Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 75 / AUGUST 1986 / PAGE 26

16-Bit Explosion!

New Products For The Atari ST And Amiga

Tom R. Halfhill, Editor

As they enter their second year on the market, the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga are building up respectable software libraries spanning all the major categories of personal computing. At the same time, new peripherals and accessories are making the computers themselves even, more powerful. Here's a look at the highlights of two recent computer industry trade shows: the Spring COMDEX in Atlanta and the Summer Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Chicago. Many of these new products will be available this summer.

Atari ST

Atari was a major player at the Spring COMDEX and Summer Consumer Electronics Show (CES), filling its booths at both shows with dozens of cubicles sponsored by independent developers demonstrating their wares. The exhibits attracted thousands of browsers and potential new dealers. Perhaps more importantly, Atari continued to gain credibility—strengthening its image as a revitalized company on firm financial footing which is determined to become a significant force in the personal computer industry.

Atari's biggest announcements for the ST series included:

An MS-DOS emulator that is supposed to run most of the big-name IBM PC software. (The prototype was running Microsoft's Multiplan.) The emulator is an external box which contains an 8088 microprocessor, a socket for an 8087 math coprocessor, and 512K of random access memory (RAM). When the emulator isn't operating, the ST can use the extra 512K as a RAM disk. Atari still hasn't decided whether to put a 51/4-inch floppy disk drive in the box, so the final price is undetermined. Estimates are $300 to $400. Atari plans to begin selling the emulator this fall.

• A CP/M emulator implemented entirely in software. This comes on a 31/2-inch disk and lets you run virtually any program written for the CP/M (Control Program/Microcomputers) operating system at 100 percent speed. No extra hardware is required. Already available in Europe, the CP/M emulator should be selling in the U.S. this summer for under $50.

•A special summer price promotion that allows dealers to sell a 520ST, floppy disk drive, and monochrome monitor for $599.

•Atari announced immediate availability of its 20-megabyte SH204 hard disk drive for $799.95 and an Epson-compatible dot matrix printer, the SMM804, for $219.95, The printer can make accurate screen dumps of the ST's high-resolution (640 X 400-pixel) screen mode. It prints at 80 characters per second and offers both friction and tractor feed.

•Atari has acquired rights to market an ST version of Versasoft’s dBMAN, a high-end relational database manager originally designed for the IBM PC and patterned after Ashton-Tate's dBASE II and dBASE III.According to Atari, experienced dBASE users can use dBMAN with no retraining. The suggested retail price is $149.95, and Atari is encouraging dealers to give free evaluation copies to potential customers. The free copy is fully functional, but allows only 30 records per database.

In addition to these announcements, independent companies exhibited a flood of new software and hardware for the ST series, including some impressive business programs. With even more products due this fall, it's obvious that the ST will have a solid software library by the end of 1987.

So much software is being released that we don't have room here to cover it all; scan the "News & Products" section in this and future issues for further information Following are some products that particularly caught our attention.

Batteries Included (Irvine, California) is emerging as one of the top software companies supporting the ST. Later this summer it plans to release a follow-up to its popular Degas drawing program: Degas Elite. New features include ten levels of magnification; the ability to load a picture created in any resolution into any other screen mode (including monochrome to color and vice versa); the ability to load pictures created with an Atari 400/800/XL/XE and KoalaPad or Atari Touch Tablet; up to eight screens in memory at once, with block-copying between screens; adjustable color cycling for animation effects; automatic color blending across the selected color palette; and the ability to grab any portion of a screen and use it as a paintbrush. Degas Elite will sell for $79.95.

Batteries Included has already started shipping a program called Thunder!, a real time spelling checker. Thunder! installs as a desk accessory and loads a 50,000-word dictionary into memory and, using a special compaction technique, takes up only about 80K of RAM. It works in real time with any program that supports GEM—including word processors, terminal programs, text editors, and notepads. When you type a word that Thunder! cannot find it its dictionary, it beeps to let you know. By pressing a key or selecting a menu item, you can pop open a window that displays a number of words that Thunder! thinks you were trying to spell. If you find the correct word in the list and click on it with the mouse, Thunder! automatically substitutes the correct spelling, closes the window, and lets you resume typing. If you find real time spell-checking annoying. Thunder! also lets you check an entire document after it's created or check documents created with text editors that don't support GEM. Numerous other features allow you to add your own words to the main dictionary, compile supplementary dictionaries on disk, and analyze your text for readability. Thunder! sells for $39.95.

