Notebook computing, David H. Ahl.
Lots of new developments to report this month. Also, we have tested several software packages. But a brief comment before getting started. The startup and growth of the notebook computer field has many parallels to the microcomputer field itself in the early days (1975-78).
Some of the manufacturers are big players and well financed while others, particularly the makers of add-ons and software, are entrepreneurial outfits consisting of two or three part-time people. It is a pleasure to deal with most of these small companies. They are responsive, and you don't have layers of assistants and secretaries or a PR agency to get through.
On the other hand, some of them are pompously trying to act like large companies instead of taking advantage of their strengths as entrepreneurial outfits. For example, we asked eight companies for review copies of software packages. We got five right away. But several required so many back and forth letters, non-disclosure agreements, and the like that by the time we received their packages, it was too late to get them into this issue. and in one case, we finally threw up our hands in total disgust. Handheld from HP
New from Hewlett-packard is the HP-71B, a handheld computer aimed at technical professionals. It is said to be optimized for numeric computation and calculation and includes enhanced Basic.
The 71B has a 64K ROM, quite large for a handheld unit, along with 17.5K of RAM. It has four plug-in slots for additional memory--up to 256K of ROM and 33.5K of RAM.
The 71B weighs 12 oz. and measures 3.9" x 7.5" x 0.5". It has a one-line LCD display which shows 22 characters of a maximum 96-character line.
The extended Basic has over 240 instructions(!), dynamically declared variables, support of multi-line user-defined functions, and maintenance of multiple programs in memory. The 71B also has a calculator mode.
A wide variety of hardware add-ons and software packages are available for the 71B. In addition, it uses the standard HP Interface Loop to connect to a printer, data recorder, and measuring instruments. Price is $549.95. Husky Hunter
The British-made Husky Hunter is a step above a handheld in both features and size (and price). The unit boasts CP/M compatibility and up to 208K memory--amazing features for a unit this size.
The Husky Hunter has an 8-line, 40-character LCD display, the same as the Model 100/NEC 8201. As on some larger systems, the display acts as a window on a much larger "virtual" display. This allows the unit to run many applications software packages designed for larger systems without modification. The LCD display also has full graphics capability on its 240 x 64 pixel screen.
The unit offers several built-in communications protocols including sync, async, and IBM 2780 bi-sync. This means that it can communicate with many larger computers, including mainframes, without intermediate hardware.
The unit is housed in a diecast aluminum case and has 54 rubber keys. The case and keys are sealed and fully waterproof. But forget about touch typing; the keys are laid out in a rectangular pattern of four rows with no space bar.
The unit uses four rechargeable NiCad batteries with a 14-hour operating life. It weighs 2.4 lbs. and measures 8.6" x 6.2" x 1.3". Projected price is $2995 for an 80K unit and $4995 for one with 208K. The Husky Hunter is made by DVW Microelectronics; the U.S. agent is Sarasota Automation. Sord IS-11 Notebook Computer
Sord has introduced a notebook computer, the IS-11, with integrated software for spreadsheet, database management, text editing, communications, and graphics. You'll find a complete review of it elsewhere in this issue. Disk/Video Interface for Model 100
Tandy has announce a combination disk drive and video interface unit for the Model 100. The drive use 5-1/4" single-sided double-density floppy disks. Formatted capacity is 184K per disk. We haven't tried the drive, but it appears that it stores and retrieved programs and data sequentially (like a cassette tape) rather than having random access (like other floppy disks). Of course, the speed is much greater than a cassette tape.
The video interface allows the Model 100 to be connected to a standard NTSC video monitor or, using the built-in RF modulator, to a standard TV set. A monitor will display 25 lines of 80 characters while a TV set is limited to 40 character lines. All Model 100 characters are displayed, but dot graphics are not supported.
The Interface connects to the Model 100 through a 40-pin expansion connector on the bottom of the computer. When connected, the Interface automatically loads special software into the computer. The Model 100 must have at least 16K of memory.
Price of the Disk/Video Interface is $799. A second floppy disk drive costs and additional $240. Hewlett-PAckard Model 110
With the introduction of the revolutionary new Hewlett-Packard Model 110 Portable Computer, a new wave of serious portable computing has been unleashed.
The HP-110, which was code-named "Nomad," is a nine pound notebook-sized portable with a flip up screen. The display measures 80 characters across by 16 lines. An internal 300 baud modem and RS-232 interface provide the communications capabilities. Interfacing to disk drives and printers is done via the HP-IL Interface Loop. This is a low cost, low power Interface that is used by other HP computers and instruments.
The 110 uses an 8086 processor and has 272K of continuous on board RAM. When the power is turned off, the memory is not affected.
The 110 will run for 16 hours on an overnight charge and the battery power level is always displayed at power up. If the power dips below five percent, the machine shuts itself off and the display cannot be turned on until the AC adapter/charger is attached.
