How Atari took on Apple in the 1980s home PC wars

A personal look at the history of the Atari 400 and 800 in this article at Fast Company.

[Benj Edwards] Forty years ago, Atari released its first personal computers: the Atari 400 and 800. They arrived in the fall of 1979 after a prerelease marketing campaign that had begun the previous January when the company unveiled the machines at what was then called the Winter Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
My own association with Atari’s computers goes back to 1981, when my father bought an Atari 800 for my older brother Jeremy, five years my senior. I grew up watching him wear out its joysticks by the half-dozen while mastering his skills in Asteroids , Dig Dug , and Archon . And the Atari served as more than a game machine for him. With its BASIC programming cartridge, the Atari opened up software as a malleable thing that could be shaped at will. It was on the Atari 800 that my brother amazed me with his homemade BASIC simulations of aircraft dogfights, among other wonders that my 4-year-old mind could hardly fathom but loved nonetheless. He later became a software engineer.
Just before filing this article, I unexpectedly found an old email from my dad, printed out in a binder of my Atari notes. He passed away in 2013, but a decade earlier, I had asked him about our family’s personal computer history. “We bought the Atari 800 about the time you were born,” he wrote. “It cost $1000 (plus another $450 for the disk drive later), which was more than we could afford, and mom was unhappy that I spent the money on it.”

“In retrospect, the Apple II would have been a better long term investment. But also in retrospect, stretching the budget to afford the computer was well worth it since it gave you and your brother valuable skills worth more than money. Mom knew that soon after, of course–she never held a grudge about those purchases.”

Some successes are bigger than business. The Atari home computers were a cultural phenomenon that brought joy to a generation. Thanks, dad—and happy birthday, Atari 800.