What could Atari have done better with the ST?

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Re: What could Atari have done better with the ST?

Postby siriushardware » Wed Aug 12, 2015 12:11 am

If I had to point to a single weakness which was the main thing which let the ST down against its great rival the Amiga, it would have to be the sound.

If the STe - with D/A sound output in addition to the YM sound, simm memory modules as standard, analogue joystick inputs (essential for driving games and flight sims which are nearly unplayable on switch joysticks) and higher resolution graphics modes had been 'THE' ST to start with it would have had (and still does have) everything that I would have wished for that was possible at the time.

The problem with the STe was the same as for every other late-introduced 'enhanced' version of a mainstream machine (Spectrum 128K, Commodore 128) it was that, with a few exceptions, software producers continued to focus on writing games which would run on the original, much more numerous ST/F/M and would also run on the STe, although without any real benefit to owners of the STe. They (understandably) wrote for the biggest, lowest common denominator market.

The only way to avoid this situation is for the machine to be perfect at original launch and retain that perfect profile for the whole of its life, which is obviously a hard thing to get right.

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Re: What could Atari have done better with the ST?

Postby calimero » Wed Aug 12, 2015 5:55 am

exxos wrote:I don't think "clean and tidy" is a good description ;) When you really get down to it, the ST is a awful bit of kit. I think Atari had serious difficulty in getting the PCB layout correct to get good signals between various chips. As I found out on the MEGA ST, Atari seem to make things worse on those later machines.

but we never had any problems with stability of STs over 15 years (we use various STs at home and work from 1986 to 1999).
Although there were three situations: one STf die since it did not have proper ventilation (it was fit under the table and does not have enough space for air flow) and other have stability problem after RAM expansion but that was fixed and last: we had hand-scanner that was connected to ROM port and had 12V power supply add to one of pin on ROM port - I once accidentally move ROM port adapter and shortcut 12V to some other PIN and ST instantly die.

but my point is that there were no stability problem with any ST regarding random crash or similar - they all were rock solid.
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Re: What could Atari have done better with the ST?

Postby troed » Wed Aug 12, 2015 7:43 am

mlynn1974 wrote:Atari should have:
1. Implemented a low byte for the video memory.
I don't know why this wasn't thought of at design time.


Exactly this.

You've all seen demos that use sync scrolling to move the whole screen. What sync scrolling does is simulate the possibility to set the video memory to any 2 byte boundary ("low video memory address byte") - while the ST originally only allows 256-byte boundaries.

So, all the great effects demo coders used (and for all practical purposes no commercial games*) would've been part of normal ST behavior with that one little change. I can't really see any cost saving reasons why it wasn't done either, but maybe someone else can. I think it was just an oversight / lack of foresight.

/Troed

*) Yes yes, Enchanted Lands. However, due to the only recently understood ST wakestate behavior we all believed there were many revisions of the ST and that if you used overscan/sync scrolling your software would probably fail on a lot of them. Something demo coders could ignore but commercial game developers couldn't. With the knowledge we have today (since 2013 - thanks Paulo) it wouldn't be an issue.

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Re: What could Atari have done better with the ST?

Postby Faucon2001 » Wed Aug 12, 2015 9:23 am

It am not skilled enought about hardware to discuss it, but I have always been puzzled by the fact that the ST was a closed machine in term of evolution.
No expansion bus, no co-processor expansion, no easy memory expansion, TOS totally frozen in ROM.
I understand that "power without the price" had a cost on the option taken at that time, but in an industry where every year power and price are changing tremendously, IMHO it showed from Atari a short term if not a lack of vision.
The TOS was great in 85, OK in 87, and almost obsolete in 90.
Would have it been feasible and more expensive to have battery saved RAM instead of ROM for the TOS in order to be able to update it?
Of course it would have needed Atari to constantly develop the TOS, things which never append neither :roll:
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Re: What could Atari have done better with the ST?

