Ampex Videofile for Videophiles

I was a bit confused when I first read about Ampex Videofile in Atari Inc. Business is Fun. I thought because of Ampex’s military ties that the project was rather secretive, but there was a lot of writing about Videofile going all the way back to its inception. There’s even a nice rundown in the form of a video available on the Internet Archive, so go there if you want a basic understanding of what it was.

I decided it would be a good idea to look into Videofile though mainly because it opens a potential gateway for those who worked with Bushnell and Dabney. The names we know from Ampex’s Videofile division are Kurt Wallace, Larry Bryan, Allan Alcorn, Steve Bristow, Larry Emmons, Steve Mayer (who talked about it recently with the Atari crew in toe), and a tech named “Rocky” that Alcorn mentioned in the above video. I have found at least one other person that appears to have worked in the Videofile division around the time of Bushnell and Dabney’s tenure (and some people beyond that, as Videofile continued up through the 1980s) so I will definitely be giving them a ring.

While Bushnell didn’t do much work on Videofile, I have a feeling that it somewhat guided his famous philosophy and credo as it came to technology: Simplicity opens the door to mass market. While Videofile was a prized system, the methods of interaction would become untennable in terms of sorting large amounts of documents. It’s far more like a giant roll of microfilm than a hypertext system, and therefore it didn’t really help when the files began to pile up. The irony of a mainframe computer becoming less useful as more data is stored onto it is not lost on me.

So I’ll keep on digging at Videofile to see what else comes of it. I don’t expect even to get anything all that useful from looking into it, but it’s worth giving a go since we may not get a chance to talk to these people otherwise.

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