Outpost: Atari. (word processing capabilities and bugs) (column) Arthur Leyenberger.
Welcome back to the Outpost. It doesn't seem like too long since we last talked. There is a great deal to cover this month and, since it is the holiday season, I will offer a few gift ideas for your consideration. But first, bear with me while I attempt to clear the air.
Most Atari computer owners already know that their machines are competitive in features and capability with just about any other "home' micro. We know that the Atari is a serious machine disguised in game clothing. There are over ten programming languages (not counting dialects) that may run on an Atari. The sound and graphics are superior to machines costing thousands more. The machines are very friendly: sound and graphics do not require POKE statements; full screen editing makes learning Basic hassle-free; and such features as AUTORUN files and instant Basic syntax error-checking make life easier all around.
The problem is that most non-Atari users are unaware of these facts. When I demonstrate word processing, spreadsheet, database and other application software to the uninitiated, I see their reactions. The most common expression I hear is, "You mean the Atari can do all that? And play games too? Wow!'
Ignorance of the capabilities of the Atari is not limited to consumers. Much of the popular press perpetuates the idea that the Atari can only play games, and should not be considered for much else. I was recently very disappointed to see Consumer Reports, of all publications, perpetuating this myth in their longawaited September 1983 special home computer issue.
In their discussion of the Atari 800 computer, one of the drawbacks mentioned was Atari's version Basic. They said it is "less desirable than the versions used in most other computers.' No mention was made of the instant syntax checking or the full screen editing capability of the Atari. These two features are a boon to the novice programmer. They speed the learning process and make programming much easier.
Next, the documentation is degraded. Consumers says the Basic manuals are only fair. Fair at what? The Basic manual is a reference manual, not a tutorial. When I teach Atari Basic programming, the first thing I tell my students is to go out and buy the Osborne/McGraw-Hill book, Your Atari Computer by Lon Poole, et. al. This is an excellent Atari reference book--the best. Still, a good text, and probably a good teacher, is required to learn to program.
Finally, Consumers says that the Atari cannot be used as an inexpensive word processor. They mention the disk-based Bank Street Writer which requires a disk drive. Then they say you also have to buy a printer, as if you can do word processing on other computers without a printer. Let's leave the printer out of it for now. The cartridge-based Atariwriter word processor has been out for six months, is as easy to use as the Bank Street Writer, and allows data to be saved on a cassette recorder. It brings word processing to the masses.
I have always respected the judgment of Consumer Reports. I would not think of taking one small consumer step toward purchasing any product without first consulting them. But the problem here is indicative of a much larger issue. That is, treating computers as appliances or any other consumer product. Sure, the machines are sold as consumer products, but the amount of effort required to operate a computer and use application software is far greater than that required to use a toaster or an automobile.
I can understand how a Consumer Reports staff reviewed might have taken an Atari computer home, much as he would a hair dryer, and used it for a period of time to write a review. And if it was during one of Atari's misleading advertising campaigns on TV, stressing only game playing, then all the worse.
But Consumers is not the only party at fault. The entire home computer industry is to blame for continuing to sell, support, and advertise computers as either toys or simple-to-use devices. There is no way the sales staff of a chain discount store can understand the machines they sell and provide assistance to a naive consumer.
It is time for the entire industry to grow up. That includes the computer press, the popular press, manufacturers, and retailers. Okay, I will get off the soap box and press on.
In addition to inheriting the Outpost legacy from John Anderson, I have also inherited whatever program bugs and faux pas may have occurred in previous columns. One such as yet unexplained bug appeared in the September 1983 Outpost.
Listing 1 was a modification to a Basic program that will make it s RUN-only program. That is, it will be unlistable by the author or anyone else. Listing 2 was a method to undo the process. Very useful for those forgetful souls who don't believe in making a backup (listable) copy of their programs. Now we come to the bug. As presented, Listing 1 will make your code unlistable but the routine in Listing 2 will not work. Only when Listing 1 is changed a follows, will it be relistable with the undo routine.
