by Arthur Leyenberger
Guess who I've been seeing a lot of on television commercials these days? Our old friend, Alan Alda. You know, "Mr. Personality," "Mr. appeal to all genders, ages and demographic groups." He's pushing IBM PS/2 systems.
The last time we saw Mr. Alda in a TV computer ad, it was 1984, and he was talking about Atari XL computers and how easy they were to set up and use. This was way back when Atari used to run commercials, not just say they were going to run commercials. In another words, this was in the days of Atari, Inc. not the Atari Corp.
And, boy oh boy, were those exciting days. The 1450XLD computer was almost out, there was a CP/M box shown at the June CES (Consumer Electronics Show), there was even Mindlink, XL expansion boxes, and a host of other products too numerous or painful to mention. Also, those were the days when Warner's Atari was losing money by the carload.
Anyway, Mr. Alda is once again using his supposed appeal to peddle the new IBM PS/2 line of computers. In this "slice of life" commercial, Mr. Alda plays an office worker listening to a coworker extol the virtues of the new computers, supposedly to a computer-naive Mr. Alda. After the guy finishes talking about all these features, Mr. Alda mentions a blurb about OS/2 (the soon-to-appear operating system for ATs and 386 PCs), letting us know that he isn't naive after all. The other guy is surprised, we're surprised—and I'm ready to throw up.
Why does IBM, or any manufacturer for that matter, use these inane commercials to try to get their message across? IBM did the same thing within the last year on radio. They had the MASH TV-show actors talking about the PS/2 line of computers in radio ads. These actors have no reason to know anything about computers, are not necessarily credible when talking about computers and fail to add anything to the commercials as far as I'm concerned.
I'm not picking on just IBM. Also in the last year or so, Dom DeLouise was the central figure in a rash of TV commercials for some computer maker. He played the fool in a foolish commercial. The ads were so bad, I was embarrassed to watch, and as a result, can't even remember who the company was.
I feel the same about Alan Alda's Atari computer commercials of 1984. What was the point? I have no problem if a famous actor or celebrity is used as a mouthpiece for a company in their commercials. Let them read the lines; they may be pleasant to look at and that's that. But when the famous person is supposed to be knowledgeable in the area, the commercial falls flat on its face and in fact begins to work against itself.
Someday, if I live long enough to see it, Atari Corp. will run computer TV commercials. It will be interesting to see what type of ads they will be. The sports celebrity tie-in commercials with video games look good and I imagine have been effective. If the same folks who produced these ads do the computer TV ads, maybe we'll see some good stuff. Maybe, someday.
Not standard wars really, but wars about standards. The computer industry is less then a decade old officially and there have been a number of fights about computer standards. In the early days of the late 1970s, there was a standard called the S-100 bus. This was a hardware standard used in the early computers so that any manufacturer's add-in board would fit and work in a user's computer, assuming it used the S-100 bus. The S-100 bus standard lasted a long time until IBM introduced the PC in 1982. If you search the electronic mail order houses, you can still find S-100 boards.
There is a debate currently being waged in the PC arena. It centers around the standard bus used for add-in cards for IBM PCs and clones. In one corner, is IBM itself, with their new line of computers: the PS/2. The PS/2 uses a new type of add-in card (and interfacing architecture), called the MicroChannel Architecture (MCA). MCA is used on each and every IBM PS/2 computer and when PS/2 clones become available, they too will use the MCA.
In the other corner is the AT-standard bus that has been used for several years by IBM itself as well as all of the PC clone manufacturers in the existing AT-class computers. Existing AT-class computer users have very little reason to switch to the PS/2 machines since they can upgrade to 386-class machines and use many of their existing add-in boards.
What does all of this have to do with ST users or Atari in general, you ask? Plenty. If Atari plans to remain competitive, it will eventually introduce new computers. In fact, it is already rumored that Atari is working on a 68030 microprocessor-based computer. Whether this machine uses either of the above mentioned bus standards or uses its own proprietary bus is anyone's guess. In any case, the type of bus selected will influence third-party developers' decisions to support or not support the new machine.
