The Actrix Computer. (evaluation) David H. Ahl.
The Access computer was first shown at a trade show in the spring of 1983. However, because of problems with the corporate name and the name of the computer, the full-scale marketing of the unit was delayed until the fall. At the moment, the machine is still called the Access computer but the company name is not Actrix, a contraction of Access Matrix, the name that had to be abandoned. In time, the name of the computer will also be changed to Actrix.
The Access is interesting, one might even say, revolutionary. It is the first portable--well, transportable--computer with a built-in plain paper printer and telephone modem. As a result, it has very few competitors. Computer Devices' DOT computer has a built-in thermal printer, but it is a $3500 machine. The PC-5000 from Sharp has a built-in thermal printer which can be used with plain paper, and it has a modem that fits in the lid of the compact 13" x 12" x 3.4" case. Priced at more than $2750 with printer and modem, it is the only other machine in the same league as the Access.
The Access is based on the Z80A and hs 64K of RAM, a 7" amber screen, a detachable keyboard, two double-density disk drives, an acoustic coupler and direct connect modem, and an 80-column dot matrix impact printer. It is bundled with an impressive array of software including CP/M 2.2, MBasic, CBasic, Perfect Writer, Perfect Speller, Perfect Calc, Perfect Filer, Personal Pearl, Money Maestro, and Fancy Font. At the base price of $2495, the Access is an excellent value. Functional, Yet Stylish
The Access is an all-in-one computer; buttoned up it measures just 16.3" x 11" x 10" (high). It has a fold-down handle on the top which can be used to cart it around, but at 33 pounds, you will not want to cart it far.
The case is constructed of black and beige plastic. Gussying up the black parts are stylish copper-colored trim strips which, unfortunately, begin to peel off at the slighest provocation.
The keyboard hinges on the front of the case, and can be removed if desired. In the detached mode of operation, the coiled cable stretches about two feet. When used on a desk top, the keyboard has two folding feet which elevate the back to give it a "normal" slant.
The main system unit also has a fold down stand which raises the front two inches and produces a ten-degree tilt for better viewing of the screen. The power cord fits into a recessed compartment on the rear of the unit.
The printer is in the top of the case. It is protected by a dust cover held on by two plastic fasteners. As the cover must be removed for paper loading, we found it was easier just to leave it off the computer except when carrying it from one place to another. (More about this later.) The Keyboard
The Access has a full stroke keyboard divided into three sets of keys: a standard 51-key alphanumeric keyboard, a 15-key numeric keypad with several related symbols, and nine special function keys (not programmable functions).
The built-in function keys include ESCAPE, CONTROL, CONTROL LOCK, DELETE, ON/OFF LINE, CLEAR SCREEN, PAGE PRINT, TAB, and LINE FEED. A thoughtful touch is the pair of red LEDs that indicate whether CAPS or CONTROL LOCK is toggled on.
In addition to entering numbers, the numeric keypad keys double as cursor control and paper handling keys when CONTROL LOCK is depressed. The cursor movement keys can be used with the Perfect Writer and Perfect Calc software and, in local mode, with the screen editor. Curiously, they are not recognized by the other software packages such as MBasic, with which they would be extremely handy.
The keys are concave, contoured, and finished in beige and light gray with legends in maroon. The keys are generally in the "right" places, and the keyboard will not confuse touch typists. The keys have a good feel, and we had no trouble with keybounce at all.
Conspicuously missing from the keyboardw are programmable function keys and any kind of BREAK or PAUSE key. Some of the software packages use control key combinations to achieve these functions, but in two instances we wound up pressing the system reset because we could not figure out how to halt a runaway program doing erroneous calculations. A BREAK or PAUSE key would have lowered our frustration level greatly. Amber Monochrome Display
The built-in display is a 7" amber unit with text resolution of 80 characters by 25 lines. Characters are printed in a 7 x 9 pixel block with full two-pixel descenders. The built-in character set includes the standard 96 ASCII characters (letters, numbers, and symbols) and, according to the manual, 126 graphics characters. This may be so--we have no reason to believe the manual is lying--but we were unable to obtain any of these characters from the keyboard or by using the CHR$ function in Basic. Nor is there any information in any of the manuals on how to access these graphics characters.
There are several programmable character attributes: inverse, blink, underline, double underline, and half intensity. These attributes can be set from Basic by using the CHR$ function, however, you are on your own to figure out what code sets which attribute; none of the manuals show any ASCII codes above decimal 127.
