Software piracy continues to choke
our Industry, hurting both software
companies and ultimately end users
like you and me.
Arthur Leyenberger is a human factors psychologist and freelance writer living in New Jersey He has written over 100 articles about computers in the last five years and continues to be an Atari enthusiast. When not computing he enjoys playing with robotic toys.
by Arthur Leyenberger
Piracy. It has become a major problem over the years for software manufacturers with every computer. ANALOG magazine has discussed the issue many times before. Readers have responded time and time again. But it's still a problem. Finally, there may be some hope for thwarting the efforts of software pirates.
The hope comes from John Weaver, who has written several programs for the ST. His programs are distributed by Michtron, Inc., the most prolific ST software vendor on the face of the earth. The specifics of the legal case are that a teenager allegedly operated a pirate bulletin board system from which users could download copyrighted programs. One of the programs was Cards, Weaver's card playing simulation for the ST.
John Weaver, who owns the copyright of Cards, is suing not just the teenager, but also his parents. Although pirates have been sued by software companies before, this may be the first case in which the pirate's parents have also been sued. According to Jonathan D. Wallace, Esq., the computer lawyer representing Weaver and a partner in the New York City law firm of Meatto, Russo, Burke & Wallace, the case raises a question of first impression under the copyright law. "Our argument is that a parent who supplies the computer equipment and telephone line which is used to operate a pirate bulletin board, and who then tolerates the trading of pirated software, contributes to the copyright infringement," Wallace said. "Since teenagers usually have no assets with which to pay a judgment, holding the parents responsible will give a strong incentive to families not to condone this type of behavior." At the time of this writing, the case is pending in federal court in New York.
As far as I am concerned, more power to Weaver, et. al. I strongly believe that parents have increasingly refused to take responsibility regarding their children for a number of things from sex education to manners to teaching right from wrong. I also believe that software piracy continues to choke our industry, hurting both software companies and ultimately end users like you and me. Hopefully the judge and/or jury will decide that parents can indeed be legally responsible for acts of software piracy by their teen-age children. I'll keep you posted on the outcome of this important case.
In discussing this case and the general problem of software theft with Gordon Monnier, president of Michtron, I learned that Michtron has gone after other software thieves as well. Gordon told me that most of the people caught in the act settle out of court or even on the spot. In fact, they caught this guy in Florida in the process of printing a catalog. As a result, they seized his computer equipment and he settled on the spot. In the past year, Michtron has closed down five bulletin board systems (BBS) and one person that was selling illegal copies of their software outright.
Many of these so called pirate BBS also have stolen telephone and bank credit card numbers. Few people realize that the telephone company is constantly looking for this type of illegal activity. Further, the secret service keeps a database of stolen credit card users and illegal BBS operators. That hot shot computer hacker who runs a pirate BBS may be surprised later in life when he applies for a top secret clearance for a programmer position and is denied the classification.
The Ah-haa phenomenonEver have the experience where you are trying to figure something out and then the answer suddenly dawns on you. When it happens, you say to yourself, "Ah-haa". You're not alone, this experience happens to everybody. Recently it happened to me.
For years, at least the several years that Jack Tramiel and family have been running Atari, I have wondered why they have not been more active in the U.S. computer market. You probably know the story already-Atari talks a good line about advertising computers, shows commercials at trade shows and then nothing substantial appears in the media. If anything, Atari stresses their game machines in the U.S. market.
At the same time, I keep hearing about Atari in the European computer market. Well folks, ah-haa. It now seems clear to me why Atari is more active overseas. First of all, with the ever-declining value of the U.S. dollar, the dollar is worth more in Europe. As a result, Atari gets more bang for the buck when it spends money promoting its products over there.
Second, Atari is the number one selling computer, at least in France and Germany. Understandably, they do not want to lose their sales lead in those markets. Finally, Atari is still a relatively small company with limited financial resources. They must carefully choose where they spend their advertising and promotion dollars. Whatever they spend in one area means that much less they can spend somewhere else.
Given the resurgence of computer games in the United States and Atari's strength in that market as well as their strength in the European computer market, their marketing policies make sense. However, the ST has not done as well as expected in the US and continued marketing emphasis elsewhere may doom the ST and make it an orphan computer. None of us wants that to happen but Atari will have to do more than make idle promises and rely solely on the hobbyist market is they want the ST to succeed in this country.
Happy anniversaryIt has been about a year now since Atari acquired the Federated Group, a southern California based retail consumer electronics chain. Atari originally said they would buy the 67-store chain for about 67 million dollars in order to increase distribution of their computers. For over two years, Atari has had difficulty trying to persuade retailers to carry its wares.
Although the Federated Group of stores had been losing money for almost a year prior to the purchase, Atari believed that its financial backing would put the retail chain back in the black and perhaps allow it to begin expanding again. Moreover, Atari was really looking for better distribution. The acquisition was also said to help make Atari a vertically integrated company and give Atari an outlet for new non- computer electronics products that were to be introduced within the year.
