Classic Computer Magazine Archive A.N.A.L.O.G. ISSUE 66 / NOVEMBER 1988 / PAGE 78


by Arthur Leyenberger

I'm late again. My deadline for this month's column has come and gone two days ago. I was all set to sit down tonight and write the column when I decided to log onto DELPHI and check out the latest Atari news and gossip. What a mistake.
    Mind you, it wasn't bad. It was, well, addictive. I've been doing a lot a traveling lately, so I had fallen behind on the ANALOG and ST-Log Atari SIGs. I signed on to DELPHI and have just spent the last two hours reading messages in the Forum section of the ST-Log group.
    If you want to know what is happening within the Atari community, talk with representatives from Atari and other hardware/software companies; DELPHI is the place to be. You can talk directly with the editors and contributors of ANALOG and STLog. And best of all, other Atari users are available to answer questions or share your opinions with.
    Maybe you knew that already. If not, call DELPHI at (617) 491-3393 and find out how you can get a user login and begin to take advantage of what is available on-line. Of course there is more to the DELPHI service than just the Forum. Files are available for downloading, electronic mail can be sent and received, and there is always plenty of excitement waiting for you in the ANALOG and ST-Log groups.

A quickie
    It has happened to me and I'm sure it has happened to you. You read an ad about a new piece of software in ANALOG or perhaps a rave review about a product that you have been waiting for. So you rush out and buy it.
    Once you get it home, you tear open the package, shove the disk in the drive and boot the machine. As the program is loading, you glance at the owner's manual, and there you see it: "[The software company] makes no expressed or implied warranty with respect to the program's quality, performance or fitness for use." Then it goes on for another couple of paragraphs that only a lawyer can understand.
    Most reputable software companies only warrant the physical media (the disk) and will replace it if defective. But what if the program isn't so great? What if it is so difficult to use that you would never subject your worst enemy to its use? Or what if the program just doesn't fit your needs? What do you do? Who ya gonna call? Program Busters? No. You're stuck. No two ways about it.
    I use a MS-DOS computer quite a bit and I recently saw an advertisement in a magazine that amazed me. The ad was for a product called Excel, a spreadsheet program that runs on a PC. The company is Microsoft, the largest PC software publisher.
    The ad was titled "The Microsoft Excel Win-Win Guarantee." It read, in part, "If you find a spreadsheet you like better between now and January 31, 1990, we'll give you your money back. No questions asked." Whew! Can you believe that? I have never seen anything like it.

If you want to know what is happening
within the Atari community, talk with
representatives from Atari and other
companies; DELPHI is the place to be,

    Here is a company that not only stands behind their product, but goes as far as guaranteeing that you'll like it. They guarantee that Excel will meet your needs. They want you to be satisfied with the program or you get your dollars back-without a hassle and for the next year and a half.
    Now, I normally don't write about MSDOS programs in ANALOG. Neither does anyone else for that matter. But I just had to share this with you. Microsoft is to be congratulated for having a software policy the way it ought to be. Can you imagine if Atari had a policy like that? Can you?

8-bit software
    It's no secret that new 8-bit software is becoming more difficult to find these days. The fact is, very few companies are publishing new titles for the Atari computer. Even many of the "big" companies that have supported the 8-bit machine in the past, such as Electronic Arts, Batteries Included, OSS, Datasoft and Synapse, have either gone out of business or have had their more popular titles bought by another company.
    I just received a new catalog in the mail from ICD. ICD has been around since 1984 and has had many innovative products for the 8-bit computer. In January of this year, ICD bought the OSS product line and continues to publish OSS products and provide support for them. Following is a brief look at some of the current ICD family of products.
    The P:R: Connection is a flexible, compact and more economical alternative to the Atari 850 interface. It plugs into the disk drive (serial) port of any 8-bit Atari computer and provides two RS-232 serial ports and one centronics parallel port. It takes its power from the computer, and its serial ports possess the same signals and functions as the 850 Interface, including the R: handler. The P: R: Connection sells for $90.
    The $60 Printer Connection provides a centronics parallel capability in a very small package. One end of the ten-foot cable plugs into any 8-bit computer (the 1200XL requires a slight modification) and the other end plugs into a parallel printer jack. No external power supply is necessary.
    If you want to expand the memory on your 800XL or 1200XL to 256K, the ICD Rambo AL is what you need. This $40 upgrade board (DRAM chips are extra) not only makes your 800XL or 1200XL a 256K computer but also makes the memory compatible with that of the 130XE. This lets you take advantage of software that can use the extra memory as well as allow you to use a 128K RAMDisk. You'll need to be familiar with soldering to install this upgrade.
    For advanced users, ICD offers the Multi I/O. This product features five functions in one box. It provides RS-232, parallel and hard-disk interfaces for your computer. It also gives you a either a 256K or one megabyte RAMDisk, of which any amount can be used as a print spooler. The former sells for $240 and the latter $470.
    If you have an Atari 1050 Disk Drive and want to upgrade it, the US Doubler chip set will do the job. The $40 upgrade will give your 1050 true double-density capability for greater storage, 180K per disk. Once upgraded, the drive will be compatible with single-density (90K) disks and the dual-density (130K) disks. When used with SpartaDOS, the US Doubler will also triple the 1/O speed of your computer and disk drive.
    The SpartaDOS Construction Set is ICD's own DOS that is compatible with just about any disk drive you can use with your 8-bit Atari. It supports single, dual and double density, 40- and 80-track 51/4-inch drives and eight-inch drives with the Percom or ATR8000. It supports the 360K Atari XF551 drive and hard disks. The $40 program also provides date/time stamping of files, subdirectories, a menu-oriented program for rapid file copying and erasing and more. I have been using SpartaDOS for several years and have found it to be the best DOS available for the Atari 8-bit computer.
    SpartaDOS X is a cartridge-based DOS that includes all of the features of SpartaDOS and more. This $80 cartridge features multifile operations, high-speed 1/O with US Doubler, Indus GT and Atari XF551 drives, the use of batch files and more. In addition, you can piggyback another cartridge on top of the SpartaDOS X and operate just as if you had booted from disk, except much faster.
    The R-Time 8 cartridge has a built-in battery that provides continuous and automatic date/time stamping of your files. It too is a piggyback cartridge that permits you to use another cartridge at the same time. When used with SpartaDOS, the R-Time 8 works automatically, tagging each file you create with the correct time and date. It sells for $70.
    ICD is an excellent company, and I can highly recommend any of their products. If you would like more information about ICD products, contact them at: ICD Inc., 1220 Rock St., Rockford, IL 61101; or call them at (815) 968-2228. Be sure to request their catalog which, incidentally, looks as classy as their products.

