News

Volume 2

Number 4

June 1984

IBM compatible upgrade for BBC Model B

IN a sideways move that looks as if it's going to leave rivals far behind, Data Technology has announced an IBM compatible upgrade for the BBC Model B.

Produced by a team whose members originally worked on the BBC Micro and Torch computers, the Graduate will upgrade the BBC Micro to a 16 bit business computer.

The development means that the Graduate plus the BBC Micro will give buyers IBM capability more cheaply than buying the IBM PC itself - with the possibility of full colour as well.

So far BBC upgrades, including Acorn's own Z80 second processor, have tended to base their products around CP/M compatible machines.

The strategy has been to open the wide range of CP/M software to the BBC Micro owner.

But this ignores the fact that the major thrust of software development is increasingly towards the IBM Personal Computer, which uses PC DOS, not CP/M.

With the Graduate, it is claimed, BBC Micro owners will be able to take advantage of this ever-increasing and highly sophisticated IBM software.

The package looks extremely competitive. The minimum system -G400 - selling at £599. gives the BBC Micro not only 128k of RAM expandable up to 1.2 mbytes, but also a 400k BASF disc drive -independent of the BBC Micro's DFS.

The second system, G800. selling at £869. has twin disc drives plus full colour word processing, spreadsheet and database programs.

Both systems have expansion slots to take advantage of the wide range of IBM add-ons such as communication cards and hard discs.

Driving force behind Data Technology is Martin Vleiland-Boddy, the founder of Torch Computers.

Said Martin: "We've got a winning team together. On the hardware side there's Alan Wright, who worked on the BBC Micro and the Torch. For software we've got Paul Bond, who wrote the BBC Micro OS, to help us.

"And, of course, on the financial side there's my brother Clive, who's worked widely as a consultant for companies such as Acorn and Sinclair".

QUEEN'S AWARD

FOR ACORN, MICROVITEC

ACORN Computers has won the Queen's Award for Technological Achievement for the BBC Micro. The award pays special tribute to the BBC Micro's advanced design and it commends Acorn "for the development of a microcomputer system with many innovative features".

Chris Curry, Acorn's managing director, said: "This is a special honour for Acorn because it highlights the technical achievements of the BBC Micro system.

"We have consistently aimed to design computers that have set technological standards instead of merely meeting a price.

"Our approach is vindicated, both by the award and by the fact that two years since it was launched the BBC Micro is still the most advanced computer of its kind".

The award also goes to Microvitec for the innovative technology of their Cub colour monitors.

The news came as Microvitec celebrated a record £9 million turnover in what is still only their fourth full year of operation.

Since the Cub monitors were introduced they have won approval from the BBC, the Department of Industry, the Department of the Environment and are said to be currently used in 95 per cent of Britain's schools.

Microvitec head Tony Martinez said: "I understand we are one of the youngest companies to receive the honour.

"Our market success during the four years of our operation has been entirely due to an all round team effort and the Queen's Award comes as a marvellous tribute to the work of all concerned".

Anti-pirate breakthrough

A LEADING software house has made a technological breakthrough which it believes will scupper most of the pirates currently pillaging the industry.

Rochdale-based A & F has developed the software at a cost of £20,000 to enable an anti-copying device to become 95 per cent effective.

"We now have a system that will make it virtually impossible for school children and computer clubs to make audio copies or computer dumped copies of our software", Mike Fitzgerald, the company's managing director, told The Micro User.

"Not only that, but it will have serious implications for the professional pirates".

The device has been patented by Jim Lamont of JLC Data, Barnsley, who hit the headlines recently when the Minis- try of Defence snapped up a similar invention of his and placed an embargo on it.

"We had been talking to Jim Lamont about the one the MoD grabbed when the government stepped in and brought an end to that", says Mike Fitzgerald.

"It was at this point we decided to evaluate an earlier system of his. Now, three months later, we have the software to make it work".

Pseudo user groups are expelled

COMPANIES with a commercial interest in the burgeoning BBC Micro market are trying to muscle in on the user group scene in the hope of making a financial gain, according to a spokesman for the Association of Computer Clubs.

The ACC is so concerned about the trend that it recently expelled Beebug and Laserbug from its membership.

"We were very unhappy about the fact that these organisations described themselves as user groups but in fact both clearly existed for commercial gain", said the spokesman.

Soft sales soar

DYNABYTE Software reports steeply rising sales graphs since they attended the Electron and BBC Micro User Show in March.

Although it was their first show, and they had one of the smallest stands, there was a queue to try out the games on their two BBC Micros.

According to sales executive Ian Mortimer business was "extremely busy". Dynabyte plan to be at the Electron and BBC Micro User Show in Manchester this August.