Abacus Software (Grand Rapids, Michigan) announced several new programs: ST TextPro, a word processor with mouse and keyboard commands, multicolumn and sideways printing, user-definable function keys, automatic indexing, and table-of-contents generation; ST Text Designer, a page-making package for creating layouts from text files; ST DataPro, a database manager that allows up to 64,000 records of unlimited length; ST Forth/MT, a multitasking Forth with more than 1500 commands and 32-bit arithmetic; ST PaintPro, a GEM-based design program; and ST AssemPro, a 68000 macro assembler and debugger with text editor. All these programs sell for $49.95, except ST AssemPro, which sells for $59.95.

The software company which wrote 1st Word for Atari—GST of Cambridge, England—is exporting several programs to the U.S., including 1st Word Plus. Among other things, this enhanced word processor lets you merge Neochrome or Degas pictures into documents. Current plans call for Atari to market 1st Word Plus, but GST will be selling its other programs independently. These include GSTC Compiler, a GEM development package for the C language; GST-ASM, a 68000 macro assembler; GEM Screen Editor, a text editor; and GST Linker, for compiling runtime code from source libraries. GEM Screen Editor and GST Linker are included with GSTC Compiler and GST-ASM. Prices were not available at press time.

Avila Associates (Lafayette, California) is bringing out an animation program called Make It Move, By pointing and clicking on icons representing different functions, you can write a script for animating shapes, text, and other graphics, It's compatible with all of the popular drawing programs and offers such functions as zooms, fades, and spins. Price: $49.95. Another Avila product is Casino Craps, a complete craps simulation: $39.95.

Desk accessories are proving to be as popular on the ST as they are on the Macintosh and IBM. Two of the most complete business-oriented accessories we've seen are from Blue Moon Software (Lenexa, Kansas). MacroDesk contains an 18-function calculator with ten memories that works in either algebraic or reverse-Polish notation; an alarm clock/calendar that helps you keep track of events far into the future; a filer with search, print, and phone-dialing functions; and an event log that's somewhat like a diary for jotting down important contacts and events. MacroManager has all the features of MacroDesk plus a project-scheduling worksheet and a log for project time recording and analysis. MacroDesk sells for $39.95 and MacroManager for $69.95; both are available now.

Musicians will be interested in new software from Hybrid Arts (Los Angeles). DX-Droid and Oasis take advantage of the ST's high-resolution graphics and built-in MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) ports. DX-Droid is a multi-featured patch editor which can even generate banks of new sounds on its own (for the Yamaha DX- and TX-series synthesizers). Oasis is a full-featured sampling wave-table editor and librarian for the Ensoniq Mirage. DX-Droid is available now for $244.44; Oasis should be available soon and will cost about the same as the Atari 130XE version ($187.87).

MichTron (Pontiac, Michigan) released a number of new products including ALT, which permits you to assign strings of up to 60 characters to each of the 36 Alternate-key combinations ($29,95); The Animator, a graphics-animation utility ($39.95); BBS 2.0, a revised version of MichTron's earlier Bulletin Board System ($79.95); Cornerman, a desk accessory with notepad, calculator, address book/dialer, character-code chart, clock, and a game ($49.95); Echo, which lets you plug in X-10 modules for controlling home appliances ($39.95); Mighty Mail, a mailing list manager and phone book ($49.95); and two arcade-style games, Major Motion and Mission Mouse ($39.95 each).

If you like to write your own software and want to go beyond ST BASIC and DR Logo, a few new languages are being released for the ST this summer. Softworks Limited (Chicago) is bringing out Softworks BASIC, a compiler that offers advanced features such as data structures like those found in C and Pascal. The XCALL statement can access machine language routines, and the TOOLBOX command lets you call most of the graphics and sound functions built into the ST's operating system. Price: $79.

Prospero Software Limited (London) is exporting Pro FORTRAN-77 and Pro Pascal, two high level compilers. Both languages have 7- and 16-digit precision floating-point math, four-byte integers, and the ability to access GEM routines. Each costs $149. (The U.S. distributor is Apex Resources, Brookline, Massachusetts.)

TDI Software (Dallas) has released two new versions of its Modula-2 compiler, including a special developer's version with directory search paths, a symbolic debugger, new modules, an intelligent linker, an enhanced text editor, and improved documentation on GEM. The regular version is $79.95, and the developer's version is $149.95. Upgrades for current owners are available at less cost.

Several companies are releasing significant small-business software for the ST. Timeworks (Deerfield, Illinois) is introducing Word Writer ST, a word processor with an 85,000-word spelling checker and thesaurus, outlining, macro keys, and GEM interface; SwiftCalc ST, a spreadsheet program which can translate data into pie charts, bar charts, scatter diagrams, line graphs, and 3-D staggered bar charts, plus sideways printing for wide spreadsheets; and Data Manager ST, a database manager with graphics and functions for generating labels and reports. All three programs are integrated with each other and sell for $89.95 each.

