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Commodore Amiga Turns 25 … what about the Atari ST ???

July 27, 2010 2 comments

Granted, today is my birthday, but that hasn’t made me feel half as old as the realization that the Commodore Amiga and my (formerly) beloved Atari ST are now 25 years old! ¬†How to feel really old in one step.

I just caught an article yesterday about the Amiga turning 25, and wondered how I missed the anniversary of the Atari ST, since it was introduced a couple of months prior to the Amiga launch. Anyone from that era will recall how bitter the wrangling was between Atari and Commodore, with insults, slurs, technology, lawsuits, and many workers going back and forth between the two companies. The relationship between Atari and Commodore back in the mid-80’s makes Adobe vs Apple look like a hippie love-in! There are plenty of blogs, articles, and probably books, on this era, so I’m not going to rehash it here – I was more struck with just how long ago that was, and how nostalgic it made me feel.

Atari OS

Atari OS

Looking back, the 520ST had its faults, but it was an amazing piece of kit for the time. The mouse, for instance, was like a doorstop, and felt like it weighed about 5 lbs. I eventually upgraded to a 1040STE, which featured an internal floppy disk drive … luxury! I remember picking up a copy of Sim City while I was on vacation in the UK. When I returned to Canada, I had to drive 3 hours to find the LAST double-sided external floppy drive in Ontario, just so I could run the game from that ultra-spacious 720k storage – my original ST came with a single-sided, single density drive with 360k of storage, and I recall the sales guy telling me that I would never fill even one disk. I got home with that drive and started playing (the original) Sim City… 16 hours later I looked up and realized it was about 6am. Sim City led to games like Lemmings, and finally to Civilization – my ultimate gaming addiction. To this day, if my wife ever met Sid Meier, there would be blood spilled.

I bought that original ST my first year at University, in 1986, and used it for papers, games, programming, you name it. It was like being in the tech elite! I was never really a fan-boy, though, and don’t recall getting into the debates with the Amiga types. I was just happy to have my ST. My ST, and later the 1040STE (with the COLOUR monitor … OMG!), saw me all the way through University, and into Grad School. I even used it for my thesis. I wrote a data collection program in QBasic, and used the STE to record data while my rats round a radial maze. It was pretty crude programming, but I also wrote a computer simulation of rat behaviour on the maze, to complement the actual data, and support the hypothesis I had.

The biggest WTF moment in my Atari ST/STE history was when I purchased my first HD for the machine. Up to that point, everything was floppy-based, but I saved my pennies and finally had enough money to buy a whopping FIFTY MEG external hard drive … yes, that is 50M, not Gig. I paid the princely sum of $800 for that 50M of storage, and don’t recall thinking that was in any way unreasonable – it wasn’t back then. Looking back just 20 years to that purchase it seems insane, but what was even more amazing was that I then partitioned the drive into SEVEN, with apps, games, data, utilities etc. each having their own partition! The best word processor at the time, for ST/E, was a French program called Redacteur, which easily fit on one of those 7Meg partitions, with plenty of room to spare. I still think that it was better than any version of MS Word since.

Atari 520ST

Atari 520ST

As the 90’s progressed, Atari developed higher end computers, with the TT and the amazing Falcon, neither of which I could afford. In 1993 they stopped production of ST computers to focus on the Jaguar game console, and the rest is history, or at least Atari was. Neither the Amiga or the ST, and its predecessors, could compete with the burgeoning PC market running Windows 3.x, and even I abandoned my old friend for a sterile, boring “PC”. I kept the ST and STE for many years, but they just gathered dust in the basement, and finally got thrown out about 5 years ago.

That original ST ignited my love of tech, computers, gaming, and programming, and probably contributed more to who I am today, and where I am in my career, than anything else. I am a geek today only because of that original 520ST, and to think that it just turned 25 is unbelievable to me. That 25 years, from 1985 to today, has probably seen more technical innovation than any period in history, and I think the ST (and yes, the Amiga), deserve their place alongside the MAC in the history of computing.

I miss my ST.

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