Antic's Exclusive Interview: Part 2
Talking with the creator of the Diamond Operating SystemBy Bill Pike
The Diamond Operating System Cartridge (June 1989 Antic cover story) finally brought a mouse-operated graphic interface to the 8-bit Atari, complete with windows and drop-down menus. Diamond's college-student creator, Alan Reeve of Reeve Software, has been a long-standing supporter of the Atari community. This interview took place in Portland, Oregon while Reeve was attending a Special Meeting of the Portland Atari Club (PAC). Interviewers were PAC Special Projects Director David Moore and PAC President Bill Pike. Part 1 of this interview appeared in the previous issue of Antic.
Bill: How did you get into Atari?
Alan: I got into computers in the sixth grade when the school got an Apple II. Then around the eighth grade I bugged the heck out of Mom and Dad to get me a computer. The choice was between the Atari 400 and the Vic-20 and I ended up going with the Atari 400.
I started in programming in BASIC on the Apple II and then, when I got it, a little BASIC on the 8-bit. Around ninth or tenth grade I started picking up assembly language. I thought it was sort of neat for Atari to include a little machine language routine written in that strange hexadecimal code. I started wondering why they did it.
Bill: Then you went into programming. I know one of the first things you brought out was the CX-85 10-key interface.
Alan: Around 1986 I got the idea of forming a company with another kid, but he lived 30 miles away and things did not work out, and then about four or five months later a man by the name of Bruce Kennedy talked to me about writing a PC window. I said I could do it and of course I got caught up in programming. Bruce gave me a lot of starting information for Reeve Software and that is how the company got started.
Bill: Is there anybody involved in Reeve Software besides yourself, or are you sort of a loner?
Alan: Myself, I do everything, but my parents help out a lot.
Bill: Then Reeve Software brought out NewsStation.
Alan: NewsStation, NewsStation Companion, and Publishing Pro. NewsStation came after a idea that I had from NewsRoom on the Commodore 64. At the time there was nothing like it for the Atari 8-bit.
Bill: When did you first get the idea of a graphic operating system for the 8-bit? I know that GEOS does that for the Commodore 64 and has been very popular.
Alan: I guess I started pushing Diamond when John Nagy wrote a small article about it in Computer Shopper at the end of '87. And I started getting hundreds of letters from people who wanted to see it.
Bill: So you've been working since 1987, almost two years now, to put the cartridge together.
Alan: The programming really started around May 1988.
Bill: I imagine it was sort of difficult. You were saying that Diamond is a 64K bank-switched cartridge.
Alan: It started out as a disk-based program. Most of the disk program was done in August and September of 1988 and the cartridge was finished in October thru December.
Bill: Why did you change from disk to cartridge? Because you could get more stuff in it? Or were you trying to keep Piracy down?
Alan: Basically because we couldn't do what we are doing unless we went to cartridge. There is not enough memory in the 8-bit Atari. One of the big things about the disk version is that if you quit to BASIC you couldn't get back to Diamond. You can't have both in the computer at once.
However, with the cartridge, when you quit to BASIC the cartridge is still plugged into the computer. And you can copy that data back into the computer and wheel it right on into the operating system right from the banks.
Diamond makes a new computer out of the 8-bit - more intuitive, easy to use - and it looks nicer.
Bill: So it takes 8K of memory for that one cartridge and the rest is available for the program?
Alan: That's right!
Bill: Does Diamond support the extra memory of a 130XE or the upgraded computers yet?
Alan: Yes. Right now we have three memory drivers - the 48K driver, the 64K driver, and the 128K driver. With these memory drivers we set up Lo-Mem and the point just above the desk accessories, and the high memory point for an additional memory system.
Bill: Is Diamond totally compatible with the new Turbo-816 upgrade for the 8-bit?
Alan: Yes, we got the go ahead from Chuck, who runs Dataque Software. He says the new version works fine with the Turbo-816.
Bill: Well, that should be quite a shot in the arm for the 8-bit Atari, adding a high-speed operating system like the Turbo-816 and a Graphics Operating System like Diamond.
At our meeting here yesterday, Diamond surprised a number of people. A number of people in the audience were ST users. Is there any particular thing that you can do on a ST graphics system that Diamond cannot do? I couldn't see anything myself.
Alan: To lasso files was mentioned. That's one thing.
David: You're going to do the lasso later, right?
Alan: I may eventually do the lasso, but there is no guarantee that I will. It's not a big deal. Other than that, Diamond has two windows and the ST has four windows.
Bill: Diamond supports up to six disk drives?
Bill: Seven disk drives. And obviously from what David is running it will support hard-disk systems, RAM disks, and floppy disks.
David: And ICD's MIO interface box.
Bill: And the MIO. Is there anything it doesn't support?
David: Does it work with the P:R: connector?
Alan: A lot of people wonder if Diamond supports this and that. It's not a matter of Diamond working with your setup, but rather your operating system. If your DOS supports it, Diamond should work with it.