Postby shoggoth » Wed Aug 12, 2015 9:51 am

Hardware scrolling (or at least a writable physbase low byte) and a 4096 color palette, and it wouldn't really affect the price of the machine. Perhaps it would have been better to have nibble-chunky modes instead of planar graphics (as in Tandy/CGA gfx cards on the PC) would have made some graphics operations simpler/faster.

A real D/A would have been nice obviously, even without DMA.
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Re: What could Atari have done better with the ST?

Postby Frank B » Wed Aug 12, 2015 6:17 pm

1) Overscan support
2) Controllable timeslices for the blitter (to allow easy timer b stuff)
3) STE style hardware scrolling
4) SIMM support (assuming SIMMs were available back then!)
5) Blitter included as standard
6) > 4 meg of RAM supported by the chipset
7) Multi colour Falcon style badge (just because) :)
8) Extra source for the blitter (better performance when masking)
9) Blitter mask read once and applied to all planes (see above)
10) Magic style multitasking available from day 1

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Re: What could Atari have done better with the ST?

Postby bullis1 » Wed Aug 12, 2015 6:52 pm

The keyboard could be improved, that's for sure. How about a proper mechanical keyboard? Many other computers and word processors of the day had the ST beat in this regard.

The stock mouse sucks too but so did all mice at the time.
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Re: What could Atari have done better with the ST?

Postby dhedberg » Wed Aug 12, 2015 8:21 pm

I have nothing to add really, but the most important things that I think the ST lacked that wouldn't had cost Atari much to add in form of money and effort (i.e., they wouldn't had delayed the release of the computer by much) would be:

Hardware:
1. Video memory low byte / hardware scrolling
2. Overscan
3. Easy way to upgrade from 512kb to 1Mb (something like what the Amiga 500 has)
4. DD disk drive.

Software:
1. A more mature and bug free TOS 1.0 (TOS 1.4 would had been a nice first TOS version). I realize that this is probably the item that would have delayed the release of the ST the most.

I left out the BLiTTER because I doubt that it was ready by the time Atari released the ST and I think they had plans for it be one of the selling points of the Mega ST (i.e., it was never even considered for the ST). I think it would also have increased the price of the ST with too much.

If I would have to choose one single item it would for sure be "Video memory low byte / hardware scrolling". Games would have been so much smoother.
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Re: What could Atari have done better with the ST?

Postby Mindthreat » Wed Aug 12, 2015 9:31 pm

For me, I think it was mostly TOS feeling so uninviting and the overall slowness of it as a whole. It's supposed to be a fast machine but it didn't come across that way, at all. I just watched an interview with Jack Tramiel the other night and reliving them Demo the GUI was just awful. The folder icons seemed overly huge and clunky, the neon green desktop (while changeable, at least from what I remember) just seemed like a bad color scheme by default. It just didn't give me the warm fuzzy feeling. Then again, neither did the Amiga. Workbench, while obviously far more capable, just made me kind of sick to my stomach to use. There were a lot of little extras and features the Mac had built-in that the ST obviously didn't. TOS just seemed like a rushed, get it out the door job and do it as cheaply as possible, with very little focus on continuously updating it and making it better.

This is very evident by the time you get to the Falcon, which still had a very bare bones desktop approach with only a'bit higher resolution. Correct me if I'm wrong but wasn't MiNT a savior to some degree? And then once you get to the beta color tos of 4.92 (I think?) it was still very far from being anything comparable to even Windows 3.1 - they just didn't have the vision or focus to keep it up to speed with either the Dos/Windows world or Apple/Macs.

That and what the hell was up with the errors or bombs? I remember errors or bombs appearing and disappearing so quickly you had no idea wtf just happened or as to why. Run it a dozen more times in hope to be able to catch a glimpse of the error so you could somehow figure out why the hell the thing wasn't running the software you wanted to begin with. It was also very constricting because it wanted to do or be too much. You had RF, Hi-Res, Low-Res, I mean wtf? Let's just hook this computer up to 3 separate displays at one time so we can stay compatible. Sorry, this program only works in HiRes. Sorry, this one needs to be jacked into your TV. Sorry, are you having fun yet? Sorry. Not sorry. It was hassling.
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Re: What could Atari have done better with the ST?

