"Any time you happen to pass my house - I'd appreciate it."
INTO THE VOID OF SILENCE
a retrospect on the personal computer scene by Casper F. Nielsen
This is a story of great ideas, of people stealing from each
other, of visions and disappointments. It's the story of the
personal computer market and the people and companies that
influenced it. I may have forgotten a few things, and you may
already know most of it, but hopefully, you will find one or two
small anecdotes you never heard before.
Like World history, computer history is important if we want to
understand the current situation. People have often tried to
write Atari out of computer history, to be able to focus on
companies like IBM and Apple. This is of course wrong, and in
this text, I have attempted to rectify it.
"Into the Void of Silence" is a title borrowed from the pop
group Tears for Fears, in the spirit of the great copy cats of
It was definitely tempting. I was about to buy my first
computer, the Power 3000 from Power Electronics. It was a ZX81
clone with rubber keys, 2K RAM (expandable to 32K) and a version
of Basic built into the operating system. It was a great machine.
But it didn't have colours. The Atari VCS consoles did. Many were
the times when I had browsed through the Atari VCS leaflet,
showing screen shots from all those games in glorious colour.
However, I wanted a machine with a keyboard, a machine I could
learn how to program, so I went for the Power 3000.
Some years and countless Power 3000 crashes and "out of memory"
messages later, I was a happy Enterprise 64 user. Another great
computer for its time. The king of the 8-bit machines. Up to 256
colours on screen at the same time, a maximum resolution of
672x512 pixels in 16 colours, 4 channel stereo sound! It was
amazing. Unfortunately it was also a bit expensive (500 with 64K
RAM), and the cheaper (and older) Commodore 64 was still the
trendy machine to own. The Sinclair ZX Spectrum was also
considered quite respectable and then there were these 8-bit
Atari machines again. They were almost impossible to get hold of
in Denmark, where I lived, so they weren't really an option for
me. But I knew they were pretty good; that's about all I knew
about them. Atari were also making IBM PC clones, but that didn't
interest me at all. The boring IBM PC was only for business
Moving ahead a couple of more years, enter the amazing, the
spectacular, the incredible, the ridiculously expensive 16-bit
machines. First the Sinclair QL, then the Atari ST and finally
the Commodore Amiga.
English Enterprise Computers never managed to finish their 16-
bit model before all the money was gone. Poor sales, lacking
software support and a factory that burned down all led to the
demise of the Enterprise with its brilliant technology and
design. I needed a new computer. I needed an Atari ST.
Back in 1972, a young engineer with his head full of ideas for
projects that nobody wanted to fund, Mr. Nolan Bushnell, decided
that it was time to set up his own company in Sunnyvale,
California, to produce arcade machines. And so he did, and he
called the company Atari, which means "check" in Japanese.
Competitors quickly began to realize that the Atari name had been
well chosen, because everyone wanted to play Atari "Pong", a game
concept Bushnell had, ehm, borrowed from someone else. Before
long, Atari was a thriving business and the company had
successfully used its reputation from the games arcades to
conquer the brand new home entertainment market, providing games
consoles, the VCS 2600, to households all over the world. Atari
didn't just have engineers and programmers around to design new
games. They also had the "Atari Systems Research" lab, where
people from psychology and artificial intelligence spent all day
thinking and experimenting with visual perception, how to make
software more user friendly, how to use graphics in clever ways.
The sort of things that no one else were really bothered about at
the time. The sort of thing you can specialize in at universities
these days - HCI, Human-Computer Interfaces.
