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I like playing the “What If…?” Game. It can lead to some interesting thoughts. Most of the time it’s just idle speculation because it’s pretty well impossible to know what might have happened in a certain situation.

For a while now I’ve been going through old documents and videos that came from Atari from the 1980s. Atari, if you’re not familiar with the name, was a video game company that spread out into computers. For a short time, Atari was the name in video entertainment.

They were mismanaged by Warner Communications and ended up selling the home division to Jack Tramiel, the founder of Commodore Business Machines, who also mismanaged and completely gutted the rest of Atari. The other division, the side that did the arcade games, became part of Midway until being sold to Warner Bros. Entertainment (there’s a circle for you).

What a lot of people don’t know is that Atari had bought an engineering company in 1973 and used it as kind of a think tank. Atari had a couple of R&D departments, as well. This is the stuff that I found interesting.

The R&D departments had their hands in telecommunications and were also thinking of different medical devices. Back in 1983 they had a ‘summer computer camp’ going at Club Med that, if I understand it properly, had Atari 8-bit computers networked together. Atari never released any networking product for the 8-bit computers (the 400/800, XL and XE lines).

So I wonder what the personal electronic world would be like today had Atari been properly managed and survived the through the 1990s. Would my iPhone be an aPhone? Would doctors be hooking us up to diagnostic computers wearing the Fuji logo? Would we have had VR earlier?

Who knows? Not me. There’s no tellling what may or may not have happened even with the best of management.

It’s not a total loss. Some people left and went to Apple. Some went off to Intel. It’s probably safe to say that people went all over the technology company landscape and used their knowledge to bring us interesting things. Like USB.

Some places to check out:
Atari Museum
Atari Archives
Internet Archive

 

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