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Who made the decisions for the STE, Portfolio, etc?


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Hi All!

 

Just curious - I see posts now and again about 'what should have been' for the STE, and AGA/AAA Amiga, etc..

 

From my understanding, Commodore starved and strained it's engineering department and that's what essentially sent the Amiga to the grave.

 

In the case of Jack Tramiel's Atari, it seems that Jack's (reasonable) desire for retirement and handing the business over to his sons had the same effect.

 

I have never really heard much about how Atari came to decide to what computers to build after the 520/1040ST. The 520/1040 were very clear in purpose as Jack wanted something to take the 16-bit market with. After that, was Jack making the decisions on what to do with their engineering talent or was someone else?

 

(Side note -- I do have an Atari stock report from 1992 where the forward talks about 1992 having been a difficult year, Atari's desire to carefully grow the Falcon030 computer and introduce the Atari Jaguar console in the near future. The report says that in 1991 R&D efforts were refocused because "the company realized it's ST, Mega, and TT computers would not be competitive". Of note, Sam Tramiel's name is on these documents. Finally they note R&D as $22.9M in 1990, $15.3M in 1991, and $9.2M in 1992. Atari only had 270 employees as of March 1993)

 

 

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I have never really heard much about how Atari came to decide to what computers to build after the 520/1040ST. The 520/1040 were very clear in purpose as Jack wanted something to take the 16-bit market with. After that, was Jack making the decisions on what to do with their engineering talent or was someone else?

 

The report says that in 1991 R&D efforts were refocused because "the company realized it's ST, Mega, and TT computers would not be competitive".

 

Jack Tramiel was in business for a long time, and sold a huge number of products from typewriters, adding machines, pocket calculators, and at least a half dozen lines of (mutually incompatible) computers. I don't think he had a specific vision for the machine - he (and later Sam) were more focused on how to position products against the competitors - and which competitors were important.

 

Leonard was much more involved in the technical decision making process, but there were a number of ex-Commodore people in the early days, and later Atari people who were more influential.

 

Richard Miller is a key person from the era you're discussing - he was VP of R&D and helped define the Panther, Falcon, and Jaguar. It's not like Sam or Jack were saying, 'We need more colors and a DSP in the next one, sprites are not important.' They were saying, 'Let's see if we can boost ST sales, but don't put all our eggs in that basket. Instead, put $X into PC clones, $Y into ST, and $Z into videogames - and let's try a handheld on the cheap. Have it all ready to show for CES.' Then, R&D would come back with a handful of features they could implement inside that time and budget.

 

I don't know the STE details, but I work on consumer products for a living - so I can tell you how features really get decided. Management needs the product for CES, and you lost that clever chip designer from before, and the new guy will take months to train, and nobody knows how half this stuff works anymore, plus the manufacturing cost has to go down. So, you better give up on your best ideas and keep it simple - or you'll miss the date and fail your mission altogether.

 

I know this wasn't your exact question, but you can see how Atari struggled with strategy for a while. The ST strategy made sense at the time - we'll build a cheap competitor to the Mac and take all that sweet high-end Mac business - and the laser printer and Mega and TT030 are all examples of that approach. But after a few years, the network effects of an open (PC) standard were unbeatable. Atari tried to get into PCs, but by then, competition was already too intense. Handhelds were another promising area that Atari dabbled in (Portfolio), but they didn't invent the Palm Pilot. I think returning to videogames was a reasonable move.

 

Plowing more R&D into the ST would have made us collectors happier, but would it help sales at that point? Who would write software for it? Atari noticed their customers were musicians and people in Europe looking for a cheap entry-level game machine. So, when the old Mac-attack strategy stopped working, they kept things cheap and threw a few bones to their customers - a smart way to milk the last dollars out of a legacy business. We can all do better as armchair CEOs, but I think the decisions make sense in that context.

Edited by kskunk
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As usual, main decisions were made not by developers, designers with visions, but commercial, financial departments. And that's not good. Jack Tramiel was special. he had visions too, and realized many of them. But his sons were not on that level.