Okay, so it's not quite true that Atari was the only major
player on the market experimenting with HCI. The Xerox
Corporation were doing quite wonderful things at their Palo Alto
Research Center, better known as Xerox PARC. Their most well
known invention may be the Ethernet networking standard, but they
had another project which would forever change the way we use
computers - Smalltalk. It was a programming environment with a
BIG difference. It was graphical. Smalltalk used the first GUI
(Graphical User Interface) ever seen by a computer user, complete
with windows, menus, scroll bars and the use of a pointing
device. It was a minor miracle, a revolutionary concept, and it
was 1972! Unfortunately for the people who developed it, the
board of the Xerox Corporation didn't appreciate the enormous
potential in this invention. The project was never given enough
money and the first versions of Smalltalk were released without
much interest from the industry.
In 1976, one of the people who had been designing games for
Atari, Steve Jobs, formed Apple Computer together with Stephen G.
Wozniac. It was based around the Apple II computer, which Jobs
and Wozniac had built in Jobs' parents' garage! The Apple II was
a huge success and it was machines like this, multipurpose
computers with high level programming languages that began to
give the games consoles a run for their money. But the people at
Atari had had so much success, they thought they were immortal.
They just released improved versions of their VCS 2600 console
and expected people to go for it. And they did, at least for a
Like all other machines at the time, the Apple II used a CLI,
Command Line Interpreter. You had to enter more or less
mysterious commands at a prompt to make the computer do anything.
Like Atari, Apple began to think that nothing could hit them. In
1981 they were hit HARD by something big, something blue. IBM.
The company that had moved from ruling the type writer market to
ruling the computer mainframe market had come up with something
small - The IBM Personal Computer, the IBM PC. It too was CLI
Obviously, IBM had needed an OS (Operating System) for their new
machine, and the leading OS at the time was CP/M from a small
company called Digital Research, who were exclusively into
operating systems. Another software company, which was
exclusively into applications and programming languages, was
Microsoft. They produced software for the Apple II, for CP/M
based machines and others. IBM liked Microsoft's products, but
had the misconception that Microsoft owned the rights to CP/M. So
they approached Microsoft to license CP/M and a bunch of programs
for their IBM PC. The young computer freak in charge of
Microsoft, Bill Gates, talked in great respect to the men in
suits from "Big Blue" and had to explain the situation to them.
He put them in touch with Gary Kildall, the head of Digital
Research and inventor of CP/M. They went to see Kildall, but he
wasn't impressed at all and left the negotiations to his wife and
partner in Digital Research, who called in their attornies when
the IBM people popped out the non-disclosure agreement. She
didn't want to sign anything. That was understandable, but also
one of the BIGGEST mistakes in corporate computer history. The
IBM people were used to having things their way, so they left in
anger and went back to the nice Bill Gates at Microsoft, who
immediately ceased the opportunity and agreed to see what he
So Gates and co. had to have an operating system, and there was
no time for them to write one themselves. Luckily, Tim Patterson,
a programmer from a company called SCP in Microsoft's local area,
had created an OS called QDOS, which had been modelled from CP/M
and was virtually identical to it. Microsoft bought QDOS for
$50,000 and renamed it MS-DOS. It was going to make Mr. Gates a
very rich man.
As sales of the Apple II dropped and particularly after the
introduction of the IBM PC, Apple Computers found themselves in
Atari were also beginning to understand that if they didn't do
something fast, they would be wiped away. So they released an 8-
bit personal computer to challenge the Apple II. The problem was
that so did lots of other companies. Commodore Business Machines
entered the 8-bit home market and English companies like Sinclair
Research, Acorn Computers and Oric wanted their share too. Steve
Jobs went to see an old Atari colleague at Xerox PARC, Alan Kay,
who was now in charge of the underfunded Smalltalk project. Jobs
liked what he saw, and bought the rights to use the concept. The
Smalltalk development team were chocked. How could they just give
away this incredible technology? But the people in charge at
Xerox Corp. were happy to get rid of the project and walk away
with some cash. BIG mistake!
In 1983 Apple released the Lisa machine, which featured a
graphical user interface and came with a hand-held pointing
The Apple Lisa flopped because of technical problems and a sky
high price tag.
