"Noone has the right not to be insulted."
THE FRENCH POINT OF VIEW: HOW'S THE FALCON DOING IN FRANCE?
by Klaus Berg (Vantage of ST Connexion)
In the beginning, I was only supposed to write my opinion about
the Falcon, and that's it. But then, as ideas kept popping into
my mind, my article grew and grew... to the size it has now
(approximately 46 Kb) (and that was before reformatting and all
that stuff, ED.). I hope you'll find it interesting anyway,
because I have tried to put as much information in it as
My article is divided into eight parts. First of all, I'll try
to give you an idea of what the French Atari market looks like
today. Then, you'll read everything about the poll I did in
April and May of this year. Afterwards, it will be time for me to
give you my opinion about the Falcon and to give you information
about Atena. Two parts consisting of a (hopefully accurate) look
into the future and of an interview with an official within Atari
France follow. Finally, some useful addresses (at least I hope
so) and my farewell!
All right, let's go...
I - The French market
The Falcon became available for developers in France in December
1992, and for the general public three months later.
Approximately 3,000 units were sold by the end of May and a lot
ever since then, so I've been told. I consider this to be a good
result considering the facts that no promotion has been made at
all, that the machine still looks like the old ST models and that
the world is currently suffering from economic recession (and
from PC hegemony...).
Although some software has become available in France, I cannot
say that there has been a lot of it. Two games by Silmarils
("Ishar" and "Transarctica"), "Photo Studio" (Eurosoft), "True
Paint" (Hisoft), "Musicom" (Compo Software), "Atari Works",
"Falcon Speed" (high-quality PC emulator by Compo Software: I've
seen people optimizing their Falcon hard disks with Norton
Utilities!), "Screen Blaster" (another must, this time by
OverScan), and new versions of ST software (e.g. "Le Rédacteur"
by Epigraf), that's about all... But I remain optimistic, because
I can remember, back in the good old days, when the ST was
launched, that we faced just about the same situation, and look
what happened... Besides, the software that's been released for
the Falcon is generally of good quality. No crap stuff at least!
Moreover, a lot of software will be released this autumn:
Application Systems Paris alone is going to release a 16-bit
soundtracker ("Crazy Music Machine") and a hard disk optimizer
("Semprini"), not to mention software imported from Germany (DA's
"Vektor" and "Midnight", to name but a few). This company is
doing a great job, because it also orders non-imported German
software for French people that are in desperately need of it,
and that don't know where or how to get it. Brainstorm, the
company that's also in charge of the developer support in France,
is announcing "Assemble" (claimed to be one of the fastest
MC68030 assemblers in the world), "ADebug" and "DSP Debug", both
very impressive. They are also the authors of mega-fast JPEG and
MPEG decoders. Eurosoft is going to launch a complete Home Video
Kit for approx. 1.200 French Francs, a "Sonic"-like game, as well
as numerous graphics-aimed software-programs, e.g. "Studio
Convert". Parx Software is getting "D2M" ready (nice drawing-tool
that now doesn't have much to do with the demo-version that was
released six months ago), and some special programs taking
advantage of the Falcon's DSP56001. Business Assistance is
working on "Chloe", a very fast raytracing program, supplied with
a 3D-modeler and support of "AutoDesk 3D Studio" files among
other things. Silmarils is finishing "Ishar 2", Lankhor is
working on "Vroom 2" (expected to be mindblasting!) and a few
other games. Finally, a competitor to "Atari Works" named
"Integuer" (Unicorn Technologies) should be released this autumn.
As you can see, it is just a matter of weeks now!
One thing that I find weird though, is the fact that most of the
Falcon software that has been released or announced until now is
either professional or semi-professional. I have only heard of
very few games, none written by well-known companies like Sierra-
On-Line or Microprose for instance. That's quite puzzling for an
Atari machine... Anyway, let's hope that this situation is only
Atari's French distribution network is not complete yet, with
some department stores still missing from the list (FNAC's for
example, which were selling ST's until recently, are not selling
Falcon's yet). This will soon change, however, as you will be
able to read in my interview of Jean-Marie Cocheteau of Atari
France, further down. Anyway, it explains why people have only
been able to buy their Falcons at specialized dealers, like
Retour 2048 in Paris. The guy in charge there, a good friend of
mine and an Atari hardware specialist since 1986, is also the
first person in the world to design a memory-expansion board for
the Falcon: With SIMM-memory, you can go directly to 14 Megs of
RAM for a very reasonable price (though it has to be said that
SIMMs have increased in price dramatically due to a burnout in a
Japanese SIMM factory earlier this year, ED.)...
Finally, if you're interested in knowing what software is
available for Atari computers, you might want to buy the Atari
Software Catalog, which can be ordered at the address given at
the end of the article. It costs US$ 17, handling and shipping to
Europe included. Support Atari in its struggle against the evil
PC manufacturers by buying this catalog!