So, company turned in some calculated manufacturer, and no wonder that they left without good developers and sales. But there are other factors too in "sending to grave" of Atari and Commodore. That's not strictly on topic, but is related for sure:

It was age of very fast development of computers. And Intel was fastest in that. USA focused mostly on CPU developing and manufacturing, and they let Taiwan to take over motherboard developing too, + chipsets for them. They learned a lot during all those years with factories of big computer firms on Taiwan soil. And could develop faster. And we must admit, that Atari's closed architecture was not ideal for fast development. You could not replacing graphic system simply, like in some PC. Atari realized it, indeed, but they had no clear idea in which direction to go - so Mega ST, TT+Mega STE, and Falcon had 3 different expansion ports. That was indeed bad. Some better leadership could give some time to developers to design some future proof expansion port, what will be good for all mentioned machines, + those coming in next 5 years. That would be much more effective than finishing new model for some show in Vegas or wherever.

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Jack Tramiel was in business for a long time, and sold a huge number of products from typewriters, adding machines, pocket calculators, and at least a half dozen lines of (mutually incompatible) computers. I don't think he had a specific vision for the machine - he (and later Sam) were more focused on how to position products against the competitors - and which competitors were important.

 

Leonard was much more involved in the technical decision making process, but there were a number of ex-Commodore people in the early days, and later Atari people who were more influential.

 

Richard Miller is a key person from the era you're discussing - he was VP of R&D and helped define the Panther, Falcon, and Jaguar. It's not like Sam or Jack were saying, 'We need more colors and a DSP in the next one, sprites are not important.' They were saying, 'Let's see if we can boost ST sales, but don't put all our eggs in that basket. Instead, put $X into PC clones, $Y into ST, and $Z into videogames - and let's try a handheld on the cheap. Have it all ready to show for CES.' Then, R&D would come back with a handful of features they could implement inside that time and budget.

 

I don't know the STE details, but I work on consumer products for a living - so I can tell you how features really get decided. Management needs the product for CES, and you lost that clever chip designer from before, and the new guy will take months to train, and nobody knows how half this stuff works anymore, plus the manufacturing cost has to go down. So, you better give up on your best ideas and keep it simple - or you'll miss the date and fail your mission altogether.

 

I know this wasn't your exact question, but you can see how Atari struggled with strategy for a while. The ST strategy made sense at the time - we'll build a cheap competitor to the Mac and take all that sweet high-end Mac business - and the laser printer and Mega and TT030 are all examples of that approach. But after a few years, the network effects of an open (PC) standard were unbeatable. Atari tried to get into PCs, but by then, competition was already too intense. Handhelds were another promising area that Atari dabbled in (Portfolio), but they didn't invent the Palm Pilot. I think returning to videogames was a reasonable move.

 

Plowing more R&D into the ST would have made us collectors happier, but would it help sales at that point? Who would write software for it? Atari noticed their customers were musicians and people in Europe looking for a cheap entry-level game machine. So, when the old Mac-attack strategy stopped working, they kept things cheap and threw a few bones to their customers - a smart way to milk the last dollars out of a legacy business. We can all do better as armchair CEOs, but I think the decisions make sense in that context.

 

This is exactly what I was curious about! -- The ST didn't seem to follow the Jack Tramiel path of 'make a cost reduced version to increase sales' like he did with the A8 line, (or the C64). Yes I know the ST had some price reductions over time, but given how much the Amiga came down in price (500), I'm surprised Atari Corp's eventual answer was an enhanced ST with some more features rather than a model "as-is" with significantly reduced price..

 

The R&D quotes from the early 1990s were for all of Atari Corp -- not just the ST line; but definitely agree by ending the ST line would have a natural effect on reducing R&D at least somewhat.

 

Interesting that Atari had more of an orderly winddown than Commodore.

 

Thanks for the great response!

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Hi All!

 

Just curious - I see posts now and again about 'what should have been' for the STE, and AGA/AAA Amiga, etc..

 

From my understanding, Commodore starved and strained it's engineering department and that's what essentially sent the Amiga to the grave.

 

In the case of Jack Tramiel's Atari, it seems that Jack's (reasonable) desire for retirement and handing the business over to his sons had the same effect.

 

I have never really heard much about how Atari came to decide to what computers to build after the 520/1040ST. The 520/1040 were very clear in purpose as Jack wanted something to take the 16-bit market with. After that, was Jack making the decisions on what to do with their engineering talent or was someone else?