Postby DarkLord » Wed Aug 12, 2015 9:43 pm

Never understood it myself, and it certainly wouldn't have helped with *performance*, but I
sure do wish they had left the mouse ports on the side like the original 520ST...

Oh, and while we are at it - I wish the major chips had all been socketed, especially the
CPU! :)
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Re: What could Atari have done better with the ST?

Postby mfro » Wed Aug 12, 2015 10:24 pm

Hate to say that, but honestly, if they had known what we know today, they'd probably rather bet on an x86-compatible or ARM processor than on m68k.

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Re: What could Atari have done better with the ST?

Postby calimero » Thu Aug 13, 2015 9:29 am

Mindthreat wrote:For me, I think it was mostly TOS feeling so uninviting and the overall slowness of it as a whole. It's supposed to be a fast machine but it didn't come across that way, at all.

Mac was even slower! NVDI and other screen speed booster make ST really fast; especial if you compare it to other 68000 ~8MHz machines. So Atari could make graphics routines in assembler from day one, that would be nice speed boost :D but that would delay ST even further.

and regarding desktop, ST had plethora of alternate desktops! Jinnee was in class with Mac OS 7, or even 8 (I do not remember exactly which OS I had on my PowerBook).

btw ARM was not ready in 1984: "first samples of ARM silicon worked properly when first received and tested on 26 April 1985"
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Re: What could Atari have done better with the ST?

Postby joska » Thu Aug 13, 2015 9:39 am

Mindthreat wrote:It's supposed to be a fast machine but it didn't come across that way, at all.


I don't agree. In 1985 it *was* fast. I have a couple of 68000 Macs here, a plain ST is a lot faster (but less sophisticated, no doubt) than these.

Also, did you ever try a low-end 1985 PC with a GUI? ;)
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Re: What could Atari have done better with the ST?

Postby AtariZoll » Thu Aug 13, 2015 9:58 am

Mindthreat wrote:For me, I think it was mostly TOS feeling so uninviting and the overall slowness of it as a whole. .... blah blah ... Sorry. Not sorry. It was hassling.

Lot of bad words, but your "opinion" is silly, and that's nice word for what you ranted here. Just about bombs: they are not there to give accurate info about error happened, and that's actually not possible without expert analyzing case in detail in most cases. How long bombs are on screen depends just from is that freeze, or SW, OS can continue - than may overwrite that screen part very soon.
All you do is just mindless negativeness - like about monitors. There were much more monitor types in case of PC. And fact is that user needed to buy max 1 monitor - there was TV in his home for color modes :D
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Re: What could Atari have done better with the ST?

Postby qq1975b » Thu Aug 13, 2015 11:49 am

About monitors...I wrote it too on my post. It is an opinion maybe more about possible sales implications (final price) and not computer efficiency. I explain myself:

Most people on those years (1986-88) didn't know very much about computers (I wanted an Amstrad CPC because it was the one that most of my friends had) but at home, my parents bought the Atari 520STfm+SM124 monitor (they thought about school homework)... but the problem was when we wanted to play games (priority for my brother and I those days :lol: )...We didn't have TV on our room so we had to connect it through RF to the main TV on the dinning room...that was a problem until my parents bought a 14" TV (we were lucky too in having enough free space to have the monitor+TV). The image quality through RF was not very good and there were some interferences (our TV didn't have SCART and we didn't know then about custom video cables to connect the Atari to "Video/Audio In" on the TV, or adapters). I remember there were some friends that wanted to get an Atari ST because was cheaper than the Amiga (and we would be able to exchange games too :lol: ) but they didn't decide about it because of the two monitors...they thought it was better to spend some more money and get the Amiga+1084S than an Atari+SC1224 or Atari+SM124+TV (and the TV image quality wasn't comparable to a SC1224 or a 1084S) . All the other most common computers (Amstrad CPC, C64, MSX, Amiga,..but the PC that was not very common then) used only 1 monitor.
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Re: What could Atari have done better with the ST?