Experimenting with these codes adds elements of challenge and frustration to your programming. For example, running a program to print all of the ASCII characters between 33 and 255--something we do with every computer we evaluate--results in the entire screen flashing tiny A/K symbols. Moreover, there is absolutely no way to recover short of pressing the reset switch and reloading the entire system from scratch. Further experimentation revealed that the bad guys are CHR$(151) followed by CHR$(153); Access owners should avoid this combination unless they enjoy pressing the tiny, recessed reset switch on the front of the system unit.
We now know the meaning of most of the codes between 128 and 255, but it seems to us that this information should have been in one of the manuals.
The manual claims that the cursor is addressable and, indeed MBasic includes the POS function which returns the location of the cursor, but there is no corresponding function to position the cursor. Microsoft GW (Gee Whiz) Basic is not implemented under CP/M, and the only way of moving the cursor in standard MBasic is with the TAB command. Could this be what the manual means by "addressable"?
Bottom line: the display is excellent for text. The amber color is easy on the eyes, and the characters are very legible, albeit rather small. Graphics may be possible--the manual claims they are--but there is no documentation and we were unable to produce any graphics at all in Basic. (Also see the later section on Fancy Font.) System Unit and Disk Drives
The system unit houses the microprocessors (the main Z80A mpu, a second Z80A for the keyboard interface, and three control mpus), memory (64K RAM, 4K ROM), display screen, acoustic coupler and modem, I/O ports, printer, and disk drives.
The benchmark time of the system with MBasic is comparable to other Z80A based systems running at 4 MHz (see Table 1). We did not run the benchmark with CBasic, but experience has shown that it is considerably slower but much more accurate than MBasic (see discussion in the review of the Magic computer in the March 1984 Creative Computing.)
The Access has a real-time clock that must be set every time the computer is powered up. This is typical of other similar machines; however, after getting used to using notebook computers that retain the date and time, we think other machines should employ a small battery to refresh a small portion of memory with the date and time.
On the front of the Access are two vertical half height (half width?) 5-1/4" disk drives. They use a rotating handle to secure the disk in the drive; we have found this kind of handle to be sturdier and more reliable than the more common pivoting door.
Each drive is a double density, 40-track unit capable of storing 180K of programs or data. Optionally available are double-sided disk drives and external 8" drives.
To the right of the disk drives is a compartment which can store ten disks, although if you want room for your fingers to get them out, five or six is more realistic.
On the rear of the system unit is a rocker on/off switch. When turned on, the fan starts up, and the computer looks for a system disk and then loads it from whichever drive it is in. If it does not find a system disk, it keeps trying the drives in turn until its owner gets the clue and puts the right disk in one of the drives. The noise of the fan is not obtrusive, but it certainly leaves no doubt that the computer is on.
On the rear of the system unit are connectors for the I/O ports: two RS-232 serial ports, a Centronics parallel port, an IEEE-488 port, and composite video output.
A system check-out disk is included with the system. One paragraph in the manual is devoted to using this disk (the paragraph is updated with an errata sheet). What you don't find out until it is too late is that the test requires two previously formatted blank disks. Without them, the test must be aborted, i.e., the computer must be turned off and restarted. Oh, for a BREAK key. Built-in Printer
The printer, which is built into the top of the system unit, is identical to the Epson MX-80 FT with Graftrax Plus and apparently is procured from Epson on an OEM basis. The printer is normally furnished in the friction feed configuration, although a forms tractor is available as an option.
As we remarked earlier, the dust cover must be removed to change the ribbon or insert paper in the printer. Although the manual recommends replacing the dust cover after the paper is loaded, we found this very inconvenient with single sheets of paper; perhaps for continuous form paper it would be acceptable.
One major difference between the mechanism in the Access and a freestanding printer is that the Access printer has no external paper roller knob. Thus, once the paper is slid into the insertion slot and the release lever is locked, keys must be pressed on the keyboard to advance the paper to the desired starting point. Although the practice is not recommended, we found that with the cover off, the paper roller drive gears were exposed and could be turned by hand to adjust the paper position.
When triggered, the sensor which determines that paper is out stops the printer. Unfortunately, at this point the print head is 2-1/2" from the bottom of the sheet. In other words, if you are printing single sheets, you can not print closer than 2-1/2" to the bottom of the sheet, an unacceptably large margin in our opinion. Of course, with continuous feed paper, this is not a problem.
The built-in printer is the normal default printer from any software package or Basic, although the system can be reconfigured for an external printer on either a serial or parallel port. Normally, you would use the print routines built into whatever software package you were using (Perfect Writer, Perfect Calc, etc.) or in Basic. However, you can also use the CP/M print utility. TYPE, to print any file or data stored on either disk. In addition, the Access has a PAGE PRINT key that causes the text on the first 24 lines of the screen to be printed; the commands and system information in the 25th line will not be printed. This facility is useful to print a short letter or memo that you have created with the Access Screen Editor (about which, more later).
