Classic Computer Magazine Archive Article from Compute! magazine

An Eight-Bit Bonanza

Selby Bateman, Features Editor

Forget any rumors you've heard about weakening in the 8-bit computer lines. The Summer Consumer Electronics Show revealed plenty of new software and hardware for Commodore, Atari, Apple, and IBM 8-bit machines. Also on display were scores of new software packages for the Atari ST and a growing number for the Commodore Amiga. The happy news is that both Commodore and Atari are making efforts to extend the life of their popular 8-bit computers at the same time that they're pushing the newer 16-bit models.

The 68000-based Amiga, ST, and Macintosh computers may be getting headlines these days, but it's the 8-bit machines which are continuing to provide much of the income for manufacturers and excitement for millions of satisfied users.

Proof of that came at the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Chicago—a semiannual showcase of all the consumer electronics products you'll be seeing on store shelves this fall and winter. Amid the newest high-tech digital audio players, 3-D televisions, videocassette machines, car stereos, credit-card-sized radios, and satellite dishes, a few dozen computer software companies displayed a wealth of new programs for Commodore, Atari, Apple, and IBM machines.

But what a difference a year can make in the fortunes of individual computer companies. Twelve months ago at CES, Commodore displayed its 64 and 128 machines in a large, heavily traveled booth on the main floor, while Atari was ensconced in a couple of meeting rooms on the mezzanine showing its fledgling Atari ST. Rumors circulated everywhere about the pending introduction of Commodore's Amiga, which was scheduled for a July release.

This year the tables were turned. While Atari occupied a large, crowded booth full or third-party software developers supporting the ST, Commodore occupied the mezzanine rooms showing its newly packaged 64. No mention was made of the Amiga, which Commodore showcased heavily at the Atlanta COMDEX show in late April, and which it obviously feels should be promoted in business markets. At a time when Atari has seen its efforts with the ST begin to bear financial fruit, Commodore has been racked by heavy financial worries. Layoffs at the West Chester, Pennsylvania, headquarters and at the Los Gatos, California, Commodore/Amiga offices occurred this spring. Sales of the Amiga have been slower than expected, and it's been the enduring strength of the 64 and the newer 128 that has helped the company fight against tremendous quarterly losses.

Even with its current financial problems, no one is counting Commodore out. In fact, the company hopes the rest of 1986 and early 1987 will see a reversal, with a leaner corporate staff, a new look for the unstoppable Commodore 64, new software and heavy sales of the 128 (now more than 600,000 sold), and a slowly rising tide of Amiga sales. Nonetheless, it's clear that the ST's popularity has hurt the Amiga. One rumor at CES, unsubstantiated at this point, is that a new, less expensive version of the Amiga is under development, which would compete more effectively with the ST.

GEOS: A new face for an old friend.

The 64's New Look

As we reported in last month's "Editor's Notes,” Commodore introduced at CES the new 64C, a repackaged Commodore 64 computer that cosmetically resembles the 128. Bundled with it are two disks, the first containing the icon based GEOS operating system and geoWrite and geoPaint application programs on one side. On the other side of that disk is a terminal program for use with the Commodore-specific Quantum Link telecommunications network. The second disk contains Odell Lake, an educational program from MECC which teaches children about the environment within a lake. Internally, the 64C is identical to the original 64.

The 64C computer and software combo has a suggested retail price of under $250, probably around $225 according to one source. The present generation of 64s retails for about $150 nationally, but without any software. Once existing stocks of the older unit are depleted, the 64C package will be the only 64 available. The GEOS/ Quantum Link disk is also available for current 64 owners for $59.95.

GEOS (Graphic Environment Operating System) brings to the 64 the type of Macintosh-style, or GEM-style, user interface available on the ST, Amiga, and Macintosh machines. GEOS loads from disk, replacing the 64's ROM-based operating system, and displays a desktop environment with icons, drop-down menus, and windows. You can use your joystick or a mouse to move around the screen. What's more, disk operations are speeded up by a factor of from five to seven times. Menu titles such as File, Edit, View, and Disk open to reveal additional choices under each heading. Also included on the disk are powerful programs for productivity applications in the home market—word processing, calculation, and graphics design. Although there are still some memory constraints imposed by GEOS on the 64's available RAM (Random Access Memory), Commodore plans to introduce later this year a memory expansion cartridge for the 64 like the unit now available for the 128. (For more information on GEOS, see the CES report in the April 1986 COMPUTE!.)

New 128-style cases have also been developed for the 1541 drive (now the 1541C) and the 1702 color monitor (now the 1802). Commodore was also displaying a new color monitor for the 64 and 128, the 1902A, which can handle composite video as well as digital RGB (red-green-blue) signals. There's also a button that gives you a green screen.