Lotus 1-2-3 is actually built in ROM on the 110. The 384K of ROM also contain terminal software and MS-DOS. And HP's built-in Personal applications Manager (P.A.M.) offers a Unix-like shell environment for file handling and management. Look for an in-depth evaluation next month in Creative Computing. Scribe Text Formatter
although manufacturers of many text formatting programs for the Model 100 and NEC 8201 call them word processing programs, they are not. The built-in TEXT program does the editing while the add-on program does the formatting. The Scribe program, however, goes one step further, and includes a name and address facility.
The basic Scribe 3.0 package is a text formatter which allows formatting commands to be embedded in text files. In addition, several features are selected from the menu just prior to printing a file. Thus it operated very much like a word processing program on a desktop computer.
From the menu are selected the following: margin and line length, printer parameters (normal, double strike, emphasized), form of input (RAM file, cassette, or keyboard), line spacing, page numbering, number of copies to be printed, and halt at page end (Y or N).
Eighteen formatting commands can be embedded in the text. As with larger word processing packages, each command is preceded by a period which must be the first character on a line. The following commands can be embedded in the text: Top margin of N lines Bottom margin of N lines Left margin, N spaces Line length, N spaces Indent N spaces Center N lines of text Skip N lines Printer control Page top title Break, start new line Break, start new page Keyboard input Comment--don't print Justification on or off Double width on or off Append file Bottom header Hanging indent
From this list, it should be apparent that the package has practically every feature that one might need. However, in addition, the Scribe 3.1 N & A Option includes additional features to print single width mailing labels; address envelopes; print names, addresses, and salutations in form letters; and print address file listings. This package is compatible with the Model 100 built-in ADDRSS and TELCON programs for input, review, and printing of name, address, telephone, and other data.
The basic Scribe 3.0 program takes 2337 bytes of memory on the Model 100 (3081 bytes on the NEC) while the Scribe 3.1 program occupies 3427 bytes on the Model 100 (3706 bytes on the NEC). We recommend keeping Scribe 3.0 in the machine and loading Scribe 3.1 only when, and if, you need its special features.
We found the 20-page "manual" adequate. It is a cross between a tutorial and a reference, but we missed having a real reference section summarizing all the commands and options. A nice touch is a small card listing all the embedded commands.
The package worked well and, when producing non-justified text, printed considerably faster than other packages we have tried. We did not like the fact that page numbers always appear in the bottom center of a page; we think that if a page has a header, the page number also should be at the top. We also feel that the package should recognize tabs within the text and not require you to use spaces; however, no package, except the one I wrote for NEC, treats tabs correctly.
One nasty aspect of Scribe when used with a NEC 8201 is that it expects the printer will be set so that a carriage return implies a linefeed (as TRS-80 computers require). But if the printer is set this way, it will not print correctly with LLIST, LPRINT, or the built-in print command. So to use the package as is, you must do much switching of printer DIP switches. You can correct this problem in line 1 by setting A=CHR$(13)+CHR$(10).
Despite these minor criticisms, we have no hesitation in recommending Scribe to anyone looking for a full-featured text formatter for a Model 100 or NEC 8201. Furthermore, the price is right--only $29.50. (Scribe 3.0) or $39.50 (Scribe 3.1) plus $2 shipping and handling from Chattanooga Systems Associates. The company also markets other packages for bookkeeping, tape file management, checking accounts, data indexing and general purpose calculations. Skyline Porta Software
Skyline Marketing makes the Porta series of software packages for the Model 100 and NEC 8201. These include PortaCalc (a spreadsheet), PortaStat (statistics), PortaFin (financial calculations), PortaMax (linear programming), PortaTax (tax planning), and PortaFolio (stock portfolio analysis). We tried several of them, but we'll report on PortaCalc this month.
PortaCalc is a large program; the basic program takes 7580 bytes, but building and saving worksheets eats RAM the way elephants eat peanuts. You'll want at least a 24K machine, and 32K would be even better.
After loading PortaCalc, the top left of a worksheet shows on the LCD screen. As on larger spreadsheet packages, the screen is a window (four columns by six rows) on a larger worksheet (14 columns by 26 rows, for a grid size of 364 cells). This is quite small compared with VisiCalc, Multiplan, or SuperCalc, but nevertheless, it will hold a year's worth of financial data as long as you don't need more than 26 rows.
Columns are labeled A to N and rows are A to Z; thus a cell is designated by two letters, column and row, say CK or AB. A right arrow followed by a cell causes a direct move to that cell. Each cell is nine characters wide.
Data entry is simple; you type a number followed by RETURN. The only format that can be set is the number of decimal places (0 to 7). As you enter data, labels, or formulas, they will appear in a command line at the top of the screen.
The functions which can be used in formulas include the four arithmetic operations, exponentiation, integer value, absolute value, sum (row or column), and average (of a row or column).