The fight over the future of the AT-class and PS/2 machine's bus and architecture standards is also an example of what can be done when manufacturers work together. Atari is well noted for not working with anybody. If Atari were to have an open architecture, meaning that other company's add-in boards could be inserted into Atari computers to provide more memory and other functions, the Atari user would benefit. Further, if Atari would actually cooperate with third-party developers so that additional products could work with the Atari computer, the introduction of a new computer with the Atari badge on it would be received by potential users much more favorably.
One of the major complaints about the existing ST line of computers is that the architecture is closed. For example, if you want more memory for your computer, Atari suggests you buy the newest machine. Or, you can kludge a memory addition to the computer at the risk of voiding the warranty. Not only does adding memory void the warranty, but it also requires an electronics technician or electronics knowledge to perform. The Atari ST could be a much more successful computer if there was an easier way to add memory to the computer.
It may be difficult to believe but this month marks the fourth anniversary of the "new Atari." It was January 1985 when Atari debuted the ST computer at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show. It seems like eons ago, doesn't it?
The Tramiels bought Atari from Warner in July 1984. For the rest of that year, very little information was forthcoming from the new company other than (shades of the movie 2010) "something wonderful is going to happen." And it did! Not only did the ST computer debut in January, 1985, but so did the reworked 65XE and 130XE 8-bit computers.
Many of us were dying to get hold of an ST. They started to become available in the Spring of 1985. For the rest of the year, most of us who were fortunate enough to have an ST, ran demos of everything from the "bouncing ball" to 4×Forth, to music programs.
Toward the end of that year and well into the following year there was still a dearth of ST software. DEGAS was one of the few programs available, and a good one at that. We were scrambling to get a word processor and telecommunications program. One of the first word processors, Express, was a joke. ST Intercom was a terminal program that was flawed by its copy protection and minimal company support. ST Talk was a good, if minimal, telecommunications program that many of us used for a long time. One of its strengths was a rock solid Xmodem downloading capability.
The ST initially came with a couple of programs. 1st Word was a usable program, especially since it was given out free with the computer. ST Basic was, and still is, a poor excuse for a computer language. At least there was one game for the new computer and it was fun to play: Asteroids in black and white.
So here we are, four years after the introduction of the computer that was billed as having "Power Without The Price." The future of the ST in the United States is being shaped right now. Atari Corp. has, once again, the opportunity to demonstrate what they are capable of doing. The introduction of the ST blew everyone away four years ago. Now it's up to Atari to do it again by concentrating their efforts in the U.S. market. I hope Atari is able to do it again.
Late Breaking News
Just as I was about to upload this month's column to DELPHI, I found out that Neil Harris has left Atari. Neil has been with Jack Tramiel a long time, since the Commodore days. He has had a number of jobs at Atari Corp. including product manager, public relations manager, sales manager, and overall good-will ambassador.
Of late, Neil has spent a considerable amount of time on DELPHI, CompuServe and GEnie representing Atari and, to be honest, taking a lot of abuse from users. He has had a positive influence and has, given the constraints of his position, tried to keep users abreast of what was happening in Sunnyvale.
Neil's departure from Atari comes at an interesting time. It was just a few days before a major on-line conference was to be held on CompuServe with the management of Atari. Further, it comes about a month before the supposed big Atari presence at the Winter COMDEX.
I don't know the particulars regarding Neil's move, but since he was one of the few credible Atari spokespersons, his absence will be strongly felt. In addition, it remains to be seen if Atari will replace him and with whom. Much of the Atari on-line support was Neil's idea, and I have to wonder if Jack and the boys will feel it necessary to continue in this direction.
Neil will be taking a position with the GEnie Information Service. He will apparently no longer be involved with the Atari community but will still be on-line under his own name. I wish Neil the best of luck in his new job and thank him for trying, especially in spite of his former employer, to be a supporter of the Atari user.
How Do You Communicate?
As mentioned above, ST Talk by QMI was in my opinion the first solid terminal program for the ST. QMI is a super company. They first introduced ST Talk in a prerelease form as shareware on several of the national information services. During the time that version .97 was available on-line, users were able to use it, test it and make recommendations for improvement. Once the program was finished, it was sold for a very reasonable $20 with upgrades available for $5.
