Classic Computer Magazine Archive A.N.A.L.O.G. ISSUE 62 / JULY 1988 / PAGE 95

by Arthur Leyenberger

It's been about a year since Atari last showed the elusive Atari PC Clone at the summer Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago in June 1987. I have had some pretty strong opinions about that product since it first debuted and continue to feel strongly about it.

    The Atari PC was first shown at the January 1987 CES and billed as the first PC clone to have EGA (Enhanced Graphics Adapter-an IBM PC graphics standard) built in. For $699, you would get a fast processor (faster than the standard IBM PC anyway), standard serial and parallel ports, monochrome screen and no slots. The specs were still the same in June but the delivery date was pushed back to the fall.
    I doubted at the time that the Atari PC would ever hit the streets. For one thing, the PC clone market has become a commodity market where price is the most important aspect. For another thing, there are already several big players involved in the clone game such as Tandy, PC's Limited, Epson, Leading Edge and a host of others. In fact, even Hyundai, the Korean manufacturer of inexpensive cars, is selling PC clone computers in the United States under the name Blue Chip.
    You can go out today and buy the same box that Atari promised to sell in the fall of 1987 for about the same price or even less. The big difference, aside from many of the other companies already having a corporate-familiar name, is that all of these machines have slots for adding extra circuit boards, whereas the Atari PC does not. Extended memory, enhanced memory, hard-disk cards, more serial and parallel ports, clocks, etc., cannot be added to the Atari PC.
    In addition, Atari faces an uphill battle to get corporate purchasing agents or DP managers to buy a PC that has the Atari name on it. It seems unlikely that the corporate purchaser of computers is going to even consider a nonstandard computer (or hundreds of computers) from a game company, let alone buying it from a toy store. Although the Atari PC was shown several times publicly, it seems almost certain now that it is a doomed product.
    At the time, I asked Atari's new marketing wiz, Jerry Brown (no, not that Jerry Brown), about the lack of slots on the Atari PC. He emphasized that it was the only PC clone that had a built-in EGA, in addition to its CGA and monochrome graphics output. I noted that it would take another $300 to add a color monitor, bringing the price of a color Atari PC up to $1000, and suggested that, to the purchasers of low-end PC clones, slots may be more important than EGA. Mr. Brown responded with something like, "So they won't buy our machine."
    Considering the facts, it looks like the Atari PC is a non-product and Atari's marketing attitude towards it and their potential buyers is a non-attitude as well. Atari's emphasis on their video-game products in the last six months further dooms the Atari PC. I guess this is just one more episode in the never-ending story of future Atari products that never were.

It's been 30 years, give or
take a few, since I last saw a copy
of this magazine, and I was
surprised to read about articles
and see projects that I could have
sworn I read about as a youth,

