ST HOLIDAY GIFT GUIDE
by Arthur Leyenberger
It's that time of the year again. Time for sugar-plum fairies, chest-nuts roasting on an open fire, dreaming of a white Christmas, sleigh bells ding-ding-dingalinging, and, of course, holiday wishlists. It's also the time of year when ST-Log puts together a mega-page, star-studded, no-holds-barred holiday gift-giving guide. If you have read the last few episodes you know that each year there are more and more products for the Atari ST computer and its owner. This year is no different as there is a plethora of new products for the ST, as well as plenty of solid performers from previous years.
Of course, not every ST-related product ever made can be mentioned, and space prohibits even mentioning all of the good products I use or know about. My apologies in advance if I leave out your favorite one. However, this list of products represents the best of the best of products that will enhance your ST computing.
To save you the hassle of visiting every computer store in town and then having to actually tell someone what you would like for a gift (how tacky), here is a compilation of goodies for the Atari user. Some of the products I will mention by name, having actually tested each one of them. Other items will be mentioned in general with perhaps a couple of suggested brand names. A list of the manufacturers and their addresses can be found at the end of the article.
CLOCKWISE FROM ABOVE:
|Bubble Ghost · From Accolade||$35|
|Flight Simulator II · By SubLOGIC||$50|
|Sundog: Frozen Legacy · From FTL Systems||$40|
|Time Bandit · From Michtron||$40|
It may sound surprising but some of the best games are also educational as well. One of the best games that falls into this category is Flight Simulator II by SubLOGIC. This is the most complete flight simulation program for the ST and sells for $50. FS II is an excellent simulation of flying a single-engine plane. The flight manuals that accompany the game are the most extensive I have seen for a home computer. Not only will you learn how to fly with this program but you will also have fun doing it. SubLOGIC also has about a dozen scenery disks for the program that provide regional airports, landmarks and other information that makes flying the ST more fun.
There are a few games for the ST that, although they have been around for awhile, still represent some of the best ones available. One of the best games for the Atari ST computer and one that really takes advantage of the stunning graphics capability of the machine is The Pawn from Firebird. This $45 game is a graphic text adventure that is immensely playable due to its plot, humor and visual impact.
Another excellent game is Time Bandit from Michtron. It costs $40 and is super. It is an arcade, text adventure and shoot'em-up game all rolled into one. It remains one of the best ST games to date.
Sundog: Frozen Legacy from FTL Systems is still another great ST game. As a science-fiction adventure game with fantastic color graphic screens, this $40 program would please any ST user. If you are an adventure game fan, you'll love Sundog because of its very complete world and interesting story line. Any three of these games—Pawn, Time Bandit and Sundog—would make excellent gifts.
One of my all time favorites is Mindscape's Balance of Power. This game allows computer users to make superpower decisions as they play the role of either the President of the United States or General Secretary of the Soviet Union. The player's two-fold goal is to complete eight years in office without initiating a nuclear conflict and to accumulate more prestige points than the opposing superpower. In order to win world prestige, diplomatic tools such as military aid, covert destabilization, treaties, military advisors and troops are available to influence friendly and unfriendly nations.
Written by onetime Atari game designer Chris Crawford, Balance of Power has received critical acclaim from the press and thousands of Macintosh and IBM PC users. You will recall that Crawford's earlier work for the 8-bit Atari computer, Eastern Front, was also a tour de force in its time. Balance of Power retails for $50.
Infocom ranks as the undisputed leader in text adventure games. Their entire catalog is available for the ST, in many categories such as science fiction, fantasy and adventure. Each title is labeled with one of the following grades: introductory, standard, advanced and expert. The grades are based on the difficulty level of the game, although all titles require some degree of puzzle solving and are written in the spirit of fun.
My long-time favorite Infocom text adventure has been Planetfall because it contains a combination of adventure, science fiction and humor. Stationfall is a sequel that is equally as challenging and fun. A good choice for the novice text adventurer is Seastalker. It offers a good challenge and like all Infocom games, is a quality product.
Although it's difficult to select only a few favorites from among all of the excellent Infocom titles, another title I like is Trinity. As a cross between The Twilight Zone and Alice in Wonderland, this adventure leads you into an alternate universe where magic and physics coexist and every atomic explosion that has ever occurred is inexplicably connected. The chilling climax of the story takes place in the New Mexican desert on July 16, 1945, where you'll arrive minutes before the most fateful experiment of all time: the world's first atomic explosion, code-named Trinity.
Every ST owner should have at least one Infocom game in their software library. List prices of these text adventures range from $40 to $60 each, and there are literally dozens to choose from.
There are several more recent games that also get high marks. One of the most popular games for the ST is Dungeon Master by FTL Software. It is a graphics adventure that combines superior action, a sense of mystery, even apprehension as you battle your opponents in the quest to retrieve the Firestaff and defeat Lord Chaos.