10000 POKE (PEEK(138) + 256* PEEK(139)+2,0):SAVE
I have added parentheses around and including the first PEEK instruction. My thanks to Dick Kushner for mentioning this bug. If anyone can explain why the procedure works with the added parentheses and not in the original form, let me know and I will publish the information.
Video Monitor Output For Your 400
The Atari 400 is all but gone from your dealer's shelves. In the last few months quite a few have been purchased for less than $100. Many people bought them as second computers. Others bought them, installed a keyboard and a 48K memory card, and had the near equivalent of an Atari 800 computer. The 400 is essentially the same machine under the hood as the 800, save for the video monitor output that the 800 provides.
Now there is a modification you can make to your Atari 400 computer which will give you a monitor output. The mod is called the Xtravideo I and requires no soldering or other special skills to install. The module replaces the CD4050 integrated circuit and provides a composite video signal via a cable terminated in an RCA phono connector.
Installation is straightforward, following the simple instructions provided. The monitor output does not affect the normal RF TV output. The Xtravideo I comes with a lifetime warranty and is available from Hardsell. The cost is $39.95, which is not very much considering the added function you get.
Leave The Driving To Us
In my review of the Atariwriter word processor in the Cotober 1983 issue of Creative Computing I said, "this may be Atari's best product in a long time.' I also said that the word processor was one of the best for the Atari computer, but lacked any easy method for passing control codes to a non-Atari printer. I concluded that it was up to Atari to produce the printer drivers that were needed to make the Atariwriter the word processor of choice for the Atari computers.
I am happy to report that Atari has done just that. Printer drivers are now available at a nominal cost to turn Atariwriter into the easiest to use Atari word processor with the best value. The following printers are now supported: Atari 1020 and 1027; C. Itoh Prowriter 8510; Epson MX-80, MX-80 with Graftrax, MX-100, MX-100 with Graftrax, MX-80FT III, MX-100FT III, and FX-80; Gemini 10; and NEC 8023.
These 12 printer driver files are binary load files, and come on the one APX printer driver disk. You use DOS to copy the driver fild for your particular printer onto your Atariwriter text disks as AUTORUN. SYS. Then, when you boot up the Atariwriter cartridge with your disk inserted in the drive, the driver loads into memory and you are all set.
During your word processing session you may use all of the Atariwriter builtin commands directly, without having to worry about compatibility with your printer. On my Epson FX-80 printer, I can use proportional printing and print in double columns directly from Atariwriter. The results are excellent. The NEC and C. Itoh printers also allow proportional printing.
The Atariwriter printer drivers were written by Gary Furr, cost $17, and can be obtained from the Atari Program Exchange as product number APX-20223. Atariwriter and the drivers make this the finest word processor for the Atari computer
A Couple OF DOS Improvements
The Atari Disk Operating System (DOS) is criticized for being slow in execution and not as feature-laden as possible. These facts are apparent when you try to do something as trivial as making a duplicate copy of a disk. Using the J option of the DOS menu (Duplicate Disk) requires three passes regardless of the amount of data contained on the disk. By the time the destination disk is formatted and the copy complete, over five minutes have elapsed--and your patience has worn thin.
Thanks to a program called SCopy 810, written by Craig Chamberlain, an entire disk may be duplicated in only two passes. Craig has written a sector copying program that will work in as little as 8K of RAM memory. The menu is continuously visible on the screen as are the data that are being copied (see photo).
This program is not intended to copy protected software, and there is no provision for copying or creating bad sectors. However, as an easy method for backing up text or data disks, it can't be beat. An application that has saved me countless hours is to use the SCopy 810 to format the text disk and duplicate the printer driver for the Letter Perfect word processing program. Rather than sequence through the arduous driver creation utility, I do it once, then use SCopy to duplicate as many text disks as I need. Since SCopy also formats a disk, even more time is saved.
Although the program was originally distributed by user groups under license from Alliance Software, it is now available directly from Alliance Software. The cost is $10 and includes a 17-page user guide and free postage. This is one of the most useful DOS utilities I have ever seen for the Atari computer.
