OS/2 Blues for the PC World; New Drive-No Faster-for the 64; Hypertext on Apple Ils; Another Amiga Fat Agnes Chip; LaserWriter II Family Debuts at MacExpo; 512 Colors at Once in New ST Paint Program; and Terrific Hints & Tips
PC owners are always trying to squeeze more power from their machines. We install ramdisks, buy speedup boards, add hard disks, and-at least some of us-think of little else in our spare time. Unfortunately, most people overlook an inexpensive, easy-to-install option that supercharges your PC by fundamentally altering the way you interact with it.
The option, if you haven't guessed already, is a mouse. The mouse made a late start with the PC family, but its virtues are becoming universally recognized. More PCs now come bundled with a mouse, and more supporting software is released every day. In fact, the sophisticated new PC graphics environments such as GEM and Windows are crippled without a mouse.
The difference between using mouse and nonmouse interfaces, in software products which support both, is remarkable. Microsoft's Word, for example, is one of the most powerful word processors available in keyboard-driven form. With the mouse, however, it enters a new dimension, allowing you to write and edit at warp speeds.
Before you buy a mouse, there are a few things to consider. First, you'll have to choose between a two- or three-button mouse. The standard is two buttons, but three buttons can be useful.
Another decision to make is the type of mouse-computer connection you'll need. Mice come in two configurations: serial and bus. The serial mouse connects to one of your PC's free serial ports. Since DOS versions through 3.2 only support two serial ports, finding one free isn't always easy. For those who don't have a free port, there's the bus mouse. This package comes with a card to install in one of the computer's empty slots.
The last consideration is to make sure your mouse's software is Microsoft-compatible. Microsoft was an early advocate of the mouse for PCs and its device driver is the standard. Most mouse software will have a driver that emulates Microsoft's, but check before you buy.
Just about everyone in the PC community has heard of Trojans, the seemingly normal utility programs that reformat a hard disk when your back is turned. Now there are rumors of a new kind of destructive program called a virus.
Computer viruses came to life in Commodore's Amiga, with the first ones reported several months ago. Viruses are distinguished (if that's the right word) by their incubation period. They insinuate themselves into an operating system, and after a certain interval, do something. The something depends on how malicious the author is. The early Amiga viruses were fairly benign organisms. They simply locked themselves into the operating system, and after a certain number of reboots, a message appeared on the screen saying that something wonderful was about to happen.
The PC virus is rumored to be more destructive. Early reports from Lehigh University say that after incubation, the PC virus reformats everything in sight-hard disks and floppies.
A call to Don Watkins, SYSOP on CompuServe's IBMNET, provided some information and a little perspective. To Don's knowledge, no viruses have appeared on the IBM forums of CompuServe. "Every program is thoroughly tested and analyzed before it's made public," he reports, "and we have an audit trail that links each upload to an individual through his or her MasterCard or Visa account." In more than five years, Don has found only one destructive program uploaded to CompuServe, and that was easily detected during testing.
In addition to his duties at CompuServe, Don runs his own PC BBS, and hasn't experienced any problems to date with Trojans or viruses there, either. "I think the virus scare has been exaggerated in the PC community," he concludes. "Every two years or so, PC users get frightened about something, but we're more likely to damage our systems accidently ourselves than to encounter a virus or a Trojan."
The Hercules Graphics Adapter and its compatibles are probably the most common graphics cards found in the nearly ten million PCs currently on desktops. The card provides crystal-clear text and super-high-resolution 720 X 348 graphics at a low cost. The only problem with the Hercules card is that IBM has never recognized it as a standard. As a result, neither BASICA nor GW-BASIC graphics commands support it. BASIC expects a CGA card for its graphics, as do most games.
If you like the Hercules card's high-resolution monochrome display, but occasionally need CGA compatibility, Athena Digital has the answer. Athena BIOS is a small video card and supporting software package that allows your Hercules Graphics Adapter or compatible to emulate a CGA card's color graphics in black and white. It has the added advantage of speeding up your system's normal video output even when it's not being used for emulation.
Installation takes about ten minutes. You'll need to find a vacant slot for the card. Any short slot will do; the Athena even works in the otherwise-useless eighth slot on many XT compatibles. The software portion of Athena BIOS is installed as a device driver, so you'll need to add it to your CONFIG.SYS file.
Once in place, Athena BIOS is completely transparent. To invoke CGA emulation, you simply type a special command at the DOS prompt and the program springs into action. It also has a soft-boot facility that lets you load and run many copy-protected packages.
No emulator will run everything, but Athena BIOS comes close, and it increases the speed of your normal video output in the bargain. Athena BIOS is available for $60 from Athena Digital, 2351 College Station Rd., #567, Athens, Georgia 30605, (404) 354-4522.
It seems that every time you open a computer magazine these days you see pages and pages about IBM's new PS/2 line and its new operating system, OS/2. When the computer and business press isn't singing the praises of OS/2, it's talking about Windows, Microsoft's graphic interface. Unfortunately for owners of plain-vanilla PCs, XTs, or compatibles, these exciting new operating systems are out of reach. They require an AT-class machine running an Intel 80286 microprocessor-or do they?
Microsoft has just released Mach 20, a $500 speedup board-easily installed in your PC-that the company guarantees will run a version of the new OS/2 when the operating system is finally released. With the installed base of PCs and XTs being more than four times that of 286 machines, Microsoft evidently wants to enlarge its OS/2 market. Mach 20 may be a link with OS/2 for the rest of us.
As a side note, Mach 20 is really Personal Computer Support Group's 8MHz 286 Breakthru turbo board with some minor enhancements and a special Microsoft option added. The option? You may have guessed it already-a mouse port. Microsoft's Mach 20 will unquestionably cure your OS/2 blues, at least for the time being. It's available from Microsoft Corporation, 16011 NE 36th Way, Box 97017, Redmond, Washington 98073, (800) 426-9400.
- Clifton Karnes