Sierra On-Line (Mountain View, California) is releasing a small-business accounting package called ST OneWrite. It automatically posts ledgers and prints out checks on standard business forms. Price: $129.95. Oxxi (Long Beach, California) is introducing dbOne, a database manager that is compatible with dBASE II files. Price: $99. And Dac Software (Dallas) is translating two of its popular IBM PC packages for the ST: Dac-Easy Accounting ($69.95) and Dac-Easy Payroll ($49.95).

A variety of games are coming out for the ST this summer, and although many are translations from versions previously available on other computers, some are brand-new.

Activision (Mountain View, California) is introducing Hacker II; The Doomsday Papers, a sequel to the popular Hacker ($49.95), and The Activision Little Computer People Discovery Kit, which simulates living creatures inside your computer. Little Computer People is already available on other machines. Another Activision product— which isn't a game—is Paintworks, a graphics-design program. (Originally known as N-Vision, Paint-works was written for Activision by Audio Light.) One feature that sets Paintworks apart from all other drawing programs on the ST is that you can design a picture taller than the screen—as large as an 8½ X 11-inch page, in fact. You can scroll the picture vertically and make a full-size hardcopy with an appropriate color printer, such as the Okimate 20. Price: $69.95.

The Avalon Hill Game Company (Baltimore) is releasing Spitfire 40, an authentic flight simulator that puts you in the cockpit of a Royal Air Force fighter plane during the Battle of Britain. It even recreates the fuel pump problems experienced by Mark I Spitfires while diving. Price: $35. Avalon Hill also is working on a football simulation due for release later this year.

Cosmi (Wilmington, California) is completely rewriting its Super Huey Helicopter Flight Simulator for the ST to take advantage of the computer's enhanced graphics. Price: $39.95. And Microprose (Hunt Valley, Maryland) is doing likewise with Silent Service, its much-praised World War II submarine simulation. Microprose also hinted that two more of its simulations will be rewritten for the ST later this year.

Infocom (Cambridge, Massachusetts), which recently merged with Activision, introduced a few new works of text-only interactive fiction for $39.95 each. (They're also available for the Amiga and several other machines.) Trinity places you in London just as World War III begins. As The Bomb begins exploding overhead, you enter a mysterious portal that lets you visit the time and place of every nuclear device ever detonated, including the first Trinity test in New Mexico in 1945. Is there anything you can do to change the future?

Moonmist, Infocom's second entry, is modeled after gothic mystery novels. You're sent on a journey to a castle in England, where you become involved in a search for hidden treasure. Along the way you must deal with local superstitions and ghosts.

Commodore Amiga

After missing the Fall COMDEX and Winter CES—to the distress of its fans—Commodore made a big showing with the Amiga at the Spring COMDEX in Atlanta, However, a few weeks later, Commodore significantly scaled down its appearance at the Summer CES. Instead of going ahead with plans for a large exhibit on the main floor. Commodore switched to a small meeting room on an upper floor— the same meeting room occupied by Atari a year ago. Even more disappointing, the Amiga was nowhere to be seen. Commodore explained that it considers the Amiga to be a high-end personal/business computer, not a consumer computer, and therefore it came to CES with only the Commodore 128 and redesigned 64.

Nevertheless, several other companies introduced Amiga software at CES, and the big news at COMDEX was Commodore's announcement of a new IBM PC emulator—the Sidecar. The Sidecar is a plug-in expansion box, not to be confused with the currently available PC emulator, the Transformer. The Transformer emulates the PC entirely in software; the only hardware required is a 5¼-inch floppy disk drive. When the Transformer was finally released this spring after numerous delays, it became obvious that another solution would have to be found to make the Amiga truly IBM-compatible. The Transformer proved to be less compatible than its designers had hoped and was widely criticized for its slow execution speed.

As a result, Commodore decided to take the more conventional hardware approach to emulation. The Sidecar is basically an IBM PC without a keyboard. It's a large box that plugs into the expansion port, and it contains an 8088 microprocessor, an empty socket for an 8087 math coprocessor, 256K of RAM (expandable to 512K), a 5¼-inch disk drive, and three empty slots compatible with PC expansion boards. A second floppy drive or 20-megabyte hard disk is optional, and there's also provision for up to two megabytes of Amiga memory expansion.

When the Sidecar is booted, two new icons labeled PC Mono and PC Color appear on the Amiga's Workbench screen. The Sidecar is designed to emulate the PC's monochrome and color/graphics modes, and clicking on one of these icons selects which mode to use. PC-DOS then opens up as a window on the Amiga Workbench screen. To the Amiga's multitasking operating system, the PC emulator is simply another task—so you can simultaneously run one or more Amiga programs while using the emulator. You can even open more than one PC window at once, if enough memory is available. You can't, however, multitask PC programs, since PC-DOS isn't a multitasking operating system.

