576 S. Telegraph
Pontiac, MI 48053
Resolution varies with program used
Reviewed by Andy Eddy
Without a doubt, the most difficult computer products to review are utilities. Generally, all the reviewer can do is comment on the adequacy of the user interfacing, whether the program works or not and to what extent. Graphics usually are not too much of a concern, so there's even less to discuss.
Now I've got my work cut out for me with a scattering of ST utilities—21 in all—grouped into one single package from Michtron called STuff. As you'll see, these programs give the user various powers not originally programmed into the ST; some you'll use, others you may not need. All are intended to be helpful to different users.
These utilities are broken down into various categories: AUTO folder programs, GEM programs, Desk accessories, .TOS programs and .TTP programs. Following is a list of the programs on the disk, with a small capsule review of each (if possible or necessary). I'll also mention how well the program works and/or its limitations. Hey, what else can I say? I told you it wouldn't be easy. . . .
AUTODATE—For those without clock hardware to automatically plug the time and date into the ST, this program lets the user input those Figures each session, whereupon they are saved on the disk. When you boot up, AUTODATE requests that you update the system time and date figures (it uses the last session's statistics as a starting point) using the keyboard. If you don't start entering those figures within a five-second period, the program passes up and continues with the boot process.
CAPSLOCK—Eliminating unwanted striking of the Caps Lock key, this program requires the Alternate-Caps Lock combination to toggle that feature on or off. This takes a while to get used to, but for sloppy typists like myself (I tend to rest the balls of my palms against the lower rail of the keyboard and frequently bump into the Caps Lock inadvertently), it can protect you from wasted time.
HARDAUTO—Not owning a hard disk at the time of this writing, I was unable to test this program. It claims to allow a user the power to boot the system up off of the hard-drive's AUTO folder. If there are any remaining .PRG files in the A: drive's AUTO folder, they will execute following the hard-drive boot.
HIGH—Placing this in an AUTO folder bumps the ST into medium resolution from its default, low. This'll be useful if any of the remaining AUTO programs need to be booted in medium, as the ST doesn't read the DESKTOP.INF file before activating programs inside the AUTO folder (see AUTOGEM for more insight on all this).
KEYCOMBO—Sets up certain key combinations to actuate some basic functions of the ST from the keyboard. Alternate-Undo sends a form-feed code to your printer; Alternate-Delete blanks the screen on your color monitor, presumably saving the phosphors of your display (this key pairing doesn't function in Monochrome); Control-Alternate-Delete is like hitting the reset button at the rear of the ST and warm starts the machine; Control-Alternate-Left Shift-Delete accomplishes a cold start, like cycling the machine with the power switch.
ONEHAND—Advertised as being written primarily for handicapped computer users, this program turns the Alternate, Control and both Shift keys into toggling switches, just like the Caps Lock key. While it's impossible to use them during some applications (like word processing, for example) it is handy for single-handed mouse manipulation (by toggling the Alternate key on and using the arrow keys to control the pointer).
RESET— This changes the function of the reset button, causing it to initiate a cold start instead of the usual warm start. This will clear out normally reset-proof programs, like 512K (see .TOS programs) and some RAMdisks, for instance.
STSELECT—Lets the user pick from the files in the AUTO folder and desk accessories to choose which ones from the boot disk should be run at boot-up. It will rename unwanted AUTO files to .PRX extenders and .ACC files to .ACX extenders so the ST won't load them in at boot-up. As with AUTODATE, STSELECT uses the arrow keys for specifying which programs are to be loaded, and if the user doesn't respond within five seconds, the boot-up process continues.
VERIFY—Shuts down the write verification function of the ST's disk drive to expedite writes to disk. In actual testing, by copying an approximately 200K file from RAMdisk to floppy disk, the ST took 48.0 seconds with normal verification as opposed to 27.5 seconds after running VERIFY.PRG.
AUTOGEM—The only desk accessory in the package, AUTOGEM ingeniously allows auto-booting of any GEM program. Formerly, .PRG programs couldn't be placed into AUTO folders because those programs required that GEM be loaded before they are run; unfortunately, GEM loads in after the AUTO folder boot.
AUTOGEM takes control of the mouse, activating windows and double-clicking on icons to initiate the booting of a specified program after the boot process is completed. This requires you to use the AUTOGEM editor to choose or change the program to be run, or disable the feature altogether. Moving the mouse away from the center of the screen before the auto-execution process starts, turns the option off.