    What fun is it reading an "End User" column without a couple of rumors? I'm not one to start any rumors, but I am usually more than happy to pass them on. And with the way Atari both announces products before their time and also plays things close to the vest, rumors are never far away.
    The latest "hot" rumor concerns a supposed ST game machine. That's right, an ST game machine. I'll call it, for lack of a better name, the Atari STGS (not very original, I know). Here are the "facts"(?).
    Since Atari is doing a "land office" business in video games and video-game systems, it seems only natural for them to come out with a game system based upon the 68000 microprocessor. This is the very same processor used in the ST, Commodore Amiga and Apple MacIntosh.
    What will the STGS look like? A moment's consideration leads one to suspect that it will be roughly about the size of the 7800 game machine. It will probably not have a keyboard, although it may have an interface for a keyboard and disk drive. It will use cartridges for the game software. The price? How about under $200? A 68000-based game machine is really not a wacky idea. If this product were true, it would be the first 68000-based video game. One of the potential roadblocks for this product, I think, is the need for at least a dozen game carts to be available for it upon its introduction. Further, other companies besides Atari must develop games for the STGS for it to be a success.
    This may not be a problem, though. In the last year, Atari has done an amazing job of licensing popular arcade video games, as well as working with third-party game developers for new game titles. Also consider the announcement at the Summer CES that Nolan Bushnell and company will be developing new games for "Atari video-game machines." But on the other hand, an STGS would require DRAM chips that are currently in short supply. If no new supply for these chips is found, the production of ST computers may suffer as the video-game machines are made. Further, if a STGS were made, and it became a big hit, what would that mean to the "game image" that Atari has earned? Is Atari a game company or is Atari a computer company? Can it be both? Has it been both?
    All in all, a very interesting rumor. Here's another one: Atari will introduce a laptop version of the ST with a built-in hard disk. This rumor is a little tougher to swallow than the STGS. The last time Atari displayed a portable computer, it was an 8-bitter, with a six-inch (I believe) monochrome, 40-character screen. I think it was called the XEP and was shown at the first CES after the Tramiels took over Atari.
    Anyway, a portable ST may be a neat idea for some of us hard-core Atarians, but I don't think it would be a real challenge for the likes of Toshiba, Zenith or NEC.
    Here's an "oldie but goodie": an Atari CDROM player by year's end. Remember the "under $500" CD-ROM player Atari showed three years ago? The time was not right then, but maybe it is now. There's also some talk of an Atari 80286 PC clone. We'll see.
    At the summer CES, Atari's booth was all video games. There was hardly a computer in sight, not counting the XEGS. But several independent sources, both inside and outside of Atari, were talking about what Atari would be doing at the fall COMDEX (Computer Dealers Exposition) in Las Vegas.
    The talk centered on space. No, not the announcement of a manned mission to Mars being controlled by Atari ABAQ computers: floor space! It was said that Atari has some 20,000 square feet of exhibit space reserved at the upcoming COMDEX. With that much space at a computer trade show, Atari may be planning to announce all of the above products and a dozen more. Stay tuned for what may prove to be the biggest Atari show yet seen.
    Remember, these are just rumors. They may or may not be true. Chances are that, like most rumors, they are based on fact, but the final outcome will be somewhat different than stated here. However, keep in mind that if we didn't care so much about Atari computing, we wouldn't care so much about Atari rumors.
    Keep on computing. See you next month.