Columns and rows can be inserted or cleared, but not deleted. You can also clear all values from a worksheet while leaving the formulas and labels intact. The replicate command will copy a formula into a new cell or range of cells with relative or constant values. You can specify the order of calculation: rows first or columns first.
Six of the functions keys are used by the program for loading, saving, printing, and the like.
So there you have it--a bare bones but functional spreadsheet for the Model 100 and 8201. The manula is a slim 20 pages consisting of tutorial and reference sections and several examples. Also included is a handy, three-panel reference card which, frankly, is all you'll generally need to use the program.
You can save files to RAM or cassette, although Skyline also includes a program, PortaDex, which allows you to reformat files into the popular Data Interchange Format (DIF) used by VisiCalc, Magicalc, and some other programs. This is the format used, of course, in conjunction with the TELCOM program in the Model 100. This is a one-way operation--Model 100 to something else; there is no provision to download to the Model 100 (nor can we see any need for it).
Also included with the PortaCalc package is a text formatting program, PortaPrint. This provides most of the necessary functions: set margin, line length, page length, page headers, and page numbering (Y or N).
PortaPrint also recognizes three embedded commands for centering a line, making a line flush right, and page feed. Unfortunately, it doesn't have several needed functions such as an operational halt at page end (for single sheet printing), greater than single line spacing, or correct handling of tabs. Also, it is quite slow. Nevertheless, it is a nice little freebie that you get with the PortaCalc package, so it's hard to complain about it.
All in all, the PortaCalc package with PortaDex and PortaPrint is well designed, well supported, and gets the job done (as long as it fits) for just $69.95. T Plan/N Plan
American Micro Products, Inc., (AMPI) has introduced full-featured spreadsheet programs for the Model 100 (T Plan) and NEC 8201 (N Plan). These programs give new definition to the word big. The basic program occupies 12,932 bytes, so while it is possible to run in a 16K machine with nothing else in memory, practical considerations dictate a 24K or 32K computer if you want to keep this program stored in it.
After loading, the screen shows the main program menu. From it you can select Setup, Edit, Save, Load, Print, Compute, Calculator, and Program Exit. Normally, you would start with Setup. Under Setup, you select the size of your spreadsheet--a maximum of 90 rows and 26 columns. Unless you have a great deal of free memory, you will not be able to approach both of these limits at the same time. We found that a moderately complicated 5 x 6 worksheet used 364 bytes, or about 15 bytes per cell. Thus if you have, say, 12K free, you could build an 800-cell worksheet (25 x 32 or 80 x 10).
After running Setup, you would select Edit. This shows a portion of the worksheet (four rows and four columns) along with function key definitions (bottom row), cell contents, and cell labels. Columns are labeled from A to Z and rows from 01 to 90. A cell, therefore, is defined by column and row, e.g., H24 or A01. You can move around the worksheet with the arrow keys or by using the "jump" function key.
After selecting the "fill" function key, you can enter data, labels, or formulas in the cells of the worksheet. Other function keys let you insert or delete rows or columns, replicate the contents of a cell (relative or constant values), or exit to the main menu.
Formulas can be up to 30 characters long and can use the four basic arithmetic operations, exponentiation, trigonometric functions, logs, absolute value, integer value, or change sign. In addition, T Plan/N Plan has seven special functions including summation, average, average of non-zero cells (a welcome, but seldom-found function), minimum and maximum of a range of cells, value as a percent, and percent change. In addition, formulas and functions can be combined. Prior to performing calculations, you can specify the desired order--rows or columns first.
After you have developed a worksheet, you can save it to RAM or cassette; this saves everything: formulas, labels, and data.
The Print function key brings up an extensive menu of print selections including print input (formulas and labels), print output (the computed spreadsheet), insert blank rows, change column width, modify format (business or scientific notation), and delete row and column labels (the letters and numbers, not your labels).
The package also includes a basic calculator to help you do quick calculations without exiting the spreadsheet. This replaces a pocket calculator which, believe it or not, is frequently very handy to have when entering spreadsheet data.
The documentation with the program consists of a 93-page spiral-bound manual that includes an overview, tutorial instructions for all the basic operations, two sample problems, and appendices on loadin, I/O, error handling, and a glossary of terms. It is very complete, although we certainly would have liked to see a command summary or reference card of some sort.
T Plan/N Plan is by far the most comprehensive spreadsheet that we have seen for the Model 100 and NEC 8201. Of course, it does not have all the features of VisiCalc or the other big guys, but it has more than enough for the majority of spreadsheet applications. And at just $65, it is an outstanding value for the dollar.
To further enhance its usefulness, AMPI offers three template packages. The Financial Management package has templates for stock portfolio analysis, home ownership, home budgeting, life insurance requirements, and a personal check register. It includes a cassette tape and 32-page manual.
Two business-oriented packages are available, one for general business management and the other for sales and marketing management; both have five templates. Template packages cost $29.95 each.
In addition AMPI has nine other packages for the Model 100 and NEC 8201 ranging from an equation solver to the Forth language.