Saturday, December 23, 2017

Atari Bean Counter


Small Business Accounting Ad
Creative Computing
September 1980

This Atari Bean Counter ad, which mentions the Atari Accountant software, is from pages 8 and 9 of the September 1980 issue of Creative Computing magazine.

Atari first introduced the fabled Atari Accountant software at the June 1980 Summer Consumer Electronic Show in Chicago. From the article Random Ramblings - The Consumer Electronics Show by David H. Ahl, in the September 1980 issue of Creative Computing, the Atari section on page 30 states that
Atari introduced a new piece of software, the Atari Accountant and three new peripherals ... The Atari Accountant was "created to give the small businessman the benefit of computerization without special training or the time required to learn computer programming." It seems to be aimed at the businessman who does his own bookkeeping or who has a part time bookkeeper. The Atari Accountant consists of a general ledger master module, with accounts receivable and payable available as independent add-on modules. Atari promises an inventory control and order entry module at a later date ... We'll reserve judgement on this system until we see it in operation ... 
The Atari 815 Dual Disk Drive was also introduced at the June 1980 Summer Consumer Electronic Show. From the same September 1980 Creative Computing article mentioned above:
The Atari 815 is a dual disk drive with double density on 40 tracks per diskette. Using this storage system each diskette stores over 163,000 bits of data. The dual drive has a built-in microprocessor for control and includes DOS/FMS (double density disk operating system/file management system). List price for the 815 is $1499.95.

Business Software Collection
BPI Systems, Inc.

Atari again showed the Atari Accountant series at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show, held January 9-12, 1981 in Las Vegas, Nevada. In an article by Jean Yeates that starts on the front page and continues on page 29 of the March 2, 1981 issue of InfoWorld covering the CES event, it states:
Business Applications for Atari
Atari has purchased, adapted and enhanced the BPI, Inc., accounting system (formerly available on the Apple II computer) to the Atari 800, and named it the “Atari Accountant.” Arthur Young and Company, a large CPA firm, has written a primer and manual on accounting specifically for the “Atari Accountant,” which has three packages: General Ledger, Accounts Receivable and Inventory Control. Atari’s new “user hotline” provides immediate response to questions about the system.
It's not clear (to me) if Atari purchased the rights to BPI Systems, Inc.’s accounting software and made the required changes in-house or if Atari just paid BPI to develop a version for the Atari 8-bit computers. Clearly, Atari paid Arthur Young and Company to write the documentation (and as we will see later, test the software).

Top Ten Most Popular Business Programs, 1981
Softalk Magazine
April 1982

The Atari Accountant software is based on BPI’s General Ledger and Accounts Receivable packages by John Moss and Ken Debower. According to a reader’s poll on page 164 of the April 1982 issue of Softalk magazine, the two Apple II software packages were listed in the top ten most popular business software programs of 1981.

Accounting Software for the Apple II
BPI Systems, Inc.

At the time, Austin, Texas based BPI Systems, Inc., had the United States’ largest installed customer base of microcomputer business accounting software. There were versions of the BPI accounting software available for the Apple II, the Apple III and later the IBM PC and compatibles. There is a review of a later version of the BPI General Accounting package on page 43 of the March 25th, 1985 issue of InfoWorld.

Front Cover
The Atari Accountant Sales Brochure

C016902 REV. 2

In 1981, Atari created a six page sales brochure covering the Atari Accountant. The sales brochure give a copious amount of information on the promised small business software packages, including sample screen shots.

The Atari Accountant
Accounting Software for the Atari 8-bit
(Recreated from
C016902 REV. 2 for Better Resolution)

The Atari Accountant was also mentioned as a new product on pages 4 and 5 of Atari Connection magazine, Vol. 1, No. 2, in June 1981:
The Atari Accountant 
Computerized accounting for small business is finally here. The Atari Accountant brings the price of computerized accounting within reach of most small businesses. You don’t have to be a computer professional or accountant to operate the Atari Accountant. Its operation is simple and straightforward.
The Atari Accountant is comprised of three packages: General Accounting System, Accounts Receivable System and Inventory Control System. Each operates by itself or in conjunction with the other packages. You can start with one package and add others as your needs dictate. The General Accounting System is now available at your local dealer. The other two packages will be available soon. 
General Accounting System 
The General Accounting System can be customized to your needs. With this program, you can process up to 750 general ledger accounts and up to 2,5000 journal entries per month. Financial statements and reports are generated automatically. Statements and reports range from balance sheets and profit and loss statements to subsidiary ledgers for accounts receivable, accounts payable, and payroll. In addition, updating your records is faster with this system than many other personal computer accounting programs on the market. 
The Atari Accountant will dramatically reduce manual bookkeeping, thus increasing the accuracy and timelines of journals and reports. Developed with assistance from and tested by Arthur Young & Company, a large accounting firm, the Atari Accountant will produce financial statements which summarize accounting data entered into the system. It will provide you with the financial information you need to make intelligent decisions concerning your business.
To use the Atari Accountant - General Accounting System software package in 1981, at a minimum, you would have needed an Atari 800 with 48K RAM, an Atari BASIC Cartridge, a mythical Atari 815 Dual Disk Drive, a hard to acquire Atari 850 Interface Module, an Atari 825 80-Column Printer and the Atari General Accounting System software. You would also need a supply of blank Atari CX8202 certified double-density 5 ¼ floppy diskettes or compatible.

