Classic Computer Magazine Archive START VOL. 4 NO. 3 / OCTOBER 1989


Computer Guide to the Solar System


In an impressive new educational program, WinterTech effectively presents the enormity of the universe within the confines of a personal computer. More than just an encyclopedia article, the Computer Guide to the Solar System is an "interactive space atlas" that presents Earth's home in a comprehensive and colorful software package.

The lack of an effective and detailed tutorial of the solar system in the educational market inspired Gary Winter, president of WinterTech, to write the Guide. The program was written in GFA BASIC 2.0 and makes full use of the ST's GEM interface and graphics abilities. Though WinterTech doesn't state the program's intended audience, fourth-graders and up will find the Guide easy to use and understand.

The Computer Guide to the Solar System
is an "interactive space atlas."

System Requirements and Getting Started
WinterTech's Guide runs in medium resolution only, so a color monitor is required. WinterTech recommends that it be run on 1040ST or Mega, though there is a 512K version available. Much like the solar system it presents, the Guide is very large and therefore eats up a lot of computer memory On a 1/2-meg machine, disk access is slow, but you can install the Guide on a hard disk to speed things up.

The Manual
How do you write instructions for a program whose interface is already so intuitive and easy to use? WinterTech's solution was to spend less time on how the Guide actually works and more time on why the program was developed and how to make backups of the Guide. It's very helpful and written in a concise and straightforward manner. However, it does not include a biography or list of research material for further reading.

WinterTech urges you to read the licensing agreement on the last page of the manual. Basically, it says "Do not pirate this software!" Please heed this message-the Guide is too good a program to be thoughtlessly tossed around from one pirate BBS to the next.

Program Basics
WinterTech has packed its Guide with loads of features and information. Just one look at the drop-down menu headings in the main screen will convince you of the program's thoroughness.

The menu headings are Intro, Sun, Earth, Moon, Planets, General and Quit. Under each heading are various topics of discussion, such as a planet's structure, its size and mass and its orbit around the Sun. Under General, you can explore the mysteries of such topics as gravity and motion.

There's really no set order to the Guide, no structure to follow. Teachers will find this lack of structure to their advantage It lets them set their own curriculum within the program. To the home user, this means that you can start anywhere you wish.

Your galactic adventure begins from a first-person perspective, zooming toward the Earth's solar system. Once the main menu appears, you'll have access to the many worlds the Guide has to offer.

A Quick Look
Let's begin our tour on familiar ground. At the main menu screen, move your space-ship cursor to the heading labeled EARTH. Under that heading click on Structure. Here begins an in-depth look at our home planet's insides.

Be prepared to do a lot of reading throughout your journey, because most of the screens are filled with text. It's all very well written so be sure to read everything particularly the highlighted sections that contain special instructions.

Each tutorial tends to be long, so if you want to check out another part of the Guide you just click the right mouse button to return to the main menu screen.

For this review I did explore the whole program. But even if I weren't writing this, I'd probably go the distance-I really enjoyed myself. I'm hardly an authority on astronomy, but with the Guide I think I've made a significant step in that direction.

The Guide would be a failure if it didn't allow for some interaction from the user. The ST is an excellent vehicle for effective use of animation, and this fact is not lost to WinterTech. In one part of the program, for example, you see a feather and a penny fall to the ground. If you wish to see how they would fall in a vacuum, you click on the appropriate dialog box. You'll see the air "pumped out" of the screen and the objects dropped again.

One of the most intriguing features of the Guide can be found in the section on gravity. It is here that you can calculate the relative weight of objects on different planets and moons. You do this via the scroll bar at the bottom of the screen. It's features like this that make the Guide educational and fun.

After a few minutes with WinterTech's Computer Guide
to the Solar System you'll probably want be an astronomer.
This "interactive space atlas" is concise and well structured
and Is an effective teaching aid in both the home and the

Some Conclusions
According to Gary Winter, the response to the Guide has been positive enough to prompt plans for other educational products based on the same idea. This is encouraging because this kind of program is precisely what the educational market needs. Imagine a whole series of programs that present in-depth studies of history, geography, mathematics-the list is endless. It's also encouraging that Winter chose the ST as a vehicle for the Guide.

The Computer Guide to the Solar System is an impressive product-easy to use, fun and educational. It's rare for me to walk away from a program and feel like I've learned something. With WinterTech's Guide I really have learned something.


The Computer Guide to the Solar System, $44.95. WinterTech, 111 Granada Court, Orlando, FL 32803, (407) 425-1199.