Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 3, NO. 10 / FEBRUARY 1985


3 Enhanced 800XLs in '85?

"When I get depressed, I watch the 'Patton' movie.  I believe in that.  I don't think you can sit on your butt.  You have to know who your competitor is-who your enemy is.  You have to have better tanks.  You have to have better equipment to be able to win.  And you can't just wait for the Pentagon to tell you what to do.  You have to do it."

-Jack Tramiel, Chairman of the Atari Corp., telling Antic about the philosophy behind his widely-quoted motto, "Business Is War."

Jack Tramiel expects to sell around 500,000 800XL's over the 1984 Christmas season.  This would put Atari back in the black after an $875 million loss from the previous 18 months.  Factories in Taiwan and Ireland are turning out 150,000 computers a month.  A new factory is being started in Japan.  The company projects $1 billion sales for 1985.
  As many as three upgraded all-compatible 800XL's-some with 128K memory-are to be shown at the January 1985 Consumer Electronics Show.  Look for a self-contained, transportable 800XL, with built-in disk drive and color monitor (like the Commodore SX64).  XL-compatible 8-bit, computers may eventually come in lap-sized and even hand-held models.
  According to the new boss of Atari, in January Atari's first 16-bit computers will also be unveiled.  The first, look at the new 32-bit Atari computers is to come at the April electronics fair in Hanover, Germany.


Tramiel forecasts that some 50 million computers will be sold worldwide in 1987-and more than half of these computers will cost less than $200.
  "I was in this business before there was a microchip," the Atari Corp. Chairman told Antic during an exclusive interview.  "I came up through the ranks with mechanical adding machines, electronic calculators and then computers.
  Tramiel started Commodore in 1955, brought out the second handheld calculator, and won the company the biggest share of home computer sales.  In 1968-when calculators sold for $1,495-he predicted that the price would drop to $9.95 within 10 years.  "If anything, I was too conservative then," he commented.  "You get a good, basic calculator for even less than $9.95 and 70 million calculators were sold last year."
  And how does Atari fit into the coming mass computer market?  "My goal at Atari is to make the best computer at every meaningful price point between $100 and $1,000," the Atari Corp. Chairman told Antic.
  "Any competitor is welcome to approach our market," said Tramiel.  "But they have to be willing to work as hard and as efficiently, to take as many risks, as we do."


To Tramiel it's an undeniable fact that the best computer value will be the bestseller.  " End-users are intelligent.  They know what they want and they know what it's worth," was a point he made several times during the interview.
  "We sell products to individuals-personal computers," said Tramiel.  "Our customers are from six to 26 years old.  They know about computers and they don't need to be educated by the advertising, the way IBM users do."
  In mid-November Tramiel and his top management team held their first press conference, at Atari headquarters in Sunnyvale, California-to announce the 800XL's new low $119.95 suggested list price.
  Immediately following the feisty, free-swinging press conference, Tramiel went into private interviews with a few selected publications, including Antic.
  This event ended four months of virtual silence since Tramiel took over Atari in July, 1984.  With a dramatically lowered price and 150,000 800XL's being produced each month, Tramiel and his associates seemed almost fanatically determined to show that the pressing problems of the ownership change had been solved, and Atari was now reopening a flow of information.
  During an informal lunch following the press conference, Atari Division Presidents and Vice Presidents (including two of Tramiel's three Atari-employed sons) circulated freely and answered just about any questions except the specific hardware details of the coming '85 Atari computers.


For example, Atari Corp. President Sam Tramiel confirmed that their new 16-bit and 32-bit computers will use the Macintosh-like icons of the GEM operating environment from Digital Research, developers of CP/M.  The younger Tramiel said that GEM would be the user-friendly "front end" to a new Atari proprietary operating system for the advanced machines.
  At one point during lunch, Sam Tramiel reached over and borrowed the napkin being used by Greg Pratt, president of Atari (U.S.) Corp. "We're all family here," said Sam, echoing his father's earlier press conference comment that the new Atari management was "like part of my family."
  Pratt, a young CPA who was recently Director of Operations at Commodore, had a direct answer to our inquiry about why so many of Commodore's key managers had quit to resume working for their former boss.  "Jack Tramiel is a benevolent dictator," he laughed.  "But he's the brightest man I ever met."
  Another young marketing manager who had stayed over from the previous Atari ownership said, "Jack is always helping you, teaching you.  If you're on the wrong track, he'll ask you questions so you realize your mistake."


Upon meeting Jack Tramiel, it's hard to avoid thinking of "Little Caesar" and the other classic Edward G. Robinson movies.  Tramiel -born in Poland in 1928 and a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp-is short, heavy, fastmoving, smokes big cigars, talks rapidly in a loud, booming voice, laughs heartily and often.
  Some of the significant points he made during the Antic interview were:

  • Atari is examining a cohesive new plan for national support of user groups.
  • Advanced new modems are among the products being developed by Atari's Tokyo-based engineering group.
  • Educational discount prices will be offered to schools from Atari by direct mail in 1985.
  • Look for a full size color printer from Atari this year.
  • New Atari software for the 800XL line won't cost more than $49.95.
We ended the Antic interview by asking Tramiel what's the biggest surprise we should expect from Atari before the end of the decade.
  "Our expertise over the years is in converting the best proven technology to the lowest price," he said.  "In the next three years we will again take a very sophisticated product like the DEC (Digital Equipment Corp.) VAX superminicomputer and use state-of-the-art semiconductor technology to bring it down to a few chips for the personal computer customer."
  The phenomenal new 32-bit NS32032 microchip from National Semiconductor would in fact make this possible.  But there was silence around the interview table for a moment before we asked, "Did we hear you right?  Are you actually saying that within three years Atari is going to market a small, user-friendly computer with the power of a VAX?"
  "Yes!" said Jack Tramiel very firmly.