse graphics card just to be able to show the GUI as it is intended. So 3D gamesplaying on Vista Machines is actually a standard option, that is until the games drive up the need for better hardware in a couple of months time after the release of Vista.

-= Mark Vergeer - Armchair Arcade editor =-

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Matt Barton
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Dell, Atari, and Vista

It is amazing how far priorities have shifted since the 8-bit home computer era. But even then, it seems like the typical "home" user preferred a game-capable machine like the C-64 to the more "professional" options available at the time, though that of course changed with the introduction of the IBM PC and the ensuing clone war. Still, I think it's safe to say that clone users envied the multimedia capabilities of rival machines (Mac, Amiga, Atari ST), and once they introduced the EGA and then VGA cards (and sound cards), a healthy PC game market developed fairly rapidly.

I'd be interested to know how many PC gamers have a "gaming rig" and how many are content with the cheapest Dell or HP machine. I always assume there's a huge market out there for users with basic needs and no desire for 3D gaming. Will Vista really exert much draw on these people, especially when they hear that they'll need a very expensive computer to run it? I'm also curious how games will run on Vista, considering how much drag that OS will have on the processor, memory, and graphics card.

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Bill Loguidice
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I think ONE of the big

I think ONE of the big reasons why played games on our computers in the classic era was for the simple fact that they weren't quite as good for much else unless you had a paper to write (though many still had typewriters) or were lucky enough to have a MODEM (and something local and populated to connect to). It's easy to forget that in many ways, modern things we take for granted, like the WWW, digital music, digital video and digital photography are relatively recent phenomena. While we were able to do things like that in the past, it was never to the same relatively easy and uniform degree.

I think classic computers nurtured experimentation as, let's face it, everything was kind of new then. Speech output? Cool. Speech input? Awesome. Color printing on a dot matrix printer? Neato. They also universally had default programming environments, usually some relatively easy-to-learn iteration of BASIC. It was a simpler, different time that didn't necessarily foster pure "work" like our computers do now.

I would say three major things happened: 1) Online became ubiquitous - being always "connected" is extremely empowering, 2) Printer output became "real world" good - no longer did we make due with something that truly looked jaggie and computer generated, 3) Input became "real world" good - scanners and digital cameras make getting data into the computer easy and super high quality. Prior to that it really was a struggle to get a computer to cooperate, though WE may not have minded. Nevertheless, the games were just as good as they are now...

As for those who have "gamer rigs" today, I'm sure it's around 10 - 15% of the total modern PC population. For the rest of us, we're either content with using our consoles, don't have the money to maintain the fire-breathing rig or don't have an interest in cutting edge gaming. I fall into the first category, as I made sure I bought a powerful machine when it was time for me to get a new system, but was content to let it fall into the icy grip of obsolescence over the past couple of years since I'm only interested in bleeding edge strategy games and RPG's on the thing, which generally don't need the $300 video card.

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
(A PC Magazine Top 100 Website)
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Matt Barton
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The Importance of Printers

I was struck by Veit's remarks in his book about how important the printer was to the development of the home computer. We often take them totally for granted nowadays, but it wasn't so long ago when a decent quality printer (that could pass for "near letter quality") cost well over $1,000. The only printers that could approach professional work were the daisy wheel printers, and those were slow, unreliable, and incredibly expensive (over $10,000 in some cases!) The printers that were in fairly common use were basically the quality of those in printing calculators and adding machines.

Yet, think of how important the printer really was. Once you could get quality printouts, you could really do a lot of professional work with your computer. Once printers broke the $1,000 mark, I think that's when you really saw people warming up to the idea that a personal computer was more than just a gadget or sophisticated toy.

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Bill Loguidice
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It's also important not to

It's also important not to underestimate the importance of quality word processing and spreadsheets, which changed the face of business and crossed over to the home. While WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3 were hugely influential into the 90's, it's arguable that the emergence of Windows and WYSIWIG applications like Word and Excel REALLY opened up such applications to the masses. After all, no matter how nice WordPerfect and Lotus 1-2-3 were, the keyword-based, keyboard-centric interfaces, while fast once you learned them, barred a lot of people from "playing" through sheer intimidation. You add a mouse and easy to use menus and you start to have something that crosses over to the rest of the populace.

And I agree about printers, of course. I think it actually took the applications longer to catch up than it did the printers in many cases. That's where a standardized OS like a Windows becomes invaluable, as with that "shell" that everyone has, you're guaranteed to have the right driver.

======================================
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director
Armchair Arcade, Inc.
(A PC Magazine Top 100 Website)
======================================

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Mark Vergeer
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I think that movie was created on an emulator

It looks like that movie was created on an emulator as a some sort of virtual keyboard popped up. Must be a console because a pc emulator would just emulate the atari's keys on the real keyboard. My guess it's a modded xbox running an emulator.

-= Mark Vergeer - Armchair Arcade editor =-

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