As I mentioned before, there were a plethora of word processors available for PCs in the 1980s beyond the basic Microsoft Word we’ve all come to know. You didn’t have to just stick with a PC however — you could also use a computer like the Atari shown here.


I used the example of the limited word processor options today to illustrate just how little choice there is in PCs today. If you go back almost 25 years, you can see there was even more diversity. Beyond the basic platform choices of Windows, Linux, and Mac that we have today, you had dozens of other hardware platforms.

The ad here is for a word processor running on an Atari computer. The program in question is Atari Writer. As you can see by the ad, it’s not very fancy. It uses the large block letters typical of 8-bit computers of the day. This limitation was due mostly to the resolution of the TVs they were typically attached to. Additionally, as you can see on the screen, the feature set is probably equivalent to edlin in DOS.

Some of you may have forgotten, or not even have been aware, that Atari did more than just build gaming consoles. They also created several lines of computers, mostly for home use.

The computer shown in this ad is an Atari 800XL. It debuted in 1983. Like other Atari computers, it wasn’t terribly successful. The most successful computer that Atari sold wound up being the Atari ST line, which competed heavily with the Amiga. Try as it may, however, Atari created almost a dozen different models of home computer only to wind up nearly bankrupt and being a niche player. By 1992, Atari was out of the computer hardware business.

Our pitchman for Atari is Alan Alda, who had just come off a successful run from the TV series M*A*S*H. Nowadays, his interactions with computers are a little different when he’s hosting Scientific American Frontiers on PBS.

With any luck, we’ll get ahold of an old Atari computer to add to our Dinosaur Sighting and Cracking Open series.