Your IBM Computer, Sep-1983
by Lloyd Borrett
Your Computer, September 1983
By the time you see this the IBM-PC will have celebrated
its second birthday. I wonder if IBM had any idea of the
impact this computer would have when it released it
(overseas) back in August 1981. Certainly the entry of IBM
into the personal computer market has been a major force
behind the rapid expansion of the market in the USA.
Recently we have seen the introduction of software
packages written to use the extra power of the Intel
8088/8086 chips. Until now the only packages available have
been warmed-over programs that could be run just as
effectively on an 8-bit system. The new generation of
packages such as Lotus 1-2-3 have changed all that.
Lotus 1-2-3 is an integrated system of programs capable
of spreadsheet analysis, database management, graphics,
report generation, limited word processing, file management,
translation of file formats, and text and graphics printing.
Yes, all that in one software package. That's one benefit
of using the power available on 16-bit systems; the other is
that 1-2-3 performs most commercial and financial
spreadsheet operations about four times faster than
I have not previously seen a software package that can do
so many things so well, and at the same time be so well
implemented. A comprehensive tutorial diskette teaches the
beginner how to use 1-2-3, and its human engineering, speed,
power, and flexibility make it a joy to use.
1-2-3 improves on the VisiCorp trio of VisiCalc, VisiPlot,
and VisiDex in both price and functionality. If you are
considering buying any microcomputer for spreadsheet work,
or just a spreadsheet program, check out 1-2-3 first. I'm
sure you'll have second thoughts about what to buy. This
package deserves its position as the number one best-selling
program for the IBM-PC.
Keep in mind that Lotus 1-2-3 is just one of a new breed
of advanced software packages that will become available on
16-bit microcomputers. Many software houses have realised
how huge the PC market has become and are flat out
developing new programs for it. With over 3000 programs
already available for the PC, the future appears very rosy
I think I can now safely say that PC DOS (MS-DOS) will be
the operating system to dominate on 16-bit microcomputers
for the next twelve months. I see the IBM-PC and the Wang
Professional Computer being the two most successful systems
in the Australian business market, and both IBM and Wang are
actively supporting the use of DOS in preference to CP/M-86,
the P-System, UNIX. and others.
The introduction of DOS 2.0 has solved a number of
potential problems, and at the same time provided two of the
most attractive features of UNIX: tree structured
directories, and redirection and piping of standard input
The introduction of tree-structured directories is
designed to improve the PC's use with a hard disk. DOS 1.10
treated each disk as a separate directory. Now this is fine
for a floppy-disk-based system since the number of files is
limited to 64 for single-sided disks and 112 for
double-sided disks. However, when a hard disk is attached
the user may want to store several thousand files.
You can appreciate the problems this could cause. The use
of a DIR command would result in several minutes of watching
file names scroll off the screen, and it would become very
difficult to locate related files. The solution is
Although there are many different types of files, for the
purpose of this explanation I'll place files into one of two
categories: directory files and data files. A directory is a
file that catalogues and contains information used to access
other files. You can think of directories as the information
desk in a library. Directories don't actually contain any
usable information, but they do contain passageways to other
directories and files. You use directories to organise your
files, but not to store information in.
Data files are like the books in a library; they contain
information, but they don't allow you mobility. You cannot
use a data file to get to another file.
Directories are organised into a network resembling a
family tree. A 'high' directory is superior to directories
on lower branches of the tree. The top directory in the tree
is called the root directory, and directories on lower
branches are called subordinate directories.
You may add or remove directories, copy files from one
directory to another, and instruct DOS to look, in a
specific directory to locate a file. It is like having
several disks in a drive at once.
Piping Input And Output
DOS 2.0 allows redirection of standard input and output.
Standard input is the keyboard, and standard output is the
screen. By using special characters on the command line you
can cause a program to receive its input from a source other
than the keyboard, or to direct its output to a destination
other than the screen. This temporary redirection is a handy
tool for debugging.
The provision of piping of standard input and output
allows the standard output of one program to be used as the
standard input to another. DOS 2.0 acts as a 'pipeline' to
direct the output of the first program to the input of the
Piping is the key to the success of UNIX. By combining
single-purpose tools together via piping, many different
functions can be easily performed. For example, by combining
the DIR command with the SORT utility it is possible to
produce a sorted directory listing:
The standard output from the DIR command is sent to the
standard input of the SORT utility.
Other features introduced with DOS 2.0 include background
printing, hard disk support, disk volume labels, installable
device drivers, increased disk capacity, improved batch
mode, and ANSI escape sequence cursor positioning.
Currently there is still some confusion as to which
programs will work under DOS 1.10, DOS 2.0, or both. Some
programs written for DOS 1.10 will not run under DOS 2.0.
