by Arthur Leyenberger
Spring is here in some parts of the country, and, in many respects, Atari is also entering its springtime. Computers are more plentiful around the country. Dealers seem more optimistic with Atari's new attitude. Mail-order sales have been stopped for quite a while, allowing retailers a chance to make a decent profit on the computers they sell. In other words, retailers are no longer asked to provide support to users who have purchased their computers elsewhere.
And users seem generally more optimistic too. Atari has started listening to users and responding to their concerns. To many people, Atari no longer appears to be a humbug. On major telecommunications services like CompuServe, a direct line of communication has been established to Atari President Sam Tramiel and Vice President Sig Hartmann. Advertising by Atari is said to be right around the corner, now that the increased supply of product can feed the additional demand for computers. 1989 may indeed be the year that Atari turns things around.
Desktop-AccessoryAccessory Occasionally a program comes along that fulfills a need simply and elegantly. These niche programs often come from individuals or small companies and are created by user/programmers that initially wanted to create a solution for their own needs. Such is the case with a new utility program from CodeHead Software called MultiDesk.
Normally, when you boot the ST, GEM loads all desktop-accessory programs it finds (that is, programs with a filename extension of. ACC). You can have up to six desktop accessories loaded at once when the computer boots up. Actually, only the first six ACC files are loaded into GEM, and the rest are ignored. If you want to access an accessory that was not originally loaded, you must ensure that the one you want is one of the six accessory files and then reboot the machine.
MultiDesk allows you to use any desktop-accessory program on your ST at any time without rebooting the computer. The size of the ST's memory places the only limit on the number of accessories that can be loaded at one time. Actually, MultiDesk works both as a desktop accessory and as a regular GEM program.
As a desktop accessory, MULTIDESK.ACC is loaded in the usual manner at boot-up with up to five other accessories. Clicking on MultiDesk from the Desk menu calls up the MultiDesk dialog box where you decide which accessories you want to be loaded into MultiDesk itself. Up to 32 accessories can be named and included with MultiDesk.
The program reserves a portion of memory for all of the accessories you have chosen, and once your selections have been made, just enough memory is set aside: no more and no less. You can create a configuration file from within MultiDesk so that the next time you boot the machine, your selected accessory list will be automatically loaded. Also, to make using MultiDesk even more convenient, you can choose an option that will bring the mouse pointer directly to the list of accessories when you click on the MultiDesk accessory.
If for some reason, you want to be able to load more than 32 desktop accessories at once, MultiDesk will let you do it. By renaming MULTIDESK.ACC to other names (retaining the ACC extension), you can have a maximum of 192 accessories available simultaneously (6 accessory slots times 32 each). I can't imagine anyone needing access to that many accessories, but some power users may find it necessary, assuming they have the megabytes to spare. You can even have MultiDesk nested as an accessory inside another version of MultiDesk-up to a reported 130 levels. Sheesh!
As a regular program, MultiDesk is also useful. Just renaming the program to MULTIDESK.PRG and double-clicking on it from the desktop, gives you access to any desktop accessory, whether it has already been loaded or not. When returning to the desktop, the accessories become unavailable again. Being able to execute any and all desktop accessories from the desktop without having to first install them is one of MultiDesk's best features.
CodeHead Software is the company that brought us G+Plus, the excellent replacement for Atari's ineffective and memoryhungry GDOS. For $32, MultiDesk is an excellent tool for both programmers and normal users. In fact, I would call it the ultimate accessory program. I'm looking forward to future innovative and useful programs from CodeHead.
Regent NewsRegent Software, makers of Regent Word II and Regent Base II for the ST has recently announced a new Student Edition of Regent Word II. This word-processing program is a new version of the GEM-based Regent Word II and is aimed at the educational and smallbusiness market. According to Regent Software, Student Edition is one of the few ST word-processors that will work on a standard 512K ST computer.
The program has several new features including double-column printing, 40,000 word spelling checker (expandable up to 100,000 words) and support for dozens of printers. Regent Word Student Edition sells for $25, is not copy protected and comes with a complete user manual.
