AtariWriter was Atari's second attempt at a word processor for it's 8-bit computer line. Their first attempt was the little seen disk based Atari Word Processor, a slow, clunky word processor that was designed specifically to work with the Atari 800 (it will not work with any other Atari systems). However since many people could not afford to purchase the expensive Atari 800 and disk drive, Atari decided that a cheaper cartridge based word processor was needed. Thus AtariWriter was born.
AtariWriter is actually a rewrite of an older program called Text Wizard, a word processor originally published by Datasoft. Programmer William Robinson was only 15 at the time when he wrote Text Wizard, so he used the name Dr. William Robinson on the title screen to hide his age and give the program more credibility. After his original deal with Datasoft had expired, William took his program to Atari where it was quickly adapted to meet Atari's standards and published under the name AtariWriter. Originally Atari wanted more features added to the program, but due to the 16K ROM limit (the largest cartridge the 400/800 could handle without bank switching) these features never made it in.
Although the program code was tightly coded, William found a way to add an easter egg that would display his name when a certain combination of joystick inputs were entered. Somehow Atari found out about the Easter egg and sued William, but the lawsuit was settled out of court. The cartridges with the Easter egg were supposedly recalled, but thousands had already been sold by that time. To this day it is unknown how to trigger this Easter egg.
AtariWriter is a competent word processor, and was actually very powerful for the time. One of its biggest selling points was that it easy to use and non threatening. This was important, because unlike today, most people had never seen a word processor before and were easily intimated by complex programs. AtariWriter also was able to use many special features of the new dot-matrix printers which had just hit the market (including Atari's very own 1025). This made AtariWriter standout among other word processors of the time. One downside however was that Atari didn't bother to include print drivers for many non-Atari brand printers, as they believed that Atari owners should only use Atari brand printers (which were usually much more expensive than many 3rd party options).
Although there were many 80-column cards on the market for the Atari 8-bit line, Atari didn't officially support it. This meant that AtariWriter was designed to be a 40 column, and could not take advantage of these cards. It wasn't until Atari released the XEP-80 (a nasty little kludge 80-column device that plugged into the joystick port), that a new version of AtariWriter was released. Given the uninspiring moniker AtariWriter80, this version officially supported the XEP-80 (but not other devices) giving Atari users a true 80-column word processor. This version was only released on disk, and not until late 1988, long after many people stopped using their Atari 8-bits. Needless to say, this version was quickly forgotten.
Two different Rom revisions exist for AtariWriter. The most common version (version A) was released with the then standard brown label in 1982 for the Atari 400/800 systems. The second version (version C) is much less common and has a strange silver label with red text. This version was released in 1983, and fixes an incompatibility that AtariWriter had with newer Atari systems (mainly the XL/XE line). Revision C also removes the Easter egg from the earlier version. AtariWriter was also released in several foreign countries, each in a different language (such as AtariTexte in France, and Atari Schreiber in Germany).
Although it may not look like much today, in its prime AtariWriter was a powerful word processor. While we take word processors for granted today, it wasn't long ago when they were considered a luxury item that only the rich could afford. Atari succeeded in its goal to bring a low cost, easy to use word processor to the masses, and the 8-bit world was never the same again.