1st Atari Computer Show

 

Issue 21

May/Jun 86

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Mark Hutchinson gives a personal view

After a long tiring journey to Hammersmith I was looking forward to a quiet conversation with Les Ellingham of PAGE 6, and renewing acquaintances from the PCW show last September. After all, the first day is bound to be a bit slack with lots of people at work or school. How wrong I was.

Coming into the main exhibition suite was like entering an oven. The place was packed. I never had a chance to speak to anyone. All I could do was wander around gazing at the stands and taking notes of where to visit later. Six o' clock came very soon and I was glad to get back to the hotel to rest my feet.

Saturday dawned bright and clear. I arrived a good hour before the show officially opened. This gave me time to meet old friends and introduce myself to some new ones. I also had a chance to look over the exhibition in peace.

The largest stand was, of course, taken by ATARI themselves. On display behind the glass were the full range of ST, 8-bit and, surprise surprise, two VCS units. The main interest was the 1040STF. 1024K, built in 1MB double sided drive, OS in ROM and built in power supply. With an SM124 monochrome monitor, ATARI's RRP is 919 (including VAT). "Power without the price" has become real power!

BEHIND THE SCENES

Later in the day came a software vendor's meeting where the reason for the VCS units came to light. Again the ST was the talking point, but Sig Hartmann from ATARI went to great pains to emphasise that the company would be backing ALL models. The VCS had made a comeback and the 8-bit system was to be thoroughly supported. It was pointed out to the people present that, although they mainly write software for the ST, there is still a large market for 8-bit software and will be for the foreseeable future. To prove that ATARI have faith in the XL/XE range they will introduce an 80 column card, 3.5" mini drives and mouse driven software.

Next followed a dissertation on the ST and the new 32 bit machine. The main topic in the media at present is networking (getting computers to talk to each other). ATARI are looking into this and work is progressing on various VT emulators. Also mentioned (and taken up at question time) was the future introduction of a graphics co-processor chip, the 'Blitter' chip, allowing graphics to run up to 6 times faster! And talking about speed, April is the expected date for Activision to launch a CD ROM player for $999.

There was also a talk about the 32 bit machine which will be using an M68000 family processor chip. This will be the even more powerful 68020 which has an instruction cache to allow small loops to run very fast. It can act as a co-processor, allowing the instruction set to be extended by additional chips; it includes an instruction for moving blocks of data between address spaces and a 32 bit external data bus. All this using UNIX!

BACK TO THE SHOW

After the meeting it was back to the show where I was given a free copy of Micro Mart magazine. Whilst not 100% ATARI, it is a good medium for buying and selling second hand computer equipment. Just around the corner was the 'Red Rat' stand. They were showing some demo screens drawn with 'Technicolour Dream' (12.95, disk or 9.95, tape), a drawing program that will let you use all 256 colours at once. Needless to say the demos were superb. A review of this program will appear soon. A follow up picture disk will soon be available for 3.95. Red Rat have obtained the rights for The Search, the graphic adventure game that you may remember advertised in PAGE 6 issue 4. They are also selling Shoot-Em Up and Computer Command as one package, all in the budget price range of 5.95 (disk) and 3.95 (tape). Also on show was 'Screaming Wings'. Close by was an opportunity to upgrade the 520ST to 1 Megabyte for only 99.99, or 2.5 Megabyte for 400. Or you could have a 3.5" drive for only 99, all from AST.

For the ST programmer a host of languages was available, such as Megamax C, a full K&R implementation (199) or if you care to wait for two months you could purchase their beginner's module. COBOL (99), FORTRAN (249), Fast/ BASIC-M (49), all from Philon. Fast Basic from Computer Concepts (89.90). Modula-2 from TDI (99) which, I have been informed, is the easiest step to ST programming for beginners to the ST and something I hope to look into very soon.