Space doesn't permit a thorough detailing of the game and storyline, but take it from me and thousands of satisfied adventurers; this is one of the top games currently available for the ST. By the way, if adventure gaming is not your bag, give this game a look anyway. You may be surprised at how such a well-implemented example of the genre might pique your interest. Dungeon Master retails for $40 and would make a fine gift.
Epyx has a neat game which is sure to capture your interest. It is called Tower Toppler and sells for $40. In Tower Toppler, eight dark and deadly towers have risen from the ocean depths on the planet Nebulus. Players must destroy them by setting off destruction mechanisms at the top of each tower. Unfortunately for the player, these towers are well guarded by deadly rolling boulders, flying phantoms, flashing blockades and other obstacles. Players can fire snowball guns to freeze or destroy enemies or ride special elevators to detour the long and hazardous climb, and extra points can be gained by catching fish between the towers. The graphics and 3-D effects in this game are excellent.
A new Accolade title is Bubble Ghost ($35), a clever and imaginative game in which you direct a bubble-blowing ghost through 36 hazardous chambers. The going gets tense as the fragile bubble comes dangerously close to walls, burning candles, knives, pins and an assortment of other obstacles. Fans located throughout the chambers generate turbulence and monsters occasionally try to sabotage your ghostly efforts.
Lords of Conquest by Electronic Arts has taken computer users by storm. It is available on a variety of machines and the ST version sells for $20. Lords of Conquest can be compared to the board game, Risk. It is a classic strategy game in which the action takes place on a world map. Up to four players can play at once, and each opponent chooses home territories, then tries to protect his holdings while conquering territories belonging to other players.
Word processing is the most frequently used application program on any computer. It's no different with the ST, and there are several excellent word-processing programs to choose from. No one would disagree that the most sophisticated word processor for the ST is WordPerfect by WordPerfect Corp. This $400 program provides all of the normal functions one would expect, such as block move, search/replace, headers/footers, column printing (two kinds), spelling checks, a thesaurus and, golly, the list is almost endless.
In addition to the normal functions, a power writer would be in word heaven using WordPerfect. Such advanced features as automatic backups, paragraph numbering, outlining, automatic hyphenation, multiple undo levels, multiple on-screen windows (up to four) footnoting/end-noting, indexing and table of contents generation are available. If the price scares you, WordPerfect can typically be bought for about $225,and if you are a student (and can prove it) a special price of $100 exists.
The only down side to WordPerfect is the amount of time required to fully use its power. Plan to spend a good deal of time with the 600 pages of documentation and the excellent tutorial sections. All in all, if you need the power, WordPerfect is the best word processor currently available for the ST.
If your word-processing needs are a little more modest, a couple of other programs are more than adequate. Word Writer by Timeworks is another good word processor. It too is a GEM-based program that offers multiple windows, headers, footers and on-screen display of text styles. Word Writer also offers a thesaurus and spelling checker. The spelling checker provides multiple personal dictionaries and can check an entire document or individual words as you type.
Word Writer sells for $80 and is easy to learn, thanks to the drop-down menus with equivalent key commands. In addition to being a stand-alone word processor, Word Writer interfaces with other Timeworks products such as Data Manager, their database program, and Swiftcalc, their spreadsheet program. Text files from 1st Word can be imported and printer drivers are provided for a variety of printers.
The third word processor of choice is Regent Word 2 by Regent Software. This word processor is a fairly simple GEM-based program which allows only one document window to be open at a time. The program automatically reformats text as you type, offers a spelling checker and has a built-in word counter.
Regent Word 2 also supports double-column printing (it was the first to do so). It also has a multiple margin command that lets you easily create indents and out-dents. Regent Word 2 sells for $80.
Desktop publishing is a natural application for the ST, given its 68000 processor and plenty of memory. By combining word processing, page layout and drawing into one program, you can easily design, compose and paste up the contents of a printed page for forms, newsletters, charts, etc. You normally see exactly what you will get on the screen before it is printed. One of the two examples of this type of program is Publishing Partner from SoftLogik Corp.
PUBLISHING PARTNER · FROM SoftLogic.....$80
With Publishing Partner, you can create up to a 99-page document on a 1040ST and about 27 pages on a 520ST. Type fonts can be as small as 6 points or as large as 144 points in half-point increments. Multiple columns are easily created and text can be entered either directly or imported from an ASCII file. The program can output to Epson, Postscript and GDOS supported printers.
Publishing Partner is a full GEM application that lets you load any NEOChrome or DEGAS picture and enlarge or reduce them for exact fit. Further, a section of a picture can be copied and then pasted anywhere in your document. Several drawing tools such as circles, boxes, lines, etc. can be used from within the program. Different line types and line widths can be specified and any of 48 different fill patterns can be used. Publishing Partner sells for $80.
Publishing Partner Professional ($200), also from SoftLogik, can be thought of as a next generation ST desktop publishing program. The program supports variable zoom ratios, so that you can focus your work on any part of the page. Fonts can be scaled using a measure of either picas or inches, there is a built-in spelling checker and text can be rotated in one-degree increments. The program can load files from Easy Draw, DEGAS Elite or any other image-file format.