 

I'd say the need to move onto 16-bit quickly was due to the Commodore 64 price war which destroyed almost all of the profit margin in 8-bit computer sales with the exception of Apple which ignored Commodore's antics and instead gunned for the education market and parents who were influenced into buying Apple IIs at very high prices.

 

Without the Commodore price war, we would've seen more computers like the Atari 1400XL and 1450XLD by both Atari and the other competitors; feature-packed systems instead of focusing on cost reduction revisions which sacrificed quality. Higher capacity 5 1/4" floppy drives, the migration to 3.5" discs, more speech synthesis features, faster 6502s, 6809 and 65816 upgrades and corresponding stock systems, LaserDisc players, etc. 16-bit systems would've remained high-end for a few more years competing with the Mac for higher margins. That is, unless Atari Inc seriously would've deployed the Mickey game system powered by the Amiga Lorraine chipset in Christmas 1985. They probably would've put that off especially had they been successful in acquiring all of Amiga Inc instead of being an exclusive licensee for the chipset being used in consoles.

 

I admit, it would've been interesting to see Atari Inc surviving and pumping out XLs with CPUs like the 65816.

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I'd say the need to move onto 16-bit quickly was due to the Commodore 64 price war which destroyed almost all of the profit margin in 8-bit computer sales with the exception of Apple which ignored Commodore's antics and instead gunned for the education market and parents who were influenced into buying Apple IIs at very high prices.

 

Without the Commodore price war, we would've seen more computers like the Atari 1400XL and 1450XLD by both Atari and the other competitors; feature-packed systems instead of focusing on cost reduction revisions which sacrificed quality. Higher capacity 5 1/4" floppy drives, the migration to 3.5" discs, more speech synthesis features, faster 6502s, 6809 and 65816 upgrades and corresponding stock systems, LaserDisc players, etc. 16-bit systems would've remained high-end for a few more years competing with the Mac for higher margins. That is, unless Atari Inc seriously would've deployed the Mickey game system powered by the Amiga Lorraine chipset in Christmas 1985. They probably would've put that off especially had they been successful in acquiring all of Amiga Inc instead of being an exclusive licensee for the chipset being used in consoles.

 

I admit, it would've been interesting to see Atari Inc surviving and pumping out XLs with CPUs like the 65816.

 

The 8-bit price war was possible for Commodore because they owned MOS. Jack Tramiel wanted to do to everyone else in the 8-bit computer market what Texas Instruments had done to him in the calculator market.

 

But with the ST line they didn't own Motorola or the 68000.

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The 8-bit price war was possible for Commodore because they owned MOS. Jack Tramiel wanted to do to everyone else in the 8-bit computer market what Texas Instruments had done to him in the calculator market. But with the ST line they didn't own Motorola or the 68000.

 

Memory prices were also incredibly uncooperative. There was a huge RAM price crash in '85 - which is why the 130/260ST just evaporated and Atari was loudly bragging about "1024K for under $1000".

 

After that, memory prices went UP for 5 straight years. Atari was hurting so bad they ran a RAM smuggling operation. One of my favorite links about that time period: http://www.atariarchives.org/atarileaks/

 

Maybe if they had hung onto that 130ST...

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The 8-bit price war was possible for Commodore because they owned MOS. Jack Tramiel wanted to do to everyone else in the 8-bit computer market what Texas Instruments had done to him in the calculator market.

 

But with the ST line they didn't own Motorola or the 68000.

 

The ownership of MOS is an overblown aspect to Commodore's price war. MOS wasn't the only company making 6502s or derivative chips. It was widely licensed to other companies [synertek, Rockwell, WDC, Ricoh, Hitachi, etc]. Any large company - which Atari was at the time - could negotiate prices with large purchasing orders* which would've reduced their costs. Commodore's price war was doable due to their cost cutting on everything else like quality parts compared to their competitors. After all, MOS didn't make DRAM because they'd failed at every attempt at doing so back then.

 

The Commodore price war was Jack getting revenge upon Texas Instruments based upon him believing TI had purposely screwed him over during the calculator wars when he most likely didn't even register on their radar when they made their later pricing decisions that almost drove Commodore out of business. He destroyed the 8-bit computer market just to screw TI and in the process he destroyed the profit margin from Commodore's own future sales with the C64. You don't have to be a therapist to conclude there's some red flags concerning mental health there.