The Atari Accountant In Action
Part I

In an announcement on page 158 of the June 1981 issue of Compute! Magazine, it states:
… The previously introduced Atari Accountant software package for small business or professional use has been priced at $1,499.85. Each of its three components, which are available separately, is priced at $499.95. They include systems for accounts and inventory control … All prices mentioned are manufacturer's suggested retail prices in the U.S. only.
Atari 815 Dual Disk Drive

The Atari 815 Dual Disk Drive was also mentioned as a new product on page 5 of the same Atari Connection, Vol. 1, No. 2, in June 1981:
More Memory Than Ever 
Atari announces its new Atari 815 Dual Disk Drive. This new Dual Disk Drive provides over 356K bytes of double density data storage on two 5 1/4 inch diskettes. It comes with full operating instructions and a diskette containing the disk operating system programs and File Management System. If one Dual Disk Drive is not adequate for your needs, your Atari 800 Personal Computer can control up to four Dual Disk Drives for a total of 1424 bytes of storage!
Imagine, four Atari 815 Dual Disk Drives at the suggested retail price of $1,499.95 each in 1981 dollars. $5,999.80 in 1981 dollars is equivalent to $16,156.95 in 2017. That's a lot of cannolis.

Atari 815 Dual Disk Drive and Atari Accountant Software Ad
Compute! Magazine
September 1981
Page 149

The Atari 815 Dual Disk Drive was an absolute beast. It wasn’t just two Atari 810 single-sided, single-density, 90K capacity, 5 ¼ inch drive mechanisms in one case, it was two single-sided, double-density, 180K capacity drive mechanisms. It required Atari CX8202 certified double-density 5 ¼ floppy diskettes and the Atari DOS 2.0D disk operating system.  

According to the Atari 8-bit FAQ maintained by Michael Currant, rumor has it that Atari didn’t want to release the Atari 815 Dual Disk Drive due to serious quality issues. Atari hand-built enough of these units to satisfy pre-orders and then promptly killed the product. Many of the units that they did sell were returned due to the quality and reliability issues.

Atari 815 Dual Disk Drive and
Atari General Accounting System
Photograph courtesy of Curt Vendel 

The Atari Accountant series necessitated the need for higher capacity storage on the Atari 8-bit computers. With the Atari 815 Dual Disk Drive dead on arrival, the Atari Accountant series was simply no longer a viable product in its current form as it required the higher capacity 180K double-density diskettes. By this time, Atari probably realized that its 8-bit computers were mostly being used as personal home computers and game machines rather than serious small to medium sized business computers. Atari’s reputation as a game company and its lack of quality, affordable, high capacity storage devices certainly didn’t help.

From page 66 of InfoWorld's Essential Guide To Atari Computers by Scott Mace and the editors of InfoWorld:
Before converting your general-ledger books over to your Atari, be aware that your Atari computer is not optimized for accounting programs. The computer's image as a game and education machine for the home means that Ataris have not invaded offices in the way Apple and IBM computers have. Accounting is generally an office function, and if you accumulate any moderately large records, you'll quickly reach the capacity of both the Ataris' RAM and their disk drives. Also, hard disks are not readily available for the Ataris, and most businesses need the speed and storage capacity of hard disks to store their records.     
And from the December 1982 article Whither Atari? beginning on page 4 of Analog Computing issue #9:
The Atari computer has been on the market just over three years ... For the first year or so, Atari's marketing direction was unclear. All we knew was that Ataris were "Computers for People." With the scrapping of the double density dual disk drive, Atari Personal Computers became Atari Home Computers. The home market became established as Atari's target. The Atari Corporation had apparently decided to focus on the home and educational markets and leave the business market to IBM, Apple, and others ... 
The October 19, 1981 issue of InfoWorld briefly states on page 37 that “A new home accounting system for the Atari 800 will replace the Atari Accountant. The new system is designed expressly for the home market and will be ready for delivery in the first quarter of 1982…

The Atari Bookkeeper Kit

The unnamed new system mentioned above might be referring to what eventually became the Atari Bookkeeper kit. 

