I'm writing to you in reference to the "Multitasking On The ST" article which appeared in the August 1990 issue. In that article, Frank Foster of Atari Corp. is quoted as saying that all multitasking systems on the ST "are kludges" and that Beckemeyer's Micro RTX and MT C-Shell, in particular "[work] but not very well."
Not all multitasking systems in the ST are kludges. At least three that I am aware of are reasonable systems. First, OS/9 is a well-known commercial operating system, which is used in many industrial applications. OS/9 is used on many systems in addition to the ST. Second, MINIX is a popular Unix-like system, with a large following. Third, there is Micro RTX, which is a robust multitasking system for the ST. Finally, there is MT C-Shell (based on Micro RTX), which is a powerful Unix-like system with TOS and GEM compatibility.
On what basis does Frank Foster claim that Micro RTX doesn't work very well? Micro RTX is the operating system used in many large applications across the country, in addition to the more than 2,500 MT C-Shell installations.
Micro RTX is used in an art supply store to run a four-user point-of-sale and accounting system. The main controlling computer is a 1040ST running Micro RTX which interfaces to two touch-screen cash registers, which are each 1040ST computers also running Micro RTX. The complete system drives four printers, two bar-code readers, two touch-screens, a Wyse-60 terminal, and the main ST console. This system has been operational for three years.
Micro RTX is used in a herb warehouse to run a multi-user, online, order-entry and billing system. This system processes some 400 invoices per day, from two input stations, both active simultaneously eight hours a day. It automates the shipping procedure by automatically printing the UPS forms.
Micro RTX is used in a limousine service in a multi-user system which processes reservations, assigns vehicles and drivers, and performs all billing and accounting functions.
The list could go on. The point is that Micro RTX is used in the real world by real companies on a daily basis and has been used that way for several years. It is powerful enough to support a wide variety of applications. It is robust enough to be used in 24-hour-per-day operations, where down-time is unacceptable. It is fast enough to support 12 users from a single ST computer. It is flexible enough to simultaneously drive many types of peripherals, including touch-screens, network controllers, multiplexers, bar-code printers, specialty-store label makers, shipping-forms printers, barcode readers, terminals, instrumentation devices, receipt printers, and cash drawers.
In conclusion, I claim that MT C-Shell, the Visual Shell GEM interface to MT C-Shell, and Micro RTX all do what they are designed to do and do it well. Frank Foster's comments are simply not accurate.
Jim Pierson-Perry, START's MIDI/ Music Editor, replies:
Your comments are very well taken on the viability of Micro-RTX and its extensions, as were mentioned in Part I of the multitasking series. However, neither it or nor the other two operating systems you cite are capable (at present) of multitasking several GEM applications--markedly limiting their value for most Atari users. Minix, in particular, is primarily an experimental system for learning operating-system programming that has been described as a "hackers' toy." Please note that the article in question dealt specifically with multitasking MIDI applications. All commercial MIDI applications to date are GEM based. In addition, MIDI applications may demand consistent sub-millisecond timing, unlike the less time-critical billing or printing applications in your letter.
Foster's comments on multitasking with a 68000 based system reflect stated Atari philosophy. He never said it could not be done at all or not provide usable results. Without the additional hardware advantages of a 68030 processor, however, users are at substantially greater risk of failure from improperly written software and incur additional processing-time overhead (less noticeable at 16 or 32 MHz). There is no argument that Micro-RTX does what it claims to do; however, whether or not a general multitasking solution that is incapable of running multiple GEM programs (the bulk of user applications) can be said to work well is a subjective call.
The MIDI-Tasking system currently in development is not a general GEM multitasking system from Atari. It is specifically tailored for power users who wish to run multiple, time-critical, GEM-based, MIDI software. No existing multitasking system for the ST (unfortunately) meets this need today--regardless of how well and valuable it may be with other applications.
Using DC SEA to create self-extracting ARC files for your START disk was a good idea - but - the resulting files will not un-ARC while I'm using NeoDesk. It's a real pain to the have to exit NeoDesk to un-ARC the files. I'd rather you use the old ARC.TTP. At least that will run under NeoDesk.
I recently upgraded from my trusty eight-bit 130XE to the 1040STE. The increase in colors and the stereo sound were deciding factors, along with the available IBM and Macintosh emulators. However, when I attempted to un-ARC your July and August disks, my machine refused to cooperate. I was finally forced to take the disks to Cave Creek Computers in Seattle, where they un-ARCed them for me using an older model ST. I sincerely hope that the DC SEA compacting utility will be upgraded to support the STE model!
Kenneth G. Moffat
I'm having a real problem with your new START disk format. It seems that DC SEA does not work with TOS 1.4. In order to use the disks I had to bring them to a friend's house, who has a 1040 with TOS 1.0 and a Mega 4 with TOS 1.4. He also can't un-ARC the disks with TOS 1.4, but has no trouble with the older TOS. I don't think two computers can be wrong, or can they?
Santa Maria, Calif.
In this case, both computers may be wrong. We have tested our self-extracting files with TOS 1.4, and they work fine. However, the version of DC SEA we have used creates files that will NOT work with the STE's TOS 1.6, or whenever NeoDesk is active. Double Click Software has released a new version of DC SEA that will work with NeoDesk and the STE, and hopefully START will have it in time to use with the December issue.
As is always the case when an operating system is upgraded, there is a period of transition when users and developers must adapt to the new OS. Some programs from past issues of START will not work with the newer TOS, and while we are unable to upgrade those programs, we will test future submissions for compatibility with TOS 1.4 and 1.6. Whenever possible, we will require programs published in START to be made compatible with all versions of the ST, and if for any reason a program cannot be made to work on certain ST's, we will notify you in the body of the article describing the program. -START Ed.
PC-DITTO II ADVICE
I'm writing this letter in response to Mr. Seeholzer's letter, which appeared in the July 1990 issue, about his problems trying to get pc-ditto II to run. I myself spent much time and effort in getting pc-ditto II running in my 1040, and I think what I've learned will help others save time and frustration.
The connection between the pc-ditto II board and the ST is a clip-on connector which goes in top of the 68000 processor. After going through the installation instructions many times I discovered that in order for the emulator to work, the connector must not be pushed down all the way. I found it needed to be about only three quarters of the way on or else the computer wouldn't even boot.
Another problem I had was that the connector was too loose and fell off when I tried to put the cover back on the computer. A fix for this, although a bit risky, is to bend all the pins on the connector inward ever so slightly, making the fit tighter. If you do this, make sure the bending is very slight or else the connector will not fit at all.
Other than these now seemingly simple' problems, I found the installation very easy and straight forward if you follow the instructions carefully (I can say this because this was the first time I've ever done any electronics work myself). I hope now that others will have a much easier time with their installations than I did with mine.
Surrey, British Columbia
Can you or any of my fellow readers give me a line on floor-plan or house-plan software for the ST? Several titles are available for the PC, however, they run excruciatingly slow using pc-ditto I. I'd appreciate any help.
While I don't know of a program specifically for designing floor plans, any of the CAD packages available for the ST would allow you to draw up a suitable plan. Perhaps there is such a specific program in Public Domain Land. Readers? -START Ed.