Although reactions to GEOS from software companies were mixed, the overall response seems to have been favorable, according to representatives from several companies who attended a GEOS development seminar hosted by Commodore and Berkeley Soft-works. The result, if all goes according to plan, is for third-party software developers to produce programs for the new 64 C that operate under the easy-to-use GEOS interface. The procedure is not difficult, says one of the manufacturers, and could provide an entirely new universe of software for the popular 64.

The new Commodore 64C sports a sleeker look. A disk containing GEOS and Quantum Link terminal software is bundled with the computer.

Commodore also announced that the Commodore 128 has already sold more than 600,000 units. With that installed base of machines, plus the millions of 64s already in use, Commodore feels that the computer can have a life of at least two or three more years. That's a small miracle considering the pace at which computers become obsolete. After all, the 64 is now more than four years old. But, there are more than five million of the machines out there, with a sizeable number of them still in regular use.

In cooperation with the games division at Lucasfilm, Commodore demonstrated a unique new addition to Quantum Link, an online news and information service heavily supported by Commodore. Habitat is an interactive online activity, something of a cross between a game and the normal CB-type activity found on Quantum Link. Once you've entered the area online, you are allowed to create a graphic representation of yourself using a character construction set. Then you can explore the thousands of locales created by the Lucasfilm game staff, interacting with other people as you move around. Commodore expects this feature to be available in late summer or early fall. At press time, the hourly online charge was still uncertain.

Atari's XE Bundles

Though much of the excitement over Atari at the show centered on new products for the ST computers, Atari used a section of its large booth at CES to promote the low-cost 65XE and 130XE computers in a variety of bundled systems. A complete starter package includes the CPU, printer, disk drive, and five software titles: AtariWriter Plus, Home Filing Manager, Music Composer, Defender, and Star Raiders. The 64XE (64K) starter package retails for $349.95, and the 130XE (128K) for $399.

Atari also introduced new software titles and peripherals for the XE line. Atari Planetarium is an educational program that simulates a complete observatory. It can show the location of more than 1200 stars, 88 constellations, more than 300 deep-sky objects, and the path of Halley's Comet during its most recent appearance. The program retails for $24.95. Star Raiders II is an arcade-style game, a sequel to the 1981 Star Raiders. It retails for $19.95. Atari's new dot-matrix printer for the XE line, the XMM801, supports Epson medium resolution graphics. With up to 80 characters per second, the new printer requires no special interface for the Atari XE, It supports both friction and tractor feed, and retails for $219. The XEP80, a new 80-column adapter compatible with all Atari eight-bit computers, allows for 80-column output to a standard monochrome composite monitor; it will be equipped to let the user connect a standard Centronics parallel printer, No price was available at press time.

Apple Computer, which traditionally does not exhibit at CES, was a strong presence nonetheless, as a variety of new Apple-related products were introduced by third-party software vendors. Many of those software producers were speculating on the soon-to-be-announced Apple II 16-bit computer.

Another popular topic of industry conversation centered on the swiftly dropping prices of IBM PC work-alikes, called clones, that are expected to be as low as $300 by the Christmas season. The IBM clones, from Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and even the U.S., are already beginning to sell into consumer markets. And that trend is expected to continue. Heavy sales of the Tandy 1000 and rumors about extremely inexpensive clones have caused some software publishers to consider beefing up their IBM offerings.

Although a complete list of software and hardware showcased at CES is beyond the scope of this article, the following products were among those introduced for Apple, Atari, Commodore, and Atari 8-bit computers. For more product information, see the "News & Products" section in this issue; for information on new products introduced for the 16-bit machines, see Tom Halfhill's story elsewhere in this issue.

Electronic Arts: Electronic Arts continues its major commitment to eight-bit computer owners with a long list of new titles for all machines. Among the new offerings are Amnesia (Commodore 64 version, $39.95; Apple II, $44.95), by Thomas M. Disch and Cognetics; Autoduel (Commodore 64, $49.95), by Origin Systems; Bard's Tale II: The Archmage's Tale (Commodore 64), by Michael Cranford; Battlefront (Commodore and Apple versions, $39.95), by Strategic Studies Group; Chessmaster 2000 (Commodore, Apple, and Atari versions, $39.95; IBM, $44.95), by Software Country; Scavenger Hunt (Commodore and Apple II), by Ozark Softscape; Timothy Leary's Mind Mirror (Commodore version, $32.95; Apple II, $34.95), by Dr. Timothy Leary; Ultimate Wizard (Commodore 64, $29.95), by Sean A. Moore and Steven Luedders; Age of Adventure (Apple II and Atari, $14.95); and Venture's Business Simulator (IBM only, $99.95), by Reality Development. (Electronic Arts, 1820 Gateway Dr., San. Mateo, CA 94404.)

