News

Volume 1

Number 12

February 1984

Unlocking programs costs firm £65,000

FURIOUS that the magazine Personal Computer World published details of how to break locked programs, Acornsoft took legal action, forcing the publishers to settle out of court for £65,000.

Said Editor Jane Bird: "One feels a bit sad about it, but the situation was that it could have been a long battle and we would have lost the issue".

Injunction

Acornsoft had demanded that the offending issue be removed from the bookstalls and took out an injunction claiming that the publishers were "inviting others to infringe Acornsoft's copyright".

Despite their surrender, PCW feel that they were right in publishing the details since this allowed disc users to transfer their programs from cassette.

Now that it has become public knowledge could we publish the details, having courageously restrained ourselves in the past, we asked the Acorn spokesman.

"Yes, if you want. We'll add the money we get from you to the coffers -we're using it to find a new way of locking programs", he said.

Tape-disc transfer

PEOPLE who have bought Acornsoft programs on tape now have the opportunity to put them onto disc - legally.

Acorn has launched a service which will transfer the program from tape to disc.

All the customer has to do is to send the cassette to Acornsoft which will copy the program to disc.

The charge will be half the price of the disc version of that program.

The address to send the cassettes to is Acornsoft, c/o Vector Marketing, Denington Industrial Estate, Wellingborough, Northants NN8 2RL.

Three inch discs are rolling in

THREE inch discs seem to have come of age with the announcement that a leading producer of disc based software is to market its products on the smaller discs.

Clares Micro Supplies of Cheshire, publishers of The Key and Replica, has joined forces with AMS of Warrington and plans to offer the whole of its range on three inch discs.

Said Dave Clare: "We see a great future for the three inch drives, particularly in the educational field".

* * *

THE pre-Christmas BBC Micro User Show was such an overwhelming success that many exhibitors have already booked for the next show.

It will be held at the New Horticultural Hall, Westminster, from March 29 to April 1.

Full report on December's show starts overleaf.

Network group

A BBC Micro network user group is being started at Bedford College of Higher Education.

Anyone interested in more information should contact Mike Taylor at The Computer Centre, Bedford College of Higher Education, (Mander) Cauldwell Street, Bedford

* * *

LATEST arrival at Little Green School, Rickmansworth, is a fully programmable robot controlled by a BBC Micro.

* * *

EDUCATIONAL software from Golem is now available on 40 track single sided disc, as well as in cassette form for the Electron.

Already widely acclaimed in educational circles, the new formats should ensure an even wider distribution.

DEMAND IS UP FOR THE BBC MODEL A

REPORTS from dealers that Acorn has stepped up production of Model A BBC Micros owing to a component shortage were discounted by a spokesman.

"We have increased production of Models As, but this is solely due to increased demand from dealers", he said.

Acorn does admit, however, that it has been restricting the supply to Model As.

Apparently dealers had realised they could make a better profit by ordering Model As with upgrade kits than by ordering the Model B complete.

New range of Acorn books

RATHER than publish directly through Acornsoft, Acorn has launched a range of books in conjunction with Penguin, the paperback publishers.

First in the range are two books for the Electron, "The Acorn Guide to the Electron" and "Games and Other Programs for the Acorn Electron".

The former contains much information about add-ons and second processors for the Electron.

Several more titles are planned such as Jonathan Griffiths' "How to Write Arcade Games", a rewrite of the excellent book, "Creative Assembler", which was to be published by Acornsoft.

Peter Killworth's "How to Write Adventure Games" will also be part of the new series.

Whizz kid Janet, 5, scares off politicians

ALL three main political parties pulled out of a trial by computer after the news leaked out they would be competing against a five-year-old electronic whizz kid.

The contest designed to prove who can best run the country's economy was scheduled to take place at the official opening of the BBC Micro User Show recently.

However, it was learned at the last minute that the Tories, Labour and Liberals had all got cold feet and would not be turning up at the Westminster Exhibition Centre in the Royal Horticultural Halls.

Only the SDP was in fact prepared to send along a representative, Lord Perry, a former member of the party.

But once informed that the big three would not be there, he also backed out, if somewhat more gracefully.

Contest

This left pretty, five-year-old Janet McKnight, the daughter of a London college lecturer, to demonstrate her computer and political skills alone at the launch of the four day event.

The format of the contest was to have been Simon Hessel's game -Great Britain Limited -which allows each player to become at one and the same time Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer.

After making top level decisions on the economy over a five year period -the computer assesses the likelihood of the player being re-elected for another term in government.

"We had had discussions with the parties for several weeks over whom they would be sending along", commented Mike Bibby, Features Editor of The Micro User, the show's organisers.

"And we were led to believe there would be a representative from each. But what we hadn't told them was that for a bit of fun they would be pitting their wits against a child.

"Once the news leaked out, they obviously didn't want to end up with egg on their faces if the youngster topped the poll. But she still went ahead to demonstrate how effectively a child can run the country".

"The situation proved what a lot of people have suspected for a long time: even the smallest child can teach our political masters a thing or two ..."