The other popular desktop publishing program is Desktop Publisher ST by Time-works. It is a full-featured desktop publishing program for the ST computer which includes fully integrated word processing, page layout, typesetting and graphics functions all in one package. The program is easy to use and quite powerful. Some of the major features of the program include a full GEM interface with pull-down menus, icons, scroll bars and dialog boxes, flexible page layout to let you overlap, reposition and resize your text, columns and graphics, built-in fonts that range in sizes from 7 to 72 points and high-quality output to a dot matrix or laser printer.
Text can be imported from 1st Word Plus, Word Writer ST or any ASCII file so the program can work with existing word processors. Graphic files can be imported from DEGAS, NEOChrome and Easy Draw file formats. Further, you can view, edit and layout pages in actual, double or half-size windows. Publisher ST sells for $130. It may not be the most powerful program of its type, but is clearly the easiest to use.
DESKTOP PUBLISHER ST · BY Timeworks....$130
Timeworks also has a complete line of desktop-publishing accessory packages that work with Publisher ST. These packages include three graphics and illustration packs, two font packages and one package with design and layout ideas for all types of business, school and personal documents. Each accessory package sells for $40 and is supported by the Time-works full-time customer technical support team to registered users.
One of the most popular database programs for the ST is Regent Base II, a GEM-based product from Regent Software. Its predecessor, Regent Base, was popular no doubt due to the program's dual identity: it was both an easy-to-use, mouse-driven database program and a feature-laden relational database program/language.
However, Regent Base II is designed for the power user. It competes head on, and quite well, with PC database programs such as dBASE III and as such, offers the ST user a database-programming language with power and flexibility. With that degree of power comes a certain amount of work necessary to operate the program. A user must design and use a form, then do some programming in order to create a database, as there is no menu-driven way to access records. Regent Base II sells for $150.
dBMAN from Versasoft Corp. ($250) is definitely in the major leagues of database management software. At one time a version was marketed by Atari but the confusion has ended and the latest version comes from Versasoft itself. One of the main virtues of dBMAN is its compatibility with dBASE III and dBASE III Plus, both topflight PC database programs. As with the MS-DOS products, dBMAN is not for the casual user. But if you need a high-powered database program, look no further.
Spreadsheets are another category of application software for the ST. And there are a couple of spreadsheet programs which should be on anybody's holiday list. E-Z Calc from Computer Palace is a good and easy-to-use spreadsheet program that lists for $70. It is GEM-based and requires less memory than other similar programs so there is more room for your formulas and data.
Some of its features include: a 300-column by 999-row worksheet matrix, a built-in 10-key calculator, on-line help windows, a built-in sort routine, the ability to have up to 10 function-key macros, a split-screen capability, a notepad and graphing. The graphing is especially nice because it can be performed immediately from the worksheet just by selecting a drop-down menu command.
Another spreadsheet, Swiftcalc by Time-works, can be used by itself or interfaced with the their Data Manager ST and Word Writer ST programs. Swiftcalc features a maximum worksheet size of 8200 rows and 256 columns, the ability to print the spreadsheet normally or sideways, a selection of graphic formats such as pie charts, vertical bar charts, scatter diagrams and line diagrams, built-in mathematical as well as financial functions and full support of the GEM interface. In addition, on-line help and sample spreadsheets are provided. Swiftcalc has excellent documentation and sells for $80.
DEGAS Elite is one of the best values in ST graphics software. The program allows you to paint in any of the three ST graphics modes and save your files to disk. In fact, the file format used by DEGAS Elite has become one of the ST standards that is used by other programs.
DEGAS Elite (see page 57) contains a multitude of features. These include: the use of eight multiple work screens, the ability to cut and paste all or parts of these screens to each other or to disk, the ability to create and use clip art, block operations such as stretch, rotate, horizontal or vertical skewing and distortion. Of course, the neat features involve color animation. Complete control of the direction, speed, colors and other aspects of the animation is at the user's command. DEGAS Elite retails for $80 and is distributed by Electronic Arts.
If you use any of the ST graphics programs such as DEGAS or NEOchrome, you may be interested in an animation program that makes your artwork come to life. Called Make It Move, this $50 program from Michtron is really more of an easy-to-use slide sequencing and manipulation program than an animation program. Nonetheless, it is great for such tasks as creating video titles, making presentations and putting a polish on your collection of ST graphic images.
The program is mouse driven and doesn't require any special programming skills. Features include screen wipes in any of four directions, fades, and quick cuts, each with user specified durations. Further, objects may be zoomed, panned, hidden and moved.
Printmaster Plus from Unison World is another graphics program that allows you to be creative. With it, you can easily create calendars, fliers, stationery, banners, invitations, signs and greeting cards with many types of printers. The program is easy to use because it is menu-based, and it allows you to preview your design before you print it and permits you to save your graphic to disk. In addition, it will work with add-on font and graphic disks. Printmaster Plus lists for $40.
