Note and Point... Atari News And Comment

by John Nagy

Here’s more collected bits of news, rumors, and self-help tips for Atari owners! Sorry for not being here for a couple months, but problems in communication have been cleared, and you should see this column more regularly now. I have a lot to catch up on!

Atari Corporation Stock, first released in November of last year at about $11.50 a share, is at the time of this writing selfing at about $15. Of course, that’s only impressive if you know that the stock split two-for-one in June. That’s more than doubling in only six months. Investors should be pretty happy. The stock climbed slowly but spurted after announcements of the PC Clone and the new lines of Mega-ST in early 1987, but then slipped as it became clear that delivery would not be until at least summer.

Finally, with the announcements of the actual production of the new products and the split, the stock is at an all time high. (Remember that you read this nearly a month after I write it—the market may change!)

Atari Corp has a new vice president. Former Texas Instruments and IBM exec Jerry Brown (not the one Linda Ronstadt was seeing...) is the new vice president and general manager of U.S. Operations.

The Commodore-Atari lawsuits have finally been settled, although no details are available at this writing as to who pays who what.

It is expected that Commodore will pay Atari something as a result of the three-year old lawsuit that charged Commodore with patent infringements. Atari had an exclusive development contract with a small firm for support and graphics chips...and then the firm was bought by Commodore, who promptly told Atari where it could go for chips. The name of the little firm? Amiga, Inc. Atari sued Commodore both for breach of contract and for putting Atari developed chips in the Amiga computer...when Atari couldn’t even get them.

In what may or may not be a related event, Commodore subsequently fired their president and management staff, according to the April 23 Wall Street Journal. The ousted officials are suing for nine million dollars. Ouch! Commodore is counters uing, of course.

8-bit prices rise. It may be due to Reagan’s latest slap with tariffs, or just a decision out in California, but dealers have been notified of a healthy 10-15% price hike in 8-bit Atari hardware. Any time now, the XE may pass the ST as the “expensive” model in the Atari lineup.

Those products: Everybody at Atari swears that all the currently announced products are in production and should be available “by the time you read this.” That list includes: the $669 PC Clone (with mono monitor), the $99 RS-232 Hayes Compatible 1200 baud modem (with separately sold 8-bit adapter), the Mega-ST machines (with built in blitter), the $1,500 laser printer, the $80 80-column adaptor/printer interface for the 8-bit computer line, the $150 “XE System” game adaptation of the XE computer, and a new product announced at the Chicago Consumer Electronics Show in June: a new $199 5.25" disk drive to replace the venerable Atari 1050. Discussions at the CES revealed more than a little hedging on a few products, the disk drive and the laser printer in particular being likely to be available “late summer” or maybe even later. Atariwriter Plus 80 is also reported not ready for shipment, which may slow interest in the XEP80 80 column adapter for the 8-bit Ataris. Still, it looks pretty clear that things will actually move soon, and Atari dealers are starting to breath again.

The new XF551 disk drive is a sleek new gray box about 1/2 the size of the 1050 it will replace, and is actually styled more to match the PC Clone than the XE. That’s not surprising, as the same drive unit is used in the clone. It will be almost 360K, using a true double-sided double-density disk format, plus a modified system that will almost triple the read/write speed. It will be shipped with “ADOS,” a new disk operating system from OSS Inc., the people that brought you DOS XL, BASIC XE, Action!, etc. ADOS will be able to read DOS 2 and the alien “density-and-a-half” of DOS 2.5 as well as its own disks, but will not be backwards-compatible. ADOS should be usable in older Atari compatible drives, and may be marketed separately as well. Features include subdirectories and optional menus. It sounds a lot like SpartaDOS from ICD Corp.

Although it is scheduled for summer release, Neil Harris and other Atari officials admitted that the XF551 was having some trouble being fully compatible with some disk protection schemes in common usage, and might be delayed some time to work it and other points out. The new drive eliminates both the 1050 and any plans for a 3.5" 8-bit disk drive, heavily rumored for the last nine months.

Already, the new drive has triggered speculation of interchangeability with the ST. Since the XF551 is basically a PC external drive already, hopes are being voiced that the Atari PC and the ST will have interchangeable drives, allowing access to 5.25" disks (as in PC emulation) for the ST, and to 3.25" ST drives for the PC. Neil Harris, head of Atari product information, confirmed that the interfaces were to be identical, and “mix and match” would be very possible, depending perhaps on your DOS. HopeHopeHope.

OSS also has a new Toolkit for BASIC XL, adding all the power of BASIC XE except the Extended Program Area. The new extensions file for BASIC XL will include those amazing add-ons like SortUp and SortDown, to name a few. By the way, OSS also says no runtime package for BASIC XE will be released, so don’t expect too many “extended” PD gems to surface.

Did I Say Emulation? A new software-only IBM Emulator has been released that claims 99.95% compatibility with MSDOS programs; and a 80% execution speed on the ST. It’s called PC-Ditto, and people are already raving about it. For $80, the program may be all anyone really needs in the way of Big Blue operation on their ST. Reviews are universally glowing. Contact Avant Garde Systems, 381 Pablo Point Drive, Jacksonville, FL 32225. Rumor is that the same company will put out a $350 hardware external IBM emulator in a few months!

Also new in PC emulation: HAPPY version 7.1! New software is/has been shipped to registered HAPPY owners. Yes, the same modification that has allowed thousands of Atari users to make “backups” of copy protected software, as well as adding true double density and ultra-fast speed to the Atari 1050 disk drive now allows you to Read And Write MSDOS disks. It won’t make programs run on the other machine, but data files (like word processing and program code for editing) port perfectly onto single sided formatted IBM disks. Atari end-of-line to ASCII carriage return/linefeed translation is an option. You can’t format in MSDOS on the HAPPY, nor read or write double-sided disks, but that’s only a small hindrance. I now can take work to and from the office, and watch the reactions when my co-workers ask what model IBM I have at home... Oh, yes HAPPY software version 7.1 also allows many more types of copy protected disks to be copied without needing a “runtime HAPPY,” meaning that they are true copies, not translations as in the version 7. Contact HAPPY Computers, Box 1268, Morgan Hill, CA, 95037, or call (408) 779-3830.

HAPPY for the ST? Yes, but not yet. Word has it that a Cart version of a HAPPY software package will be released for the ST that will allow a “photocopy” of any disk...Any Disk ...Any be made in an ST. Yes, Amiga, PC, anything. Sounds interesting! Just more proof that the Atari is the machine that can be anything if it tries!

More emulator news: The “ST Transformer” Atari 8-bit emulator for the ST that you read about here in Computer Shopper will shortly be published by Analog Magazine. Scheduled for August or September printing, Darek Mihocka’s emulator will be free for distribution, and will include documented source code in hopes of further enhancements by other programmers. It appears that the “print” version will not have player-missile graphics included because of too many bugs in those routines. Darek expects that to be one of the first revisions after the original release. Atari finally decided to work out their copyright objections after mail from user groups all over the country, protesting Atari’s blockage of the project, started arriving daily at Atari.

I was told that just after the first Computer Shopper article ran, further publicizing the roadblock, the increase in user group mail made Sam Tramiel tell Neil Harris to resolve the matter. See? User groups can make a difference!

Although the ST Transformer issue may be resolved, there seems a growing attitude at Atari that the User might be the enemy. Neil Harris, Atari’s main product man, referred to the several user groups pushing for the 8-bit emulator as “trouble makers,” called Darek Mihocka a “Twerp,” “a pain in the A**,” and a “lousy programmer” during his speaking engagement with the Chicago area user groups during the CES. He has also accused users of “viciousness” in messages on GEnie telecommunication system when they questioned Atari’s delivery on product promises. Let’s hope this attitude is specific to Neil, and that his recent vacation has brightened his outlook. After all, we all want the same thing: the best performance out of our Atari.

Another coup for user groups: Springboard Software, makers of Newsroom, Certificate Maker, etc. for almost everybody but Atari, has decided to rethink their position and is prepping an 8-bit Atari version of Newsroom, slated for fall release. A letter writing campaign was initiated by several user groups and carried forward by Antic Magazine. ST versions of all Springboard products are either already being shipped or are being developed.

MindScape Software, makers of some remarkable software for the ST, has bought out CBS Software and has rereleased some titles from the CBS collection. Plutos, a fabulous MindScape arcade game for the ST, is now legitimately released and features “lots of” enhancements over the pirate beta version that has been floating around BBSs as a “public domain” item. Many clubs put the game in their software libraries, not knowing it was not PD.

Another illicit Beta copy—this time of a Star Trek Game for the ST—floated by an East Coast reviewer. It is a full featured graphic adventure, with digitized music and dialog. A rave preview, with Simon and Schuster slated to release the real thing in the fall.

The Buffalo Atarifest at the end of April was down in attendance and vendors, according to reports from attending user groups. Organizers are upset with Atari over misplaced, error filled ads and promised but not delivered money. The sponsors (Western New York Atari User Group and others) were forced to give free admits to 12-and-unders as a result of Atari’s ad. It seems whoever placed the ads (at Atari) didn’t bother to check the copy and simply reused someone else’s ad. WNYAG figures their losses at $500 as a result. $4,000 promised from Atari also hadn’t arrived when last I talked with organizers, long after the show.

Atari’s “promise without performance” of money for support is what made Detroit first cancel their Atarifest. The “Magic” club in Detroit will have a Detroit Atarifest in August, even though the Chicago fest, scheduled for July 25-26, was cancelled (postponed?). The Detroit Atarimagic show will be a three-day event, August 28-30 in the Southfield Hilton just outside Detroit proper. Call (313) 751-8291 for details.

I told you last time that Atari is making big strides on GEnie, a telecomputing service similar to Compuserve. Neil Harris and others from Atari make appearances regularly in the message bases and in a weekly round table open discussion on Wednesday and Thursday nights. Atari users are invited to get an $18 saving on normal registration on GEnie by calling (with their modem) 1-800-638-8369, and entering HHH upon connection. At the U# = prompt, enter XJM11887, Atari and press return. The voice number I gave you before got you to people that either didn’t know about the offer or were not allowed to tell you about it. The offer runs through the end of 1987.

First it was Atari Planetarium, now, Autoduel, a new game from Origin Systems, is said not to run on Indus or ICD Doubler equipped Atari 1050 disk drives due to a new copy protection scheme. More and more, these are turning into use protection schemes. Hardware-specific software is a growing trend—be sure you get a return priviledge from a reputable dealer to protect yourself.

In a related item, Data Perfect from LJK won’t work with ICD’s MIO interface box...unless you send it in for an update. For $30 LJK will send you a new version of the fine database program. The sum and total of the update is that it no longer requires a translator disk to use the print option. No additional work has been done, for instance, to make use of enhanced memory. The problem with the MIO is that access to the Expansion Bus disappears when the translater is run, cutting the MIO and its printer interface out of your system. A lot to pay for a little item, the update of Data Perfect is nonetheless available from LJK Enterprises, Inc., 1351 Yves, Manchester, Missouri 63011-3669; (314) 527-6909.

ICD has launched a new line of hard drives for the 8-bit and the ST, their first venture into the 16-bit market. Competitively priced at about $650 for a 20 meg, it includes an internal clock and ports to control additional “bare” hard drives. There will be one unit for use with the MIO (and also Macintosh!!), and another styled to sit slimly under the ST monitor with room inside for two hard drives. Additionally, ICD has or will shortly ship FastBack for the 8-bit Atari, a very fast, menu driven backup system for any size hard drive. It will maximize floppy storage and can backup files that are bigger than a single floppy. It will also be able to make use of an “archive bit” which will be set by the new SpartaDOS-X DOS-on-a-cart, still due out this summer. This will allow you to run Flashback and only files written or updated since the last backup will be copied, substantially reducing time and effort. ICD’s Tom Harker also mentioned a new SpartaDOS Tools disk for the 8-bit line, including many hard drive and crash recovery utilities, plus lots of other items like reassignable console function keys, etc. Call ICD at (815) 968-2228. •


Note And Point

by John Nagy

8-Bit Atari News And Comment

Hello again after a long absence. It’s not up to me if I’m here each month, you see. If you like this column, you will have to let Computer Shopper know it, as I have to compete for space with other Atari and “off-brand” articles! Although we are relegated to the “Classic Computers” section now, my news is anything but classic, and also contains some news of the ST and Mega series from Atari. More details on the news of those magazines is likely to be in the Atari ST section of the magazine.

Now on to the business of Atari News and Rumors, collected from all over. Many come from the over 100 User Group newsletters I read every month...and overall, I have a lot to catch up on!

Atari Stockwatch: Surviving Bloody Monday and the aftershock, Atari stock is at this writing $6.00, down by more than half of only a couple months ago. Still, it nets out to over 10% growth in the year since Atari went public, and we all expect at least some recovery of the market. However, Atari’s fall purchase of Federated electronics stores with excess on hand capital may prove to have been ill-timed, as massive stock market downturns generally result in reduced consumer spending...and had Atari waited, Federated might have been a real steal about now. (Atari had a few million sitting around with nothing to do, so they bought their own chain store. Federated, a west-coast electronics chain, lost a few mils last year, and Atari figures to do better at the helm. Well, this is one way to get Atari products into the stores.)

