Well, here it is April again. Those of you who read my April column last year may recall that I devoted much of my space to an April Fool announcement of the "new Atari COBOL." Would it surprise you to learn that this year I will also "announce" some new products from Atari?
We're going to be exploring some medium hefty programming logic (in machine language) next month: How to use your 1050 disk drive in enhanced density with Atari DOS 2.0s. For now, though, let's plunge into some wild speculations, rumors, and April fun.
Since last year's April announcement was about some literally unbelievable software, it seems only fitting that this year we make a hardware announcement that's almost as doubt-provoking.
By the time you read this article, Atari will be shipping at least the first two of three magnificent new machines. These machines, while maintaining almost full compatibility with existing Atari hardware and software, add the full power of an intelligent peripheral expansion bus. Imagine an Atari computer hooked up to a 5- or 10-megabyte hard disk drive, a true parallel printer interface, a high-speed modem, and maybe even a CP/M emulation package.
I mean, we're talking about possibly moving data to and from a disk drive at 30,000 to 60,000 bytes per second! Imagine taking less than two seconds to load the largest possible programs. And perhaps talking via a serial interface (or, better yet, a local network) to one or more other computers at the same time—at data rates perhaps three to ten times what an 850 Interface Module is capable of.
Software Compatibility, Too
Of course, if you are a realist, you will say, "Okay for the hardware. But what about software and software compatibility?" Would you settle for a smart peripheral bus that intercepts the OS (CIO) if you are trying to do I/O via the old serial bus. You know, the cable that links your 400/800/1200 to the disk, printer, etc.? Could you accept the fact that it checks to see if you have (for example) moved "D1:" to your hard disk drive and sends the request there instead of to your 810? All automatically?
Not enough? How about if these new machines even provided ways for third-party hardware vendors to add their own boards and automatically link in device handlers for them? Imagine a music synthesizer accessed as simply "M:", thus easily callable from even Atari BASIC. Could any computer manufacturer possibly design such a well-integrated system?
How about if the new machines even came with a faster math package, so that they were the fastest computers in the home computer market-place? (I choose to define a home computer as one which costs less than $1000, including at least a disk drive.)
Well, you knew it couldn't last, didn't you? Sigh. But it was nice to dream for a paragraph or two, wasn't it? Now, are you ready for the bitter reality?
Surprise! This is my April Fool gag for this year: Almost everything you just read about the new machines is the absolute truth. Honest. No gag.
In fact, as I write this article in January, the machines I have described to you are arriving in stores by the truckfuls. And why, you ask, haven't you seen these wonder computers advertised? Ah, but you have. They are called the 600XL and the 800XL (with big brother 1450XLD still to come). But if all I claimed is true, why hasn't Atari proclaimed it to the computer world as the greatest advance ever in home computers? Now there is the April Fool question.
If Atari can solve some advertising and delivery problems, I think you will see a wealth of capabilities added to the new XL machines second only to the selection available to Apple II owners.
Oh, yes. I did throw one April Fool joke into the description above. Can you guess what it is?
The descriptions of the Atari super machines were accurate except for one April Fool joke. Sigh. Unfortunately, the part about the advanced, fast BASIC being built-in is still just a dream.