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Master 512 Forum by Robin Burton
Beebug Vol. 11 No. 4 August /September 1992

As promised at the end of last month's 512 Forum we are having a break this time from CHKDSK.

I've had dozens of requests for information on application compatibility over the last four years, and now there's a chance to do something about them. While I do, there's another closely related matter that I ought to deal with at the same time.


Most 512 Forum readers are well aware of my involvement in the company Essential Software (if you weren't, you are now) but they'll also know that I rarely mention it in the Forum. Mike Williams and I have always thought it best to avoid the possibility of suggestions that I'm abusing my position, but it must be said that sometimes there's a detrimental effect on the contents of the Forum.

In fact I've had what amount to complaints from quite a number of readers who are also Essential Software customers. Their gripe is that it's unreasonable for me to have to avoid obvious or important 512 topics that are of interest to them for any reason. The argument goes: "BEEBUG is the only magazine that has ever provided real 512 support, while Essential Software is unique in its range of 512 products. Since I'm the link between the two, why shouldn't I take advantage of the situation if it can benefit readers and customers alike?"

Most of you probably appreciate this is a classic Catch 22 situation. Information I come by with my Essential Software hat on, because of or about its products, isn't used in the Forum precisely because that's its source. We're now looking at software compatibility, which is a perfect example where too much modesty is particularly counter-productive for Forum readers.

The basis of the problem is, as usual, Acorn's virtually non-existent support for the 512. That amounted to a single operating system upgrade since the system was launched. Even so, not only was the original bundled operating system several years out of date when the machine was launched, but so was the upgrade version, which was also dated to before the machine was launched. The only possible reason I can think of for this was that since these were out of date versions of DOS they were extremely cheap to licence, allowing Acorn to maximise profits.

If you think that's an overly harsh judgement, I must disagree. As justification, here are the facts. The 512 first appeared in 1986, but throughout its life as a current product it was only ever supplied with DOS Plus 1.2. Version 2.1 was always an upgrade which the user had to acquire separately, and for several years this was at an extra cost of £15.00. By contrast, MS-DOS and PC-DOS had reached version 2.1 as early as 1983, while MS-DOS 3.1 was released before the end of 1984. This was still over a year before the 512's arrival. By the time the 512 arrived both MS-DOS and PC-DOS had reached version 3.2 with 3.3 soon to follow.

As a result of Acorn's policies, if software compatibility is a problem there are very few options open to the 512 user. For example, you can't do much about hardware problems caused by the BBC micro host system, nor can you update the operating system to a later version than DOS Plus 2.1. In fact the only effective steps you can take with software involve adding third party programs to make up for some of the issue software's deficiencies or omissions, while hardware options are limited to expanding the memory of your 512. My problem in mentioning either of these is that there's only one supplier offering such upgrades.

Some of the compatibility information users have told me about over the last couple of years, for example, is solely as a result of them adding a memory expansion, but I've avoided mentioning it too explicitly until now. I think it's time that changed. Obviously, virtually all programs benefit from more free RAM, but the difference in the 512's case is more than just being able to handle bigger files or a performance improvement in a user's existing software.

I won't labour the point any more, but expanding your 512's memory is just about the only way genuinely to improve its overall software compatibilty.


There are quite a number of particularly well known PC programs that won't run in a standard memory 512, but which do run perfectly happily in an expanded machine. The thing is that when many of these programs are run in a 512K machine they crash with the the all too frequent 'Invalid Opcode' error, or less common crashes such as 'Overflow' or occasionally 'single step', which normal programs should never generate.

Some programs crash the entire system, while others don't crash but will refuse to run, reporting such spurious problems as 'Invalid version of DOS', 'Out of memory at <address>', or even worse 'Needs DOS version 3'. Of course a few are better behaved and more helpful, simply informing you that they need more RAM. Those are the easy ones.

On the face of it a good many of these programs seem to be a lost cause in the 512, given the sort of problem they appear to exhibit if you try them in a standard memory machine. Even if you know some of these errors aren't accurate, given the wide range of possible results, there's little one can deduce about whether a particular program has a genuine, permanent problem or simply needs more RAM.

However, many of these apparent problems are totally misleading and in some cases an increase in the 512's memory is all that's needed to cure them. Amongst the programs that I can call to mind, most of the following either won't run at all in a standard 512, variously crashing the system entirely or giving misleading errors, or they have serious restrictions or problems that render them effectively unusable. All I can say is thanks to those users who were stubborn enough to try again with a program they knew from past experience would fail. These didn't.

WordStar v5.1 will work in a standard machine (I think) but memory is desperately tight and the spelling checker and thesaurus are unusable. In an expanded machine the application is fine, including the ability to store the dictionary or the thesaurus in RAM ready for instant access.

WordPerfect 5 reportedly either won't install or crashes in a standard machine (I can't remember which it is), but like WordStar above, it's fine in an expanded 512.

GEM 3 and Timeworks I've mentioned before. The packages must be installed on a real PC and moved complete to the 512, but they're then perfectly OK. Without a memory expansion GEM 3 is simply much too large to run anything worthwhile.

MS-Word 5 is perfectly happy in an expanded 512, but not in a standard machine. Either it can't be loaded at all, or it leaves too little RAM to do anything useful. Again I can't remember which, but users with memory expansions are completely happy with it.

SuperCalc 5 (a version bought in America) seemingly works acceptably well in an expanded 512 (apart from obvious key and character differences) but it too won't run in a standard machine.