GST were showing GST C (59.95) with its marvellous text editor which ST owners will recognise as First Word. Free with their C compiler is a fractal generator. This is based on a simple mathematical formula (you do not need to know any maths) that will create some stunning graphics. Later, perhaps May, GST will bring out First Word Plus, a combination of mailmerge (1ST Merge), spell checker and a graphics routine (Snapshot) which allows you to include pictures with your letters; worth waiting for. ANTIC magazine were displaying CAD-3D from Tom Hudson of ANALOG magazine, and Cartographer. It would have been nice to have had some demo screens to let you see these programs, but time did not permit.

THE MOST VISITED STAND

To my mind, the most visited stand had to be Llamasoft. A practically permanent display of Colourspace was performed by Jeff Minter who made it all look so easy. I had never thought much about this program until I stood, encapsulated by a huge crowd, listening to 'Stairway to Heaven' and being entranced by the graphics from the hand of an expert.

I am sorry that much of this report is about the ST, but most of the stands involved ST products. If you did go for the 8-bit products you would not have been disappointed. There were bargains galore to be had. For instance, Eliminator or Sea Dragon at 1.99! I wanted to see what else was available at this stand but could not get through the crowds.

I met one or two PAGE 6 readers during the show and I hope my American friends write to me to let me know how the printer worked out. All in all, I had a great time. Tiring, but enjoyable. I look forward to being at the next ATARI exhibition where I hope to meet more readers (did I miss you Stan?).

... and Les Ellingham presents a round up

First the verdict. An astonishing success with an attendance of over 14,000 that exceeded the Amstrad Show and surprised both Atari and Database Publications and virtually every other exhibitor. Some companies were overwhelmed by the attention they received and others such as Compumart must surely have set up world records! As a company renowned for discounted hardware they brought lots of extra stock, enough for three days, and promptly sold it all on the first day! In fact they had sold over 60% a mere one hour after the Show had opened! You can be sure that there will be another Atari Show next year and there may even be something special later this year.

So now for the roundup. To be honest, the PAGE 6 stand was so busy that I probably saw less of the exhibition than any of the paying visitors but I grabbed half an hour late on Sunday and made a whirlwind tour picking up all I could find. I only wish that I had had the time to talk to some of the exhibitors but I am sure that what I did pick up will be of interest to all those who did not attend and act as a product reminder to those who did.

Despite what others may tell you, there were in fact more exhibitors in the 8-bit hall than in the ST hall although many were showing products for both machines. Let's start with the stand right in front of the main door. This was occupied by COMPUMART, a shrewd move, for as mentioned above the stand was virtually empty after the first day!

THE ST HALL

This side was actually the ST hall so to the right was HABA SYSTEMS who had, to my mind, the most original and eye-catching of all the stands set up as a high class executive office with red and pure furniture. On show was the latest update of HabaWriter, HabaDex and HabaMerge and their 10 Mb Hard Disk. Also a pre-release version of a new database called Habaview together with some other American products to 'test the water'.

KUMA COMPUTERS, alongside, had their range of K-SPREAD, K-SEKA and K-RAM with details of other titles to come very shortly - K-COMM, K-GRAPH and others, all in newly styled, very smart packaging. COMPUTER CONCEPTS were previewing a new BASIC for the ST called FAST BASIC and were really testing the market for a launch later in the year. MEGAMAX were primarily showing MEGAMAX C stated by many to be the best C around and talked of an 'introductory' C package for beginners later in the year. Another C producer, GST were alongside with GST C reviewed in the last issue and a new FRACTALS program given free at the show to anyone buying a Compiler. METACOMCO are already well known to many ST owners for their early support of the ST and had three powerful programming languages available. These were MCC Assembler, MCC PASCAL and Lattice C. Also on their stand was TDI's Modula-2, a language rapidly being picked up by many new developers.