New at Atari is Walt Wilson, formerly of Apple, who will be in charge of building the dealer network that has been so desperately needed for so long. A long awaited advertising campaign finally let middle-America know that Atari wasn’t only a memory...although the push was almost entirely in games.

Speaking of getting into stores, after much hue and cry, the long awaited SX-212 modem, the MEGAs, and the XES Game Machine are on shelves. The 80-column box is supposed to be out there too, but I haven’t heard anyone that has one yet. Not yet out: the replacement for the legendary 1050 disk drive, to have double sided, double density power while retaining full compatibility with the older disk systems. Production on the 1050s ended a while back now, and with the new drive not yet available, you may have trouble finding new drives of any kind. Remember, the “new” XES Game System can use a drive too, so new buyers may be competing for the dwindling 1050 stocks.

Atari’s marketing man, Neil Harris has been explaining the company strategy regarding games at every chance he gets. Games are a sore subject to many of use who consider our Atari 8-bit machine to be a computer with real computing uses...since it seems the world thinks of it as a box with pac-man inside. Nevertheless, Atari has gone after the game image almost entirely in their repackaged 8-bit computer line, the XES. Says Neil, computers are death in the mass-market stores, they can’t pay a Sears or Toys R’ Us to show computers. But just wave a game machine to compete with the Nintendo and Sega systems, and Whammo—(oops, another toy company there!) the merchandisers line up for stock. Since the Atari company has jillions of parts ready and willing to be built into machines, and a very competent existing technology, it is simply economics that made the decision to “sell out” the 8-bit line as a Game. Neil reminds us all that the XES is, after all, a real computer, and that some buyers will realize this at some point and want to use it as such. In fact, memory upgrades for the XES to take it to 256K and beyond have already been designed and circulated by user groups. These make the XES as much computer as any Atari 8-bit ever was...and even boasts a detachable keyboard. Still, the game image stings us “serious” types.

On the up side of games, Neil Harris also points out that Atari games are really of a different nature than those from Nintendo and other home-system hawkers. Rather than vie for the arcade clone that is built around getting your quarters every few minutes, the Atari game philosophy is to create a longer-term game with more strategy and developmental game skills. A home game should be fun to play not just for minutes, but for months or years.

It is also important to remember that Atari Arcade Games and Atari Corp. are not really related...common criticism of Atari for not having an Atari computer version of Atari Marble Madness while a Commodore version has been out for a year now overlooks this fact. However, here’s a list of Atari Corp game releases to come (“shortly”):

2600: Crossbow, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Mouse Trap, Venture, QBERT, Kung Fu Master, Com- mando, Summer Games, Winter Games.

7800: Desert Falcon, Choplifter, Karateka, Touchdown Football, One-on-One Basketball, Sky Fox, Summer Games, Winter Games, Impossible Mission, Hat Trick.

XE Game System/8-bit Computer Super Carts: Hardball, Fight Night, Touchdown Football, One-on-One, Ballblazer, Rescue on Fractalus, Archon, Lode Runner, Blue Max, Midnight Magic, Crossbow, Food Fight, Battlezone, Star Raiders II, Flight Simulator II, Missile Command, Blast ’Em.

The new 1200 baud Atari SX-212 modem is barely out and fixes are being passed around for it. Although it does come with a built-in 8-bit SIO cable port to enable you to plug it right into your daisy chain, it is a dead-end (only one port!). Enough of us whined about a separate “adaptor” package for the 8-bit that Atari relented and put the port on. However, SX-Express! from Keith Ledbetter is almost but not quite finished. It is reported that by using the R-Verter Handler available in the public domain, that HomeTerm (and therefore, perhaps Amodem and others) can be made to work.

Express! is a full featured terminal series put out by Keith Ledbetter, now of ICD Corp in Rochester, IL. Many of us consider it the best anywhere, and at the price (free!) it really honks. It comes in three flavors: “850,” “1030,” and “MPP,” one for each major different breed of modem. Version III has been out for the 850-Hayes type modem and interface for over a year, while the 1030/835/XM301 and MPP owners have anxiously awaited “their” new version. Keith finally had time to release the new “1030” Version III...sort of. This fall he released it to Compuserve users only as a “Beta” version, not to be distributed publicly. Naturally, it went everywhere despite his requests. Keith says it is pretty much fine as is, so he is not in any hurry now to release a “final” version, although this writer and many others have been asking for an update for the entire series that would allow the user to send a “break,” a special signal needed for using many mainframe computers from the home. Most users will find the new type-ahead window, CRC XModem, improved DOS selection and SpartaDOS support (to name a few of the many enhancements of Version III) to be worth the long wait. Frankly, if you are using any modem software other than Express!, I can’t understand why. Get it from your local user group now.

Have every program ever written (sorta): As Atari clubs have matured, they have amassed huge stocks of PD library software. At least one, C.H.A.O.S. of Lansing, Michigan, has gone a step beyond the “trades” that many clubs have done for years now. C.H.A.O.S. rents their entire library to any individual or club, a month for $65, your choice of the 400-plus disk side 8-bit library or 100-plus disk ST library. $100 rents both. The rental includes extra copies of their remarkable 40+ page disk catalog, suitable for reworking for any club. This library differs from most club libraries in that it is 100% categorized. Want sports games? See GAMES E1 and E2. Space arcade items, board games, adventures...each set apart and each documented. Or maybe you want a disk full of printer utilities. Or word processors or accessories. Or 40 disks of AMS files...sorted by type of music! Educational, business, printshop, demos, get the idea. The ST library is set up the same, just more to each disk. Says chief club librarian John Baker, “We want this stuff to get into circulation while it still can be used. Our years of effort testing and organizing the library are a huge benefit to clubs or individuals.” John says he stopped doing mass trades a while back “because we’ve seen 98% of everything already, and we threw out all the junky stuff. We probably ditched as much as we saved. We get nothing but raves from the people that rented so far.” The income from the rentals goes to support the club’s investment in hardware to maintain the library and defray expenses in keeping current using PC Pursuit, GEnie, and limited list trades. Contact C.H.A.O.S., P.O. Box 16132, Lansing, MI 48901, or at the C.H.A.O.S. BBS, 517-371-1106.

Whitehouse Computer, a big advertiser in many club newsletter and magazines, has reportedly closed and filed bankruptcy. The Williamsport, PA mail order house specialized in, among other things, Atari software and supplies. Apparently there are over $200,000 worth of claims, and about $20,000 in assets at the closing. If you lost money to Whitehouse, you can expect to hear from the lawyers with a “cents on the dollar...someday” offer.

Alan Reeve made his mark with some nice PD and later Commercial handlers for the now cheap Atari CX85 keypad. Alan also has some other products, and recently announced a complete development system for the 8-bit Atari computers, still under development in his Chicago based company. Diamond will be a complete programming environment similar in operation to GEM on the ST. Although this has been tried by a few programmers before (RE: GOS, the Zobian Rat, etc.), no equivalent to the C-64 GEOS has yet really arrived. Diamond may be the first. Designed to fully use the expanded memory Atari (either the 130XE or any upgraded machine), it will include windows and icons, alert boxes and mouse support addressable from any language or application software. Included are to be Diamond Write, Diamond Draw, Diamond Publish, and a plethora of desk accessories. Release date is hazy...something we Atarians are used to by now.

Optimized Systems Software (OSS) has a new Toolkit for BASIC XL, adding all the power of BASIC XE except the Extended Program Area. The new extensions file for BASIC XL will include those amazing add-ons like Sortup and Sortdown, to name a few. By the way, OSS also says no runtime package for BASIC XE will be released, so don’t expect too many “extended” PD gems to surface. Other OSS news: The MAC65, considered by many to be the finest macro-assembler system for the Atari ever made, went out of production in 1987. Reports were that the contract with the author expired, and that OSS didn’t think there was enough potential sales left for the machine-language programming cartridge to merit the relicensing costs demanded by the MAC65 programmers. OSS had a fire sale to get rid of what they had left, and its over for MAC65. Let’s hope that it resurfaces through some other several other companies have made interesting new languages that utilize the cart. I may have more about one of them in an upcoming look out for MAC65 carts used or marked down at dealers... while you still can.

Barcode equipment for the 8-bit Atari has long been asked for, and is here from Xenia Research in Washington. For $179, you get the barcode reader and software that lets it imitate keystrokes to the K: handler in any 800, XL, or XE. Also included is the barprint software, point-of-sale and other application software, and complete documentation for adapting your own software in just about any language or DOS. It plugs into joystick port 1. It may sound a little expensive, but barcode wands for any machine are regularly over $100 without software. This might be the ideal thing for cheap automation of small business counter jobs. Contact Xenia, Box 4675, Federal Way, WA 98003; (206) 927-7018.

National Review magazine, July 3, 1987: “Soviet fad for personal computers is wearing off. Problems: the machines are lousy, and the Soviets forgot to make software. Exception: Chess champ Gary Kasparov donated 26 Atari 130s to the Kompyuter youth club.” Can anybody figure out how to follow up and see if the Iron Curtain will pass PD Software?

That’s it for this month (if I’m here!) I plan a summary of self-help hardware hints. Keep the faith, 8-bit users, and let us know you are out there! •


Note And Point—Atari 8-Bit News And Comment

by John Nagy

Comdex and CES—both have been exciting trade shows for Atari fans for many years. This year was, well, clearly not for 8-bit Atari fans. Lots of new productivity and entertainment software was shown for ST, but only a smattering of Game-Only software for the 8-bit.

The Spring Comdex is the business oriented Computer Dealers Exposition, held in May in Atlanta. No new Atari hardware was shown—by Atari anyway, although some hot ST products were shown by third-party developers. Nothing for the 8-bit.

Spring’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Chicago in June showed outstanding game machine support, with walls of 2600, 7800, and XE Game Systems. Lots of games—and only a couple of ST machines in the whole booth complex. But the Atari focus outside the Atari exhibit at third party developers was really ST, ST, and more ST. No apologies or sneers this year, either. Although the Amiga was perhaps shown at more booths, everybody has new games for the ST. And some, even for the XE Game System (now that 8-bits aren’t computers anymore!).

Atari Corp. is, if you haven’t heard, now split into two: the Atari Entertainment Electronics Division, with Michael Katz as president (this is where any residual 8-bit support will lie, as well as gaming support for the ST); and the Atari Computer Division with President Chuck Babbitt (here’s where the business and productivity stuff will be). The entertainment division is planning to spend large amounts of money nationwide on advertising their video game systems—while the computer side has said that they will spend all of their TV money on targeted cable ads.

Meanwhile at the stock exchange—Atari has maintained a $7 to $8 plus price for several months of very active trading—active enough to make the top-five list in the American Exchange quite frequently lately. Earnings and profits were announced for ’87-’88, and they are remarkably similar to the previous year, if you don’t look at losses in the Federated department store chain, bought by Atari last year. Actually, that means things are pretty good, since the previous year’s figures were inflated through a change in accounting procedures—and since Federated hopes to be showing profits by this fall.

By the way, Federated is not the same Federated that was being bought out by Macy’s of New York—that was an unrelated “Federated Department Stores,” whereas Atari owns “The Federated Group.” Lots of club publications were speculating on this one, but its a different company altogether.

Atari does intend to make their Westcoast-only Federated Electronics stores into “real” computer outlets, with competent staff and support, not a “cut-rate” operation. And more than just Ataris will be sold in them. Meanwhile, the mail-order folks are definitely getting the axe for computer distribution (so where will the rest of us find them?).

Hard to believe, but true: Spinnaker’s Newsroom program for the Atari 8-bit, so long asked for and awaited, won’t work using a real 850 Atari printer interface! It will work using almost anything else—and the company has assured us that they will try to find a solution “as soon as they can get an 850 from somewhere to test it.” Yikes. Buyers can get a refund if they can’t wait. Other reasons to consider other newspaper-layout programs include Newsroom’s inability to import graphics or text from any other source.

Congratulations to Ron Kovacs who has produced ZMagazine, a weekly electronic Atari newsletter for BBS distribution for two years now. Often the content of ZMag has bristled the hair on Atari and other corporate groups, but the consistency and professionalism Ron has upheld (at his own non-profit expense!) has paid off. CompuServe, at one time at serious odds with Ron over the inclusion of information about other telecom service vendors, has finally even made a special Download Library just for ZMag. The same has now happened on Delphi, and GEnie even has a special MESSAGE/SIG area in the Atari Roundtable for Ron and his fine product. ZMag-ST (now edited by others but under Ron’s guidance) joined the ranks with the original ZMag (which now focuses on 8-bit news), and year #3 looks bright. Keep it up, Ron!

Speaking of GEnie, where Atari is big stuff, our own Computer Shopper has its own SIG there now. Move to Computer Shopper to look around. I hope we can make arrangements to post any Atari public domain programs discussed here in my columns available in Computer Shopper SIG, even if they are duplicated in the Atari SIG. This would make them more accessible and easier to find for our readers. Maybe post them for a couple months and then clear them out? Jeff Brenner (Applying The Atari) may be also interested in posting some of his items there. Stay tuned.