II - The Poll
When I got Richard's letter asking me to write my opinion about
the Falcon for ST NEWS, I felt a bit annoyed because I didn't
have a Falcon (And I still don't have one, as I'll be officer in
the French army by the time you read this). Although I have quite
a few friends that are Falcon owners or developers and although I
know the machine after having used it a bit, I felt it would be
dishonest to just give my opinion. That's why I decided to make a
poll, where I would ask both Falcon users and Falcon developers
what they think of their machines.
This poll was made in April/May 1993. Of course, it's probably
not fully representative, but I dare say that many answers/ideas
given here are worth considering!
Finally, it might be interesting for software companies and
developers to read about what kind of software a lot of people
are eagerly waiting for.
A - End users
40 persons, all French, answered my questions. Here are the
First of all, 40% of the questioned Falcon owners are between 15
and 20 years old, 60% between 20 and 25. 30% are still in high-
school, 40% are at the university, 25% are working and 5% are in
Most often, these people have been seduced by the following
O It's an Atari and it is compatible with the ST (90%)
O It's got a DSP (70%)
O It's powerful (50%)
O Sound/Graphics (40%)
O Userfriendly (10%)
O Price (10%)
However, they regret the following things:
O The Falcon's design (40%)
O The absence of hardware sprites (40%)
O Its price (30%)
O The (relative) absence of software (30%)
O "MultiTOS", slow and suffering from too many bugs (30%)
O Fixed frequencies when you're playing samples (10%)
O Compatibility problems (10%)
100% had already had an Atari before, which isn't surprising as
the machine hasn't benefited from any nationwide promotion yet.
In other words, the first customers are 100% Atari fans that have
heard of the machine since the Falcon's technical specifications
leaked for the first time in the beginning of 1992. 30% had a
520/1040 ST, 60% had a 520/1040 STE and 10% a Mega ST/STE. Atari
has apparently met its former customers' new demands!
40% own a Falcon 030 4/65, with a TV as monitor. 50% have the
same machine, but with a colour-monitor, whether VGA or
Multisync. 10% have bought the high-end machine with 14 megs of
RAM and colour monitor! No one meg machine has been detected,
which is normal, as it has been decided, after all, not to
release any machine with so little memory (thank God!) (This,
however, may not be the case for all countries, ED.).
30% have already installed an MC68882 FPU in their machines, 50%
have not done it yet but plan to do it soon, and 20% do not think
they need it.
The applications people want to spend time on on the Falcon
haven't changed a lot since the ST: 60% want to use graphics-
related software, 90% want to work with sound tools, 40% with
desktop software, 80% want to play games, 90% want to program,
nobody wants to have anything to do with education/teaching, 90%
want to use 3D/raytracing applications (people are getting really
fond of these now!), 0% MIDI sound, 50% PC or Macintosh
emulation, 50% want to watch demos on the Falcon and 40% want to
use video-related software.
And now, the question everybody's been waiting for: "If you had
the possibility to reevaluate your purchase, would you still buy
a Falcon?". Well, believe it or not, 100% of the people answered
"yes, without hesitating" (other choices were: "No, never in my
entire life" and "I'd think more about it"). This is without any
doubt a fine achievement for Atari, especially because the people
also know their machines and its drawbacks, which they've
mentioned elsewhere in the question sheets!
Finally, here are some examples of software people are asking
for (time to wake up all you developers out there!): A new
reference for drawing, like the ST's "Degas Elite", "Neochrome
Master" or "Deluxe Paint" (Electronic Arts), an 8 voice 16 bit
soundtracker (a bit like "AudioSculpture"), a conversion of the
PC's "AutoDesk 3D Studio" (watch out for Release 3, scheduled to
be released in September 1993 and which is fantastic!), Sierra-
On-Line games, a fast raytracer with 3D-modeler, new development
tools (MC68030/DSP56001 assembler in one, C++ and ADA) and, why
not, a conversion of Apple's "AtEase" (an application that allows
one to close down some applications or data, if the computer is
going to be used by a beginner or a child). High-end software
from the ST converted to Falcon specifications is welcome too
("Calamus SL" (by DMC), "Le Rédacteur"), as well as games
("Civilization", "Dungeon Master", "Formula One Grand Prix", Jeff
Minter games, "Midi Maze", "Populous", Thalion games). Last but
not least, many people asked for the conversion of well-known
games from other machines: "Underworld" and "Strike Commander"
(Origin), "Monkey Island" 1 and 2, "XWing" (Lucasfilm),
"Flashback" (Delphine Software), "Alone in the Dark" (Infogrames)
and "Street Fighter II". I hope all this will help developers
B - Developers
21 developers, all French and registered by Atari France,
answered my questions. Here are the results:
First of all, it turns out that 90.47% are independent
developers, that is to say not bound by contract to any company.
