Friday, May 13, 2016

Instant Analysis

Atari 800 And VisiCalc Ad
ANALOG Computing Magazine
January 1981
Page 42

This Atari 800 And VisiCalc advertisement appeared on page 42 of the premier issue of ANALOG Computing in January 1981. The ad features an Atari 810 Disk Drive, an unbranded monitor and an Atari 800 Computer running VisiCalc, the electronic worksheet software package.

Like Space Invaders on the venerable Atari 2600 and Star Raiders on the Atari 400/800 computers, VisiCalc was truly the first killer app for the burgeoning microcomputer market, particularly for the Apple II series of computers on which VisiCalc was originally released in 1979, helping to change the perception of the industry from one of expensive toys for hackers and hobbyist to that of the serious business tools that we know today. At the time of the software's release, people were buying Apple II computers just so they could run VisiCalc. As it was only available for the Apple II for over a year, it gave Apple a huge lead in the business computer world to the detriment of other 8-bit machines of the era.

VisiCalc was a perennial best-seller software package for half-a-dozen years. It was ported to many of the popular personal computers of the time.  While it had a few competitors, it maintained it's huge market share until Lotus 1-2-3 was published for the newer, more powerful IBM PCs. By the mid 1980s, VisiCalc would fade away and disappear from the marketplace altogether. Lotus 1-2-3 would eventually suffer the same fate at the hands of Microsoft when Microsoft Excel began dominating the market in the early 1990s. You can still see the influence of VisiCalc on the modern spreadsheet software packages of today.

VisiCalc Running On An Atari 1450XLD
The November 1980 issue of BYTE magazine contains an extensive and thorough review of VisiCalc by Robert Ramsdell beginning on page 190. Wade Ripkowski over at the Inverse ATASCII Podcast covered VisiCalc in Season 1 Episode 8 of his podcast. If you use Microsoft Excel, Google Sheets or LibreOffice Calc, you already know the basics of what VisiCalc can do, though it did it in a much more archaic and clunker way.

The Best Electronics' Revision 10 Catalog states "... VisiCalc for the Atari 8-bit computers.  Whether you are working with Investments, Cash Flow, Inventory Estimates, Budgets, Forecasts, Plans-nearly anything Numerical, the VisiCalc program can help you work better, smarter and faster.  Your spread sheet capacity is 63 columns wide and 254 lines deep!  You can use the CX85 Atari keypad with driver program for entry of numbers..."

If you are interested in exploring a little bit of computer history and trying VisiCalc for yourself, Best Electronics still seems to have the Atari 8-bit version of VisiCalc in stock. They also seem to have the Atari CX85 Numerical Keypad in stock but for a few dollars more you can get the complete The Bookkeeper Kit (later known as The Atari Accountant) which also contains the keypad. The May 1983 issue of Compute! magazine has a review of the Atari CX85 Numerical Keypad on page 112.

ATARI CX85 Numerical Keypad

The Atari 800 And VisiCalc ad also featured some artwork of a businessman working late at night crunching numbers. The artwork is similar to the entertaining, cartoon-like artwork in the early and unique Atari 2600 catalogs. Notice the similar male chins. If you look closely, the artist's initials are in the lower right corner of the artwork. I enjoy this style of classic Atari artwork. As such, I'm looking forward to the release of the new book Art of Atari by Tim Lapetino. More than 300 pages of classic Atari art! Art of Atari is published by Dynamite Entertainment and will be available Oct. 25, 2016. It should be a good one.

Left: Black Jack Artwork from Atari 2600 Catalog
Right: Businessman  Artwork from Atari 800 And VisiCalc Ad

The fine print at the bottom of the ad mentions that "An Atari 810 Disk Drive or Atari 815 Dual Disk Drive is required to use VisiCalc." While the Atari 810 Disk Drive is a very common peripheral, the Atari 815 Dual Disk Drive, an absolute beast of a peripheral, is another one of those very rare products which Atari designed and manufactured in a small run, but, sadly, very few actually made it on to the desks of customers.

"The Beast"
An Atari 815 Dual Disk Drive

There is an article about Visicalc starting on page 122 in the November 1984 issue of Creative Computing magazine with a photo of Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston, co-founders of Software Arts, the company that created the software.

Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston
Creative Computing
November 1984
Page 122

I had the opportunity to be an exhibitor at the Vintage Computer Festival East in April 2015 in Wall, New Jersey. As Bob Frankston, one of the co-creator of VisiCalc, was one of the guest speakers, I decided to exhibit VisiCalc on an Atari 800 and Star Raiders on an Atari 400, two killer apps. When Mr. Frankston stopped by my exhibit, my wife Lucy asked him to autograph a copy of the Atari 8-bit version of VisiCalc, which he graciously signed. Thanks Bob!

Mr. Bob Frankston, Co-creator of VisiCalc
Vintage Computer Festival East, April 2015

Back to work ... oh wait, it's Friday!

-- @BillLange1968

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