Classic Computer Magazine Archive A.N.A.L.O.G. ISSUE 59 / APRIL 1988 / PAGE 67

The End User

THIS MONTH: The great debate and constructive criticism.
by Arthur Leyenberger

    Just when you thought it was safe to sit down at the keyboard again, the nasty debate concerning STs vs. 8-bit Ataris rears its ugly head. We've been through this before. On the mild side, we have the 8-bit users steadfastly refusing to switch to the ST-not because the 8-bit machine is already fulfilling their needs, but because: (1) it's a new machine; (2) it's made by Jack Tramiel and company, which is really the old Commodore, etc.; or (3) the ST won't run 8-bit software.
    On the more insidious side, we have readers of ANALOG Computing accusing us of promoting the doom of 8-bit computers, being in bed with Jack and company (I assume it must be a pretty big bed), and writing programs that destroy the 8-bit computers they're run on (hey, it was an April Fool's joke, read my lips: J-O-K-E).
    Of course, the ST owners aren't free of blame, either. Those willing to get involved claim that the ST is the greatest thing since the invention of the wheel, and that they are in the vanguard and are trendsetters by purchasing such a wonderful product. Further, these (often) selfrighteous ST users won't tolerate any criticism of the hardware, software, or, in some cases, even of Atari.
    I see this unuseful debate occurring on CompuServe, on Delphi and at local user group meetings. There's no question that the debate is nonproductive. To quote Spock, both sides "proceed from false assumptions." The debate is further fueled by the discussion of the 8-bit emulator for the ST. Regarding the ST vs. 8-bit questions, the following thoughts seem appropriate.
    First, why does buying an ST computer necessarily require that one dump one's 8-bit associated hardware and software? If nothing else, an 8-bit computer will always be a better means of running 8-bit software than will any 8-bit emulator.
    Second, if one were to get an ST, why should one automatically replace (or think one has to replace) all one's 8-bit software? Sure, it would be smart to use the ST's power, speed and ease of use for such major applications as word processing. However, there are certain programs that run just fine with the 8-bit Atari's 6502 processor. So why replace them? And there are many programs that will never be ported to the ST, because the producer no longer exists, or there's no market for the programs, or for a number of other reasons. This is especially true of many games.
    Third, neither I nor the ANALOG staff are recommending that 8-bit Atari users rush out and buy an ST just for the sake of new technology. If you have an 8-bit and some good software-and it fulfills your needs-by all means, keep it. I don't advocate upgrading to the ST unless you think it can do better or faster whatever it is you do with a computer.
    There are certain features of the ST that, by definition, make it superior for specific applications. The best example is in word processing. With an 80-column screen, an excellent black-and-white monitor (although medium resolution color is okay, too), the capability to handle large text files, and word processing software that can easily display multiple files in separate windows for editing, the ST outperforms 8-bit computers. Period. Now, if word processing isn't that important an application for you, then this argument has no merit in your case. See? If you need the features, fine; if you don't need them, fine. I'm easy.
    Finally, for the amount of money you might get if you sold your 8-bit hardware and software, it may make more sense to keep the stuff, even if you do get an ST. In 1982, I paid $2000 for an Atari 800, full memory, one 810 disk drive and an Epson printer. I'd be lucky to get $250 for the same equipment if I were to sell it as used hardware.
    The bottom line is that we all bought Atari computers, whatever model, to fulfill a need. As long as that need's still being satisfied, there's no reason to change. However, if something comes along that can better satisfy that need-and you can afford it-go for it.

Just doin' my job, man.
    Theres trouble in River City. Well, maybe not that much trouble, but in reading the mail that comes into ANALOG Computing and talking with users, Atari representatives and other vendors, I get a sense that misunderstandings occasionally occur. Specifically, some people tend to confuse critical questioning, a la Socratic method, with a negative attitude.
    In my line of work (which is evaluating hardware and software for usability), I must constantly raise critical questions. Does the product fulfill its intended purpose? Does it meet the user's needs? Can the intended user figure out how to perform a particular task with the product? Does the perceived need for the product justify its existence? Etc., etc. The purpose is not to be negative with these questions, but to be constructively critical.
    Sure, some of the questions might be provocative, but the point of raising them is to stimulate debate and thereby get at the core issues of whatever we're discussing. This process of raising questions is even more critical when the readers of ANALOG are going to rely on the information we provide to make their buying decisions. It's more important that we play devil's advocate, if we must, than not say anything and risk printing incomplete information.
    Readers are not the only ones who seem to miss the point. Certain people at Atari seem to hear only what they want to. A typical example of this occurred during the Atari press conference at the January 1987 Consumer Electronics Show. During the question and answer session following the announcement of the Atari PC, I asked Sam Tramiel what plans Atari had for overcoming the "game image" many people have of Atari. (Long-time Atari users know we've been fighting this issue since long before Atari became the "new" Atari.) I was concerned that the popular perception might make it difficult to sell into corporate America. Sam's answer was that Atari was relying on people in the know to buy their machines within the companies.
    I followed up by mentioning that it's the "guys with green eyeshades" (accountant types or data processing managers) who buy the computers in many companies, and they may not want to buy (1) from a toy store, (2) from a company with no corporate service contract, or (3) from a "game" company. Sam Tramiel replied by saying that he expected the "techies" to buy the machines.
    From that press conference on, Neil Harris-and others within Atari-have thought that I'm "negative" and "anti-Atari." No! I am pro-Atari! That's why I'm concerned about the image and wanted to know what Atari would be doing to combat the problem.
    Asking tough questions, out of loyalty, is not the same thing as being negative. Got it?

    Arthur Leyenberger is a human factors psychologist and free-lance writer living in New Jersey. He has been an Atari enthusiast for over five years. When not computing, he enjoys playing with robotic toys.

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