One user informed me that the Smart System (word processor, spreadsheet, database, notepad, etc.) seems to work well in his expanded 512. Mind you, the chances are that if you can afford the cost of this package you probably also have a PC too.

Ventura Publisher is another package that won't run in a standard machine, but a memory expansion fixes the problem. However, this is another package costing several hundred pounds, so, like Smart, it's not likely to interest many domestic users.


Many thanks to the two Forum readers who've responded to my appeal for application compatibility information. No doubt many more of you will be writing to me in due course with even more information (he said more in hope than expectation). The first three offerings are my own contribution, but the rest were provided by just two readers, so come on the rest of you, share your knowledge and help other 512 users.

All the programs below run in a standard memory machine using DOS Plus 2.1, unless otherwise stated. Comments in quotes are reproduced from readers' letters exactly as received. In shareware programs you'll find full details of costs and how to register in the documentaion file on the disc, though indications are given below.

PC-Write, previously marketed in the U.K. by Sagesoft, is now only available as shareware. It's written by Quicksoft of Seattle, Washington. I've used version 2.7, 3.03 and 3.04. All work perfectly, even with a model B host, so long as a few key functions are re-assigned, which you can do permanently or temporarily in the package. Earlier versions still exist and might work too, but I can't guarantee them. Note that from version 3 onwards the main program, ED.EXE, is over 225K, so memory is extremely tight in a standard 512, preventing use of the spelling checker and/or of the on-line help if a document is loaded. Registration costs $129.00, though there are options within this.

A86/D86 is without a doubt THE assembler debugger package for '86 series machines, both for PCs in general, but especially the 512 in particular. It's available as shareware and was written by Eric Isaacson who supports the package directly. Amazingly, absolutely everything works in the 512 except breaking out of a free running tight code loop in the debugger (because break is non-functional in the 512). The latest version is 3.02. Full registration is $97.00 including postage to the U.K., or via Shareware Marketing. Again there are registration options.

PC-Tools de Luxe by Central point Software is probably the most well known commercial file management package. I have version 5.5 and almost everything works on PC formatted discs (including the 512's winchester) except those functions relying on direct hardware access to the disc. Unsurprisingly it does not like the 512's 800K or 640K floppies, reporting 'FAT corrupt'. I haven't tried a later version than 5.5, though it's now up to about v7.1. Cost varies. If you shop around you can get it for about £60-£70.00. Program modules are large and the installed system needs well over 1.5Mb of disc, so it's restricted to winchester users and probably needs an expanded memory machine too.

Q-Edit by SEMware is a shareware text editor and version 2.15 "works perfectly". A second copy of COMMAND.COM must be loaded to install or to run it, or use Essential Software's new FIXEXE program.

As-Easy-As from Trius is also shareware, but is a spreadsheet very similar to (some say better than) Lotus 1-2-3. Version 4.00 works very well. Version 5.01 also works, but not quite so well. There are one or two screen quirks and clearly it isn't so well suited to a mono display. Version 4 is very memory restricted and version 5 probably wouldn't run at all in a standard memory 512. Again, a second copy of COMMAND.COM or FIXEXE is also required.

PC-Lite v1.03 "seems to work well". My correspondent suggests it's probably cheaper to register in the U.S. than via a U.K. shareware outlet. Registration is $79.00 + $30.00 p&p.

PC-Browse v1.01 is a "multiple file searcher and much else, works fine but only in stand-alone mode. Use ^L and ^O for searching keys". Like many programs, it won't respond to keys if run as a TSR. Registration is $79.00 + $30.00 p&p.

Treeview (no version number supplied) is a shareware disc manager which "works fine and looks useful as a DOS shell for copying, backups, etc". Launching applications from it "leaves too little memory in a standard system to do much". Registration is £25.00 via U.K. shareware outlets.

InfoSelect v2.0 by Micrologic is a "paste-it type note taking package". It too can't be used in TSR mode, but is fine if run as a foreground program. It's available through shareware outlets, or from Compuclassics, 7959 Deering Avenue, Canoga Park, CA 91304, U.S.A. Registration is $89.00 + $30.00 p&p.

Lotus Magellan v2.0 is "available anywhere at about £85.00, looks as if it may work well as a stand-alone but needs a hard disc to evaluate properly". That's all I have on this; I don't even know what it does.

PC-Style v1.0 "works fine". Shareware. No other details given.

Getit v1.0 is a shareware "simple freeform database. Works fine except for page up and page down". Registration unknown.


Often just as useful as knowing what will run in the 512 is knowing which programs won't, so here's a list of programs that belong to this category. Again they're a mixture of my own information and that supplied by the two members.

Laplink v1.35/2.16, Travelling Software (U.S.) Like virtually all PC comms programs the problem is with the serial port.

Laplink Pro v4.0a would be afflicted as above, but it won't even load.

NOTE: It's really not worth the effort of even trying PC comms. software. Only Kermit (PD) and COMM+ are known to work, and even here COMM+ is a special 512 version.

PC-Write Standard Level v2, (Travelling Software) fails with an invalid opcode.

PC-Outline v3.34 from Brown Bag Software (shareware) doesn't load, although v1.08 supposedly does work.

These last two were tried in a standard memory system, so they might work in an expanded 512.

Galaxy Lite v1.70 from Starlite Software doesn't work, even in an expanded 512. It can be installed and loaded, but it then freezes the machine.

That's all the compatibility information I have available immediately, so if you'd like to add to it, write to me c/o BEEBUG. In the meantime, it's back to CHKDSK in next month's issue.

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