FROM HOLLYWOOD, USA
TG can often be found skulking the turf around Hollywood and Vine. He spends most of his time following beautiful starlets and listening for Atari rumors, but every once in a while he likes to go down to the freeway and participate in his favorite sport, van dodging. Heard a good rumor? Write it down and stick it with used gum on the underside of the pay phone at the address above, or write to TG at: STLog, 9171 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 300, Beverly Hills, CA 90210.
Searching for the Promised LAN
Remember the "Promised LAN"? Sure you do, that was the LAN (local area network) that Atari talked about well over a year ago. Will Atari ever release it? In light of the new 68030-based units, it's unlikely that we will ever see a true ST-based (68000) network available for general use. But if we had, what would we have seen?
In an effort to answer this question, I have been asking discreet questions of past and present employees of Atari, trying to find out what might have been. Guess what? One of the people I questioned whispered that "God gave the word to Moses." Now, if you have not had any experience with the secretive world of Atari and of the Silicon Valley in general, you might just pass this off as a vague reference to Tramiel or even the ravings of an overworked, overstressed employee who has reached the stage of babbling into his beer. After a little experience with this type of California crazy, however, you learn there are meanings and there are meanings. With this in mind, I checked my most reliable source, the Pacific Bell Yellow Pages.
What do you know? I found a network company called "Moses," and I gave those guys a call.
"Hi, is this Moses?"
"This is Moses Computing. How can we help you?"
"Well, I'm looking for information about the Promised LAN."
(If you think this is silly to read, you should have been there when I made the call.)
"Our Promised LAN is currently shipping. Can I send you some literature?"
"Are you kidding? This is unbelievable. You guys actually have a network called the ‘Promised LAN’, from a company called ‘Moses’?"
"Yes, sir. Can I have some literature sent to you?"
Well, the literature arrived, and this is what I've learned. The Promised LAN is an RS232 network that requires no IBM-type slots. Its cards plug into the RS232 port of the computers being networked together. This way the system will work with any machine that has an RS232 port and for which support software has been written.
Three more calls to Moses led to some of the strongest and loudest "No comments" I have ever heard. Is this the famed Atari Promised LAN? Well, knowing Atari's inclination to subcontract development (due to its small in-house staff) and considering the likelihood of two companies coming up with this same high-tech name for a networking scheme, what do you think?
We were the first to tell you about the Atari laptop seven months ago, and now it's time to let you in on the story of the newest and smallest of the Atari development machines. This one is much further along than the laptop was seven months ago and, actually, considering the lead time of this magazine (three months), it may be quite a race to get the info out before the product.
Atari has developed and built a trial balloon known internally as the "Calc" or the "MS-DOS Calc." This unit is the size of a medium paperback, i.e. about 1.5 inches thick with a length of six inches and width of nine inches. It is a complete battery-powered MS-DOS-compatible computer with a twisted crystal screen and DOS in ROM. The unit only has 128K of RAM, but all software is loaded via ROM since the unit has no disk drive or drive ports.
The concept is that you would load your application program via a cartridge port and use the free 128K of RAM as a work area for the program. Data is loaded, or more often unloaded, to a larger computer via a null modem or modem connected to the RS232 port. Who would use such a device? Well, how about a company with salesmen on the road, who enter their customers' orders on the unit on each call and upload the orders along with call reports each night from their motel rooms? If the battery life is good enough and the price is low enough, then the uses are unlimited. The batteries are three AAs with a life of three months. That is keeping the unit powered up, on standby (preserving the memory) for three months on about $4 worth of supermarket batteries! If Atari decides to market it, the unit will retail for under $350.
Look out! Falling hard-disk prices!
Have you heard about the OptoMagnetic hard-disk units that are now coming to market? These units are designed to look like and respond to software exactly like a ST225 hard-disk drive. That is, they will fit in any space and run under any software that can handle a common 20-megabyte half-height hard disk—but with one major difference. The unit has a removable 3.5-inch disk that looks like our standard ST floppy, only twice as thick. Each of these removable floppies will hold 20 megabytes of storage! Think about having all your word processing on a single 20-megabyte disk and another disk that contains nothing but graphics for DTP. Pop them in and out like regular disks, and never worry about storage again.
The first of these units is scheduled to sell for $300, with the disk (platters) scheduled for a retail price of $10 each. You could have a 100-megabyte hard-disk system for $400! A users'-group librarian could carry 40 megabytes of public-domain stuff in his shirt pocket. This is a real product, and the companies who are marketing it have been soliciting the minicomputer and workstation makers for months.
At this point there is only one small fly in the ointment: There are two companies who have purchased the rights to make and market products using this new technology. One has chosen to make a 20-megabyte unit with access speeds of 65 ms (the same as a standard ST225 hard disk). Their prices are quoted at $300 for the machine and $10 for the disks. The second company has enhanced the unit and the disks and offers 28-ms drive speed. Their prices are $350 and $25.
The units and the platters (as I understand it) are not interchangeable. When the three-inch and 3.5-inch disk formats were introduced, no one was sure which (if either) would become the new standard, and a few brave people spent a good chunk of their money buying three-inch drives. Within six months after HP placed the first major order for 3.5-inch drives, the three-inch units and the disks for them had almost disappeared from the market.
I am going to be watching carefully to see which units are purchased first by a major company. Once the standard is set, one of these units will become a quantum leap forward in lowering the cost of storage on any computer, including our beloved ST's.