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Lost in Cyberspace

Orphaned systems find a home on the 'Net

This article was originally published on September 22, 1998 by SignOn San Diego and Copley News Service.

Ten years ago, they were among the most powerful personal computers you could buy. While the line-command DOS interface still ruled the Intel world, these machines were giving the Apple Macintosh a run for its graphical interface money.

Today, none of the companies that made them is even in business – although two of the platforms live on with different manufacturers. Finding parts or software for them is tough – you won't find keyboards or word processors for them at the local mall, for instance, and odds are the 19-year-old technicians at the repair shop have never even heard of them, much less worked on one.

But on the Internet, owners of these "obsolete" systems – the NeXT, Commodore Amiga and Atari ST/TT/Falcon computers – can find new programs, parts, service and (just as importantly) a sense of community for their orphaned machines.

When Commodore went belly-up, the Amiga line of 16- and 32-bit computers (which, like the Atari and NeXT, used the same Motorola 680X0 line of CPUs as the Mac) was sold off. That company did nothing with the platform, and recently sold the rights for the Amiga to Gateway, the mail-order PC company, which is promising a next-generation Amiga with a PowerPC or comparable CPU. And there are several clone makers still making Amiga-compatible computers right now. is the official Web site of Amiga Inc., the subsidiary of Gateway that is working on the next-generation machine. There is a list of dealers here, and sketchy but promising news on the new machine and updated Amiga OS. has some of the most complete and up-to-date Amiga news. There are links to dealers, news reports, announcements of new software and peripherals, and user group contacts. The dealer contacts are critical – repairs and parts can be found there, along with software, patches and other info.

A few years ago, Sam Tramiel – owner of Atari and former CEO of Commodore (how many people can brag they ruined two good computer companies?) – folded Atari into JTS Inc., an industrial hard-drive firm. He then sold the rights to the Atari computer line (by then consisting only of the Falcon030) to a German midi company, C-LAB, which is still selling the Falcon as a specialized midi machine. (Atari Games, makers of arcade games, is now a subsidiary of Midway Games – find them at – and the rights to Atari home software titles now belong to Hasbro.)

As with Amiga, there are also quite a few companies making Atari clones. Of these, the new Milan computer seems the best supported. It still uses the old 680X0 line of 32-bit chips, but has a PCI bus and modern PC-compatible expansion slots. It can also hold up to 500 megs of RAM.

The Amiga OS has never really been ported over to other platforms because the Amiga was probably the purest synthesis of hardware and software – the specialized graphics and sound chip sets were as much a part of the Amiga as the code.

But the Atari operating system, TOS, has continued its development, with ports to the Mac and Intel platforms. A Mac-like graphical user interface, GEM (Graphic Environment Manager), provided the Mac-like desktop for TOS. The latest version of TOS is called MagiC, and there are versions for the Mac and Windows 95/98 that allow you to run old (or new!) Atari software.

To get a feel for what the Atari desktop looks like, check out the Little Green Desktop. The site itself is a graphical representation of a GEM desktop. There are also cool Atari files here – games, utilities, etc.

Finding support for the NeXT is more difficult. It was always marketed (and priced) more as a high-end workstation than a home computer, so there weren't ever as many NeXT computers sold as Ataris or Amigas. Thus, several searches of the Web found very few NeXT-related sites. (Plus, Apple – which bought NeXT last year – is pressuring NeXT User Groups to drop the NeXT from their name or risk losing official corporate support. Kinda acting like Microsoft, no?)

So the best bet for finding info on NeXT is on the Usenet, the bulletin-board area of the Internet where you can leave public messages and read others'. For a fairly complete list of NeXT newsgroups, check out Yahoo's NeXT list.

Actually, for more info on any of these platforms (including links to the various Amiga and Atari newsgroups as well), go to Yahoo's computer systems page.

And to buy any of these computers, check out two of the better online auction/classified listings: Ebay and Classifieds 2000. Both regularly have Atari, Amiga and NeXT computers for sale – along with other alternative systems, such as older Sun and Silicon Graphics workstations.