Abacus Software: In addition to its line of Atari ST and Commodore 128 books, Abacus displayed its BASIC Compiler for the 128 ($59.95) along with the previously released 64 version ($39.95). Also on display were the 128 versions of its CADPAK computer-aided design program, Super-C Language Compiler and Super Pascal Development System ($59.95 each; 64 versions also available). Among a variety of other software packages, Abacus has now added COBOL-64, a Commodore version of the popular business programming language. (Abacus Software, P.O. Box 7219, Grand Rapids, MI 49510.)

The Learning Company

Two new products have been added to its collection of well-known educational software. Writer Rabbit helps develop the critical process of learning to use words and sentences. It offers several features that were implemented in response to requests made by children, teachers, and parents. The program includes several games, each of which enables the child to explore a different aspect of words and sentences in a fun and supportive setting. The games incorporate graphics and sound, and each game can be tailored to a child's own pace.

Math Rabbit teaches early math skills to children ages 5-7, and also incorporates entertainment to encourage children to participate. Available for Apple II series computers, each program has a suggested retail price of $39.95. (The Learning Company, 545 Middlefield Rd., Suite 170, Menlo Park, CA 94025.)

Access Software:On the heels of its popular Leader Board professional golf simulator, Access introduced 10th Frame ($39.95), a professional bowling simulator for the Commodore 64. (Access Software, 2561 South 1560 West, Woods Cross, UT 84087.)

Multibotics:In cooperation with Access Software, this company is introducing a line of home robotics workshops for the Commodore 64 and 128, Atari 400/ 800/XL/XE, Apple IIe, IBM PC and compatibles, Commodore Amiga, and Atari ST.

The MB230 Workshops, consist of an interface that connects the computer to snap-together robotics modules, plus software for controlling the modules. The software enables the computer to function as a variable-speed motor controller, a voltmeter, an oscilloscope, an infrared controller/detector, and an audio digitizer. Retail prices for the workshops range from $59.95 to $199.95. (Access Software, see address above.)

Accolade Software:Accolade is introducing in late summer an arcade-action game called Deceptor. As you manipulate your Deceptor through six levels of increasingly difficult play, you can transform the robotic vehicle from ground-based to airborne, and finally into a humanoid shape. The game's responsiveness can be tailored to your liking, and you can practice most of the levels to increase your chances of survival. (Price unannounced.)

Accolade also announced Apple II and IBM versions ($34.95 each) of its PSI-5 Trading Company science fiction adventure game. A Macintosh version ($44.95) of the Hardball baseball game was also announced at CES. (Accolade Software, 20833 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino, CA 95014.)

Springboard Software: The publisher of the bestselling Newsroom has introduced two new productivity packages with application in the home, school, and office.

The Newsroom Pro is aimed at the person who wants to take a more professional approach to producing a newsletter. It contains everything the user needs to produce a high-quality newsletter, including banner creation, text entry, graphic production, layout, and high-resolution printing. More than 2,000 pieces of clip art are included. It is available for the IBM-PC for $129.95.

Certificate Maker provides more than 200 predesigned certificates, awards, diplomas, and licenses in a wide variety of categories such as sports, academic achievement, families, children, religion, and business. Available for Apple ($49.95), IBM-PC ($59.95), and Commodore 64 (price not yet determined). (Springboard Software, 7808 Creekridge Cir., Minneapolis, MN 55435.)

Activision:The Activision family of companies continues to expand, with the acquisition of In focom, a well-known adventure game company. Infocom will maintain its own brand-name imprint under the Activision umbrella. Previously acquired companies, such as Creative Software and Gamestar, continue to have an impact on the company's product line as well.

I Am the C-128 is one of the products in Activision's new Personal Choice Software line, which includes the Writer's Choice word processor, the Filer's Choice database, and Planner's Choice spreadsheet for the Apple II family, the Commodore 64/128, and the IBM PC, the Tandy 1000, and other MSDOS computers. One of Activision's most popular products last year was the mystery adventure game Hacker. This year the company will introduce a sequel, Hacker II: The Doomsday Papers, which begins where the first program ended. Commodore 64/128 and Apple II versions will sell for $39.95, while IBM PC/PCjr/Tandy 1000 and Macintosh versions will be priced at $49.95' each. Activision remains one of the most prolific software publishers, with more titles scheduled for release after September 1. (Activision, 2350 Bay shore Frontage Road, Mountain View, CA 94043.)