Public Domain Releases

I can’t begin to tell you about all the goodies that are newly available for our 8-bit Ataris, but several are particularly exciting right now.

AlfCrunch—Not a way to smash furry aliens, this is finally a better file compactor than ARC (Archive). For about a year, ARC (programmed for the 8-bit Atari by Ralph Walden) has been the protocol of choice for “making little ones out of big ones,” because it would:

1) (Fairly) reliably take multiple files of your choice and make them all into one file for later extraction, with filenames as in the original.

2) Save as much as 50 % in total file size over the originals.

3) Use the same format as the IBM and ST Archive, allowing interchange between machines.

The reduced size and recovery of the original filenames is very important to users of modems to transfer files, and also has application for backing up your important files in a minimum of disk space. The down side of ARC has been occasional “CRC CHECKSUM?” errors making the output files not match the input, a buggy user interface on the 8-bit ARC and UN-ARC programs that can cause lots of lost time and effort, and the slow performance of ARC on our 8-bit Atari.

AlfCrunch, by Alfred of the Programmer’s Aid BBS (416) 465-4182, provides a remarkable alternative to ARC. I don’t know how it works—but it works great! Distributed on most of the telecom services and BBSs by now, get it quick. Alfred, whoever he is, doesn’t even call this work “Shareware” or ask for donations—although few have been more deserving.

When I first tested AlfCrunch to compact a list of files, I was certain that it had errored out or was somehow “faking it,” since it was done in 30 seconds! The same list later took almost 4 minutes to ARC. It was even faster UnAlfing (?) the compacted file—only about 20 seconds! De-ARCing its mate took over 3 minutes. And the bottom line: ARC saved 26% compared to the total of the original file sizes, while AlfCrunch saved 45%! Yikes! AlfCrunch is actually faster than the ARC used on an IBM or ST! (How long before Alfred makes a version for the other machines?)

I could not coax AlfCrunch into making any errors of its own—and the documentation that comes with it is very thorough. It will pass parameters on the SpartaDOS command line, or run in a full prompt mode on any DOS, even with BASIC enabled. Amazing.

The output file from AlfCrunch (Version 1.2 and higher) can also be viewed with any of the many ARC-VIEW programs floating around on the BBS circuit, allowing the file contents and restored sizes to be examined without processing the file to a disk. Although the main reason for the popularity of VIEWERS was that ARC took so long to run, AlfCrunch users will still appreciate the ability to peek into their stored files.

So, AlfCrunch solves all of the problems of ARC except the compatibility with other type computers. As a result, I can only see two cases that would make you choose to use any other compaction method: 1) When you know your file must be later read by machines other than your 8-bit Atari, continue to use ARC; 2) When you must transfer a boot disk or a DOS, use DISKCOM. (DISKCOM by Robert Puff, now in Version 3.2 or higher, is very friendly, fast, and reliable, but does nothing to reduce the overall size of the files. What it excels at is making a file which can later by restored to be identical (byte for byte, sector for sector) to the original disk. Scrunch was once a popular format for this same purpose, but Robert’s rapid-fire improvements to DISKCOM, plus its ability to make double and enhanced-density (Ick!) disks have made it the clear program of choice.)

DETERM—A new terminal to compete in the Express! dominated telecommunications market. This one, by Jim Dillow, offers a few interesting features—the most notable one, a built-in Breakout game, playable even while online or downloading files!

So far, only a Beta version for testing is available, and only on CompuServe. The author has asked that the program not be distributed via BBSs, at least for now. I don’t know why—other than such a request typically results in lightning-like distribution. It is shareware, and satisfied users are asked to send money, ideas, and critiques.

At this point, R: driven modem systems (850 interface-type and maybe XM301/1030 modems) are supported. Also, MODEM.BAT files are supported for sending commands at bootup to your modem. Other functions are pretty conventional for a good terminal (macros, phone lists, etc.), plus there is support for easing some of the PC-Pursuit command entry confusion for subscribers to that service.

How is it? Well, after my initial playing with it, it moved to the back of my stack of disks. Although the program is generally capable, the menus are hard to get used to, and the overall feel is not as consistent as in Keith Ledbetter’s Express!. Plus, the Xmodem is slower than any other term program I have used lately (although not much slower). The advantage of the game is debatable. Some users will love the diversion. I found it not especially smooth or enjoyable, but I never have been an arcade fanatic. Overall, DETERM is worth trying out and may get better in final release form. Till then, I recommend Express!, or AMODEM 7.5 or whatever it’s up to now. (Next time I will have had a look at another program called PCPTERM that purports to make the use of PC Pursuit almost easy.)

Signmaker 1.3—Jeff Colehour impressed us with Signmaker, reviewed briefly in an earlier column. Version 1.3 goes further to debug and simplify the use of this shareware program. Basically an alternative to Printshop, Signmaker allows the use of any two Printshop format icons and any combination of any three normal Atari fonts in any of four sizes, all on the same page. Inverse and control graphic characters can also be used in the sign. Text can be imported from normal word processor files, and can be automatically centered. The biggest change in the new version is the View Sign feature. Although it must first save the sign data to a disk (and it takes a whole disk!), this lets you examine the final product before printing, as well as saving it for later use. If you save it to RAMdisk, the process is very fast, so viewing need not be a painfully long experience on an extended memory computer.

Although Signmaker can’t touch Printshop for ease of use or polish, it offers some power to make signs that even Printshop can’t do, like making full page printouts of graphics from ATASCII BBS cartoons. Check this one out.

PS Utilities 1.0—Rich Spencer has put several useful features into one package, written in Action!. It accomplishes the hard-to-live-without functions of Renaming, Copying, and Deleting Printshop format icons. It also allows conversion of MicroPainter (Koala/Touch Tablet) format files into icons (and back!). Although these features are available (one at a time) via the commercial Printshop Companion plus various other PD programs, this is a nice package for serious Printshop users. The good documentation ends with some very useful information about the innards of a Printshop disk, and asks for input for future versions.

POSDEMO—Hold on to your seat for an 800 + sector download of Xenia Research’s Point of Sale demo. Get it on GEnie or other telecom services. Although it is a demo of a commercial product, this demo is worth its weight in RAM chips if you want to show off your 8-bit system. It requires that you DISKCOM the file onto a double density disk, and when it runs, it shows many functions of a store inventory, sales, receipt, ordering, and salesperson reporting system. Barcodes are printed and read, documents and reports stream out of the printer, the display shows finely designed “SYNFILE” looking screens for input and output. This system is expected to sell for well under $200 including the Barcode reader (!!) and can network several sales locations for interdependent operation. It should be available for sale by the time your read this. Best Electronics of San Jose, CA and Butlers Computers in Federal Way, WA will have supplies of POS NET. Yes, I’m very impressed. This large, detailed, self-running demo will live on-screen at any future computer shows, showing what the 8-bit Atari can do when not gobbling ghosts! •


Note And Point—Atari 8-Bit News And Comment

by John Nagy

Longtime Atari spokesman Neil Harris has resigned. After many years with the Tramiels—first in Commodore and then Atari—Neil has left to take a high position with GEnie Telecommunication Services.

Neil Harris carried the brunt of “Atari Bashing” for the last several years, usually due to promises, timetables, and products that never materialized. What made him even more a target was his penchant for taking a personal attack angle against those who questioned too hard or wanted too much from the company that makes the computer they love.

There are conflicts, as always, in the stories of Mr. Harris’s trip thru the (very popular) out-box of Atari. Whatever the reasons, the communication problem at Atari is far from over. In what was billed as an International Presidential Convention, CompuServe (a telecommunications service for computerists for all brands) had a live conference with Sam Tramiel, chief executive officer of Atari Corp. It was held online at 9 pm EST on October 3. And it was awful. Some good and wide questions were asked, and were either avoided completely or narrowed to a yes/no answer. Others were at least interesting. Most of the comments and questions were about the ST series computer, and you can read more about those (as well as more about Neil Harris’s departure) in the “ST News” column, elsewhere in this issue of Computer Shopper. Here’s one of the only comments about the 8-bit line:

Q: “Mr. Tramiel—I would like to know what future plans Atari has for the 8-bit line of machines, the best made on the market?”

Sam: “We agree that the Atari 8-bit line is the best available. However, the U.S. market seems to want more powerful machines. We are selling many tens of thousands of the XE/XL line in Europe, and in the middle east, and in Latin America. We are trying to push the XE Game System in the U.S., as a computer and a game for the same price as the Nintendo, with an exercise mat (i.e. $149). By the way, there is now a fifty dollar rebate on the XE Game machine.”

Overall, the “event” was a big disappointment to anyone who expected real information or real dialog. Atari does not seem to be listening to the domestic computer market or users. Sam Tramiel was not prepard to talk about anything of substance, and clearly was not taking any input. I don’t see why the convention occurred at all.

Echoing a common feeling of frustration with the Atari business ethic, several readers have written to me in response to my article outlining Atari’s request for more help in support and promotion from User Groups. One in particular summed up much of the mood. The writer asked not to have his name printed. Here’s a few excerpts of a long and thoughtful letter from a concerned and mature user.

“More than 10 years ago I became a Commodore dealer. It was required that I put XXX dollars up front for my initial inventory—to become “authorized.” Commodore shipments did not start up until more than three months later and were strung out over a 2 or 3 month period. It seems they were “changing distributors.”

Factory representation to the dealer was nil. The attitude of Commodore was terrible. Personnel changes were constant and you could never call the factory and establish continuity with anyone in the department.

What Tramiel did not know was that at one time he could have owned the entire personal computer industry if he had treated his dealers halfway fairly. He had a good computer and good software support. He lost it all to Apple.

About 5 years ago I sold my computer business and moved to Florida in retirement. I saw this account of the Atari 520ST—bought the works and loved it. I was ready to become an Atari dealer!

Then I began to see the same syndrome setting in—Atari was going to be sold only by discount houses. Atari was only going to be sold by mail-order houses. People were being fired. No user could contact the factory. Please don’t bother us. Talk to your local Atari dealer. The entire charade was and is a replay of the Commodore charade.

So I bought an XT clone system. Plenty of software? Wow! Sure—the XT isn’t the machine the ST is, but under the circumstances, who cares? Not me.”

While this letter obviously presents the opinion of one person, most of us hear the ring of familiar truth in his letter. What this man’s experience suggests is that the current Atari problems are not the result of market pressures, not the fault of Japanese chip price manipulation, and not going to be resolved by any user group participation. He believes that Atari needs to look at its business policies and personnel practices. How many of us are ready to challenge those assesments?

In other news. The Glendale Atarifest (V.3), held in September in southern California, was apparently less dramatic than expected, but still a success.

Interest in 8-bit attendees was sparked by the actual release of the nearly 3 year awaited SpartaDOS X cart from ICD/OSS Inc. They sold them with copy-machine documentation, but the product looks good—I hope to be able to do a full review for you soon.

Also shown for the 8-bit were both of the still competing Graphic Operating Environments for the 8-bit Atari. GOE from Total Control Systems (formerly called ST Jr. by its former marketer, Merrill Ward), and Diamond (also now called ST Jr. by its new marketer, USA Media—a new name for a part of Merrill Ward) both were demonstrated. Neither were ready for final release. (See related story in this issue of Computer Shopper.)

Absent were any Tramiels, Data Pacific, and Antic, to name a few. Sig Hartmann (who, it appears, is standing in for Neil Harris these days in the PR areas) was on hand to refuse comment on new unannounced products and remind us that 1989 would be a critical year for Atari.

In 8-bit Emulator news, Darek Mihocka has more developments on his ST Transformer for emulating the Atari 8-bit machines on an ST. Although speed is still only about half of that of a “real” 8-bit machine, it continues to become more versatile. Darek is now offering a cable that will allow you to use an Atari 8-bit disk drive on an ST for normal storage use. Plus, you can directly run 8-bit programs on your ST (even commercial ones with some types of copy protection!) directly off the original disk using your normal Atari 1050 or similar drive. Pricing varies with your status as a registered ST Transformer owner, but the entire kit with the Emulator, manual, and registration, Transfer software, and Cable runs $40 ($45 Canadian) plus $3 shipping. You’ll be eligible for free updates. Send to: Darek Mihocka, 310-D Bluevale Street North, Waterloo, Ontario N2J4G3 Canada.

