Atari at Disneyland
THE ANAHEIM ATARIFEST
by Frank Cohen
The curious, the adventurous and the enthusiastic all appeared at the Disneyland Hotel last April for two days of displays, conferences and entertainment. Three aisles of manufacturers and retailers filled the hotel's convention facilities. At times, walking from exhibit to exhibit was difficult due to the more than 7,000 attendees who squeezed into the hall.
JIM HOTZ AND MICK FLEETWOOD
Because Atari ST sales have lagged behind those of the Amiga personal computer, the World of Atari show was an important event for Atari Corp. At first, Atari would not commit to attending the show, but later they rented two booths and brought much of its California sales force to Los Angeles. Placed in a corner of the hall, its back against the wall, Atari turned the show to its favor by displaying a fresh new mix of products and technology.
The Transportable (previously named Stacy), the new ST laptop computer from Atari, made its first public appearance. One prototype unit was shown (at arm's length) running a simple slide-show program. The Transportable is a battery-powered 1040 ST computer with monochrome display, and includes a trakball, which substitutes for the mouse, on the right of the full-size QWERTY keyboard. The supertwist LCD display folds down over the keyboard for portability. The unit weighs less than 15 lbs. with batteries installed, and one charge lasts over five hours with medium disk use. Joe Mendolia, Atari's vice president of Marketing, promised the enthusiastic crowd that the Transportable will begin shipping by the end of the summer.
SAM TRAMIEL TALKS ABOUT THE TRANSPORTABLE (A.K.A. STACY)
Atari unveiled Word Flair ($149.95), an integrated word processing, database and graphics program developed by Blue Chip International. The program uses Atari's Graphics Device Operating System (GDOS) to display and print stylized fonts and graphics. Laser-printed output is excellent using GDOS; however, business users working without an Atari SLM804 laser printer will probably be discouraged because of lengthy GDOS printing times on dot-matrix printers.
MICHAEL PINDER OF THE MOODY BLUES WITH ATARI'S FRANK FOSTER
FAST Technologies introduced Turbo16, a 16-Megahertz (Mhz) accelerator upgrade for ST computers. The upgrade package replaces the ST's 68000 Central Processing Unit (CPU) with a faster version of the same chip, which can run software up to two times faster with little or no side effects. Desktop-publishing and CAD users waiting for screen redraws will rejoice when viewing Turbol6's impressive performance.
Installation is fairly easy, although a qualified service technician is recommended. The package is approximately the same size as a normal 68000 CPU chip, but slightly taller, allowing room for some support chips, which patch the ST operating system to eliminate problems found using experimental upgrades. For example, disk functions work as usual. The ST cartridge port and Mega ST expansion cards are also not affected. Even sound generation is maintained with the upgrade functioning.
Special high-speed cache memory has been designed into Turbo 16, which further improves application speed. The extra memory uses low-power static memory that does not tax the ST power supply. At a list price of $399, Turbol6 is not inexpensive; however, power ST users will find Turbo16 a necessity.
Wuztek demonstrated Omnimon Rainbow, a multi-resolution color monitor. A mode button located on Omnimon's front panel switches the ST computer among low-, medium- and high-resolution modes. ST users who commonly switch between color and monochrome monitors will find Omnimon a welcome hardware accessory. Omnimon's screen uses a dark tint, nonglare surface with unusually clear colors.
Best Electronics demonstrated a new ST/Mega-compatible mouse, the CBM1 ($49.95 List), which has an ergonomic design that fits smoothly into your hand. The mouse is easier to control and provides greater movement resolution for finely detailed mouse control. Special Teflon rollers on the steel photo-optic interrupter shafts give the mouse a smooth feel and reduce periodic cleanings. It is even FCC certified as a Class B computing device.
Best Electronics also introduced an upgrade kit for the standard Atari ST mouse that replaces the photo-optic sensors that communicate the mouse direction to the ST computer. Teflon rollers improve the mouse action and reduce cleaning frequency. The upgrade kit has a suggested retail of just $15.95.
Hard drives on the move
Atari announced a 44-megabyte hard-disk drive that features a removable disk platter. These platters allow your data to be moved from drive to drive, and security-conscious users can keep sensitive data with them when the computer is not in use. The Atari removable plugs into the DMA/hard-disk interface and may be daisy-chained with other hard disks. The device is manufactured by Sybold, a large producer of hard-disk equipment, and is installed into a modified Atari Megafile 30/60 cabinet. First shipments of the Atari removable are expected later this year.
Westco Electronics is already selling a removable-platter hard-disk drive. The Infinite Storage System (ISS) products offer high-performance, high-reliability removable cartridge-based hard-disk drive units for the ST. The drives access data in 28 milliseconds, about average for normal hard drives. The disk drive is built around ISS Bernoulli Technology, a proven system that is virtually head-crash-free and very rugged. In case of problems, Westco offers a one-year warranty on disk cartridges and a two-year warranty on ISS-2 drives. Atari usually offers only a 90-day warranty.