Bill: You just completed a patch so that Diamond will format correctly with SpartaDOS?
Alan: The SpartaDOS-X cartridge. The problem with that was that when you called the format function it brought the format menu out in colors that were a little difficult to read. We made a little desk accessory that will give you the standard colors.
Bill: It works with SpartaDOS 3.2?
Alan: The format function of 3.2 formats in DOS 2.0. Diamond doesn't like reading a DOS 2.0 disk when it is using SpartaDOS 3.2. We're going to get a desk accessory that will work in 3.2 by calling the XINIT function of SpartaDOS.
Bill: You are using a 64K bank-selected Super Cartridge so you can put another cartridge with it. Does Diamond work with MyDOS?
Alan: Not at present. Someone did a version that we have that does work with MyDOS, but the present version doesn't support it.
Bill: How about Atari DOS 2.5?
Alan: Atari DOS 2.0, 2.5, SpartaDOS 3.2, SpartaDOS-X, SmartDOS, and others are supported.
Alan: I haven't had anyone say that it doesn't work. Diamond will work with anything that uses a DOS 2.0 format. And TopDOS does that.
Bill: What desk accessories do you have out now for Diamond?
Alan: Right now we have a couple of simple ones, The Re-Booter, and X-Boot, which written by a person in Michigan.
Bill: What does X-Boot do?
Alan: Basically it gets you back to the desktop. It does it a little neater than Re-Boot does.
Bill: There was some talk, before Diamond came out, that Atari might be picking up Diamond to include with all its 8-bit machines. Have you heard anything more about that?
Alan: I talked with Sig Hartmann at the Atari booth at the Anaheim show. At first I give him three cartridges to look at, but apparently they were misplaced. The second time he gave us a list of people to send Diamond to. I think that if Atari were really interested in the product they would be contacting me rather than the other way around.
Bill: How are sales going on the Diamond system?
Alan: I think a lot of people are waiting to see what applications come out.
Bill: You said you were talking to somebody about marketing Diamond in Europe but you hadn't had much luck. With the popularity of the 8-bit machine in Europe, do you have any other thoughts on that?
Alan: It looks like we will have to do it ourselves. I have had letters from there and I have had several inquiries from reviewers who are interested in reviewing Diamond. Obviously we don't really care to have Diamond reviewed if there is no sales outlet to supply the product. It's not much good reading about a new product you can't buy.
Bill: If somebody reviews Diamond in Europe you might get somebody interested in selling it, contacting you and so on. So you have the flip side of the coin, too. Would you think of doing direct sales to Europe from your location?
Alan: I am more than happy to do direct sales. In fact I'm more than happy to do that for anybody who wants Diamond right now.
David: You said something earlier about Australia. Did you say you had sold some to Australia?
Alan: We've received a couple of orders from England, a couple from Australia, and some from South America.
David: Since they use a different television system in Europe is there any difference in the Diamond program sold to them?
Alan: No, it is the same program. We haven't had any problems yet.
David: If people do have problems what is the best way to talk to you about them? Where can they go to get simple questions answered?
Diamond Write brings your Atari mouse-controlled word processing.
Bill: Do you have your own section on GEnie now?
Alan: I have my own category in the Atari 8-bit section.
David: Is that ReeveSoft?
Alan: Category 14 and I believe file section number 26.
Bill: Are you hoping to get desktop applications up on GEnie so that anybody can download them?
Alan: Everything I have right now. Every little accessory that I have gotten from people we have put up on GEnie. And we have had other people put stuff up there as well.
David: How hard would it be for the normal user to convert programs to run under Diamond? Do you have plans to make a conversion program of your own?
Alan: Each program is so different that it really wouldn't be feasible.
Bill: Could a program be written, something like a monitor program, that would check the load addresses of a program and show where there are conflicts with Diamond?
CONVERTING TO DIAMOND
Alan: Converting programs to use the Diamond environment takes someone who knows what they are doing. A machine language program needs to have someone who has the source code and can make changes so you have a Diamond interface in the program. BASIC programs likewise need a real programmer
Speaking of programs that are not written for the Diamond environment, right now if you try to load a program without .APP or .COM extender Diamond will drop out of the system and let the program run by itself. Bill: So a Diamond program has to have a .APP extender?
Alan: Diamond-based programs have a .APP extender. Command lines (like the parameters for a ST .TTP file) have a .COM extender. Other than that, the Diamond kicks out and loads the program as if the cartridge weren't there.
Bill: In order to get the cartridge back you have to do a reset or a cold start?
Alan: It is possible to do it from software. But most programs were written before Diamond was produced and won't exit back to the Diamond cartridge.
Bill: Diamond appears to be quite a challenge for programmers. What type of programs would you like to see from outside programmers?
Alan: I don't have any particular program that I would like to see. I think obviously spreadsheets, databases, terminal programs - all those would be great to see. That's what we need, more applications. I would just love to see the community support Diamond, and for the programmers to support it. Diamond sort of makes the 8-bit a new computer. The more Diamond-based software you have, the better it will be.
