GFA BASIC Training Reboot Camp
by Dorothy Brumleve and Michael Marks
576 S. Telegraph
Pontiac, MI 48053
$12.95, 259 pages
Reviewed by Frank Cohen
Frank Cohen has been developing Atari programs since his first commercial product, Clowns & Balloons. He later developed Regent Base, an SQL 4GL database, and is currently involved with several other ST-related productivity and small business software packages. He joined ANALOG and ST-Log's staff as a contributing editor last year. You may contact Frank directly on CompuServe (76004, 1573) or GEnie (FCOHEN).
In 1987, Atari ST users looking for a BASIC programming language found Atari ST BASIC their only choice. ST BASIC was included with the machine and was advertised as being Microsoft BASIC compatible, but it didn't take long for the public to realize just how many problems came with Atari ST BASIC. Now the Atari ST user has a better choice: GFA BASIC.
Along the road from Atari ST BASIC to GFA BASIC, the ST user has been approached by many companies advertising their own flavor of BASIC for the ST. At one point, more than five BASIC languages were available for the ST. True BASIC was offered by the two gentlemen who created the BASIC language in the 1960s: John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz. Real BASIC from CCP Technologies offered a friendly working environment, with very good performance. Metacomco, the developer of Atari ST BASIC, released its own upgraded version of BASIC. Several other BASICs were announced, but never released.
With so many BASIC packages available, it's easy to see why a strong competition has arisen among the various manufacturers. True BASIC says, "Buy me! I'm the original." Atari BASIC says, "Use me! I'm compatible with Microsoft BASIC." GFA BASIC says, "I'm a lean, mean fighting machine!" The popular consensus seems to favor GFA BASIC as the preferred BASIC language for the ST.
GFA BASIC Training Reboot Camp is a tutorial for GFA BASIC. With little or no computer knowledge, the book teaches the basics of BASIC, with easy-to-read text and plenty of examples that allow the novice to follow along at an easy pace.
With so many BASIC packages available, it's easy to see why a strong competition has arisen among the various manufacturers.
Training Reboot Camp is divided into 14 chapters, each devoted to a fundamental concept involved in GFA BASIC programming. Chapters are broken up into modules; it is easy to establish a learning pace that works best for you. The text is about what you would expect from a beginner's tutorial; even students in the fifth grade should be able to follow along.
The book begins with a good explanation of the GFA program editor. The editor is both a great advantage and disadvantage for GFA BASIC users. As commands are typed, the program editor checks the syntax of each command. This feature is very powerful for testing and debugging GFA BASIC commands. On the down side, many beginners have found the program editor confusing, especially when entering first programs. Training Reboot Camp gives a well-illustrated explanation of the program editor, then covers some of the more advanced functions.
Each chapter ends with a self test. You can use these tests to evaluate how well you understood the information that was presented. Answers to the self test are also given.
Each chapter presents a new concept and a new sample program, most of which build on previously described programs. New commands are shown in bold typeface, making it easy to edit previous commands without retyping all of the commands again. The tutorial expects you to enter and test each of the sample programs presented. Something sorely missing is a complete listing of all the programs at the end of the book. However, MichTron offers a diskette with all of the programs recorded for an extra $12.95.
Training Reboot Camp does a good job describing the usage of GFA BASIC'S extensive command set, but no attempt is made to explain the style of programming needed to write truly powerful BASIC programs. GFA BASIC includes many commands to implement GEM functions such as windowing, drop-down menus, dialog and alert boxes, etc. GFA BASIC can be used to create commercial products, but only if these subjects are covered in the literature supporting GFA BASIC. Training Reboot Camp does not adequately cover these subjects.
For all the good information contained in the book, many parts suffer from poor production. The sparse illustrations were drawn using a low-quality printer, and they have very little imagination or flair. The text cries out for more illustrations, especially for the more difficult concepts. The layout of the text is often confusing, and the text face can be boring considering the content.
Along the road from Atari ST BASIC to GFA BASIC, the ST user has been approached by many companies advertising their own flavor of BASIC for the ST. At one point, more than five BASIC languages were available for the ST.
An index of subjects was placed at the end of the text. The index is even shorter than the table of contents, making it a poor source for beginners wishing to find information on a particular subject. This is too bad, as Training Reboot Camp could be a nice addition to GFA BASIC'S user's manual.
Although not standard BASIC (according to ANSI), GFA BASIC does provide most of the structured programming tools necessary for someone familiar with True BASIC, Pascal or C to develop Atari ST applications.
It might be said that standards are formed when a majority uses one particular program. Training Reboot Camp helps add new users to the already large GFA BASIC enthusiast's troop and is a good introduction to GFA BASIC.