The ISS drives are compatible with all ST, Mega ST, Spectre 128/Magic Sac and PC Ditto storage formats. Cartridges are disk-format compatible with PC DOS cartridge disks, allowing easy data interchange between the ST and IBM PC compatibles. There are 21-, 44- and 45-mega-byte models available, and prices range from $1,200 to $1,385.
THE MIDI CONCERT
ICD demonstrated the new FAST Tape Backup system. The new system saves the contents of a hard drive onto a special audiocassette. Backup speeds can be as fast as 6.5 megabytes per minute, a considerable time savings over floppy-disk backups. The tapes are specially coated with a protective layer of acrylic so they run faster and withstand high temperatures. They also cost $34.99 each.
FAST Tape Backup unit's have the same footprint as the Megafile 30, and the unit plugs directly into an ST's Hard Disk/DMA port. DMA Out allows the Backup unit to be daisy-chained to other devices, such as hard disks, laser printers, etc. ICD also sells hard-disk-equipped units. A battery-powered clock is built into the controller board. Also, individual file recovery is possible using the GEM-based backup software.
Not to miss the backup boat, Seymor/Radix introduced DVT ($249.95 List) a videotape backup system for hard-disk users. DVT works like the ICD FAST Tape backup; however, backup information is stored on videotapes. DVT stores data at eight megabits per minute, 20% faster than audiotapes.DAVID SMALL OF GADGETS BY SMALL
DVT plugs into the ST as a standard cartridge, and RCA cables attach to your videotape recorder (VTR). DVT software moves data from your hard disk to the videotape by recording data images. DVT restores backed-up data by decoding the recorded images. The system stores up to 360 megabytes of data.
RONSAT Technologies demonstrated STonehenge ($239.95), an externally powered RAM disk. STonehenge plugs into the ST DMA/hard-disk drive port. To the user, STonehenge appears as a disk-drive device on the GEM Desktop; however, since RAM memory is used, STonehenge stores or retrieves files up to ten times faster than the quickest hard drive. Since the unit has a separate power supply, turning off your ST computer will not cause the loss of data, a problem common to RAM disks.
Software developers will find that STonehenge's speed and after-crash data integrity make it an attractive place to keep development tools, source code and other important data. There are 256K and two-megabyte versions of STonehenge available.
On the software end of the show, enthusiasts crowded around the first public demonstration of Spectre GCR, an upgrade to Spectre 128, a cartridge-based Macintosh emulation system for the ST.
Group Coded Recording (GCR) is the method used by Apple computers to record data onto a floppy diskette. Atari equipment uses the IBM disk format, which is incompatible with GCR. Previous attempts to read Macintosh disks from Atari ST drives resulted in marginal performance. Although Spectre GCR failed to read several Macintosh diskettes provided by show attendees, its inventor claims benchmark tests show Spectre GCR reading disks faster than normal ST format disks. Spectre GCR is undergoing Federal Communications Commission (FCC) testing, and once approved, will carry a $299.95 suggested retail price.
Spectre means Macintosh compatibility. So some Atari manufacturers are beginning to distribute traditional Macintosh products. Sotae Corp., a company that began by selling Macintosh OS ROM chips for Spectre and Magic Sac customers, sells the Abaton fax modem for the Macintosh. The Abaton InterFAX 12/48 fax modem ($495.00 List) permits the ST to send and receive fax messages. A special software package schedules unattended transmissions any time of the day or night, logs fax activity, transmits documents to multiple locations and maintains a customized fax directory with up to 800 FAX numbers.
The fax modem uses modular telephone jacks to plug directly into any standard phone connector. It is CCITT Group 3 compatible, meaning it can communicate with most modern fax machines, and transmits at 4800 bits per second (BPS). The modem may also be used as a standard 1200/300 BPS modem to communicate with local bulletin-board systems, CompuServe, GEnie or other online information services.
ArtisTech Development displayed Da Vinci ($99.95), a sophisticated graphic drawing program that uses an intuitive menu system displaying a choice of hundreds of pen styles, shapes, patterns, functions and tools. Color or monochrome bit images are edited in several magnification modes without restricting the available tools. DEGAS, Neochrome and Amiga IFF picture files may be loaded and saved.
Da Vinci simulates an artist's drawing easel with drawing modes that give the artistic feel of a true painting medium. For example, pen tools allow drawings to be smeared with existing images. Other tools include blend, tint, smooth, cycle and filter. Animation sequences are easily created with Delta Compression techniques used in Aegis Animator and Cyber Paint. A public-domain stand-alone animation player is included.
Spritenstein ($29.95 List) is a new game-creator utility for GFA BASIC. The utility helps wouldbe game designers create screens, maps and sprites, the necessary parts of every video game. Everything is mouse-driven and little knowledge of games programming is needed. The package includes fully commented source code compatible with GFA BASIC (Versions 2 and 3).GRAPHMAKER
An optional data disk for Spritenstein contains several game maps, sprite definitions and commented source code. Sprite Disk Volume 1 ($24.95 List) demonstrates Spritenstein's ability to create arcade and adventure-style video games.