It was beginning to look like the final call for Apple, so an
engineer came up with a great idea: "Okay, so we've got an
interesting product here, but it isn't perfect and it's too
expensive. Let's make a budget version that works!". Steve Jobs
liked the idea but he didn't like the way the engineer had
proposed to make it real, so he took over the project. Working
his engineers like slaves, not tolerating anything but
perfection, Jobs finally produced the finished product after
several delays and set-backs. It was the Apple Macintosh and it
As the IBM PC gained in popularity and took MS-DOS with it, CP/M
was heading for extinction. Gary Kildall didn't like that one
bit, because after all, he was witnessing Microsoft take over the
world with a concept they had stolen from him. On the other hand,
the Apple Lisa and Apple Macintosh were using a completely
different type of user interface. Alas, Kildall had a good look
at the Apple GUI and created the Digital Research GUI called GEM,
Graphics Environment Manager. It was neat, it was simple, it was
small and it didn't violate Apple's copyrights. Surely, Digital
Research would now be able to strike back and blow Microsoft away
with the PC GEM.
The first major software package to be released for PC GEM was
Ventura Publisher, a desktop publishing program which utilized
all the features of a GUI. The second major software package
was... There wasn't one. Too many people were already using MS-
DOS and the majority of software companies just didn't believe in
GEM. The IBM PC users were doomed to years of messing about with
the MS-DOS CLI.
It was all over for Digital Research and GEM. Or was it?
In 1984, Warner Brothers, who had invested heavily in Atari in
the early years, decided to call it a day. Atari had failed
miserably on the 8-bit scene and the losses were massive. They
split the company into two divisions: The arcade machine division
which still had a profitable market to supply, and the home
computer division, which was completely dead! They put the latter
up for sale and surprisingly, someone actually wanted to buy it.
From Commodore Business Machines came the notorious Jack Tramiel,
the man behind the machine that could take most of the credit for
beating the Atari 8-bits, the Commodore 64. Tramiel had left
Commodore in anger, because the board wouldn't allow him to do
things his way. A rumour says it was because they wouldn't allow
Tramiel's son Sam to take over a major position in the company
(an interesting notion, considering what later happened to Atari
when Sam came in charge).
Tramiel wasn't ready to retire, so he needed a company with a
respectable name to get back in business. He bought the ill fated
home computer division of Atari, which continued under the name
Atari Corporation, and Warner were really happy about it and
threw in the rights to the games consoles and all the old
patents. Warner kept 25% of the shares in Atari Corporation,
though, as part of the deal with Tramiel - just in case.
The arcade machine division continued on its own, under the name
Atari Games, and came under Warner's control again in the 90's.
Jack Tramiel was known in the industry as a cunning businessman
with the motto "business is war". In his war to win market shares
for Atari Corporation, he used another motto: "power without the
price". Atari made massive price cuts on the old games consoles,
which started to sell again. The consoles weren't making any
money, but the software was. The 8-bit machines stayed in
production, but Tramiel knew that the way forward for Atari was
through 16-bit technology, so instead of developing on the 8-
bits, the engineers were told to start working on a 16-bit
machine. To make money, Atari started churning out cheap quality
IBM PC clones and quickly got themselves a fair share of the
Nolan Bushnell had left Atari long ago to start a chain of Pizza
At Apple Computers, the future was looking brighter. The Apple
Macintosh was doing well, and the Apple board thanked Steve Jobs
for his achievement - by firing him! They had a prosperous new
product now and Jobs was a man with expensive research ideas, who
didn't just want to sit still and enjoy the success of
yesterday's technology. BIG mistake. So Jobs left as a very
bitter man and Apple lost maybe the greatest visionary in modern
computer history. The company would never be the same again.
