Classic Computer Magazine Archive START VOL. 3 NO. 1 / SUMMER 1988


The Ultimate ST Spreadsheet?

By Jim Pierson-Perry

Welcome to START's new column about running Macintosh and IBM PC programs on your Atari ST computer! In the months to come, we'll explore ways of using Mac and PC emulators such as Magic Sac and pc-ditto to do things not yet possible with ST software, as well as ways to capitalize on using your ST with other computers. (Of course, in order to run the programs we'll discuss, you'll need Magic Sac for Macintosh applications and pc-ditto for IBM programs.)

By way of background, I use a 1040 ST at home and a Mac SE at work, while my secretary and many co-workers use IBM PCs. Much of my work involves writing reports (often with several coauthors), preparing presentations and analyzing information (technical, budgetary and inventory). I found that using my ST as a middleman makes it quite simple to coordinate this three-ring circus. As a side benefit, I can get out of the office early and do my work at home under more congenial surroundings.


Why use a Mac or PC emulator on your ST? There are two main reasons: connectivity and software.

In an ideal world, you could use any computer you like, and directly exchange files and data with people using other computers. Unfortunately, in the real world incompatible disk formats and computer hardware make that difficult.

Connectivity means working around these obstacles. Many companies have resorted to expensive hardware solutions to keep the information flowing. The ST turns out to be ideally suited at this task for two reasons. First, it has the same disk format as IBM PCs, so you can use the same disk files on both kinds of computers. For example, you can create a file on your ST with VIP Professional and then use it on an IBM with Lotus 1-2-3--or use WordPerfect to write a text file on either machine. Second, the ST can directly run Mac software--even from the original disk (with Magic Sac and the Translator One disk controller). No other non-Apple computer can make that claim. That makes the ST a perfect low-cost interpreter between Mac and PC computers.

Of course, the reason most people buy Magic Sac or pc-ditto is to tap into the huge existing Mac and IBM software libraries. These computers have been available longer and have more users than the ST, so there are many good programs for them that are into their second or third generation. These programs often have more features and more sophistication than their ST counterparts--and some offer uses that just aren't available yet for the ST.


A spreadsheet program may be the most important application for most computer users. What are the advantages of using a PC or Mac spreadsheet on the ST?

The current state of the art is easily defined. On the IBM side is Lotus 1-2-3, the most widely sold program for any microcomputer. Macintosh users have Excel, the most powerful spreadsheet currently available for any microcomputer. In a feature-by-feature comparison against Lotus 1-2-3, Excel wins hands down--but Lotus has the advantage of a vast selection of templates, guides and training courses. Lotus 1-2-3 is the best second-generation spreadsheet; Excel, with its multiple linked spreadsheets and ease of use, is at the front of the third generation in spreadsheet design.

Unfortunately, almost all Mac and PC programs are more expensive than those for the ST. Excel will set you back $395, significantly more than comparable ST spreadsheets, which are typically less than $150. (Of course, you could always pay for Excel out of your savings from buying an ST and Magic Sac instead of an overpriced Macintosh!) Lotus 1-2-3 is no slouch either, coming in at $495.

What about the ST? There are several spreadsheets for home or small-scale work, but only two qualify for power use: VIP Professional and Logistix. VIP Professional is a Lotus work-alike that uses GEM; it can both read and write Lotus 1-2-3 data files. Logistix is similar to VIP but without GEM, and it's more complicated to use for graphics activites. It can read both Lotus 1-2-3 and dBase data files from IBM disks but cannot write using either format. Both VIP and Logistix are adequate for most needs, but both require trade-offs between features and ease-of-use, and neither takes full advantage of the ST's capabilities.


If you want the best, you need Excel--running with Magic Sac. This has all the features, power and speed you could task for, along with one of the best user interfaces ever designed. Forget that it was written for the Mac; the mouse-driven interface works superbly on the ST. With an ST monochrome monitor, it even shows a larger spreadsheet view than when running on a Mac--and it's much easier on the eyes.

