Classic Computer Magazine Archive A.N.A.L.O.G. ISSUE 67 / DECEMBER 1988 / PAGE 78


by Arthur Leyenberger

The fall COMDEX in Las Vegas
will have just concluded and as
of now, big things are promised
there. The future of Atari in the
U.S. is being formed right now.

In the June 1988 "End User," I discussed my experiences using a Zenith Z-181 laptop computer on the road, and later back home to transmit files to an 8-bit Atari or ST. You may recall that I liked the machine; in fact it was (and still is) one of the best laptop computers currently available. You may also recall that I ultimately found the "11-pound Zenith Z-181" to be too heavy for comfortable computing on the go.
    I then proceeded to wax poetic about what I consider to be one of the best kept secrets in computerdom: the Tandy Radio Shack Model 102 laptop computer. If you want to primarily do some writing while on the move, the Radio Shack Model 102 has become the standard to which other laptop computers are compared. It is used by hundreds, maybe thousands, of journalists, students and all types of people for portable applications such as writing and telecommunicating.
    Chief among its strengths are its minimal weight (only three pounds), ease of use and moderate cost (about $600 for a maxed-out 32K-byte memory machine and separate portable disk drive). However, despite the relative ease with which the Model 102 allows you to become productive while traveling, you do have to make some sacrifices. The most significant drawback to the Model 102 is its 40-character by eight-line LCD screen.
    Doing serious work on a computer with a small screen, often in a dimly lit room, is a real eyestrain. The eight lines of text aren't really enough to see previous material while you are composing and writing new work. Further, using a spreadsheet program designed for the Model 102 is an exercise in frustration for the same reason: The screen is not the standard 80 characters by 20 lines that most computers now use. (Even the 8-bit Atari has had 80-column cards, emulators and software for many years.)
    My point in mentioning laptop computing in conjunction with using your ST or 8-bit Atari is to tell you about a new computer that has stolen first place in the laptop sweepstakes, as far as I am concerned. It's the Toshiba T-1000 MS-DOS laptop computer. It has one built-in, 720K, 3½-inch floppy-disk drive, 512K of RAM (Random Access Memory) and is a true PC-compatible computer. Best of all, it weighs in at only 6½ pounds, not much more than my Model 102 and separate disk-drive system.
    The T-1000 has MS-DOS in ROM (Read Only Memory), so that MS-DOS does not take up any valuable space in RAM. It has a fold-down, supertwist LCD screen that shows 80 columns by 20 lines. You can also add a 768K memory card that can be configured for expanded RAM, a RAMdisk and a number of other ways.
    The thing that makes this computer so exciting is the ease with which you can transfer files to the Atari ST. The 3½-inch disks that the T-1000 uses are identical to those the ST uses. It gets even better, though. As you may know, the ST can read MS-DOS disks directly. For example, many users have an external 5¼-inch disk drive connected to their ST with which they can read MS-DOS files. A number of programs such as WordPerfect, VIP Professional (a Lotus 1-2-3 clone) and Easy Draw (.GEM files) that run on the ST can use files created by similar MS-DOS programs on a PC.
    To transfer files from the Toshiba T-1000 to the ST, all you do is insert the MS-DOS floppy disk in the ST drive. Using the GEM Desktop, you can easily copy any file from it to an ST disk. Just remember, any file can be copied, but MS-DOS programs will not run on the ST (unless you are using an emulator program such as pc-ditto, but that's a topic for another column). If you want to transfer files from the Toshiba to an 8-bit Atari, you'll need a terminal program running on both computers and have to use a transfer protocol such as Xmodem. (See the June 1988 "End User" column for detailed instructions for uploading and downloading files to and from Atari and laptop computers.)
    The street price of the stock Toshiba T-1000 is about $700. As an MS-DOS computer with one built-in drive, 512K of RAM, five hours of use per battery charge and the MS-DOS operating system contained in ROM, the T-1000 is an excellent machine. In fact, $700 is not much more than the cost of a Radio Shack Model 102 with full memory and a separate disk drive.
    I have been using a T-1000 for about a month now and highly recommend it.

