by Arthur Leyenberger
been about a year since Atari last showed the elusive Atari PC
Clone at the summer Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago in June
1987. I have had some pretty strong opinions about that product since
it first debuted and continue to feel strongly about it.
The Atari PC was first shown at the January 1987 CES
and billed as the first PC clone to have EGA (Enhanced Graphics
Adapter-an IBM PC graphics standard) built in. For $699, you would get
a fast processor (faster than the standard IBM PC anyway), standard
serial and parallel ports, monochrome screen and no slots. The specs
were still the same in June but the delivery date was pushed back to
I doubted at the time that the Atari PC would ever
hit the streets. For one thing, the PC clone market has become a
commodity market where price is the most important aspect. For another
thing, there are already several big players involved in the clone game
such as Tandy, PC's Limited, Epson, Leading Edge and a host of others.
In fact, even Hyundai, the Korean manufacturer of inexpensive cars, is
selling PC clone computers in the United States under the name Blue
You can go out today and buy the same box that Atari
promised to sell in the fall of 1987 for about the same price or even
less. The big difference, aside from many of the other companies
already having a corporate-familiar name, is that all of these machines
have slots for adding extra circuit boards, whereas the Atari PC does
not. Extended memory, enhanced memory, hard-disk cards, more serial and
parallel ports, clocks, etc., cannot be added to the Atari PC.
In addition, Atari faces an uphill battle to get
corporate purchasing agents or DP managers to buy a PC that has
the Atari name on it. It seems unlikely that the corporate purchaser of
computers is going to even consider a nonstandard computer (or hundreds
of computers) from a game company, let alone buying it from a toy
store. Although the Atari PC was shown several times publicly, it seems
almost certain now that it is a doomed product.
At the time, I asked Atari's new marketing wiz,
Jerry Brown (no, not that Jerry Brown), about the lack of slots on the
Atari PC. He emphasized that it was the only PC clone that had a
built-in EGA, in addition to its CGA and monochrome graphics output. I
noted that it would take another $300 to add a color monitor, bringing
the price of a color Atari PC up to $1000, and suggested that, to the
purchasers of low-end PC clones, slots may be more important than EGA.
Mr. Brown responded with something like, "So they won't buy our
Considering the facts, it looks like the Atari PC is
a non-product and Atari's marketing attitude towards it and their
potential buyers is a non-attitude as well. Atari's emphasis on their
video-game products in the last six months further dooms the Atari PC.
I guess this is just one more episode in the never-ending story of
future Atari products that never were.
It's been 30 years,
take a few,
since I last saw a copy
magazine, and I was
read about articles
and see projects
that I could have
sworn I read
about as a youth,
Not long ago I found myself sitting in a doctor's
office waiting for my appointment. As I waited for my turn in the
overbooked queue, I began to get bored, so I looked around for
something to read. I spyed a copy of Highlights for Children and picked
it up to look through it. It's been 30 years, give or a take a few,
since I last saw a copy of this magazine and I was surprised to read
about articles and see projects that I could have sworn I read about as
Then it dawned on me. Of course they were the same
or similar projects. The kids reading the magazine today were obviously
not around three decades ago and therefore to them, this stuff was new.
The same is true for readers of ANALOG. Newcomers to computers as well
as to the magazine are reading about the ST for the first time. Because
of this, I'd like to mention a few things that would have helped me
when I was a first-time ST user. If Heloise used an ST, this month's
column would be called "ST Hints From Heloise."
One of the first potentially confusing aspects of
using the ST are the various program types available for the machine.
There are four types of programs on the ST and it is useful to have a
brief understanding of each. Each of the programs has a different name
extension (a maximum of three letters after the period in the program
A GEM (Graphics Environment Manager) application
program uses the GEM interface (windows, drop-down menus, dialog boxes,
etc.) and both enters and exits from the GEM Desktop. It has a ".PRG"
at the end of the program name. A non-GEM program is one that does not
necessarily use the GEM interface or built-in GEM functions. They may
use the GEM routines but always provide their own user interface. Their
extension is ".TOS" (The Operating System).
A special type of "TOS" program requires one or
several arguments or additional pieces of information that are supplied
when the program is run. When these programs are run from the desktop,
a dialog box appears to let you enter the fist of arguments. After the
argument(s) is entered, you press return and the program runs. There
are several "command processors" available for the ST and these
programs allow you to enter commands much like you do in MS-DOS or
CP/M, that is directly from the keyboard. If you were using a command
processor, you would run this type of program by typing its name
followed by the list of arguments. Programs that use a list of
arguments have a ".TTP" name extension which stands for TOS Takes
There is a final type of program that can be run on
the ST which is slightly different then the ones mentioned above. This
program type is called a "Desktop Accessory" because once run, it is
always available to you much like a stapler, pencil holder or
calculator is-to use the desktop metaphor. When a Desktop Accessory is
run it is loaded into memory and takes up a portion of your ST's random
access memory (RAM). The accessory, which is typically a small program,
is available from any GEM application program from the "Desk" drop-down
menu. This is one of the many built-in features of GEM. Desktop
Accessory programs have a ".ACC" name extension and have to be
programmed to specifically be an accessory. Any other program will not
function as an accessory, even if you were to change the extension to
There are a number of ways for you to get the most
out of using the GEM Desktop. One of the simplest tricks is to rename
the disk icons (small pictures on the Desktop). For example, if you
have two disk drives, stacked one above the other (on your desk), it
may be easier for you to refer to these drives as the "top disk" and
"bottom disk:" To do this, click once on the drive icon and then choose
"install disk drive" from the "Option" menu. Type in the new name in
the name field and click on "install." That's all there is to it and
your new name will remain in effect until the computer is turned off.