Artisan Software demonstrated Graph Maker ($59.95 List), a GEM-based color business graphing program. Graph Maker receives lists of numbers, summarizes the results and displays (or prints) bar charts, line graphs and pie charts. Graphs may be saved in DEGAS or Neochrome format for later editing. Desktop-publishing users should have fun with this one. Clip art may also be used in Graph Maker drawings.
NeoDesk 2.0 ($49.95 List) is Gribnif Software's solution to many GEM Desktop shortcomings. For example, where are the keyboard equivalents for GEM Desktop functions? NeoDesk replaces the GEM Desktop with a graphic shell that looks and feels like the normal GEM Desktop. But NeoDesk goes further, adding a wish list of functions that should have been written into the GEM Desktop.
Many NeoDesk functions are based on the Macintosh desktop: customized icons for each program or file type, files are moved when dragged, rather than copied, scrolling functions auto-repeat when the mouse button is held down and applications outside a file's folder may be installed. NeoDesk includes a new Control Panel desk accessory with a screen-save utility, visible clock display, blitter-chip control and free-memory display. The screen-saver blanks your ST display after a user-defined number of minutes pass without user activity. Move the mouse or click a key, and the screen returns to view.
Previous versions of NeoDesk were reported to use much of the ST computer's memory. The new system runs as a shell; when an application is opened, NeoDesk releases memory, leaving less than 24K devoted to itself. NeoDesk 2.0 supports a new icon editor used to create unique icons for each file or program. The icon editor is GEM-based and easy to use.
The shell game has raised the rhetoric level among GEM Desktop, NeoDesk and HotWire enthusiasts. Each camp claims the others are poor excuses of true user friendliness.
Charles Johnson and John Eidsvoog (CodeHead Software) demonstrated HotWire ($39.95 List), a keyboard macro system for opening applications. Press a user-defined "hot" key from the GEM Desktop and an application is automatically opened. And to think that using the mouse to point-and-click was once considered revolutionary.
HotWire finds applications hidden in folders, no matter where they reside, with the HotWire menu displaying up to 54 programs at once and showing hot-key icons and 20-character application descriptions. The program, written completely in fast, compact assembly language, uses 40K of your ST's memory.
CodeHead also demonstrated Multi-Desk ($29.95 List), a desk accessory handler; G + Plus ($34.95 List), a GDOS replacement; and MIDIMAX ($49.95 List), a real-time MIDI performance tool.
Ditto ditto (or Son of Ditto)
Avant-Garde Systems answered customer complaints of slow IBM emulation speed by introducing PC Ditto II ($299.95 List). When PC Ditto was first introduced, much praise was garnered because it apparently worked as promised, running all MS-DOS software. However, the emulator worked 30-50% slower than the slowest IBM PC computer. Avant Garde's new solution comes as an inexpensive hardware-based emulation system that solves the slow time factor.
PC Ditto II features up to 640K usable memory, monochrome and color graphics capabilities on all Atari monitors, fixed disk adapter with automatic access to all Atari partitions, Microsoft-compatible mouse, Atari clock/calendar data and time support, full serial- and parallel-port emulation, and support of 3½ -inch, 80-track drives and optional 5¼ -inch 40-track drives.
The air is buzzing once more with the word "Atari." The ST has been called a NeXT killer, Macintosh crusher and PC destroyer. In truth, the ST computer has become the computer industry's favorite uncle, most likely not invited to a company board meeting but always around at family get-togethers. On arrival from out of town he is welcomed with open arms. Such was the case at the World of Atari, the latest of the new Atarifest conventions.
Products mentioned in this article:
P.O. Box 214830
Sacramento, CA 95821
P.O. Box 166055
Irving, TX 75016
FAST Tape Backup
1220 Rock Street
Rockford, IL 61101
P.O. Box 849
Manteca, CA 95336
P.O. Box 74090
Los Angeles, CA 90004
6150 Jessup Road
Cincinnati, OH 45247-5842
ISS Removable Hard Disk
Westco Electronics, Inc.
4695 S. 1900 W #6
Roy, UT 84067
2021 The Alameda, Suite 290
San Jose, CA 95126
P.O. Box 350
Hadley, MA 01035
4521 Campus Drive, Suite 400
Irvine, CA 92715
PC Ditto II
381 Pablo Point Drive
Jacksonville, FL 32225
The Transportable Atari Corp.
1196 Borregas Avenue
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
14 Lovejoy Road
Andover, MA 01810
Gadgets by Small
40 W. Littleton Blvd. #210-211
Littleton, CO 80120
2500 S. Fairview, Unit L
Santa Ana, CA 92704
368 Lexington Drive
Buffalo Grove, IL 60089
Frank Cohen is a programmer, author, graphic designer and music hobbyist. You may contact him directly on CompuServe (76004,1573) and GEnie (FRANK.COHEN), or by writing to P.O. Box 14628, Long Beach, CA 90803-1208.