Like the Epson MX series, the Access printer has extensive capabilities to produce various text enhancements such as compressed, double stroke, double width, emphasized, underline, superscripts, subscripts, and combinations of these. In addition, all the other Epson commands are recognized for things such as backspace, line spacing, horizontal and vertical tabs, paper advance, column width, and form length. Both single and double density dot graphics are possible too (see Figure 1). CP/M Operating System
The Access uses the CP/M operating system, version 2.2. This is the latest basic version of CP/M and has few extra commands or utilities. The in-memory commands consist of the standard DIR, TYPE, REN, ERA, SAVE, and USER.
The two extended disk commands are DIRU which produces an enhanced alphabetical disk directory, and DISKU, a disk maintenance utility for the Access. It is used to format and verify disks, transfer the CP/M operating system, and make track-for-track copies. It also allows file transfers between various disk types (single-sided, double-sided, 5-1/4", and 8").
Another utility program unique to the Access is CONFIGU which allows reconfiguration of ports, printer attributes can be permanently saved on a disk called WAKEUP which must be run first upon powering up the system (waking it up?). MBasic and CBasic
The Access is one of the few computers to include both MBasic (Microsoft) and CBasic (Digital Research). This is an advantage for users who are doing programming and not just using off-the-shelf software packages, as MBasic, an interpreter, can be used for program development and debugging, and CBasic, a compiler, can be used for long runs.
The version of MBasic included with the Access is officially numbered Release 5 and, according to the manual, "is the most extensive implementation of Basic available for microprocessors." Well, not quite. This version of MBasic has been around for quite some time and is beginning to show its age. It has all of the standard features, but lacks many that we have come to expect on newer machines, even 8-bit Z80-based computers. The simple fact of the matter is that CP/M (a Digital Research product) is not as hospitable a host to MBasic as the Microsoft operating systems (MS-DOS and MSX).
In any event, MBasic on the Access is probably adequate for most applications. However, it does not have on-screen editing, graphics or sound commands, BLOAD or BSAVE, CLS (a real pain), or OUT. Also, although the Access has a real-time clock, the time and date are not accessible from basic. As we mentioned previously, the manuald does not give the meanings of ASCII codes over 126.
The MBasic manual is as incoherent as ever. We don't see how Microsoft can get away with continuing to supply this abomination to the many manufacturers using their Basic, but when you have the only game in town...
At least the CBasic manual appears to have bee written by just one person (or team) and is sensibly organized. On the other hand, you should not expect to learn CBasic from just this manual. An introductory text or the tutorial series that appeared in creative starting in November 1983 is probably the best bet.
CBasic is distributed by Digital Research; it is a compiled version of the Basic language which means that it ought to run faster than an interpreter. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn't. It really depends upon the type of program being run.
The first hurdle you face with CBasic is creating a file of program statements to be executed. This may sound simple, but such is not always the case. Since the CBasic manual was prepared by Digital Research, whose writers had no idea what computer or word processor would be available, the manual simply says, "Using your text editor, create a file named TEST.BAS." Later we find that it must be on the same disk with CBasic. How does one do that with Perfect Writer? Neither manual provides a clue. It turns out to be reasonably easy, but it took a half hour of experimentation to solve this little problem.
Incidentally, these kinds of software and manual incompatibility problems are not unique to the Access; most computers except those with completely integrated software such as Lisa suffer from them to one extent or another.
In any event, once you have figured out how to create the CBasic files, you must compile the file with CBAS2 and run the compiled program with CRUN2. (The manual specifies CBAS and CRUN, but they are not on the disk.) The language worked as expected, although we did not try any weird or wonderful things. Applications Software
The Access is bundled with an impressive array of software including three packages from Perfect Software, Personal Pearl from Pearlsoft, and Money Maestro from InnoSys.
Perfect Writer comes with four disks, a 378-page manual, and an eight-panel reference card. It is a comprehensive word processing package with all the expected features and several advanced features. These include virtual memory architecture which permits running programs that are larger than the internal memory, multiple file buffers which allow you to access several files simultaneously, and multiple file display which allows working on two files simultaneously.
Yes, there are some annoyances with Perfect Writer. For example, on which disk would you expect to find the main programs: (1) a disk with a printed label and jacket from Perfect Software and Actrix Corp. marked "Installation Diskette" or (2) a disk in a plain white jacket with a photocopied plain lable reading "Perfect Edit Diskette"? Sure, the disk you want is Number 2. To get up and going, where would you expect to start reading the manual: (1) Page 1 or (2) Page 267? You guessed it: page 267 is the first page of Appendix A which tells how to install the system. And if you thought that the default printer codes on the Installation Disk were for the Epson unit built into the Access, you would be wrong.