Through the beginning of the eighties, more and more new 8-bit
formats appeared. For a long time, the Commodore 64, which had
replaced the Commodore Vic 20, ruled supreme along with the
Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Acorn Computers were making money on the
British education market with their BBC computer and the Oric
Atmos was fairly popular in Europe. Then came Amstrad, an English
electronics company, with their cheap CPC 8-bits with built-in
tape decks and grabbed a big market share in no time. American
Texas Instruments also had a go at the 8-bit market, and from
companies like Toshiba and Mitsubishi came an attempt to create
an 8-bit standard with the MSX computers. There was the English
Enterprise 64 and Enterprise 128, the Tatung Einstein, and
After Tramiel left Commodore, the company ran into one fiasco
after the other. The Commodore 128 flopped, the Commodore C 16
flopped, the Commodore Plus 4 flopped. Commodore needed 16-bit
technology just like all the rest.
Not too long after Atari Corporation had been formed, the
company was approached by a Japanese company called Nintendo.
They were famous for their small hand held LCD games. They had
developed a games console called the NES, Nintendo Entertainment
System, and they wanted to sell it to Atari because of their
experience in the console market. Atari said no thanks, they
weren't prepared to put any more money into games consoles. They
were a respectable personal computer company now. BIG mistake.
Nintendo went on to become one of the biggest companies in the
computer entertainment business because of the NES - much bigger
In the search for 16-bit technology, Atari came across a small
company called Amiga Technologies. They had the plans for an
amazing 16-bit machine, but needed money to construct a proto
type. Atari immediately jumped in and loaded them with dosh! Just
to be on the safe side, Atari continued to work on their own 16-
The first 16-bit computer to hit the home market (Apple's
machines were too expensive to be included in this category) was
the Sinclair QL. It was fast, it was the first Sinclair computer
to feature a proper keyboard and it had built-in word processing
and other useful applications. It was never allowed to take off,
though, before Sinclair Research closed, because of unsuccessful
investments in more or less weird products like the Sinclair C-5
The next 16-bit machine came from Atari. They had completed
their own machine and the Amiga Technologies machine was almost
ready as well. Atari had to choose between the two, and they
chose their own machine. They didn't bother to secure the rights
for the other machine, though. BIG mistake. The machine was
called the Atari ST and it had Atari's own operating system TOS,
The Operating System. Some claim it stands for Tramiel Operating
System. "On top" of the operating system sat a GUI. Atari's own?
Nope, Atari got a cheap deal with Digital Research and licensed
the GUI that could have made it big on the PC, but had been
crushed by MS-DOS - GEM.
In spite of initially very high prices, the ST was a success
right from the beginning in 1985.
Commodore were in trouble and needed a 16-bit machine here and
now, so they bought Amiga Technologies and put the machine Atari
had partly funded in production. It was called the Commodore
Amiga and its audio and video hardware was superior to the Atari
From the success of the 16-bit machines followed the demise of
Enterprise Computers. Oric was already long gone. Amstrad bought
the rights to the Sinclair ZX Spectrum and re-released it with a
better keyboard and a built-in tape deck, just like on the CPCs.
Then came the Spectrum +2 and even the Spectrum +3 with a built-
in disk drive, but Amstrad eventually had to face the fact that
the 8-bit market was dead, and the Spectrums and CPCs went out of
production. Amstrad later tried to enter the games console
market, but it was a total disaster. Amstrad has more or less
pulled out of the computer business today.
Sir Clive Sinclair rose from the ashes of Sinclair Research and
formed Cambridge Computers to take up the battle with Psion for
the personal organizer market.
The MSX computers disappeared and so did the Tatung Einstein and
the Texas Instruments TI99/A.
Acorn computers ventured into the unknown by putting their faith
in RISC technology. It resulted in the 32-bit Archimedes
computers, and all the time while Atari and Commodore were
battling it out on the Motorola 680X0 16/32-bit market, Acorn
were creating a small niche market for themselves with a
completely non-standard machine. They also cleverly started
producing PC clones and maintained their connections with the
educational market this way. Acorn are still alive today, and
successors of the Archimedes machines are still manufactured.
