ST Gossip from Hollywood, USA
After a long and relaxing stay at the Institute for the Potentially Nervous, TG has decided to give up his favorite vice, police chiefs' daughters, and his favorite sport, van dodging. Because he's found that fresh air stimulates his creativity, clears his complexion and prevents nosebleeds, he now writes this column while hang-gliding over the Pacific Ocean.
Remember TOS 1.4, the updated ST operating system? Ever since the first rumors of its existence surfaced, there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the ST community. Many people are frustrated at waiting for its release. Others slam Atari for having taken so long to get it done in the first place.
Several disk-based Beta-test versions of this update have been circulating among developers over the past year. A lot of these developers have highly criticized the bugs and incompatibilities in TOS 1.4, while many users have taken to heart the "Too little too late" sermons of the more vocal ST owners. The final release has yet to be seen, and already TOS 1.4 has been tried and convicted in absentia.
Through all the hullabaloo, the programming staff at Atari has quietly pushed ahead, testing TOS 1.4 more extensively than any previous OS. And the word is out that the ROM version of TOS 1.4 should be available by the time you read this. (Cross your fingers and toes!)
But TOS 1.4 is old news. You're tired of hearing about it, right? Right. And you probably don't care about the TOS to come after 1.4 either. I'll just feed these notes on it to the cat.
What? You are interested? Whoops. Let me get my notes back. Come on, Fluffy, cough it up.
Rumor has it that while TOS 1.4 was being wrapped up at Atari, development continued on the OS beyond Version 1.4. Rather than waiting, Atari programmers are pressing ahead to further refine and enhance TOS, even as Version 1.4 prepares to step into STs everywhere.
If you were waiting for TOS 1.4, buy it. Don't wait for the next version, because, at this stage it could be a while before it shows its face. (Remember how long TOS 1.4 has been in test phase.) There is no direct word from Atari on this subject, but my sources say that the next TOS is supposed to address a lot more of the complaints ST owners have leveled against the current TOS and TOS 1.4.
What kinds of changes are being considered? How about breaking the 16-megabyte limit on hard-disk partitions? In current TOS versions, the maximum amount of data that can be on a harddrive partition is 16 megabytes. TOS allows only Drives A-P, which are 16 devices, two of which are reserved for floppy drives. This means that the upper limit of hard-disk storage an ST can currently use is 224 megabytes. This may not seem like much of a limit, but to power users who maintain and manipulate massive amounts of data, it can be a serious problem.
Beyond that enhancement the trail gets harder to follow and the information less reliable. Still, it's been whispered that other changes may include the ability to address more than four megabytes of RAM (which is the ST's limit now). If this is true, some changes in the ST hardware must follow. The current MMU (Memory Management Unit) only uses 22 of the 68000's 24 address lines. Just plunking a new MMU into an ST won't work because the MMU's socket doesn't have all the address lines. This implies either a major hardware hack or (dare I say it) another new ST motherboard!
Beyond TOS changes there are other interesting developments at Atari Corp. The word about the Atari SLM804 Laser printer is the addition of the letters "PSC" to its name. PSC is supposed to stand for "PostScript Compatible." PostScript is a page-definition system devised and trademarked by Adobe Systems Inc., which is considered the standard in the desktop publishing field. The current SLM804 printers use a Diablo-emulation system, not PostScript. To further complicate matters, the ST uses Epson printer control codes. In a way, Atari's laser printer is incompatible with the computer it was built for!
Though nothing is yet chiseled into stone, it appears that the PostScript capabilities will be built into the hardware, giving us a new version of the SLM804 printer.
An Atari Mac?
Strange as it may sound, one rampant rumor is that Atari Corp. is planning to sell an Apple Macintosh clone. If you believe everything you hear, this wonder machine will use a 68030 microprocessor, the actual Mac ROMs, and run blazing circles around Apple's own machines. Some of this may be true, but it's hard to believe that Atari could get away with using the actual Mac ROMs. Apple Computer is quick with lawsuits when it feels stepped on (just ask Franklin Computer, Digital Research or Microsoft), so it's unlikely that Atari will use the actual Mac ROMs.
Aside from the ROM problem, it doesn't seem unreasonable or unlikely that Atari could release a Mac clone. Atari has already taken tentative steps into the clone market with its Atari PC computers (still not available in the U.S., but selling in Europe). The Macintosh, while enjoying a much smaller market share than the PC and its compatibles, still garners a respectable amount of sales. If Atari could produce a Mac clone at a reasonable cost without cutting corners, and at the same time get them into the proper distribution channels without incurring Apple's wrath, it might be worthwhile. If it hurts ST development to do so, that's another matter!
Holy MIDI! An ATARI keyboard!
It is possible that Atari will be unveiling its first entry into the MIDI market since the ST was introduced with built-in MIDI ports. The new product in question is an Atari MIDI keyboard. As usual, specifics are in short supply, but supposedly this product will be customizable into various configurations, and depending on the complexity and power you require, the price will vary from affordable to quite expensive.
It's been said that this keyboard was "completely designed" by Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac. No confirmation of this, but unless Mick is an electronic engineer, it's doubtful this statement is accurate. Most likely Fleetwood's design input was in the areas of features the keyboard should have and how it should work (from the user's point of view)
If the design is indeed flexible and modular, with the potential for expansion (unlike most other Atari hardware, which is "closed" and difficult to expand), and if Atari applies its "Power without the price" motto to this new entry, it could well be a considerable success. Musicians already know and appreciate Atari's equipment and are likely to give the Atari keyboard a fair shake. Atari is a leader in the field where computers and MIDI meet, and their continued support for this market can only be a good sign.