Classic Computer Magazine Archive START VOL. 2 NO. 3 / WINTER 1987




By Michael J. Biancalana

As an ST owner, do you sometimes feel as if you're missing the DOS boat? Is Hypercard, the revolutionary new program from Apple. giving you a Mac attack? Does it feel as if 90 percent of all the top-selling business, productivity and creativity software is only available for the Mac or IBM PC?

Until now your only options were less than desirable. You could wait until the software you want is ported over to the ST-except that you might need to live two lifetimes before they get all the bugs worked out. Another alternative would be to purchase an ST clone of the software you want to use. Unfortunately you might find that your new dBaseII clone acts more like dBase 11/2. Then there's the unthinkable: selling your ST and buying a Mac or IBM.

But now you don't even have to think about that, because now you can have the best of all possible worlds. Enter two products: Magic Sac+, a hardware/software combination that allows you to run most popular Macintosh software on your Atari ST; and pc-ditto, software that turns your ST into an IBM compatible.

The Magic Sac+ is an amazing little product. It virtually turns your ST into a Macintosh. Because of Apple's stringent programming guidelines and their basic philosophy that Macintosh software not be machine dependent, most Mac software runs like a charm on the Magic Sac. In some cases, programs run faster than normal.

Magic Sac comes packaged in a brown paper bag, and consists of a grey cartridge that plugs into the cartridge port of your ST; an ST boot disk; a Macintosh-formatted disk containing file transfer software; and a transfer cable.

But getting the Magic Sac to run is an interesting affair. First, you have to obtain two Apple Macintosh 64K boot ROMS: part numbers 342-0220-A and 342-0221-A, or 342-0220-B and 342-0221-B. These are proprietary chips belonging to Apple Computer, Inc. You must use only original chips; copies, including EPROMS, will not work. If you're lucky, you can obtain the chips from a certified Apple Service Dealer, or any computer store that stocks the Magic Sac. If not, you can still obtain a set of ROMs, through mail order, from B & C Computervisions, 3283 Kifer Road, Santa Clara CA 95051. (408) 749-1003. At worst, you can simply cannibalize a Macintosh!

Once you have the ROMS you need to install them in the Magic Sac. It's simple-just pop open the cartridge, snap the ROMs into the sockets and put the cartridge back together.

Unfortunately, the Mac and the ST use incompatible disk drives. Although they both use 31/2-inch drives, neither machine is able to directly read the other's disks. You must transfer the software from Mac disk format to Magic disk format. That means you'll need to borrow or acquire an accessory that doesn't come in the Magic Sac sack: a real Macintosh.

First, you format your ST disks using the MacFormat program on the Magic Sac disk. You then transfer your software from your Mac to your ST, using the software and connecting cable that comes in the Magic Sac package. (If you plan to remove the ROMs from the Mac to use in the Magic Sac, it's a good idea to transfer all your software to Magic Sac format first-you'll have a heck of a time trying to get the transfer software up and running on a Mac thats missing the boot ROMs!) Incidentally, the provided transfer cable's Mac connector is designed for the original Mac, and will not work with the Macintosh SE or the Mac Plus.

(One solution to the data-transfer hassle is Data Pacific's soon-to-be-released Translator, which enables Atari drives to directly read Mac disks. The Translator will plug into your ST through both MIDI ports and the ST floppy connector; it will work with either single- or double-sided drives, and will read, write or format your disks exactly as a Mac would. At press time, the Translator was still being tested; the planned price is $279.95.)

Once the software is transferred, Magic Sac is ready to run it. I tested a number of popular Mac programs that "followed the rules" - that is, made no illegal operating system calls- and found that many of them supported the extended display capabilities of the ST's 640x400 monochrome screen. That was true of the Mac Desktop, Microsoft Word, Ready-Set-Go! and others. On the other hand, many programs, particularly software from Apple and Mac public domain software, would only use a standard 512 x342 display area.

Do you
sometimes feel
as if you're missing
the DOS boat?

Fully configured, the Magic Sac allows the owner of a 520 ST to simulate a 128K or 256K Mac. Although 128K is the original Mac configuration, it really isn't enough memory to optimize program performance, as Apple quickly realized- too much time is spent playing musical disks. Also, many existing applications won't even run on a 128K Mac.

ST users with a megabyte of RAM will want to configure their Magic Sac machines as a 832K Mac, or a 512K Mac with the remainder of memory used as a RAMdisk.

Technically, anything that runs on a Mac should run on Magic Sac. The most notable exceptions to this rule are communications and, unfortunately, MIDI programs. That's because often, to achieve certain timimg intensive requirements, a programmer will sometimes say #$%& it!" and talk directly to machine-specific hardware such as the Mac's serial chip. Naturally, when Mac software goes looking for a specific chip on the ST, it's nowhere to be found. (Even Apple Computer believes some of it rules were made to be broken- maybe that's why MacWrite version 4.5 won't work on the Mac II.)

No, an RGB monitor plus Magic Sac doesn't equal a color Macintosh. Only medium resolution works with Magic Sac, and a color monitor is not going to get you a color Mac. (When I tried, I got a wonderful avocado-green desktop, lots of artifacting, sluggish cursor movement and color MacPaint- trouble was, all the colors were dithered green and red dots. The best picture I could do was a green olive with pimento.) For best results Data Pacific recommends setting the ST's default colors to White, Grey, Grey and Black using the ST's Control Panel.

If you're really serious about using Magic Sac, get a monochrome monitor. An ST with a monochrome monitor provides a 17 percent larger screen display than the Mac's.

