by Arthur Leyenberger
Recently Atari changed its stripes. No more announcements of products before they are ready to ship. No more conflicting and confusing announcements from different members of the Atari management team regarding new products. I applaud this newfound policy. It can only help when Atari needs to gain a focus on the products it wants to sell and do that in the best way it can.
But I don't think it will be enough. Atari needs to do more. It needs to give the impression (at least) that it knows what it is doing. Atari cannot continue to attempt to have a broad product line (XE, ST, PC, Unix, Abaq computers) when the existing lines have no depth.
Where is the upgrade path for ST owners? Buy a new Mega? Come on! How about the XE line? How does the XE user move on, expand, upgrade? Where is the emphasis of computers rather than games? Where is the emphasis of the U.S. market? Where is the dealer channel that can move these products? Where is the support for developers that Apple, Commodore and even IBM provide? Where is the commitment to the computer product line? Surely the minimal staff and cost-cutting measures that Jack Tramiel has maintained are insufficient to do the job right.
The ST was a breakthrough product three years ago but it is aging, especially compared to the Amiga line. If you compare the ST to the current crop of PC-XT, PC-AT and clones, or even the Macintosh line, in terms of power, price and graphics, the ST is no longer competitive. If Atari is to succeed in the computer marketplace, some major changes must occur. There is no question that Jack Tramiel is a successful businessman. He can do it if he wants to. But is he willing to do it? Stay tuned.
The NeXT Computer
One of the most long-awaited computer announcements was recently made by Steve Jobs, formerly of Apple Computer fame. The NeXT computer system is hyped to be as state-of-the-art a machine as the Macintosh was in the early 1980s.
For the last three years, since his departure from Apple, Steve Jobs has led the development team at NeXT Computer, designing a computer for higher education. The system is said to encompass the best attributes of workstations and personal computers, and adds features previously found only on mainframe computers. According to Jobs, "NeXT's mission is to collaborate with higher education to develop innovative, personal and affordable computer solutions for the next decade and beyond." So much for the techno-babble.
The NeXT computer is truly a breakthrough product, just as the Macintosh was when it was introduced. The $6,500 system consists of three components, all in black matte finish: a floor-standing 32-bit Motorola, 68030-based CPU with eight megabytes of main memory; a 17-inch Sony monochrome monitor with keyboard and mouse; and an optional $2,000, 400 dpi (dots per inch) Postscript laser printer tied to the CPU. A four-megabyte memory upgrade and two large-capacity Winchester disk drives are also available.
The 68030 processor runs at a blinding 25 MHz speed. Also embedded in the machine is a 10-MIPS (million instructions per second) Motorola 56001 Digital Signal Processor, which drives real-time sound, array processing, modem, FAX and encryption functions. In addition, two proprietary VLSI (very large scale integration) chips were adapted from mainframe architectures to relieve the input/output bottlenecks encountered in traditional computers.
One of the proprietary chips, the Integrated Channel Processor (ICP) manages the flow of data among the processor, main memory and the peripherals. The ICP chip, together with the floating point 68882 math coprocessor, gives the machine the capability to operate at 5 MIPS. The Optical Storage Processor (OSP) is the other proprietary chip, and its function is to control the built-in, removable, 256-mega-byte erasable optical disk.
The NeXT system includes a large amount of software. It starts with the 4.3BSD Unix-based Mach multitasking operating system. NextStep is a complete software environment consisting of four components: the Window Server, Workplace Manager, Application Kit and Interface Builder. NextStep overcomes the difficulty of using Unix to create graphical end-user applications. For users, NextStep substitutes a window-based interface for the traditional Unix command-line interface. The Interface Builder is a graphical software development tool.
Application software is also bundled with the NeXT system. It contains a word processor, symbolic mathematics program, a SQL database server, Lisp programming language, personal text database manager and a graphical electronic-mail application with integrated voice-mail capabilities. A basic library is also standard with the optical disk, which includes Shakespeare's complete works, Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Webster's Collegiate Thesaurus and the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.
I haven't even described all of the features and capabilities of the NeXT Computer, and still I am out of breath. If Steve Jobs can deliver these machines when he promises them, during the second quarter of 1989, it will be a remarkable feat.
All in One
Since the early days of the ST one company has been at the forefront of developing utility programs for the ST computer: Michtron. In fact Michtron has become one of the leaders in producing ST software of all types. Its latest program, Utilities Plus, is a collection of its most popular and useful utility programs, including: Michtron Utilities, DOS Shell, M-Disk Plus, STuff and Super Directory.
Utilities Plus is more than just a repackaged collection of old programs. Many of the programs have been rewritten and contain additional enhancements. The Michtron Utilities is a full-featured disk editor that gives you complete access to your files by allowing you to change individual bytes of information. You can read and alter any information on a hard disk or floppy in order to adjust file attributes, format individual disk tracks, alter file and volume names, restore deleted files, copy and verify individual sectors, recover data from and repair damaged disks and much more.
The DOS Shell allows you to run batch files on your ST or simply use familiar MS-DOS commands rather than the GEM Desktop. The commands allow you to list files on a disk, check the free space, perform multiple-file copying and use global wild cards. The Super Directory is a disk-cataloging program that allows you to easily keep track of what is on your disks by permitting you to record disk contents and file-category information, disk number, file size and pathname. You can also sort, edit and print data records based upon your Super Directory records.
M-Disk Plus combines a RAMdisk and a print spooler to speed up file access and lets you get back to work while the computer is still printing. M-Disk uses a portion of the computer's memory to load and save data as if it were a normal disk drive. The advantage lies in the comparative speed increase of accessing memory rather than a physical disk drive. Soft Spool reserves a portion of computer memory as a print buffer. All data to be printed is stored in the buffer, then transferred when the printer is ready to receive it. In the meantime, you can go on using the computer for other work.
STuff is the remaining utility in the package. It contains 21 different utility programs and desk accessories for the ST Some of these allow you to set file attribute flags, set the system date and time without a clock card, change the execution order of AUTO folder programs, autoboot a GEM program from the desktop, encrypt and decrypt files, search selected files for character strings, display keyboard scan and ASCII codes and a lot more. In essence, STuff does what the other programs in the package don't — just about everything else.
Utilities Plus is the most complete set of ST utility programs I have seen. It sells for $60 and is available from Michtron, 576 S. Telegraph, Pontiac, MI 48053. They can be reached at (313) 334-5700.