Ever try to use your XL or XE to manipulate a spreadsheet or type a document with wide margins? The 40-column screen of your 130 XE is fine for utilities, games and some light business programs, but it is limiting when you try to use it in an office setting. Atari engineers realized this years ago, when Warner still owned Atari home computers. They began design of an addon to your XL or XE that would double the number of columns of your screen. After four years, the 80-column board is finally shipping, and reactions from the general public seem to be fairly good, if not a little confused.
The 80-column display unit (Model XEP80, $79.95) plugs into one of your joystick ports to communicate with your XE or XL. A jack on the rear of the box provides composite video output that can be connected to a standard monitor or TV with RF Modulator. According to Atari, several options were explored in which to connect the XEP80 to the Atari CPU. The joystick option won out.
At the past Consumer Electronics Shows, Atari has shown the XEP80 running with a new version of AtariWriter Plus. The new AtariWriter 80 gives you the same functions as the original, but works only with the XEP80 in operation. Atari first announced AtariWriter 80 two years ago, and has steadily pushed back the release date. According to William Robinson, the author of AtariWriter Plus, the original AtariWriter Plus depends heavily on quickly rewriting the XE's screen while you edit a document. The XEP80 must communicate over the joystick ports every time a character is to be plotted on the 80-column screen. This takes a lot of time, so the original AtariWriter Plus program has to be rewritten to communicate quickly with the XEP80 unit.
Atari has also shown copies of a special version of Silent Butler, a general office-mate program which includes scheduling and time-management utilities. The new version makes use of the XEP80's graphic abilities.
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