But by and large, Perfect Writer is a good, competent word processing system. Coupled with Perfect speller, the extensive tutorial "Lessons" disk, and the excellent manual, it should meet the needs of the most demanding user.
Perfect Calc is an easy-to-learn and easy-to-use electronic spreadsheet modeled on VisiCalc, but with a command structure virtually identical to Perfect Writer. This alone makes it simple to learn, and most of the commands are quite logical so even first time users will feel comfortable with this system quickly.
Beyond the normal spreadsheet functions, Perfect Calc permits multiple spreadsheets to reside in memory, two of which can be displayed simultaneously. In addition, data can be transferred from one spreadsheet to another with relative ease. Another neat feature is the ability to recalculate just a small portion of the spreadsheet rather than the entire thing; this is a great timesaver.
Perfect Calc comes with the program disk, a second disk of tutorial lessons, a seven-panel reference card, and a 346-page manual.
As mentioned earlier, the cursor movement keys are recognized by both Perfect Writer and Perfect Calc. Unfortunately, neither manual or reference card mentions that fact; hence, a user could think he was stuck with the control key combinations, when in fact, he could use the much easier single stroke cursor keys.
Perfect Filer is a database system designed primarily for mailing lists. It comes with two disks, one for an individual member database and one for an organizational database. As you learn how to use these pre-formatted databases, you can start building your own customized ones. But, as we have commented previously, the manual is organized quite differently from the other Perfect Software manuals and is not quite as user-friendly, although all the necessary information is there.
With Personal Pearl included with the Access, you probably will want to use it as your generalized database system and not try to extend Perfect Filer beyond mailing list applications. Personal Pearl is a flexible database system that lets you design customized forms, design reports, and, of course, enter the data and produce reports.
Personal Pearl can be used for mailing lists, of course, but also works well for such things as appointment scheduling, inventory control, client costing, and cataloging. It comes with six disks including a "Welcome Disk," fat 400-page manual with excellent 91-page tutorial section, and five-panel reference card.
Money Maestro is a home budgeting and check register system. Basically it revolves around a check register, payee list, and expense and income category list. As transactions occur during the month, they are filed in the appropriate places which permits you to get periodic reports of the complete check register, payee history, budget (actual and real), detailed expenses by category, list of bills, and the like.
If you are into this sort of thing, or want to use this package for a small business, Checks To Go offers blank checks and tax forms to go with Money Maestro. The basic package comes with a disk, 52-page manual, and installation card. Screen Editor
Short documents and memos can be created without any word processing package at all by simply using the screen editor. This editor is much like a typewriter for which the screen is the piece of paper. Basically, you type on the screen (up to 24 lines of 80 characters) and use the PAGE PRINT key to get a hard copy. You can't save anything created on the screen editor, but it is handy for quick and dirty stuff. Fancy Font
Fancy Font is a package that we have never seen bundled with a computer, and it is an interesting one. The program provided is PFONT which is a subset of the Fancy Font system by SoftCraft, Inc. PFONT has the ability to produce text in 24 different typestyles by using the graphics mode of the Epson printer. These fonts are the result of the printhead passing over the same line as many as six times and moving the paper as little as 1/216 inch between passes. Some of these fonts are shown in Figure 2.
The fonts available on the Access disk fall into four groups: old English, Roman text, script, and sans serif. The manual devotes 65 pages to describing how to use PFONT, but the examples make it very easy to figure out if you don't want to wade through the text. Telecommunications
As mentioned earlier, the Access has both an acoustic modem on the top back of the case, and a direct connect modem equipped with two modular telephone jacks. One jack connects to the wall connection and the other is for an optional connection to a telephone for manual dialing and/or regular voice use when the computer isn't using the line.
Included on the Access system disk is a telecommunications utility, TELCOMU. This is a comprehensive menu-driven package that permits you to set up to ten profiles (terminal and modem characteristics, number of readials, phone number, and log-on code). Once connected, the Access can upload, download, or act as a dumb two-way terminal. All-in-all, TELCOMU is a comprehensive, easy-to-use package that is well-explained in the 17 pages the manual devotes to it. Documentation
We have been commenting about the various manuals as we have been going along, so this will be a brief summary. The User's Guide is excellent and has sections on installtion, preparation and use of disks, the keyboard, basic operations, the printer, FPONT, telecommunications, CP/M (the only weak spot), reconfiguring, connecting additional devices, and troubleshooting.
As we mentioned earlier, the MBasic manual is a mish-mash of sections written by different people over the span of many years. It is just barely adequate as a reference guide and should certainly be augmented by a decent book as soon as possible after buying the computer. The CBasic manual is somewhat better, but should still be regarded as simply a reference guide.