Postby pnr8uk » Thu Aug 13, 2015 3:05 pm

For me it was all about the marketing and advertising.

The Atari ST was top of the world for Music and DTP nothing could touch the machine for music capabilities. I too believe the DTP world could have been even bigger than it was.

I remember using Calamus on an Mega STE 4 back in the day and a Mac with Quark.

I loved Quark but Calamus was so much better at the time and easier.

However no newspaper group in the world would have relied 100% on ST's

As for music - Atari machines still live on in studios.

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Re: What could Atari have done better with the ST?

Postby Ragstaff » Thu Aug 13, 2015 3:54 pm

calimero wrote:
exxos wrote:I don't think "clean and tidy" is a good description ;) When you really get down to it, the ST is a awful bit of kit. I think Atari had serious difficulty in getting the PCB layout correct to get good signals between various chips. As I found out on the MEGA ST, Atari seem to make things worse on those later machines.

but we never had any problems with stability of STs over 15 years (we use various STs at home and work from 1986 to 1999).
Although there were three situations: one STf die since it did not have proper ventilation (it was fit under the table and does not have enough space for air flow) and other have stability problem after RAM expansion but that was fixed and last: we had hand-scanner that was connected to ROM port and had 12V power supply add to one of pin on ROM port - I once accidentally move ROM port adapter and shortcut 12V to some other PIN and ST instantly die.

but my point is that there were no stability problem with any ST regarding random crash or similar - they all were rock solid.

I think Exxos is looking at this more from the perspective of making hardware changes, mods, upgrades etc to it later. It was more difficult for both third parties, and Atari themselves, because of the flaky design. The ST works, but I understand he is saying it's a bit like a house of cards - fart in the wrong direction and it all comes crashing down.


Frank B wrote:4) SIMM support (assuming SIMMs were available back then!)

mlynn1974 wrote:...Atari should have:
....
2. SIMMs from the beginning.
The ST was the first machine with 1Mb under $1000 but it would have been better to be able to upgrade the memory easily.
1Mb in every machine would have been a big plus.

siriushardware wrote:If the STe - with D/A sound output in addition to the YM sound, simm memory modules as standard...

I had a quick look, simms didn't come out until October 1985, and were still proprietary to Wang Labs. They became a standard years later.
Still, a couple of sockets for easily adding extra memory would have been nice, other systems at the time had this provision.

siriushardware wrote:If the STe - with D/A sound output in addition to the YM sound, simm memory modules as standard, analogue joystick inputs (essential for driving games and flight sims which are nearly unplayable on switch joysticks) and higher resolution graphics modes had been 'THE' ST to start with it would have had (and still does have) everything that I would have wished for that was possible at the time.

Better sound would have been nice but tbh I don't think that was the defining thing that held the ST back.
Hi-res graphics modes would be nice for some things but also remember, as with 256 colours, it would be a lot more graphical data for the ST to move around in memory, I'm sure it would struggle with most games in such video modes, and the "130 ST" probably wouldn't even have been able to use them.

Regarding the analog game control inputs - as I said, this thread is just for fun, and that's a fun suggestion, the more I think about. The IBM analog game port was well established, and not that expensive by then. Because PC's had them a lot of the best sims were on the PC at the time. When the ST came out, it was easily able to keep up with contemporaryPC graphics, so that could have made the ST a nice platform for simulators in the 80's. Nice :cheers:

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Re: What could Atari have done better with the ST?

Postby Atari74user » Thu Aug 13, 2015 7:07 pm

Interesting topic, for me I would have kept relatively simple and agree with what some others have already stated here. Given the era and all things considered:

1. One graphics mode so no messing around with resolutions, but retaining the crispness that was achievable via those beautiful big monitors. That would've been nice
2. The usual bugbear with the mouse / joystick ports re-located back to the side
3. An audio out would have been nice from the beginning
4. Overscan
5. A better solution to the Bromine in the flame retardant coating used in plastics of the time, if that was at all possible back then, to help mitigate the yellowing we see now. That aside, a yellow Atari ST is a little more palatable than an orange person that spends too much time on a sunbed!
6. DD disk drive from the beginning
7. SCSI as a standard from the beginning, over the adopted ACSI, but probably would have required a crystal ball to appreciate that would become an adopted standard for computers and music gear?

