Vic Lennard explores a brand‑new, home‑grown CD‑ROM...
Back in May's Atari Notes, I looked at GEMini, the first Atari‑specific CD‑ROM. Various others have appeared in the meantime (although mainly on the graphics and fonts fronts), and I've been waiting for the next decent one to raise its head before broaching the subject of CD‑ROM again.
Anyone intending to compile a CD‑ROM is confronted with two major problems: where to access the data from, and how to ensure that the various files are as up‑to‑date as possible. In fact, these two are closely inter‑related — a decent Atari archive is likely to have the latest software on board. The largest of its kind is the one at Michigan University, and so System Solutions decided to 'mirror' this in their first CD‑ROM, the aptly‑named Atari Mega Archive.
This disc is quite literally packed. The cover boasts 1.9Gb of data, which at first sight appears to be impossible — a standard ISO‑format CD‑ROM can only hold around 600Mb. However, all files are compressed, which explains the incredible capacity. This does have a disadvantage, though; programs cannot be run directly from the CD‑ROM. Additionally, a variety of different compression techniques have been used, including ARC, lZH, ZIP and ZOO. Fortunately, self‑extracting versions of most archivers have been included in the 'Archiver' folder. Phew!
Disc organisation is pretty good, with the entire shebang being broken down into 32 folders. This includes an individual index per folder (plus last minute additions) and folder names that give a decent indication as to their contents — like 'Music' and 'Sound', the two we're most interested in.
The 'Music' folder contains 6.9Mb of shareware programs, demos and info documents (for example, the annotated version of the MIDI Specification that appeared some years ago on Usenet. The explanations there are far better than any that have appeared in print).
Being the world's central repository for Atari files, Michigan has gathered up all in its path for some years. Consequently, many of the files are several years old, although most of them appear to be the latest versions. In fact, some of the files are from 1994, which is pretty good going. There's a demo of Patchking, the generic patch librarian that Software Technology released last year, but the lack of a 'read.me' file makes it impossible to run. A double click on the program simply brings up a dialogue box complaining that it can't find a particular file. Not a good start!
How about a guitar tutor? The Guitaristics demo from 1990 offers some useful facilities — despite the dire screen display! Playback can be either through the monitor's speaker or via a sound module connected to the MIDI Out, and the program can even print out the scales, though not on the demo version. Still, it gives you a pretty good idea of the program's abilities, which is true of most of the demos here. The only problem with any of them is the concern over whether the company is still in business!
Codehead Technologies is one company that is definitely still around, and its MIDI Spy demo is another program that appeared last year. This is a unique desk accessory that sits around minding its own business until data appears at the MIDI In port. At this point, it records the data as a Standard MIDI File. Neat idea, especially for the more spontaneous among you. The demo loads files, but times out after 10 minutes.
There are a couple of decent MIDI File playback programs, including a good Dutch shareware offering — in English, I hasten to add. The user interface may be poor, but Playback allows you to load a MIDI File with the option of filtering out whatever you wish before loading to cut down on memory consumption. Once loaded, further filtering can take place, and you can mute tracks and change the MIDI channel, MIDI Volume setting and transpose value. If you can ignore the way it looks, this is a very useful application.
Fancy building your own sync box? You can do just that courtesy of a useful text file and a Degas diagram from Mark Bombard. Or how about a desk accessory Korg M1 librarian? Yep, there's one of those as well, in the form of the Buddhaware M1 Assistant, although the idea of praying once a month to Buddha for the enlightenment of the author as 'payment' doesn't really appeal! And if you want a basic sequencing package, Steven Eker's useful EKSEQ sequencer and Henry Cosh's Accompanist are also on offer.
For those with older sound modules, there's a wealth of editing software. The Yamaha FB01 and TX81Z, the Kawai K1, Casio CZ range, and Roland D10, D110, D70 and MKS50 are all catered for.
The 'Sound' folder is immense — almost 150Mb to be precise! Over 10% of this is in the form of digitised sounds or .SND files that can be used with a variety of programs, while almost 900 .MOD song replay files take up an amazing 125Mb! Incredible.
I've mentioned trackers a few times recently, and this CD‑ROM has them all: NoiseTracker, ProTracker, DeskTracker, Paula and Octalyser — to mention but a few. The latter of these is probably the best 8‑bit tracker on the market, and has been used to create the music for numerous games. The version on this disc is the final shareware offering (0.9) and is fully functional, aside from MIDI support and a few features. There are also a variety of utilities, including the excellent 525, which converts between five different types of sound file, and Digidrum, a replay system for sampled drum sounds.
If your areas of interest extend beyond MIDI and music, then the Atari Mega Archive has plenty to offer. There are demos of power programs such as Calamus SL, Pagestream 2.2, LDW Power and DynaCADD, plus a host of fonts and clip art — and an STe‑specific folder. At £24.95, this is probably the best English Atari‑specific disc on the market. Now all you need is a CD‑ROM drive... oh, what's that box over there all about?
System Solutions offers a system based around the Apple CD300e and the ExtenDOS software. Housed in Apple grey, the front panel includes an eject button, a volume control knob and headphones socket. The rear sports a pair of SCSI ports, an ID selector, the power switch and a pair of stereo phono connectors for the audio output. This double‑speed multi‑session mechanism can play audio CDs, and is also PhotoCD‑compatible.
The CD300e replaces the CD300 model, the main difference being the lack of a caddy — it uses a CD drawer system, similar to that found on domestic audio CD players. For pricing details, see the Further Information at the end of this month's Atari Notes.