All of the applications software manuals were prepared by the software producers. We have gotten used to seeing manuals with negligible customization for the particular computer; these go one step further (or back) and offer none at all. This may be either a tribute to the Access which needs no customization or to the softwae packages which are so general that they will run on anything. We don't wish to be uncharitable, but we think there may be another reason, namely economy, because in most cases, a small amount of customization would have been most welcome. Conclusions
The Access is a nifty computer with a host of desirable features--transportability, built-in printer and modern, adequate size (7") amber screen, and detachable keyboard with a good feel. The bundle of included software is impressive and should meet the needs of the majority of users--as least for a while.
The system is not perfect. It locks up occasionally and can't be stopped except by pressing the system reset, which is like using a sledgehammer to kill a fly. The cursor control keys ought to be recognized by more software, particularly MBasic which should have on-screen editing. The software manuals would benefit from some customization (for example, the CBasic manual could tell how to create a CBasic file with Perfect Writer and store it on the right disk).
All in all, the Access offers a great deal of capability and performance at a very attractive $2495 price. At least for now, the built-in printer and modem put the Access into a unique slot in the market shared only by the Sharp PC-5000 and the much more expensive DOT. If it gets a position on dealer shelves, the Access ought to do very well. Ken Uston bought two of them and loves them so much he is writing a simplified manual for the entire system--with that kind of support, how can it be anything but a success?
Hewlett Packard has introduced the Series 100 HP 150 personal computer that places computing at your fingertips--literally. The touch screen allows, as Hewlett Packard puts it, the use of nature's most perfect pointing device--your finger. The touch electronics that allow you this luxury, the system processor unit, video display and control circuitry, 256K memory, and three I/O ports are all packaged neatly in a machine that occupies only about one cubic foot--and that includes space for an optional thermal printer with its own connecting cable that fits into a cavity on top of the display unit.
The term "touch screen" is more descriptive than strictly accurate. The screen itself is not sensitive, but is composed of an invisible 27 x 40 grid of light emitting and photo diodes that correspond to options offered by the various application programs. This provides the ability to implement commands by touch on each row of the display and every two columns.
When you choose the item you want, you press the desired box and the cross-hatched infrared beams are broken, converting your choice into computer commands. The space provided for your finger is more than adequate, so you should never encounter the problem of overlapping--unless, of course, you are Andre the Giant or Paul Bunyan. Operating System
The HP 150 Personal Computer uses MS-DOS 2.0 from Miscrosoft Corporation as the standard operating system. HP has enhanced MS-DOS so that all the touch screen features are supported by the operating system. The keyboard "softkeys" and the graphics display can all be accessed through MS-DOS. The Basic System
The HP 150 as received from the manufacturer consists of three components: the CRT, which HP calls the display unit: dual 3-1/2" micro floppy disk drives; and a detachable keyboard. The package includes the Systems Master disk with MS-DOS, the Systems Applications Master, a demo disk and the Computer Tutor, plus the User's manual and a Terminal User's handbook. The price is $3995. With easy to follow directions and illustrations to guide you, it takes very little time to connect the components. I was up and running in about ten minutes.
The HP 150 uses the 16-bit Intel 8088 microprocessor and runs at a clock speed of 8MHz. The system comes standard with 256K RAM plus an additional 6K of RAM for the screen and 160K of ROM totaling 422K in all.
the CPU is contained in the display unit, and all connections and ports are on the back. There are two card slots that can be used for extra memory, IBM emulator card, or a modem. Two RS-232 serial ports are provided along with an HP-IB (interface bus). More about that later. The 9" CRt is green phosphor. I queried HP about this, as the small size is unusual for a desktop computer of the non-portable variety. Here are the reasons they gave me for the choice:
First, they were concerned that a desktop computer should not occupy the entire desk top. The HP philosophy is that the user's workspace should be available for the assortment of oddments normally found on a desk, and indeed, the entire system, display, processor, keyboard, floppy and Winchester (optional) disk drives, and integral thermal printer (also optional), occupies only 2.1 square feet of space--about the same as an open loose leaf notebook. The CRT, which is 12" x 12" x 11.3" fits neatly on top of the disk drives, which measure 12.75" x 11.25" x 3.125". The keyboard, which clips into the back of the CRT with a standard phone jack, measures 18" x 8.9" x 1.4".
The second reason HP gave for the small monitor was sharpness. The CRT is of high quality and the screen resolution is excellent (the alphanumeric display is 720 x 378), although the size of the characters displayed (1.3mm x 2.8mm) might cause a problem for the farsighted individual with short arms. Micro Diskettes
In keeping with the "small is better" philosophy, the HP 150 uses the Sony format 3-1/2" micro diskettes. The micro floppies are encased in a hard plastic cover, and a metal shutter protecs them when not in use--a very nice feature. These micro diskettes have a nice solid feel to them, and in my opinion are much easier to handle than te 5-1/4" floppies. They slide into the drives with no gates to close and pop out as would an 8-track tape when you push the eject button.