Online magazines ZMagazine and ST-Report have become a fixture on many BBS’s around the country. Each week, the two Atari dedicated news and review publication are networked across the USA and even Europe from the New Jersey headquarters. Ron Kovacs, the publisher for almost three years now, still does it for free. How? I wish I knew. Why? Because he thinks somebody should do it. Although some commercial mentions are made in the “magazines” which can be read online or downloaded for printing from hundreds of BBSs worldwide (!), Ron has preferred to make the “sponsors” offer a discount “coupon” to the buyers rather than pay for space. Club newsletters everywhere reprint and submit material for use, and the ZMagazine and ST-Report reputation for speed and accuracy is as secure as its reputation for outspokenness and controversy. It makes good reading, and you can’t beat the price. Ron is trying to determine just where and how readers are finding their copy of his products. If you read either ZMagazine or ST-Report on a local BBS, and particularly if you redistribute it, leave a message for the Sysop there to pass along to wherever he gets it. If everyone passes all the info up, and those who get it from the large national services (CompuServe, GEnie, DELPHI, The Source, F-NET) post their info in the ZMagazine/ST-Report message areas there, Ron won’t have to wonder anymore. And, with proof of distribution, the deals that Ron can muster out of his “advertisers” can only get better. Please help! And if your area BBS doesn’t carry ZMagazine or ST-Report, ask for it—or call the major services or Ron’s BBS—The Syndicate—at 201-968-8148. You can write to Ron at American Publishing Enterprises, Inc., PO Box 74, Middlesex, New Jersey 08846-0074.

Hot New Public Domain Software

Quite a while ago, Bob Puff made his mark in Atari software with his still-improving Disk-Com storage and file transfer utility. Now, Bob has tackled another format of file storage: the Archive. As I reported a few months back, a new utility called Alfcrunch was a terriffic advancement over the horribly slow and sometimes buggy ARC programs we had until then. Alfcrunch allowed crunching lots of files together into a single, much more compact file for later extraction, like ARC. But much faster. The only problem was lost compatibility with ST and IBM versions of ARC. Well, Bob has out crunched ALF.

Superarc and Superunarc are a pair of new utilities that Bob Puff has released to the public domain. They do just about anything one could ask for in file compaction. You can extract just a single file from an ARC, you can view the files in the ARC, encrypt an ARC with a password that must be supplied in order to undo the ARC, and even un-ALF ALFED files—all even faster than Alfcrunch did it. It is even a joy to watch in action, with full prompting and optional parameter passing for SpartaDOS users. I could say a lot more, but just get these files and see for yourself. Dare I say it: File storage can’t get better than Superarc and Superunarc. OK, then prove me wrong, I’ll love it. Look for these on your local bulletin boards, in your Club Libraries, and on the major telecom services. And send Bob something nice to say thanks!

To update a previous report, Don Davis’s Atari View 8, a GIF (Graphics Interchange Format) viewer, has been revised. Now in version 2.0, it is twice as fast, has better color simulations, and some new commands and options. As before, the viewer that many said couldn’t be done is available free from BBSs and telecom services everywhere. It allows the pictures that are now being passed between Macintosh, Amiga, ST, IBM, etc, to be used on the Atari 8-bit as well. The GIF format allows zoom-ins, multi-colors, and standardization among the “upper rank” computers. We always knew the Atari 8-bit was on the rank too. Thanks, Don. Good luck on the encoder program!

Next month I hope to have an update on the Turbo 816 16-bit CPU upgrade for the Atari 8-bit computers. Also, further word on Diamond and more PD software reviews. Be sure to read more Atari in the “ST News And Comment” elsewhere in this issue of Computer Shopper! There’s too much for just one article! •



by John Nagy

In my hot little hands at this moment is a Diamond. Alan Reeve, developer of the Diamond Graphic Operating System, sent me one of the first 50 test production carts before shipping in January. It is in one of ICD Inc.’s “stacking” carts and Alan is still optimizing the system as I write. Also called ST Jr. because of the intention to emulate the operation of the ST GEM desktop and environment, the Diamond Cart will be in full distribution before you read this. I won’t do a full review until next month as I have not received the manual or programmers guide yet, and the fullest appreciation of Diamond will only come after doing some programming in the graphics environment.

My first impressions are very positive. The cart is, of course, an instant load 64K prom, and the mouse handling is dead perfect even during disk access. Windows are slower than the ST but faster than the disk versions of Diamond, and all DOSs seem well supported, including SpartaDOS and SpartaDOS-X (the cart). Full file time stamping is included, contrary to some reviews you may have seen that were entirely based on the disk Diamond, which has been on the market for several months. Shelly Merrill, president of USA Media who is marketing Diamond, told me that the disk version will continue to be updated and will be available as an alternative to the cart, and stresses that applications to be released will be usable by disk owners. Nevertheless, the cart allows far more speed and versatility, not to mention a lot less computer memory being tied up. The disk continues at $29.95, while the cart (with programmers and utility kit) is $79.95. Upgrading from disk to cart is now only $30, which brings disk users end cost down to $59.95. I’ll have more to say about the performance of Diamond next month. USA Media, Route 2 Box 41, California, Maryland 20619; 301-863-8369.

And what of GOE, Total Control Systems similar desktop cart? Developer Davis Sullivan has been promising it out-the-door for over a month at this writing, but no finished product is available as yet. Unless David can get GOE to market quickly, Diamond may become the “standard” by default.

The other drum I’ve been beating here for months now is the Turbo 816 processor upgrade from DataQue. Beta units were finally distributed, and comments are only beginning to come in. Part of the delays in the project are the continuing talks with Atari. Many possible deals are in the hat, including a $1,000 lump-sum payment by DataQue for a one-time permission to disassemble and examine the Atari operating system ROM. DataQue’s Chuck Steinman says that is unacceptable, and it suggests that Atari does not even have a commented source code listing of their own operating system. Another possible deal would give Chuck the information he needs to verify full compatibility with the 6502 8-bit processor and system in our Ataris and give DataQue full rights to upgrade hardware and software, while Atari Corp would gain all original equipment production rights to Chuck’s 65C816 16-bit processor design. What that “might” mean is that Atari could make a small redesign of their XEGS, and enter a new machine on the market. The speed and power of the 16-bit processor, coupled with a new graphics mode or two, could easily compete with or surpass the flashy offerings of Nintendo and Sega in the video game market, plus make the Atari “low and computer” superior to any 8-bit unit on the market. Will it happen? I doubt it, as Atari seems most interested in pushing straight sales out of its game and 8-bit lines, and doing all their R&D in the ST line. In any case, when there is more to report on the Turbo 816, you know you will see it here in Computer Shopper.

What else is happening at Atari with their 8-bit line? Well, we all have been hearing about ADOS for what seems to be years now, and as you may know, the name has been changed to DOS XE since ADOS is already a licensed name by other manufacturers. DOS XE also expresses the heritage of the project—it is programmed by the original makers of DOS XL, by OSS Inc. Since OSS has been bought by ICD, Inc. makers of SpartaDOS, the competing Atari backed DOS XE project is not fondly anticipated in those quarters. The main purpose for DOS XE is to allow users of the new XF551 disk drives to use true double density and write to both sides of the disk, as DOS 2.x is a single side, single density (OK, fake “dual” density too) affair. Although still not available, DOS XE looks to be about as good as SpartaDOS, which already can handle multiple disk formats, but DOS XE is incompatible with SpartaDOS disks. As it appears that Atari will be selling DOS XE rather than distributing it in the public domain, I can’t see any reason to recommend it over the long established standard of SpartaDOS. However, both Diamond and GOE have been specially designed to operate under DOS XE, so you won’t have to worry if you get the new Atari system which may show up for market at any moment.

An aside about the XF551 disk drive you can indeed read and write to the back of a disk, you just can’t format the back in single-side mode. That little hole next to the main hub hole in the disk? The drive must be able to see through that hole or it won’t allow a format. Some disks have two holes—these will work fine on either side.

Compatibility is one of Pete Dominguez’s goals. Last month I mentioned the US-Doubler emulation program for Happy drive owners that Pete developed. I am glad to say that the trouble I experienced using his program “USMULATR” on my Happy drive and MIO box were due to a flaw in my copy of the program. As Pete promised, I can read and write in the high speed of SpartaDOS just as though I had ICD’s US Doubler in my 1050. The Doubler upgrade from ICD allows double density and high speed I/O, as does the Happy upgrade. Until now, the systems often feuded, forcing users to do without some functions. Thanks, Pete, for putting out your program in the public domain for all to use.

Talking about carts again, the long-established leader in telecommunications software for the 8-bit Atari, Express!, will be released this summer on a cart! Keith Ledbetter, author of the popular series of programs and now running his own Orion Microsystems company, promises lots of additional functions and power over his earlier public domain offerings. Details are very sketchy so far, but I know that Keith has been talking to Alan Reeve, so it is possible that some mouse and/or Diamond interface may be usable in the next generation of Express! software.

While we talk about telecommunications (don’t we always?), last month I again mentioned Ron Kovac’s ZMagazine, a free weekly Atari newsletter available online just about everywhere. Contrary to the information at that time, ZMagazine will not be adding significant ST coverage to its largely 8-bit focus. Due to pressures from some less than open minded ST users who don’t wish to know anything about our 8-bit machines, Ron has created ST-ZMAG as an all ST counterpart to ZMag. Look for both of them online at your favorite service or BBS, plus a new user group news service Ron will detail for us shortly.

Speaking of online, for $25 a month, a service of Telenet (Sprint) called PC-Pursuit allowed users to connect for unlimited off business hours to 34 major cities coast-to-coast. Effective in February, PC-Pursuit raised their rates and placed a cap on the flat-rate use. Now, $30 gets 30 hours of non-prime use each month, plus $4.50 an hour thereafter, still cheaper than any direct phone-company alternative. The initial registration has also risen to $30. While this is the first price hike in the three years of operation, many users are displeased with the quality of service, and were surprised to hear that announced plans for ’89 do not include beefing up of the overtaxed outdial units despite the rate change. The new pricing may be an action catalyst for some longtime subscribers who were nearly fed up already. Those who remain may find the lines clearer. Telenet, 12490 Sunrise Valley Drive, Reston, VA 22096, 1-800-835-3638.

Modem self-help: Did you know that the Polarity of your phone line can affect your 1030 and XM301 modems? Yes, the ability to pick up the line or to sense a ring condition can be inhibited by a backwards-wired phone jack, although it makes no difference to a phone. If you have trouble, try a different jack, or reverse your wires at the wall plug. More: most 1030 modem failures are due ONLY to power supply failure. Find any 9 volt AC power supply (actually anything from 7 to 12 volts will work) and replace the plug. Polarity is not an issue as the supply must be AC, not DC. If all you can find cheaply is a DC supply, you can go inside the supply and bypass the diodes and filter, taking your power right from the output of the transformer. The 300 baud modems aren’t worth a lot anymore, but a $5 repair can’t be beat.

Still more: the Atari SX212 1200 baud modem is a wonderful buy at under $100, but it has no dip switches. Thus, some of the functions and presets you are offered on most modems are not available except through software switching. While this is not typically a huge drawback and is more than balanced by the 8-bit and ST built in interfaces, if you want switches, switches you can have. Open the modem (after warranty, naturally!) and look for a place on the circuit board where a standard 8-switch dip socket switch “should” be. You will find a place where, after removing a couple “permanent switch” jumpers, a $1 Radio Shack switch can be soldered right in. Once done, a small amount of experimenting will reveal all the switch functions (or refer to any standard modem manual that covers switch settings).

A last user hint for transferring data between an 8-bit Atari and any other computer when all you have is your 1030 or XM301 modem and another modem for the other computer. It would be easy if the computers were in different houses, with ability to call each other and transfer normally. But what about when they are side by side? You may have heard of “null modem cables,” but those require an RS232 interface you don’t have—aarrg. Try this, connect both computers and modems to the same phone line. They won’t let you connect if the line isn’t active. Pick up the phone and dial a partial number. Before the recording comes on, tell one computer to originate a call, and the other to answer. They will connect, and at 300 baud, they will ignore the nasty beeping that will soon come on line.

That’s all for this month. Be sure to read more Atari news in the ST section of Computer Shopper! •



by John Nagy

More positive news for Atari 8-bit owners is on hand this month. Included are several ways to access the Atari ST features and, in fact the ST itself.

The 8-bit-to-ST gap is being breached by a new offer from Atari Corp. Registered Atari user groups have been mailed coupons for the use of their members only. Show any authorized Atari dealer the coupon and a serial number off of any Atari 8-bit computer, and you will get an additional $150 off of your best deal on the newly available 1040STFM. This computer features the built-in disk drive plus the RF modulator needed if using a TV for a monitor. While this does not give nearly the picture quality of an ST monitor, it is sharp enough for games and some text work. The 1040STFM was just recently approved for sale in the U.S. by the FCC, and the first are being offered to 8-bit users via this limited offer. If you aren’t part of a user group, join one! If you can’t locate one in your area, contact Atari’s user group coordinator, Cindy Claveran, at (408) 745-2000. While I would never suggest that any 8-bit user should abandon their capable machine, I cannot stress strongly enough that the ST is indeed far more capable. Consider it if your 8-bit is at the edge of your satisfaction curve.

For those users who do get an ST, remember that the ST-XFormer is available to you in shareware. Darek Mihocka’s remarkable 8-bit emulator for the ST will allow you to run much of your old 8-bit software, even right off your 8-bit disk drive. Porting data to the ST has gotten super easy through the use of Darek’s new cable that allows using the 1050 and other 8-bit drives directly on the ST machines. The cable is available either by making your own (see plans in February Computer Shopper) or by ordering it from Innovative Concepts, the exclusive U.S. manufacturer. Cables are under $25 at 31172 Shawn Drive, Warren, MI 48093; (313) 293-0730. ST-XFormer software is available via CompuServe, GEnie, and countless BBSs worldwide. As shareware, please register your copy if you use it, and send Darek some money for his fine and continuing effort. A new version of the XFormer will be available shortly that will be even more powerful and faster. It will be available only to registered users.

