The 1450 XLD is not dead. (Outpost: Atari) Arthur Leyenberger; David Small.
In this month's Outpost, an old friend, David Small, shares the honors with columnist Art Leyenberger. David brings us news gleaned from a recent visit to Atari, and Art talks about new books of interest to Atari users.
In March, I visited Atari to try to make some sense of what i had been hearing about the company and its products. Among the people with whom I spoke there was Sherwin Goch, a manager and the driving force behind the 1450 XLD.
"What?" you ask. "The 1450 has been cancelled." Ah, read on. And remember you heard it here first.
Sherwin is the head of a small, very talented group of people working on the 1450. When I visited, they were putting the final touches on the design. In spite of parts availability problems, politics, layoffs, and resignations, Sherwin hung on, dedicated not only to doing a fine machine design, but, in his words, to "getting the 1450 out the door. It's just like The Soul of a New Machine (Tracy Kidder's fine book about the development of a new Data General machine). What doesn't matter is the politics, the problems, or the hassles. What counts is getting the machine out the door. That is what computer companies are judged by, not the rumors of grandiose machines 'under development,' but what goes out the door. And if it kills me, the 1450 XLD is going to get out the door." When? He could not say, officially; I will say June, This year.
And my, what Sherwin has wrought. This machine can sing! That's right. And talk--better than any speech synthesizer you have heard. it can also answer your phone with its speech synthesizer. Or dial the phone itself and use a built-in modem.
The internal processor is still the 6502, not a 16-bit variation (as rumor had it), the onboard memory is 65K (not 128K), and on-board Basic is supplied.
Disk drives? I bet every Atari owner wants speed and more storage on the disk. The 1450 has true parallel double sided, double density disk drives, with 256-byte sectors. This gives around 360K of data per disk, and access to it is very, very fast; it takes just 36 seconds to transfer the data from the entire disk into memory. A disk copy takes twice that, or 72 seconds.
The operating system is very sophisticated, yet manages to stay compatible with software for the 400/800 series machines. This is an extremely significant and intelligent move; it means that the 1450 will be able to run all sorts of software at the time it hits the market.
When i was at Atari, i saw Sherwin working through an idea to make the output from POKEY (the sound chip) be the input to the speech synthesizer, so you could get a really neat "talking sound" effect. I don't know if this will be included or not; the machine was near "close date," the time when things are not supposed to be changed. if it is there, you will surely see some really neat software using this effect--just as soon as software houses figure out how it works. APEX Discontinued
Some other changes at Atari include the dropping of APEX, the Atari Program Exchange. This was a low cost distribution center for user written Atari software. unfortunately, it was too "low cost"; Atari did not make much money from it. And that is why APEX was dropped.
The top 20 or so APEX titles will still be sold, but the rest of the products will be shelved. Since the original authors retain rights, they can be distributed elsewhere.
Kudos to Fred Thorlin, the manager of APEX for all this time; he helped many people publish their first programs and got a wide variety of software "out the door." Fred is no longer with Atari, but his contribution should not be forgotten. Star Network
Another interesting Atari product you may be hearing about is the Star network. The Star allows up to 64 Atari computers to be tied to a few common disk drives and printers. This makes it absolutely ideal for classroom situations, for it means a group of students can share a resource.
The Star was originally developed by MECC (Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium) and Atari bought the rights. The project then languished because of internal disruption at Atari. But if you are an educator looking for an inexpensive ($50 or so per Atari to connect it to the network), well engineered method of setting up a classroom full of Ataris, it would behoove you to write Atari and ask them to make this product widely available. (It is already installed in a few Bay Area schools.)