Several things are apparent when you start to use Excel. First, it is extremely fast. Excel uses "minimum recalc": when a value is entered or changed, Excel only re-evaluates cells directly affected by the change. By contrast, Lotus 1-2-3 recalculates the entire spreadsheet with each change. Another feature is the extremely large available memory: over 40,000 cells can be used with a 1040 ST configured as an 832K Mac under Magic Sac.

The mouse is used in an extremely intuitive manner. For example, to change column width, just click on the boundary and put it to the side. The column widens, in real time, until you stop. Cells are selected by pointing and clicking or dragging a box to encompass a larger range. All commands are available through the command menu with a Help key close at hand. You can open multiple windows simultaneously to view different portions of the spreadsheet, various graphs or several spreadsheets.

Excel's advanced features include the ability to link several spreadsheets, automatically create macros by recording your keyboard operations, new statistical functions, manipulate arrays of data, and an Undo key (hooray!). Tired of being able to create only one graph at a time, and having to use a separate program to have it printed? You can create as many graphs as you like with Excel, and immediately print or save them.

Using the Magic Sac printer driver, an Epson-compatible printer can substitute for the usual Apple Imagewriter. Excel output can be printed in normal or reduced size, sideways and with a full battery of print style enhancements. Alternatively, you can save output to a disk file as text. You can also use the Mac clipboard to select a particular region of the spreadsheet or a graph for use with another Mac program.


I use Excel extensively at work and home, but many of my co-workers are firmly wedded to Lotus 1-2-3. Here is where my ST has really proven its value as an interpreter. I get the Lotus 1-2-3 data files on a standard IBM 3 1/2-inch disk and convert them to Magic format, using the Mover program that's supplied with Magic Sac. Next I can either analyze the files at home, or copy them to a Mac-formatted disk using the Translator One and take them back to work. The data files themselves do not need conversion, since Excel can both read and write in Lotus 1-2-3 format.

The reverse process is just as simple. I use Excel to produce a file in Lotus 1-2-3 format on a Mac or Magic disk. Then I convert it to an ST/IBM disk and hand it over to the IBM crowd.

If you don't have the Translator One disk controller, another way to move files between computers is through the serial ports, using the software that comes with Magic Sac. If your ST and Mac aren't near each other, you can do it by modem using a Macintosh terminal program. Make sure you use one that runs under Magic Sac; Freeterm and Red Ryder (version 7.0, not later versions) work well. A modem is also a good way to get Lotus templates and macros; you can get them from the Lotus forum on CompuServe, as well as many other BBSs.


Don't forget that the ST isn't just limited to ferrying files between IBM and Mac programs. For example, graphs can be saved in MacPaint format and converted for use with DEGAS Elite. There you can add color and other enhancements, then use them with programs such as Publishing Partner. You can also use Excel text files with ST word processors (yes, including ST Writer), although specialized style and formatting information is lost.

Jim Pearson-Perry is a research chemist and semiprofessional musician who lives in Elkton, Maryland.


Magic Sac+, $149.95; Translator One, $279.95. Data Pacific, Inc., 609 East Speer Blvd., Denver, CO 80203, (303) 733-8158.

pc-ditto, $89.95. Avant Garde Systems, 381 Pablo Drive, Jacksonville, FL 32225, (904) 221-2904.

Lotus 1-2-3, $495. Lotus Development Corp., 55 Cambridge Parkway, Cambridge, MA 02142, (617) 623-6572.

Microsoft Excel 1.04, $395. Microsoft Corp., 16011 NE 36th Way, PO. Box 97017, Redmond, WA 98073, (206) 882-8080.

VIP Professional, $149.95. ISD Marketing, Inc., 2651 St. John St., Unit 3, Markham, Ontario L3R 2W5, Canada, (416) 479-1880.

Logistix, $149.95. Progressive Peripherals, 464 Kalamath St., Denver, CO 80204, (302) 825-4144.

WordPerfect 4.1 For The ST, $395. WordPerfect Corp., 288 West Center St., Orem, UT 84057, (801) 225-5000.

DEGAS Elite, $59.95. Electronic Arts, 1820 Gateway Dr., San Mateo, CA 94404, (415) 571-7171.