Some ST Info
    Not long ago I found myself sitting in a doctor's office waiting for my appointment. As I waited for my turn in the overbooked queue, I began to get bored, so I looked around for something to read. I spyed a copy of Highlights for Children and picked it up to look through it. It's been 30 years, give or a take a few, since I last saw a copy of this magazine and I was surprised to read about articles and see projects that I could have sworn I read about as a youth.
    Then it dawned on me. Of course they were the same or similar projects. The kids reading the magazine today were obviously not around three decades ago and therefore to them, this stuff was new. The same is true for readers of ANALOG. Newcomers to computers as well as to the magazine are reading about the ST for the first time. Because of this, I'd like to mention a few things that would have helped me when I was a first-time ST user. If Heloise used an ST, this month's column would be called "ST Hints From Heloise."
    One of the first potentially confusing aspects of using the ST are the various program types available for the machine. There are four types of programs on the ST and it is useful to have a brief understanding of each. Each of the programs has a different name extension (a maximum of three letters after the period in the program name).
    A GEM (Graphics Environment Manager) application program uses the GEM interface (windows, drop-down menus, dialog boxes, etc.) and both enters and exits from the GEM Desktop. It has a ".PRG" at the end of the program name. A non-GEM program is one that does not necessarily use the GEM interface or built-in GEM functions. They may use the GEM routines but always provide their own user interface. Their extension is ".TOS" (The Operating System).
    A special type of "TOS" program requires one or several arguments or additional pieces of information that are supplied when the program is run. When these programs are run from the desktop, a dialog box appears to let you enter the fist of arguments. After the argument(s) is entered, you press return and the program runs. There are several "command processors" available for the ST and these programs allow you to enter commands much like you do in MS-DOS or CP/M, that is directly from the keyboard. If you were using a command processor, you would run this type of program by typing its name followed by the list of arguments. Programs that use a list of arguments have a ".TTP" name extension which stands for TOS Takes Parameters.
    There is a final type of program that can be run on the ST which is slightly different then the ones mentioned above. This program type is called a "Desktop Accessory" because once run, it is always available to you much like a stapler, pencil holder or calculator is-to use the desktop metaphor. When a Desktop Accessory is run it is loaded into memory and takes up a portion of your ST's random access memory (RAM). The accessory, which is typically a small program, is available from any GEM application program from the "Desk" drop-down menu. This is one of the many built-in features of GEM. Desktop Accessory programs have a ".ACC" name extension and have to be programmed to specifically be an accessory. Any other program will not function as an accessory, even if you were to change the extension to ".ACC."
    There are a number of ways for you to get the most out of using the GEM Desktop. One of the simplest tricks is to rename the disk icons (small pictures on the Desktop). For example, if you have two disk drives, stacked one above the other (on your desk), it may be easier for you to refer to these drives as the "top disk" and "bottom disk:" To do this, click once on the drive icon and then choose "install disk drive" from the "Option" menu. Type in the new name in the name field and click on "install." That's all there is to it and your new name will remain in effect until the computer is turned off. To save the name permanently, you will have to save the Desktop (see below).
    Another method you can use to get the most out of using the Desktop is to first organize it the way you want, and then save the Desktop so that each and every time you use your ST, the Desktop will look just as you left it. What will be saved with the Desktop? Icon names and positions, screen resolution, number of displayed windows, their size and position. From the "Option" menu there is a choice labeled "Save Desktop." Clicking on this option creates (or overwrites a previous) a file called DESKTOP.INF Whenever the ST is first turned on, it checks to see if this file is present and if it is, loads the Desktop exactly as you had saved it.
    If for some reason your mouse is incapacitated, missing, on strike or otherwise unavailable, you can still maneuver around the desktop via the ST keyboard. This information is buried in the ST user manual but it is really quite straightforward. To move the screen cursor around you hold down the Alternate key and press any of the four arrow keys for direction. If you want a finer movement of the cursor, hold down both the Alternate and Shift keys and press any of the four arrow keys. To give a left mouse button click, press the Alternate and Insert keys. The Alternate and Clr/Home keys pressed together act like a right button click. After a little practice it begins to feel natural although not as much fun as driving the little furry guy around your desk.
    Unlike some computers such as the Macintosh which not only keep track of what disks are in the drives but also control when they can be removed, the ST allows you to insert and remove a disk at any time. However, if you have an open window on a particular disk drive, and then replace the original disk with another, the screen still displays the contents of the original disk. One way of updating the displayed directory is to close the window and then open it again. That's cumbersome, time consuming and no fun. A better way is to simply use the Escape (Esc) key on the keyboard. Pressing Escape causes the ST to update the contents of the currently open window. By the way, the escape key can also be used to erase text fields in GEM dialog boxes. For example, to enter a new time in the control panel, press Escape to wipe out the field and move the cursor to the beginning and then type the new time.
    When I first started using Unix many years ago, there was one concept that I didn't fully understand or appreciate. It wasn't until I started using the system on a regular basis that I began to realize the importance of folders (called directories in the MS-DOS and Unix world). The best way I can now explain their use is to ask you to imagine many files of different types. For example, some files are text files used with your word processor, other files are used with a spreadsheet, other files are DEGAS graphic files, and on and on. It doesn't take more than a screenful or two of files to make the task of finding any one specific file difficult. Here is where folders become important.
    Instead of having to look high and low for a particular file in one directory listing or window, folders let you categorize your files for easier access as well as potentially faster operation. To create a new folder, select the File Menu on the desktop and provide a name when the dialog box appears. Remember that you cannot rename the folder later on so choose names that describe its intended purpose. For example, I have such folders as "words'" "graphics" and "games." You can even have folders inside of folders. Within "words," I have a folder called "1st_Word," "ST_Writer" and "Regent" to hold the programs and files of three different word processors. Note that there can be no blank spaces in a folder name so you need to use an underscore character.
    If you want to see the contents of a folder just click twice on the folder name or icon. Files can be copied to a folder name or icon from another window so there is no need to open the folder first. Finally, when a window is open showing the contents of a specific folder, the PATH or folder order is displayed at the top of the window and the number of bytes for that folder only is also displayed.
    The last tip allows you to run your application programs a little faster. If you wanted to use your word processor, you would double click on the program and then from within the program select an existing text file to work on. By installing an application with its document type you can simply double click on the file you want to use and the program associated with it will automatically run. Here's how to do it:
    First of all, you need to be consistent with the name extension of your similar files. In this example I am using 1st Word so my name extensions are "DOC." From the Desktop, click once on the application name, 1st Word. Then go to the Option Menu and select "Install Application." When the dialog box appears, type the three letters associated with the application-"DOC" in this case. Then click on "OK" and save the Desktop to make your selections permanent. From now on, all you need to do is double click on any file with a ".DOC" extension name and 1st Word will automatically run and load the document file you selected. Be sure that the application program and its associated files all reside on the same disk for this technique to work.
    Knowing how to use your ST computer more effectively means that you will get the most out of computing. And getting the most out of computing is something we are all interested in.

Leyenberger is a human factors psychologist and freelance writer living in New Jersey. He has written over 100 articles about computers in the last four years and continues to be an Atari enthusiast. When not computing he enjoys playing with robotic toys.