Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 5, NO. 10 / FEBRUARY 1987


ST Reviews

Creative Solutions Inc.
4701 Randolph Road
Rockville, MD 20852
(301) 984-0262

Palo Alto Shipping Co.
P.O. Box 7430
Menlo Park, CA 94026
(800) 44FORTH

Reviewed by Sol Guber

Forth is a strange combination of computer language and religion. You gotta believe in Forth before you can program it.

Mach2 Forth and MultiForth are both written by believers. This comes through on every page of both manuals. Both versions are good, solid implementations that anyone would be proud of. However, each of the Forths has drawbacks that become evident when you see how the other version does the same thing.

Forth is a language that you define as you go along. You don't write programs, but rather you make tools that finally let the computer perform an action. It's very fast and makes compact code. Unlike C, Pascal, or Modula-2, no linking or compiling programs are involved in making your final program. All Forth needs is an editor and an assembler.

MultiForth supplies EMACS, the standard editor found in other programs. It doesn't use the mouse or support GEM. You type in the name of the file to be edited and away it goes. EMACS uses the cursor controls and cryptic commands, and it supports multiple windows. MultiForth even has another editor to support the 1028 block structure initially designed for Forth.

The Mach2 editor is window-based and supports GEM and the typical menu bar. You just move to a spot you want with the cursor. It doesn't have as many control codes as EMACS, but it has a number of common commands controlled by the function keys, such as saving a file or moving to the next page. Of the two, I prefer the Mach2 editor, but I'd have been satisfied with EMACS if a better editor weren't available.

The two assemblers are similar. The MultiForth assembler has a slight edge overall and uses high-level control structures like BEGIN, IF, LOOP and reverse Polish syntax.

Forth prides itself on being a language that runs at blinding speed. Mach2 gives the sieve speed-test program on the disk and I rewrote it for MultiForth. Each Forth completed 10 run-throughs of the test in just over 5 1/2 seconds--or approximately one- half(.55) of a second apiece. Mach2 may have be slightly quicker, but it is only a matter of milliseconds.

The next area of difference is support of GEM and AES. The ST is known for ease of use, and thus the programmer must spend much time and effort to make it easy with menus and icons and all the mouse controls. This requires BIOS, XBIOS, GEMDOS, AES and VDI functions which are supported by both Forths.

Mach2 provides a 10-page listing of all functions supported, with additional information on the disk files MultiForth does not explicitly give listing of AES or VDI. There are generalized BIOS and XBIOS words and listing of the kernel words at the end of the manual. The majority of the functions do seem to be present, but if you don't know the exact name used by MultiForth for a function, it's hard to find. However, the explanations for these functions is better in MultiForth.

A major problem with all versions of Forth is that there are so many words that have been defined to perform actions. These two Forths are no exception. MultiForth wins the points for the most words, with short complete definitions for each. Mach2, de spite fewer predefined words, gives good examples of how to use them.

Mach2 supports multitasking of operations for the ST. MultiForth has stated that multitasking will be supported in the next revision. Mach2 has floating point numbers supported with words already present. Multi-Forth does not mention them. (This is a major schism in the Forth religion).

MultiForth comes with a nice loose-leaf binder containing many chapters separated by yellow sheets. The pages are not numbered consecutively, and there is no index. Mach2 has a nice softcover book with an index and an end sheet with many kernel words. They have lots of details for the beginner, lots of details for the advanced programmer who needs to know how this Forth is different than other packages. However, there's no middle ground for the weekend programmer who has read several books on Forth but needs to know how to write useful programs.

To get around this, Mach2 has about 35 demo and utility programs while MultiForth has about 55. Studying the examples helps make up for the incompleteness of the manuals.

Which is better? That's hard to say. Both are very good. Neither would make you unhappy. Each could be better, but not by much. Mach2 is considerably less expensive. What should a programmer do? Flip a coin and learn to love the one you bought!

Activision Software
P.O. Box 7286
Mountain View, CA 94039
(415) 960-0410

Reviewed by Sol & Rebecca Guber

Dear Winslow, Our Little Computer Person:

It is a pleasure to have you in our computer. Rebecca and I felt she needed a playmate and that you would fit the bill nicely. When we saw your wonderful house on the screen, we felt it was good addition to our neighborhood. It's the only one on the block with three levels. On the top floor is your den, where you watch television and type letters to us. There is a file cabinet where you keep all of your games that you play with us. (I wish that Rebecca could keep things so neat.)

I am still amazed at how real your house appears. The doors, cabinets and files open. The clock on the wall shows the real time, and the television and computer screens really work. We can tell where you are by the sound of your footsteps. They're loud on your hardwood floors, but we can't hear them on the carpet. It's even easy to tell the pattern of how you walk up the stairs. I'm glad you moved into the computer. It's lots of fun watching you, and I almost consider you a part of the family now. Just don't ask for an allowance.


Dear Winslow, My Little Computer Person:

I like you a lot too, but I think you are too cute. At first I really did not like you, but you are more friendly now. You even tap on the screen when you want to play. We play games like War, 21 and Poker (which my dad won't teach me) and we unscramble anagrams and discover the sentences.

The games are a little strange. In the sentence game you have to find famous sayings, but some words are missing, with just the first letter of the words being there as a hint. You must think I'm dumb, but with only 33 sentences to be discovered, it took less than a week to do them all. You must also think I'm real smart too, because the anagrams are really hard. How many third-graders know the word "bagatelle"? Words like cilium, axiom, idyll and hydra I had to look up in the dictionary.