Meanwhile, the software outlook for the 8-bit looks better this month since Diamond is officially available on cart in a very thorough ST-like operating system. I just received the production version of the cart to replace my beta copy, and it is faster and better than I had even hoped. Diamond gives the look, feel, and power of the ST desktop and GEM operating system to the 8-bit user. It uses an ST mouse or virtually any other input device to drag, click, move, and otherwise operate a window system that makes most users never want to go back to the keyboard. I will have a full review shortly, sorry for not having it this month. I wanted to wait for the “real” ROM chip, and the wait has paid off. Diamond (the stackable cart) is being shipped with a capable art package called Diamond Paint plus the programmer’s kit, all for $79.95 retail. Expect it to show up at dealers eventually, but order now from USA Media, Rt. 2, Box 42, North Patuxent Beach Road, California, MD 20619; (301) 863-8369.

Not available yet for even preliminary comment are the GOE cart, to be offered by Total Control Systems, and the Turbo 816 upgrade unit for the XL/XE computers. Since the ads for GOE, a very similar Graphic Operating Environment to that of Diamond, have begun to appear in many publications, we must assume that it is very close to being available. Maybe I will have good news on both of these products next month as well.

Another ST-to-8-bit link in the news is MIDI-Maze. Xanth, the folks who brought you some wonderful demos through the years, are developing MIDI-Maze for the 8-bit Atari. This single or multi player game can link 16 players in a maze-shoot-em-up that has been an ST favorite for a couple of years. The new 8-bit version will allow ST and 8-bit computers to play this game in any combination, a big boon to tournament fanatics. Look for this product to be available this summer.

OK, what about “straight” 8-bit software, without the ST leanings? Word of an “XL/XE Developer’s Kit” has come from an Atari representative. It is supposed to be available at last (after how many years now?) for assistance to software developers, direct from Atari.

DOS XE has been released by Atari, and copies have been sent to user groups for distribution to their members. However, the single manual may not be duplicated for members, nor summarized for distribution, nor can DOS XE be legitimately put on BBS systems for phone transfers. Atari will sell anyone a copy with the large (over 100 page) manual for $13.50 each. Comments on the new DOS will be in next month’s column. Short analysis: Don’t give up your SpartaDOS.

Speaking of SpartaDOS, the manual for SpartaDOS X (the cart) has been finished and has shipped to registered owners. Rumors of the X cart fouling some files, trouble with ATR8000 units, and inability to access 80-track drives are being addressed presently, and definitive answers may be available. Meanwhile, the DOS-On-A-Cart remains a powerful if pricey ($79.95) option. ICD Inc., 1220 Rock Street, Rockford, IL 61101-1437; (815) 968-2228.

Other software announcements include a couple of terminal programs. Keith Ledbetter, author of the wonderful Express! programs, is developing a Cart based (stackable—again!) program that will give the power of sophisticated ST and IBM programs to the 8-bit machine. Using a 64K bank switching ROM, drop-down menus, access to expanded memory, drivers for all modems, and up to 9600 baud, expect remarkable things from this product. Advance orders are being taken by Keith’s Orion Systems for $10 off the final (June) price of $69.95. Call for information at (804) 794-9437, or mail to Orion Micro Systems, Attn: Express! Cartridge, 2211 Planters Row Drive, Midlothian, VA 23113.

Another terminal project is being developed by Bob Puff and Canada’s Alfred, both well-known for their ARC and ALF compaction programs. While I have no specific info yet, this one should be mighty interesting too, and might be shareware.

Thanks for all the letters and requests for CompuServe signup kits. The kits were offered by Atari area manager Ron Luks for readers of this column and of ZMagazine. He was so pleased with the number of new users his $15 free time and signup offer generated, he has extended the offer until further notice. Just drop a-line to ZMagazine at the address shown in the Z*Net information, and ask for a kit. Tell us how you like Computer Shopper’s Atari coverage while you are at it! I have enjoyed reading your letters and hope to be able to respond to your requests for coverage in the future.

Also in the mail this month were a few responses to my comments asking for help in locating and “liberating” older programs whose publishers had either folded or quit distribution. Brett Bensley, of Bensley Consulting, wrote in part, “I have heard more comments from Atari owners that they wish more software was being produced. We have produced educational and other software for other computers (Apple II series, MSDOS, and other systems) so we decided to produce our programs for the Atari. To our surprise, we get less response from the Atari users, so please consider this: there may be many small organizations producing software for the Atari 8-bit computers that have the potential to become famous software manufacturers but will never reach that potential because the Atari community is so fixed on getting the famous companies to produce their [other] software for Atari.” Brett included two sample programs for the 8-bit Atari, “Happy’s Programs Math” and “Happy’s Programs Astronauts.” They both carry a $19.95 list price. Sadly, I cannot predict that Bensley will become a famous company via these two offerings. The Math is the far better of the two, featuring a bit of color, selectable levels and functions for drills in the four basic math functions. Division and multiplication have options to require the user to show his work, and will correct their work as well as provide error cues. Its major fault is the same as Astronauts’, that it is a flat all-text presentation. Even public domain educational programs often have colorful and well-done graphics, with music and other attention-holding features, but these are absent in these commercial offerings. Astronauts is doubly bad in that it adds a boring and questionable value subject matter: how many times can you stand to be asked to identify the mission number after being told the names of a NASA flight crew? That’s as far as Astronauts ever gets. Using the joystick to pick the Graphics #0 text choices helps very little, as does the crude basic rocket that appears briefly after a right answer.

Brett’s letter finished, “I do hope that all past, current, and future software producers are given the needed support from the users, manufacturers, and media, that is required to keep the software flowing for the Atari 8-bit computers.” I wholly agree, but that doesn’t mean we need to embrace inadequate products. Math might be of interest, and Bensley may have other Atari offerings that merit interest. Contact them at Box 301, 217 West Walnut, Westfield, IL 62474, or by phone at (217) 967-5465.

That will have to do for this month, the next few should be exciting! Don’t miss the other Atari information in this and future issues of Computer Shopper. •



by John Nagy

There frankly isn’t a lot of “news” for 8-bit Atari owners this month. The “hot” topics are all basically unchanged from last month. GOE and TURBO 816 are both unreleased. So, I’ll use this break to review the Diamond cart in more detail.

First, a few items. The 28,000 square foot World of Atari show scheduled for April 22-23 in the Disneyland Hotel (Anaheim, California) is shaping up to be “the” event of the Atari year. See Atari ST for more details on the show.

Alan Reeve began plans for an 8-bit Atari “desktop” to match that of the ST and Macintosh over two years ago. He had dropped the plans, but started again about a year ago after Computer Shopper readers encouraged him to continue. By fall 1988, he had a disk version of Diamond available for sale, and although it was limited in what it could do, it was the most innovative and promising product for the 8-bit Atari since the MIO box (external RAMdisk/printer interface/modem interface/hard drive interface from ICD Inc.). In mid winter, Alan released his stackable cart version of Diamond, and it is a pleasure to use a mouse with such ease on the 8-bit.

Some reviews have panned Diamond heavily, using observations of only the Disk version with its admittedly limited selection of DOS choices, etc. Others have attacked the Cart version, without mentioning that they were using one of the first 50 carts released, with bugs that were quickly crushed in a re-issue of the cart ROM. Worse, some of the “bugs” reported by reviewers simply don’t exist. One dramatic one is the review that reports that Diamond won’t support a MIO, and thus a hard drive. Patently false, even in the cart version. I use Diamond with my two MIOs regularly.

I have included several “screen shots” of Diamond. These have been provided by USA Media, the marketing company for Diamond, and are not 100% accurate. They were apparently developed on a Mac for illustrative purposes, as there is as yet no “snapshot” function for Diamond. The pictures are fairly accurate, however, and in fact, Diamond looks better than these simulated screens indicate, with smaller icons and clearer text. The icons are animated (the disk drive spits a disk out when activated, the trash can lid opens, the pointer turns into a disk while accessing the drives, etc.) and fully relocatable on the desktop. Files can be displayed as icons or as text, with adjustable sorts of the display. File windows can be re-sized, or adjusted with slider bars that allow you to see “obscured” parts of the listings. Yes, it’s remarkably like the ST in appearance, function, and handling. It is slower than an ST, particularly when drawing a file window with lots of files. 43 files takes 5 to 6 seconds, though redrawing without disk access takes only 2.

Being cart-loaded, Diamond boots quickly to its desktop after the loading of whatever DOS kernel you use. Yes, SpartaDOS, DOS XE, DOS 2.x, etc., are supported. Although there are some reports of trouble with MYDOS. I am led to believe that it is virtually resolved already. On your bootup disk, you should have a configuration file that sets up Diamond to read selected DOSs. Sadly, Diamond can only deal with one configuration at a time. This means that once you start a session with Diamond, you cannot mix DOS format disks without a reboot, even if the DOS you are using would ordinarily be able to access those other DOS file structures. While this is not a crippler in any way, it does make the user have to plan more thoroughly to avoid mixing disks unnecessarily. As with many other things that “would be nice,” a desk accessory may well be designed to be able to read DOS 2 files from SpartaDOS and/or copy them to Sparta format. Again contrary to some reviews, time stamping in SpartaDOS and DOS XE are supported.

A port for a second cart is provided on top of the Diamond cart, which is identical to the SpartaDOS X cart, and is compatible with it. This cart itself is an expensive item, and is the reason for the “high cost” ($79.95) of both products.

Command line files (*.COM) will prompt for parameters when executing, via the standard ST “double click.” “Most” binary files will load via Diamond without problems, but a few (mostly those written for SpartaDOS exclusively) lack a run vector in the file (SpartaDOS doesn’t require it, DOS 2 does). No problem, Diamond offers a utility on their included disk that will tack one onto any problem file, fixing it forever without affecting its operation on “bare” SpartaDOS.

Also included in the accessory/utility package are drivers for alternatives to the ST mouse Diamond really cries out for. You can use a pad, trackball, joystick, or mouse. There are memory drivers that set up RAMdisk and. accessory area to utilize your memory to the best advantage. Desk accessories can be chosen for any particular use, and remain resident as “pop-in” programs at any time.

Diamond Paint also comes with Diamond. It supports Koala and Micro Illustrator file formats, and has several features (like a clipboard) that have not been seen before on the 8-bit Atari.

While we await major applications like a word processor (which is promised to be available before you will read this and will offer multiple typefaces and point sizes) and a terminal program, there is enough included in the Diamond package to make it quite useful. Home programmers will find the technical manual to be less than instructional, but more than informative. Alan promises a new manual or perhaps a separate programming guide shortly, and it is needed. As it is now, programming from the manual is a lot like learning a language from a dictionary.

So should you buy Diamond? That depends. If you expect to keep your 8-bit Atari system, and you plan to do more than play games with it, I expect Diamond to be an asset you will soon become addicted to. I also expect to see lots of public domain programs become available that will use the Diamond mouse and window interface, making all typical computer use operate under the graphics environment. That means a lot more productivity for less effort. If you have ever watched a ST or Mac user fly around the system with the mouse, clicking and dragging, you have the notion of the ease of this design. Typing commands, or entering menu options for DOS functions simply are unnecessary, and you will never want to do them again. But what I feel is most important is the learning of the graphics interface. Most 8-bit owners, even those who are advanced in experience, balk when handed a mouse or when forced to interact with a Mac, ST, or Amiga. Now, even IBM and VAX system mainframe computers are adding graphic interfaces, so it is only a matter of time before being adept at them is obligatory. Diamond brings this environment to the 8-bit computer with a lot of class and competence.

So, if you don’t want to ditch your 8-bit Atari, consider Diamond. What about the “other” graphic system, you may ask—well, as of this writing, there still is no other system available, despite ads and promotions. Diamond has been released and refined in the marketplace for seven months now, and I believe it has become the default standard in that time. GOE, the unreleased competition, may also be a very competent product when it reaches market. But Diamond is (or is becoming) everything it should be, and will not disappoint those who can afford it. Remember, you need an ST mouse to use Diamond to the greatest advantage, and they run well over $50 each.

Diamond, $79.95 including Diamond Paint and the Diamond Programmers Kit, from Reeve Software, 20 W150 Old Farm Lane, Warrenville, Illinois, 60555, 312-393-2317. or 301-863-8369. Available in retail outlets and Federated stores as well, often discounted. Diamond on Disk, using only DOS 2.x, also available for $29.95. •



by John Nagy

Atari 8-bit news continues at a slow but steady pace this month. Although the corporate focus is “all ST” for new products. See the rundown on them in my ST News column elsewhere in this issue, along with a lot of corporate news that effects all Atari owners in the long run.

