ScuzzBlog: Diaries January 2024

Entry 25th January 2024: Post 1: Atari 520ST - Thin end of the wedge.

Atari 520ST - Thin end of the wedge.

Following on from my discussion yesterday regarding the departure
of Jack Tramiel from Commodore, I was watching a video on YouTube
of the Computer Chronicles from 1985 where Jack introduced the
new Atari 520ST. He was accompanied by his son Leonard Tramiel 
who demonstrated the new machine.

Jack Tramiel as you probably know left Commodore in January 1984
following the presentation at CES of the new Commodore Plus/4. It
is rumoured that Jack was trying to work more of his only family
onto the Commodore management team. It may just be that his own
frustrations in colouring these changes caused him to leave.

It was no surprise that Jack created a new company involving his
own family and then when he subsequently purchased Atari he made
sure his sons were part of the team. Leonard was vice president
of software.

Anyway to that 520ST and the thin end of the wedge. Within only a
year, Jack had moved from the Plus/4 8 bit machine being the 'balls'
breaker of the Japanese invasion to the 16 bit 520ST as an Apple
crusher of all things. Jack was asked on the Computer Chronicles
who his main contender was and he said Apple or the Macintosh. I
near choked on my cuppa tea at that point. Sure both machines ran
with the 68000 and the 512K but with one at 600 dollars and sold
at the Kmart and the other being a reputable business machine that
sold for close on 3000 dollars, I sense a little smoke and mirrors
in play.

Gary Kildall, co presenter on the Chronicles and of CP/M fame not
to mention GEM quizzed Jack on where he was going to sell his new
product. More importantly how did he hope that the ST would find
its way into businesses. Jack took the view that it was not for
him to tell users where to place their computer. He viewed himself
as father of the personal computer and he believed the individual
user would be instrumental in traversing the road from home to
business. I don't think Gary believed for one minute that would

In truth Jack had one eye on the Amiga and had already began the
legal action with the originating team and Commodore. He would
also be aware of the development of the 8 bit C128 and the wedge
design, and no doubt see that as a cost option in making a 16 bit
machine that simply enhanced the C128 and earlier C64 form factor.
For me the 520ST is the beginning of the 16 bit wedge machines of
which Commodore eventually ruled the roost with the A500.

I do have a 520ST but like a lot of my Atari stuff it is in store.
The 520STFM which came out a year later than the first ST is
featured below. I had planned on switching her on anyway this month.
The computer functions well enough though slower than a slow thing
with a good reason for being slow.

For me the true evolution of the home computer has to follow the
path of the VIC 20. This basically is the keyboard element of say
an IBM with the TV acting as the monitor. That is as crude as I
can put it. Consequently this sets home computers apart from the
more productivity based machines. The lines of computers are so
rich and varied during the eighties with an absolute plethora of
machines of the smaller form factor.

However the C128 marked a defining change in the base form with
the extended rear section and the A500 is a natural extension of
this design philosophy. However, Jack's first directive at Atari
was to build a new wedge shaped 16 bit machine by Christmas and
so he either knew or didn't know what was about to happen in the
home computer world. So comparing the ST to the Apple was bullshit.
I also believe he would have known that Commodore would 'de-engineer'
the A1000 which was a mess with the consequence being a 'super C64'
but with all the custom chips. The very chips that Jack was fighting
in the courts to take possession of.

One interesting side note on this and that is that at various
meetings at Commodore even before the Amiga arrived the guys there
were concerned about the Sinclair QL stealing their thunder. How
bonkers was that.

I have included some arty images of the A500 wedge compared to an
Atari just for 'shits and giggles'. I don't have a Macintosh original
but only the later Classic, which is truly a load of junk, seriously.
All the Macs fell over one at a time.

I finish with a thought regarding the Acorn 3000 which with the
RISC OS and ARM technology in the right hands could have conquered
the world. This machine was bloody marvellous. Sadly it sat in a
school classroom totally ignored by the likes of Commodore and
Atari. Had things been different then maybe there would have been
a super wedge capable of staving off the shite that was MS n Apple.

Anyhoo the god of all wedges was the A1200 which still holds its
head and shoulders way above any of the Atari pretenders and that
includes the Falcon.

Finally, do watch the Computer Chronicles. If you know Gary Kildall
you will know that he liked biking and I guess drinking in bars.
In the interview with Jack Tramiel you can almost sense Gary giving
out a rye smile and thinking to himself that the guys taking the
piss. Jack was a hard nosed businessman that just had to get his
way. The world however was moving on and the tactics of the eighties
were just not going to cut it with the likes of Gates and IBM.
Times they were a changing and the era of the home computer was just
about coming to its end. The lines between home and business were
about to blur under the might of MS and sorry but without an iPhone
Apple really were also going to fade into the background.

Enter the thick end of the tin box. PC style.

The world was left none the richer with the loss of characters
like Jack Tramiel, but dare I say the world would indeed have been
a much better place if Gary had lived longer. Very sadly missed.

Atari 520ST - Thin end of the wedge.

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Last updated 25th January 2024

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