Atari is dead! Long Live Atari!

The old is gone, cheers for the new. Okay, so Atari has gone out of business more or less. So what? Has your ST suddenly stopped working, just because Jack isn't in charge? I doubt it.

No, Atari Corp. going out of business is no reason to dump your existing system, be it a Falcon, TT, ST, 1200XL, or 800. If you're thinking about moving on to a new system, there are two questions to ask yourself.

The first, and most important reason you might move on to a new system is functionality. Does your existing system do what you need it to do? If so, then you don't really need to upgrade. Does Calamus offer the DTP features you need? Can Atariwriter Plus handle all your word processing tasks? Does Music Studio -- or better yet, Mark Feaver's upgraded version -- provide the composition capabilities you want? If so, then you don't *need* to upgrade. Of course, we don't *need* Corvettes, fancy meals at expensive restaurants, or vacations in exotic locations with good beer and better beaches, either.

Once you get past the question of needs, you come to the less pressing question of wants. Is there something you want your system to do that it won't? Do you want to be able to run Netscape in order to browse all the latest Java-enhanced web sites? Is the 7th guest high on your holiday wish-list? Do you want to be able to start writing programs in Microsoft's nifty Visual Basic?

In that case, you must consider whether the sum of your wants is worth the cost and effort involved in switching to a new system. Few people would purchase a new computer simply for the sake of a single game program. You may, however, be able to justify a new system if you want to be able to play several games, as well as use the latest Netscape, program in Visual Basic, and swap files more easily with friends and co-workers. But again, you must weigh the cost -- both financial and temporal -- against the benefits, and decide if it is worth it to you.

Keep in mind that the simple price tag the salesman shows you is not the total cost of a new computer system. Aside from the extra cables, doohickeys, and gadgets that are invariably not included, there is plenty more to consider. You will need to spend a considerable amount of time learning the new system. For some, this can be considered fun, and perhaps even a bonus bit of free entertainment, but for most people it's a pain.

In addition, there are all the programs you'll have to buy to replace the functionality you're used to from your old computer. You'll have to buy a number of utilities, as well as applications. You've got to find something to replace Calamus, for example, and learn to live without the features the new program lacks. We all know that no computer program is truly bug-free, but most people get used to the problems in their software and learn to work around them. With a new computer and new software, you will face a whole new set of problems and bugs.

Once you get the programs set up and working reasonably well, you'll have to deal with converting your existing files and data to the new system. This can range from a little clean-up in your word processing program to practically having to recreate your files from scratch. Some you may never be able to access on the new system, and some may require too much clean-up to make it worthwhile. You probably won't want to spend three hours converting last month's grocery list, but chapters one through seven of the Great American Novel are pretty important.

Then, of course, you'll need to replace various bits of hardware. The older your existing system is, the more likely your hardware won't be supported by the new system. Most Atari monitors won't work on a PC or Macintosh. You may need a new printer or modem as well. Chances are that your hand scanner will be useless, as will any specialized equipment such as video capture or midi expansion interfaces.

And that doesn't even include all the items you never imagined you'd end up wanting. The hard drive that came with your system may not be big enough. You may find the included mouse cumbersome and unusable. Keyboards are very personal items, and you might have to do quite a bit of shopping around to match your needs and desires.

So perhaps you'll end up keeping your existing system. What do you do when the company goes out of business? Who do you turn to?

The first place you turn is your local user group. Even with computers from companies in the best of financial health, your best support will come from other users, so it's best to get used to making the most of the user community now. Of course, it's a two-way street, and you'll be expected to contribute something in return, but that will, for the most part, be your experiences and expertise, rather than money. After seeing others do demos of their new game, or favorite program, take your turn and offer your insights into the software you use. Write up something for the newsletter about what you've done with your system, or what you'd like to do. You will learn just as much -- if not more -- from sharing your experiences with others as you will from hearing about their experiences.

User Groups are also generally responsible for computer shows and expositions where you can meet with members of other user groups, as well as your other sources of support. The recent Sacramento Atari Expo is an excellent example. A lot of Atari users, dealers, and developers had an opportunity to get together and exchange ideas, as well as cash for products. If you didn't make it this year, be sure and plan to go next year. It's the premiere Atari event in Northern California, and a lot of fun, besides. And again, in return for the benefits you receive, you should consider returning the favor by helping out -- manning a booth, writing an article about the show, or even just licking envelopes.

The next source of support to turn to is your local and mail order dealers. Toad Computers, one of the biggest Atari dealers offers an e-mail mailing list of Atari news and product info. At no cost, you can sign up to receive periodic notices of new products, important happenings, and other Atari-related news. They also offer great prices on almost everything available for Atari computers.

But don't leave your local dealers out of the picture. Sometimes, you really want to see something hands-on before buying it, and if you're the first among your local user community to purchase it, the only place to see it is at a local dealer. Sometimes, their prices may not be as low as a mail order dealer, but what you're paying for is that ability to see things before buying, and the opportunity to wander in and browse the store's selection. Alex at ATY, for example, has been a very strong supporter of the local Atari community, as has STeve's in Davis, B&C in San Jose, and others.

Lastly, there is the third party manufacturers who continue to support the Atari platform and Atari users. Companies that put out products like Neodesk, Calamus, and Cubase provide the applications that otherwise might force some to buy a new computer. The best way to return the favor to these hard working developers is to not copy their software. If you use a program, buy a legal copy. If it's shareware, register it. The small amount you pay now will save you a lot later on down the road when the company is still in business.

So think hard before switching computers. It's not an easy task, and you may find that your existing system does everything you need it to do, and what you want it to do simply isn't worth the cost and headache of buying a new computer. To help you make up your mind, however, check out the next ABACUS meeting.

We'll have an MS-DOS PC to disassemble to give you an idea of what's involved with purchasing a PC clone. A lot of folks are headed in this direction and if you're considering it, be sure and be at the meeting.

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