RUNNING NECK AND NEC
How to use the NEC 8023 printer
Atari, Inc. has good success selling home computers. Why is it, then,that Atari has not enjoyed the same positive results with their printers? The answer seems to be that most of the Atari printers have not measured up in terms of either features or performance with a number of other printers on the market. As a result, it is understandable that many Atari computer owners make use of other brands of printers, such as Epson or NEC. Of course, the old bugaboo of compatibility always arises when diiferent brands are combined into what one hopes will be an effective, easy-to- operate system. But it need not frighten us off. So let's look at the specifics: in this case, the compatibility of the NEC 8023 printer with the Atari computers.
First of all, some time and effort will be required to set up the NEC with your beloved Atari, and of course the Atari 850 Interface (or its equivalent) also will be required to use this parallel-interface printer. A suitable cable is also required (the same type that would be used with any other Atari-to-parallel-printer combination) such as one involving the Epson or the Smith-Corona TP1).
Inside the NEC 8023 printer are two rows of DIP switches. They allow you to change the default conditions of the printer. We are primarily concerned with Switch 2, Position 8, at this time. This position must be changed from the factory-set position to permit a line feed with each carriage return. Simply slide the switch with a small probe or pencil tip to the "red" position.
Now the printer will no longer print text or data over and over on the same line. Be sure to study the charts in the manual that relate to the DIP switches. If you follow the instructions carefully, you can set the printer up to operate in the mode that is most convenient for you. (Be sure to turn the printer off before putting your hand inside!)
The basic set up is now complete. Now we'll consider the issue of software interaction with the printer.
Don't forget that the NEC puts many valuable features at your disposal. It would be a shame to use it for program listings alone. In fact, most programs that are part of the wide world of Atari software are compatible with this printer. However, some programs, like the old Atari Word processor, are too inflexible to use with the NEC. Newer, more flexible programs are more likely to work, but some study is usually required to get the best possible results from a given combination.
Synapse Software's Filemanager is a very popular database manager for the Atari computers, in part because it makes printer control very easy. With Filemanager 800, for example, you simply use the escape codes listed in the printer manual when the program presents you with the blank line labeled "TITLE AND PRINTER CONTROL." If you were to type in an escape character (by pressing [ESCAPE] twice) and the letter Q on that line, for example, all subsequent output would be printed in the condensed 17-character-per-inch mode. This is a handy way to pack a lot of information onto a 8 1/2-inch-wide piece of paper.
Many standard software packages make explicit provision for the NEC printer. Datasoft's Graphics Master, for example, works beautifully with the NEC. Some packages, however, require a little more work. Atari's Home Filing Manager is one such example.
The Home Filing Manager database presents data on the screen as dark letters on a white background, thus simulating the appearance of an index card. When this inverse-video data is dumped to the NEC 8023, the printer shifts to a Greek character set that is incomprehensible to most mere mortals. Again, the key to solving this problem rests with our old friends, the DIP switches. By changing Switch 2, Position 7 from the factory-set 8-bit to the 7-bit mode, you can set the printer to accept 7-bit data. The inverse indicator apparently is located in the dropped eighth bit. So we've "tricked" the printer into thinking the inverse characters are actually garden-variety ASCII non-inverse characters. This change does not affect most other operations, but graphic operations normally do require the factory-set, 8-bit position.
However, the NEC printer is more likely to be used for word processing applications than for graphics printing, and I've found many word processors to be either unworkable or awkward to use with the NEC/Atari combination. One that works very well, though, is the new AtariWriter. For the most part, a user can follow the instructions supplied with the AtariWriter program and select the Atari 1025 mode for printing with satisfactory results. To get maximum use from the program, however, one must go beyond the vague references in the manual. Most typefaces and special features can be accessed through the printer-control feature of the program, rather than through its print-style mode and other, similar modes.
By pressing the [CTRL] key, followed by the letter O, it is possible to insert control codes that the NEC printer will understand. For example, if you type [CTRL] O 27 [CTRL] O 80, the printer will print all text that follows in the proportional mode. (The proportional mode can also be set as the default font, replacing 10 CPI, by changing the appropriate DIP switch.) Other examples follow:
TYPE THIS------------------- GET FUNCTION
[CTRL] O 27 [CTRL] O 78--------Pica / l0CPI font
[CTRL] O 27 [CTRL] O 81--------Condensed/l7CPI font
[CTRL] O 27 [CTRL] O 69--------Elite / l2CPI font
[CTRL] O 27 [CTRL] O 88--------Begin underlining
[CTRL] O 27 [CTRL] O 89--------End underlining
[CTRL] O 14-------------------------Being elongate
[CTRL] O 15-------------------------End elongate
Rather than list every possible code for every possible function, I'll refer you the appropriate reference materials. The NEC 8023 manual describes all of functions of the DIP switches, escape codes and other control codes. "Appendix C" in the Atari BASIC Reference Manual equates the escape-code characters, character-string hexadecimals, and decimal numbers. Using this chart, together with the NEC manual (and little imagination), you should be able to manipulate the NEC 8023 printer using any software that accepts printer controls, as well as by using BASIC's LPRINT statements and character strings. The NBASIC in the manual is not identical to Atari BASIC, but I've discovered that a little experimentation will take you a long way.
Larry Steiner is the manager of Spectrum Video, a retail video store in Mansfield, Ohio.