Telesoftware

Free BBC Micro software on Ceefax: What can you receive - and how.

Volume 5

Number 3

May 1987

Save programs, save pounds

Gordon Horsington weights the pros and cons of using teletext adapters

REGULAR readers will have seen the special offer for Acorn Teletext adapters in recent editions of The Micro User and hopefully many will have taken advantage of the very competitive price and bought one.

If you are one of the three million or so people in Britain who already have access to teletext with your TV set you may have asked yourself if it was worth buying the adapter just to have teletext on your monitor as well as on your TV.

The answer is yes. The adapter will give you access to the telesoftware service that ordinary TV teletext viewers can look at but never use.

Those using MicroLink, Prestel and bulletin boards will already know about telesoftware, and may well have used their modems to download some of the many files available on these services.

The telesoftware service available via the telephone network has the disadvantage that even the free software has hidden costs such as telephone connection charges and the software has to be indirectly paid for.

For example, The Micro User monthly listings can be downloaded from MicroLink for just the connection charge, but if you want to download all the listings it can cost almost as much as buying the listings cassette.

The telesoftware available from BBC Ceefax has the advantage of costing you absolutely nothing as long as you have a TV licence and a good outdoor TV aerial. And the quality of software provided by the BBC is always of the very highest professional standard.

Of course telesoftware is not the answer to everyone's software shortage problems, and will not in its present form replace the computer dealer's software shelf.

You are unlikely to be able to download Elite or Thrust, but you will be able to choose some very good games, utilities, teletext interactive software, tutorials, teaching and educational programme notes.

If you have bought an Acorn adapter, connecting it to your computer is quite easy. Following the clear instructions in the User Guide, you must switch off all the hardware, connect the 34-way IDC socket on the adapter lead to the 1 MHz bus, fit either the Teletext Filing System rom (TFS) or the Advanced Teletext System rom (ATS) into an empty rom socket on the computer board, plug the adapter into the mains, and switch everything on.

Surprisingly the 1 MHz bus connection on the Acorn adapter doesn't conform to Acorn's own standard for 1 MHz bus connections.

Acorn has specified that a 34-way output header plug connector should be provided so that the 1 MHz bus connections can "feed through" the unit so that more devices, such as Winchester discs or music synthesisers, can be connected. The output header is not fitted to the Acorn adapter.

The first job the novice teletext user has to do is to tune in the adapter. Although it only needs to be tuned once, this can take ages with the Acorn system and can lead you to believe that a perfectly good adapter does not work.

Read the Teletext User Guide carefully and take particular note of the instruction to turn the tuning controls very slowly. Anything other than very, very slowly can lead to the use of strong language and little else. Having mastered the tuning controls, the time will eventually come when you can start to use the adapter.

The ease of using any hardware depends entirely on the quality of the software used to control it. This is true for the teletext adapter, and the ATS software is much easier to use than the TFS.

When you use the ATS to download tele-software on a BBC Micro with OS 1.20 you should type *FX5 to disable the printer before accessing teletext. This is because the MOS (not the ATS) has a bug that can cause the computer to hang up when the telesoftware catalogue is displayed.

Back in the bad old days before the ATS became available, downloading software with the TFS was not a particularly enjoyable experience. It was necessary to load a software patch from disc for every file and keep notes of load and execute addresses and file sizes taken from the teletext pages.

Things have improved a little for the TFS user, but the new ATS has done away with all the old TFS drudgery.

When you are ready to download software, make sure the function key strip is available and type *TELETEXT and press Return. That is the only command you need to remember unless you write your own teletext interactive software.

Your computer will enter the teletext terminal mode and allow you to use the Micro as an ordinary teletext receiver.

Most adapter facilities are controlled with the red function keys. To download software with the ATS first select BBC2 by pressing Shift+f2, then press f5 and wait for the catalogue to download. When it is displayed select the file you want with the cursor keys and press Return.