Still another excellent graphics program is Art and Film Director by Epyx. This $80 package includes Art Director, a full-featured paint program that uses all of the power of the Atari ST to create dazzling works of art. Menus and icons appear on-screen which allow you to choose from a variety of shapes, lines and colors from the palette and perform such actions as stretch, bend, bulge, spin and rescale, which can be used to enhance the pictures.
Film Director then uses true eel animation to transform artwork into stunning graphical presentations. It's easy to automate many of the repetitious steps required by traditional types of animation. The program also includes a library of music and sound effects to create just the right ambience.
There are hundreds of products made for the Atari ST computer. But some of them are the kind that will be used over and over. They have value and staying power. One category of software that is always useful is utility programs. Here are some suggestions for these types of products.
Eidersoft is a British company that has recently begun to market ST programs in the United States. Their products are top-notch, and two that are particularly useful are Flash-Bak and Flash-Cache. These two programs are packaged together and provide hard-disk backup and disk-caching functions. Based upon my own experience, Flash-Bak is the fastest hard-disk backup program for the ST. The program is GEM-based, can use two floppy drives alternately for backup and allows the user complete control over all aspects of operation such as verification, encryption, data compression, etc Further, Flash-Bak can selectively backup files by all, several or single partitions, files used that session, date stamp and wild card match.
Flash-Cache is the RAM cache utility that holds a part of the most recently accessed part of the hard disk in RAM. This has the practical effect of speeding up disk intensive operations such as program loading/saving, program compilation and data manipulation. Caches can be any size to suit your system. Flash-Cache performs one very important extra function which is to allow the "folder heap" (the area of memory where folder information is stored) to be enlarged, thereby avoiding the infamous Atari TOS "40-folder syndrome." Flash-Bak and Flash-Cache together retail for $80 and are well worth the price if you have a hard-disk drive.
Tempus is another fine product from Eidersoft. It is a GEM-based text editor for programmers rather than a true word processor. It offers just about every feature you would expect in a top-of-the-line, quality product plus a few more. The most outstanding feature of this product is its speed—which happens to be blindingly fast. Compared to a word processor like 1st Word, Tempus is from four to ten times faster in loading files, scrolling the document from top to bottom and searching and replacing on a single character. Compared to another text editor such as MicroEMACS, Tempus is from one and a half to five times faster for the same operations.
Other features of Tempus include medium- and high-resolution support, mouse or keyboard operation, up to four files on screen at once, auto indentation for structured programming, online help menus, 20 programmable function keys and much more. A particularly useful feature for programmers is the editor's ability to automatically create a string cross reference list, with line and column references. Once the search string is specified, the table is created and subsequent clicks on the right mouse button instantly move the cursor to the next string match in the document. Tempus retails for $50 and is by far the best text editor currently available for the ST.
TEMPUS · FROM Eidersoft.........$50
If you use an ST computer to write, you need a good spelling checker program. The best stand-alone spelling checker currently available for the Atari ST is Thunder! Originally from Batteries Included and now distributed by Electronic Arts, Thunder! is a serious desktop accessory that really is three programs in one: a real-time, 50,000-word spelling checker, a word expander and corrector and a writing analysis tool.
For $40 you get two versions of the spelling checker: one to be used as a desktop accessory, available anytime from within a true GEM program; and another that is a stand-alone program that can be used with any file. It can be used to check files created by non-GEM programs, as well as checking an entire file that was created by a GEM program.
The word expansion feature allows you to define ahead of time how specific strings of letters or characters should be expanded. For example, if you type your name a lot, you can use the expansion feature to define your initials to mean your entire name. Then whenever you type your initials, your entire name is typed. The writing analysis tools consist of statistics such as character, syllable, word and sentence count and two types of readability indices that indicate how many years of schooling are required for the average reader to understand what you have written.
Many manufacturers of computer software copy-protect their products to prevent people from making copies and giving them away or reselling them. Under the copyright law, you have a right to make copies to use in the event your original disk no longer functions. Note that this is the only right to copy afforded to you under the law. Making copies of disks, for any purpose, is strictly illegal and a Federal offense.
The ST backup program I consistently use is Central Point Software's Copy II ST. The program is designed for making archival copies only for your own personal use and can work with one or two disk drives, either single or double sided. In addition, Copy II ST provides a fast sector copier and a bit copier utility for making "carbon copies" of disks. It is easy to use, completely mouse driven and sells for $40.
Michtron has two utility programs that are worth considering to either give or receive. One of their titles is a utility called Cornerman—a multiple desk accessory. It gives you 10 separate functions under one accessory name, including a complete ASCII reference table, with decimal, hexadecimal, character and mnemonic information for all 256 ASCII codes, a 16-digit calculator containing binary, octal, decimal and hex modes, three summing memories, printing tape display, a notepad with full editing, word wrap and automatic date and time stamp, a phone dialer with auto-dial capability, a phone log which automatically transfers information from the dialer, a fifteen puzzle game, two clocks, one digital and one analog, a complete setup module for customizing dialer, RS-232, clock, calculator and window position parameters, a print utility, and a DOS window for use with Michtron's DOS Shell. All this for a list price of $50.