Nothing else bothers me so much, never had issues with TOS, other than compatibility, but that's evolution, and not to sound obvious, was of course a product of the time, such as the sluggish non optical mouse. Everything has it's foibles, part of what makes things and people have character. Pity my ex-wife didn't recognise my foibles, mistaking them for incessant flaws :lol:
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Re: What could Atari have done better with the ST?

Postby exxos » Thu Aug 13, 2015 9:27 pm

So basically what people want, is a Amiga :lol: :lol:
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Re: What could Atari have done better with the ST?

Postby bullis1 » Thu Aug 13, 2015 9:51 pm

exxos wrote:So basically what people want, is a Amiga :lol: :lol:

This is the impression I got from a lot of posts here, but I didn't want to be the first to point it out :angel:
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Re: What could Atari have done better with the ST?

Postby Mindthreat » Thu Aug 13, 2015 10:30 pm

AtariZoll wrote:
Mindthreat wrote:For me, I think it was mostly TOS feeling so uninviting and the overall slowness of it as a whole. .... blah blah ... Sorry. Not sorry. It was hassling.

Lot of bad words, but your "opinion" is silly, and that's nice word for what you ranted here. Just about bombs: they are not there to give accurate info about error happened, and that's actually not possible without expert analyzing case in detail in most cases. How long bombs are on screen depends just from is that freeze, or SW, OS can continue - than may overwrite that screen part very soon.
All you do is just mindless negativeness - like about monitors. There were much more monitor types in case of PC. And fact is that user needed to buy max 1 monitor - there was TV in his home for color modes :D


I'm very well rounded when it comes to computers with experience across just about every platform imaginable from TRS80 to the last Falcon/Amiga 4000 and well beyond but to each their own... I don't think my "opinion" about TOS feeling uninviting is wrong, but it is my opinion. This is coming from an extremely experienced computer user, silly as it may be. Feel free to tell me how amazing the neon green desktop by default is though and how enormously huge the icons were beneficial for the blind. Or how awesome it was for a program not to work because it required 1 of 3 different display outputs. Or better yet, the feeling of frustration with endless bombs being displayed with no clue as to why :P and before any ideal bias sets in, I reiterate how much I hated the Amiga desktop lol

Mindless negativeness about having too many options instead of a standard or a high-end monitor that can do all resolutions across the board that the system supported? I don't think that's too ridiculous to ask. In all fairness, I guess some of the blame may be on developers for not making their games/software multi-output compatible but what a pain in the ass to have to switch between two different or sometimes 3 different displays just to use the range of software that was actually available when you can use just ONE monitor on the PC side and it'll do all across the board. The only time you needed TV out on a PC (which I had one on the Tandy computer mind you, and that was a cool feature to have) is when you wanted to play California Games on the big screen tv in the front room instead :) of the single monitor it was already hooked up to that was completely capable of running it and all the other software you had.

*I just did a quick search and apparently you could've hooked the ST up to a Multisync monitor and that would have cured everything... why Atari didn't offer one then is beyond me and that's on them* so even if you take away the aspect of needing multiple display options for one computer, TOS was still poo imo. The only thing I truly remembered being impressed with is the instant-on quickness of it, that I will definitely give it credit for.
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Re: What could Atari have done better with the ST?

Postby Mindthreat » Thu Aug 13, 2015 10:38 pm

joska wrote:
Mindthreat wrote:It's supposed to be a fast machine but it didn't come across that way, at all.


I don't agree. In 1985 it *was* fast. I have a couple of 68000 Macs here, a plain ST is a lot faster (but less sophisticated, no doubt) than these.