The software will download and automatically save to disc. It is really so simple that anyone who can read the catalogue can download software.

Software comes from a number of sources, including some - but not all -of the listings printed in The Micro User.

Typing in the listing of the game Tipaka from the February 1986 edition of The Micro User must have been a nightmare for any intrepid key basher who could add new problems with every mistyped command.

Telesoftware users could download this and many other Micro User programs free of charge in less than the time it takes to post a cheque for the monthly listings disk.

Teletext interactive software has been, and will continue to be, broadcast by the BBC. All the information you need to write your own interactive software is included in the Teletext User Guide.

This type of software, as its name suggests, can interact with the information available on teletext pages. You can write or use software to manage your shares using the Stock Exchange pages from teletext, or predict the football results using teletext football information or print out any teletext page.

Software to perform these and many other interactive tasks has been broadcast, and tutorials on writing the software are due to be transmitted during 1987.

The ATS will also give you access to the new fastext system which stores pages in memory for "instant" display. In fact teletext on the BBC Micro is even more versatile than fastext because it can be controlled with interactive software using, for example, keywords to search the teletext pages.

Channel 4 is starting to set up a tele-software service. It is still in its infancy and, at the time of writing, it is of marginal interest to BBC users.

The only BBC Micro program broadcast to date on Channel 4 has been a test program which failed to download giving endless "bad data" messages in the process.

Channel 4 does not yet support the BBC catalogue standard, and you need to write your own interactive software to attempt to download it with the ATS. This is not difficult for an experienced programmer, but it is not yet a very rewarding exercise.

In the future Channel 4 may adopt the same high standards set by the BBC telesoftware service. If it does, owning or having access to a teletext adapter will be a must for every BBC Micro user.

Predicting the future is very difficult, and we may yet see the equivalent of closed user groups within the tele-software service. Legislation has already allowed broadcasters to charge for the teletext service they provide, and this may well result in extra licence fees or special rented decoders for tele-software users.

At the moment and for the foreseeable future, the BBC provides a first class, free telesoftware service to all TV licence holders. If you want to expand your software library without spending your hard earned money every week, or if you want teletext or fastext without buying a new television set, then the teletext adapter with the ATS is certainly worth owning.

The Micro User offer for the adapter represents exceptionally good value for money. With the ATS you have one of the best hardware bargains of the year.

Software is currently transmitted for a period of one week. Downloading can take place from Friday evening to the following Thursday evening. As the updating takes place on a Friday, we do not advise attempting to download software between 9am and 7pm on Fridays. The program details given are provisional.

May 1 to 7

EvDump An event driven code screen-to-printer dump, enabling screens to be printed from a running program.
SD A single-density Mode 7 screen-to-printer dump, Choose between white or black background, (Epson MX80 compatible).
DD A slower, but clearer, double-density Mode 7 printer dump.
T/OSB16 Part 16 of our BBC assembler and machine code guide. This course leads you through the workings of the inbuilt BBC Micro 6502 assembler in a series of around 26 parts.
T/ATS05 Programming using the ATS rom. Part 5 of our series explaining the techniques of producing Ceefax-interactive Basic programs. This module examines the teletext page-linking system, and provides routines to interpret the link settings on any teletext page.
MapDat, Fall, Rome Control the Roman Empire! In this game you must maintain the Empire by controlling your troops.
Learner Add power and flexibility to your word processor by teaching it special key sequences. (The Micro User, September 1986).

May 8 to 14

Autoload An automatic program down-loader (using ATS). Select which files you would like to download. The system will capture and save your chosen files without further intervention.
NLQpmt, NLQinfo, NLQchrs Earlier Epson printers do not include an NLQ (Near Letter Quality) font. This suite of programs provides an NLQ facility on the Epson MX range and on other printers with a dot-addressable printing mode.
T/OSB17,B/OSB17 Osbit's machine code programming series, part 17.
Domino2 Play dominoes against your computer.
Colours A complete learning package based on the effect of colour subtraction.