I also think you cheat a little at 21. The cards are in strange positions and it's hard to tell what your score is and what my cards add up to. I was sure I had 21, but then you picked cards until you got 21 and said you were the winner. I'm not sure this is how to play. War is a good game, but after 10 minutes it gets bo-o-ring. But your comments seem to help a lot. I didn't play Poker, but my dad thinks it's all right.

I like the idea that you are living in my computer and that I have to take care of you and make sure that you have enough food and water. I must also make sure that there is food for the dog--I forget all about the dog. But whenever you write a letter to me, all you talk about is food and water. I wish you would talk about something else. I also wish I could control you with the mouse, but then my dad says the same thing about me.


Cherry Software
3415 East Fifth Street
Dayton, OH 45403

Reviewed by Sol Guber

With ST Scrunch from Cherry Software, you can compact disk files and save them in less space, thereby packing more information onto the disk. You can also unscrunch a file back to its original form.

ST Scrunch uses a superset of the IBM 3780 BISYNC data transmission protocol to achieve compaction of about 5% for object files and about 30% for text files. This reduces the time needed to send large amounts of information over communication lines.

ST Scrunch requires either two disk drives or a disk drive and a 360K RAMdisk. Easy to operate, it comes in either a GEM version or a command line version. You pick a source drive, then a target drive, then scrunch or unscrunch!

To use this utility properly, you should copy all the files you wish to scrunch onto a clean disk. All information on the disk will be scrunched. Note that if you have erased some files, the old information there will also be reduced, even though the filenames have been removed from the directory. This might make a scrunched file longer than an unscrunched file. The scrunch operation also does not work on copy-protected disks.

On the disk with ST Scrunch are several printing utilities for Epson printers. With these you can vary the fonts, go to an enhanced mode and perform other useful operations by clicking on the proper choice in a dialog box. There are also two programs to toggle the verify option back and forth.

ST Scrunch works quickly and easily. If this is the kind of program you need, it's a good value.

MichTron Inc.
576 S. Telegraph
Pontiac, MI 48053
(313) 334-5700

Reviewed by Sol Guber

MichTron Inc. has released a large number of utility programs for the ST. The three products covered in this review are of varying quality. The best value is DOS Shell, an excellent mimic of the popular MS-DOS operating system that gives you commands otherwise unavailable through GEM. MichTron Utilities ($ 59.95) is a collection of programs for manipulating disk information. DFT ($49.95) is a Direct File Transfer program that works between an IBM PC and an Atari ST--but requires a null modem cable not included in the package.

DOS Shell is a disk operating system for those who are tired of the mouse. The commands are similar to those in MS-DOS, which is used on IBM PCs and compatible computers. Instead of the mouse and icons, you can have a clear screen, a command line and a prompt with a blinking cursor.

I pulled out my IBM MS-DOS manual and looked through the section about operating commands. (The capital letters in the following commands are the official names.) General commands include HELP, Clear Screen, CHeckDisk, DATE, TIME, VERsion, VERIFY save, set PATH, RUN program and EXIT. The file manipulation commands include DIRectory, COPY files, DELete files, RENAME, TYPE file, CHANGE DIRectory, MaKeDIRectory, ReMoveDIRectory TREE, PROMPT and SET Environment. There are also batch operation commands including ECHO, GOTO, IF, PAUSE, REMark, SHIFT, PIPES and FILTERS.

Most of the commands are self-explanatory, but some functions are unavailable with the present GEM system, and here is where DOS Shell really becomes valuable. If you want to list the directory on disk A to the printer, you'd type in DIR A:>>P:. To use the data in file text for your speller, type RUN A:SPELLER The FILTER command displays a modified version of the data from a standard input device. The three filters include More, which stops at the bottom of a page; Sort, which alphabetizes information; and Find, which looks for information.

You can set up and run batch files with a series of commands. Batching lets you automatically run a group of programs by typing the name of the file containing multiple commands. You can perform common repeated operations all at once. For example, you could put in a batch file to initialize your printer, call up the RAMdisk, install the printer spooler, load a word processor and assign a disk drive for the results.

DOS Shell is unobtrusive and is not copy-protected, so you can put it on whatever disks you want to use it with. While many operations are easier with a mouse, this DOS allows more operations and is quite useful. It also makes it easier for your boss to believe that you are not just playing a game on the ST.

The MichTron Utilities package is an anthology of programs that manipulate disk information. You can search through files or disks, change file contents or attributes, restore deleted files, recover data or repair damaged disks. There is also a simple routine for copying entire disks, and a new formatting program that increases disk storage room by 10 percent.

One major use for this program to examine and modify individual bytes. The information is displayed in both hexadecimal and ASCII format on the screen. To change a value in the file, point to the spot on the screen where you want to make a change, type in that change and save it back to the disk.

A second use is to recover files that have been accidentally deleted or corrupted. You check through each disk sector and decide if the information belongs in that file. This is mainly useful for text data and perhaps numbers but such information is hard to discern in any sort of program files.

The last utility DFT, is a direct fil transfer program between an IBM PC and an ST. You connect the computers through their RS-232 ports with a null modem cable, which you can obtain by mail from MichTron or make by following the wiring diagram in the manual. DFT uses a disk for the ST and one for the IBM, and the program works in both directions. The speed of information transfer seems to be about 2400 baud, though I was unable to verify this.

I should point out that MichTron's guarantee and update policies are unusual. Defective disks are replaced free, while under warranty. If the program works but doesn't do what you need, you can return it and get credit for another program. This seems more than fair. However, minor updates cost $5 and for major revisions the cost is 15-20 percent of the original retail price.