Said Janet McKnight: "I don't really want to be bothered with running the country. I'd rather play Snapper".

Show celebrity Janet McKnight was in great demand from the media on opening day, culminating in a visit to broadcasting house to be interviewed by Radio One DJ Mark Page.

Show launch

SANDY Dow, former sales manager for Acorn, chose the December show for the launch of his firm's new products.

Already well respected for its lightpen, RH Electronics has moved into the software field with fourteen titles for the BBC Micro.

They remain, however, very much a hardware-orientated company, providing both a Euro-card expansion system for the BBC Micro and the Interbeeb, a peripheral that allows the BBC Micro to control the outside world.

EXIT THOSE BLACKBOARDS

ONE of the highlights of the show was the Electronic Classroom, and it created the most interest among educationalists.

Both pupils and teachers were able to experience how, despite the total removal of blackboard and chalk from the classroom environment, the BBC Micro is able to form part of a structured educational environment.

Star performer was the UTAC video-controlled unit, a pseudo-network for the BBC Micro, offering the ability to monitor and interact with each pupil far more cheaply than with standard methods.

Keyboard Training demonstrated the capabilities of the system with their TechniTouch package - a program designed to teach keyboard familiarity using colour coding.

Such was the popularity of the classroom that it is scheduled to be a regular feature of future shows, the next of which will be held, again at the New Horticultural Hall, from March 29 to April 1.

Walk-in forum was great success

GATHERING place for the BBC Micro addict was the walk-in forum, the general public's chance to interrogate The Micro User experts.

Almost every aspect of BBC Micro lore was covered in a series of talks that were as entertaining as they were informative, ranging from machine code for the beginner to advanced interfacing.

Said one appreciative member of the audience: "It's the first time I've felt really comfortable asking questions after a lecture.

"I felt the speakers were there to share what they'd discovered about the micro with their fellow explorers rather than just display their superior knowledge".

Another enthusiast commented: "It was nice to hear people speak who obviously enjoyed their

micro as much as I do -and admitted to making the same silly mistakes". Highpoint of the forum was the Any Questions session where it became less of a lecture and more of a discussion between BBC Micro freaks, some of whom just happened to be standing on the platform.

The forum also gave people the opportunity to meet Micro User writers in the flesh, and in some cases put them firmly in their place.

"Are you Mike Cook?" asked one fan. "Your articles make you seem much taller".

Zoom in with Bit Stick

MAIN focal point on the Acorn stand was the amazing Acorn Bit Stik. It was surrounded by fascinated crowds on each day of the show.

The reason wasn't hard to see. Even expert users who have become accustomed to the BBC Micro's graphics were excited by this remarkable add-on.

The Bit Stik resembles an up-market joystick. Yet it is at the heart of a highly sophisticated computer aided drawing package.

It allows the user to create high-resolution graphics simply and relatively cheaply.

The software provided encourages the user to "dither" colours, permitting multi-coloured shading of screen areas.

Perhaps the most striking feature is its ability to zoom in on pictures. This means that sections of the drawing can be enlarged or reduced at will.

The package, which should be available by the end of March, will cost £350, including the Bit Stik itself and its ROM based software.

Although it needs the 6502 second processor and dual 80 track drives to enable it to run, the system should be a cost-effective introduction to CAD for many small businesses.

Also displayed on the stand was Acorn's Prestel Adapter. Looking very much like the Teletext Adapter, it should sell for £90.

Secret of the black box

ONE of the Micro User experts was intrigued when he received a request for technical help from the Economatics stand. Some outside force appeared to be interfering with the equipment.

The Microvitec colour monitor was displaying a near perfect colour spectrum (no, not a Sinclair). There were regular graduations of colour bands ranging from red at the top of the screen to blue at the bottom.

But the display should, in fact, have been completely blue.

Had alien invaders finally landed? Or was some more mundane terrestrial force really at work?

The solution to the problem proved to be remarkably simple.

On the top of the monitor was a harmless-looking black box which turned out to be a loud speaker. The removal of the offending object restored the display to normal.

What happened was that the magnet in the speaker was bending the electron beams to produce this unusual effect.

While on this occasion the result was nothing more than a nuisance, the people at Economatics are now wondering if they are on the verge of discovering a new art form. . .

SECOND PROCESSOR A BIG DRAW

ATTRACTING a great amount of interest was the Z80A second processor for the BBC Micro displayed on the Watford Electronics stand.

At £299, this must be seen as a serious rival to the official, still to be released, Acorn product.

Watford's second processor is in fact a totally stand-alone computer and thus can be used independently of the BBC Micro.

As such it features a Z80A running at 4mHz with 64k of RAM, with the possibility of adding another 64k onboard.

The unit contains its own disc interface capable of dealing with 40/80 track discs, single or double density.

This interface shares the drives with the BBC Micro. It can even operate without a disc interface inside the BBC Micro.

Supporting all the OSBYTE, screen and sound facilities, the system has fully licensed CP/M 2.2 - which opens up huge amounts of ready-to-run software to the BBC Micro.

