by Mike Schoenbach
Eight years ago CompuServe introduced its first Atari Special Interest Group, which became known as SIG*ATARI* SIG*ATARI was the pioneer, being the first national interest group devoted exelusively to Atari computer owners. Over the past few years, CompuServe has grown to be the largest computer-information system available, having over 400,000 subscribers and offering more than 200 services to computer owners, professionals and hobbyists of all kinds.
Today, six services are available on CompuServe exclusively for the support of Atari computers and Atari computer owners. The original SIG*ATARI has been split off into four separate Atari Special Interest Groups (known as "Forums" on CompuServe) and two online databases to meet the changing needs of the Atari market. The expanded Atari coverage on CompuServe allows users to get the most information possible on any subject relating to Atari computers. It makes no difference whether you are a fanatical 8-bit computer owner, a brand-new computer owner who just purchased an Atari ST, a part-time software developer or just someone looking for help with a specific program, because CompuServe's SIG*ATARI has a lot to offer you. A whole community of people who share your same interest in Atari computing is just a phone call away!
A CompuServe Forum is where people from all over the world gather electronically to discuss and learn more about a common interest. In fact, you can think of a Forum as a users group that meets 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Atari 8-bit and Atari 16-bit Forums were both set up for users of Atari computers to communicate, share information, exchange tips, download programs and meet new people all over the world. Each Forum offers a message board for discussions, an electronic conference area for real-time global communication, and an extensive collection of files available for you to download.
The Data Libraries available in both Forums have files for all different types of interests. To help organize files better, each CompuServe Forum provides up to 18 specific Data Libraries for different file types. With upload time free of connect charges on CompuServe, many members continue to regularly upload their newest creations for other Forum members to share.
Many Atari luminaries, including Bill Wilkinson, Steve Ahlstrom, Dan Moore, Tom Hudson, Keith Ledbetter, and more, continue to regularly visit both Forums to help answer questions and offer their knowledge to other Forum members. Many users feel embarrassed to ask what appears to them to be a "stupid" question. However, according to the Sysops, a stupid question has never been asked in the eight years since SIG*ATARI'S inception.
"The friendly, helpful attitude of the entire membership base makes the new user comfortable and at home from the first time he or she signs on," says Dave Groves, an assistant Sysop of the Atari 16-bit Forum. "There is no problem too simple or too complex to get a solid solution from the experts and other users, who between them have used almost every program ever written for an Atari computer."
Participation is the key word. According to Groves,"The user base consists of members who are at the forefront of the Atari Market. We have the opinion leaders of the Atari community, the end-user public and a group genuinely concerned about the future of the Atari market. Many of our users write Atari-oriented periodicals, are leaders in major Atari Users Groups and are retail dealers. Online discussions generally lead to action."
SIG*ATARI members also provide constructive feedback to software developers and are very happy to lend a hand to other Forum members. For example, when Keith Ledbetter was ready to release his long-awaited 1030 Express version 3.0, he sought the help of SIG*ATARI members to assist him with beta testing the program. Forum members provided Ledbetter with detailed bug descriptions as well as offered many suggestions for the final release version.
Any developers wishing to conduct a beta test online should contact the Sysops for more information.
In February 1988, the Atari Vendors Support Forum was launched. The sole purpose of this new Forum was to create and maintain a direct link between many top third-party software manufacturers and their customers. Each participating vendor has his own message section which is used by the company and their customers to correspond with each other daily, a Data Library which offers product-help files, tutorials, patches and sometimes product updates, and an electronic conference room.
Current participants of the Vendors Forum include ICD, Inc., Intersect Software, Michtron, Regent Software, QMI, Data Pacific, Avant-Garde and Atari Explorer Magazine. By the time you read this, ANALOG and ST Log magazines will also have an official online support section in the Vendors Forum. Please note that other vendors maintain online
"The friendly, helpful attitude of
the entire membership
base makes the new user comfortable
and at home from the first time
he or she signs on."
support in the Atari 8- and 16-bit Forums as well. Ron Luks invites any vendors interested in setting up an official online support section to send an EasyPlex message to him (his User ID is 76703,254).
A t a r i
P r o g r a m m e r s
Developing software for a complex machine such as the ST is no easy task. When a programmer undertakes a programming project-for fun or profit-he is mostly opening himself up for endless days of coding, more stress than anyone deserves and a great deal of hair loss (Ever wonder why programmers grow their hair so long? They know they're going to lose 25% of it per programming project). However, when the final product is released, most will agree that their time was well spent. In addition, with a minimal amount of psychotherapy, many of the side-effects of programming can also be relieved.
If you are developing a program for the Atari ST-whether you are a professional or first-time programmer-the Atari Programmers and Developers Forum on CompuServe can be a great asset to you? Participants in the Developers Forum include the entire cross section of programmers and developers in the Atari community. Professional programmers use the Developers Forum to exchange information, source code and tips with their colleagues. Amateur programmers will find a wealth of helpful information to assist them in turning the program that is in their mind to one that can be loaded into the computer.