It's been a year. Little is heard from the Federated Stores. More importantly, little is heard from Atari about the Federated Stores which probably means they are not fulfilling their initial purpose. And what about those new "noncomputer electronics products" that Atari said they would be introducing? I have not heard about nor seen them. Another smoke screen?
What of Atari's distribution? Has it increased? Have those of us concerned about Atari's future been asking this same question for years? According to a recent New York Times article, some computer retailers such as Computerland have decided not to carry Atari machines "partly because Atari has an image as a video game company whose machines would not appeal to corporate customers:" Other retailers "are wary of Atari's chairman Jack Tramiel, who in his days as head of Commodore International, undermined his dealers by slashing prices and moving his computers to mass merchandisers such as K mart", the article said.
With little new 8-bit software being released and the ST not fulfilling its initial promises, Atari will need more than just video games to keep it going in the future. Perhaps now is the time for those "noncomputer electronics products:"
An electronic spreadsheet is
probably the most useful of all
programs. Unfortunately, it may also
be the most misunderstood.
SpreadsheetsYou may have been wondering what all of the fuss is about regarding programs such as Lotus 1-2-3 on IBM PCs and PC clones or Visicalc and SynCalc for the 8-bit Atari computers. Perhaps you have heard of these programs or know someone who uses them but just don't know why. If this is true, read on.
An electronic spreadsheet is probably the most useful of all computer programs. Unfortunately, it may also be the most misunderstood. It's a shame that more people don't understand and appreciate the fundamental simplicity of a spreadsheet and therefore the tremendous power that is available in this type of program.
Electronic spreadsheets did not just appear out of thin air. Like many useful categories of computer programs, they are modeled very closely on their manual counterpart. Before computers came along, accountants, bookkeepers, statisticians and even families have used spreadsheets to keep track of everything from depreciation to profit and loss to household budgets. A spreadsheet is nothing more than a two-dimensional set of names and numbers. The key ingredient is rows and columns! If you can understand rows and columns then you understand the underlying principle of a spreadsheet.
Anyone who has ever filled out an income tax form has used a form of a spreadsheet. An income tax form has a vertical list of items such as gross income, number of dependents, deductions, taxable income and tax due. Next to this column is another one for the numbers or dollar amounts. In a spreadsheet, the numerical column may contain one of three types of entries: an input value such as your gross income and number of dependents; a calculation such as taxable income which in this simple example is gross income minus deductions; and a fixed amount such as the amount of tax (for a given taxable income level).
In the precomputer age (not that long ago) spreadsheets were manually done on columnar paper. This paper had horizontal and vertical lines printed on it which made it easy to write the item names down along the left column and units of time across the top line. For example, one could create a home budget that had all of the monthly expenses listed in the first column with all remaining columns labeled by months for one year. Then to find, say the electric bill for July, you would read down the page to find the row containing the electric bill item and straight across to the July column. Remember, rows and columns.
An electronic spreadsheet is nothing more than an old fashioned spreadsheet that is calculated on a computer. Columns are labeled with units of time such as months, quarters, or years and line items are listed down the left side of the form. The major advantage offered by a computerized spreadsheet is automatic recalculation of results. Make one change on an electronic spreadsheet and all calculations that use that value will instantly change. This happens automatically compared to the erase-recalculate-rewrite procedure necessary when using a manual spreadsheet.
A bargainWhen I first bought my Atari 800 in 1982, I spent $200 on Visicalc, the very first electronic spreadsheet. Visicalc was originally written for the Apple II computer and in fact was the sole reason that many people bought an Apple back in those days. In June 1983, Synapse (no longer in business) announced the Syn series of software, three separate programs for database, business graphics and spreadsheet applications. There were several other programs in the series as well.
By January 1984, Synapse struck a deal with the old Atari for Atari to distribute SynFile+, SynTrend and SynCalc. Just as these products were being shipped out the door, Jack Tramiel and company bought Atari and promptly canceled the Synapse arrangement. Synapse never got paid by Atari for their effort and material, they had to lower the price in order to move as many as possible and Synapse ultimately went out of business as a result. The entire matter is still waiting to be settled in court.
However, SynCalc was an excellent product. To this day, it has features that even the programs running on the big rigs don't have, such as the use of menus that build the command and display it as you type. That way you learn what the command is and are eventually weaned from the menus. Other features of SynCalc include variable- width columns, sorting data either numerically or alphabetically, compatibility with AtariWriter, a 255 row by 128 column maximum matrix and operation with one or two disk drives.
SynCalc was originally scheduled to sell for $99. Within a year after it was released it was selling at a street price of about $35. Recently I saw it for $20 at a megamall toy store. If you have an Atari 8-bit computer and you don't have a spreadsheet for it, SynCalc is the best. If you see it, pick it up. You will be glad you did.