Posted: Tue Jul 2 18:11:47 1985
Date-Received: Wed, 3-Jul-85 20:33:47 EDT
Organization: AT&T Bell Laboratories
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04/15/85 WEST COAST FAIRE
The West Coast Computer Faire
Parsippany, New Jersey
Copyright (c) 1985 by Arthur Leyenberger
March 31, 1985
Good news for Atari computer users! Atari is on track with the production
of the new XE and ST computers. This was one of the themes of the recent
Atari Worldwide User Network (WUN) held in conjunction with the 10th West
Coast Computer Faire in San Francisco. The XE computers have already been
shipped to distributors and the ST machines will have been shipped by the
time you read this. Good news, indeed.
For Atari users, the weekend consisted of two main events: the Computer
Faire itself and the WUN kickoff meeting, both held in San Francisco.
Although Atari did not have an exhibit at the Faire, they were kind enough
to provide two local Atari User Groups with XE and ST computers, freebies,
brochures and demo programs.
User Groups Pitch In
The San Leandro Computer Club (SLCC) and the Atari Bay Area User's Computer
Society (ABACUS) both displayed the new line of Atari microcomputers at the
Moscone Convention Center. This was the first showing to the general public
of the computers manufactured by the new Atari Corporation.
Both the 8-bit and the 16-bit products were represented at the booths. A
complete 520ST system was up and running, consisting of two 3-1/2 inch,
360K storage, mini-floppy disk drives, the new Atari analog RGB monitor and
the two-button mouse. This was my first chance to get some actual hands on
experience with the powerful 16-bit computer and I am excited. I was
especially impressed with the mouse. Unlike the MacIntosh mouse that has an
uncomfortable amount of rolling resistance, the ST mouse moved smoothly and
felt natural in the hand. Since the mouse plugs into one of the joystick
ports on the side of the machine, it won't be long before we see it as a
peripheral to the older 800 and XL computers.
Two Atari 130XE computers, each with 128K of memory were displayed. Both XE
computers were production units, sporting the new parallel bus (see photo),
new keyboard and complete compatibility with the older 800 and XL series
computers. DOS 2.5, being developed by OSS, was shown as was the RAMDISK
software that uses a part of the 128K memory to simulate a very fast disk
drive. The XE machines have a crisper feel than the current XL computers
but I am sure I could easily get used to it.
Tom Bennett, "show coordinator" of SLCC had done all of the legwork to get
Atari to come up with products and promotional material for the show. Bob
Barton, vice president of SLCC, somehow-- he wouldn't tell me how-- managed
to convince Atari Software president Sig Hartmann to provide a 520ST
computer for a raffle. Tickets cost $1 apiece, with all proceeds going to a
The ABACUS group was invited to attend the Faire by SLCC and together they
had what looked like the most popular, and busy, booths at the entire show.
Atari has promised user group support for several months and it is now
starting to take shape. Not only did Atari provide the machines, they have
also hired a new User Group Coordinator to help User Groups everywhere.
His name is Dave Duberman, a name very familiar to many of you. He is now
Atari's main User Group contact person. Dave has worked for Antic magazine
and Synapse and is very knowledgeable about both the old and new computers.
Dave was on hand at the Faire demonstrating the features and capabilities
of several XE and ST computers. I'll mention more about how Dave will be
helping User Groups later on.
Atari Comes Through
Atari also came through at the User Group meeting held at Antic. Sig
Hartmann (software), Sam Tramiel (hardware), Leonard Tramiel, Neil Harris
(Atari Explorer), Richard Fritch ("Mister ST"), John Skruch ("Mister 8-bit
computer"), Dave Duberman (user group support), and Tom Brightman (Vice
President of engineering) were all on hand to answer questions and show
support. Joseph Lyons and Frank Schwartz from Enhanced Technology
Associates, a music/software/hardware firm in New York City, were also
present with multiple keyboards using the Atari computer to demonstrate the
MIDI interface. They were friendly folks, willing to answer questions and
explain the ins and outs of the digital music world. They also presented a
20 minute MIDI-Atari concert that was outstanding.