PHILON UK had a series of 'FAST' Compilers including BASIC-M, C and FORTRAN plus an introductory BASIC called HENRY's FUNDAMENTAL BASIC which acts as an introduction to the more advanced BASIC-M. CASHLINK SOFTWARE were demonstrating their CASHLINK ACCOUNTS along with a new package specifically for Hoteliers. CASHLINK has been around on other computers for several years and is highly regarded. It could be the ideal accounts program for the small businessman with a price less than half you would be charged for the same program on the IBM! PROSPERO SOFTWARE specialise in languages and had PRO FORTRAN-77 alongside PASCAL.

THE 8-BIT HALL (with ST thrown in!)

Although there were many producers of ST software here there was plenty to interest 8-bit owners although it must be said that there was not a vast number of new products. Much interest centred on retailers who were discounting software right, left and centre and there were some incredible bargains to be had.

Let's round off the ST coverage first. FIRST PUBLISHING had, until they sold out, some of the ABACUS books on the ST which were remarkably comprehensive and, whilst obscure in places, would prove invaluable reference guides to those who wish to study the ST in depth but not necessarily to other users. SUNSHINE BOOKS had a couple of UK produced ST books and MICRODEAL nearby had a whole host of utilities and games for the ST licensed from Michtron in the U.S.A. but unfortunately I did not get the full details. 

LLAMASOFT showed COLOURSPACE for the ST all day, every day, with Jeff Minter giving continuous live shows to heavy rock music and very impressive it was too. COLOURSPACE on the ST is one step ahead again from the original Atari version and is the only program to put the computer in the same class as a musical instrument yet remain accessible to those who cannot play music. Definitely unique! PSYGNOSIS impressed more people with BRATTACAS and LEVEL 9 apparently pre-viewed their first ST adventure, although I did not see it despite being on the stand next door!

One of the surprises of the show was the attendance of ANTIC MAGAZINE from the States who previewed some of their coming ANTIC CATALOG titles for both the ST and 8-bit machines. Coming from ANTIC for the ST are CAD-3D by Tom Hudson who wrote DEGAS which gives remarkable 3D drawing compatible with DEGAS, a game called RED ALERT, one of the first Expert Systems for the ST, EXPERT OPINION, a GEM based terminal program called FLASH and a program to create astrology charts which can be printed out. This is STAR STUCK. All sounds great, if only ANTIC could sort themselves out distribution wise and finally get these products to the UK.

AND NOW (AT LAST) THE 8 BIT!

RED RAT SOFTWARE showed Technicolour Dream with some remarkable demo drawings just to prove that ST graphics have by no means killed off the 8bit machines. They are also re-introducing some early games in a budget range as mentioned by Mark Hutchinson.

Other new products came from D & M SOFTWARE with SUPER 3D PLOTTER II, a very fast program for designing, rotating and scaling 3D objects. Although most people would use this just for fun, D & M claim that they have one customer who designs kitchen layouts with this program to show customers different views of their dream kitchen! Sounds good, it certainly looked good. S.E.C.S introduced the first of their new range of titles for the 8-bit machines with The Family Game, The Opera House and others. All at a budget price with many more titles promised. CDS SOFTWARE had STEVE DAVIS SNOOKER plus several budget titles from Blue Ribbon Software which were previously shown at PCW. 2-BIT SYSTEMS brought along only enough of their SOUND SAMPLERs to cover their costs only to have them virtually snatched out of their hands! Another company who wished they had brought more with a product that caught everybody's imagination.

As I have said, most of the interest for 8-bit users was in the opportunity to see and buy software that they may have only read about or found elusive in the past and many visitors went away with bargain purchases. SILICA SHOP must have moved their entire shop to the show with a huge stand featuring just about every product you could think of and there were many discount suppliers and retail shops that I had never heard of selling both hardware and software.

Things are definitely looking up in the Atari World and you can be sure that all the exhibitors went away with tales of success which will surely encourage even more exhibitors for next year. I hope that this will give software developers the push they need to produce more for Atari and if any of the non-Atari distributors came along with their eyes open then I am sure we will see a great and continuing revival for Atari over the coming year. 

P.S. I haven't mentioned the PAGE 6 stand because you simply couldn't get near it!

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