An insider’s view of the Atari ST

I’m sure pretty much everyone who cares has already seen this on Slashdot or wherever, but I found this blog entry from Landon Dyer, one of the designers of the Atari ST, fascinating.

I was a Commodore fan, but all of the old-fashioned computers (except maybe the Mattel Aquarius) are more interesting than anything that’s being built today. Commodore computers are kind of like the Marx trains of the 1950s: extremely cheap, yet capable and durable, but it’s the rival that made the costlier, sometimes less capable products during the same era that gets all the glory. When you talk 1950s electric trains, Lionel gets all the glory. Talk 1980s computers, and Apple gets all the glory.

The funny thing is, when I was growing up in the 1980s, I only ever met one person who lusted after an Apple II*, and only one other person who owned one. That guy was a snob, and not very many people liked him.

The ST is an interesting beast, because it was built by Atari under Commodore’s old management (Jack Tramiel and his sons) and they brought in some ex-Commodore engineers to work with the Atari engineers they retained. So the ST was a very Commodore-like computer made by Atari. As opposed to the Amiga, which was built by Commodore but designed by some former Atari engineers.

One Commodore magazine, Transactor, actually gave the Atari ST a lot of coverage early on. This may have been because Atari’s then-state-of-the-art machine was more Commodore like than the machine Commodore was using to compete with it. Or it may have been because the ST actually hit the market a few months before the Amiga 1000 did.

Commodore’s story has largely been told. Many ex-Commodore engineers over the years have been willing and even eager to talk about what they know to anyone who’s interested, so their stories are everywhere. So it’s nice to read some perspective from someone with inside knowledge of the ST. Much of Atari’s story remains untold, which is a bit odd because I suspect more people are interested in Atari’s story than Commodore’s.

*Joe Posnanski-like footnote: One weekend, my Dad and I watched the guy who lusted after the Apple II help his dad paint a small delivery truck in their driveway using cans of cheap spray paint. On Sunday it looked better than it sounds, but of course after a summer’s worth of sun and rain it was a bigger eyesore than it had been when it started.

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