Perhaps the biggest news are a couple of “facts” that I need to refute: That Atari has sold the 8-bit line and games to Coleco (an April Fools prank that has upset many); and that Atari is “closing” Federated (selling, hopefully. Closing, No.).

In what must have seemed like fun at the time, a few Atari and GEnie telecommunication system employees wrote up a bogus “press release” from UPI, posted it on both the 8-bit and ST areas of GEnie, as well as banners on log on, directing all users to immediately go and download the release. Billed as “important news that will affect all Atari owners,” nearly a thousands users rushed to read it. Most believed it at least at first, and many may still.

The April Fools prank (released four days early, when it was least expected) detailed how Atari had sold the 8-bit and game line to Coleco Toy Company for “in excess of $50,000,” was moving its corporate headquarters to Germany, and was introducing a new workstation called the Atari FU. A close reading turns up countless cues to the absurdities, but many media people were even taken in at first. No blatant clue to it being an April Fool joke was included, and quick readers simply assumed that their worst fears were coming true. Atari reported lots of worried calls.

Please help quash any leftover doubts. Pass the word, it was supposed to be a joke.

Atari has committed to full support and appearances at many major computer show in the coming months, and the World of Atari shows all have pledged to show the full array of computers and products of Atari—that means us 8-bitters too, folks. Don’t miss these shows if you can help it!

Scheduled for appearances at Comdex and the World shows is Diamond, reviewed last month in this column. The 8-bit cart is a graphic environment similar to the ST’s and Macintosh’s GEM. Applications using Diamond (including Write and Paint) should be ready for showing at them, and I’ll have details on them next month. Early outlook: good!

Still unavailable at this writing is the competitor for Diamond, “GOE,” from Total Control Systems. Curiously, some reviewers have been panning Diamond by “comparison to GOE” despite the fact that GOE is as yet only a list of specifications. However, the programmer for GOE, David Sullivan, has told me that his experiments with Diamond lead him to believe that applications written specifically for either system can likely be used on both systems. A simple and small shell or interpreter program could do the trick, although a few unique functions of each system may prevent alternative fonts or other higher functions when in “translation” mode. If this works out, this should accelerate interest and sales in both carts and applications for both systems. Many mass marketers are quite intrigued with the Maclike interface on such an affordable machine as the Atari 8-bit, and these systems may be responsible for the reappearance of our machines in the Sears and Service Merchandise stores in the near future.

Also no news yet on the Turbo 816 from DataQue, still in beta testing.

Speaking of shows, one traditional show has suffered of late. The West Coast Computer Fair, long a respected event for user groups and vendors, was a letdown to many this year. Although reasonably well attended, the California show was largely an MSDOS sale, with about the only Atari presence being also about the only user group appearance. Attendees had fun, but the bloom seems off the WCCF rose.

Game cart of the month: Crime Busters, from the guy who brought us “Barnyard Blaster. This new game uses the Atari gun in a 12-area bad guy hunt. Blast away but avoid the civilians! Reviewers have praised this game, although some have complained of the accuracy the game demands.

PC Pursuit, a national subscription service that allows long distance modem calling at greatly reduced rates, has now firmed up their new charge structure. When they announced some months back that they were putting a 30 hour a month cap on the previously unlimited service, users reacted hotly, causing a delay in implementation. Effective July 1, rates are $30 one time fee, plus $30 a month, for 30 hours a month (non-prime time). Hours past 30 are billed at $3 an hour. A “family” rate of $50 a month gives 60 hours access. Handicapped members qualify for 90 hours for $30. Cities and area codes available are somewhat limited but still expanding. PC Pursuit, Telenet/Sprint, 12490 Sunrise Valley Drive, Reston, VA 22096; 1-800-835-3638.

GEnie has also modified their rates. Effective May 1st, the prime hour rates fell from $35 an hour to $18 for all baud rates, while off-prime (evenings, weekends, holidays) changed in several ways. 300 baud is still $5.00 an hour, while 1200 has gone up from $5 to $6. 2400 fell from $12.50 an hour to $10. All costs are exclusive of any connect surcharges, sometimes collected by local service carriers (about a dollar an hour).

User groups across the US and now a few other countries as well have been taking advantage of the Z*Net newsletter supplement offered by Ron Kovacs. The maker of the on-line ZMagazine weekly has been producing the monthly 12 page Z*Net since March, and has over 20 club applications carrying the supplement to a circulation of over 3,000 copies. Regular columnists include Matt Ratcliff, Darek Mihocka, and many other well-known personalities. It features very up to date news and reviews, and is professionally produced, ready for duplication by participating clubs. It carries advertising and thus can even pay the groups to include the supplement in their newsletters. Your club probably gets a participating Z*Net newsletter in exchange from one or more of these clubs. Look it over and consider it for your club. Z*Net goes a long way to help frazzled newsletter editors find quality material to print, with no “typing in” involved. Contact Ron Kovacs at ZMagazine on GEnie, or at Box 74, Middlesex, New Jersey, 08846; 201-968-8148 for more information.

A last technical note that has done a lot for a lot of users: Is your 1050 disk drive making you climb the walls? More and more units are having the same problem: some disks read some times. The problem is often failure to grip the disk itself tightly enough to rotate it in the disk sleeve. This is fortunately very easy to remedy. Open the drive case, and look for the lever that is attached to the turn-down handle. It has a cam on it that pushes down on the hinged top plate that actually clamps the disk. Just put a few layers of disk labels between the cam and where it touches the plate. This will increase the pinch tension enough to eliminate the problem. While you are in there, think about putting a little bit of silicone lubricant on the head rails—you will be amazed at how much quieter the drive will run! That’s it for this month, next month I expect to have hot stuff to tell you about from the World of Atari show in Disneyland! Don’t miss the other Atari columns in this issue of Computer Shopper. •


NOTE AND POINT—Atari 8-Bit News And Comment

by John Nagy

Sig Hartmann, vice president of Atari, responded to questions about the 8-bit line at the recent World of Atari show in Anaheim. Sig said that he and Sam had discussed that 8-bit hardware and software support was important and would continue. Just what that means is, of course, an open question. It does mean that we aren’t orphans yet.

Sig also discussed the Diamond package that gives an ST-like desktop and mouse operation. He said that Atari reviewed it, gave many comments to the developer, Alan Reeve, and that the Diamond Cart is a very good result. He also stated that a bundle of an XE system, drive, Diamond, and software would be forthcoming as soon as the applications were finished. Alan had a beta copy of Diamond Write at the World of Atari show but it still had bugs in the higher functions. As Alan is now out of college for the summer, we should see rapid progress on the remaining software.

(An interesting side note: in my review in the May issue, the editors of Computer Shopper put the Diamond screen shots in the ST section instead of the 8-bit! This sideways compliment to the system indicates that people find it hard to believe they could be showing an 8-bit system. Sorry to those of you who never found the illustrations.)

Federated Electronics Stores are at the end of their rope. June 30 was announced as the intended “drop dead date” for the chain of Atari owned stores that were moved to “discontinued” status January 1. About 18 stores of the 60-some have been closed in moves to consolidate and prep the chain for sale. Latest word is still that Greg Pratt, an Atari official, is still a player in a buyout move. It is considered certain that a sale will be completed soon and that the stores will continue to operate and (likely) sell Atari products. Federated participated in the World of Atari show in Anaheim, selling products and sporting a live group entertaining the sales floor crowds with MIDI music.

Another of the rare 8-bit displays at the World show was Astra. Among their great selection of ST devices, they had a stack of their 2001 dual disk drives—for $100 each! These were supposedly the last in captivity, and an incredible bargain for the show only. Just maybe they will have a couple more at their next show appearance? Astra, (714) 549-2141.

Happy Computers was also selling “last chances” to get their Atari 1050 disk drive enhancements. A versatile unit, it gives double density capability plus power to read and write in (single side) IBM disk format as well as make copies of most heavily protected disk software. Call them to see if they have more at (408) 779-3830.

The Turbo 816 project is not dead, in fact it is if anything getting more complex and interesting. The 16-bit processor upgrade for the 8-bit Atari is still being tweaked and might be shown or even released at one of the early summer Atari shows. Several possibilities of using existing “C” language packages are brightening its future.

News from ICD (another of the 8-bit vendors at the WOA show)—the MIO Box (Multi-Input-Output) is back in limited production. Both the 256K and 1MB versions will be available on a limited basis now that RAM prices have dropped to merely exorbitant. Ask your dealer or contact ICD directly. The units are popular additions for heavy users. They feature internal and self-powered RAMdisks that can even be booted from, a hard drive port, printer port (with adjustable spooler), modem port, and floppy drive assignment controller. I wouldn’t use my 8-bit without one—and they have been unavailable for around a year now. In other news, Flashback, ICD’s fine 8-bit hard drive backup software, has been upgraded to version 2.3. Users of version 2 can get a free upgrade, and version 1 owners can upgrade for $10. ICD, (815) 968-2228.

The MIO may have competition soon. Bob Puff of Computer Software Services announced an upcoming product called the Black Box. Bob is well-known in the Atari community for his public domain works DiskCom and Super ARC. The Black Box will do much of what the MIO does without the expensive RAM. It will attach to the rear expansion port of the XL and XE machines and will have an adaptor available to make connections to an XEGS. Hard drive port, printer port, modem port will be the main features, but a few extras like a button for a screen dump to printer (either graphic or text any time) and a resident RS232 handler (which the MIO also has) make this nicer than just another pretty interface. To be released “summer ’89,” it will retail at $169.95, or $199.95 with 64K of printer buffer built-in. Later additions may include a floppy adaptor that will be able to read and write ST and IBM disks in any configuration. Bob also says a multi-user network system for the 8-bit Atari is in the works. Via carts-on-cables, the computers will be able to share drives and printers, as well as exchange information directly among themselves. Classroom setups, mini-offices (like radio newsrooms), and multi-line BBS systems are some of the possibilities. (716) 586-5545.

This month I am starting a self-help section in this column. In it I hope to share the wealth of information that has helped many users stay happy and productive on their 8-bit Atari. These include home fixes, recommended software (especially public domain and shareware), and use hints. I encourage you to send in your ideas to share with our readers as well, just send it to Computer Shopper, attention John Nagy. The address is in the front of every issue. Most of the information will not be “new,” but has seldom been published formally.

I’ll keep it simple this month and give an old but useful bit of info on Atari power supplies. In the last three months I have not had less than six casual acquaintances that heard I was “into Ataris” mention that they had a machine but that it didn’t work. In every case, regardless of it being a computer, 2600 or 7800 (even a 5200!) the problem they described was total deadness—and each was a burned out power supply. Another local user was having weird green screens and semi-booting on an XL, and the local Atari service place never got around to helping him. I loaned him a power supply against his complaints that “it couldn’t be that, the machine tries to work”—and it worked. I have yet to find a “shot” 1030 modem that didn’t just need a new supply—except for the time mine was hit by lightning. Yikes.

Atari power supplies are the weakest part of the system on the XL series, and on most of the Atari peripherals. Always suspect them first when you have any trouble. All Atari supplies that have connectors that look alike are interchangeable. 1027 printers have a unique higher power and different diameter plug. XL and XE computer supplies are the same despite different boxes along the cord. The power output of each is reasonably common—9 volt AC (not DC!) or 6 volt AC. Radio Shack and other hobby shops have a variety of replacement supplies that can do fine, just be certain to get AC not DC. Some Atari supplies are repairable, in a sense. You may have to break open the box to get at it, but most have a fuse inside, soldered in. Replace it with a one amp slow blow fuse, solder it in and tape up the box. You will be back in permanent business 90% of the time. Note that on some supplies, you can find screws to open the case if you pull out the rubber feet! If you are replacing the supply with a non-Atari unit, reuse the Atari cable and plug. Have someone who is familiar with soldering do the connection for you.

Avoid causing power supply failure by never plugging the supply into the wall socket before plugging it into the computer or peripheral, even if it is turned off. The way the plug is made, it is very easy to get a momentary short across the computer plug while trying to insert it. That’s all it takes, and that’s why I say use a slow-blow replacement. •



by John Nagy

After months of looking around, Atari Corporation has at last filled the position of User Group Coordinator by hiring Chris Roberts. Chris replaces Cindy Claveran, who left this spring. He will also be handling all coordination of Atarifests and show appearances.

A former Pasadena, California user group president, Chris comes to Atari with first hand experience in user groups. He has extensive experience in 8-bit Ataris, and is a programmer favoring Basic XE. A number of Chris’s original 8-bit games are still available on GEnie and CompuServe. Most recently, Chris was employed by Hughes Aircraft, and he also worked for The Federated Group. This is good news for Atari 8 bitters, for at last they truly have “one of their own” inside Atari, helping on the front line.

Chris says that the user group list at Atari is almost unusable and very incomplete. He asked every group to please send him a card with their group name, official address, president’s name and phone number. Even if your group registered last year, please send it in many groups did not register last year, Chris just would prefer to start over. Send to: Chris Roberts, User Group Coordinator, Atari Corporation, 1196 Borregas Avenue, Sunnyvale, CA 94086.