The Commodore Amiga quickly became a hit in the USA, outselling
the Atari ST, but in Europe, the ST dominated for years. Atari
expanded and started national divisions all over the world. They
even had an office in Denmark! The 16-bit buyers could benefit
from the war between Commodore and Atari because of the price
cuts on the Amiga and ST that followed. Surprisingly, Atari, who
were known for computer games, mostly sold the ST to serious
users, with the exception of the British market - the Brits have
always been mad about games! Musicians quickly discovered the
virtues of the built-in MIDI ports in the ST, and the machine
established itself as the number one machine for sequencing.
Especially in Germany, the ST got a good chunk of the desktop
publishing market, which had exclusively belonged to Apple
before. Apple were of course also producing 16-bit machines, but
because the Apple machines have always been excessively more
expensive than the Sinclair QL, the Atari ST and the Commodore
Amiga, an Apple has always been "an Apple" and not "one of the
Although Commodore tried their best to promote the Amiga as a
business machine, it was mostly used for games playing. The only
serious area where it really established itself was in graphics
Apart from the obvious advantage of the ST's MIDI ports, why did
the serious users choose the ST in favour of the Amiga? Simple,
the ST had a really good operating system, programmers liked it
and GEM was easy and efficient for the users. The Amiga suffered
from endless flaws in the operation system and a GUI which looked
nice but wasn't as intuitive as GEM. On the other hand, the
graphics and sound capabilities of the Amiga blew the ST away
when it came to games.
As time went by, the Amiga started to outsell the ST, even in
Europe, although the ST was slightly cheaper. Sam Tramiel had
taken over as president of Atari Corporation after his dad Jack,
but the old man was still involved "behind the scenes".
In an attempt to get back in front, Atari did several very
different things. They released an improved version of the ST,
the STE, which featured better video hardware with more colours,
a blitter chip for fast graphics shifting and very improved audio
with 4 channel DMA stereo sound. It was directly targeted at the
Amiga, but because it only touched the competition and didn't
surpass it, the STE didn't convince many potential Amiga buyers
to change their mind. But Atari buyers started buying it instead
of the ST, even if they had to pay a little extra.
For the business market, both Atari and Commodore released a
"big brother" of their 16-bit machines. There was Atari's 32-bit
TT and Commodore's Amiga 2000. The Atari TT sold well to DTP
users, but because the Amiga was never considered a serious
machine, the Amiga 2000 failed. Commodore just wouldn't accept
the fact that the Amiga was ignored by serious users, so they
spent a lot of money on promotion in this area and even released
a "big brother" of the Commodore Amiga 2000, the Amiga 4000. BIG
Like Acorn, Atari gave RISC technology a shot and developed the
Atari Transputer, a parallel machine with enormous processing
power. At around 10,000, it certainly wasn't for the home market,
but it was the cheapest machine of its kind. It sold in VERY
small numbers, mainly to universities and research labs, but was
quickly forgotten. Its development cost Atari a fortune.
Not quite over the fact that Atari could have owned the Amiga,
Atari hired the two engineers behind the machine and put them to
work on a hand held games console. It was going to challenge
Nintendo's Game Boy - a black and white LCD based machine with
limited audio capabilities.
The result was outstanding. The Atari Lynx was launched with
great confidence from Atari's side that it would take over the
hand held market overnight. So confident were they that they
hardly spent any money on marketing. BIG mistake. Although the
Lynx was a little beast with 4096 colours, stereo sound, a
backlit display for playing in the dark, support for left handed
users, a decent line up of first games and an acceptable price,
it flopped. And the Game Boy just kept on selling and selling and
selling and selling, because Nintendo knew something Atari didn't
- the value of marketing. Especially the value of marketing to
A portable version of the ST was banned in the USA because it
emitted too heavy radio waves. Work began on the ST Pad, a
computer you controlled by drawing your commands on a pad with a
special pen and choosing from menus by pointing to them with the
pen. The ST Pad was shown at several exhibitions, but the project
was dropped. MAYBE a big mistake. Apple later released the Apple
Newton, a similar but slightly more compact machine. It hasn't
been a huge success though.