Second-class users
    One of the continuing issues that Atari users have to wrestle with is the lack of responsiveness and support we get from Atari. I won't complain again about the "game image," but related to that problem is the lack of emphasis that Atari seems to be placing on the United States market. There has not been any major advertising for the STs since 1986. Things have gotten so bad that Atari could probably now advertise a stealth computer (the ST) without worrying about false advertising.
    Equally important to the success of the ST as advertising is the availability of new products. Developers see no advertising for the ST so they figure the market is stagnant or nonexistent. Atari attempted to court developers in the early days of the ST by selling them $5,000 ST systems while Apple was giving Macs to their developers. Further, the few developers left must continue to deal with the poor support, documentation and programming tools supplied by Atari.
    There are plenty of other confusing and inconsistent actions on the part of Atari that continue to irritate existing as well as potential ST owners. I have mentioned before, for example, the lack of upgradability of the ST computer. Despite Atari's claim since the very introduction of the product that they would support the ST and its user, one still has to buy from thirdparty developers memory upgrades that void your warranty. Atari's alternative for a memory upgrade is to buy a new machine.
    Whatever happened to the blitter chip that was supposed to improve the graphics on the ST tenfold? It first was going to be an upgrade to existing 520 and 1040 STs, then it wasn't. Now it appears that the blitter is not anywhere near as good as it was originally touted as and for most people the attitude is "Who cares?"
    Problems exist too. It has taken a long time for a new version of TOS in ROM to appear. Atari claims it has been working on it and that we should see the new TOS ROMs this fall. Have you seen them?
    A variety of other things continue to plague the Atari market as well. When a new product like the 520STFM with an internal double-sided drive is introduced, some stores get the product before others. In fact, some dealers claim that Atari's own Federated Electronic Stores get the new version of the product first, while the existing supply of the old version gets distributed to everyone else.
    Apparently, Canada also gets first chance at some new Atari products. The PCF-554 5¼ -inch disk drive originally designed for the PCl (Atari's PC clone) works with Megas and STs and has been available in Canada since late August. If you live up north, you have also had available a math coprocessor board for the Mega, CD-ROM developer kits and the Atari PC Clone for several months.
    I recently asked Neil Harris of Atari Corp. about some of these problems. He agreed that communications was a big issue and has hired someone to produce a series of dealer and developer newsletters. In addition, a user group and a MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) newsletter are also being published.
    Neil also said that Atari has hired a new public relations agency to get the word about Atari ST computers and products to the press. I agree that a PR campaign to industry insiders is equally as important, if not more so, than a consumer advertising campaign. It seems to me that having a consumer ad campaign alone is trying to do the job in a vacuum. People need to see Atari products mentioned in other than Atari-specific magazines.
    Editorial coverage can certainly supplement good advertising. Sam Tramiel, president of Atari Corp., has previously promised "a major ad campaign in the fourth quarter of 1988."
    Neil also told me that a dealer council has been established, consisting of 14 of the best dealers nationwide. They meet regularly with top Atari officials to air their views and hear about forthcoming products and programs. In addition, Atari is continuing to put special promotions together to help dealers move products.
    (Ed: As this issue was going to print, Neil Harris announced that he was leaving Atari after four years with them. He is taking a position in the Marketing Department of the GEnie telecommunications service.)
    It seems clear that Atari is attempting to address some of their problems. However, many Atari users have the perception that the top brass of Atari are either unaware of the issues that affect the user or just don't care. It is only by actions that we can judge how Atari Corp. feels.
    By the time you read this, we should know the answer. The promised ad campaign should have happened and hopefully been a success. There should be more dealers, not to mention happier dealers thanks to Atari's efforts. The fall COMDEX in Las Vegas will have just concluded and, as of now, big things are promised there. The future of Atari in the U.S. is being formed right now.
    Those  that would accuse me of "Atari bashing" have not been paying attention. Most ST users would like to hear some good news for a change. It is really up to Atari, and has been since the Tramiels took over. We who are deeply involved with the Atari community all want the same thing: for Atari to be successful. Isn't that obvious?

