8-Bit Software Online Conversion

8-bit Software (c) Duncan Webster January 1992 Issue 18 Jan/Feb 1992 To Upgrade or Not to Upgrade? - part 2 To briefly recap - I discussed the first impressions of the Archimedes A3000 and outlined the main perils and pitfalls the Model B/Master user can expect to be confronted with when using an Arc for the first time. I concluded with the brief discussion on what the USER (ie. no programming knowledge) can expect when using this machine. This month I shall continue with the USER's point of view. A full index of what is to be discussed appears in the issue 17 magazine. THE NOVICE USER (continued) I finished last issue by stating that the learning curve was a definate must when purchasing an Archimedes or A3000. For 100.00 you get a Word Processor, the PC Emulator, Genesis plus a host of other utilities. Considering that the PC Emulator would cost in excess of 65.00 to purchase separately it makes good sense to part with the extra 100.00 quid for the complete set of bundled software. Briefly touching on file management once again, I soon found out that it is possible to leave the WIMP desktop and "mouse" aside by issuing a simple *BASIC command from the "Command line" accessed by pressing f12. Having been put into basic I found myself back in the familiar old "command mode" environment. Quickly I typed MODE 7 and I had before me a "super" BBC computer with all of the filing system commands available plus a good many old *FX calls. I was tempted to "configure" my A3000 to "power on" in this environment and forget the desktop WIMP altogether which would have been a shameful waste of potential, but fortunately curiosity prevailed and I soon got used to the desktop. As I mentioned in part 1, I now seldom have to exit to BASIC when running software on the A3000 as everything is performed from the desktop. The only "typed" commands I really need as a user are the "star" commands (ie. *Configure) which I can enter direct from the desktop by pressing function key f12. Supplied with the A3000 are 3 "standard" packages called PAINT, EDIT and DRAW. All three titles in my personal view are complicated and poorly documented and the poor novice does not really stand much of a chance. DRAW appeared to be a CAD based package which I really didn't get on with and quickly abandoned. PAINT took a lot of getting used to, but on consulting my DABS PRESS BEGINNERS GUIDE (see part 1) I soon learned the basics and had quite a lot of fun. Basically PAINT is an art package which stores it's pictures in "sprites". In short you create your masterpiece which is then saved to disc as a "sprite" which (visually) is a scaled down (very tiny) version of the picture you have just created. EDIT is a text editor and is best used for the creation of autoboot files, "obey" files and system operations (i think). I mainly use it for the viewing of text user guides that accompany many P.D. software titles. Using commercial software on the A3000 also takes a bit of getting used to. To take an example here I will talk about Word Processors. If you purchase the learning curve you will be presented with 1st word plus which is very complicated to use - yet I am informed that this is a very basic word-processing package! Obviously, being the owner of 8BS, I do a lot of text processing and to date, 8BS is produced using Computer Concept's interword. Having used interword (plus View and Wordwise) for many years, 1st Word+ on the A3000 in a word is difficult. For starters you have to get used to using the mouse to position, highlight, delete and edit text - you still use the keyboard for typing text, although I wonder when we will be using the mouse for this as well!! Fortunately, there are keyboard "short cuts" but these take a bit of remembering. It is difficult to explain properly, but the 1st Word+ package although very professional in appearance and use is just too "professional" for me. Instead I purchased Interword for the A3000 (available for about 25.00) - there are no extra features (and no segment menus are provided) but you have oodles of memory and I do not need any extra facility that Interword does not offer (apart from a Spellchecker maybe). One last thing about 1st word plus is that as soon as I had filled up a screen or two the whole system became very sluggish. I cannot discuss the A3000 USER's section of this series without mentioning Public Domain software - there is simply tons of the stuff ranging from excellent to downright bilge. A note of caution here in the fact that some P.D. software title's follow no programming "rules" and bearing in mind the volatility of the A3000's configuration, caution seems to be the word of the day. I have been through many PD titles and have had the very annoying surprise of having my machine "re-configured" in some way by some nasty piece of PD software which can take a lot