 

 

*Look at Apple today. They view owning chip manufacturing as a major negative to their bottom line. Instead, they throw their cash around the world and get sweetheart deals on the chips they purchase due to the size of their orders. It's been argued that they get better pricing than anyone else. It's even possible they get their CPUs manufactured by Samsung cheaper than what the Samsung chip division offers to sell to the Samsung mobile phone division.

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Memory prices were also incredibly uncooperative. There was a huge RAM price crash in '85 - which is why the 130/260ST just evaporated and Atari was loudly bragging about "1024K for under $1000".

 

After that, memory prices went UP for 5 straight years. Atari was hurting so bad they ran a RAM smuggling operation. One of my favorite links about that time period: http://www.atariarchives.org/atarileaks/

 

Maybe if they had hung onto that 130ST...

 

 

It didn't help that when prices dropped, Samsung DRAM factories often mysteriously caught on fire. Knowing Samsung, perhaps they were also refining oil on the same premises, saw falling world oil prices and then set the wrong factory on fire...

Edited by Lynxpro
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I don't know the STE details, but I work on consumer products for a living - so I can tell you how features really get decided. Management needs the product for CES, and you lost that clever chip designer from before, and the new guy will take months to train, and nobody knows how half this stuff works anymore, plus the manufacturing cost has to go down. So, you better give up on your best ideas and keep it simple - or you'll miss the date and fail your mission altogether.

 

 

This reminds me that around 1987 or so, Shiraz Shivaji, the "father" of the ST (lead engineer of the design team), left Atari. There were rumors of a power struggle that he didn't have faith in Jack's sons. Shiraz worked with Jack at Commodore for a long time and came over to Atari when Jack Tramiel left Commodore. I am sure his team of engineers were pretty loyal to him, so when he was fired, they left with him taking all the intimate knowledge of how the ST works with them.

 

Hiring a whole new engineering team, merging them with whoever is left, and getting them up to speed is not easy. (I can tell you that from personal experience. :( ) I think that is why the STe features were not the "Amiga killer" that the rumor mills said it would be. First, the new engineers had to learn how the ST worked and then improve it. That takes lots of time which one does not have in the computer business. The famous Atari revolving door of executives did not help at all.

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Management needs the product for CES, and you lost that clever chip designer from before, and the new guy will take months to train, and nobody knows how half this stuff works anymore, plus the manufacturing cost has to go down. So, you better give up on your best ideas and keep it simple - or you'll miss the date and fail your mission altogether.

 

I would say that this is a case with Atari TT.

Shiraz Shivji _maybe_ start work on it (32 bit successor of ST around 68020) and Atari later bring Roy Good to finish job.

TT, or some form of it, was presented few times during 4 years of development. They change name, case, specification, market...

 

 

EDIT: :) atarian1 wrote replay in same time as I do. Here is link to Shiraz Shivji from few years ago: https://youtu.be/Ke-vu1x16UI?t=1m54s

Edited by calimero
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That Shiraz Shivji left Atari (exactly when ?) explains a lot. Still, it seems very related with fact that Jack gradually let direction of company to his sons - so we can say that aging of Jack Tramiel was main problem of Atari.

And I must comment some writings here - which are by me pretty much wild speculations, and I know for sure that memory prices fluctuated much more frequently.

"After that, memory prices went UP for 5 straight years." - that's not true. I know well how it went, because I did many RAM expansions during period of 1987-1991. It was that prices jumped suddenly at some moment, but after 1 or like they went back, and then even lower than before. So, about 1989 2 MB RAM expansion was not much cost.

I don't think that ST with 128 or 256 MB RAM could be released with TOS 1.00 in 1985. Because TOS self needed about 150 KB RAM, so what would users have for applications ? As we know, even on 512 KB machines with TOS on floppy, after you load DR Basic only some 20 KB free RAM is left. So, those RAM sizes would need some simpler TOS. Or slow Macintosh concept - with constant floppy access.

