Atari sequencers running on a Mac? Vic Lennard investigates the possibilities of MagiCMac...
When Atari launched the original ST back in 1985, it really was a state‑of‑the‑art machine, a fact which accounts in part for the sales over the years of nearly two million units. Nearly ten years on, though, the machine pales when compared with a 486 DX2‑based PC, a 68040 Mac, or a PowerPC. Many of us have grown up with the ST and are looking for the next quantum leap. The Falcon is a possibility, especially with the news that C‑Lab has licensed the technology from Atari, and will be launching a range of C‑Lab Falcons in the near future.
But the Falcon has many shortcomings. Firstly, the memory is limited to 14Mb, and while this may not affect its use for music, just try editing a decently‑sized true colour image! Secondly, the video circuitry is poor, using the machine's standard RAM rather than dedicated video RAM (VRAM). The latter, as used in most Macs, gives far superior performance. Finally, the keyboard is still as naff as ever!
The second and third points can be improved through the purchase of external items, but if you were hoping to use your Atari computer for more than just music, the chances are that you've been casting a beady eye over the PC and Mac markets lately. But what of all the ST software you've collected over the years? Bin time? Perhaps not...
If you've been following Atari ST Review over the past six months or so, you'll have read about MagiC. This replacement operating system for the ST uses highly optimised code in place of the inefficient programming in TOS. Most programs running under MagiC perform better than under TOS, an incredible testament to MagiC's authors.
At the start of September 1994, Application Systems Heidelberg, Apple Germany, and Sven and Wilfried Behne of 2B collaborated on a project to put MagiC onto the Mac. Hearing about this, I booked my flight to ProTOS, the Atari show in Bonn at the end of November, just to see MagiCMac in operation. On entering the hall, I made a bee‑line for the DMC stand, magnetically drawn to the banner proclaiming "Calamus SL für den Apple Macintosh". There was the Atari's premier DTP package, running in 256 colours on a Performa 630 (25MHz 68040 without maths coprocessor) with blindingly fast screen redraws. But the pair of small arrows in the top right corner of the screen gave the game away — Calamus SL was running under MagiCMac!
I spent two days playing around with the system, and then brought a test version back with me, which now resides on my PowerBook 170. After two days of demonstrating the product at the Birmingham and London ST Review shows in mid‑December, I can attest to the fact that, with MagiCMac installed, my 25MHz 68030‑based Mac out‑performs a Falcon by a street and a TT by a figure of two.
MagiCMac runs as a standard Mac application, except that it reserves an area of the system file's memory for itself. Allowing for a minimal system, I can allocate 5Mb of my PowerBook's 8Mb to it. The installation is a doddle: MagiCMac's installer places the relevant files in a folder, and that's it. A configuration screen appears the first time you run the program, where you have to match up Atari 'partitions' with Mac folders. MagiCMac treats these as identical entities — you don't have to reformat or partition the Mac hard disk in any way. Just click on one of the lettered slots, and select the Mac folder whose contents you wish to appear when you select that partition letter from MagiCMac's file selector.
Application Systems' Ease, an excellent replacement desktop, is included as part of the package. The test version was in German, but an English translation will appear courtesy of its distributors, System Solutions.
So, what actually works on this system? More than you'd think. For starters, Calamus SL is fully useable once it has been patched to work with MagiC. Dedicated users have shaken their heads in disbelief at just how well it works, including the guys at Calamus User, the official user group.
Compo's That's Write 3 works perfectly well, but the star of all the word processors has to be Papyrus — in fact, this article has been written with Papyrus running under MagiCMac with only changes to "‑‑" symbols being carried out on Word 5.1 afterwards. With SpeedoGDOS installed, both TrueType and Speedo fonts can be used, and it's even possible to print to a Mac DeskWriter. The GEM clipboard is currently supported for text transfer between ST and Mac applications; an invisible translator between .IMG and PICT formats will be needed for images. Papyrus can even copy to the clipboard in rich text format (RTF) to keep the font structure, although this will only be successful when both systems are using common fonts. This will happen when NVDI 3 is incorporated into MagiCMac for the release version. As for scrolling, a piece of text with vector fonts in Papyrus scrolled almost twice as fast as the same piece in Word 5.1 — and that's without NVDI!
Most of the standard ST utilities work, including Imagecopy, Everest, STZip and LHArc. Even a vector art package such as Kandinsky works well — and the faster screen redraw makes it far more useable. Auto programs like Selectric and BoxKite, a pair of replacement file selectors, seem perfectly at home, while desk accessories such as ST Guide and XControl provide the usual added functionality. You can even take a screenshot with That's Snap, although the Mac's operating system has its own built‑in utility for this.
Perhaps the most wacky scenario of the lot is Connect, the best comms package on the ST. My PowerBook has an internal fax/modem: Connect can access this and function at 38,400 bits per second, four times faster than on a standard ST!
While in Germany, I was fortunate enough to speak with the programmers, who informed me that MIDI support was on the list of features. This could be very interesting, perhaps not for the Cubase and Notator Logic owners who can simply cross‑grade to a new platform, but for those of you who use a MagiC‑compatible sequencer like Breakthru. Bearing in mind that MagiCMac is basically MagiC with a kernel of code to translate system calls, there is no reason why a simple MIDI interface cannot be addressed.
Either way, MagiCMac offers serious Atari owners a very real upgrade path: buy a Mac and MagiCMac, use your sequencer or cross‑grade to a Mac version — and continue to use many of the programs and utilities that you've gathered over the years. For me, this is one of the most exciting pieces of software I've laid my hands on in years.
MagiCMac will be released in Germany in the middle of January; UK launch will depend on translation. The price will be less than £200. More information is available from System Solutions on 081 693 3355.
Vic Lennard has been an Atari enthusiast since 1987, and runs Club Cubase UK along with Ofir Gal. Vic is also author of the MIDI Survival Guide, available from the SOS Bookshop. His STs and Falcon seem to spending a great deal of time looking over their shoulders at the moment...