WORDWRITER · BY Timeworks.......$80
The other Michtron program is called ALT. This is a $30 program that allows you to redefine your keyboard and convert whole strings of tedious typing into single keystrokes. Actually, the key combinations Alt-A through Alt-Z and Alt-0 through Alt-9 can be replaced by often used text phrases, program commands or any other string up to 60 characters.
If you have been waiting for the quintessential desktop accessory cartridge for the ST, DeskCart! from Quantum Microsystems Inc. (QMI) may end your search. DeskCart! contains a battery backed up realtime clock and a plethora of desktop accessories on one cartridge, all of which consumes a meager 75K of precious RAM.
DEGAS ELITE · DISTRIBUTED BY Electronic Arts .....$80
The 14 accessory programs include a calendar good to the year 2040, an appointment book with alarm, a notebook which is really a mini-word processor that allows you to create, edit and save multiple 12-page notebook files, a card file that allows nine lines of data, a very good calculator, a typewriter that allows you to use the ST to address envelopes or print other short, quick pieces, an address book, a VT-52 terminal emulator, keyboard macros, a RAMdisk of any size on any drive, disk utility functions, print spooler, control panel similar in function to the STs control panel, a screen dump and memory test. Desk-Cart! retails for $100.
There is one other type of utility program that may be of interest for the advanced user: programs that simulate a multitasking operating system (which the ST does not have) by allowing you to run two programs at once in the memory of the computer. Juggler/Juggler II ($50) from Michtron permits you to load up to seven GEM-based or TOS programs into the ST, each into a specific section of memory. Once the programs are loaded, you can "switch" from one to another.
Another similar but more feature-laden program is Revolver ($50) from Intersect Software. Revolver can also switch between various applications that reside in the ST's memory. Revolver can also switch between GEM or TOS programs and can operate in any screen-resolution mode. The program offers a host of disk utilities and other functions as well.
Books and magazine subscriptions also make excellent gifts. Probably the most prolific ST book publisher is Abacus Books. Most of their titles sell for under $20. Here are a couple of their most useful titles.
ST Internals is a well-organized, useful compilation of technical ST information. A clear description is given for such ST "parts" as the mouse, keyboard, 68000 processor, custom chips, I/O ports (RS-232, parallel, cartridge, DMA, floppy disk, MIDI and video) and operating system. In addition, this volume contains information about GEMDOS, the operating system and graphics, as well as the BIOS (BASIC Input/Output System).
Another Abacus book is ST GEM Programmer's Reference, volume three in the Abacus series of ST books. Here you'll find detailed information on GEM with examples written in C and in which the 68000 assembly language is presented. An overview of such topics as VDI, AES, GDOS and GIOS is included. In addition, material on programming in GEM, with explanations of using the editor, C compiler, assembler and linker of the development system are provided.
THE JUGGLER · FROM Michtron.......$50
Abacus also has a book called Atari ST Graphics and Sound. This book teaches you how to create graphics and use the built-in sound facilities of the Atari ST. Examples are written in BASIC, C, Logo and Modula-2 so there is something for every type of programmer.
ST Tricks and Tips covers such topics as using GEM from BASIC, combining BASIC and machine language, creating a RAMdisk and print spooler, automatically starting TOS applications and much more. If you would like to learn more about programming your Atari ST computer, this and the other two new Abacus books can help you. All three books have sample programs and various tips for the new or expert programmer.
Another Abacus book is called ST BASIC to C. This is an ideal book if you already know and can program in BASIC but want to learn how to program in C. This book compares BASIC programs and their C equivalents so that you can make the transition easily and rapidly.
There are a number of books that are quite good from other publishers as well. One of the largest ST software companies, Michtron, has several excellent titles that you may want on your ST library shelf. One book, called GFA BASIC Programmer's Reference Guide, Vol. 1 ($30), is written by George Miller and contains valuable information for any GFA BASIC programmer or would-be programmer. GFA BASIC is fast becoming the BASIC language of choice for the ST and this book explains the language in detail and provides more information than is available in the manual.
Designing the User Interface: Strategies for Effective Human-Computer Interaction is a serious work that discusses the do's and don'ts of designing a good user interface for programs. Although it is a text book, the author, Ben Shneiderman, does an excellent job of presenting the topic in a readable and knowledgeable fashion. Designing the User Interface sells for $40 and is published by Addison-Wesley.
If you want to participate in the world of Atari ST computing, one of the best ways to do so is through the DELPHI telecommunications service. DELPHI is a full-service, on-line communication and information network. The Atari User's Group on DELPHI consists of two forums. There is an 8-bit forum which is run by our sister publication, ANALOG Computing. The ST Forum is run by the editors and staff of ST-Log.