The Mac has two serial ports: one for communications and one designated for a printer. The ST, on the other hand, has a serial communications port and a parallel printer port. Since most Mac software assumes an Imagewriter printer, you have to install a custom driver to support any other printer you may be using.

If you're a fervent ST user, running Mac software may take some getting used to. STs, Macs and Amigas each do things a little differently which is what makes each model unique- and what keeps the companies from suing each other's pants off.

The mouse works fine, although you may need to adjust to the Mac's single-button mouse and the trick of holding down the mouse button while pulling down menus.

The keyboard on the Mac contains two keys not on the ST, the Option and Command keys. Magic Sac uses the ST's Control and Alternate keys respectively to simulate these Mac keys. For example, Alternate-Q will typically quit the current application.

Also, the ways disks are ejected differ between the Mac and the ST; the Mac ejects its own disks automatically. The ST doesn't, so Magic Sac flashes an A or B at the top right corner of the screen when it's time to manually eject a disk.

When using Magic Sac, the ST's drive A plays the role of the Mac's internal drive, and drive B corresponds to an external Mac drive. Single drive ST owners will get to play "disk jockey" until eventually like most Mac owners, they find that swapping some cash for a second drive is much more efficient than swapping disks all day. The latest version of the Magic Sac software supports a hard disk-which is even more expensive, but solves the disk-swapping problem permanently.

ST disks have always been IBM compatible, and now your whole ST can be, too. Through the wonder of software, pc-ditto from Avant-Garde Systems taps the power and speed of the ST's 68000 processor to emulate an IBM PC-and it'll only cost you $89.95.

All you need to get started is the pc-ditto boot disk, an Atari ST, a color monitor and a copy of PC-DOS or MS-DOS 1.0 or higher Avant-Garde recommends using version 2.0 or higher because of program availability and the ability to use high capacity 3 1/2-inch drives.

To use the current version of pc-ditto, you absolutely must have a color monitor; I tried booting it several times with a monochrome monitor without success. Avant-Garde plans to put monochrome capability in a forthcoming release.

To use pc-ditto, simply boot up your ST and bring up the GEM desktop the way you normally would, then insert the pc-ditto disk, open the folder named STPROGRAMS and click on PC_DITTO.PRG. Pc-ditto displays a copyright screen and prompts you to insert a PC-DOS or MS-DOS disk.

After DOS intializes, enter the time and date and you'll see the standard DOS A> prompt. You now sit before an ST that's also IBM compatible.

Because the IBM PC and ST computers utilize the same disk format, you should have no trouble reading 31/2-inch MS-DOS formatted disks on your ST using pc-ditto. With the wealth of DOS software available on 51/4-inch disks, as an option you may want to consider adding a 51/4-inch drive to your system. Avant-Garde recommends the lB Drive, a double-sided drive that costs $269.95.

Included on the pc-ditto disk is a file containing a list of "certified" software that's been tested on the ST. I checked out Lotus 1-2-3, the Norton Utilities, and Qwikeys, and they all worked normally although they seemed to run slower than usual. Pc-ditto has a Norton rating of 0.3-pretty slow for a PC clone, though most software is still usable. It's so slow because the ST's 68000 processor has to use software to emulate all the hardware in an IBM.

The list of certified software is long and gets bigger all the time; however, a couple of restrictions regarding software still do apply. As with most PC clones, programs written in BASICA (IBM BASIC) will not run under pc-ditto. Also, software which has been configured for some other IBM compatibles may not run properly. For best results, make sure the software you are using is configured for an IBM PC.

Pc-ditto makes the most of the ST's resources; it uses up to 703K on a 1040 or one- meg 520, and maps the ST's I/O ports to their IBM counterparts. For example, the parallel port is recognized as LPT1, the standard printer location, and the serial port simulates COM1, the IBM's communications port. Fortunately, the ST's keyboard can match that of most PCs and PC clones - including ten function keys and Control and Alternate keys. The pc-ditto package includes a handy template to help you locate keys marked differently.

Pc-ditto also supports 80-column IBM monochrome video as well as the color graphics modes for text and low, medium, and high resolution graphics by imitating the monochrome and color graphics adapters. And hackers will be pleased to know that in addition to support for all DOS and BIOS interrupts pc-ditto also allows direct read/write access to video memory and control of all special chips including the serial and parallel chips.

Of course, you may have to work for a while to adjust to MS-DOS. Gone are those familiar GEM roadmarks-no icons, no pull down menus, no file folders, not even a trash can. You'll probably need a good book on MS-DOS just to copy a file-and don't forget to watch out for syntax errors when you're typing commands! Pc-ditto doesn't support the ST's mouse, either. It will run MS-DOS software that uses a mouse, but only through alternate keyboard commands.

Overall, I like these two products. Magic Sac+ still gives me an eerie feeling when the "Welcome to Macintosh" title screen appears on my ST. The only major problems with this product involve the availability of the ROMs and additional expenses acquiring them. Be on the lookout for new versions-and new products-from Data Pacific.

And what more can I say about pc-ditto-you just can't beat the price anywhere for IBM compatibility. In fact, the only thing that really bugged me about pc-ditto was that they used all lower-case letters in their name. I kept wanting to capitalize it.

Magic Sac +. Data Pacific, Inc., 609 East Speer Blvd., Denver, CO 80203. (303) 733-8158. $149.95

The Translator, Data Pacific, Inc., 609 East Speer Blvd., Denver CO 80203. (303) 773-8158. $279.95

pc-ditto. Avant Garde Systems, 381 Pablo Drive, Jacksonville, FL 32225. $89.95

IB Drive, IB Computers, 1519 S.W. Marlow Avenue, Portland, OR 97225. (503) 297-8425. $269.95