Nothing surprising about that, as I haven't been in touch with
software companies. A direct consequence is the fact that 80.95%
of the people have activities that hinder full-time development
on the Falcon (studies, work etc.).
47.62% got their machines in December 1992, and 80.95% got
Falcon prototypes. 70.59% of these people found it easy to get
hardware upgrades by Atari.
61.90% of the questioned developers said that they are working
on games or software related to Graphics/Video and raytracing.
23.81% prefer desktop software and 9.52% sound tools. 23.81% work
on telecommunication software and 19.05% on other things (voice
control etc.). Several answers were possible here, obviously...
57.14% found the documentation provided by Atari insufficient,
42.86% claimed they had the minimum, not a single developer found
that he had more than enough documentation. No doubt there's a
problem with the developers' documentation, although things have
gotten better since the poll. 47.62% have not had any problems
updating their development software/documentation; this
relatively low figure can be explained by the fact that updates,
when available, are put on the Brainstorm BBS - not all
developers have modems or live near Paris, which would allow them
to get them directly at the Atari France HQ.
My eighth question was a series of of sentences that I asked the
developers to tick when they thought they were true:
O 95.24% think the Falcon is userfriendly
O 85.71% think the Falcon is easy to code when compared to other
O 38.10% think the Falcon has a high-quality OS
O 100% (!) think the Falcon has got impressive sound capacities
O 90.48% think the Falcon is able to display impressive graphics
O 33.33% think the Falcon has got impressive animation capacities
There's no real surprise with these figures, the Falcon's strong
features and (momentary) weak point - "MultiTOS" - are shown
clearly. Interesting to note though, is that only a third of the
developers find the Falcon's animation capacities impressive.
O 14.29% think the Falcon is too slow, even for the market it's
O 61.90% think MultiTOS is too slow
O 38.10% think MultiTOS is incomplete
O 80.95% think graphic coprocessors are missing in the Falcon
O 38.10% think that the Falcon's 16 bit bus is a drawback
These sentences were meant to provoke answers and comments that
may not have come otherwise. It turns out that only a minority
thinks the Falcon is too slow (which is not the case for
"MultiTOS"). Over 80% think that graphic coprocessors are missing
in the Falcon, which is, to me, true. Just over a third is
complaining about the 16 bit bus, a Falcon specification that has
caused a lot of debate in France. One of the developers explains
why he doesn't consider this as a drawback: The 16 bit bus only
slows the Falcon by an average of 10%, whereas it would have cost
a lot more to supply the machine with a 32 bit bus. After all, he
says, the Falcon is meant to be sold to as many people as
possible, so its public price is a much more important feature!
Finally, 80.95% of the developers claim that they will continue
to make software that works for the first models when others get
released, and 76.19% say that they are going to take advantage of
the MC68882 FPU in their developments: That's really a lot
(especially because a lot of the developers that answered "no"
don't need the FPU for their projects), but it can be explained
by the fact that FPU prices are now moderate (in France they can
be bought cheap at Retour 2048), that more and more people are
getting fond of Raytracing software (the FPU increases
calculation speeds by up to 10!) and that it often doesn't cost a
penny to take advantage of it: Pure C by Pure Software (the new
version of Turbo C for the Atari ST, by Borland) for example,
contains a 68882-option, that automatically lets your program
detect and take advantage of the MC68882... So it might be a good
idea for many Falcon owners to buy such a math processor!
III - My personal opinion about the machine
Now that you've read what some Falcon owners think of their
machines, it's time for me to give you my opinion... As a
business and management student (nobody's perfect!), I will
proceed the following way: First of all, I will give you what the
machine's strengths and weaknesses are, according to me of
course. Then, the opportunities and threats it is facing.
Finally, in a conclusion, you will read my opinion based upon the
two preceding parts.
Just remember one thing: Everything that's written here concerns
the Falcon 030 that's been released in March 1993. Therefore,
some remarks may not be true for coming models!
A - Strong points/Weak points
- Strong points
O The price
The Falcon's price is one of its strong points. Following
Atari's successful motto "power without the price", Atari is
selling a 4/85 Mb fully equiped Falcon 030 for under 8.000
French Francs, including VAT.
O Direct to Disk ability
Direct to Disk is a Falcon exclusive that has caught the
interest of both professional musicians and the general public.
Just plug your Falcon to a HiFi set and click on "sample", and
your Falcon will sample at up to 50 KHz in 16 bit mode. The
important difference between Direct to Disk sampling and normal
sampling, is that the limit is not your computer's memory
anymore, but your hard disk's capacity!