Now QMI finally has brought out the sequel to ST Talk, and it is called ST Talk Professional (QMI, P.O. Box 179, Liverpool, NY 13088). It has a host of new features, including full GEM operation. With mouse control and drop-down menus, all of the commands are readily available. If you don't want to use the mouse, you can use alternative keystrokes and program up to 40 programmable functions.
You can easily send and receive files with all of the popular transfer protocols. The program now includes archive and unarchive capabilities from within the program, and there is even a background file-transfer accessory (available separately) to transfer files while you are using another program. The program features a capture buffer to save incoming text, which can later be edited by the built-in word processor.
ST Talk Professional also features auto-dialer, script language, disk utility and type-ahead capabilities. Built-in help menus make it easy to learn the program and, as usual, QMI offers voice and BBS telephone support as well as on-line support through CompuServe.
ST Talk Professional sells for $40. If you are looking for a capable terminal program that has the features to meet your needs, check out ST Talk Professional from QMI.
There is another telecommunications program that has been around for a while but has only recently started getting some use on my ST. It is Interlink ST (Intersect Software Corp., 3951 Sawyer Road, Suite 108, Sarasota, FL 33583). Interlink ST is a very complete terminal program and has become one of my favorites.
One thing I always do when I get a new program is to attempt to use it right away without reading the manual. If I can't seem to make head nor tails out of it, the program, documentation and packaging get thrown into the box under the table for later use. "Later use" usually means maybe I'll get to it before the next ice age.
Interlink passed the test without any difficulty. I copied all of the files from the distribution disk to my hard disk and clicked on the file called "interlin.prg." What appeared on the screen was the first of two main screens. This screen, called the main menu, displays the usual array of drop-down menu titles across the top of the screen and four boxes at the bottom of the screen containing the current status and program option settings.
You can immediately go on-line in one of three ways: select the "File" menu and click on "go on-line", press the F1 function key or click the right mouse button. You'll spend most of your time in the on-line screen, but it is just as easy to get back to the main menu at any time by clicking the right mouse button or pressing the Undo key. Providing both keyboard and mouse methods for navigating through the program shows the attention to detail that this program has.
From the on-line screen, you can see how long you have been on-line, whether you are currently connected to a host system, what baud rate you have selected, the duplex mode, whether the buffer is on or off and how much space is available in the buffer. In addition, the bottom of the display tells you if you are in manual mode or if the recorder (more on that later) is active.
The type-ahead buffer is handy for composing messages or responses while you are still receiving information. Then, the entire buffer can be sent with just one keystroke or held for later use. And you can even set the size of the buffer.
One of the best parts of Interlink ST is the recorder. When activated, the program stores every prompt from the host system and your response to it. Then, when played back, it will send the same response that you did initially. This is a great way to automate the sign-on process of bulletin boards and information services, as well as saving the steps necessary for downloading or uploading files.
Interlink ST has a bunch of built-in commands that simply make life in the ST lane easier. Common disk commands such as delete, copy, format, rename, directory, create folder and drive path are all accessible from within the program. You can even show the contents of files and print them. There is an automatic phone dialer, programmable function keys, translation tables and much more. Further, another program can be run from within Interlink.
File transfers can be performed using a number of protocols such as Xmodem, ASCII transfer, etc. One of the best things about Interlink is that the program will never be outdated since the menu to select file-transfer protocol has a box mysteriously labeled "?????."
Clicking on this box allows you to select, from a file-selector box, external protocols that are simply files on the disk. As new protocols are developed and made available, they can be used by Interlink ST.
Terminal emulation supports VT52 or that same "?????." I got on CompuServe just to see how many emulation files were available (the ATARIVEN section of PCS58, Intersect Software) and found a IBM 3101 emulator (useful for some mainframe communications), a VT100 emulator, an ATASCII graphics emulator (for full Atari 8-bit terminal emulation), a VT52 with Quick B file transfer and IBM PC ANSI graphics emulation. Intersect is serious about supporting their product.
I'm out of space for this month but I could go on and on about Interlink ST. Did I mention that it also serves as a BBS? How about using the recorder for making macros? Oh, yes, it was written by Randy Mears. Great job, Randy.
See you all next time.