The firm has also had good reactions from customers about new packaging, which bears screen dumps so that games fans can get a better idea of what a game actually looks like when played.

Electronic mail network aids appeal

MICRONET 800 achieved a first using the BBC Micro over Easter when it linked up with Capital Radio in a charity appeal.

The result was that subscribers to the electronic mail network pledged a total of £1,000 to the radio station's "Help a London Child" scheme.

Two or Micronet's staff were on standby at Capital Radio throughout the Easter weekend, armed with a BBC Micro and modem to accept donations.

While the station's disc jockeys were encouraging regular listeners to contribute over the airwaves, the Micronet team were exhorting their own subscribers to take part by regularly posting bulletin boards on the viewdata service's database.

"It was a very successful exercise", said Adam Denning, Micronet's software and technical editor.

"We updated the screen every time we received a pledge in order to keep the interest going".

Tom's micro is the key to a bright new world

THOMAS Lindley has recently started his schooling. And so far he has delighted his widowed mother by being able to string a few words together even though he is 46 years old.

For he was born a spastic and has remained almost completely crippled all his life.

In fact up until a few weeks ago, he was unable to master even a simple "yes" or "no".

It is little wonder then that most people dismissed him as having the IQ of a five year old.

Then along came social worker Frank Arbour, who introduced him to a BBC Micro - and the real Thomas Lindley is now about to stand up and be counted.

A few simple tests on the keyboard was enough to reveal that Thomas, far from being mentally retarded, may in fact be a man of considerable intelligence.

Frustrations

"We are already convinced that most of Thomas's learning problems stemmed from the frustrations imposed by his physical limitations", Frank Arbour told The Micro User.

"Naturally it has not been easy going. We have found considerable difficulties due to the fact that his disabilities prevent him from making the maximum use out of the conventional keyboard.

"However we expect that people already working in this field will be able to provide some of the answers in the not too distant future".

The Tameside social worker and his colleagues working on the case are hoping that not only will the BBC Micro open up educational horizons for Thomas but also eventually allow him some control of his environment.

What they would like to see is him using the micro to control electrical appliances around his home in Dukinfield where he lives with his 82-year-old mother.

Breakthrough

"If he could use it to switch on lights or boil a kettle, that in itself would be a major breakthrough", said Frank Arbour.

The BBC Micro now installed at his house has been bought jointly by the local authority and the Greater Manchester Spastics Association.

The Rev Oswald Lloyd-Roberts, director of the Association, said: "Inside Tommy is a lot of speaking. But we can't understand him and he gets very frustrated.

"At last he is going to be able to communicate with people".

The case of Thomas Lindley moved Paul Hartland of Information Technology, the Government-sponsored training scheme involving the disabled, to comment:

"Too many people still think of home computers as games machines. I believe we are now going to see their real value. It is all very exciting".

In the race

ALLIGATA Software of Sheffield is co-sponsoring a racing car this year.

20,000 see the big show

And now it moves to a bigger venue

MORE than 20,000 visitors flocked to see the latest Electron and BBC Micro User Show held at the New Horticultural Hall, London, recently some 2,000 up on the previous event last year.

At one time during the peak day on Saturday, one of the two turnstiles in operation had to be closed to reduce the intake as the large hall was packed to capacity.

And reports of record takings during the four days were received from the majority of the 83 exhibitors who attended the show.

"Naturally we were delighted with the overwhelming success", said a spokesman for Database Publications, organisers of the show.

"For our last show had been held just before Christmas which meant that central London was already swamped with people.

Growing

"To attract even more people to a March show proves that the public's interest in the BBC Micro and Electron - and all the hardware and software being produced for both machines - is growing all the time.

"It certainly justifies our decision to hold five shows a year - just to satisfy the demand".

Because of soaring interest the next London show moves to a much bigger venue - Alexandra Palace in North London.

Put these dates in your diary:

July 19-22: Alexandra Palace, London.

August 31-September 2: UMIST, Manchester.

October 25-28: Alexandra Palace, London.

December 6-9: New Horticultural Hall, London.

Meanwhile back at the most recent show, an attempt to play computer games non-stop for 24 hours failed by just 55 minutes when the 14-year-old boy involved dropped off to sleep.

However Derek Crea-sey, from Stockport, is still eligible for inclusion in the Guinness Book of Records for completing his marathon 23 hours and five minutes ordeal.

The event was held to coincide with the opening of the record-breaking four day show.

"Up until about 20 hours he was going strong", reports one of the organisers.

"But then he developed a headache. So when he finally nodded off we hadn't got the heart to wake him up".