In the late eighties, Steve Jobs made a comeback on the personal
computer market by setting up NeXT Computers. The NeXT was an
absolute dream machine. It was 32-bit Motorola 68040 based,
clocked at 32 MHz and featured a DSP coprocessor for audio and
other wonderful stuff. It had 24-bit graphics (if you could
afford the colour video card!) and CD-quality stereo sound. It
was ultra fast, had a slick design and the operation system and
GUI was almost delicious! Running on top of a UNIX-like OS was
the NeXTStep GUI, and many people still believe it's the best
user interface ever created for a computer. The NeXT was born as
a networked multimedia machine with electronic mail as an
integrated part of the GUI and a microphone built into the
cabinet. It was so perfect, you just couldn't believe it. Again,
Jobs had created a machine which was way ahead of its time, and
indeed, again, Jobs had created a machine which was way too
Everyone wanted a NeXT (I certainly did!), but ordinary people
just couldn't afford it. After a couple of years, NeXT Computers
closed. NeXTStep was converted to the PC to challenge the weak
Microsoft GUI called Windows, which had appeared not too long
ago, but again, unfortunately, Microsoft wiped the floor with the
competition because of the sheer number of existing MS-DOS users.
Jobs was out of the business again.
The 1990s arrived and Atari were beginning to loose money. The
ST was fading in the shadow of the Amiga. Commodore and Atari had
a common enemy though - the IBM PC. A weak machine in comparison,
with a completely outdated operating system and a GUI which was
everything but intuitive. But it was beginning to take over in
every area of home computing. People were using it in the office
and now that the clones had become really cheap, they wanted to
use it at home too. Even IBM were beginning to have problems,
because they couldn't compete with clone manufacturers like
Compaq. They made a few desperate attempts to change the
situation by introducing a new PC standard and a rival operating
system to MS-DOS, but the buyers shrugged their shoulders and
went with even greater eager for the cheap clones and "good" old
Before the launch of the ST and for some years after, Atari had
been making money on other products. Commodore, on the other
hand, had been totally drained of cash, before the Amiga in the
last minute turned into a gold mine. So even if Atari were
beginning to loose out to Commodore, Atari still had
substantially more money in the bank.
Commodore released some improved versions of the Amiga 500 (the
base model). There was the Amiga 500+ and the Amiga 600. The
problem was that while the new machines had little new features
to offer, there were severe compatibility problems with old
software, while Atari users could use most of the old ST software
on the STE. But Commodore were saying something different in
their massive advertisement campaigns. The new machines were
ground breaking and backward compatible. Right!
Another product Commodore promoted as the biggest invention
since the wheel, was the Commodore CDTV, which was in fact
nothing but an Amiga with an integrated CD-ROM drive. No proper
software was ever written to take advantage of the CD-ROM storage
capacity and while the CDTV wasn't a total flop, it was certainly
no success either.
In 1992 both Commodore and Atari introduced a new 32-bit
The Commodore 1200 was really just a fast Amiga 500 with a
better CPU and some better video hardware. Commodore were
desperately clinging to the dated Amiga technology instead of
coming up with something original, and the computer buyers just
didn't go for it.
The Atari Falcon 030 was something else. It featured the
Motorola 68030 processor with a 68040 model (the Falcon 040)
promised for a later release. Like the NeXT, it had a DSP
processor as well, a built-in DAC/ADC (Digital to Analogue
Converter/Analogue to Digital Converter) for direct sampling and
the possibility of hard disk recording. It had a multitude of
interfaces, a built-in hard drive and floppy drive, a new "3D-
look" version of GEM and the MultiTOS multitasking OS which could
optionally take over from the regular TOS. It had 3 problems,
though. It looked like the ST, i. e. it wasn't born with a tower
cabinet. It only supported 16-bit graphics (officially) at modest
resolutions and the CPU ran at only 16 MHz.
