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Master 512 Forum by Robin Burton
Beebug Vol. 9 No. 7 December 1990

This month, let me tell you about a very interesting source of shareware, before going on to talk about piping.


I'd guess that the majority of Forum readers are familiar with shareware, but in case there are some new 512 converts who aren't, a brief recap is in order since there is not and has never been an equivalent concept for the BBC micro.

I first covered shareware in 512 Forum back in May 1989 (Vol.8 No.1), so if you didn't see it, dig out the issue (or send for it) and have a look. Shareware is also covered quite extensively in the Dabs 512 User Guide, so there's another useful source of information.

If you're unfamiliar with the concept here's a brief outline. As usual I must appeal to more experienced users for a little patience on behalf of those new to the 512 and PC software. Remember, we all started out knowing almost nothing!

Shareware is software which is not sold in the usual sense of the word, but is supplied in the first place for a nominal charge, so that you can take a look at the programs and decide if they are what you expected. These initial charges vary, but in the U.K. they are typically less than £10.00 and in some cases much less. Moreover, the charge is frequently not made on a 'per application' basis, especially in the case of smaller programs and utilities, but usually per disc, and a disc might contain numerous items as I'll explain shortly.

If the software doesn't suit you that's basically the end of the matter, you've paid a small cost to try it out but that's your only outlay, the disc is yours to keep. On the other hand, if you like the software and intend to continue to use it you are expected to pay a registration fee, after which you can use the software just as if you had bought it. The initial evaluation period is generally accepted to be 30 days, but of course no-one checks on this, it's up to you to be honest and play the game according to the rules. You are, however, encouraged to pass on shareware to other users, and can therefore share the initial cost if you know other PC or 512 users.

Registration fees are generally a fraction of the sort of price you'd expect to pay for software sold through dealers and other commercial channels because there's no advertising and no 'middle man' to take a substantial profit. The most important point for the 512 of course is the usual risk when you try out new PC software, that is it might not work. Shareware is therefore even more of a benefit to us than it is to PC users, since it means that a 'failure' isn't a financial disaster and you only pay for software when you know it does the job.

Finally, don't get the idea that shareware is substandard or poor quality software, it isn't. Just like commercial software some of it isn't so good, but some shareware applications and packages are truly excellent and as good as, or better, than anything you can buy anywhere.

That's enough revision, if you didn't know about shareware before, you've been missing out on an excellent low-cost, low-risk method of getting hold of PC software legitimately.


The title of this section does not refer to software which performs theoretical rather than practical tasks, but to the name of a supplier of shareware.

I became aware of this supplier several months ago from a friend who uses PCs at work. The usual way that shareware is supplied on disc is that programs are divided into categories and each disc contains one or more programs concerned with a particular topic or application. In the case of larger applications one disc may well contain only the one application and nothing else.

Of course, some shareware programs are small but useful utilities which, on their own couldn't justify a disc, so shareware suppliers tend to group a number of these together, sometimes a dozen or more at a time, to make up a complete disc. That's fine, but it can sometimes mean that to get three or four particular programs you might be obliged to send for three or four separate discs from the catalogue. It's true the cost isn't huge, but nevertheless it can rather limit the attractiveness of the whole idea of shareware.

Abstract has addressed this problem in a novel, and so far as I know unique way. Initially they send you a couple of floppy discs which contain their complete software catalogue plus programs which you use to make your selections. There's a small gripe here in that these two discs can't be copied to and run from a winchester because the drives used, A: and B:, are permanently coded into the programs, but that's a small criticism which in context may seem a bit churlish.

When you run the selection program you are first presented with a menu which shows all the main categories offered, for example wordprocessing, spreadsheet, database, programming utilities, disc utilities and so on. You then select the category you're interested in and the selection program reads the appropriate title list from disc. Next you can look at the list and select the particular programs which interest you, each title is accompanied by a brief description to help you. When you've chosen all the titles you want from the current category you return to the main menu and can select another category to browse and select from. There's basically no limit to how many categories or titles you can select, and of course options are also provided to amend or cancel choices you've already made if you change your mind or find a better program later on.

When you've selected all the software you would like to try out, another of the menu options allows you to create an order, and this is where the system is particularly useful. Using the list of software titles you have selected, the ordering routine works out from the sizes of the files, exactly how many discs will be required to hold everything you've ordered. This done it tells you the number of discs and also how much it's going to cost.