Atari announced another 8-bit machine in June at the Spring Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago. Using 65C02 CPU technology at 16MHz, the Atari Portable Color Entertainment System will see dealer shelves this fall.

The APCES (for lack of a better short name!) is an 11" by 2" by 4" battery operated color video arcade system. A 16 color 3.5" LCD screen can generate 1,400 colors on the 160 by 102 pixel display. At $149 or so, it might sound like another “who needs it” to computer-minded folks, but early impressions of the unit are wildly positive. Newsagencies and magazines snapped at the item as an exciting development and even featured it on MTV news. Plus, Atari stock moved markedly upward after the announcement. (Why can’t computer announcements get that kind of play?) It has four channel sound, reversible built-in controller, and a port to which up to 8 units can communicate for multi-player games. The APCES was developed by Epyx and will be built-in and marketed by Atari. Introductory games include Impossible Mission, Blue Lightning, Time Treasure Chest, and six more. Production is predicted to top 100,000 units before Christmas. Software for the new system will run from $20 to $35.

Nintendo also has a new handheld game called the Gameboy, but with a black-and-white screen, and the Atari unit blows it away. Nintendo officials were quoted as saying the Atari was “overkill, like taking a Ferrari to the grocery store.” Sam Tramiel is said to have heard this and responded with “I’d rather drive a Ferrari anywhere, and this machine hasn’t got a Ferrari price!” I hope Atari plays off of that Nintendo comment in their advertising!

All that having been said about the new machine, what, you ask, is being done for the 8-bit computer line at Atari? More games. Midi-Maze from Xanth was shown at CES and at the Dearborn World of Atari show running on a combination of 8-bit and ST machines. It really looks good—hard to tell the graphics from the ST version, and it can be played over a modem or direct connections. Expect it to be released soon! Other new titles included Deflektor, Xenophobe, and others—all on cart, of course, 128K and more! Note that many new titles will not work on the old 800 and 400 machines. In some cases, it is even a physical size problem—the cart itself is double wide.

This trend away from computing uses in new 8-bit Atari titles is not new—and won’t likely go away. However, the typical 8-bit club member and Computer Shopper reader knows that there is more that the old 6502 can achieve. It is just harder to find productivity software. But more on that in a minute.

Other news: At this writing, the Diamond Write software is supposed to be shipping to support the Diamond desktop operating system. The Diamond cart is gaining in acceptance as a way to get the ease and power of the mouse-driven environment on the 8-bit. Write will help a lot. Yet to come are a telecommunication program and a Publishing System using the icon driven system. Diamond / Reevesoft, 312-393-2317.

Meanwhile, still no word on GOE from Total Control Systems. Many individuals and groups prepaid for that similar desktop system as far back as last November, and there has been no word from the developer for too many months. Phone and mail messages go unanswered. Some are rightfully screaming, and several publications that have run ads for GOE have expressed little hope of being paid. I’ll keep you posted.

In the Public Domain, Bobterm has been released by Bob Puff as shareware. This term program has many of the best features of my previous favorite system, but allows baud rates up to 19,200 baud (Yike!...although probably past your modem speed, still very useful for porting data directly between machines). Transfer protocols include Batch and 1K Xmodem, making Bobterm fully compatible with the highest of tech bulletin boards. I really like it, and I was really spoiled by Express. That should tell you plenty. Although designed primarily for 850 interfaced modems, Bobterm will work on the SX212, 1030, and XM301 Atari modems. Try it out, and if you like it, send Bob some money! It is available on GEnie and CompuServe, local BBSes, and in club libraries.

No word yet on availability dates of the Express Cart, to be offered this summer by Express author Keith Ledbetter at about $69.

Antic Magazine, the long standing 8-bit Atari specialty mag, has announced that they are discontinuing their no-disk release, and existing subscriptions must be changed over to mag-and-disk or be cancelled. This is seen by some to be a foolish move that will cut severely into sales, while others see it as a sensible way to release new software and get paid for it. Many, perhaps even most readers have in the past bought the plain magazine then shared disks with others. I for one hope that the response is not poor to the new terms...we need all the help we can get.

The World of Atari shows held so far in Anaheim, CA (9000 attending) and Dearborn (Detroit area, over 3000) have gone out of their way to accent the entire Atari lineup. Although it is hard to get 8-bit developers to come out of hiding, Richard Tsukiji is doing his best to try. Even the 2600 and 7800 are featured at the World shows. User groups were treated well, with four area groups right on the floor with the other vendors. One was said to have sold over $1,300 in disks at Dearborn! ; The next stop on the tour will be in Irving, Texas (near Dallas) August 19-20 at the Holiday Inn Holidome. Later, trips to Seattle, Boston, and more sites in California and Florida are on the list. For information call 503-673-2259.

M.A.C.E. in the Detroit area held an Atarifest in May and had a good showing of 1300 or more visitors. Although the show was a qualified financial success, netting $500 after expenses, customers were delighted at the prices offered by battling vendors from several states. This show helped many of us define the difference between the World of Atari shows and user group Atarifests. It appears that the Atarifests shine best when presented as almost a local event, bringing many retailers in to service the Atari-hungry crowds. The World shows, by contrast, are more an exposition of what it means to be an Atarian today, with many more developers and national vendors.

Bob Klaas of Utah has bought the rights to the Supra hard drive interface for the 8-bit Atari. He has begun production again and now calls it the K-P Hard Drive Interface. It will sell for $110 plus $4 shipping and $3 COD, if you prefer to pay at the door. The Supra sold at $149, and the K-P will be identical right down to the case. You will have to supply your own drive, controller, and power supply as before. It will operate with an XL or XE machine by attaching to the expansion bus, and the XE adaptor is another $15 (plus handling). Details are available from Bob at 801-966-1697.

The mail brought an interesting new software package this month. From Stewart Software, “Changing Patterns” is a graphic generator. That’s about all it does, but it does it with some style. Billing itself as an art and idea generator, it makes a variety of entertaining and decorative patterns on the 8-bit Atari screen, with the ability to save and print them at will. The sample screens in the illustration give you a pretty good idea of what you will see. The package as sent to me for review is incomplete, lacking the ability to print the work. It is also only two of the four disks—and while the promotion sheet says, among other things, that “disk #2 is worth the price alone”; I neither have disk #2 nor any idea what might be on it. I have disks 1 and 3, and they are entertaining but certainly less than productive to my eye. I really don’t understand why software folks go to extra expense in preparing crippled versions of their software to reviewers. They can often result in crippled reviews. Sample printouts are included in the very attractive promo kit, and they did look good, anyway. Shipping is to begin in August. The pattern settings appear to be limitless but programmable, though I think the same line “every museum should have one” is overblown. The four disks, manual, and registration are being introduced at $29.95 (supposed to go up to $49 later) and probably will satisfy artistic (or heavily drugged) 8-bit users. Changing Patterns is from Stewart Software, 213-875-2012.

8-Bit Survival Kit Part I

Last time I told you how to deal with power supply failures. Due to some last minute editing, I ended up telling you to use 9 volt AC for your computer. That’s fine for a 400 or 800, but not for the XL and XE. They require 5 volt DC, at least 1 Amp. Sorry! The 9 volt AC would not have likely done any damage to your machine if you tried it, but it certainly wouldn’t work, either!

Before I go any further with equipment self-help information, let’s talk this month about what you can do to prepare yourself for the future in Atari 8-bit use. This may be old news to some readers, but bear with me on this—it is truly vital.

It is no secret nor mere opinion that we 8-bit users are increasingly on our own in a world that considers our treasured machine to be obsolete. We know that as long as it works, it will be an important asset to us, no matter what they say. Anyway, there are two major things that you can, nay, must do to continue to gain pleasure and productivity from your Atari.

1. Join in a club. Note I say join in, not just join. Passive membership has some benefits, but direct involvement will return twenty times the contact and information exchange needed to grow in your use if your computer. Publication and disk libraries are available in clubs that will widen your horizon beyond your imagination. Most times, active club participation will provide free library access as a side effect, and in a 200-400 disk library, there are more programs available than you can tire of in a lifetime.

2. Get a modem. The action available online is beyond belief to non-modemers. Software flows from local BBS systems as well as GEnie and CompuServe, along with virtually unlimited help from users all over the world. News? Try ZMAGAZINE, the 8-bit Atari magazine of the wires, available free every week now for going on four years. It includes six to twelve pages of news and reviews plus tutorials, projects, and general information. You can only get ZMAGAZINE by modem —along with so much more.

I cannot stress these two moves strongly enough. Trust me, the 8-bit Atari cannot die as long as clubs and bulletin boards keep their support. The public domain market has so many commercial quality titles, plus shareware titles that allow free distribution of the programs (you pay later voluntarily after you decide you want to keep them). No club in your area, you say? Bah. Call Atari customer service and ask for some group addresses nearby. Or join one of the larger nationally known clubs long-distance. Most have a newsletter every month that will keep you aware, plus the disk libraries are usually available by mail.

Support from general interest magazines has swung away from the older machines and towards the currently profitable ones. We can’t be surprised as this trend continues. But we can be prepared.

More Survival info next month, here in Computer Shopper!



by John Nagy

Last month we welcomed Chris Roberts as Atari’s new user group coordinator. He started June 12 and finished on July 28. As of this writing, a replacement has not been named.

The reasons for Roberts’ short employment seem to revolve around corporate dissatisfaction with his willingness to talk to groups and the press about almost anything at Atari without first checking either the facts or the propriety of sharing them. While those of us who spoke often to Chris feel badly to hear that he was terminated, we also saw repeated examples of where he overstepped his territory and knowledge. A successor has not been selected as yet.

Atari remains dedicated to having a successful user-group support system, but finding the right combination of showperson, marketer, and user group sympathy seems harder than it looks. Groups are still urged to continue the re-registration effort that Chris began. Another word to the wise: get a Post Office Box. Have you any idea how hard it is to keep track of a group that changes its address several times a year? A permanent address pays off!

Shows: WAACE is presenting an Atarifest October 7 and 8 at the Fairfax High School in Fairfax, Virginia. Washington DC area Atarifests have a good reputation for success and crowds. Also, the Kentuckian Atari Fest is planned for Clarkesville, Indiana on October 28-29. A mile out of Louisville, Kentucky, the user group show will be at the Clarkesville Sheraton Lakeview. Atari is planning to send reps to both shows.

Magazines: Analog Magazine will be folded into its own child, ST-LOG, in a measure to try to preserve both 8-bit and ST coverage viability. Circulation is just fine for the 8-bit Analog, but few advertisers wish to support the 8-bit only audience. Plenty of advertisers are available for ST-Log (which began as an insert in Analog), but the circulation isn’t quite there. It is hoped the re-merger of the two magazines into a larger one will satisfy readers and provide financial stability.

Online: Compuserve bought out and closed The Source, a long standing telecommunications service. GEnie and Atari had announced a new user group support area to be opened this summer, but plans are now apparently on hold.

Products: While this fall will bring several new Atari product announcements and a number of actual product releases for the ST line (see my ST column), Atari has little to announce for the 8-bit owners. Software (games and educational mostly) does continue to appear in small but steady quantities, largely in cart format.

The long awaited EXPRESS! terminal cart from Keith Ledbetter and Orion Microsystems was released this summer in a “final beta” version to advance orderers. After last minute adjustments, all those will be replaced with Version 1.1 of the EXPRESS!. Keith’s public domain terminal programs became the standard by which others, commercial or otherwise, were measured. Early user reports of the stackable cartridge version ($69) have been enthusiastic. I still hope to be able to get one to test for you and will then be able to tell you more.

Innovative Concepts (a Detroit, Michigan retailer) offered some new 8-bit products this summer. RAMDRIVE+ is a memory upgrade for the 800XL...nothing special? Wrong. This one gives only 128K compatibility using cheap 64K RAM chips. As a result, the entire kit is only $59.95, much cheaper than the kits using 256K chips. Easy Scan II provides scanned images in a standard 62 sector PIC file, with satisfactory resolution. It does need 128K RAM to operate, and sells for $99.95. For HAPPY 1050 disk drive owners, HAPPY DOUBLER is a software solution to make the Happy emulate a 1050 with an ICD DOUBLER enhancement. This makes SpartaDOS and utilities written for the Doubler work on the Happy. Selling for $19.95, it is unclear what advantages it has over Pete Dominguez’s public domain Doubler emulation program. Concepts also is the sole commercial supplier of Darek Mihocka’s 8-bit drive cable that allows access to 8-bit peripherals with an ST. Innovative Concepts, 313-293-0730.

Public domain releases have been typically summer-slow. One welcome addition is from prolific Matthew Ratcliff, also known widely as Matrat. His DEGASVIEW program is a welcome addition to anyone’s graphics library and allows 8-bit users to view the most common of ST format pictures. It appeared in Analog Magazine, and an update of the program providing added features and speed has circulated on GEnie and other telecom systems as well as bulletin boards. Get it! There are probably millions of full color DEGAS format pictures including high quality digitized views of everything imaginable. Degasview requires 128K minimum.

APAC (Any Point, Any Color) system pictures have been steadily accumulating on the major services. APAC gives dramatically improved color control and as a result, dramatic pictures. Viewers and picture files should be available on a BBS or pay system near you.

