The First Canadian Atari User Convention
by Ian Chadwick
There was a certain confusion among the members of the Toronto Atari Federation as the crowd began to swell the exhibit area of the show. No one had expected this sort of enthusiastic response. They weren't prepared for it. Within an hour of the doors being opened, the hall was crammed, shoulder to shoulder, with attendees eager to visit the 50 booths. It quickly became evident that they couldn't handle the number of people who wanted to get in, so for a while, they were forced to control the entrance, only letting people inside when others left.
Fifteen seminars and two workshops were well attended, most by more than the 20 people nominally permitted in each. The topics ranged from online systems (Alan Page, author of Flash), desktop publishing (Bruce Corbett, Atari Canada), ST databases (Frank Cohen, Regent Software), MIDI (technicians from Steve's Music), the future of the 8-bit Atari (Shelley Merrill) and even my own talk on the ST-PC link.
The show was dominated by the ST, although the 8-bit still holds its own and refuses to die as everyone predicts. Although little new has emerged for the 8-bit line, USA Media had its "STjr" and Diamond OS software, an interface that makes the 8-bit Atari look and work like the ST, with icons, mouse and GEM-like desktop. Very nice. Commodore had its own graphics interface, GEOS, out years ago. I hope that this one isn't too late to compete.
Many of the booths were run by retailers and the show had a bit of the "flea market" feel. During the day, prices dropped to almost wholesale level as many dealers competed with the same products. Electronic Playworld's booth dominated the retail area, with the largest space and selection. Curiously, only one company had 3.5-inch disks on sale anywhere in the show—Fuji. I wasn't able to discover why BASF, Maxell, Dysan and others weren't represented.
Of the publishers and manufacturers represented, most are familiar to the U.S. audience: Regent, MichTron, Sierra, Gribnif (NeoDesk) and CodeHead. Frank Cohen generated a lot of sales with his springs to strengthen the mushy ST keyboard, as well as a special offer on Regent Word II. Personally, I think the springs are a touch of genius on Regent's part. Now if only someone could market a keyboard with keys of the proper size! CodeHead, after initial problems getting its software across the border (you land in Toronto, your luggage goes on to Montreal. Welcome to Canada...), drew crowds with two excellent products, MultiDesk and G + Plus.
Other exhibitors were Canadian with little or no marketing in the U.S., including Philos Inc, with its musical learning game, Muzap, and Byte-Size, a local manufacturer of floppy and hard-disk drives. The Byte-Size hard drives include a full DMA pass-through for device chaining, a built-in SCSI expansion slot for such devices as a tape backup and a ten-megabyte SCSI floppy drive, and an intelligent disk cache (software). Nice & Software was showing an inventory-control and cash-register package.
Several users groups (not including TAF, of course) were present, most selling copies of their magazine and group disks.
Some of the show's highlights:
MIDI software. There were too many synthesizers playing in the small space, and at times it sounded like the battle of the chips. Even a guitar and saxophone got into the act! Musicware, Saved by Technology (retail), Steve's Music (retail) and Philos all showed off products.
Calamus. Atari Canada was rightfully proud of this new entry into the desktop publishing field from ISD. They believe it marks a new era in ST professional sales. Calamus attracted more interest than probably any other single product. There was no sign of Pagestream (a.k.a., Publishing Partner Professional) anywhere at the show. ISD's DynaCADD was also shown off in the Atari Canada booth.
Midi Maze. Atari Canada ran a Midi Maze contest, mostly for the kids, although several adults (including yours truly) got into the act. They used the game to sponsor a charity drive for the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto.
Spectre 128 (distributed in Canada by Software Plus). The newest in the line of Macintosh clone cartridges, from David Small, who gave us the Magic Sac.
Reset, a Canadian ST publication, launched ST Week, a biweekly newsletter. Let's hope there's enough to fill it.
ST World, ST User and ST Action. Many Atari owners got their first look at these three glossy ST magazines from the U.K. What surprised many was not only the quality of the magazines, but the enormous number of ads they contain for software, most of it never seen over here!
CB-Chat. Canada's first national online Atari user/support group works through the iNet 2000 service (iNet 2000 users can also use the Datapac system to access DELPHI). Due to the complexity of the iNet billing structure, the monthly fee ($3.30 even, if you don't use it) and CB-Chat's decision to increase hourly fees in the evening while the iNet costs drop, it may still be more economical and less trying to deal directly with DELPHI or other U.S. online services.
Despite some initial confusion (TAF changed hotels midstream and didn't inform everyone immediately. I learned about the change through CompuServe!) and a rather disorganized show management, the First Canadian Atari User Convention was a success. TAF members sometimes got a little headstrong in their role as "security" and—maybe because they were new at it or because they were too young for the job—were sometimes less than amiable and polite. Nonetheless, the show came off well. I look forward to next year's event.