of undoing unless you have had the foresight to have a *EXEC file of all your configuration commands handy. Thankfully the majority tend to stick to the unwritten rule of "leave my settings alone" in some form or another. Viruses is another point to bear in mind here, and whilst known viruses on the Arc are mercifully small, it is difficult if not impossible to identify a virus from a user error unless you know what you are looking for. For those of you who don't know what a computer virus is, I shall attempt to explain .... A computer virus is a piece of computer program that "hides" itself by sitting in a little known or little used part of the computers memory (usually the part of memory that remains active when the computer is turned off). It "spreads" itself by "duplicating" itself onto every disc that it put into the disc drive. It does this by saving a small program onto the "boot sector" of a floppy disc - when this disc is inserted into another machine it will copy itself from the "infected" disc into the other machine - and it daisychains from thereon jumping from machine to machine .... Problems really start to get serious when you find a virus on your hard disc drive which may result in you having to reformat it with the loss of 40mb (about 40 floppies for example) of data. Don't assume however that whenever the A3000 corrupts or "hangs" you have a virus. Owing the the multi-tasking environment of the A3000 - Error messages and "hangs" are a frequent occurrence which is caused by anything from bad software to user mistakes. Obviously, when sending off for P.D. software - you have no idea of where the disc you receive has been so the risk is always there. Fortunately, there are many P.D. virus detectors/killers around which means that you can identify a potential killer at the very least. Most of my software is actually Public Domain on the A3000. I have little commercial software apart from games and the Word Processors already mentioned. Well known P.D. software is often talked about frequently in national magazines. For example, there are simply loads of "tracker" sound modules in the P.D. archives which play "sampled" music and most of it is of very high quality. Another huge sector of the P.D. world is made up from demonstrations or "demo's" as we call them. Basically you cannot do much with a demo apart from watch/listen to it. Some of the demo's available for the A3000 are spectacular and demonstrate just what the Archimedes range is capable of doing. You cannot help wondering though what could be acheived if these demo writers put their talents to more constructive use. P.D. libraries are also full of "paint" and "draw" files which are graphical screens created using the PAINT and DRAW packages supplied as standard with the A3000 - some of them are pretty impressive. The other major part of P.D. must be utilities - there are simply loads of them. For example, you cannot read DFS discs on the A3000 as the machine is supplied with ADFS and does not emulate 1770 DFS as the BBC Master does. Consiquently, a load of P.D. DFS emulators have sprung up - some better than others. This highlights the main problem of P.D. software in the fact that there are many versions of a partucular piece of software written by different people - some versions miles better than others - it is just a case of finding the best one which can be an expensive task. In the case of DFS emulators, there are some that in my opinion are better than the original DFS supplied with the Master, and there are others that will corrupt your disc without doing much else. There are thankfully organisations that select the best of P.D. if you are prepared to wait. Such examples are the Micro User's monthly subscription disc (expensive!) which are (I am reliably informed) tested before publication. There is to my knowledge no FREE or inexpensive Archimedes PD User Group such as 8-bit Software does for the Model B/Master. In conclusion for P.D. software there are some basic steps to follow:- 1. Shop around - Arch P.D. charges 50p per disc - Beebug charges over 1.50 per disc. This is where the "copying charge" is highlighted. 