IBM images; Heathkit is selling a do-it-yourself PC. Susan Glinert-Cole.
The West Coast Computer Faire, once one of the most exciting and offbeat of the silicon set, was just another show this year. There were few new products introduced, and these were not particularly visionary. Two companies actually went to the trouble of designing WordStar Doppelgangers, spiritlessly duplicating the random key sequences of this venerable program.
If there was any focus at all to this show, I'd say it centered around the Macintosh, with a small smarttering of improved mass storage devices for the PC. Several companies showed XT-type fixed disk drives. These are meant to be internal and do not require device drivers at boot time.
XComp is selling a super-floopy drive that will be able to store 2.5 Mb (formatted) on a single 5-1/4" preformatted disk. The drive itself is half height. XComp will also be selling a small auxiliary cabinet containing a fixed disk drive plus one super floppy for backup purposes.
Quadram introduced a sweet little color ink jet printer, smaller than the Epson, whcih uses snap-in cartridges. The printer is perfectly silent in operation and has a reasonable resolution for graphics at 640 dots per line. It will retail for about $895. Quadram also introduced a unique display card for the IBM PC. The Quadvue is a six-function monochrome card which supports word processing in up for four different fonts. According to the press release, the user will get an exact duplication of the onscreen fonts on the printer, but there is no mention of the printer(s) supported. Software is provided for custom font generation; this should make APL users, scientists and Aramaic scholars very happy. The board also has a parallel port, one or two serial ports, and a clock calendar. The price is only $345.
The highliggh of my particular West Coast experience had nothing to do with IBM products at all and, by rights, doesn't belong in this column, Ah well. I finally saw Niklaus Wirth's Lillith. For those of you unacquainted with this bit-slice machine, it was designed as a system developer's tool par excellence, runing only Modula 2. Heretofore only available at great custom expense, the computer is now being manufactured commercially by Modula Computer Systems expressly for the system developers market. Housed in a beautifully finished walnut cabinet decorated with handcaned vent holes on the sides, it was attached to a Ball monitor. The resolution on this display makes the Lisa screen look like a furry TV picture by comparison. The software tools demonstrated included an editor capable of multiple fonts, windows and other esoterica, and a set of debugging tools that would bring tears to the eyes of any programmer. The software relies heavily on pull-down menus, invoked by a globular mouse. Considering the power of this machine, the prices, beginning at $7500 for a system unit and an IBM-type monitor, are unusually reasonable.
The game market has apparently dried up for the PC. I saw only one or two offerings, and these wee mostly educational game/lesson products designed to seduce kids with the wiles of algebra and spelling. Wizardy, from SirTech, is a poplular Apple game now available for the PC. It is a fantasy roleplaying game, and, while I haven't personally played it, several people have recommended it to me as entertaining.
For those of you who enjoy diddling with solder, Heathkit is selling a do-it-yourself PC. For something around $1895, you get everything you need to build your own clone, which includes one disk drive (but no monitor). They will shortly be introducing a similar kit for a PC-compatible portable.
The West Coast Faire nightlife wasn't much this year either. Ziff-Davis had two parties, one of which featured steak tartare and Adam Osborne. Microsoft staged a luxurious do at the Flood Mansion, with a breathtaking view of the San Francisco harbor. Your correspondent was wedged between the melon and prosciutto and the pate for several hours watching famous people reduce the hors d' oeuvres to rubble. Snipes
Snipes, a clever and addictive game, was originally written as a diversion for Novell's networks, but is now offered for the stand-alone PC by SuperSet Software. The point of the game is to maneuver the hunter through a maze while searching out and destroying the portals through which the nasty snipes emerge.
Snipes will track you through the maze, and have a rather alarming degree of accuracy when they shoot at you. The longer you take to find the portals, the more snipes scuttle into the maze.
There are many levels to this game: you can set the maximum number of snipes allowed in the maze, the number of portals, and the degree of nastiness the snipes' weapons will have. At the higher levels, the walls of the maze become dangerous as well. The game will run on either a monochrome or a color display and is proof positive that network companies, devoted as they are to the seriuos business of office automation, can still maintain a sense of humor. Active Trace
Through several momentary lapses in memory, I have acquired a couple of copies of a really neat utility from Awareco, called Active Trace. This set of programs is designed to untangle even the most convoluted Basic program by presenting the user with maps of variables, subroutine calls, and line number references. VREF is used to obtain a list of variable references by line number; GOREF does the same for GOTOs and GOSUBs. These programs require minimal input on the part of the programmer and will write the output to a disk file, the printer, or both.
While these two programs work well and are fairly fast, the star of the Awareco lineup is SCOPE. This utility lets you trace a program line by line, presenting you with the values of selected variables at each step of the way. A comprehensive set of menus lets you select such parameters as specific line numbers and variables to analyze, the specific interpreter you are working with, alternate reserve word lists, and particular command file to execute when SCOPE is invoked. This program, in conjunction with the VREF and GOREF, makes a powerful set of debugging tools for the Basic programmer. The programs are not copy-protected.
The people at Awareco seem to put a premium on holding the user's hand. The documentation is almost worth the price of the package. While not particularly elegant in looks, it is a marvelous exposition on programming philosophy and has some very unexpected and funny remarks scattered within. The program set sells for $79.95 and includes a newsletter with a picture of the Gosub Guru swallowing a seven foot length of spaghetti code.