Clearly, what Atari had designed was a budget version of a
budget version of the NeXT. Atari intended the Falcon 030 to be
just the first in a whole new family of machines. They were
selling it as a multimedia computer for the whole family. As with
the Lynx, Atari thought that the machine would more or less sell
itself, so they didn't bother with too much marketing. They also
thought that all those ST owners would naturally upgrade to a
Falcon. BIG mistake.
The Amiga 1200 wasn't really selling, and when Commodore
released the CD-32, a games console based on the Amiga 1200, it
was another disappointment for the company.
In 1994, one of the giants went to the big home computer market
in the sky. Commodore Business Machines closed. At first, it
looked like one of the other big players would take over the
company, but it never happened. The rights to the Amiga
technology was sold to a German company, who re-released the
Amiga 600 and Amiga 1200. To no ones surprise (except the people
behind that German company, I suppose), computer buyers weren't
It didn't go well for the Atari Falcon 030 either. Actually, it
went much worse. There were problems with the first versions of
TOS for the Falcon, it took ages before any decent software was
written to take advantage of the machine, Atari had production
problems with the machines and hard disk recording was becoming
cheaper for the IBM PC, which was slowly pushing Atari away from
the music business. For DTP users, the TT was still a better
option, because it was faster than the Falcon.
The Falcon 040 was never released. According to a source I had
at the time, a developer who was close to Atari, there was a
working proto type of a Motorola 68040 based 32 MHz machine in
existence, with much stronger video hardware and a new version of
TOS and MultiTOS. Atari have never released any details about
this machine. They were so disappointed, they decided to pull out
of the personal computer market entirely and return to their
roots - games consoles. They had been working on a 32-bit
machine, code named the Panther, for a while, but decided to make
the big leap up to 64-bit technology. The developers behind the
Transputer were put to work, but people in the industry doubted
that Atari could pull it off. The shares in Atari Corporation had
hit rock bottom, and it was the general belief that Atari was
sinking and sinking fast.
In 1994, the 64-bit Atari Jaguar was revealed, released,
acclaimed by the press, won a couple of prices and even sold in
respectable numbers to games players, who happily replaced their
old NES, Super Nintendo, Sega Master System or Sega Mega Drive.
Oh yah, Sega was a company that had made it big on the console
market - too big for Atari's liking. So with one of their old
patents held high, Atari sued Sega for copying their technology,
and won. Sega were forced to buy a substantial amount of shares
in Atari Corporation and a deal was made between Atari and Sega
that would allow the two companies to make a number of games
conversions between the two formats. Surprisingly, this deal
still hasn't been used by either of the companies.
Much was promised for the Jaguar. Great games with 24-bit
graphics, Q-Sound, a CD-ROM add-on, an MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 decoder
for motion video CDs, a virtuality helmet, a Jaguar network for
multiplayer games, and the list goes on.
Atari had made an interesting deal with IBM, who didn't mind
making an extra buck on - anything, really! The Jaguars were
actually manufactured in IBM's factories. By paying IBM to do
this, Atari thought they could avoid the same delays and
production problems they had experienced with the Falcon. In
addition, they could claim that the Jaguar was an all American
product, as opposed to the all Japanese competition. Quite a
clever selling point on the American market.
Unfortunately, one disaster after the other hit the Jaguar. The
software was coming out much too slow and the quality wasn't what
people had expected. Then Sega released their 32-bit Saturn
console, Sony released the Playstation, and Phillips' CDI and the
3DO Company's 3DO consoles were also on the market, and so were
other consoles like the Neo Geo CD and the Nec PC FX, with
Apple's Pippin and Nintendo's Ultra 64 in the pipeline. It was a
boom of new games consoles, and the market was getting
overcrowded - the seventies were back! Only this time, it wasn't
Atari on top. The Jaguar just wasn't "cool", because Atari didn't
have big ad campaigns telling people so, while Sega, Sony and 3DO
were advertising like crazy.
