An Atari for Productivity

While the Atari video computer system from 1977 gave us plenty of classic games, the Atari 8-bit computer line included productivity applications as well.

But could you ever seriously consider employing the business software created for the Atari 400, Atari 800, and the 8-bit Atari family into your company’s daily productivity? What could one get out of a business application in 1984? Turns out, they had many choices, including databases, music composition programs, word processing programs, spreadsheets, calendars, charting software, and modem applications.

I had an Atari once. It wasn’t of the 8-bit family.  More for centipedes, tennis, and tanks. Nothing but games on our black and white TV.

However, looking back, I missed the advent of productivity applications developed for some of the first home computers.

One example of this type of software is the “FileManager 800,” which appeared in an ad from Infoworld in 1981. Produced by Synapse Software, who was a large producer of Atari 8-bit applications and games for the Atari 800, it could store data in fields and most of the functions were used in a database application.  Unfortunately for the line of business apps, the end came when Synapse was sold to Brøderbund in 1984.

Were actual companies using the business software? It’s hard to tell. But there is plentiful evidence from ads in InfoWorld, PCMag, and Byte Magazine that shows it was thoroughly promoted.

If you’re interested in trying out some of these original applications, you can check out the numerous emulators for your platform of choice at archive.org.

Now, let’s compare Google Apps to Synapse apps.

Google  apps Synapse apps
Docs SynFile+, SynText
Sheets SynCalc
Database, Google Cloud SQL SynFile+
Charts SynTrend
Calendar SynChron
Gangouts, G+ SynComm
Gmail SynMail
2006-present 1980-1986

The comparison table shows clearly that many of the same types of products are present in both collections. Some problems with the classic versions were apparent from reviews. For example, the Synapse apps weren’t integrated with each other and the keyboard commands were different for each product. In the end, the software probably didn’t see much use, because it was never really widely available. This was mainly due to Atari rejecting Synapse’s last order of 40,000 units.

 

 

Fortunately, we have the disk images, screenshots, and some source code available for these applications. These screenshots show the limits of the Atari display system, namely the four colors and a text resolution of just 40×24. Additionally, the original prices for each title were $39.99. Current prices are $20.00. Atari 800s now go for around $200 vs a $999 original price. The Atari 8-bit family came out in 1979 and sold over 4 million units until 1992, so there should still be plenty of old units floating around. Google Apps goes for $50 per year. So G Suite is still very competitive.

One glaring feature omission from SynFile+ was the ability to print page headers and footers and format the output at all, which was not that useful for printing reports. Data transfer between programs is done through saving to disk using a DIF-Data interchange format. The process is extraordinarily laborious with particular fields needing to match up in order to successfully transfer data.

When comparing a nostalgia driven platform and the cloud, try to consider not only the price and the functionality of products, but also the historic novelty. Considering that 40% of businesses use both Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365 there is probably room for one more (4). And look at Andy Rooney, he had no problem using his 1980’s computer for work all the way until he retired in 2011.

If there were things to watch in the retro business apps space, you might look to the road the current Atari took with it’s classic games by re-releases and jazzing up old titles.  If that unlikely event occurs, then some old Atari business application titles could be more easily available in a classic games/apps package.

Links

  1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nYpc4SjW0lM&list=PLoh6Z3uoOXiUOYIqpcC1ixjUICzFT5DcH
  2. http://www.atarimagazines.com/v3n10/syntegrated.html
  3. https://atariwiki.org/wiki/Wiki.jsp?page=Synapse%20SynCalc
  4. http://www.informationweek.com/cloud/google-apps-vs-office-365-which-suite-reigns-supreme/d/d-id/1325658
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