The Worldwide User Network
The seeds for WUN were probably planted in August 1984 at the first
'Taricon sponsored by MACE and CHAOS. There, AUGI (Atari User Groups
International) was formed to help the user groups speak with one, solid
voice with Atari and other manufactureres. An initial mailing to User
Groups was done by AUGI last fall to obtain some financial support and
interest. Unfortunately, the needed manpower and focus were not available
by the few individuals trying to get AUGI off the ground so AUGI is
currently in limbo.
Although still in its infancy, WUN is a semi-formal, non-commercial
enterprise whose stated goals are the dissemination of Atari-related
technical information, new product updates and general coordination of
Atari users and User Groups.
The preliminary proposal is to have a board of directors made up of
representatives from Atari, Digital Research, the CompuServe Atari SIG,
Antic and three user group officers drawn from the East, Central and
Western United States. Specifics are not yet available, but you will be
hearing more about WUN from your User Group Officers.
As of March 20, 1985, over 125 User Groups have responded to the WUN
questionnaire. Invitations to the WUN inaugural meeting on March 30 had
been sent to all 125 of these respondees. Dozens of user groups were
represented at the meeting. If your User Group has not yet joined WUN, get
in touch with Antic for a questionnaire, complete it, and send it back,
together with your club's newsletter. You will then be added to the WUN
Other noted attendees at the WUN meeting included Bill Wilkinson of OSS,
Ron Luks from SIG*Atari, Mike Mock from Indus Disk Drives, Kirt Stockwell
from MPP, Rob LaTulipe from Digital Research and Bill Holt from Broderbund.
The best part of the WUN meeting, aside from the excellent salmon and
champagne, was the chance to hob-nob with Atari executives and find out
what is really going on. The question and answer session proved to be quite
informative. Here are some of the highlights.
Sig Hartmann led off the session by saying that Atari has the best hardware
on the market. After a hearty round of applause he finished the thought by
saying that without software, they have nothing. Within the 2nd quarter of
1985, Atari will offer a wide range of software for both the XE and ST
computers. These products will cover business, productivity, education and
recreational categories. Sig also asked for software authors to keep Atari
in mind as they are developing and writing their new products.
Sig drew a big laugh when he introduced Sam Tramiel by saying that Sam was
more qualified to answer questions. It seems that if Sig gave an answer, he
would still have to answer to Jack Tramiel but if Sam said it, it would be
okay. Sam commented that the first of the 130XE computers were shipped
during the last week of March, thereby making their previously announced
schedule. The 520ST computer is still on schedule and will be shipped at
the end of April or in early May.
Next, Dave Duberman and Neil Harris were introduced. Dave asked that User
Group Presidents contact him if they feel Atari can do something for them.
He mentioned that Atari does currently have a BBS (408-745-2504) and he
looks forward to interacting with the User Groups. He also offered his own
number (408-745-4204) and said that eventually he will be coordinating some
type of Atari road show whereby Atari representatives will attend User
Group meetings across the country giving demos and answering questions.
When asked if there will, in fact, be a 65XE, Sam Tramiel said that it is
currently being shipped in Canada. The 130XE has been shipped in the United
States and will be followed by the 65XE. John Skrutch was asked when the
Learning Phone (previously called the Plato Cartridge) would be available
and he said it would be out in May. The delay was apparently due to
negotiations that had been taking place with Control Data. According to
Skrutch, the Learning Phone will come with a free 1-year subscription and
an hour of free connect time.