Another useful DOS utility I use, and one that I would recommend to anyone who does a great deal of file manipulation, is DOS-Mod from Eclipse software. DOS-Mod is completely compatible with your existing Atari DOS 2.0S and contains several enhancements.
How would you like to be able to use full screen editing when using DOS, just as you do when using Atari Basic? You got it. How about being able to see more of what you are doing on the screen? No problem. DOS-Mod gives you more than half the screen, since its compressed menu takes up less room. Another aid to let you know what is going on is the minimum of screen clearing that occurs.
If this was all DOS-Mod allowed me to do I would say, "Okay, but so what?' There is more. Commands that used to take several lines and require answering prompts can now all be put on one line. The wildcard operators now work (as they should) with COPY, DELETE, and RENAME. Ane get this: DOS-Mod lets you create command files which may contain a sequence of commands that will be executed in one operation.
Still not convinced? Then, throw in an excellent set of on-line tutorials that, when copied to a printer using C D1:*.*,P:, yield 4, pages of documentation. Finally, DOS-Mod tixes many of the bugs in Atari DOS--such as the RS-232 handler being destroyed on RESET and typical MEM.SAV problems.
DOS-Mod is an excellent product that greatly simplifies and expands the Atari DOS into a powerful operating system. It costs $35 and comes with a 30-day money back guarantee. The double density version costs $50.
Dear Santa . . .
It is the holiday season, and Atari folks look forward to checking the stocking on that special day for computer goodies. In keeping with this spirit, and perhaps leaving a few hints as to my own desires, I present my unscientific, seat-of-the-pants wish list of Atari-related goodies. The list is presented in no special order and reflects my own prejudices and biases--although I have used/played/tested all of the products and like them all for one reason or another. There is no way I can give any more than brief descriptions in the remaining space, but here goes.
A cute little stocking stuffer is the "The Secret of Perfect Memory' by Elephant Memory Systems. It only costs a buck and is packed with all sorts of disk-related information. It includes a glossary, disk and drive nomenclature, and pretty pictures, and may be found at stores selling Elephant Disks.
Another neat stocking stuffer is the Videomax Game Glove from Nancy and Company. For $6.95 plus $.50 postage you get a cure for the dreaded stick burn. Blisters are eliminated by this glove (mens, womens, and youth sizes, righty or lefty) made of calfskin with a velcro fastener in back. Quite comfortable to wear and sure to make you the talk of the arcade.
Are you a shoot-'em-up fan? Can't seem to get more than just a couple of megapoints each round of Defendant, Fort Apocalypse, or Zaxxon? Then you need the Blaster from Questar Controls. For about $8 you dial up to 20 shots per second with just one joystick button press. Your joystick plugs into the Blaster which plugs into the joystick port.
I have small hands, and although I own and admire the Wico Command joystick, it just is too big for my paws. More and more I find myself using the Suncom Starfighter Joystick from Suncom. It costs about $12 and fits nicely into my palm. The stick is short and has a short throw which makes the action quite snappy.
Although I find it hard to use the Wico joysticks, I think they are probably the most rugged, professional sticks to be found anywhere. One Wico product I use constantly is the Arcade Trackball. Selling for about $40, this gadget is really sexy. Precision movement, a solid feel, and quality construction make you feel as if the arcade is in your living room. Try Missile Command, Centipede, or Pole Position with this beauty and you will never go back to a stick.
So far I have talked about stocking stuffers only. Let's talk a little about gifts. Topping the list, of course, would be a subscription to Creative Computing. You will be seeing more Atari coverage in future months. Next, how about Atari itself? For the best in word processing, consider Atariwriter. It would be especially useful for writing all of those thank you notes for Atari goodies you receive. If you want to have a youngster learn a computer language or become more comfortable with computers, Atari Logo is an excellent choice. I will be devoting an entire column to Logo in the near future. Both of these Atari products list for $99.95. Then, of course, there are those classic Atari games that you have been wanting.