The two forums provide a host of services and features. You can send and receive messages from and to other Atari 8-bit and ST users worldwide in the Forum. The database areas include thousands of free programs that can be downloaded, including the programs presented each month in ANALOG Computing and ST-Log. The conference feature allows you to meet "face to face" electronically with other Atari users. Information on how to sign up for DELPHI can be found in this magazine in the "Database DELPHI" column.
Best of all, access charges average as low as ten cents per minute from most parts of the country, and there is no extra charge for high-speed 1200- or 2400-baud access.
Another popular information service is CompuServe. A good way to start using this service is by means of the CompuServe Starter Kit. For about $40 you receive five free hours of connect time and a thorough manual. Of course you will need a modem and there are several good ones to choose from.
One of the best modems around for the price is the Atari SX212. It is a 1200-baud modem that easily lets your ST communicate via telephone line with other computers. The SX212 has auto-dial and auto-answer features as well. The Atari SX212 can be purchased for under $100.
Another excellent modem choice, albeit slightly more expensive, is the Supra 2400. This is a fully Hayes-compatible 2400-baud modem that features auto-dial and auto-answer capabilities. Configurations are set via commands from the keyboard instead of by using DIP switches. The Supra 2400 has a list price of $180.
You will also need a terminal program for your ST, and there are a couple worth recommending. One of the best is Interlink by Intersect Software. This program offers an enhanced type-ahead buffer that allows you to create and edit text on the screen before it is sent. In addition, you can capture your entire online session, (Autolog) and the process of saving that information occurs automatically.
INTERLINK · BY Intersect Software
Interlink has too many features to describe here in detail. It offers setup dialogs for signing on to information services, a keystroke capture and recording feature (macros), the ability to temporarily hop out of the program to execute other commands or to look at files, a 99-line history, background downloading and much more.
One of my favorite ST terminal programs is ST-Talk from Quantum Microsystems Inc. (QMI). This non-GEM-based program works flawlessly and is a real bargain at only $18. If you want to be able to access information services or bulletin boards and easily upload and download files, ST-Talk is an inexpensive alternative.
There are many generic gifts that are useful to an ST computer user. One of the best gifts you could give or receive is a membership to an Atari User Group. There are many fine groups around the country, and their memberships typically cost about $20. These groups have monthly meetings, publish newsletters and often have libraries of public domain software In addition, user groups provide one of the best sources of information about using your ST and have very knowledgeable people who are always willing to help out the other guy.
One of the best user group publications in the country is published by the Washington Area Atari Computer Enthusiasts (WAACE). Called Current Notes, this tome continues to amaze me every month in both its size and content. The newsletter has a glossy cover and is as professional-looking and written as anyone has a right to expect from a semi-pro publication. A ten-issue subscription costs $20 and can be obtained by sending a check payable to: Editor, Current Notes, 122 North Johnson Road, Sterling, Virginia 22170. Whether you read it for the content or want to see an example of a high quality user group publication, Current Notes won't disappoint you.
Regardless of which Atari ST computer you own, there is always the question of what to do with your mouse when it's not being used. One solution is to get a Mouse Pocket from Kensington Microware. This $10 gizmo keeps your mouse handy and out of the way until needed. It attaches easily to the side of your desk or monitor with the supplied adhesive strips and is as attractive as it is useful. Kensington also makes a mouse cleaning kit that includes enough supplies to clean your favorite mouse for a year. The $25 kit also includes the mouse pocket.
Another useful item that improves your mousing around a is a mouse pad. These pads are typically inexpensive, increase mouse traction and come in a variety of colors to suit any decor. American Covers is just one company that makes this type of product. They call it the Mouse Mat, and it sells for under $10.
As you use your Atari ST, you begin to accumulate disks. Unless you consciously decide how to organize all of it, you will soon find yourself drowning in a sea of magnetized plastic. There are a number of companies that sell 3-½-inch disk holders. They typically cost anywhere from $6 to $30.
I personally like the Flip 'N File (Innovative Concepts) flip-up tray. It lists for $19.95 and is useful for keeping your computer work area tidy. There are other companies that also make the same type of product. Just be sure that the one you buy will not spill disks when it is full and that it is easy to grab any particular disk.
There are a handful of other items that would be welcomed by any Atari ST user. Disks, printer paper and ribbons or even a printer or monitor stand would all be useful. If you need colored ribbons, Gemini has red, green, blue, brown and purple ribbons to fit a variety of dot-matrix printers. These ribbons sell for $8 each and are available for Epson, Okidata and Prowriter printers. (The Panasonic printer ribbon is $10.) These colored ribbons are especially useful with graphics programs such as Print Master from Unison World.
One problem with using an ST has to do with the fact that the ST (or any computer for that matter) can transmit its output faster than a printer can accept it. The result is that the computer is tied up for as long as it takes the printer to print the output.