About speculation that Jack Tramiel's main motivation was to screw TI: I don't think that TI was some big factor in microcomputer business in 1985 and around. They had TI-99, a 16 bit computer - at least it was advertised so. But performance and some solutions (graphic) were poor and obsolete, so some 8-bit with Z80 was better, faster and cheaper. Actually, Texas Instruments made lot of mistakes in that period. By me, one of biggest was concept of CPU TMS9900 - they decided that don't need lot of internal registers, instead it moved them to RAM. That concept is right opposite to little later winner concept: RISC (with lot of internal registers). So, 16-bit TMS9900 was just slow, and no wonder that nobody except TI used it in some micro.

Edited by ParanoidLittleMan
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And I must comment some writings here - which are by me pretty much wild speculations.

"After that, memory prices went UP for 5 straight years." - that's not true. I know well how it went, because I did many RAM expansions during period of 1987-1991.

You're correct that the worst rise in consumer prices was during 1988 - but I was talking about the entire period from 1985-1990.
Look at contract prices from 1984 to 1990 to get an idea what big companies were paying. Contract prices for RAM hit an all time low of $5.6/megabit at the start of 1985, just as the ST product line and prices were announced. Prices only started rising later in 1985, after mass production began - because US manufacturers were abandoning the market. Prices rose more in 1986 as a result of the Japan-US trade agreement, eventually leading to the RAM shortage in 1988 which caused that big consumer price shock you remember.
Contract prices did not return to their low of $5.6/megabit until early 1990. It's easy to research this - because the memory shortage was the subject of several lawsuits and news articles, contract prices are well documented from that time period. I got that "low" number from the Commerce Department's report on memory chip dumping in 1985 where they quote contracts going for 35 cents/64Kb.
Imagine buying 1MB for $45! Atari could, during the start of 520ST production. Prices were a lot worse by the time you got started in 1987.

 

I don't think that ST with 128 or 256 MB RAM could be released with TOS 1.00 in 1985. Because TOS self needed about 150 KB RAM, so what would users have for applications ?

Yep, that was the joke. They couldn't slash prices as easily as they did on the XE/64, because they were unable to make a small RAM model of the ST. That didn't stop management from announcing those small RAM models anyway - but it's funny to imagine engineering reality raining on management's parade.

Edited by kskunk
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I know this wasn't your exact question, but you can see how Atari struggled with strategy for a while. The ST strategy made sense at the time - we'll build a cheap competitor to the Mac and take all that sweet high-end Mac business - and the laser printer and Mega and TT030 are all examples of that approach. But after a few years, the network effects of an open (PC) standard were unbeatable. Atari tried to get into PCs, but by then, competition was already too intense. Handhelds were another promising area that Atari dabbled in (Portfolio), but they didn't invent the Palm Pilot. I think returning to videogames was a reasonable move.

 

Plowing more R&D into the ST would have made us collectors happier, but would it help sales at that point? Who would write software for it? Atari noticed their customers were musicians and people in Europe looking for a cheap entry-level game machine. So, when the old Mac-attack strategy stopped working, they kept things cheap and threw a few bones to their customers - a smart way to milk the last dollars out of a legacy business. We can all do better as armchair CEOs, but I think the decisions make sense in that context.

 

The Portfolio wasn't developed by Atari though and the company that developed it had a successor ready which was eventually licensed to Sharp and released as the PC3100. The problem with the pocket PCs was that adding new features increased the price and the novelty factor of having a PC in a small format was already worn off.

 

Also, Europe wasn't a just a single market for Atari. Customers in Germany were expecting a professional machine from Atari (most business applications were developed in Germany), that's why magazines at that time were disappointed with the Falcon having the same case as the 1040ST and Atari was asked when a professional version of the Falcon would be released ("soon").

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Also, Europe wasn't a just a single market for Atari. Customers in Germany were expecting a professional machine from Atari (most business applications were developed in Germany), that's why magazines at that time were disappointed with the Falcon having the same case as the 1040ST and Atari was asked when a professional version of the Falcon would be released ("soon").

 

It's a shame they didn't transfer the ST business to a private German company like C-Lab sooner. Compared to a public company with investors screaming for growth, small private companies can continue to profitably service a small market. I'm sure Atari was more focused on survival instead of helping German professionals at that point - if you look at Atari's revenue and stock price in that time period, it was bleak.

