This month the Forum's again a bit of a mixture. I hope there's something for everyone, but I apologise in advance for the first item.
There's more software compatibility, a tip that might save a few of you a small but annoying bit of typing, and a source of very useful information on some of the 512's quirks, both for those who write programs and for the less technically inclined.
First, yet another repetition of facts which most Forum readers know. I hope no-one minds a bit of space for this; with luck it might save me time, paper and frustration (sorry to moan!).
The most up-to-date version of DOS which runs on the 512 is the Acorn issued DOS Plus 2.1. Don't write to me about DR DOS, MS-DOS, Windows or OS/2 (please!): the answer's 'NO'! Here are some more points on which I will probably not mention in the future.
You can't add anything to the 512 to give an EGA or VGA display, and even if you could your monitor couldn't handle it (I'll expand on PC graphics next month). You can't even have full colour CGA: your monitor couldn't handle that either without modification. You can't have more than 1024K of RAM, as that's the limit the 512's 80186 processor can address. You can't have more than one hard drive (at a time), but it doesn't necessarily have to be drive C: once the system has been started. Finally, you can use a tracker-ball instead of a mouse, but you cannot have a games port or a joystick.
These points and more have been covered in 512 Forum previously, so please don't write to me about them: it'd be better to order Beebug back issues instead.
This tip won't save hours, but it might be useful to some model B and B+ users. Since these machines have no battery backed CMOS RAM there's no time or date. Users must therefore manually supply these every time they boot the 512, or do without knowing when files were created or updated. For backups particularly this information can be critical, so its absence isn't a good idea.
PMS's Genie Watch fills the gap permanently, although I don't know if it's still available. If you're interested, details are on page 366 of the 512 Technical Guide (which is still available from Dabs Press, as is the 512 User Guide). By the way, in case you hadn't noticed, Dabs are currently supplying their two Shareware collections for £25.00 the pair, each containing five discs. Previously these cost £30.00 for each set.
Recently I've been using an XT with no battery backed clock. Since I have to reboot a lot, having to re-enter the date and time again and again is most tiresome. So I thought of a solution which means I never enter the date more than once. All you need is a small change to AUTOEXEC.BAT and two very short, simple files, the first of which creates the second for you.
Here's how to set up the first file, I called mine NEWDATE.BAT, so whenever I do need to change the date I just type NEWDATE. The file should be in the root directory of your boot disc, be it hard or floppy, since the output file is used by AUTOEXEC.BAT. Enter it via an editor, or more easily, as it's only two lines, use:
COPY CON NEWDATE.BAT
This produces an empty screen line with a cursor but no prompt. That's fine, just carry on. Enter these two lines, pressing Return after each.
COPY CON TODAY
Next, press Ctrl-Z, then Return again to close the file. You now have a new batch file which, when run, will open a file called TODAY, presenting you with a blank line as described above. You then enter the date in exactly the same format as you do at the standard date prompt, for example '7-6-92' (how many of you have been typing in leading zeros and the century too?). Follow that by Return, Ctrl-Z, Return, then the file is written and the system date is (re)set immediately as well.
Next amend AUTOEXEC.BAT. Since this is an update, edit your existing file, as the alternative, 'COPY CON', requires reentry of the entire file. Remember you may need to use 'FSET' (see last month's Forum) before you can update the file if it's read-only or if the system bit is set. Often forgotten is 'SDIR', which shows file attributes. Use it instead of DIR to see if FSET is needed.
The line to change is the one that contains 'DATE' (or if you've previously removed it, add it now.) Amend it to match the second line of NEWDATE.BAT, that is add a space followed by '<TODAY' to the command on the same line. Resave the file, then reset its attributes with FSET to suit your preferences.
Note that, having amended AUTOEXEC.BAT, you must run NEWDATE before you switch the machine off again. If you don't, when you next reboot you'll get a 'file not found' message because 'TODAY' won't exist (because you didn't create it – this is a 'one-off' situation of course).
With the changes in place, when you reboot, the date stored in 'TODAY' is piped into the date command automatically, so you no longer have to enter it. Of course each day the date needs changing, but all you do is run 'NEWDATE' (once) which corrects the system's internal date and the one stored in 'TODAY'. The date is then set for the rest of the day and you don't need to reenter it no matter how often you reboot.
This isn't much use for the time, but it's certainly better than having no file date or time stamps which, judging from some discs I've seen, isn't an uncommon choice. Remember too, that the same technique can be used to 'automate' any program that expects keyboard entry, including command line parameters, when the data is always the same.
David Harper has provided a good deal of valuable information for 512 Forum as regular readers know, most notably all the research for the recent series on GEM. What you may not know, however, is that he has now produced a 512 information disc which he's released into the public domain. The disc contains a number of information files, in text, each on a specific topic, which you can print or which you can keep in your system as an ad-hoc reference.
Necessarily some, though by no means all the information is of a very technical nature, so if you write your own 512 machine code routines you may well find the solutions to numerous puzzles on this disc. However, even if you don't write 512 programs don't be put off. Even for the simply curious there are answers to some of the questions I'm asked from time to time and I'm sure most users will find a great deal of interest.
