Firebee… after the break…


When you stop paying attention, two things can either happen: The pot never boils or the pot eventually boils. That’s just the way that life works… No matter what you are doing, the rest of life continues to churn along, with or without your involvement.

I would have to quit my job and never sleep if I ever wanted to follow all of the projects that piqued my curiosity at one time or another since I began browsing the Internet. At some point, those projects either succeed and are released in some usable form or they die a quiet, lonely death in some unused corner of cyberspace.

There are several people who are better equipped to discuss the death spiral that the Atari Corporation suffered after years of mismanagement, botched business deals and just overall ineptitude. They know the details better, they know the names better and they can frame the historical context of all of the bad decisions better then I could ever hope to convey. At the end of the day, though, Atari died because it made too many bad decisions and not enough good ones. Yes, the company still exists in a technical sense but “in name only”: It is no longer the hardware or electronics developer that it originally was. As best as I can tell, they have no desire to jump back into the video game console business, the computer hardware business or even the electronics business ever again. They slap their name and logo onto things now. That is the extent of their business until I learn otherwise.

Yet, for a time, Atari made computers just like Apple makes computers. Atari made computer software just like Microsoft makes computer software. Atari made gaming software just like Blizzard, Bethesda, EA and a whole host of other companies make gaming software.

Atari may have shriveled up into nothing more then a shell company that does nothing more but keep the lights on and the pipes in the cellar heated just enough for them not to burst on a cold, frosty winter day. Yet the unofficial pulse of Atari has not only continued to beat but, to my gleeful surprise, beat rather strongly in my absence.

One of the many, many projects that I followed intermittently in the past was the “Atari Coldfire Project,” which attempted to create a ‘modern’ Atari computer. This wasn’t going to be an emulator (a computer with PC parts but running an Atari operating system) but an actual piece of Atari-compatible hardware with an updated Atari operating system.

To be fair, the “Atari Coldfire Project” wasn’t the first attempt at this – I remember the “Milan.” I remember the “Hades.” I remember the “Medusa.” They all went into production and then… They all vanished. They ceased production a short time after they had started (I have since read that news of the Hades’ demise has been greatly exaggerated and that it is still alive for purchasing). And they were all in Europe, which meant both additional price & shipping headaches… These Atari-clones may as well have been made on Mars and bought only with gold coins.

Like so many projects, though, significant progress never seemed to materialize on even a monthly basis. At one point, the project stopped altogether and, for one reason or another, I eventually lost interest.

Until a few days ago.

Imagine my pleasant surprise that, not only has the Atari Coldfire Project succeeded in creating a product but that it is fairly successful within the Atari community: The Firebee. From what I have read, the Firebee is as advertised: An Atari-clone that is capable of both operating legacy software (the old Atari ST/TT/Falcon titles) as well as working and living in the modern Internet era (It has it’s own web browser… That’s right, you can surf the Internet on Atari hardware).

Is it disproportionately expensive compared to it’s alternatives with PC and Apple? Absolutely. All such projects are as they can not compete with the economies of scale that mass production provides. Is it originating from Europe? Again, yes. All such projects usually are, considering that Europe was the ‘last hurrah’ of Atari computing before the company finally realized that the PC had won, Apple was a distant second and everyone else was headed for the unemployment line.

However, I am glad that the Firebee exists. I am glad that there are “unboxing” videos on YouTube of it. Even if what remains of Atari proper wants nothing to do with it’s heritage and legacy in computing (beyond a few mobile app ports of it’s Atari VCS games), it is wonderful to know that projects like Firebee (and MiST and Suska) have kept the true pulse of Atari computing alive… And who know, perhaps even thrive as well. Imagine what could happen if Atari had the financial courage to slap the name and logo on one of these projects. Stranger things have happened.


2 Responses to “Firebee…”

  1. vido Says:

    FireBee is a baby of Fredi Aschwanden the owner of Medusa Computer Systems and the creator of Hades Atari clone from hardware perspective. The design is put to community so anyone can produce and develope it.

    I am really glad to read your blog. Nice to see people are intersted what is happening to Atari comunity 🙂

    • Lutonaut Says:

      Hi Vido and thank you for reading my blog.

      It is no secret that I have a nostalgic soft spot for Atari computing hardware as I was raised on the computing system until it became blatantly obvious that the PC-DOS system had won out. Clearly, I am not a die-hard collector or historian in the leagues of a Curt Vendel but that doesn’t prevent me from rooting for any project that doesn’t advance the Atari community forward into the 21st century. It is a bit disappointing, though, that Atari proper has really ignored some prime opportunities to at least show respect for the niche community that keeps Atari hardware alive. I am sure that some of the resistance has to do with rights and licensing and a layer of lawyers and accountants and marketing agents all making frown-y faces and shaking their heads at even the slightest suggestion to slap the Atari name and logo on anything that the diehard community might find appealing. In an age where other retro-companies like Commodore and Intellivision are at least reaching out to their diehard communities, it feels as though Atari only wants to deal with the days of the VCS and their arcade division. Oh well… At least there’s the Firebee…

      Again, thank you for reading my blog.

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