Commodore says that this marriage of the PC and Amiga creates some interesting possibilities. For instance, you can plug a hard-disk expansion card into one of the Sidecar's slots and partition the disk for use with AmigaDOS as well as with PC-DOS. Amiga and PC software can run concurrently and exchange data using a common memory area. And although PC graphics are limited to four simultaneous screen colors as on a real IBM, you can select those four colors from the Amiga's much larger palette of 4096 colors.

The technology for the Sidecar originates from the two IBM PC clones which Commodore sells in Europe—the PC-10 and PC-20. (Commodore was going to introduce these machines into the U.S. market at Summer CES, but canceled its plans at the last minute.) Unlike the Transformer, the Sidecar is supposed to be nearly 100 percent IBM-compatible and capable of running programs at the full speed of a regular PC. At COMDEX, we saw the Sidecar running Microsoft's Flight Simulator, one of the toughest tests for any PC clone.

Scheduled for release this fall, the Sidecar is going to be priced relatively low. Although Commodore has not officially announced a price yet, indications are that it will cost $300 to $500.

Another interesting Amiga peripheral shown at COMDEX was the Future Sound digital sound recorder from Applied Visions (Medford, Massachusetts). The package comes with a digitizer, microphone, recording software, and a cable that plugs into the parallel printer port, A phono jack on the digitizer allows you to bypass the microphone for direct recording or to mix two different sound sources. Any sound can be recorded and played back at any speed, and recorded sounds can also be played by your own programs written in C or Amiga BASIC. The sampling rate can be varied from a few samples per second to 28,000 samples per second (the higher the rate, the greater the quality—and the more memory required). Price: $175.

An Amiga expansion box was announced by The Gemstone Group (Buffalo Grove, Illinois). Current plans call for eight expansion slots, 512K of RAM (expandable to eight megabytes), a hard disk interface, and a realtime clock with battery backup. The Gemstone Group also is considering a CD-ROM interface and MIDI ports as additional standard features. The box is scheduled for release late this summer for $995. A version with eight megabytes of RAM installed is tentatively priced at $1,995.

Golden Hawk Technology (Nashua, New Hampshire) announced a MIDI interface with in/ out jacks and a synchronization connector for controlling drum machines and other devices. It hooks up to the serial port and is priced at $79.95.

Amiga musicians will also be interested in SoundScape Pro, a MIDI sequencer system from Mimetics Corporation (Palo Alto, California), SoundScape Pro uses the Amiga's multitasking operating system to make multiple music programs behave like separate pieces of studio equipment, all tied together through a software patch panel. It provides the equivalent of a MIDI clock generator, a sampling synthesizer, and a digital tape deck. The price is $149. Mimetics also is releasing the SoundScape Digital Sampler for $99 and a MIDI interface for $49.

Flow, an idea processor from New Horizons Software (Austin, Texas), is designed to help you create and organize presentations, reports, projects, and events. It takes advantage of the Intuition user interface, but also provides keyboard shortcuts. Price: $99.95.

Byte by Byte (Austin, Texas) announced two Amiga programs: InfoMinder, a hierarchical database manager, and Write Hand, a word processor, InfoMinder is unique in that it lets you combine text and graphics, and it also can be used to program custom applications. Price: $89.95. Write Hand has online help screens and is designed to make it easy for small businesses to generate form letters. Price: $50.

Electronic Arts announced several programs to be available this summer, including Chessmaster 2000 ($44.95); Deluxe Paint Art & Utility Disk #1, a supplement to the popular DeluxePaint ($29.95); DeluxePrint Art Disk #2, a supplement to DeluxePrint ($29.95); Deluxe Video, the long-awaited presentation graphics program ($99.95); Instant Music, a composition tool for non-musicians ($49.95); Marble Madness, an arcade-style game ($49.95); and Ultima III, an adventure game ($59.95).

Access Software (Woods Cross, Utah) is introducing its hit golf simulator, Leader Board, for the Amiga. As realistic as this program is on the Commodore 64—with 3-D animation, true perspective view, detailed landscapes, and lifelike sounds—it should be even better on the Amiga. The price is $39.95.

Master Designer Software, in cooperation with Mindscape, (Northbrook, Illinois), is bringing out a series of five new games for the Amiga in late 1986/early 1987 under the Cinemaware label. These games are described as interactive movies that combine classic movie themes with sophisticated computer graphics. All are role-playing games, and the graphics imitate film effects such as 3-D movement, zooms, cuts, pans, close-ups, and changes in perspective. The titles scheduled so far include Sinbad and the Throne of the Falcon, The King of Chicago, S.D.I., Defender of the Crown, and Star Rush. They'll also be available on the Atari ST and Apple Macintosh.