A.N.A.L.O.G. ISSUE 62 / JULY 1988 / PAGE 45
by Frank Cohen
Astra Systems has introduced a new monitor switch box that makes it easy to switch between using color and monochrome monitors with your ST. The Astra SW2 Monitor Switch is a small box that allows you to plug in a monitor's video cable and power cable. Pressing a switch on the front of the box toggles power and video from one monitor to another.
Another company, Practical Solutions, makes a similar box called Monitor Master. Their switchbox operates in a similar way to the Astra box. In the back of the box are sockets for color and monochrome monitor video cables. One cable runs out of the box and into your ST's video input jack. Monitor Master costs $49.99, as compared with the slightly expensive Astra box at $59.95.
Both boxes have a tricky problem when it comes to the ST's video input jack. Many ST users have damaged their STs when accidentally (or purposely) removing the video cable while the ST and monitor are turned on. The ST is sensitive to voltage spikes and has no protection for its video chip when a surge comes down the wires. Practical Solutions includes a small notice to users to be certain the power is turned off on your ST and monitor before operating the switch. Astra also comments that you should turn off your ST before operating their switch.
Only a small amount of the 520ST's have RF modulators. These modulators are needed to take the video output of an ST and send it into a videotape recorder. Both the Astra and Practical Solutions boxes have audio and composite video RCA jacks built in.
Monitor switching boxes are items of convenience, not necessity. However, at under $60 both the Astra SW2 and Monitor Master boxes are a happy accessory to your ST system.
In Hannover, West Germany, the CeBit trade show, probably the largest trade show in the world, saw some new product information from Atari. The Atari booth was crowded with companies offering software and hardware add-ons for the ST. It made quite a show for the public, however, the real news was being shown to only a select group of people.
In a hotel suite, Atari showed a preliminary version of its new 68030 high-end workstation computer system. The new system uses the new Motorola 68030 CPU, which is even more advanced than the previously reported 68020. The 68030 Atari machine is being designed to be an inexpensive Unix system. Unix is the most popular multi-user operating system among the scientific and research development communities. The Atari box will come with Unix System 5.31, which is the AT&T supported version of the Unix operating system.
Atari also showed the ABAQ Transputer and CD ROM units at the show. Both of these units have still not been completed at this writing.
Blow Up Your Blitter
It has always amazed me that a Macintosh running at 5 Megahertz is faster than an Atari ST running at 8 Megahertz. You might think that because your ST is running quicker, then screen updates, text editing and object drawing would be vastly quicker than the Macintosh. All you have to do is look at each machine's screens to see the difference. Why?!
The Macintosh operating system-the collection of programs that allow a Mac programmer to write text on the screen, plot objects, etc.-was written for the 68000 16-bit chip in the Mac. The GEM operating system was written for 8086/8088 8-bit chip of the IBM PC. The GEM system for the Atari ST is the result of a slowly evolving set of programs which started as CP/M and is now a graphics-based operating system.
GEM is made up of two parts: Virtual Device Interface (VDI) and the Application Environment Services (AES). The VDI handles drawing text, lines, circles, etc. The AES draws drop-down menus, windows, dialog boxes, etc.
VDI is the reason the Mac runs faster. VDI was written mostly in the C Language. C is usually very inefficient when it comes to high-speed graphically oriented programming. Writing the same programs in 68000 assembly languages would be like adding a turbocharger to a 1988 Corvette engine. (Excuse the automotive metaphor, but it did make a nice segue).
Wayne Buckholdt at Softrek rewrote the text-drawing portions of the VDI in assembly language to develop Turbo ST. Turbo ST loads itself into your ST as a desk accessory on boot-up. The program intercepts all the text-plotting commands issued by VDI and processes them itself. The results can be speed improvements up to five times better than the normal VDI text-drawing speed.
Turbo even speeds up text drawing for TOS-based programs that don't use GEM. A popular text-editing program, Microemacs, scrolls incredibly quickly when Turbo ST is active.
The program is approximately 25,000 bytes long, so you won't notice much of a lag when booting your ST. Turbo ST carries a $49.95 suggested list price and is available now.
Apple Blasts Microsoft and Hewlett Packard
In 1986, Digital Research, Inc., the makers of the GEM system for the ST, caved in to a lawsuit filed by Apple Computers in which Apple alleged that DRI's operating system infringed on the look and feel of the Macintosh operating system. Both the GEM system and the Mac system are loosely based on research done at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC). Xerox used the graphic operating system in its Star minicomputer systems. Later, under the leadership of Steven Jobs, Apple bought a share of the technology developed at Xerox PARC for Apple's new machine, the Macintosh.
Now, Apple is suing Microsoft and Hewlett Packard because the two companies have developed visual operating systems similar to the Mac's. Apple feels that its system of windows and mouse controls is theirs. DRI settled the suit out of court because DRI was having cash problems. As part of the settlement, DRI changed the GEM desktop to resemble a less friendly user-interface.
Hewlett Packard has developed a package called New Wave that works with Microsoft's Windows 2.03 operating system. Windows is an operating system for the IBM PC and compatibles that uses a mouse to manipulate windows and drop-down windows just like the Mac and GEM. HPS New Wave adds additional functions to windows to bring it even closer to the Xerox PARC system.
The suit was filed in March of this year. The announcement of the suit caused Microsoft stock to fall $5.625 per share. HP stock also fell down $2.125 after the announcement.
The strange thing about the suit is that Microsoft produces the most popular software for the Macintosh. With such a close working relationship, it is even odder that there was no discussion between Microsoft and Apple before the suits were filed.
By the way, in case you were wondering how much money might he involved in Apple's marketing of the Macintosh, Apple posted revenues for the last quarter of 1987 of $1.04 billion. That's a 52% increase over sales of 1986. Apple expects with continued support of the Mac II and other products that they will be doing $4 billion in sales every quarter of 1988.
WordPerfect Keeps Pitching
To follow up our reporting last month that WordPerfect Corp. (WPC) announced its intention of pulling out of the Atari ST market: They have changed their mind. WPC began making motions that they were removing their word processor, WordPerfect, from the ST market because they found complete copies on three pirate bulletin boards. At the time, WPC's representative said they were not having pirate problems with the Amiga or IBM PC versions as compared to the ST.
After a well-attended conference on CompuServe, WPC announced that it always intended on staying in the ST market, but was appalled at the apparent rampant piracy of software going on in the ST software industry. WPC effectively used its major clout in the ST community by making the announcements.
Astra Systems, 2500 S. Fairview, Unit L, Santa Ana, CA 92704; (714) 549-2141.
Practical Solutions, 1930 E. Grant Road, Tucson, AZ 85719; (602) 884-9612.
Softrek, 2628 Martz Court, Orlando, FL 32817; (305) 657-4611.
Eidersoft USA (800) 992-9198.
Apple, 20525 Mariani Avenue, Cupertino, CA 95014; (408) 996-1010
WordPerfect Corp., 1555 N. Technology Way, Orem, UT 84057; (801) 227-4288.
About the author: Frank Cohen has been developing Atari programs since his first commercial product, Clowns & Balloons. When Atari Corp. began marketing the 16-bit ST computer, he founded Regent Software. Frank developed Regent Base, an SQL 4GL database, and is currently involved with several other ST related productivity and small business software packages. You may contact Frank directly on Delphi (REGENTWARE), Genie (FCOHEN) or CompuServe (72457, 3171).