The beauty of this system is that there are no 'pre-packed' groups of programs which you must order together, the discs you'll receive will contain nothing but the items you have selected. What's more the programs are archived (compressed) as is usual for shareware, so the number of discs that will be needed is calculated only on the basis of cramming as much onto each one as it can hold. The cost to you is therefore based only on the number of discs needed for your order, it has nothing to do with how many program titles you're going to get, nor with the types of the programs you've selected.

If that doesn't tempt you then the price for this service certainly should. Costs might have increased a bit in the last few months, but if so it's not likely to be much. When I last checked the charge was only £2.90 per disc in 5.25 inch format. There is, as usual, a small premium if you want software on 3.5 inch discs, but even so this is still extraordinary good value.

There's no charge for the two catalogue discs, which can be obtained by telephoning Abstract or by writing. The details are given at the end of this Forum.

There are just two final points, again for anyone who's not familiar with PCs and/or is new to the 512. First, don't forget that all PC software issue discs, regardless of the source, will be formatted as (usually) 360K or just possibly sometimes as 720K. Either of these is fine, the 512 can handle both without trouble, but do not expect (or ask for) disks in either 640K or 800K format. Both of these are peculiar to the 512 and PC software suppliers won't know what you're talking about if you mention them.

Finally, whether you write or phone for PC software, don't ask if a particular program will work in the 512. Most suppliers won't even have heard of the 512 and those that have will have no idea of the answer to your question. BEEBUG Vol.8 No.1 contains some guidelines which should be considered when you choose PC software.


Finally I'll round off with a mention of piping as promised last month. Piping is a facility which originates in UNIX, but which has been adopted by MS and PC-DOS to extend their capabilities.

I'm explaining piping not because it's likely to be very useful in the 512 – after all, most of you will never have come across the operation before and won't have missed it, but rather because you may find references to it when you're looking at PC software or manuals, so it might be helpful if you know what it means.

The reason piping isn't used in the 512 is because the operating system is DOS Plus, and as I've said many times before, DOS Plus provides numerous capabilities missing from both MS and PC-DOS. The easiest way to explain what I mean is with a simple example.

Suppose you 'TYPE' a file to the screen. One of the things you want it to do is stop at every screenful so that you can read it. In the 512 we can do this in one of three ways. Firstly, you can press and hold Shift and Ctrl, just as you can in BBC native mode. So long as the keys are held the screen won't scroll. Secondly you can press Ctrl-S to stop the scroll, followed by Ctrl-Q to resume it. Both of these methods have the disadvantage that you might miss part of the information if your timing is a bit off. Better and completely reliable. is to issue the DOS Plus pause command suffix, so to type a file called 'TEXT.DOC' you'd enter:


and the display will pause at every screen full until you press a key when it continues to the next 'page', all very simple and pretty elementary I'm sure you'll agree.

Well it's not so elementary after all, because MS-DOS and PC-DOS can't do it (and no, that's not what the 'scroll-lock' key on PCs is for either). To achieve this effect in a PC running MS or PC-DOS you need to call into service another program. This extra program, which is called 'MORE', simply passes the text through to the screen transparently, while counting the lines. After counting 24 lines, it's this extra program that pauses the display to give paged mode, not the operating system.

The method employed to do this is not the obvious one. You might expect 'MORE' to do the whole job, in which case the command might be:


but then the program could be more sensibly called 'TYPE', couldn't it? The problem then would be that screen paging would no longer be optional, so a different approach was needed and this is where piping comes in. Using an essentially similar idea to that used in redirection it allows you to alter the processing of default input or output. In this case, rather than being re-routed to or from, say, a file or a communications port, the data goes through a named program on its way to its standard destination. The character used to implement this is the vertical bar '|', and the way our 'TYPE' command is issued in a PC if you want paged output mode is:


It amounts to the exactly same thing as using '/P' does in DOS Plus, but it makes command entry longer and it involves loading yet another file (MORE.COM) from disc, so it's by no means so convenient to use. There are in fairness a few circumstances where piping can be used to advantage, but to put things in perspective, how many times have you thought such a facility would be the perfect solution to a problem? I thought not.

As I suggested above, piping is generally neither needed in, nor missing from, the 512, but at least you now know what is meant if you come across the term 'piping', or a reference to 'DOS Pipes'. Both names mean the same and refer to inserting a program between the normal source and destination of standard input or output data streams.

That's all for another month, here's Abstract's address:


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