If you have been waiting for a professional quality, easy to use plotting, graphics, and data analysis package for the Atari, you may want to consider the B/Graph package from Income Software. It lists for $99.95 and allows you to make bar, line, and pie charts, and perform regression analysis, exponential smoothing, and statistical analyses on either you screen or a printer. Most of the major printers are supported, and the program is very easy to use.
With all of these programs and disks you will be receiving, you will need some place to store them. Ring King Visibles has the most complete line of disk and cartridge holders I have seen. The disk holders range from a convenient three disk holder to a disk wallet, binder, and tray. They also make an inexpensive cartridge storage album.
I would be remiss if I did not mention at least a few games to include on your Christmas list. Any of the games from Electronic Arts would be a welcome addition to your game library. My favorites are Archon and Pinball Construction Set.
Another company that ranks high on my list of quality game producers is Odesta Software. They make the definitive board game translations of Chess, Checkers and Othello (Odin). Any one of these fine products is sure to please.
For you hackers, and occasional programmers too, a very useful product is the Monkey Wrench II, from Eastern House Software. This programmer's aid is a $59.95 cartridge that plugs into the right slot on the Atari 800. Its features include: automatic program line numbering, re-numbering; block copy, move, and deletions; and access to DOS functions directly from Basic. Additional features are too numerous to mention. A very handy tool for the Atari Basic programmer.
If you don't see any gift ideas here, then check out the last year's crop of Outposts. You will surely find something that it worthy of mention in your letter to Santa.
All of the products I have mentioned do exist, by the way. You can to into a store, shell out the cash, and walk away with the merchandise. I have a couple of items on my own wish list that don't exist at all. Perhaps an open letter to Santa or Atari or whomever will do the trick.
First on my list is an Atari computer that will run all of the existing software plus contain the new operating system that gives the extra graphic modes and help functions. I said all, which means that there would have to be two operating systems in the machine. A simple switch, both hardware and software controlled would configure the machine as I desire. And why not throw in a parallel and a serial port while you are at it. Memory of 64K is fine, but by all means, sell the computer at a competitive price.
My second wish is for an Ataricompatible (and other machine compatible) portable computer, along the lines of the Radio Shack Model 100. There is no reason the machine could not have 64K, disk drive, and video ports plus all of the goodies on the Model 100 and sell for under $500. If it existed, I would buy two of them right now.
My next wish is not for a product, but rather a policy. A sane software pricing policy. Over $40 for a cartridge game, over $30 for a disk game, and $100 for application software is too expensive. It limits the accessiblity of computing to an affluent few, fosters software piracy, and breeds contempt for software manufacturers. Fortunately, Atari software is not as high-priced as other software.
Finally, my last wish is that you have a very happy holiday. Be of good cheer, and remember that there is more to life than the latest video game or Basic utility. Take time to enjoy your family and friends because they are most important of all.
See you next time.
Firms Mentioned In This Column
Alliance Software 17094 Dunblaine Birmingham, MI 48009.
Eastern House Software 3239 Linda Dr. Winston-Salem, NC 27106.
Eclipse Software 1058-J Marigold Ct. Sunnyvale, CA 94086.
Electronic Arts 2755 Campus Dr. San Mateo, CA 94403.
Hardsell P.O. Box 565 Metuchen, NJ 08840.
Inhome Software 2485 Dunwin Dr. Unit 8 Mississauga, Ontario Canada LS1 1T1.
Nancy and Co. 22594 Mission Blvd. Suite 302 Hayward, CA 94541.
Odesta Software 930 Pitnes Evanston, IL 60202.
Questar Controls 670 N.W. Pennsylvania Ave. Chehahlis, WA 98532.
Ring King Visibles 215 W. Second St. Muscatine, IA 52761.
Suncom 650 Anthony Trail Suite E Northbrook, IL 60062.
Wico Consumer Division 6400 W. Gross Point Rd. Niles, IL 60648.
Photo: Xtravideo I.
Photo: SCopy 810.