The Jaguar CD-ROM drive was released after unacceptable delays,
with hardly any software available, and the virtuality helmet,
which Atari had commissioned an English company to develop, was
dropped, because the proto type "made people sick"!
At this point, Atari were completely out of the personal
computer market, and the number of ST, TT and Falcon users was
falling, with software support from all the major developers
IBM had lost its position as the most influential computer
company in the world, and the industry was now seeing not only PC
clones, but even clones of the Intel processors in the PCs.
Apple had introduced the Power Mac, a RISC based "IBM PC
killer", compatible with earlier Apple models, but as always, it
was very expensive, and it was mostly Apple users buying it - not
PC users. Powerful and cheaper Apple clones had also appeared and
the future was looking rather gloomy for the company that should
have been and probably could have been the leading company on the
Today, in 1996, it's a fact that Atari have lost the battle for
the games console market. Since the initial problems, excellent
games have been released for the Jaguar, mostly old game formats
with lots of playability and new wonderful graphics and sound.
But today, the games magazines don't really care about
playability. If a game uses digitized graphics (and most of the
Saturn and Playstation games do), then it's good - roughly
speaking. Great Jaguar games have been slagged off in the press
and the media has been sucking up to the bigger companies. For
example, it's an interesting fact that one of the big British
games magazines started rating the Nintendo Ultra 64 as a better
machine than the Jaguar more than a year before the Ultra 64 had
been released and anyone from the magazine had seen a finished
game run on it!
Although Atari can mostly blame themselves for their failure, it
appears that they have been up against all odds without realizing
it at first. In an interview with "Next Generation" magazine,
July 1995, Sam Tramiel said about the Lynx, the Jaguar and the
competition: "...The hand held marketplace is minuscule compared
to the set-top box marketplace, and there are many complicated
issues on Lynx which I don't want to get into right now of why it
wasn't a "fair" batte on that side. This one is a fair battle". I
In 1995, Atari launched a new division called Atari Interactive
to produce CD-ROM versions for the PC of Jaguar games. A good
idea, but so far, only a pretty good version of Tempest 2000 has
In early 1996, a press release revealed that Atari Corporation
intended to merge with a manufacturer of hard drives for portable
machines, the JTS Corporation. Atari will give JTS a loan of $25
mio. and if the merger fails, the loan will be converted to
preferred JTS stock. Atari and JTS will continue under the name
JTS Corporation, while the Atari name will live on as the new
company's video games division, presumably incorporating the
Jaguar (the total demise of which Atari have denied) and Atari
The board of the new JTS Corporation will include key people
from Connor, Seagate, Tandy and good old Jack Tramiel, who's
coming back in charge. A powerful bunch of people indeed. Sam
Tramiel's role remains unknown at this point. Storage technology
will be the main activity of the company.
Microsoft have bought the rights to GEM and a rumour says that
Atari have sold the rights to TOS to a company called Wizztronic,
who intend to produce a new line of TOS based Motorola 68030/40
machines. At the time of writing, I haven't been able to have
this rumour confirmed, though.
As we enter the new era of Internet based computers (or do we?),
it's completely impossible to predict what's going to happen.
Will Oracle, the IT software company, fulfil their promise of
finally winning over Microsoft? Will IBM leave the personal
computer market or manage to introduce a completely new standard?
Will companies like Sun Microsystems or Digital maybe enter the
personal computer market? Will Apple be able to work their magic
again, and create a true "killer" machine? Will Steve Jobs be
back? Will Atari survive at all, or will it slowly drift into the
void of silence to follow Oric, Sinclair, Commodore and NeXT?
All I can say is good luck to all of you, and thank you for
making life easier for us and entertaining us all these years...
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.