At the same time, Regent announced that Regent Word III will be appearing sometime this year. The new advanced word-processing program will feature the company's own graphics operating system, RDOS, and will allow the use of Macintosh and GEM (GDOS) fonts in a MacWrite-style wordprocessing environment. In addition, the program will allow graphics from DEGAS Elite and other drawing programs to be included in its documents. More details on Regent Word III will be available later in the year.
Regent Software is also selling a new, inexpensive product called Megatouch. The product consists of a set of springs or "keyboard stiffeners" that make the 520 or 1040ST keyboards feel like a Mega ST keyboard.
Megatouch is easy to install. Just pop off each keycap on your ST keyboard, place the spring in position and re-insert the keycap. If you have not memorized the QWERTY layout of your keyboard, it's best to do one key at a time so that you'll be able to put the keycaps back in the correct places.
Megatouch works surprisingly well. I've performed this modification to my 520ST and am impressed with the results. The keyboard still doesn't feel like an IBM keyboard (the best I've used), but it is a definite improvement over the mushy feel of the original ST keyboard. For $12, Megatouch is worth the price and highly recommended.
For information, Regent Software can be reached at (213) 439-9664, or write to Regent Software, P.O. Box 14628, Long Beach, CA 90803.
Not Another JoystickSince my early days as an Atari Video Computer System (VCS) owner nearly ten years ago, I have been on a quest for the ultimate joystick. I know many true gainers share this obsession and, like me, can probably attest to a collection of joysticks that numbers in the dozens.
Wico has been the king of the joystick companies for many years. Although not all of their joystick creations are still in production, they can still be readily found in toy and game stores. Wico sticks are classics. They are big, rugged and solidly built. Some have bat handles, others have knob handles and some have interchangeable ones.
Although I admire Wico sticks and own just about every one they ever made. I always felt that they were a little on the large size, especially for my average-sized hands. Sure, they had a fire button at the top of the handle as well as on the base, but I often had difficulty using the sticks when the going got rough. It seemed that response-time suffered as a result.
One of my favorite sticks is the Suncom StarFighter. What I like most about it is that it is small. It has both a small base that is easy to grab and a short stick that allows fast action. Unfortunately, it has a "cheap plastic" feel to it that comes from the construction and lack of tactile feedback. Electrical contacts rather than microswitches are used in this stick so no click is heard when the handle is moved. Also, I have worn out two of these babies over the years. Another problem with the Suncom is that, after prolonged use, my gripping hand feels fatigued.
Another favorite stick is the Epyx 500XJ. This too is a small stick, but the base conforms to the shape of your hand and is less fatiguing. There is also a groove for the thumb on the base, and the trigger button is strategically located under the tip of the index finger. This stick is made to be held with the left hand while the right hand's fingers perform the action. The Epyx 500XJ has a sturdy design and feels solid to the grip.
A while back, I came across a new joystick and have been using it on and off since. It's the Ergostick from Wico. The Ergostick looks like an Epyx 500XJ but with something different added. That difference is the covering of the base-a slightly sticky, soft covering-with a pleasing feel to it.
The Ergostick appears to be a quality design and has held up well under occasional heavy use. Microswitches have been used which provide the all important feedback and the shaft has a steel center. The skin-like material covering the base feels a little odd at first, but I soon came to appreciate its gripping characteristics.
One of the best features of the Ergostick is that my left hand did not become fatigued after prolonged use. I can play longer with this stick because I don't need to grip it as tightly. This, I presume, is due to the soft covering. In addition, moving the shaft to the diagonal positions does not require extra attention as it does with some other joysticks.
With some other joysticks, such as the Suncom mentioned above, moving to the diagonal positions doesn't seem as precise as when moving the handle to the horizontal and vertical positions. This is frustrating and slows the overall response of the stick. The Ergostick feels comfortable when moving to all directions, and the handle has a short "throw," which I prefer.
The Ergostick sells for $25 and is available from Wico Corporation, 6400 West Gross Point Rd., Niles, IL 60648. Phone (312) 647-7500.
Arthur Leyenberger is a human factors psychologist and freelance writer living in New Jersey.