Simon & Schuster: The software division of this publishing house has released Webster's New World Writer, a versatile word processor (IBM-PC with 256K, $150), and Webster's New World On-Line Thesaurus, a 120,000-word thesaurus compatible with more than 30 major word processors and other software packages (IBM-PC with 128K, PCjr with 256K; $69.95). (Simon & Schuster Software, Gulf & Western Bldg., One Gulf & Western Plaza, New York, NY 10023.)

Avalon Hill: The Microcomputer Games division of Avalon Hill also announced a variety of new titles for Apple, Atari, Commodore, and IBM computers.

Spitfire 40 is a World War II air-war game and flight simulator for the Commodore 64/128 ($35), with conversions for other machines already under way. The popularity of Avalon Hill's Super Sunday football game has encouraged the company to introduce 1985 expansion disks for use with the original game, for Commodore 64/128 and IBM machines ($20 each).

Macbeth is a graphics-and-text adventure game based on the Shakespearean play, for Commodore 64/128 ($25). In August, Avalon Hill will introduce Darkhorn, a fantasy warfare game, for the Apple II and Commodore computers ($30). A science fiction arcade-action game. Mission on Thunderhead, is now available for Apple II, Atari 800/XL/XE, and Commodore 64/ 128 computers ($25). Expansion modules, one for Extended Units and the other for the Campaign Disk, are also available for the previously released Under Fire! strategy game. (Avalon Hill, Microcomputer Games Division, 4517 Harford Road, Baltimore, MD 21214.)

Bantam Electronic Publishing: Two new Apple II and Commodore 64 programs scheduled for fall release were displayed by Bantam at CES. The packages feature popular Disney cartoon characters in productivity programs.

Each program will carry a retail price of $39.95 for Apple II versions, and $34.95 for Commodore 64/128 versions. (Bantam Electronic Publishing, 666 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10103.)

Softsync: This company has premiered The Model Diet (Commodore 64, $29,95; Apple II, IBM-PC, $34.95), a computerized diet and nutrition program; and Desk Manager (Commodore 64,128, Apple II, $39.95), a desktop accessory that uses windows, (Softsync, Inc., 162 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016.)

Batteries Included:As noted in last month's "News & Products" (page 117), Batteries Included has introduced an extensive array of new products for a variety of computers. Among the new titles you'll be seeing will be the PaperClip II word processor ($79.95) and the HomePak three-in-one telecommunications-word processor-data manager ($49.95), both for the Commodore 128; the PaperClip word processor for the Apple II/II + /IIe/IIc computers ($59.95); PaperClip with SpellPak spelling checker for the Atari 130XE ($59.95); and five new productivity packages for the IBM PC and compatibles, including the advanced PaperClip Elite word processor ($129.95) and Degas Elite graphics program ($79.95), among others. (Batteries Included, 30 Mural St., Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada L4B 1B5.)

Spinnaker: This software publisher introduced A.C.E., a combat simulator for the Commodore 64. This game combines a flight simulator with arcade-game-style combat. It features multiple weapons systems, an on-board computer, overhead satellite mapping, and 3-D action ($19.95). (Spinnaker Software, One Kendall Sq., Cambridge, MA 02139.)

Bodylog: Bodylog has developed a new multipurpose peripheral called Bodylink, which plugs into the cartridge slot of a Commodore 64/128 and turns the computer into an exercise machine, stress reduction device, and personal computerized biofeedback loop. Once you've purchased a package that contains the main Bodylink hardware, you can buy add-on software packages for whatever applications you're interested in. Prices for starter kits range from $139.95 to $209.95; additional hardware and software packages for a wide variety of applications cost between $29.95 and $99.95. (Bodylog, 34 Maple Ave., Armonk, NY 10504.)

Timeworks:Timeworks announced that its Commodore 128specific programs, Word Writer 128, Swiftcalc 128, Data Manager 128, and Sylvia Porter's Personal Financial Planner 128, will continue to be upgraded on a regular basis. The publisher has also added a thesaurus to Word Writer 128. (Timeworks, 444 Lake Cook Rd., Deerfield, IL 60015.)

Broderbund Software:Several new products representing a diverse line of software were introduced by Broderbund, Among them were The Toy Shop, available for the Apple II series and Commodore 64, which lets the user make 20 working mechanical models and toys. Users can customize their toys, print out the designs on paper, and attach them to adhesive cardboard. Wire, wooden dowels, adhesive cardboard, and other necessary supplies are included in the package, along with a comprehensive user manual. Suggested retail price for both versions is $59.95. (Broderbund Software, 17 Paul Dr., San Rafael, CA 94903.)

For further information on new products announced at the Summer Consumer Electronics Show, please see the "News & Products" section.