In the New Products section on page 167 of the November, 1981 issue of Compute! Magazine, it mentions, in part, that  
A new home accounting system for the Atari 800 Home Computer will replace the Atari Accountant, a small business accounting system, which will not now be offered for sale.
The new system will be lower priced and easier to use than the current system, since it will be designed expressly for the home market. It will be ready for delivery in the first calendar quarter of 1982. The Atari 815 Dual Disk Drive, which was required for use of the professional accounting package, will not be offered for sale. 
“The major thrust of our marketing efforts is toward use of our products in the home. We feel that our resources are better spent developing products aimed specifically at this market and segments that support this market, such as institutional education. It makes the most sense to convert the existing accounting package for home use,” Roger H. Badertscher, president of Atari’s Computer Division, said.
The new system will work with the Atari 810 Disk Drive, which is priced at $599.95. The dual disk drive was priced at $1,499.95, and offered “more capacity and a higher price than we feel is necessary for most home applications,” Badertscher added.
Considering the lead time required for publishing Compute! and InfoWorld, Atari must have cancelled the Atari Accountant series by at least October 1st, 1981. With purchasing the rights from BPI Systems, development costs of porting the software to the non-standard Atari BASIC format, Arthur Young and Company involvement, product documentation, product packaging and product marketing as well as the development of the Atari 815 Dual Disk Drive, Atari must have taken a bit of a financial hit on this product line! And this was happening at the same time as the Atari Personal Financial Management System debacle.

The Atari Accountant
Screenshot from the Atari 800 In Store Demonstration Program

Even after Atari killed off The Atari Accountant series in the fall of 1981, it was still being advertised in the disk-based version of the Atari 800 In Store Demonstration Program that was being sold to Atari dealers in 1982. 

Taking into account that the Atari Connection magazine stated in June, 1981, that “...the General Accounting System is now available at your local dealer. The other two packages will be available soon…”,  the Atari 815 and Atari Accountant ads beginning to appear in September, 1981, and it being known that at least a few copies of the General Accounting System are in collector’s hands in the United States, I suspect that at least a few copies of pre-ordered General Accounting System and 815 Dual Disk Drives were released into end-user's hands. There were literally no other released software packages in the Atari catalog at the time (or since) that required the Atari 815 Dual Disk Drive except for possibly the Atari 815 Master Diskette (CX8201), which shipped with the drive, and the Atari Word Processor (Atari 815 version) (CX408), if that itself was even released.  

The Atari Accountant In Action
Part II

I asked Curt Vendel, noted Atari historian, curator of the virtual Atari History Museum and co-author of the book Atari Inc. - Business Is Fun, how he acquired the copy of the General Accounting System that is prominently displayed in the atariwiki article on the Atari Accountant series and he said that “I acquired it in the 1990s, during my regular trips out to California … dumpster diving behind various Atari buildings … if I recall, I found it along with some Atari Word Processor binders in a cardboard box behind 390 W Caribbean Drive in Sunnyvale which was one of Atari’s warehouses.”          

With the limited release and failure of the Atari 815 Dual Disk Drives, any potentially released copies of the General Accounting System accounting software were probably returned to Atari and destroyed. Without the hardware to run it, it would have been a very expense paperweight. 

This accounting product was killed off before I even bought my first Atari home computer, an Atari 400, in March, 1982. Luckily, I didn’t need the Atari Accountant series to manage my newspaper route empire. I had the Newspaper Route Management Program by John R. Powers, III published by the Atari Program Exchange for that!

Atari General Accounting System
Photograph courtesy of Curt Vendel 

As of this writing, a few copies of The Atari Accountant General Accounting System (CX401) software and packaging are known to exist in private hands. Unfortunately, neither the multiple double-density floppy diskettes containing the software nor the extensive documentation Atari created for this package are known to have been archived and made available to the Atari 8-bit community. Considering these floppies are almost 40 years old, they might not even be readable any longer. 

Disk Operating System II Version 2.0D
For the Atari 815 Dual Disk Drive
Running Under Altirra 2.90 Emulation

KryoFlux, the forensic floppy controller, should be able to make archival backup copies of the original General Accounting System double-density floppy diskettes. The backup copies could than be used to make disk images. Version 2.90 of Altirra, the Atari 8-bit emulator, can read/boot the Atari Disk Operating System II version 2.0D disk image found on the Atarimania website, so it should be able to read the General Accounting System software if double-density disk images are created. If so, then Atari BASIC source listings could be generated as well.   

For more general information on the BPI Systems, Inc.’s family of accounting software, look for a copy of the book Practical Guide To The BPI Accounting System by Dale N. Flanagan published by Tab Books, 1986.

4 comments:

  1. WOW! Bill, what an article. I am deeply impressed. Incredible findings, just a few users are able to do in the world. You have done it! As far as I am concerned, we can now skip Christmas. Thank you soooooo much! You really made my year 2017. All the best, luckybuck.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for you comments Roland. Hopefully someday soon the Atari General Accounting System software and documentation will be archived and shared with the Atari 8-bit community. Peace!

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