Programs that don't make (or worse, bypass) the proper
operating system calls, or that make direct BIOS calls,
probably will not run under DOS 2.0. Given time the
situation will become clear, and I see most users upgrading
to DOS 2.0.
Readers of magazines such as PC World, PC
Magazine, Softalk for the IBM-PC and others will
be aware of how many different multi-function add-on boards
are available. Well, after a careful review I decided to go
with the AST Research MegaPlus.
The standard board comes with 64 Kbytes of memory, one
RS-232C asynchronous serial communications port, and a
calendar clock with battery backup. I have optioned it up to
provide a total of 256 Kbytes of memory, two serial ports, a
parallel port, and the calendar clock. AST Research also
produces another board called MegaPak with 256 Kbytes of
memory, which can be piggy-backed onto the MegaPlus board.
As a bonus, AST Research provides three valuable utility
programs with the MegaPlus: SuperDrive, a disk emulation
program allowing the use of part of the memory as a
super-fast 'electronic disk drive'; SuperSpool, an
intelligent print spooler allowing the output of files to a
printer without tying up the PC; and ASTCIock, a program to
read the calendar clock and set the system date and time.
I am more than satisfied with the AST Research MegaPlus.
The installation and operation guides for both the hardware
and software are comprehensive and easy to follow. The board
has provision for split memory addressing, which makes it
possible to add more memory, yielding a total usable memory
size of 832 Kbytes.
And how much does it all cost? I purchased the board via
a mail order house in the USA for $US520. After the cost of
currency conversions, five per cent duty and shipping costs,
the final total was $A685. It makes me wonder about the
level of mark-up that Australian dealers are placing on
multi-function boards; one dealer quoted me $A1500 to supply
this same board.
Hardware And Software Prices
I purchased my PC from CompuThink, well before the
official release of the PC in Australia. Now CompuThink has
not become an IBM dealer, and yet is still able to import
PCs into the country and sell them at competitive prices. I
think it safe to assume that CompuThink is still making a
reasonable profit on its sales. This led me to consider,
carefully the options open to me before purchasing more
hardware and software.
When I asked some dealers why software packages such as
Lotus 1-2-3 (listed at $US495 in the USA yet sold for $A895
in Australia) have such a huge mark-up, I was told all sorts
of horror stories with 35 per cent customs duty and 20 per
cent sales tax as the villains of the piece. (Note the USA
list price is often far in excess of the price paid when
actually buying an item.)
Well, I decided to test the water. As you have seen, I
saved a bundle by buying the AST Research MegaPlus direct
from the USA, but what about software? The following table
shows the prices I was quoted by Australian dealers,
compared to the price paid by buying direct:
Copy II PC
As you can see, it is possible to achieve some huge
savings. I would like to know how the Australian importers
and dealers can justify their prices.
DOS 1.10 Diskcopy And Diskcomp Bugs
The DOS 1.10 version of the DISKCOPY and DISKCOMP
utilities have a bug in them which only manifests itself
when the user has a large amount of memory (320 Kbytes or
more) and double-sided disk drives. They will both get into
an error loop and try to read past the end of the source
When you purchase Lotus 1-2-3 a program called FIXDOS is
provided to patch DISKCOPY and DISKCOMP. For those of you
without Lotus 1-2-3, I have included in this article the
patches provided by AST Research.
A patch is a short program which alters the way the
operating system usually handles a particular situation. I
recommend the following procedure for applying patches.
Create a DOS diskette which contains the DEBUG utility
and the program to be patched. Place this disk in drive A
and boot the computer. After the patch is applied and the
program tested, the new (patched) version can be copied over
to your working diskettes. Do not apply patches to your
master diskettes — use back-ups only! Test the patched
version before using it!
In the following procedures, you enter all boldface
text exactly as shown; be sure to include spaces. End
each entry line with the 'enter' key. The computer responds
with all other output.
-e861 e8 74 00
-e8d8 3d 51 00 72 02 b0 50 a2 36 05 c3
Writing 07E3 bytes
-e6ec e8 79 00
-e768 3d 51 00 72 02 b0 50 a2 95 04 c3
Writing 0673 bytes
Potential Printer Problems
I advise those of you who are using Epson printers to
check the settings of the two internal DIP switches. Both
the Epson MX-100 III printers I have installed came with the
switches set to select the French version of the
International Character Set.
If you have any special areas of interest you would like
to see covered in this column, please contact me via Your
Computer, and I'll see what can be done.
Finally, I'm wondering how much interest there would be
in a Melbourne IBM-PC user group. If you are at all
interested in attending meetings of such a group, please let
the magazine know. If there is sufficient interest I'll see
what can be done about getting a group started.
Saturday, 15 October 2011