David: What languages does Diamond support at present, aside from assembly language.
Alan: Again, it is not so much Diamond supporting the languages. It will run any of the OSS language cartridges. But the link to Diamond is through assembly language. All you have to do is load the accumulator with the function referenced and do a JSR to the Diamond vector and all languages have that power one way or another.
David: How about C language?
Alan: We plan on coming out with a Diamond Assembler, a Diamond BASIC, a Diamond C and other languages eventually if the interest is there. There have to be enough users willing to purchase the languages. Like I say, I am only one person and I can't do it all by myself. I can't buy 200 printers to make printer drivers for all of them. I can't buy all the languages out there and convert them all to use the Diamond environment. If I did that the other major applications would never get ready.
A "NEW" COMPUTER
Bill: It sounds like what you have done with Diamond is make a new computer out of the 8-bit that is more friendly, more intuitive and easier to use - and it looks nicer.
Alan: That is what bugged me about one of the reviews, in Atari Explorer. The reviewer said it works great and everything looks fine, but I am used to the old way - so why should I get a new one?
David: I have to admit that it is clumsy at first for someone who is used to typing things in. However, after you learn it, it's great.
Diamond Paint adds cut-and-paste to your 8-bit art techniques.
Bill: Have you thought about writing a Icon editor for Diamond?
Alan: Not for the Desktop. You are not going to be able to put your own icons in. They are burned into the ROM. I am thinking of a Font Editor to be included with the Diamond Paint program.
Bill: Speaking of font editing, will the paint program support the traditional nine-sector Atari fonts?
Alan: With the font editor you could import those fonts and convert them to Diamond fonts. Diamond fonts are different.
David: So there is a conversion program to take care of this operation?
Alan: The program is under construction now.
Bill: What about Print Shop icons?
Alan: I suppose that you could write a program to convert the file to a clip-art file. However, Print Shop icons aren't in a standard file format.
David: Clip-art would be good especially since there are a lot of Print Shop icons out there, and you could send the clip-art into the publishing program.
Bill: NewsStation does that now.
Alan: And so will Diamond NewsStation when it is released shortly. It will also use the clip art and graphics from Diamond Paint.
David: In other words, it will be almost a carbon copy of what you have now?
Bill: Except you will use the mouse.
Alan: Yes, you will have the Diamond environment with the NewsStation features with a couple of additions. One of them will be to reverse the background. (Sometimes if you load a picture from ComputerEyes you get a negative image.)
UPGRADES & 8-BIT FUTURE
David: How about upgrades? What will it cost me to upgrade the version 1.0 cartridge to the version 2.0 cartridge you're working on right now? And where should I send it?
Alan: Upgrades for the cartridge that involve the ROM chip cost $15 and you can either send the cartridge back to us with a check for $15, or you can send us a check for $15 and we will send you the PROM and you can plug it into the cartridge.
Bill: You need to be a registered user to get the PROM.
Alan: Yes, I need to have your warranty card on file.
Bill: What do you think of the future of the 8-bit? My own feelings are that people want the newest thing on the block. Other than that, the 8-bit does just about everything I want it to do. I do recommend it to people who are just getting into computing and want to do programming. The 8-bit is a heck of a lot easier to program than the ST. Would you concur?
Alan: I don't know that it is a lot easier but it is a much better investment. You can spend a couple hundred dollars and get a solid based system. With the ST you spend a thousand dollars or more to get the same capabilities. The software is also less expensive for the 8-bit, especially with all the public domain programs and shareware coming out now.
Bill: There are still about 4,000 programs out there for the 8-bit - not including little utility programs and such.
Alan: The future of the 8-bit is really in the hands of the users. If people start supporting Diamond and programmers start using the Diamond shell and writing application programs it could have a bright future. But if people keep this wait-and-see attitude, I don't know. I'm only one person.
Bill: Diamond looks like the next stage for the 8-bit Atari computer - and possibly for the rebirth of the 8-bit machine, if enough people start putting out applications and using it. When the Atari first came out it was a challenge because it did so much. Then people started losing interest. Now suddenly they have a new machine to work with. But I realize that the major software houses are not supporting the 8-bit, right now. I also realize that most of the support for the 8-bit is from programmers like yourself, users and user groups. So I guess that the bottom line is to support your local programmer and maybe that will get the big boys off their duffs. Well, thanks so much for talking to us, Alan Reeve. Do you have any last thoughts before we shut down?
Alan: BUY DIAMOND!!!
William (Bill) Pike is the president of the Portland Atari Club (PAC) in Beaverton, Oregon. His articles appear in user group newsletters around the world. You can write to him at PAC, P.O. Box 1692, Beaverton, OR 97005.
DIAMOND CARTRIDGE: $79.95 (With Programmer's Kit and Diamond Paint included) DIAMOND WRITE $29.95 DIAMOND NEWSSTATION $29.95 Reeve Software, 29W150 Old Farm Lane, Warrenville, IL 60555. (312)393-2317.