You can remedy this problem by using a printer buffer. This device simply connects between the ST and your printer. It allows the computer to get back to work while the buffer continues to transmit data to the printer as fast as it can take it. One such buffer is made by Practical Peripherals and is called the Microbuffer. It comes in either 32K or 64K versions and works as advertised. The buffer sells for a street price of about $150 to $200.
There might be better ways to spend $300, but there is no better color monitor than the Atari SC1224. And, if you happen to have both a monochrome and color monitors for your ST, you will certainly need Monitor Master by Practical Solutions, which allows you to connect a monochrome, RGB and composite monitor to your ST with a separate RCA audio out jack. Although the composite signal is only available on STs with a RF modulator, the audio is available on all machines. Monitor Master sells for $55.
Practical Solution has another nifty product called Mouse Master. If you have a 1040ST, you know that it is difficult to get at the joystick ports underneath the computer in order to attach a mouse or joystick. That's where Mouse Master comes in. It plugs into the joystick ports beneath the computer and allows you to easily hook up the mouse or joysticks. You can also leave both a mouse and joystick attached and switch from one to another. I use a 520ST upgraded to one megabyte and still use the Mouse Master because it is so convenient. Mouse Master requires no separate power supply and sells for $40.
Your computer and peripheral equipment are at the mercy of the power company and Mother Nature. The power company sometimes supplies voltage that is either too high or too low. Temporary power surges or spikes can seriously damage your hardware as can undervoltage which might occur during a brown-out. Lightning storms can also compromise your equipment. Although telephone and power lines are designed to prevent lightning from traveling along the wires and into your home, it occasionally can happen.
To get protection from these potential catastrophes, you need a surge suppresser, which is a device that is inserted between the AC outlet and your computer. By limiting extra-high or extra-low voltages, it protects your computer's electronic components from being fried. These products come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but one company that offers not only a complete line of products but ones that have been tested to work as advertised is Panamax.
Panamax makes a variety of different products that include power-line conditioning, telephone-line protection, multiple outlet strips and brownout (undervoltage) protection. Some models have on/off switches, circuit breakers, alarms and other features to help you manage your power protection needs. Panamax's models range in price from $69 to $149.
For the ST user who has everything
One of the major upgrades an ST user can make to his or her system is to buy a hard disk. There are currently two hard disks available for the ST that I can recommend. One is a 20-megabyte unit from Supra that retails for $699 and is available from either the factory or retailers. All Supra ST hard disks connect to the ST's DMA port and come with a boot program.
Another noteworthy hard disk is made by ICD. Designed to fit under your monitor, the ICD F20-A ST hard disk provides 20 megabytes of storage and innovative features like a built-in clock with battery backup, adjustable legs for positioning the monitor and providing cable clearance, and the ability to daisy-chain additional DMA devices. The F20-A ST retails for $700 and ICD offers other models with capacities up to 50 megabytes.
Here's an unusual but useful product: the X-10 system. It is used to remotely turn AC devices on and off, either directly or via a timer. Assorted modules control such things as lights, appliances and other electrical devices by means of commands sent through the AC wiring in your house. The X-10 System is used with a product called the X-10 Powerhouse which is connected to your Atari ST computer, programmed to control your various lamps and such and left working even after disconnecting it from the computer.
The X-10 Powerhouse is a computer peripheral that is attached to the RS-232 port of the ST. The unit is self-powered and, once programmed, can be disconnected from the computer thus freeing that port for other uses. It is available from DAK for about $20. (Order the IBM version #4410 and throw the disk away.)
You will also need Michtron's program, Echo, to go with the Powerhouse. It costs $40, was created especially for the Power-house and ST computer and allows you to use the X-10 system to change the status of up to 256 electrical devices at up to 128 different times of the week. Echo is a GEM application so all inputs are entered via the mouse, and any desktop accessories are always available.
Lamp and appliance modules sell for $10 to $15 and are available from Sears, Radio Shack, mail order and electronics specialty stores. In addition, replacement wall switches and outlets that look and work like ordinary fixtures, are available for under $15. The X-10 Powerhouse, Echo and a couple of lamp or appliance modules make a neat package for the ST.
Digital Vision was the first to develop and market a video digitizer for the 8-bit Ataris. Digital Vision has a video digitizer for the ST, called Computereyes, which includes both hardware and software and supports all of the graphic capabilities of the ST. The hardware interfaces easily to any source of standard NTSC color or black and white composite video. These sources include video cameras, VCRs, video laser discs and other computers. All capture and display functions are mouse controlled under GEM, and images may be captured in either monochrome or full color.
The Computereyes software performs automatic calibration of brightness, contrast and color balance. Once the image has been captured, brightness, color content and contrast can be easily adjusted to suit your needs. Further, the images saved by Computereyes are compatible with NEOchrome, DEGAS, DEGAS Elite and other graphic programs. Computereyes ST retails for $250 and is a quality product.
