Your IBM Computer, Jan-1985
by Lloyd Borrett
Your Computer, January 1985
Wow, there have been some exciting hardware products
coming my way lately. The IBM Portable PC (XT), the Data
General/One, the Hewlett-Packard 110, the Sigma Design
Streaming Tape unit, and the IBM PC-AT are but a few. Then
there are all the rather interesting new rumours.
I don't know whether it's because I've been so swamped
with new hardware, or if it's just that not much is
happening, but there seems to be a lack of exciting software
releases in recent months. Perhaps the barrage of software
announcements by IBM in the US has caused software
manufacturers to stop and rethink their position. I only
wish IBM Australia would get its act together and release
some of them here.
Let's not forget the world of user groups, bulletin
boards, and public domain software. As I plod through the
vast collection of public domain software that's
accumulating I always seem to find a few pleasant surprises.
With so much happening centre stage and behind the scenes
it can be quite difficult choosing what to report on, and
how to link it all together. Since there is so much to talk
about I'll have to cover half this month, and leave the Data
General/One (an exciting new portable), the tape back-up for
hard disks, and the IBM PC-AT for Your Computer,
More Bulletin Boards
As of November '84, there are four bulletin board systems
on line using the same software as my IBM PC-based bulletin
board (03) 528 3750.
Computers Galore, in Melbourne, has a BBS running on an
IBM compatible (03) 561 8497. Apple, CP/M, and PC/ MS-DOS
users will all find something useful on this system. The
sysops are Bob Cooban and Martin Scerri.
Dick Smith Electronics, in Sydney, has set up a BBS using
a Dick Smith Challenger (02) 887 2276. This system has
information of special use to owners of the various
computers sold in Dick Smith Electronics stores.
HiSoft, in Melbourne, has an IBM PC with Sysgen hard disk
unit, accessible on (03) 799 2001. The sysop is Richard
Tolhurst. HiSoft occasionally announces special hardware and
software offers via this BBS.
All these systems have hard disks, which means lots of
files for downloading, and fast access. If you haven't
ventured into the world of bulletin boards yet, then you are
really missing out on access to helpful information and
Kitchen Sink Programs
There are now about ten new 'super integrated' programs
on the market. I've had the opportunity to look at a number
of them and I'm amazed at what the program developers have
achieved. Somehow these guys have got everything but the
kitchen sink to fit into one program. I can't wait for some
smart marketing type to realise this. Can you imagine the
impact of a program called 'Kitchen Sink', packaged to look
like a kitchen sink, and advertised as having everything
including the kitchen sink?
But do we need these 'super integrated' programs?
I've all but written off Symphony. Boy did Lotus blow it.
1-2-3 is easy to use, integrates a few key functions, and
comes with an excellent tutorial. Symphony is big,
cumbersome, complicated and difficult to learn. Many
worksheets are too large for Symphony, and the program's
advanced features can only be used on small worksheets. As
one user put it, "This runs against the nature of things,
for it ignores the tendency for larger models to require
more sophisticated approaches, and for larger applications
to be modelled as more sophisticated packages appear capable
of describing the problem." I don't intend to 'downgrade'
from 1-2-3 to Symphony.
Ashton Tate's Framework looks the best of those I've
seen, but I just can't see why existing PC users would want
to change over to these new programs. Most newcomers quickly
become lost amongst the multitude of options. If these
programs catch on, the ones who will really benefit will be
training centres and user groups.
There is no such thing as a free lunch. You can't buy one
program and expect it to replace a string of programs
dedicated to specific tasks. The program developers need to
step back and take a second look at the way people work. A
series of programs with effective links and a common
interface would be far better than one 'super' program.
Recent announcements by IBM and others in the US would seem
to highlight this.
IBM has been showing off Topview, a windowing environment
for PC applications. It has also announced enhanced versions
of PFS File, Report, Write and so on, under the title of the
Assistant Series, as well as another set of programs that
will run under Topview. The new wave of 'super integrated'
programs has all but crashed on the shore. This year will
see Topview become an industry standard, and the software
developers will either be writing programs to run with
Topview, or to emulate those that do.