The major drawback of these diskettes is storage space; they offer only 270K per diskette. HP told me that 540K diskettes will be available "sometime" in 1984, and that ultimately there will be a format available with more than one megabyte of usable space. One last point about micro floppies: prepare yourself to write very, very small--there isn't much room on the labels. The Keyboard
The keyboard too, has a nice feel about it. The keys are sculpted and matte finished in three colors for easy differentiation between function and typing keys. the 107-key keyboard contains the full local editing keys such as cursor control keys, display scrolling keys, Next and Prev keys for scrolling by pages (as well as allowing application programs to use them for the selection of alternative choices) and Insert and Delete keys for inserting and deleting single characters or entire lines.
The function keys are screen labeled so that you have the option of using the function keys or the touch screen to implement an application. There are also special keys that perform dedicated functins. The Menu key is used to toggle the screen labels on and off, and the Control, Shift, and Menu keys, pressed simultaneously turn the touch screen on and off. The key labeled Reset Break turns the computer into a terminal. Shift and Reset Break gives you a soft reset, which clears the keyboard lock and screen error messages. It also turns off display functions, stops printing, and resets the internal printer. Control, Shift and Reset Break gives you a hard reset which restarts the operating system from disk A.
User Systems shows the last system keys used, and Shift, User system displays function key labels used by the current applications program. Clear Line clears a line from the cursor position to the end of the line, and Shift, Clear Line blanks out the line containing the cursor. Clear Display deletes all characters after the cursor from display memory and Shift, Clear Display clears all lines from display memory. The 18-key numeric pad can be shifted into a graphics pad by pressing Control and the minus sign on the numeric pad. The CRT
The CRT can display 1920 characters in a 24-line by 80-column format. The 25th and 26th lines are used for the screen labeling of function keys, and the 27th line is for system status and error messages. The screen memory stores two pages of text, which allows off-screen storage display for scrolling vertically without interrupting the processor. The standard display is green characters against a blac background. The graphics resolution is 512 x 390 pixels.
HP says the aspect ratio of 1:1 guarantees symmetry so that circles will look like circles not only on the screen but when transferred to an HP graphics printer.
The numeric keypad also serves as a graphics keypad, allowing you to turn the alpha and graphic displays on and off, clear the graphics display, and transfer the graphics display to an HP graphic printer. It also displays the graphics cursor and allows it to be moved around the screen. Peripherals
the HP 150 Interface Bus enables you to daisy chain up to 15 HP peripherals to one I/O port. In addition to the 3-1/2" micro diskette drives that come standard, the 150 can be configured with 5-1/4" disk drives or Winchester hard disks--up to eight drives. The Winchester comes in 5 or 15 megabyte versions, and up to 120 megabytes of on-line storage can be utilized by the system. The Winchester disk drives fit under the system and so do not encraoch on the workspace. P.A.M.
The HP 150 comes with a supervisory program that is called P.A.M. (Personal applications Manager). P.A.M. is used as a coordinator to translate the function you have touched on the screen into computer commands. Another way of putting it is that P.A.M. is a shell you use instead of typing MS-DOS commands. Application programs from all disks are listed on the screen. All you do is touch the program desired, which is highlighted, and then touch the start application label that is called Start Applic. The 150 emits, audible "clicks" reminiscent of contend crickets on a drowsy summer evening, to let you know that you have made contact.
If, for some reason, you want to do this from the keyboard, you can accomplish this by using the tab keys to position the arrow on the desired program and pressing the select key. P.A.M. can: start an application program, set the date and time in the HP 150 clock, list all installed application programs on available disks, start the File Manager, help you by giving some simple explanatins, and make the HP 150 act like a terminal. The HP also gives you the option of using the keyboard commands or the function keys that correspond to the labels on the screen (softkeys).
P.A.M. is loaded automatically when the operating system is booted. If you are already using an application, you can always get to P.A.M. by exiting that application. As soon as you leave it, P.A.M. returns to the screen.
The beauty of P.A.M. is that you can perform all file functions without learning a single MS-DOS command. Is that a cheer I hear from the novice computer users struggling to memorize computerese? The Procedure
When you boot the system, P.A.M. comes up automatically and displays the application programs available on all drives. In addition, it provides disk applications, accessed through P.A.M. These disk applications are menu-driven and use "HP Touch." The choices are MS-DOS Commands, Format, and Device Configuration. Choosing MS-DOS Commands loads them into memory and gives you an A> so that you can operate your computer like any standard non-touch system. The other two choices, Format and Device Configuration are self explanatory.