Atari has hired a new public relations
agency to get the word about Atari ST
computers and products to the press.

Dija vu all over again
    David vs. Goliath. You know how the story goes: big multimegabuck company vs. the small start-up company. For the last couple of years, Apple Computer has played the role of Goliath without a corresponding David.
    You may recall how Apple threatened a lawsuit against Digital Research Inc., makers of the GEM Desktop and GEM application programs. As a result, DRI was forced to redo the "visual look" of the GEM Desktop for the PC. Consequently there were no more disk or trash-can icons, no more resizable windows (up to four) and no more ease of use.
    The "new" GEM Desktop consists of two fixed windows covering the entire screen, with all functions having to be chosen from the drop-down menus. (For you PC GEM users, here's a tip: The GEM Desktop is nothing more than another application program. So, by installing the latest version of GEM 3.0, and then copying certain files from the v1.0 Desktop [DESKHI.ICN, DESKLO.ICN, DESKTOP.APP, DESKTOP RSC AND DESKTOP.INF], you can have the functionality of the original Desktop with the latest version of GEM.)
    More recently, Apple filed a major lawsuit against Microsoft, the largest supplier of software for the Macintosh. The suit claims that Microsoft Windows for the PC infringed on Apple's copyrighted Macintosh user interface. There is a subplot going on concerning a 1985 contract between Apple and Microsoft. In this previously confidential agreement, Microsoft acknowledges that the visual displays of Windows 1.0 and five other Macintosh programs are "derivative" of the Macintosh. In return, Apple granted Microsoft ". . license to use these derivative works in present and future software programs. . . . "
    The case between Apple and Microsoft may turn out to be nothing more than a contract case. However, Apple alleges that it is a copyright case. If true, we could finally get to the root of the Macintosh visual-interface controversy in court. That is, that Apple created the Macintosh interface based in some part on the work at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and from the Stanford Research Institute.
    Here's where David comes in. Apple also sued Hewlett-Packard for copyright infringement of the Macintosh interface. They claimed HP's MS-Windows-based New Wave applications environment infringed on Apple's graphical user-interface copyrights (called "audiovisual works" in the suit). I have not seen HP's New Wave but I have heard it outdoes the Macintosh in its power and ease of use.
    I never thought' I would describe Hewlett-Packard as a David to Apple's Goliath but the title fits since HP is countersuing Apple, alleging unfair business practices and antitrust violations. Specifically, HP charged that "Apple's copyrights are invalid because the concepts that the audiovisual works are based on are derivative of work done by Xerox Corp.; are, if protectable, under the domain of patent law not copyright law; were misrepresented by Apple before the U.S. Copyright Office and the public; and have been used as instruments of monopolization."

Ain't that a mouthful?
    Who knows when the litigation will actually appear before the court. But I hope it does come to court so that the issue of graphical user-interfaces can be settled, hopefully once and for all. Neither Apple or any other company should singlehandedly prevent the state of the userinterface art from improving. As a computer user, I have every right to expect that free competition will take place in the market, and that the result will be an improved product.
    The GEM Desktop, for instance, is not perfect but it sure is a step in the right direction for an easy-to-use computer interface. When Apple forced DRI to change the Desktop, the result was inferior. That is certainly not progress and represents a sham on Apple's part.
    As a holiday wish, let me hope that Apple and Hewlett-Packard have their day in court and that HP wins. And, as a result, companies will again be permitted to create and design the best software they can without fear of reprisal from a company like Apple Computers. I'm raising my glass to you, David, hoping you overpower Goliath for the users.