Those of you who use 1-2-3 and/or Symphony should
consider a subscription to Absolute Reference — The
Journal For 1-2-3 and Symphony Users, published by Que
Corporation. A year's subscription to this monthly magazine
costs US$80, and is available from:
PO Box 50507,
Indianapolis, IN, 46250.
The magazine has been expanded from its original 16 pages
to 24 pages, to include an eight-page section devoted
entirely to Symphony. Absolute Reference carries no
advertising and is packed with useful tips.
Que Corporation publishes a number of excellent books on
the IBM PC and Lotus 1-2-3. One I've used a lot is 1-2-3
For Business by Douglas Cobb and Leith Anderson, which
is a book of sample applications rather than the usual
tutorial/reference publication. I'm told Using 1-2-3
by Douglas Cobb and Geoffrey LeBlond, and 1-2-3 Tips,
Tricks, and Traps by Dick Anderson are also quite
Public Domain Software
The collection of public domain software now held by the
Melbourne PC User Group is growing fast. Recent editions are
Volumes 41 to 71 of the PC/Blue Library collection, and
volumes 1 to 54 of the Boston Computer Society IBM Special
Interest Group library.
PC/Blue volumes 1 to 42 are now distributed on
doubled-sided diskettes, with two consecutive volumes per
disk. Volumes 43 to 71 are double sided, and have one volume
per disk. The Boston disks are a mixture of one and two
volumes per double-sided diskette.
The most difficult job the user group has is cataloguing
and evaluating the programs. A catalogue of the PC/Blue
Library and some other volumes is now available on diskette.
Some of the important discoveries made recently are:
An improved version of this excellent data
A set of PC-FILE database files that allow the
use of keyword searches to find PC articles from
BYTE, PC Magazine, PC World, Softalk, PC Age,
and PC Tech Journal.
A good word processing program.
A file enciphering system.
Prepares ASCII files for 1-2-3 import.
A statistical package.
A programming tool for users of 1-2-3.
A rather different programming language.
A simple spreadsheet program.
I seem to find some great new program every time I start
looking through the collection. The latest was Utility
1-2¬3, a collection of 1-2-3 worksheets that make up a great
tutorial on how to use ASCII text and graphics, the printer,
Prokey macros, and 1-2-3 macros to improve your use of
1-2-3. You've got to see this one to believe it.
MELB-PC now has over 100 double-sided diskettes full of
software, with still more on the way. The Sydney and Perth
PC user groups are getting together with MELB-PC to share
the 50-page newsletter and the software collection. Can you
afford not to join your local user group and gain access to
IBM Portable PC (XT)
In my last column I mentioned some problems with the IBM
Portable PC running Lotus 1-2-3. I stand corrected. We took
delivery of a portable recently and I had a chance to
experiment with setting up 1-2-3 on it. If the colour
drivers are installed, the problems I experienced with an
evaluation unit are duplicated, however, if the
black-and-white drivers are installed it runs just fine.
Unfortunately, some other software packages are not as well
thought out as Lotus 1-2-3. Their screens are unreadable on
the Portable PC, and no alternative is offered.
From what I've been able to gather, installing a 10Mb
hard disk with the IBM Portable has become quite popular.
The set-up we have uses a Sigma Design 10Mb half-height hard
disk and full-length controller card. Sigma Design also has
a 20Mb half-height drive available which could be used.
With the hard disk controller card taking up one of the
two full-length slots available in the Portable and the IBM
colour graphics card taking up the other, at first it looked
impossible to get in extra memory, serial ports, and a
clock. Fortunately, Hercules recently released a short
colour graphics board which is fully compatible with the IBM
colour graphics card. It also has a parallel port — out goes
the IBM card and in goes the Hercules card.
Now a full-length slot is available to take a
multi-function card. We used the Sigma Design Maximiser
because it allows full memory expansion, two serial ports,
one parallel port and a calendar clock. It's a tight
squeeze, and a few pieces of cardboard were required to stop
cables rubbing on circuit boards, but the result is well
We now have an IBM Portable PC with one half-height 360K
floppy disk drive, 640K of memory, two serial ports, two
parallel ports, a calendar clock, and a 10Mb hard disk. In
other words, it's a Portable PC XT.
I know I said in my last column that I wouldn't buy a
Portable. Well I didn't, my employers did.
Saturday, 15 October 2011