You don’t have a modem yet? Shame. One small investment (under $40 for 300 baud, under $100 for 1200 with ST compatibility too) will save you hundreds in free programs and information. It also obsolete-proofs your system, as you will have an unlimited access to existing public domain software, plus the 8-bit Atari makes a dandy terminal for communication.

The CHAOS club of Lansing, Michigan once again is offering its comprehensive library for rental. Two years ago, the Chaos library was rented by dozens of satisfied users in several countries and was also used as a compatibility test bank by Darek Mihocka while developing the ST XFORMER 8-bit emulator for the ST.

Now, both the 8-bit and ST sections have been revised and a lot has been added to both. All disks are as full of public domain and shareware programs as practical. Presently at well over 350 fully cataloged, tested and documented disk sides PLUS a substantial set of archive disks, the revised 8-bit library rents for only $75! An additional deposit of $125 is also required and is returned when the library is returned. The rental period is two weeks plus shipping time each way. This is a good opportunity to have your club establish a large and quality library with a minimum of effort and expense. It also is reasonable enough for an individual or several friends to rent and share the wealth. The ST library has nearly 300 disk sides, and rents for $99 with a $200 deposit. Rent both libraries for $150 with a $300 deposit. Contact Leo Sell and CHAOS at P.O. Box 16132. Lansing, Michigan 48901, or call (517)349-0404 during civilized Eastern time hours.

SURVIAL KIT III: Last time we talked about clubs and modems preparation for what might be a cold 8-bit winter and future in general. In past issues, we covered keyboard repairs, power supply repairs, and other self help items. Here are a few more about disk drives.

The XF551 drive from Atari has input/output cable ports that are simply too delicate. Be careful and don’t insert or remove cables more often than absolutely needed. It is preferable to leave the cables attached to the drive and detach the other end if you need to move your equipment. Sooner or later, you may find one connector has broken away from the printed circuit board inside and nothing works anymore. It isn’t the end of the world, though, since the other cable port is probably fine. You can simply stop using the broken port and let the drive be the last peripheral on your I/O chain. For some, that won’t work due to use of a XM301 or SX212 modem or other interface that already is a dead-end to the I/O chain. It is often possible to open the drive and detach all remaining PC connections to the damaged port, remount the socket any way convenient, and run short wire jumpers to the matching connections on the other (good) port. Since these are straight-through ports, this will work fine.

Is your 1050 noisy? Does your 810 sound like a chainsaw? It may be that all you need is a dab of silicone lube on the head rails. Use something thin and non-greasy so as not to attract too much dust.

Here’s one I’ve heard a lot more recently as the drives in use get older. Particularly with a 1050 drive, you may find it is totally dead, yet the power supply is okay. What happens is the two diodes on the circuit board inside the drive will fail, cutting off power to everything in the drive. These can be easily found towards the rear of the board and should cost under a dollar. Have someone who knows at least a little about such things look at it, as polarity does matter, but anyone worth their soldering iron can handle this repair. And while you are in there, check the pinch to be sure the disk-grab is sufficient and lube those rails. You’ll be spinning again in no time.

Next month in the survival series: “must-have” software. And don’t miss more Atari News in the ST section of Computer Shopper!



by John Nagy

Atari 8-bit owners make up over 60 percent of the user groups, according to the best data available to date from Atari, which has a new user group coordinator, Bob Brodie. Bob has been a Southern California Atari activist and group president for some time, and seems to be fitting in well. If your group has not reregistered in the last nine months, do it now. Call Bob at (408) 745-2052. He can also help you find a club in your area, or suggest ways to join a more distant club with good services to “remote” members.

Lots of new announcements of high-end equipment were made by Atari in late August. For a run-down on them, check the ST News column elsewhere in this issue of Computer Shopper. The new Epyx-designed portable color game system now has a name—“Lynx”—but it’s still not in stores as I write this. (Atari better get moving if it wants the Christmas market for this sure-fire fun machine.) The name, besides being catchy, reminds the consumer that the system has a unique multiunit link capacity for multiplayer games, with each player having his own point of view on his color screen.

Confused Gatherings

Atari shows continue to be in a state of some confusion. Last month I told you about the Glendale (Calif.) show going down, and the San Jose World of Atari also being cancelled. Since then, the WOA organizer has clarified his position that there WILL be more WOA shows. The next definite show is scheduled for Anaheim in April, 1990, again at Disneyland. Another Dearborn, Mich., show is on for next May, and other sites are pending.

The late-August World of Atari show held near Dallas/Fort Worth was the smallest to date. While the vendor turnout was similar in numbers to the Dearborn show, only about 1,500 people showed up in Dallas to take in bargain-basement priced software. That’s less than half the number at Dearborn, and 15 percent of the turnout at the original WOA in Disneyland last April.

A recurring theme seems to be lack of local promotion and advertising. User groups in Texas say they learned more about the show that was coming to their area from the reporters who called them for information than they did from any contact with ST-World magazine. ST-World and owner Richard Tsukiji are sponsors of the show series that previously had depended on local user-group involvement extensively. Dallas contacts claim that there was no local advertising at all, a situation that was a repeat of Dearborn.

Despite any turnout disappointment, attendees at the Dallas show got some of the best bargains ever seen. Abacus of Michigan was selling their line of fine Atari reference books at $1 a copy. Rite-Way and other retailers kept dropping their prices until much of what was available was a mere 10 percent of retail.

8-bit attention at the Dallas show was slight, and ICD reported that they sold no more than five titles for the 8-bit machines during the whole show. Atari Corp. was represented by Sig Hartmann and Jay Crosby, but they brought no 8-bit items for display. Instead, Alamo Atari, an 8-bit group from San Antonio, persuaded Hartmann to let them set up a few systems in the Atari area and do a seminar on 8-bit programming. Other seminars were largely centered on the ST and were similar to the schedule held in Dearborn in June. Alan Reeve held another seminar on his Diamond graphic-operating interface for the Atari 8-bit and showed some software that will shortly be available to support it.

Price wars and incredible undercutting at shows have been a pleasure for visitors, but in fact seem to jeopardize future shows as well as general dealer health. Another user show was just cancelled—the Kentuckian Atarifest in October—and, at this writing, the Quad Cities (Iowa) show is still in negotiations. It looks to me as though someone, preferably at Atari, had better get a handle on show scheduling and then hold on tight. Too many groups are banging heads and stepping on each others toes.

The XE computer line has recently undergone a few undercover changes. The most notable change is a move to four RAM chips (each 4 bits “wide”) to replace the 16 single-byte units previously used. Take note: the new design may put a wrench in the simple memory upgrade designs available from a variety of companies and public domain sources. Other minor changes include a revised operating system chip and PIA chip. Visible changes can be seen on the SELF TEST screen, which now actually tests extended memory and no longer displays the “phantom” 1200XL function keys. The changes probably result in production savings and may increase reliability, but the important message here is that Atari is interested enough in the XE line to invest in even a minor retooling. That is good news to anyone who had assured themselves that the line was washed up.

Trivia: Atari in Germany announced last month that they were offering their employees an additional six vacation days each year if they are non-smokers. It is reasoned that smokers cost the company extra medical bills and sick-leave time, and that non-smokers might as well get the benefit of what the company doesn’t have to spend on them. A recent public phone-in newspaper poll indicated that a sizable majority of those who responded felt that this was a good idea for American companies to consider.

Last month I mentioned Innovative Concepts (a Detroit area retailer) who offered some new 8-bit products this summer (RamDrive+, Happy Doubler, Easy Scan). They have recently added still more unique items for the Atari. Most notable is a set of printer drivers for use with Printshop (a popular sign maker from Broderbund). For $14.95, users can get a driver to use 24-pin printers, Okimate 10s, or even the little and cheap Atari 1020 plotter/printer (although it will do signs in only a single color at a time and, obviously, quite small). Programmed by Jim Steinbrecker, who also wrote the original AMODEM, these drivers will be a pleasure to have for many users who previously were left out of Printshop fun. Other IC products include an SIO switchbox that lets you switch peripherals between computers, and a SIO port box that solves the problem of multiple peripherals that each have a “dead end” cable. They have more goodies, too, so call them: Innovative Concepts, (313) 293-0730.

I get mail from time to time from folks who wonder if I can help them find a MIO (Multi-Input-Output) box. ICD Inc. made them in 256K and 1MB versions, and discontinued production when the RAM caused the prices to go out of sight. They are a joy to use, with an externally powered Ramdisk you can boot from, a printer buffer, RS232 (modem) port, standard printer port/interface, and a hard drive interface. Well, yes, there is a good source for these is ICD! Although I mentioned before that they were back in production in limited quantities, it seems the word hasn’t gotten around. ICD Inc, 1220 Rock Street, Rockford, Illinois 61101, (805) 968-2228, BBS (815) 968-2229.

I just got the new Express! Terminal cartridge, and am very pleased so far, but I haven’t had time yet to really put it through its paces. It features a wide variety of transfer protocols and uses windows; I will have a complete review in next month’s column. The stackable cart is $69 from Orion Microsystems, 2211 Planters Row Drive, Midlothian, VA 23113.

Outstanding newsletter: Puget Sound Atari News (PSAN) is a combined effort of seven (or more by now) Atari clubs in the Pacific Northwest. Editor/coordinator Jim Chapman puts out a really impressive monthly magazine of 44 or more pages, with a totally professional look and feel. Content is equally good, with most articles being original, and containing a good share of 8-bit material. PSAN also includes Z*NET, the 12-page international newsletter supplement from ZMagazine. If you don’t have a group of your own, or even if you do, subscribe to PSAN. Contact Jim for details at (206) 566-1703 or join one of the participating clubs.

8-Bit Atari Survival Kit, Part 4: “Must-Have” Software

There are some programs or applications that are so necessary to successful computing that they rise to “must-have” status. This month we’ll look at a couple major applications. (I am assuming that readers here have disk drives...using a computer with tape or no storage at all is really not worth the bother!)

A good word processor is probably the most important piece of software you will own for your 8-bit Atari if you care to do more than play games. There are several that are particularly good, and one of the best is actually public domain! Top choices are TextPro (available free on the telecommunications systems and in club libraries), AtariWriter Plus, and Paperclip.

Since Batteries Included software was taken over by Electronic Arts, Paperclip has been harder to find, but it features a huge number of commands and even allows split-screen editing of multiple documents. It is, however, the hardest to master of the three. Users either love Paperclip or run screaming from it. I personally am in the latter group.

AtariWriter Plus, sold by Atari itself, is quite complete and has several 80-column editing modes through “moving window” displays. It is also now available in a true 80-column version for use only with the XEP80 adaptor board, also sold by Atari. AtariWriter has a dictionary and spell checker, which works well, if slowly. Marking blocks for moving and deleting is easy and intuitive. Font control is done using codes you can set up in your operating defaults. For good power and maximum ease of use, AtariWriter Plus is the best choice.

My own favorite is the free one...TextPro, by Ronnie Riche, who has recently said that he plans to update the already-remarkable product. TextPro is as basic or as complex as you configure it. The standard version has a variety of help screens available at a keypress (with the master help directory brought up, appropriately, with the HELP key). The main benefit of TextPro is that you can make your own macros, which will do anything in any order that you could do manually from the keyboard. Merges, mailing lists, file conversions—anything you can think of can be automated by making a custom macro. TextPro is also the only Atari 8-bit word processor I know of that is not limited by a file size. Although not really simple, it is possible to move through and edit a text file of literally any size.

The other major application program that most users have a need for is a database. Basically a filing and lookup system, there is a huge variety available in the public domain, although most of these are limited in scope, versatility, and power. Others are specifically designed for a single type of data management, like addresses, computer disk libraries, or record-album indexing.

Recommended Systems

While these may very possibly suit your needs, there are two particularly powerful commercial systems I can recommend. Both SynFile and Data Perfect will allow complete control of your data in any format you can imagine, and are not limited by either how many filed records fit in memory at once, nor how many records fit on a single disk. SynFile does an outstanding job, and is my choice for power and impressive, well-thought-out user interface. It was rewritten to make use of the 128K memory of the XE computers, dramatically increasing the possible size of a database (how many thousand records are you planning to use?). The older version would use Axlon-type extended memory if present (only on an old 800) for the same purpose. The most major drawbacks of SynFile are that you cannot save a label or report printing format (you must set it up each time), and that SynFile refuses to print at all if you are using an MIO box as your interface.

Data Perfect (by LJK which also makes Letter Perfect, another good word processor) has much of the same power of SynFile. It does allow a variety of label and report forms to be saved and selected, making it a better choice for repetitive printing tasks such as mailing labels. The user interface is harder to master than SynFile’s. Another concern is that no use of extended memory is possible, and versions produced until about a year ago will require XL and XE users to first run the Translator disk, as the print routines only work if the machine thinks like an old 800. Worse, the translator shuts off the parallel bus on the XL/XE, making MIO users lose their ability to print...again. Yike. Be sure you get the later version that is set up for the newer machines, or you may be forced to upgrade ($35 more from LJK).