Classic Computer Magazine Archive START VOL. 3 NO. 5 / DECEMBER 1988

Mac and PC On The ST

A Look at PC Utilities

by David Plotkin
START Contributing Editor

This month, were going to look at some IBM PC utilities that will make your computing life easier. Next issue we'll jump back to the Magic Sac Macintosh emulator and discuss the Apple side of things vis a vis the Atari ST.

Switch Hitting

If you switch back and forth between ST and PC applications, you may have trouble remembering the commands necessary to run the PC applications. In fact, PC applications being what they are I often find it difficult to remember the commands associated with them even when I don't switch back and forth.

InterSoft Publishing International's Command Tips series may refresh your memory. These programs are "terminate and stay resident" (TSR)--you run the program and then it effectively disappears, although it's still there in the background, waiting to be called (much like a desk accessory on the ST). When you need access to the program, you press a "hot key" combination and it appears on the screen. When you're done, press another set of keys and the TSR program disappears as if it had never been there. Your original application (or DOS) will then reappear and you can continue working.

TSR programs are virtually the only way a PC can call an application from within another one, and TSRs have some inherent problems. Various TSR programs can interfere with one another and lock up your keyboard, since the IBM PC wasn't originally designed to handle this type of program. The fact that pc-ditto handles them is a testimony to its emulation power.

The three programs in The Command Tips series are designed to provide information to PC users on applications, DOS and miscellaneous tables. Group WP1 shows the commands for word processors, including Wordstar, WordPerfect, Displaywrite 4 and Multimate Advantage. This package also includes DOS and DEBUG commands, an ASCII table, HEX table, Conversion tables and IBM Error Codes. Group DM1 shows the commands for spreadsheets and databases, including 1-2-3, Symphony, VP-Planner+ and dBASE III (it also includes the various miscellaneous tables in Group WP1). Finally, Group EX1 is for expert users and programmers. It includes commands for C, Assembly, Pascal, Quick BASIC, Fortran, BIOS and Interrupts, as well as the miscellaneous tables noted above.

Setting Up TSRs

Setting up Command Tips is quite troublesome. To install it, you must first un-ARC the program (remember, there are versions of ARC for many computers, and a version comes on the Command Tips disk). You can install the program on either a 1.2 megabyte high-density 5 1/4-inch disk (I don't believe any are available for the ST) or a hard drive. The final files are too large to fit even on a 3 1/2-inch disk. Thus, unless you have a hard drive, you cannot use this series.

Annoyingly, if you do have a hard drive, the installation instructions don't work. What you have to do is create a new subdirectory called "CT" and copy the contents of the 5 1/4-inch disk into the subdirectory with the COPY command. Then you change to the new directory and type INSTALL, which will run the batch file. You will get an error message that the program can't open the CT directory (I don't know why not) but the program will be installed properly anyway. To run CT, just switch to the CT directory with the CD command, then type in CT. The program will run and you'll find yourself back at the DOS prompt.

To use CT, you must press the two Shift keys and the Alternate key simultaneously. This brings up a menu at the top of the screen. There appear to be two versions of the menu (one looks like that found in Lotus 1-2-3), and you can toggle between them using F3. The instructions (one 3-by-5 card!) don't mention this. With the arrow keys you can move the cursor to highlight the menu item for the program you want, then press Return to bring up the help page. There are multiple help screens for each topic (I counted over 40 screens for 1-2-3). You can change screens by typing in the number of the screen you want or by using the Page Down or Page Up keys (anyone know where they are?). When you're done, press the Escape key to return to your application.

Amazingly enough, the Command Tips series is of limited usefulness because it's so complete. By the time you page through each of the screens (with the screen loading from disk) looking for the information you want, it would be faster to look up the information in the manual or quick reference card. There is no way to key in a term you want to look for and have that screen brought up. Thus, this set of programs seems pretty expensive for what amounts to an in-memory version of what the program documentation provides.

The Norton Advanced Utilities

One set of utilities definitely worth its cost is the Norton Advanced Utilities. Ever since Peter Norton Computing released their first version, PC owners have been buying these at a record clip. There are numerous utilities included and Norton's Integrator program lets you run them from a main menu screen. It includes such useful programs as "Quick Unerase" which will unerase a program you've erased from a disk as long as you haven't written anything else on it. I once decided to erase all the files in drive A, so I typed:


Oops, I forgot the colon between the A and the first asterisk! As a result, I erased every file on my hard drive (which was my current drive) beginning with the letter A! With Quick Unerase, I recovered all those files in just a few minutes. Also included are utilities that can find a text string in any file on a disk, change file attributes, draw out on the screen the structure of the directories and subdirectories on your disk (very handy for a hard drive), allow for descriptions (up to 65 characters) for each file, print out an ASCII file with various printing controls, test the disk for damage, add the ability to obtain information from the user as part of a batch file, find a file on the disk and test for system performance (which returns a rather dreary number for an ST with pc-ditto--no offense).

Besides Quick Unerase, however, the most useful member of the Norton family is "Speed Disk." Much has been written about hard drives slowing down as they get full, and the files get fragmented--that is, when the various parts of the files are scattered all over the disk. You can use Speed Disk to analyze your hard drive and tell you how fragmented it is (you may be surprised). It can also automatically "unfragment" your disk, giving you a significant increase in access speed. If your disk is badly fragmented, this can take several hours, but it is worth it, and if you run Speed Disk periodically, it won't take as long each time.

A number of programs similar to Speed Disk have been advertised for the ST, but some nasty rumors have been floating around that they can trash your hard drive under certain circumstances. The Speed Disk program has been around for a long time, I've tested it extensively and it works on ST hard drives just fine.

That's it for our PC utilities. Next issue: back to the Mac!

David Plotkin is a chemical engineer for Chevron US.A. and is a long-time contributor to START and Antic.

Products Mentioned

Command Tips: Group WP1, $59.95; Group DM1, $69.95; Group EX1, $89.95. InterSoft Publishing International, 601 Brannan Street, San Francisco, CA 94107, (415) 777-2862.

Norton Advanced Utilities, $150. Peter Norton Computing, 2210 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90403, (213) 453-2361).