Derek Johnson laments the imminent demise of a major Atari software resource, but sees new products on the way from other quarters.
Last month, in the wake of November's excellent Atari Computing Convention at Stafford, I wrote an optimistic column, and still feel very encouraged about the future of the platform — there's loads of news to bring you yet again this month. On a sadder note, I've just heard of the demise of an ST‑specific public domain library. After nearly 12 years of existence, Floppyshop had amassed what was arguably the largest library of Atari PD software on the planet, but from the end of January, they'll be no more.
Floppyshop will be taking orders until the last minute, however, giving you the opportunity to take advantage of their closing‑down sale. Some amazing offers include the excellent Sounds and Stuff: The Atari Musician's Toolkit CD‑ROM for just £12 plus postage — it was released a few months ago at £25 — while the brand new seven‑CD‑ROM Floppyshop Gold series (which collects the entire Floppyshop PD library) is also going for £12 per CD. So for a little under £100, you could have a comprehensive collection of all kinds of ST and Falcon software, clip art, disk mags and more. Other CD‑ROMs on offer include:
- Select CD, a collection of Falcon demos, games and software for £10.
- DTP + Graphics for £10, which collects tons of fonts and clip art along with almost every graphics program and DTP support utility for the ST.
- Suzy B's Atari Software Treasury, volumes one and two, £8 each.
Postage is extra, of course: for each CD, add £1 in the UK, £2 to Europe and £5 to the rest of the world.
If you're interested in non‑music Atari software, Floppyshop also have the following for sale, at fairly ridiculous prices:
- SpeedoGDOS v5.7 font and printer manager tool, £12.
- Positive Image 2, the image processing and retouching package, for just £20.
- Easy Text Professional and Easy Tex Pro Vector DTP packages, £10 each; the former will work on a 1Mb floppy‑based ST, while the latter needs Speedo or NVDI 3.
With the gradual reduction in numbers of Atari PD libraries, you may be wondering where to go in future. Well, a couple of libraries still exist — see box opposite — and until the end of January, you can order individual disks from Floppyshop's catalogue at £1 a go. Other than that, there's the Internet. This is ironic, since the Internet may well have played a significant part in moving people away from PD libraries, for all platforms, in the first place. If you've got access to the Internet, you're sorted — I can recommend a couple of sites that you visit immediately that will keep you up to date: the Shareware Music Machine (www.hitsquad.com/smm/) is a good starting point for all platforms, and The Ultimate TOS Software Index (ping4.ping.be/dipching‑drulkhor/PRG‑IND2.HTM) is an active, well‑maintained site covering PD, shareware, freeware and demo software of all kinds (not just music, MIDI and audio) for Ataris and Falcons.
If you don't have access to the Internet, perhaps you should start thinking about it: a basic account with an Internet Service Provider (ISP) needn't cost much, with some pretty good deals available. I, and many Atari users, use Zetnet (+44 (0)1595 696667). It's an affordable, efficient provider, and I particularly like the fact that they're based in the Shetlands (though Net access is via a local‑call rate number). Atari users will also appreciate the fact that Zetnet have a dedicated Atari support group. If any readers know of other Atari‑friendly ISPs, please pass on their details.
The software necessary to get on line has been discussed in this column before, but Floppyshop (again) produced the Comms Starter Pack, which contains everything you need to send and receive email, browse the Internet and send or receive faxes. Be warned that there may be certain demands placed upon your computer, and that the ST's modem socket might not be up to working at the high speeds of most modern modems. System Solutions (+44 (0)1753 832212) can supply the RSVE modem port accelerator for £29.95, but this requires a little soldering. The same source has 33.6k external fax modems for £59 and 56k modems for £79, and there are special deals available if you decide to buy the accelerator, modem and the respected CAB v2.7 web browser. Call for details. A similar service is available from The Upgrade Shop (+44 (0)1625 503448); their serial port upgrade costs £22, and modems are priced similarly to System Solutions, with package deals available.
If the Internet confuses you in any way, RE Golding's Users' Guide to the Internet for Atari is essential. I'll be looking this nifty, comprehensive book in detail next month, but it's available with a set of floppies for £12.99, or without for £9.99. (UK postage included; contact RE Golding, 95 Washford Farm Road, Ashford, Kent TN23 5YA, or email email@example.com).