My only complaint has to do with the automated mouse movement, which is incredibly slow during AUTOGEM. Granted, the first few times you see it do its magic it's a kick to watch the phantom pointer movement, but it's a novelty that soon wears out. The function of this program is to boot up the predetermined file, and if you're like me you want that to occur as soon as possible. Hopefully, they will pick up the pace of the mouse in the future.
AUTOFOLD—With all the AUTO files provided on this disk, it would be helpful to prescribe the order of execution. For instance, there are cases where you will want certain programs to load before others so their features will provide the most benefit—having HIGH set up the resolution ahead of other programs' execution, for example. AUTOFOLD lets you, the user, choose the sequence of execution and re-orders the folder for that line-up.
FILELOCK—For security in your disk data, you can code them with this password system, cutting off unwanted snooping. Up to three passwords can be employed to provide maximum protection. Once a file is locked, there is no way to unlock it without the proper password entry.
On the negative side, FILELOCK will wreck your file if the improper password is used. This means that you must take special care to re-enter your passwords verbatim, and keep FILELOCK and your "locked" files out of unwanted hands; at the very least, you should make backups of all files you lock.
512K—Why would someone write a utility that would take your one-Meg ST (or more) and emulate a 512K ST? Well, some programmers have been a bit shoddy in doing their chores, using some improper addresses in their code. The end result could prevent a one-Meg-plus user from running an application.
To 512K's credit, your machine will run like a 520 ST and bring the poorly-programmed file back to the land of the usable. Actually, the consumer of the badly written program should request that the developer update the software to make it compatible if the user upgrades the machine they use, and hopefully the company will comply. With that in mind, a program like 512K would become obsolete. Realistically, there will be situations when its availability will save someone a good deal of time and trouble waiting for the update, though as time goes on the loss of available RAM may become the resulting limitation to the user.
KEYCODE—This program returns to the screen the ASCII code and the keyboard scan code for a struck key. Both of these values are helpful to programmers, particularly with some "same" keys having different values. On the ST, both the "1" key on the top row of the main keyboard and the "1" on the numeric pad have the same ASCII value (which KEYCODE displays as 0×31), but different scan codes (0×02 and 0×6D, respectively). I can't help but think that this program would've been a little more efficient as a desk accessory, where the user—especially a programmer—wouldn't have to back out of an application to get a key's value.
FC—Another programmer-focused file, this compares two different programs, determines the bytes that don't match between them and lists them to the screen.
FDEL—Here's another security-minded utility that will delete a file with no chance of recovery. The ST's normal procedure for deleting a file doesn't actually overwrite the file (a file's location is marked as being usable for future disk writes and, provided that those sectors haven't been written to, the data exists intact), and programs are available for "undeleting" files that haven't been written over. FDEL goes a step further by filling the file's previous location with garbage characters, ensuring that someone doesn't come along and spill its valuable contents out for all to see.
GREP—As with the Search command in a word processor, this file searches any other files for a particular character or string. It would've been a bit easier to use if examples of the various commands were provided, but that is the general situation with .TTP programs; they don't support mouse use, often require the user to use a cryptic command set and frequently must be played with on a trial-and-error basis before the user gets the best out of them.
HEADER—These next two are, again, programmer-oriented. HEADER takes the target file and tells you the length of the Text, Data and BSS segments of a file, as well as the symbol table length, if one is used. And. ...
HEX—-Takes any file and very neatly displays it in hexidecimal.
TOUCH—This is an interesting application: It will "touch" the desired file, thereby stamping the file with the system time/date (or a user-specified time/date figure for those without a clock card), helping you to track the latest version of a file. Especially beneficial when used in conjunction with AUTODATE to set the system up.
UNHIDE—Lastly, this lets you get into the guts of the file directory. You can set or remove flags for hidden, read/read-write and/or system attributes on the disk.
The STuff package also contains a program called PATCHER, a utility that is used to insert bug fixes, commonly called "patches," during future upgrades. This will enable Michtron to reduce the cost of upgrading by not having to send an entirely new disk to each owner. Factory Programming (the company that created STuff and some other fine programs for Michtron) has put PATCHER into the public domain and claims they will include it with all future releases. That's a consistency that's good to hear of, very reassuring to owners of Michtron/Factory products when they consider support for their purchases.
For obvious reasons, Michtron has left the STuff disk unprotected so you can place any of the programs on boot disks, frequently used disks or—given that you own one—install them on a hard drive. This isn't an invitation to pass on the files to your friends. Please respect this action by Michtron, particularly with the low cost of the package; better, encourage others to pick up STuff if there is anything in it that strikes their fancy. I found a few programs that are useful on a day-to-day basis; others you'll call up once in a blue moon. Still, it's a minute price to pay for all that STuff.