May 15 to 21

MCWL This provides the means to compare quotations from various companies for minimum cost whole life insurance. The estimated long term results are displayed on screen in graphic form.
T/OSB18,B/OSB18 Osbit's machine-code programming series, part 18.
T/ATS06 Interactive programming guide, part 6. This module shows you how to download software without using the broadcast catalogue information.
VidiEd The ultimate Mode7 teletext screencreator/editor. This is the same software as used by the BBC to prepare their entire Ceefax magazine. Several support packages will be available for the VidiEd software in the future.
GRead A series of procedures and functions to add to your own Basic programs, helping with the handling of disc-based random access files.
DisASS1,DisAss7 With these programs you will be able to handle all 6502 and CMOS 6502 instructions. (The Micro User, January 1987).

May 22 to 28

T/OSB19,B/OSB19 Osbit's machine code programming series, part 19
DRV/SRC,DRV/OBJ A View printer driver utility providing features such as underlining for the early Epson MX80s which do not have this feature as standard.
FAdd, FDel, FSrch More routines for dealing with disc-based random-access files
Folio A financial Ceefax-interactive program which allows you to build a portfolio of shares, either real or imaginary, and keeps a track of your investments by frequent access to the Ceefax City pages. It will find the actual value of shares, offering the opportunity to buy or sell any of the 160 or so equities listed. Arranged in the form of a game, it also offers valuable facilities for the serious investor.
Select Sideways ram software allowing
SellInfo simple selection of the required version of Basic. Some of the extra commands available include: *HIBASIC (to activate the 6502 second-processor version), *LOBASIC (to select BASIC2), and *OLDBASIC (to select BASIC1 if present).
Tables Learning can be fun with this short but effective multiplication tables tester. (The Micro User. December 1986)

May 29 to June 4

T/OSB20,B/OSB20 Osbit's machine code programming course, part 20.
T/ATS07,B/ATS07 Interactive programming guide, part 7. This module looks at sub-page numbering procedures, and how to determine the sub-page reference of the captured page,
FPrint,FBal,Fqsort Further procedures assisting with disc-based random access files.
Accounts A program to help with the financial organisation of clubs and societies. Originally written for use with church accounts, it could be modified to suit most purposes.
Sun By selecting any part of the world, the time of sunrise and sunset in the region can be calculated for any day throughout 1987.
Viewpre A versatile screen drive for View which lets you preview a whole page at a time, complete with highlights. (The Micro User, September 1986).

NEXT and EDITORIAL FEATURES DURING MAY

Miles Potwell will try his hand at on-line banking. Does it actually save money?

In Paper Round, Keith Hazetton will browse through the computer press - commercial and amateur - and offer advice to hopeful fanzine editors.

Richard Hewison will do his best to extricate a few viewers from tight corners in Adventure SOS, and look at Professional Adventure Writer, the latest utility from Gilsoft.

Outsider, the Ceefax mole in Prestel, will get the lowdown on the promised keyword search facility, and index by any other name...?

Plus news for the micro world, answers to viewers' computing problems, and reviews of the latest software.

Next news and features are on BBC2 701, renews on BBC2 702. Both are updated every Saturday.

May sees a batch of Ceefax specials on its editorial pages - two outside broadcasts plus an election. The climax of the Embassy World Snooker Championship will come live to teletext viewers from The Crucible in Sheffield, with the final taking place on May 4. Less than a week later the London

Marathon will also be serviced by live Ceefax updating from the event's base.

Both OBs will involve BBC Micros based at competition headquarters with Ceefax journalists providing scores and placings before any other medium.

And on May 7 the Ceefax election team will bring teletext viewers a complete guide to the results as they come in from the local elections throughout England and Wales.

A special through-the-night magazine will bring the state of the parties, gains and losses, individual council compositions and reactions from top politicians.