At the same time the screen also displays labels that allow you to start an application, set the date and time, reread the disks, make your computer a terminal, get a help menu, or use the File Manager. The File Manager gives you the necessary functions to run your system--delete, copy, choose a directory, rename, etc.
When you use your finger to break the vertical and horizontal beams, the system recognizes this by highlighting the spot you touch in inverse video. You can, in fact, move your finger over the entire screen and watch the highlights in your wake. The system will not react until you remve your finger, allowing the beams to reconnect and zero in on the closest photo receptor to your selection.
To use the Install program, which is part of the Applications Master, for example, press Install--it lights up. Touch Start Applic; Install loads into memory and allows application programs to be added or removed from the Applications Selection menu of P.A.M.
Another program on this disk is Set up P.A.M. This disk application lets you arrange the names of application programs on the Applications selection menu in the order you want, and you can autostart any frequently used application from a cold boot.
In addition to the standard Copy Files option, P.A.M. also has a Backup option that lets you store files in a compressed format, handy for archival storage. P.A.M. also tells you when there is not enough room left on the disk to which you are copying and will politely advise you to change disks.
Enough nuts and bolts for the moment. Let's see how P.A.M. and the Touch Screen apply to the programs you want to use. MemoMaker
Here is where the true ease of HPTouch asserts itself. MemoMaker is a simple word processor that HP says was created exclusively for the casual writer whose main occupation is not writing. MemoMaker has several features in common with its more powerful cousin, WordStar, and is a breeze to use. It is important to note that MemoMaker and WordStar are entirely compatible, so a document created in one can be edited in the other. The program sells for $150.
When MemoMaker is implemented, you get the following main menu in screen labels: File Keys, Block Keys, Format Keys, Print Keys, Get Memo, Center Line, Help, and Exit MemoMaker. In addition, Line 1, Column 1, appears at the top of the screen so you can just start writing if you are satisfied with the defaults.
Let's assume you are not and want to change the format. Touch Format Keys, and a sub menu appears. This gives you the choices Left Margin, Right Margin, Set Tab, Clear Tab, Margin Release, Help, and Memo Maker Main. To set the left margin, move the cursor to the spot where you want the new left margin to be. You can do this with the cursor key or your finger. In the latter case the cursor will follow your finger there. Touch the Left Margin label and the margin is set.
I should point out, if you'll excuse the pun, that using your finger to set the margins lacks the fine tuning necessary for pinpointing an individual column. I tried it both ways and using the cursor key is the outright winner. The same procedure applies to the right margin. To set tabs, you touch one of 16 settings in the form of boxes that appear in the ruler line.
Block commands are just as easy to use. The sub commands give you the choices: Cut Out Block, Copy Block, Paste Block, Align Block, Enhance Block, and Help. To cut out a block of text, for example, move the cursor to the first character of the block and touch the Cut Out Block label. You get a blinking cursor and are advised to "Use the cursor to define a block, then select 'Block OK.'" Move the cursor to the end of the block and touch Block OK. The block of text you have just defined will disappear. You can also underline or put a block of text in bold-face with touch commands.
When you are finished with your memo, you save it under the sub menu from the File Keys option, then press Print Keys. The following sub menu will appear: Double Space, Auto Feed, PRN:.sup.*., Page Break, Print Memo, Skip Page, and Help. Choose the options you desire. The PRN:.sup.* refers to the printer you wish to use if there is more than one. Touch Print Memo, and you get a hard copy of your latest creation.
This program is easy enough to use, so the novice can be turning out productive work within minutes of sitting down in front of the terminal. WordStar
I wondered if WordStar could be as friendly as MemoMaker. This, most popular of all word processing programs, is notorious for its multitude of commands that require prodigious feats of rote memory. Could true happiness be found amid the forest of control-K, control-O, and dot commands? I am delighted to report that, indeed, you can process words without constant reference to lists of WordStar commands.
Virtually all of the WordStar 3.3 commands are available on softkeys. For many people, the HP 150 will be worth the price for this feature alone. Those with a more traditional turn of mind have not been ignored either. You can still operate WordStar with control codes from the keyboard. The Series 100 WordStar costs $500; SpellStar, $250; and MailMerge, $250. Or the entire package can be purchased for $850. VisiCalc
Another standard program that no self-respecting computer user can be without is VisiCalc, which sells for $250. The HP 150 version has softkeys that cover most of the VisiCalc commands including an extensive Help menu, and all the functions can be accomplished by touch. Again, HP allows the experienced VisiCalc user to work with the conventional "slash" commands.