Edited by kskunk
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It's a shame they didn't transfer the ST business to a private German company like C-Lab sooner. Compared to a public company with investors screaming for growth, small private companies can continue to profitably service a small market. I'm sure Atari was more focused on survival instead of helping German professionals at that point - if you look at Atari's revenue and stock price in that time period, it was bleak.

In a way they did by licensing TOS to clone manufacturers like Medusa (Medusa, Hades) and GE-Soft (Eagle). Obviously, those machines weren't price competitive with PCs or Macs and with MagiC Mac out, the Mac was a much better choice as the new "Atari" hardware for those who wanted to run applications. No, I think going after the consumer market made more sense for their business. But it's not like all of Europe was waiting for a cheap game entertainment machine from Atari.

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That Shiraz Shivji left Atari (exactly when ?) explains a lot. Still, it seems very related with fact that Jack gradually let direction of company to his sons - so we can say that aging of Jack Tramiel was main problem of Atari.

uh... I found lot of infos! Here is Atari speaking about Transputer in October 1987. link (Shiraz was still at Atari) (btw Atari getting hooked with Inmos company, Transputer developer, got eventualy Richard Miller inside Atari Corp who has (high school) friends at Flare, John Mathieson and Martin Brennan). In this thread there are lot informations and links regarding history of ST, TT, Falcon and Jaguar. There you will find infos about EST Atari 68020, never produced computer...

 

est.gif

 

Here are exactly dates when Shiraz left and Roy Good come to Atari Corp: http://mcurrent.name/atarihistory/tramel_technology.html

 

1987 January: Roy J. Good joined Atari as Manager of Product Development, replacing Thomas Brightman who departed the company. (to Visual Information Technolgies Inc. (VIT)) (Good would report to Atari VP advanced technology Shiraz Shivji.)

 

1989 February 15: Atari VP Advanced Technology Shiraz Shivji departed the company. Roy Good, previously Atari manager of product development, would be promoted to Atari VP product engineering. Richard G. Miller, previously Managing Director of Perihelion Ltd., would join Atari as Director of Research and Development and Technical Manager, Atari Corp. (U.K.) Limited (replacing Shivji as head of Atari R&D, and reporting to Good).

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Very interesting info on that thread.. and a good reminder that "Business is War" may fill in a lot of these questions..

 

So reading all of this, it sounds like:

 

1985 - Jack Tramiel unveiled the ST based on his requirements

(reading between the lines) After this Jack stepped away from products to focus on retirement/handing the business down to his sons/daily operations/etc.

 

1986-1992 - ST development focused on advancing the line into higher territories/the workstation market (Mega ST,, TT, Transputer), competing against the Amiga 500 on specs only (STE) and innovative form factors (STacy, Portfolio, STBook, STylus), but never really pursuing a pure cost reduction / market share strategy (like Jack and C64).

 

1992-1993 - Falcon was a final hurrah to give the ST line a refresh, and keep musicians into the product, but was cancelled a year later after the market share size shrunk enough to not be worth it to Atari with dwindling cash reserve.

 

I would like to play with a stock Atari Falcon some day...

 

 

 

uh... I found lot of infos! Here is Atari speaking about Transputer in October 1987. link (Shiraz was still at Atari) (btw Atari getting hooked with Inmos company, Transputer developer, got eventualy Richard Miller inside Atari Corp who has (high school) friends at Flare, John Mathieson and Martin Brennan). In this thread there are lot informations and links regarding history of ST, TT, Falcon and Jaguar. There you will find infos about EST Atari 68020, never produced computer...

 

est.gif

 

Here are exactly dates when Shiraz left and Roy Good come to Atari Corp: http://mcurrent.name/atarihistory/tramel_technology.html

 

1987 January: Roy J. Good joined Atari as Manager of Product Development, replacing Thomas Brightman who departed the company. (to Visual Information Technolgies Inc. (VIT)) (Good would report to Atari VP advanced technology Shiraz Shivji.)

 

1989 February 15: Atari VP Advanced Technology Shiraz Shivji departed the company. Roy Good, previously Atari manager of product development, would be promoted to Atari VP product engineering. Richard G. Miller, previously Managing Director of Perihelion Ltd., would join Atari as Director of Research and Development and Technical Manager, Atari Corp. (U.K.) Limited (replacing Shivji as head of Atari R&D, and reporting to Good).

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