To save the name permanently, you will have to save the Desktop (see
Another method you can use to get the most out of
using the Desktop is to first organize it the way you want, and then
save the Desktop so that each and every time you use your ST, the
Desktop will look just as you left it. What will be saved with the
Desktop? Icon names and positions, screen resolution, number of
displayed windows, their size and position. From the "Option" menu
there is a choice labeled "Save Desktop." Clicking on this option
creates (or overwrites a previous) a file called DESKTOP.INF Whenever
the ST is first turned on, it checks to see if this file is present and
if it is, loads the Desktop exactly as you had saved it.
If for some reason your mouse is incapacitated,
missing, on strike or otherwise unavailable, you can still maneuver
around the desktop via the ST keyboard. This information is buried in
the ST user manual but it is really quite straightforward. To move the
screen cursor around you hold down the Alternate key and press any of
the four arrow keys for direction. If you want a finer movement of the
cursor, hold down both the Alternate and Shift keys and press any of
the four arrow keys. To give a left mouse button click, press the
Alternate and Insert keys. The Alternate and Clr/Home keys pressed
together act like a right button click. After a little practice it
begins to feel natural although not as much fun as driving the little
furry guy around your desk.
Unlike some computers such as the Macintosh which
not only keep track of what disks are in the drives but also control
when they can be removed, the ST allows you to insert and remove a disk
at any time. However, if you have an open window on a particular disk
drive, and then replace the original disk with another, the screen
still displays the contents of the original disk. One way of updating
the displayed directory is to close the window and then open it again.
That's cumbersome, time consuming and no fun. A better way is to simply
use the Escape (Esc) key on the keyboard. Pressing Escape causes the ST
to update the contents of the currently open window. By the way, the
escape key can also be used to erase text fields in GEM dialog boxes.
For example, to enter a new time in the control panel, press Escape to
wipe out the field and move the cursor to the beginning and then type
the new time.
When I first started using Unix many years ago,
there was one concept that I didn't fully understand or appreciate. It
wasn't until I started using the system on a regular basis that I began
to realize the importance of folders (called directories in the MS-DOS
and Unix world). The best way I can now explain their use is to ask you
to imagine many files of different types. For example, some files are
text files used with your word processor, other files are used with a
spreadsheet, other files are DEGAS graphic files, and on and on. It
doesn't take more than a screenful or two of files to make the task of
finding any one specific file difficult. Here is where folders become
Instead of having to look high and low for a
particular file in one directory listing or window, folders let you
categorize your files for easier access as well as potentially faster
operation. To create a new folder, select the File Menu on the desktop
and provide a name when the dialog box appears. Remember that you
cannot rename the folder later on so choose names that describe its
intended purpose. For example, I have such folders as "words'"
"graphics" and "games." You can even have folders inside of folders.
Within "words," I have a folder called "1st_Word," "ST_Writer" and
"Regent" to hold the programs and files of three different word
processors. Note that there can be no blank spaces in a folder name so
you need to use an underscore character.
If you want to see the contents of a folder just
click twice on the folder name or icon. Files can be copied to a folder
name or icon from another window so there is no need to open the folder
first. Finally, when a window is open showing the contents of a
specific folder, the PATH or folder order is displayed at the top of
the window and the number of bytes for that folder only is also
The last tip allows you to run your application
programs a little faster. If you wanted to use your word processor, you
would double click on the program and then from within the program
select an existing text file to work on. By installing an application
with its document type you can simply double click on the file you want
to use and the program associated with it will automatically run.
Here's how to do it:
First of all, you need to be consistent with the
name extension of your similar files. In this example I am using 1st
Word so my name extensions are "DOC." From the Desktop, click once on
the application name, 1st Word. Then go to the Option Menu and select
"Install Application." When the dialog box appears, type the three
letters associated with the application-"DOC" in this case. Then click
on "OK" and save the Desktop to make your selections permanent. From
now on, all you need to do is double click on any file with a ".DOC"
extension name and 1st Word will automatically run and load the
document file you selected. Be sure that the application program and
its associated files all reside on the same disk for this technique to
Knowing how to use your ST computer more effectively
means that you will get the most out of computing. And getting the most
out of computing is something we are all interested in.
Leyenberger is a
human factors psychologist and freelance writer living
in New Jersey. He has written over 100 articles about computers in the
last four years and continues to be an Atari enthusiast. When not
computing he enjoys playing with robotic toys.