The novice will not have to bother. Operations are clearly labeled on the screen and can be executed by the touch of a finger. An explanation of each command is available on the display for quick reference without having to open a manual, so that the new user can plunge right into forecasts, budgets, financial plans, and all other types of spreadsheet functions with a minimum of training. Personal Card File
The Personal Card File (PCF) sells for $150 and is on screen Rolodex--and much more. The full screen simulation of a rotary card file allows you to flip through the cards by touching the pictured handles, just as you would do with the three-dimensional version. Touching a tab allows you to view an individual card. Touch Create a Cardfile, set your parameters, name your fields, and you can store as many as 550 cards per disk. You can, of course, change disks and create as many other card files as you like.
The PCF is, in fact, a simple database management system. It is powerful enough to search a particular file based on any piece or pieces of information stored within a card. In addition, the information can be transferred to Series 100/WordStar for form letter generation, and into the HP version of the Condor Database Management program. Basic
Having gotten used to touching the screen for the programs I have described, I was really looking forward to HP's version of Basic. I am not really sure what I expected--perhaps the Utopian ideal of communication with programming languages. Touch the screen--and the labels would ask me what type of program I desired and write it for me. Alas, that is the problem with Arcadian wish fulfillments; the mundane and Murphy's Law make a habit of intruding upon your flights of fancy.
HP's Basic, Version 5.28, which costs $300 is pretty standard Microsoft Basic with nary a screen label in sight. In fact, the HP manual suggests that you go out and buy a book on Basic for a better understanding and utilization of the program. Condor
There are two versions of Condor available for the HP 150. Version 20-1 from Condor Computer Corp. in Ann Arbor, MI costs $300, and version 20-3 is $700, with an upgrade version from 20-1 to 20-3 costing $500. Version 20-1 is the simplified version of the database program with 20-3 the full relational database system.
Both versions are a bit of a compromise for HP Touch as they use a combination of typed commands and softkey functions. ENTER, SORT, and LIST must be typed, for example, while you can touch your way through CONTINUE, REVISE, PRINT, DELETE, END, and ABORT. You can also read data in from WordStar and the Personal Card File, and read in charts from the Series 100 Graphics program with touch. The softkeys will make life easier for the novice, but using Condor to its fullest will require much more study of the manual than some of the other programs. Graphics
Hp offers three different graphics programs for the 150: HP's own Series 100 Graphics selling for $300, plus two graphics packages from Computer Support Corporation, Picture Perfect costing $295 and Diagraph priced at $395. HP sent me their own Series 100 package to evaluate. I will have to assume that the other two work as well.
The high resolution and the many options available through touch make this package a pleasure to use. One could, and I did, play for hours putting the graphics program through its paces. You can select pen colors and shading, choose horizontal or vertical orientation, change justification and size, select colors for the plotter and a whole range of other options by touch.
You can also transfer data from Condor or VisiCalc to plot pie charts, scattergrams, bar charts, or line graphs. For those with a bent for freehand drawing, this can also be accomplished. All in all this easy to use package is a boon for the business person who must generate charts of all types and wants to do it quickly. Documentation
It is easy to see that Hewlett Packard has gone to great lengths to make their documentation simple and easy to follow. In the main, they have succeeded, although some of the documentation falls in the "between two stools" category. By this I mean, that in some cases too much for the novice user and too little for the veteran who wants in-depth technical information. Last Gasp
Hewlett Packard has created in the 150 a system that combines some of the best features of several other computers in one package. It is elegant in design and eloquent in its simplicity.
The touch screen is not a gimmick. It facilitates use of the most common applications of computing and optimizes the most natural way of doing it. The novice who has dragged his feet on the path to the world of computing, perhaps fearful of the expected adversarial relationship with a terminal, now has an easy starting point that leads gently to the mastery of the most formidable programs.
Knowledgeable users, too, will find the HP 150 to their liking. Hewlett Packard has provided a base of excellent programs and is actively seeking support from other vendors. The IBM emulator card will, of course, make instantly available, all the programs written for the IBM PC.
Considering what the HP 150 is and what is does, the $3995 price tag is not out of line, although acquisition of the requisite software, printers, and plotters will bump the cost up considerably. I think it is fair to say that because of this, the HP 150 will probably not be the first choice of the individual user who wants a computer for the home. I suspect that HP's strongest market will be in the office where several users can share programs and peripherals or link their machines into a multi-user system.
Hewlett Packard has made a large commitment to the HP 150 Touch Screen, and it is as certain as anything can be these days that they will maintain it. After the hours I have spent on the system, I am convinced that it is a quality product. I look forward to further software developments from third party vendors.
Products: Actrix Computer(Computer) - Evaluation