by Arthur Leyenberger
I don't know. Maybe it's me. Regardless of how much I want Atari to be successful, something always happens with them that frustrates the heck out of me.
Maybe being an Atari user for so long has clouded my judgment. As an Atari user, the inner workings of Atari Corp. is really none of my business. Really. I'm also an IBM PC user. I don't get all excited when IBM does something I disagree with or something that appears to be stupid.
Atari appears to be getting their act together. They promised that 1989 would see a renewed effort on their part to promote and sell the ST in the United States. It may not actually happen until the first half of 1990. That's okay with me-at least they are trying. But in the midst of this effort, the revolving door of Atari management has opened and closed once again.
Assistant vice-president of sales Joe Mendolia is no longer with Atari. I don't know the details of his leaving. Whether he quit or was fired doesn't matter to me. It just indicates once again that the Tramiels are difficult to work for.
In my column in the October ST-LOG I mentioned the new User Group Coordinator, Chris Roberts. He had big plans for uniting the users' groups across the country via a special-interest group on a telecommunications service. Other plans included the publishing of a users' group newsletter by Atari to improve communications with Atari Corp. Now, before the ink has dried on the pages of ST-LOG, Chris is no longer with Atari Corp.
Atari has said many times that they are relying on users' groups to help spread the ST gospel. It's a two-way street. If they want the support of users' groups, they need to support the user groups.
Interface Wars:I have written many times about the absurdity of the interface wars, otherwise known as the "look and feel" lawsuits that have plagued the microcomputer industry. It seems that Apple Computer has spent more money suing other companies with products that have allegedly infringed on the look and feel of the Macintosh Desktop than they have on research and development. You probably recall that Apple threatened to sue Digital Research because the GEM Desktop looked too much like the Mac Desktop. As a result, DR modified the GEM Desktop (for MS-DOS machines) so it now is less intuitive and more difficult to use. Fortunately, the GEM Desktop on the ST has not been affected.
The Continuing Saga
The Continuing Saga
Apple actually brought suit against Microsoft for their Windows product and Hewlett-Packard for their New Wave graphical user interface. Luckily, the courts put a stop to Apple's shenanigans. The court ruled that a prior agreement between Apple and Microsoft did indeed grant Microsoft broad rights to what Apple claims was theirs. In effect, the judge threw out the case.
Although Apple still has some sort of claim concerning icons and their manipulation and the concept of overlapping windows, this decision should put a stop to Apple's attempt to sue anybody with a graphical interface. Further, if this does happen, users will benefit from a more or less standard interface.
All graphical user interfaces have essentially the same elements: multiple windows, drop-down menus and icons. It's about time users need not have to relearn the basics of program operation. For example, in the MS-DOS world, the F1 function key is typically used to invoke a help function. This has become standard practice and makes programs easier to use. ST software using the GEM interface is made easier to use because program functions are accessed in a consistent manner. Although a user still has to learn the specific commands of a new program, the interface does not interfere with the learning process.
Perhaps the recent court decision against Apple Computers will send a signal to other companies that have been pursuing "look and feel" lawsuits. I hope it does. Programs are becoming more complex all the time, and anything that can help the user is much needed.
Something Old,At the June 1985 Consumer Electronics Show, the major Atari excitement centered around the CD-ROM player for the ST. As you may recall, it was shown together with Groliers Encyclopedia, a CD-ROM application. Atari announced that both would be available by the end of the year. Most of us assumed that it was going to be the end of that year, but since the Atari CD-ROM player has yet to materialize, we can't be sure which year Atari had in mind.
Also shown over four years ago were several products for the then-recently introduced 65XE and 130XE computers. One product, meant exclusively for the 130XE computer, was a Lotus 1-2-3 clone called The Professional. Developed by VIP Software, it too was going to be available by the end of the year and sell for under $100. What was interesting about The Professional was that it used windowing and pulldown menus similar to those found on the ST.
In order for The Professional to operate as promised, a graphical interface was needed for the 8-bit computers. Sure enough, Atari was demonstrating one of those too. Appropriately (if unimaginatively) called the GEM Desktop, the new Atari software was a GEM lookalike program that was said to run on all 8-bit Atari computers. You guessed it, VIP Software was the developer. And, of course, the program was promised to be available by Christmas.
I don't mention these never-released 8-bit products to embarrass Atari. Instead, I want to show how the excitement over the ST (at the time) had carried over into the 8-bit world. It seemed feasible that, for the most part, what could be done on the ST could be duplicated on the 8-bit computer with a little imagination and a lot of programming acumen.
Atari never did deliver on their promise to develop and market a GEM-like interface for the 8-bit computers. However, within the last year, two companies were each working on similar graphical interface products. Total Control Systems' Graphic Operating Environment (GOE) and Reeve Software's Graphical Operating System (GOS) were both scheduled to be out by now, but to date, only Diamond GOS from Reeve Software (29W 150 Old Farm Lane, Warrenville, IL 60555; 312-393-2317) has appeared.
The Diamond GOS package consists of a supercartridge containing the GOS and the desktop software, a disk containing various utilities for configuring the Diamond environment, another disk with the Diamond Paint program and two manuals (Diamond GOS user manual and Diamond GOS programmer's manual). The cartridge is the piggyback type that allows you to insert another cartridge into the top of it. To use Diamond, you need a mouse (not included in the package). Although the product can work with joysticks, trackballs and touch tablets, the manual highly recommends the use of an ST mouse. So do I.
Diamond GOS is similar to the GEM Desktop. The initial configuration (which you can modify to suit your own system) consists of disk drive and trash can icons, one window in the center of the screen and four menu names (Desk, File, Disk and Options). With the mouse plugged into Port 1 (the second joystick port), you have complete control over the desktop by pointing, clicking and dragging.
Only two windows can be opened at once on the desktop (compared to four on the ST). Interestingly, as you click on either of the two windows, the operating system rereads the disk in the selected drive. Pressing the escape key will update the window if you happen to change disks in the drive that has the active window.
Another interesting difference between GOS and the ST GEM desktop is what happens when you make a particular window active by clicking on it. The screen is repainted when you do this and the underlying window information is lost. Like the GEM desktop, once you have configured your GOS desktop with particular windows and drive icons, you can save the desktop to disk. That way, whenever you boot your system with GOS, your familiar desktop configuration will be displayed.
As this is not a full review of Diamond GOS (see the September '89 ANALOG Computing), I won't describe all the features of the program. However, it is significant that someone (Reeve Software) has been able to create a graphical user interface for the 8-bit Atari computer. Since Diamond GOS works with most 8-bit disk-operating systems-Atari DOS 2.5, Atari DOS XE, Sparta DOS X, etc.-it can be thought of as an extension of DOS rather than a replacement.
Currently, only one program runs under Diamond GOS: the supplied paint program that comes with the package. Reeve Software states that they will be offering additional programs in the near future, such as desk accessories, a word processor and a desktop-publishing program. If Diamond GOS catches on, perhaps other software suppliers will write programs to run under the system.
The cartridge version of Diamond GOS sells for $79.95. You'll have to add another $35 to the total price if you don't happen to have an ST mouse. There is no question that Diamond GOS brings a functional, modern graphical user interface to the 8-bit Atari. You'll have to decide if it is worth the price given the lack of additional software that is now available to work with it.
Arthur Leyenberger is a freelance writer who lives in beautiful New Jersey. He can be reached on CompuServe at 71266,46 or on Delphi as ARTL.