"The Atari Developers Forum offers different things to different people," says Charles McGuinness, assistant Sysop of the Atari Developers Forum. "Software developers will find a chance to interact with each other and discuss methods and techniques for dealing with GEM and GEMDOS as well as every other aspect of the ST computer. For the amateur programmer, the Developers Forum offers the opportunity to discuss things with the pros, as well as being able to take advantage of the large library of source code that is available in the Developers Forum."
McGuinness adds that the Atari Developers Forum is the official site for obtaining updates to the Atari Developers Kit. A message section and Data Library has been set up for registered developers only (those who purchase the Atari Developers Kit). Registered developers who do not currently have access to section 7 ("Registered Developers") of the Forum should contact Cary Gee at Atari (his CompuServe User ID is 70007,2355) to gain admission. Once in, Developer Kit updates as well as other new development tools from Atari are readily available for you to download.
"The Developers Forum's usefulness does not necessarily end when you are finished writing your program," Ron Luks, primary sysop of the CompuServe Atari Forums, adds. "In addition to getting help with programming and product marketing, special restricted areas are available to developers who wish to beta test preliminary versions of their products. These sections are set up and restricted to a small group of people who the Developers request to be admitted. This enables the developer to test and debug his software in the most efficient manner possible, and to limit the distribution of preproduction software."
The Atari Programmers and Developers Forum offers something to every Atari programmer. The help you receive here can mean the difference between forgetting or finishing your software product. And the Developers Forum is guaranteed to be more costeffective than psychotherapy, so don't be shy about asking for help here!
In addition to the four Atari Forums, CompuServe also offers two online databases for Atari computer owners: Antic Online, the largest online magazine database available on CompuServe, and the Atari Users Network Database, which is a one-stop area for users to find out what's new in the various Atari Forums and to receive help and information on using the Forums. ATARINET's "What's new in SIG*ATARI" article is updated weekly and highlights new and noteworthy events in the four Atari Forums. The Atari Users Network Database also provides a listing of upcoming scheduled conferences in SIG*ATARI, and Forum help and information files.
Less $ $ $
CompuServe's standard daytime and nighttime rates are $6.00 an hour for 300/450 baud, and $12.50 an hour for 1200/2400 baud. Electronic communication can become addicting very quickly, so it is important that you try to use your online time as efficiently as possible. A number of tools have been designed to make interaction with CompuServe as cost effective as possible.
ST/FORUM (available in DL 13 of the Atari Developers Forum) is a program designed to minimize time spent on CompuServe. It does this by logging on, downloading all new messages as quickly as possible, and then logging off. The time it takes to download messages is probably only about half the time it takes to read them on line. The ST/FORUM user can read messages and compose his or her replies off line and then have ST/FORUM upload the replies the next time it logs on. According to Charles McGuinness, author of ST/FORUM, a number of significant enhancements are planned for future versions of the program.
"Presently, ST/FORUM just supports access to the message board. In the future, we hope to expand ST/FORUM to allow it to download files, so that in theory a user will never have to log on CompuServe `in person.' By doing this we hope to make the users' bills the absolute smallest possible for the amount of
The Developers Forum is
guaranteed to be more cost-
effective than psychotherapy, so
don't be shy about asking for
usage they get from the service."
Bill Aycock's MCIS utility - for Atari 8-bit owners-is a similar program in that after a user captures new messages using their favorite terminal program, MCIS can be used to conveniently read the messages offline. MCIS is available in DL 5 of the Atari 8-bit Forum (BRO MCIS*. *).
Owners of Flash 1.52 (and higher), Interlink, and ST Talk Professional can enjoy reduced download time by using CompuServe's new "Quick B" protocol, which was developed by CompuServe programmers specifically to maximize throughput in the multiuser CompuServe environment. Quick B protocol can be invoked by using the command DOW/PROTO:QB.
CompuServe's Forum software also makes it easy for you to retrieve information that is of interest to you. It allows you to select the message sections you wish to read; it will automatically notify you of any messages you have waiting in each Forum so you can retrieve them quickly; it provides for nine Sysop-written "Bulletin" files which will notify you of "hot items" in all the major areas of the Forum; there is a membership directory for you to use to find others who share your interests; it allows you to set the initial area of the Forum you wish to visit when logging in, and much more. Please consult the Forum Users Guide and online help files for more information on how to get the most out of the Forum software.
SIG*ATARI offers something for everyone. No matter where your Atari interests lie, you will find a whole supportive community that wants to share in your discoveries and help you learn new and exciting things about your computer wailing for you on CompuServe. If you're a new Forum member, the Sysops request that you post an "introduction" message on the message board so others can meet you. The Sysops also invite you to drop them a message any time. Their CompuServe User IDs are as follows:
How to .c-
A menu of Atari services on CompuServe can be accessed by typing GO ATARI at any CompuServe system command prompt. However, these "Quick reference words" can be used to enter any of the following services directly:
|The Atari 8-Bit Forum||(GO ATARI8)|
|The Atari 16-Bit Forum||(GO ATARI 16)Atari|
|Developers Forum||(GO ATARIDEV)Atari|
|Vendor Support||(GO ATARIVEN) Atari|
|Users Network||(GO ATA-1)ANTIC Online|
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