Perhaps you're thinking that the Floppyshop library on CD‑ROM is a good deal — it is — but don't yet have a drive. CD‑ROM drives are easily and cheaply available from suppliers for other platforms. Make sure it's a SCSI drive (not parallel or IDE), though the basic ST won't directly connect to such peripherals. You'll then need an adaptor, such as ICD's Link 2 (this, or equivalent devices, are available from The Upgrade Shop, System Solutions or Titan Designs (+44 (0)121 693 6669) plus a PD software driver such as MetaDOS, available (for a week or so, anyway) from Floppyshop. Of course, Falcon or TT owners don't have to worry — their machines are already equipped with a SCSI port, though a special cable may be needed, depending on the CD‑ROM drive. Atari users with external SCSI hard drives also needn't bother: you'll have an ICD‑SCSI adaptor already, and a CD‑ROM drive can simply be cascaded from the hard drive; just remember to terminate your SCSI chain properly.
And while you're shopping for a CD‑ROM drive, you might like to think about a CD writer, expecially if you're a Falcon owner; System Solutions can supply a suitable CD‑R/CD‑RW drive for £249, and the software to help you burn audio files onto CDs. The company note — with some satisfaction — that an STFM can burn CDs at 2x speed, given the correct software and a hard drive to hold the audio files.
One of a handful of very active companies to continue supporting the Atari platform is Keychange Music. As mentioned last month, Keychange are selling brand‑new copies of Steinberg's Cubase v3.1 for £149, and the company have just informed us that purchasers are entitled to a little incentive. Buy Cubase, and receive either a MIDI modem cable or 2Mb of RAM for free. Emagic's Unitor II SMPTE synchroniser and MIDI expander users can have their Cubase dongle modified so that it can actually fit the Unitor II's dongle through slot.
Keychange are also supplying some interesting external drive bundles. For example, one package mounts both a hard drive and an Iomega Zip 100Mb removable drive in a single case. This is a great idea, and would make light work of tidying the dozens of DD disks most floppy‑only Atari users seem to be drowning in. Bear in mind that blank Zip cartridges can be easily sourced for well under £10 apiece these days. The system allows you to run your software from the hard drive, and make safety backups to Zip. It may be possible to have your existing hard drive remounted in the Zip enclosure — contact Keychange for details — and if you'd like to start using CD‑ROMs, a package combining hard drive, Zip drive and CD‑ROM can be supplied.
Also currently available from Keychange is an STe‑only Accelerator, which apparently runs Cubase and Emagic's Notator up to four times faster than a standard machine. As seen at the Atari Computing Convention in Stafford a couple of months ago, there's also a new 9‑inch monochrome monitor; this is ideal if you have space problems or if you'd just like a compact, remote monitor. Further monitor news comes in the shape of a forthcoming graphics expander that's designed to provide a resolution of 800X600 pixels in monochrome, which should result in a lot less scrolling!
Last of all from Keychange is news of their 'Clean and Service' service. Your Atari could be up to 10 years old, which is a long time in computer terms, but when was the last time you took it in for a service? Keychange note that a little attention when unexpected crashes start to occur can often cure most problems. The service costs £25, plus carriage. Parts are obviously extra, but apparently most services don't actually need any.
Regular readers will recall my mentions of the free availability of Hollis Research's excellent Trackman II MIDI sequencer and Midiman universal MIDI editor on the Hollis web site, and the availability of some unbound manuals for Trackman. Well, in leafing through issue 11 of Atari Computing magazine I discovered that the mag, which recently included the Hollis software on one of its cover disks, can actually supply copies of both manuals in a "luxury binder". The options are £13.50 for Trackman II (that's both the tutorial and reference manuals), £13 for Midiman, or £22 for both, housed in the same binder. You also get master disks for both programs, and prices include UK delivery. For further details, contact Atari Computing, Rois Bheinn, Overton Crescent, Johnstone PA5 8JB.
If the Internet's not for you, and you simply don't want a CD‑ROM drive attached to your computer, there's another option for sourcing shareware PD software. Floppyshop, in their last newsletter, point people in the direction of dedicated Atari user groups, of which there are a surprising number. Many run web sites, but most have a wetware element — people regularly meet and communicate, providing a forum for sharing software. So here's a brief list of user groups, plus two remaining PD libraries. And do remember to send an SSAE with any queries. If you run or belong to a worthy user group, or library, let me know — I'll be glad to give you a plug in the column.
- Association of Atari User Groups (AAUG)
- Coventry Users Club
- Scottish Atari Group (STAG)
- Stevenage & Hertfordshire Atari Group (SHAG)
- Wessex Atari Group (WAG)
- FaST Club
- 16/32 Systems