Also, did you ever try a low-end 1985 PC with a GUI? ;)


I need to elaborate - the machine was fast yes, and as mentioned would boot with an instant-on quickness. The GUI/TOS on the other hand just always felt slow/clunky. I'm not saying it was but that's definitely how it feels or felt. I'm just going from memory here, it's been like a lifetime since I've touched an actual ST and only days since I've seen one in action, courtesy of Leonard and Jack Tramiel on CC :cheers:
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Re: What could Atari have done better with the ST?

Postby calimero » Fri Aug 14, 2015 5:25 am

bullis1 wrote:
exxos wrote:So basically what people want, is a Amiga :lol: :lol:

This is the impression I got from a lot of posts here, but I didn't want to be the first to point it out :angel:

:)
I think that SM124 is best thing on ST - rock solid black and white screen vs. smeared picture on RGB monitors (CGA, EGA...) - I choose SM124; and many people did!

Without SM124 there would be far less ST sold; it will be less distinguished from 8bit computers like C64, ZX...

Even later "multi-sync" monitors could not compete with quality of SM124 b/w screen - they were smudged in compare.
and they cost a LOT money - probably more than 4MB ST with harddrive! :D

beside there were "color emulator" programs for ST that could run even games on SM124 and many color programs.
(but if program ask for color monitor than probably it is a "color painting program"...;) ).
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AtariZoll
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Re: What could Atari have done better with the ST?

Postby AtariZoll » Fri Aug 14, 2015 6:45 am

@Mindthreat: I forgot something to say in my first comment of your first comment: you are off topic. You just criticize, but did not say anything about better solutions.
For instance, the monitor case. How Atari should solve sharp, non-flickering resolution of 640x400 px monitor without it cost a fortune in 1985 ?
If it would support color modes, then it will be: very expensive, cost more than 2 monitors what were released then. + high-res mode would be not so sharp on color CRT with color masks. What Atari did was actually very good and solution for everyone: who wanted only to play games and maybe little programming could go without buying any monitor. Who wanted serious work bought mono monitor. And people with money bought color monitor (too) .
I would say that it was really good policy/design .
Finally, TOS was not made to impress people with it's speed. But you talk rather about part of it: Desktop (as is pointed already) . I would not call it slow, and icon sizes were good, considering that it is not Windows 95 and later, and never were there many icons, so large ones fit without problem even in low res. Desktop did it's purpose well - starting SW, some basic informations, floppy format and copy functions. Who wanted more and faster could choose among thousands of diverse utilities.
Should I say now that Windows and it's Desktop (Explorer) is utter crap because I use Total Commander in most time ? :mrgreen:
Famous Schrodinger's cat hypothetical experiment says that cat is dead or alive until we open box and see condition of poor animal, which deserved better logic. Cat is always in some certain state - regardless from is observer able or not to see what the state is.

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Re: What could Atari have done better with the ST?

Postby joska » Fri Aug 14, 2015 6:46 am

Mindthreat wrote:Or how awesome it was for a program not to work because it required 1 of 3 different display outputs.


I think you're exaggerating this a bit. I managed quite well for years with only a 14" TV with SCART input. It took me four years before I bought my first SM124. Most programs - including the "serious" ones - worked just fine in med-res.

The monochrome mode was a selling point for Atari. It was something that only "serious" and expensive PC's and Macs has had until then. In 1985 there was no way to get equal display quality on a colour monitor for a reasonable price.

Mindthreat wrote:The only thing I truly remembered being impressed with is the instant-on quickness of it, that I will definitely give it credit for.


You probably didn't try the ST in 1985 then? Because at that time it sure was quick. Most people came directly from C64, Spectrums and maybe had some experience with 4.77 or 8MHz 8088 PC's.

The problem was ofcourse that things never really got improved after the ST. Sure, the STE was slightly better, the TT was faster, the Falcon had more colours etc but basically it was the same thing. Both hardware and OS evolved very little. The ST was fast and userfriendly compared to PC's in 1985, but when the Falcon came in 1991 it really didn't offer anything anymore.
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