Classic Computer Magazine Archive A.N.A.L.O.G. ISSUE 67 / DECEMBER 1988 / PAGE 56


The software crisis of 1989
    The Atari ST computer didn't just happen overnight. It took the creative talents of a number of people to make the ST a useful machine. Most of the software available for the ST was developed by independent computer programmers and sold to ST users through the traditional distributor/dealer channels. Three years after the introduction of the ST, the software industry has reached a crisis.
    Selling computer software to Atari ST users has often proved to be confusing, difficult, nerve-racking and futile. Since Atari's motto is "Power without the price," programmers have found that their motto is "Lots of work with little pay." Many programmers have found it not worth their whiles to spend a year of their time on a program that is released by a software publishing company.
    Software publishers are usually under capitalized, most lacking the resources to do more than package and ship a new software title. The result is an industry where dealers receive new products from distributors that know nothing about the products they are selling. The dealers rarely get any help from the software publisher because the publishers don't have the resources to teach each and every dealer how to use their products.
    If a programmer has developed a product that is at all technical, the dealers don't understand it and leave it up to the product's packaging to convince a customer to plunk down some money. For the software consumer it is "Let the buyer beware." Once you take that software home, don't expect much support from your local dealer.
    This criticism of dealers and distributors isn't local to the Atari industry; the same can be said about IBM-PC and Macintosh dealers. The difference between the dealers goes back to Atari's motto. When spending $695 for a copy of Acius Fourth Dimension 4GL database for the Mac, inside the large box you will find over 800 pages of documentation, quick reference cards and a program that has been thoroughly tested. With that much documentation, 99 % of the end-user questions are answered. With the high list price, Acius can afford a decent advertising and support system for its dealers.
    On the Atari side, most software publishers don't have the money to hire professional writers to develop well-written manuals. The most popular desktop-publishing program for the ST comes with documentation full of bad grammar, spelling mistakes and poor organization. Luckily, the program's good user interface makes up for the manual's problems.
    The Atari software market is becoming more mature. Buyers have come to expect technological breakthroughs and are becoming more critical of consumer-level products. Three years after the release of the ST, we still haven't seen a desktoppublishing system of the caliber of Adobe Illustrator for the Macintosh. We still have not seen a word processor as advanced as Microsoft Word 4.0 for MS-DOS. The software-buying audience is aware of this.
    The software crisis of 1989 is the impending problem of supplying new software to an evermore technically mature, buying public. We have reached the point where the old methods of marketing Atari software no longer work. Atari dealers and distributors will have to become more advanced, or the public will outgrow the Atari ST.

The software crisis of 1989 is the
impending problem of supplying
new software to an evermore
technologically mature, buying public.

The story of George
    Turtle is a public-domain, hard-disk back-up utility that is available at no charge from DELPHI, CompuServe and GEnie. The program was written by George Woodside, who also authored several antivirus programs that can also be found in the public domain. George is a professional programmer working mostly on mainframe and minicomputer systems as a systems analyst and project leader.
    In the years since the ST was released, George has often produced programs and utilities that make using an ST a lot of fun. George's programs are always of commercial quality, yet he has not yet charged for any of his work. Turtle is a good example of the ingenuity built into his programs: The program creates a temporary RAMdisk-the equivalent to a floppy diskette with files stored in your ST's memory. Files from your hard disk are copied into the RAMdisk. Once the RAMdisk is full, Turtle copies the entire RAMdisk contents onto a floppy diskette. The result is a floppy disk containing a copy of your hard-disk files, but with the use of the RAMdisk, backups are finished in just a few minutes. Turtle was written two years ago, and a better hard-disk, back-up program has yet to surface.
    George is working on another ST application. This one will manage picture files from DEGAS, Neochrome and Spectrum. The picture manager will work much like the GEM Desktop; however, instead of managing files, the program will manage pictures created with any of the popular drawing programs for the ST.
    George has become a data-compression expert while writing the picture manager; up to 12 different compression techniques will be used to reduce the amount of storage space needed to maintain a set of graphics. George has reported his compression techniques are 10 % to 15 % more efficient than using Squeeze, ARC or Tiny format.
    The picture manager will also maintain an index of all the images in your library. More than 30 floppy disks of images can be indexed, with a powerful mechanism to locate a desired graphic. Simply describe a design, and the picture manager will tell you which floppy disk to insert. The graphic will appear on your ST's screen instantly, regardless of the format. A special animation editor will also be included, and users will be able to create slide shows that include color rotation and other special effects.
    George is currently working on the final version of the picture manager, which should be released shortly. If you have a suggestion or interesting idea, he can be reached directly on CompuServe (76537,1342) and GEnie (G.WOODSIDE).

The new GDOS is G+Plus
    Charles Johnson and John Eidsvoog have produced their own version of GDOS, the missing part of your Atari ST's GEM operating system, that allows programs to display and print graphic fonts and styles. Johnson and Eidsvoog began the project as curious hackers: They were interested in the inner workings of GDOS and the font system being used. What they found was unexpected.
    GDOS was originally developed in C by Digital Research, the creators of the GEM operating system. During the development of the ST, Atari and DRI decided not to include GDOS in the ST's ROM operating system because of physical size limitations of the ROM and problems interfacing new device drivers to the ST version of GEM. Atari fell from grace with DRI shortly after the ST was released, which made hopes of GDOS being made available for the ST slight. Through some delicate maneuverings, Atari eventually bought the rights to produce an ST version of GDOS. First tests of GDOS were embarrassing. The ST Desktop slowed down to a crawl, and most ST programs bombed when run.
    After almost a year of work, Atari released GDOS 1.1. The new version arrived amongst a flurry of controversy: Atari had decided to charge a high royalty for use of GDOS with commercial programs. Atari explained that they had spent a lot of money developing GDOS-compatible fonts that came with the licensed version of GDOS. ST software developers were not satisfied with that explanation, and eventually Atari backed off its stance and offered GDOS to developers for a one-time-only fee of $500.
    Similar work on GDOS has been done by staff programmers of the most popular German ST magazine, 68000er Magazine. A German programmer for the magazine wrote his own version of GDOS with the intentions of publishing the new software in the magazine as an article. A copy of the German GDOS was sent to Atari Senior Engineer Shiraz Shivji in the hopes that Atari would sanction the new GDOS and distribute it to ST users.
    Johnson and Eidsvoog originally intended to seek Atari's official approval of the new GDOS, before they realized the delay in releasing the product to the market such a move would cause. Instead, Johnson and Eidsvoog created a partnership, Codehead Software, which is marketing G+Plus directly to ST users.
    G+Plus is a more technologically superior software product than GDOS. When using GEM-compatible fonts, GDOS forces your ST to load all of the fonts into memory when you power-up your computer. This causes long boot-up periods and severely reduces available memory for your applications-try running a spreadsheet while GDOS is resident, and you will sometimes find less than half the worksheet size available. G+Plus solves this problem by allowing you to define which fonts will be loaded when an application is opened. When running your word processor, many fonts might be loaded. While running a graphics program, a different set of fonts could be loaded.
    G+Plus offers many other advantages, which will be covered later in a full ST-LOG review. The package comes with a large instruction manual and has a list price of only $34.95.