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Your IBM Computer, Nov-1984

by Lloyd Borrett
Your Computer, November 1984

First, an apology: it's March since I last wrote a column, and June since it was published. I promise to try and get this column out on regular basis in future.

So, what has been happening?

My personal highlights have been getting the Melbourne PC User Group on a firm footing; starting up the group's newsletter upgrading my computer with a 10-megabyte hard disk and dual half-height floppies; bringing on line Australia's first IBM-PC-based bulletin board system; and MELB-PC's stand at the Melbourne PC84 show. As you see I haven't been sitting around doing nothing.

Meanwhile, there have been some announcements of particular interest to PC users. The release of Lotus Symphony, Ashton-Tate's dBase III the IBM 3270-PC, and the IBM Portable, would be those getting most of the limelight.

That gives me plenty to write about, so let's get on with it.

To Symphony, Or Not To Symphony

Is Lotus' new Symphony the greatest thing since sliced bread? Well, if you listen to the gossip and read the reports coming out of the US you would have to think so. Everyone is aware of the success of the first offering from Lotus Development Corp, Lotus 1-2-3.,and justifiably so; but I'm just a little bit concerned about the reaction the announcement of Symphony has received.

Now don't get me wrong. I've every reason to believe that Symphony will be a superb product, as good as, if not better than, 1-2-3. But will everyone need it.

The success of 1-2-3 was due to the fact that it was the best spreadsheet package available on the IBM-PC. Not only did 1-2-3 have more built-in functions than most other spreadsheet packages, but it was the first to be written to use the features of the Intel 8088/8086 chips at the heart of the PC. The result was a product that out-performed its rivals in almost all categories.

The runaway success of 1-2-3 proved that personal users would willingly pay for a product that integrates the main operations they want to perform with their computers. Who wants to mess with a shelf full of software products, each with its own command structure, and to have to pass through an operating system when going from one function to another? 1-2-3 was the clear answer to a major need.

Symphony aims to take the concept further. It strengthens the database functions, and adds telecommunications and word processing. Best of all, it adds 'open slots' that will allow other software to be integrated into the Symphony structure. But could it be too much?

Most users of 1-2-3 are extensive users of the spreadsheet facility. They use 1-2-3 because it's the best spreadsheet. Many complaints have been heard about the 640K memory limit in the IBM-PC restricting the size of 1-2-3 worksheets. A number of users have asked for an expert mode where the 1-2-3 on-line help facility is cancelled and the resulting extra memory then made available to the worksheet. Do these people need Symphony?

The answer must be no. In order to provide increased functionality, Symphony soaks up more memory in overheads. This reduces the maximum size of the worksheet. Unfortunately, there will be more than one 1-2-3 user who overlooks this and 'up-grades' to Symphony, only to regret it. Upgrading to Symphony means you lose your rights to use 1-2-3.

Consider the situation of the new computer user. Given the press and marketing that Symphony is receiving it would seem to be the only choice. (I wonder how many people held off purchasing 1-2-3, and waited for Symphony.) Many PC users are going to purchase Symphony only to find in a few months time that 1-2-3 was the product they should have had. Will there be an 'up-grade' policy for Symphony users wishing to switch to 1-2-3?

Symphony will be a very successful product, and deservedly so. Unfortunately, it also has the potential to cause much grief if not sold correctly, and I've seen little evidence that it will be. But all is not gloom and doom. The introduction of an Advanced PC, based on the Intel iAPX 286 chip which can handle up to 16 megabytes of memory, is likely to see us asking Lotus to include more functions as standard, and introduce yet another product.

Australia's First IBM-PC BBS

Australia's first IBM-PC-based Bulletin Board System went on line in July. My PC will be enabled as a BBS whenever I'm not using it (that is, most of the time). Electro-Medical Engineering kindly donated a Sendata 2000 auto-answer, auto-disconnect 300-baud modem to the Melbourne PC User Group for use on the BBS. PC Connection Australia provided the telephone line.

The phone number is (03) 528 3750. You need a 300-baud direct-connect modem or acoustic coupler, a telephone line a serial asynchronous/communication port, and a program such as PC-TALK III, Crosstalk or MODEM7. I think you'll enjoy the opportunity to ask questions, share tips, and access public domain software in this way. Check out the articles by Bill Bolton and Evan McHugh in last month's issue if you require more information on how to connect to bulletin board systems.

About two megabytes worth of software from the MELB-PC library is available for downloading. Two files are of special interest: the first details how to 'unrestrict' the various versions of Lotus 1-2-3, the other does the same for Symphony.

Public Domain Software

I'm aware of IBM and/or Compatible PC user groups operating in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Canberra, IIlawarra, and Sydney. Most of these groups have taken on the task of distributing public domain software to their members. Additions to the Melbourne PC User Group collection include:

CHASM - A cheap assembler.

Finance - A set of BASIC finance programs.

MVP-FORTH - Mountain View Press Public Domain FORTH.

Wordflex - A good word processing program.

Diskcat - Disk cataloguing program.

ASMGEN - An IBM Macro Disassembler.

Genealogy On Display - An excellent genealogy package.

Portworth - A portfolio management system.

These are but a sample of the major items. There are so many great utilities now available, many of which have become such an important part of my everyday command set, that I feel lost when running on a PC without them. And there are more disks coming in from the US all the time.

Many of the more useful files can be downloaded from my bulletin board system, but for interstate users that could become very expensive. I strongly recommend you join a user group and gain access to these disks, as well as all the other valuable services offered.

Avoiding A Hard Disk Disaster

Due to a bug in IBM's FORMAT.COM program, you may get an "ERROR WRITING TO DRIVE C:" message when writing to the hard disk. This is caused by FORMAT.COM marking the wrong locations in the File Allocation Table when it finds a 'bad track' mark on the hard disk.

These patches assume both DEBUG.COM and FORMAT.COM are on drive A. User entries are highlighted, the computer responses are not.

Listing 1

DOS 2.00

-E 292<return>
xxxx:0292 7D.73<return>
-E 316<return>
xxxx:0316 OB.40<space> D2.4A<space>
xxxx:0318 74.78<return>
Writing 1780 bytes

DOS 2.10

-E 2DA<return>
xxxx:02DA 7D.73<return>
Writing 1B00 bytes

Format Without Erasing

In the March column, I included a suggestion to help hard disk users avoid having the FORMAT command erase their entire hard disk. Well, Wesley Merchant of the Capital-PC Club, has come up with a better way.

The following patches will force users to include a disk drive designation when using the FORMAT command.

Listing 2

DOS 2.00

-A 17B<return>
xxxx:017B JMP 160<return>
xxxx:017D NOP<space>
xxxx:017E NOP<space>
xxxx:017F NOP<space>
Writing 1780 bytes

DOS 2.10

-A 191<return>
xxxx:0191 JMP 160<return>
xxxx:0193 NOP<space>
xxxx:0194 NOP<space>
xxxx:0195 NOP<space>
Writing 1B00 bytes
Last modified: Saturday, 15 October 2011


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