Designed

Watford have done this by taking a standard industry product designed to interface to an RS232 computer terminal and marrying it to software that makes the BBC Micro emulate such a terminal.

The result is an "instant" second processor for the BBC Micro which is capable of considerable expansion. Boards developed for the original system already include an IEEE interface, extra RAM, real time clock and prototype boards.

Scheduled for release in the very near future, the unit comes complete with power supply in a standard half-height drive case.

* * *

PUBLIC response certainly proved that Commotion had chosen the right name for their company.

The area around their stand was a constant traffic jam and all because of the Microrobotics' Beasty.

The Beasty is an interface providing a simple means of driving servos, the precision geared electric motors that aero-modellers use to control their models.

As the accompanying literature puts it, a servo "allows you to twist, turn, push, pull, lift, lower, open and close almost anything".

No wonder that Beasty, with its power to control four servos from the BBC Micro, has been heartily welcomed by robotics fans as a low-cost introduction to the subject.

At Micro User we were so impressed that we've made it both the subject and prize of this month's competition, as you'll see if you turn to Page 55.

Graphic upgrade for Beeb

ROM-based software took a great leap forward at the December Micro User Show in London.

Computer Concepts, the people who produce the Wordwise word processor chip, have produced a Graphic Extension ROM.

This -adds 30 new commands to the BBC Micro, allowing users to take full advantage of its graphics capabilities. Sprites and Turtle graphics are available, as is the 16 colour, 80 by 256 resolution Mode 8.

Bradford-based Pace Disc Systems chose the show to display two new pieces of ROM-based software, Toolstar and Commstar.

Toolstar is a toolkit utility aimed at reducing program development time. It allows manipulation of Basic programs and machine memory, aiming at giving the user the "commands that the OS forgot".

The second ROM is Commstar, which promises to give the BBC Micro an "intelligent communications facility".

This allows communication with other computers and access to Prestel and other databases via a suitable modem.

New add-on boosts BBC micro by up to 20k

HARDWARE add-ons were a major part of the BBC Micro User Show, and none attracted more interest than the 20k RAM upgrade from Aries.

The Aries-620, as it is known, allows you to gain an extra 20k of memory by intercepting the official Acorn calls to the screen and switching them to its own on-board memory.

This ensures that the BBC Micro's RAM, normally tied up with screen memory, is free for Basic programs - an increase of up to 20k in program size. One minor drawback is that programs that directly address the screen, bypassing the official Acorn calls, can't take advantage of this extra memory, although the system does allow you to use such programs.

Despite this, Cambridge Computer Consultants, who produce the board, are convinced that the package will have large sales on the more serious side of the market since it remedies one of the BBC Micro's most serious shortcomings, lack of memory.

For instance, with Aries B-20, View users can edit files of up to 25k in Mode 0, a four-fold increase. In Mode 7 programs the user can access 47k of memory, giving the BBC Micro a potential that several software houses are already designing programs to take advantage of.

Games galore on show

ALLIGATA Software chose the BBC Micro User Show to launch a new range of games for the BBC Micro.

The new titles include Eagle Empire, Neanderthal Man and Dam-busters.

At the same time they have released Bugblaster. Lunar Rescue and Fruit Machine for the Electron.

Other new offerings from the Sheffield-based firm include three home/ business utilities for the BBC Model B.

Flexibase is a database, the oddly-named Alli-gatacalc a simplified accounting package and Scribe II a word processor system.

Barry Wood's Tailpiece

DID anyone see those poor girls on the Acorn stand at our London Show? They were gorgeous. But why dress them in those outfits?

Only Acorn could do such a thing take a fantastic product, then put it in the wrong package ...

* * *

OUR beloved features editor chose the London show to unveil to the world the fact that he has a twin brother.

Denying that this was his version of a second

processor, he claimed that he'd been playing with a disc copier and something had gone wrong.

* * *

"IT'S not fair. You reviewed our program and we've brought out another one since. The one we sent you was version 1.2. We've now brought out version 1.3, and that sometimes works, so your review is all wrong."

So muttered a software producer about the all too accurate review of his product.

Our renowned editor took it in his stride.

"Don't worry," he replied, "that was the 1.2 version of our review."

* * *

SPOTTED at the show a tee-shirt stating: "Electron Users make it last twice as long ..."

* * *

YOU won't believe it, but it's really true. One structured programming freak has actually blown himself a Basic ROM that produces "Syntax Error" when you use a GOTO or GOSUB!

* * *

ACTUALLY, the ultimate blow in the "Structured Programming" debate was dealt when our omniscient editor demanded that one of our writers rewrite a program containing the dreaded GOTOs and GOSUBs. This the miscreant did, replacing the offens-ive statements with PROCgoto and PROCgosub. We feel that honour has been satisfied.

* * *

ONE of our artists is a Greenham Common veteran. On being told that "those things at the bottom of the screen" in Alien Invasion were silos, she replied: "Well, why aren't there women dancing on them?"

* * *

OVERHEARD at the show's technical advice stand: "I've just bought an Electron."

"Oh, you're the one," chorused the crowd in unison.