Asked about software pricing, Sig Hartmann said that most of the software
will sell for under $50. However, some of the more powerful programs will
be under $100. Sig was also asked who had bought the ST development
packages. These packages consisted of a 520ST computer, two 3-1/2 inch
micro floppy disk drives, a 15 megabyte hard disk, a RGB color monitor and
a high-resolution green monitor. This system, costing over $5000 and
including development software, apparently has been purchased by most of
the leading software vendors. The list of some 38 companies includes:
ANALOG Computing, Infocom, Synapse, Broderbund, Microbits Peripheral
Product (MPP), Electronic Arts, Microprose, SubLogic, Matrix Software,
Lifetree and Hayden Software. There are also five machines in Europe being
used for software development.
Sam Tramiel was asked about the 32-bit computer that Atari had announced
would be introduced in Hanover, West Germany in mid-April. He said the
machine is being worked on right now and will contain the National 32000
microprocessor. However, it will not be ready for the Hanover Show.
Instead, it should be ready by June. Just about all of Atari's effort is
being put towards getting the ST out the door. He also said that it may not
be announced at the June Consumer Electronics Show because it really isn't
a CES type of product. This machine is currently aimed at the vertical and
specialized workstation market in the high-end personal computer category.
Other computers already competing in this market include the AT&T Unix PC
and the IBM AT.
Another question was raised concerning languages for the ST computer.
According to Sig, Logo will be contained in ROM, within the ST computer.
BASIC is currently being developed by Digital Research and will probably
become available this summer. Forth will also soon become available. In
fact, Forth was being demoed at the User Group booth at the Faire. Other
languages currently planned are C and Assembler. Sig said that if there is
sufficient demand for a language, Atari will produce it.
One User Group representative asked Sam Tramiel about what Atari plans to
do about the education market. Sam responded by saying that plans are still
being made. However, the school market looks very promising and that some
effort will be made to enter that market at a later time. A separate
department has already been set up to take care of the needs of the
Sam announced that Atari plans to spend 10 percent of their sales on
advertising in response to a question concerning Atari's visibility. The
first major ad campaign will probably begin sometime in June and Atari may
use User Groups in some way as part of its advertising.
A question about Atari DOS 2.5 was raised. John Skrutch announced that DOS
2.5 is currently being boxed together with 1050 Disk Drives and is
available to current owners of DOS 3.0. Every User Group will receive a
copy of DOS 2.5 to be freely distributed (on non-commercial programs).
DOS 2.5 is very similar to DOS 2.0. The major difference is in the Format
command. If the menu item "I" (format disk) is selected with a 1050
attached, the disk will be formatted in dual density (140K) format. Menu
item "P" will allow you to format a single density disk even if one 1050 is
attached. If no 1050 disk drives are connected to your system, the "I"
option will format disks in single density format.
John also talked about Atariwriter+. He said it is basically Atariwriter,
with just about everything they could think of or that has been suggested
in the last two years. It includes 80-column editing (to work with the
Atari 80-column monitor which will plug into the serial port), a 36000-word
spelling checker, file compatibility with Atariwriter, a mail-merge
function and built-in printer driver function.
The BIG News
Sam Tramiel made an amazing statement in response to one of the questions.
He said the current plan is to have the User Groups buy the first 520ST
computers. Atari would then use these first owners as the test market for
the new machine by asking them to help to debug it. If a bug is found and a
user suggests a workable fix, the user will be rewarded for his or her
efforts. The plan may also include giving a rebate back to the User Group
for each machine purchased. This plan may actually be in place by the time
you read this.
Also, the 520ST is not currently scheduled to be sold through mass
merchandisers like K-Mart and Toys 'R US.
The West Coast Computer Faire is the largest computer user show in United
States. Over 300 exhibitors were showing software, hardware, peripherals
and services in the brand new Moscone Center. The Faire itself has changed
somewhat in the last two years. Before, it was primarily a hackers show and
is well known for launching the careers of the Apple superstars, Wozniak
Now, such companies as IBM, AT&T, Epson, Kaypro, Apple and many others are
attend, brining with them a certain business flavor. But there are still
some interesting things to be seen, even for Atari users. As mentioned
before, Atari did not attend but were well represented by the two local
One of the most interesting booths was Microbits Peripheral Products (MPP).