This Motorola processor, first seen on workstations (the most
well-known being the NeXT Cube), is what's really new about the
Falcon and probably what makes it so exciting. It offers
tremendous new possibilities in many areas: Sound, graphics,
telecommunications, calculations etc. In the Falcon, its
frequency is set at 32 MHz (it ran at 27 MHz on the NeXT work
Sound is a traditional weak point of Atari computers (the 800XL
soundchip was not as good as the C64's, the ST's was, as you
know, very poor). You can forget about low-quality sound with
the Falcon, because it is the first computer in the world that
offers eight-voice CD quality sound from the start. Try
listening to the music from the Space Junk Demo or from various
other demos that have been released, and you'll be convinced.
O Graphic modes
The Falcon has got a completely new video-chip named Videl,
that allows one to display very high resolutions (some guys
display 1600*600 pixels on a TV under GEM-mode!), to do
overscans and scrollings easily (forget the old ST) and that
provides a (Near) True Color mode that is ideal for games or
demos. Moreover, it is very easy to push it harder, with cheap
external hardware (ScreenBlaster board by OverScan). What more
could you possibly ask for?
O Numerous interfaces
The Falcon is supplied with a lot of interfaces like a DSP
port, MIDI port, LocalTalk port (MultiTOS will soon offer
netware-support, see the interview of Jean-Marie Cocheteau),
cartridge port etc. In fact, enumerating all of them would be
too long. This is a tradition with Atari, the ST was already
full of them. The result is that you don't have to buy optional
boards every time you want to try something new, unlike the PC.
O Emulation possibilities
The Falcon runs its own Operating System, but it is not closed
at all: A high-quality PC-emulator has already been released
(by Compo Software). It is based upon an Intel i80286, but
thanks to its specific driver that uses the MC68030 as a PC-
blitter (!), it runs Windows as fast as an i80386SX/25 PC! And
an i80486 version is under way...
The Falcon will also be open to the Macintosh world: Falcon GCR
by Gadgets by Small Inc. should be released soon. It consists
of a board that you plug into the Falcon's internal extension
port and is an evolution of Spectre GCR. With this new version,
System 7 should be emulated as well as colours, but this is
pure speculation, because I have not been able to get more
details about the product yet.
- Weak points
O The price
The Falcon's price is one of its strong points, but it is also
a weak point for people that do not look at it closely, which
is the case, unfortunately, with nearly all newcomers. Indeed,
for the same amount of money, you can buy an i80486DX33 PC with
a hard disk and a VGA-monitor, a machine that doesn't suffer
from lack of software, to say the least. That is why Atari has
to work a lot on convincing people that, except for the screen,
everything comes from the start on the Falcon, which is why it
may seem expensive. Moreover, even if it seems slow because of
its MC68030/16, this is just an illusion, because the rest of
the hardware is modern too: You have the DSP56001 of course,
but also specific sound, graphics, mouse, etc. processors,
which don't eat up your CPU-time, unlike the PC. Explaining all
this is not an easy task, but we can assume that the coming
applications/demos will demonstrate the Falcon's speed and
quality to everybody.
The Falcon's design is definitely a weak point, because either
people say "it looks like an STE", and they won't have the
impression that it is a completely new computer, or they say "I
don't like its design", because obviously the Falcon doesn't
look very inviting. This however shouldn't last long, see "The
(I have to add here that I like the design because it makes the
computer so much easier to transport to user meetings and all
that stuff, what with the hard disk built in. I hate the fact
that the keyboard itself is a step back in quality and feel
from the MEGA ST keyboards that were just divine, ED.)
O No separate keyboard
Some people like the fact that the Falcon consists of one
relatively small thing, with integrated keyboard, disk drive,
hard disk, interfaces etc., but many others find it irritating,
because they want a better keyboard and/or like the tower look,
which allows you to add extensions easily. This will change
with the new Falcon that has been announced officially by Sam
O Slow and unstable OS
MultiTOS being new, it isn't completely bug-free yet, although
it keeps being updated all the time (Eric Smith is really doing
impressive work). It is also pretty slow as soon as the number
of colors exceeds 16. But it's just a matter of time before
this gets fixed too (the last version is 20% faster, I've been
told) and I don't think we can blame Atari for that, as the
people that were behind the first versions of the TOS left the
company some time ago, which caused an incredible delay in the
software's evolution: The new development-team had to go
through all the code in order to master it, before going on
with the improvements - that's why it has taken so much time to
see new versions of the Atari operating system be released.
Now, updates are launched regularly and TOS 5.0 is not far
O Weak in animations
Although being very fast when it comes to animations that
require heavy calculations (fractals, 3D etc.), the Falcon is
pretty slow in classic animations, like sprites for example. No
coprocessor has been designed for that kind of applications,
which is a pity because that is not the case with the Amiga
1200. So let's all ask Atari for a Falcon with built-in Jaguar
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.