In particular there's a very interesting and entertaining demonstration of how to really liven up menu screens and the like, including adding colour, changing mode, hiding text and so on, using nothing more than an editor or word processor capable of handling non-ASCII characters.
I've said before I don't get time to 'poke around' inside the system much as I'd like to, but I do know from experience how much work it takes. David has clearly spent a considerable number of hours putting together the information on this disc. The result is an excellent and unique source of reference. If you were paying commercial rates for it I'd suggest you couldn't afford it; instead, as it's PD, I'd say that no 512 enthusiast can afford not to have it.
See Alan Blundell's PD column in Vol.10 No.9, or his advertisement in the personal ads page of BEEBUG, to obtain a copy.
I recently had a letter from David MacGraw that queried a number of points which users new to DOS might not know.
He asked if there was a DOS equivalent to the BBC program ADU, once produced by Pineapple, which is a menu-driven front-end for ADFS. Yes, David, the answer is there are quite a few, and they are naturally much more sophisticated than BBC programs too. There is of course the file manager which was provided on issue disc one of DOS Plus 1.2 (only). If you have it this will give some idea, but it's neither the best nor the most reliable example of the type.
PC-Tools is close to the ultimate, but Xtree and Norton Commander (1.01 works) are two popular, easily obtained alternatives. There are also numerous similar programs in shareware too, so choosing which to try is really the main problem. It's personal taste, I don't much like XTree and would recommend PC-Tools so long as you have sufficient disc and memory space (see Vol.11 No.4).
Another query was whether there's a program to blank the 512's screen on demand, to hide sensitive data from prying eyes. There is, but modesty (almost) prevents me from telling you. The only program I know of is 'LOCKWORD' on Essential Software's Miscellaneous disc 2. (PC screen blankers WON'T work, so don't waste time trying.)
David also asked if there's any way the 512 can handle sound in PC programs, but this time the answer's 'NO'. Ultimately almost anything's possible of course, but this would take a great deal of complicated code and it's just not practical.
Now for more software compatibility. I've used quotes in the same way as I did in issue 4. Unfortunately the version number is missing for many of these, as is the publisher, but I present the information in case it's useful. After all, in some cases there may be only one version. Items in brackets are comments I've added where I can.
Bear in mind too (we haven't started yet) that many graphics applications, such as DTP, will expect a minimum of an EGA if not a VGA display, plus appropriate drivers. Forget these for the 512. I'll expand on PC graphics cards and drivers next month, but for now let's just look at the software.
Member I.Cook sent a brief note to say that Mini Office Personell version 3.1 runs on the 512. (Should that be 'personal'? I don't know, but you will if you come across it.)
Another member, who wishes to remain anonymous supplied the following.
Lotus 1-2-3 release 2.3 works with or without a mouse. There are some problems with graphs created in the 512, although graphs created on a PC and transferred to the 512 are OK. Also, of course, it expects a VGA display, so the pure graphics functions don't work.
Mind-Reader (a shareware word processor also supplied as part of the Dabs 512 Shareware collection) works too, but as users have found, it gives problems (a crash) if you try to change the drive, path or name under which a file is saved. Avoid renaming files in the program (copy or rename them in DOS beforehand) and it's OK.
Word-Fugue (shareware) works "in a similar manner" presumably referring to paths and filenames, but requires a second copy of COMMAND.COM to be loaded (or better, run FIXEXE).
PC-Outline "works brilliantly, if only it had a word-count, spelling checker and mouse control I'd use it in preference to anything else", says my correspondent. (Shareware. How about letting me have version numbers? 1.08 is in the Dabs collection. See also issue 4.)
First Choice is an integrated package with Comms (which won't work), a spreadsheet, a flatfile database plus a word processor with spelling checker. The member warns that text "files 'MOVE'd to the BBC contain lots of spurious characters". (This is true of numerous DOS word processors, but it's also true for InterWord files imported into the 512, and they're not perfect even if they're spooled first.)
Both PC-Type and PC-Word work, but as this member doesn't use them much he refrains from further comment. (PC-Type II requires real CGA for graphing, I don't know about earlier versions, and a hard disc is needed for version IV.)
He also confirms that Mini Office (above) plus MoneyBox, both by Database Software (remember Micro User?) also work.
Dbase III Plus "works a treat".
"Wampum, PC-File and PCBase all work OK". (These are shareware databases. They're not for the 'dabbler', they're serious programs. Wampum needs EGA/VGA for graphics.)
Press, "a sort of mini-DTP package", works, but although printing's fine "some of the pictures can't be seen on screen".
Print Partner, a similar program "is OK too". My correspondent says, "Both of the above are poster and banner makers really, but they do work." (Print partner is shareware and ideally requires 'real' CGA. Expect screen trouble with many DTP programs.)
Flodraw is a flowcharting system. It "works quite well with few problems". (Shareware, also included in the Dabs collection.)
"Fontasy works, but a little slowly".
XTree "works a treat" (as mentioned above).
Well, that's the 45th Forum completed. I've a bit more (yet more is always welcome, but please – complete info) on applications compatibility and incompatibility, but I mustn't spoil you, must I?
I also have the concluding episode in the directory extension saga, thanks to Philip Draper, but all these, along with PC graphics standards and methods, must wait until next time.