MPP has supported Atari owners for years and is one of the few "oldtimers"
in this young computer business. They were showing everything from hard
disks to inexpensive 1200 baud modems. MPP has two hard disks, a 5 megabyte
and a 10 megabyte system. The 5 MB system will sell for under $1000 and
includes the hard disk interface, hard disk and software. The 10MB system
will probably sell for under $1200. If you already have a hard disk, then
you can buy the hard disk interface for under $250. I saw the 10MB system
working with and 800XL and loading files is fast.
MPP will also be introducing a 1200 baud modem for the Atari that will sell
for under $200. That price will include terminal software. Kirt Stockwell,
Technical Support Manager, also told me that they are currently working on
a brand new telecommunications program that will run on everything from
Atari STs to IBM PCs to Atari 800s. The hard disk systems and modem will be
available by the time you read this.
Another product Kirt told me about was their Micronet networking system.
This net will handle up to eight Atari computers running off of one set of
peripherals. Standard Atari SIO peripherals may be used for a very cost-
effective multi-station Atari setup. Kirt said that an eight-workstation
arrangement with Atari XL computers, color monitors, one set of peripherals
and Micronet would cost roughly $3500, about one-third the cots of s
similar Apple setup.
Another piece of hardware, appealing mostly to hackers, is a product called
Microport. This is a breadboard which interfaces from the Atari computer to
the real world. It plugs into the parallel port on either an XL computer or
a 130XE and gives you eight control channels. It will sell for $50 and be
available by the time you read this.
Another intriguing product at the Faire was being exhibited by a small
Oregon company named Covox. They have a voice recognition and voice
synthesis unit for Apple, Commodore and Atari computers. Called the Voice
Master, it lets you record words in any language using your own pitch and
accent and have the program later recognize and speak the words. Included
in the $90 price is another program called the Voice Harp. This program
lets you perform, compose and write music simply by humming or whistling
into the microphone. Seeing (and hearing) it in action is truly uncanny.
The Voice Harp lets you produce various tone qualities, different keys and
multi-note harmonies. You can even see the notes scrolling on the screen on
a musical staff as you hum or whistle. The results of your composition can
be edited, saved and even printed. I can't wait to get my hands on the
Voice Master to do a full-scale review.
Broderbund Software was at the Faire to recruit new programming talent to
add to their already excellent stable of software authors. Their product
development staff was available to talk with software developers and to
present existing Broderbund products. One person that many User Group
members may already know is Bill Holt, the Product Development Ambassador.
Bill's job is to travel around the country visiting User Groups to
demonstrate Broderbund's software titles and to help recruit new talent. If
Bill has not yet visited your User Group, feel free to give him a call at
(415)479-1170. He will be happy to arrange a visit.
Spectrum HoloByte is a small company that makes an excellent submarine
simulation for the IBM PC and compatibles called Gato. I have spent many
hours searching for, and destroying, WWII Japanese Naval vessels. They have
just announced a MacIntosh version and a high-level company source told be
that they would have a version for the Atari ST computer by the end of the
year. Gato is one game worth waiting for.
I enjoyed attending the West Coast Computer Faire and the Worldwide User
Network Meeting. I think a lot of new, exciting information was obtained
that clearly shows that Atari is here to stay and that they intend to
support Atari users and User Groups. I also saw evidence that other
software and hardware companies are finally beginning to take Jack Tramiel
and the "JackIntish" seriously. It all adds up to good news for Atari
In Analog's attempt to bring you this information as accurately and timely
as possible, this entire article has been written at 36000 feet, on a red-
eye special flight from San Francisco to New Jersey. A Radio Shack Model
100 lap computer was used to write the article, whereupon it was uploaded
to an Atari and printed using Atariwriter. Computers sure are productive