One of the least expensive and most rewarding ways to get involved with music/computer combination is to obtain an instrument like the Casio CZ-101 Digital Synthesizer. This mini-keyboard can now be obtained at discount houses for under $200. The CZ-101 is an eight-voice polyphonic digital synthesizer with 16 factory preset "patches," 16 internal patch memories and the capability for another 16 patches on a removeable RAM cartridge. The supplied patches range from trumpet, electric piano and organ voicings to far out sounds that you have only heard in your imagination.
Because the ST already has MIDI capability built in, you can easily turn your computer into a multi-track tape recorder by buying the right software. Currently a number of companies make MIDI programs for the ST. The Music Studio 88 from Audio Light and ST Music Box from Xlent Software are just two of the currently available programs. The combination of the Casio keyboard, the ST computer and a MIDI program gives you tremendous musical capability.
What differentiates the various ST MIDI software is the extent to which you can manipulate the music once it has been stored. Another difference in the programs is the way the music is stored initially. Some MIDI programs store the musical notes as you play the keyboard. Other programs require you to enter the notes individually with the mouse but allow you to play back the music through the MIDI keyboard.
MUSIC STUDIO 88 · FROM AudioLight
The Orchestrator from Intersect Software is a music composition and entertainment system for the ST that incorporates the full GEM interface for ease of use. Compositions can be played back either through the sound chips in the ST computer or through a MIDI-compatible instrument like the Casio CZ-101. Music is entered using the mouse and standard musical notation rather than via real-time musical keyboard entry. A built-in editor allows you to edit any of the three ST voices independently, rearrange compositions via cut and paste features and save songs as files. The Orchestrator is more of an entertainment product rather than a MIDI-instrument controller program and sells for $50.
Finally, here's a product for the ST user who wants a printer with the power of a laser printer at the price of a high-end dot-matrix: the HP DeskJet. This printer lists for $1,000 but is available at a street price of about $700.
What's so amazing about this printer is that the output is virtually indistinguishable from laser printed output. The printer can support up to 300 dpi (dots per inch) text just like a good laser printer. Draft mode is rated at 240 cps (characters per second), and letter quality is said to be 120 cps (about two pages per minute). The actual throughput speed will depend on the type of output (text or graphics) and the software that you are using.
The HP DeskJet can emulate an Epson printer by means of a $75 ROM cartridge. The ink cartridges cost about $20 apiece, and it has the support of Hewlett-Packard's one-year warranty and toll-free help lines.
That wraps up this year's list of gift ideas for the Atari ST. Remember, it is better to give than to receive, but if you must receive, this list of ST products should provide plenty of ideas. Also, it wouldn't hurt to leave this article open in a strategic place in order to better get what's on your holiday wish list.
Companies MENTIONED IN THIS ARTICLE
P.O. Box 7211
Grand Rapids, MI 49510
550 S. Winchester Blvd.
San Jose, CA 95128
Reading, MA 01867
AMERICAN COVERS, INC.
Sandy, UT 84091
AUDIO LIGHT, INC.
20 South Santa Cruz Ave.
Los Gatos, CA 95031
CENTRAL POINT SOFTWARE
9700 SW Capitol Highway
Portland, OR 97219
5000 Arlington Center Blvd.
Columbus, OH 43220
Eugene, OR 97402
3 Blackstone Street
Cambridge, MA 02139
(617) 491-3393 (in MA)
EIDERSOFT USA, INC.
P.O. Box 288
Burgettstown, PA 15021
1820 Gateway Drive
San Mateo, CA 94404
600 Galveston Drive
Redwood City, CA 94063
P.O. Box 112489
San Diego, CA 92111
86 Ridgedale Ave.
Cedar Knolls, NJ 07927
1220 Rock Street
Rockford, IL 61101
125 Cambridge Park Drive
Cambridge, MA 02140
INNOVATIVE CONCEPTS, INC.
2284 Ringwood Ave.
San Jose, CA 95131
2828 Clark Road, Suite 10
Sarasota, FL 34231
KENSINGTON MICROWARE, LTD.
251 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10010
576 S. Telegraph
Pontiac, MI 48053
720 S. 333 St. (201)
Federal Way, WA 98003
3444 Dundee Rd.
Northbrook, IL 60062
150 Mitchel Blvd.
San Rafael, CA 94903
31245 La Baya Drive
Westlake Village, CA 91362
PRACTICAL SOLUTIONS, INC.
1930 E. Grant Rd.
Tuscon, AZ 85719
QUANTUM MICROSYSTEMS, INC.
P.O. Box 179
Liverpool, NY 13088
3885 Bohannon Drive
Menlo Park, CA 94025
P.O. Box 14628
Long Beach, CA 90803
11131F South Towne Square
St. Louis MO 63123
713 Edgebrook Drive
Champaign, IL 61820
1133 Commercial Way
Albany, OR 97321
444 Lake Cook Rd.
Deerfield, IL 60015
2150 Shattuck Avenue
Berkley, CA 94704
288 West Center St.
Orem, UT 84057
P.O. Box 5228
Springfield, VA 22150