2. Request a catalogue (there is usually one saved to your P.D. disc) and note all the different versions of one particular piece of software. Most good P.D. libraries will also publish comments and/or ratings as to how good the software is. 3. P.D. is P.D. and (unless specifically requested not to) can be distributed as you please - so it is cheaper to team up with a friend and half the expenses. However do exercice caution as a lot of P.D. libraries are illegally distributing copyright software and it is you that will have to carry the can in the end. 4. Despite the expense - it is worth subscribing to Micro User's sub. disc and (at present) the Archimedes World magazine. The latter has produced some excellent software (not public domain though) and regulary features the best of the P.D. world. There seems to be a developing trend of software houses putting "playable demo's" of commercial software onto cover discs of which most are very good. One example is "Chuck Rock" which contained 2 levels and "Lemmings" which contained 4. This is an excellent and cheap way of trying before you buy and this looks set to continue. In conclusion to this part of the series on the USER's view of the Archimedes, the word "complicated" spring to mind. Having said this though I still would not be without one as it is so interesting and there is always something new to learn and/or use, especially in the P.D. world. So what will the user do with his/her 8-bit Micro? Well the only reason I still own an 8-bit machine is because of 8-bit Software and little else. If I did not run 8BS then I would not own a BBC Micro - it is as simple as that. Although a "BBC Emulator" is provided with the Arc I have never used it - nor have I used the "compatibilty" commands thoughtfully built into the operating system by Acorn. The fact is that once you own a 32-bit Micro, your 8-bit together with all software will soon become a distant memory. The best advice is - if you're going to upgrade to an A3000 as a user, then you might as well make a clean break of it. As far as the complicatedness (?!) is conerned, you must bear in mind that the Archimedes range of computers are much more "professionally orientated" machines and whilst you may only want the facilities you need from software - you are more than likely to find software packed to the rafters with weird and wonderful features and options you have never even heard of - For example I have spend the last hour looking for a delete option from a popular database only to find that it is called "purge" and not "delete" - admittedly I was running software under the PC emulator, but that's another story ... THE AVID GAMES PLAYER When I first received my Model B issue 3 in December 1983 (I think) I did nothing except play games for about 3 years. When I acquired a disc drive I learnt about file handling which explains the plethera of SYSTEMS server and SYSTEMS bank versions floating around. Since I left school and my source of software dried up (ahem) I play very little games so I cannot comment fully on the kind of software available for the Archimdedes computers. However, I have 10 or so titles for the A3000 which I bash about on occassionally so I will present my views. To purchase an Arc for games only would be a sin - go out and buy an Amiga or Atari instead - they're cheaper and better at games (well the Amiga is) and there is a heck of a lot more available both on P.D. and commercially. However, software for the Arc is now large and is growing all the time and it is nice to see major software houses beginning to support the Archimedes in earnest. Such companies include Krysalis which are converting a lot of titles (ie. lemmings) and the 4th Dimension which produces software exclusively for the Archimedes range. Generally, games for the Archimedes are still a bit thin on the ground, but those that are around are of high quality. Typically, the 4th Dimension have produced some excellent masterpieces such as "Saloon Cars" and "Break 147 & Superpool". Of course, we now have Elite for the Arc which is essentially an "archimedes version" of the popular game with the new features being better graphics, intellegent pirates/police/traders and more involved missions - the rest is about the same except that some of the "extra" features hinted in the manual actually exist this time. Upon reflection I would not purchase an Arc just to play Elite although it is a game that I did constantly (deadly) play on the model B. If you are expecting "Elite - the next generation" on the Arc then you are in for a major disappointment. I can't really say a lot more about games on the A3000, except that they are the usual high quality we come to expect from Acorn machines and a lot of titles are unique to the Archimedes Range. One major bonus of course, is that the Archimedes is a 32-bit micro and thus can offer very smooth gameplay when compared to the Atari and Commodore Amiga computers. This is especially evident in packages such as Flight Simulators and the aforementioned Elite. In conclusion, the game base for the Arc is well established and I see a great future for the games market, but if you are only out for a games machine, then you must have more money than sense to purchase an Arc. ---------------------------------------------------------------------- Next issue I shall be viewing the A3000 from the General Enthusiast's point of view, that is the type of person who both uses professional software, but also knows how to knock a quick BASIC program together and thus has a certain amout of technical "pre-knowledge". Duncan Webster.