The world record attempt was linked to medical research to estab-lish whether or not prolonged playing of computer games can be harmful.

In order to study this Derek Creasey was hooked up to an ECG machine which monitored his progress throughout.

He was also tested at regular intervals for dis-orientation, lack of concentration and other possible ill effects.

Provisional results have given the current computer games craze the all clear.

"During the attempt he showed no obvious signs of stress at all", said a medical observer.

"In fact the only symptom he displayed was what anyone else would have shown after 23 hours and five minutes non-stop doing anything - and that was just plain old fashioned tiredness".

Video training via BBC micro

THE Department of Trade and Industry is putting £100,000 into a project to produce an educational video system based partly on the BBC Micro.

It will train microelectronics technicians at the college run by the electricians' trade union, which is also putting cash into the scheme.

The idea is to combine unchanging information held on a laser video disc with volatile information stored on a BBC Micro.

The video disc will hold a mixture of still frames, live action and stock footage. Computer graphics will represent electronic circuits for fault diagnosis.

The system will go on sale to industry and training institutions next year.

According to Eric Parsloe, whose company, Epic Industrial Communications is setting up the system, it will provide a low cost solution to a major industrial training and productivity problem. In addition it should help give the UK the lead over other countries.

Contest for prep school pupils

PUPILS in preparatory schools are to have their own national computing contest, based on the BBC Micro.

The competition - the first of its kind is being run by Satips, the Society of Assistants Teaching in Preparatory Schools.

Contestants can submit either educational programs or games for two contests, one for under 11 s and another for over 11s.

All programs, maximum 75 lines, must be original and bug-free. They must be submitted via a Satips member of school staff.

The entry fee is £1 for each program and the closing date is December 1. Prizes are not yet finalised.

Full details are available from the organiser. Robert Robson, who teaches science at a Norwich prep school. Tel: 0603 868982).

Bibby on Basic

MIKE Bibby, Features Editor of Micro User, will be running a weekend course in BBC Basic for absolute beginners in July.

The course will be held at the University of Manchester's Holly Royde College. Starting at 6.45pm on Friday, July 6 it lasts until 4pm the following Sunday.

''The idea is to follow the same style I use in my beginners articles", said Mike, already an experienced lecturer on beginners Basic for the extra-mural department of the university.

"We'll be starting at the very beginning and building up slowly from there, learning good programming techniques as we explore Basic.

"The aim is that by the end of the weekend even those who knew nothing about the micro will have a thorough grounding in BBC Basic".

Electronic classroom takes its bow

THE classroom of the future took a bow at the Electron and BBC Micro User Show and in doing so fueled the controversial debate about the future role of teachers.

"We set out to be provocative and succeeded", said Peter Brameld, of Database Publications, one of the joint organisers of the electronic classroom stand.

"Many teachers and theorists are worried that the computer will eventually replace the teacher in the classroom and that pupils will develop learning relationships with software programs and not with their teachers", he said.

"We wanted to bring these fears into the open for proper discussion, and to support the idea that computers should be used simply as a valuable teaching tool or aid to complement a teacher's activities".

The Electronic Classroom featured 10 BBC Micros linked to the Symbnet local area network from Symbiotic Computer Systems.

The system was first developed for Apple computers, and has many similarities to the professional network used in a business environment.

Message switching allows a supervisor to send messages to individual users, to groups or to all users of the network.

Project identities are allotted to users and these can be used as addresses for messages to various groups of people.

The messages are stored on disc until they are acknowledged or collected.

A password facility means it is possible to keep information confidential when required.

A major feature is that expensive peripherals such as disc drives and printers can be shared between micros.

And use of fibre optic cables means the maximum distance between any two computers on the system is nine kilometers.

This is particularly useful for universities or colleges of further education where resources and departments are often split over several locations.

The BBC Symbnet will run Acorn DFS software without modification and DFS ROMs are not required, say Symbiotic. It is also compatible with the tube.

Econet 2, the enhanced version of Acorn's networking system, is due for release next month.

It will be demonstrated at the next Electron and BBC Micro User Show to be held in London's Alexandra Palace.

GOING BANANAS OVER BEES

THE Windward Islanders have gone bananas over the BBC Micro.

The machines, supplied by Broadway Electronics of Bedford, will be used to reorganise stock control for the Caribbean islands' main crop bananas.

More than £2,500 worth of equipment, based around the BBC Micro and Broadway's own disc drives, have been flown out, following an order handled by the Crown Agents.

A specially insulated crate was used to protect the equipment from the tropical heat during transit.

How did this British company land an order from half-way around the world?

The Windward Islands Banana Growers Association in St Lucia was put into contact with them via the Agricultural Research Council and the National Institute of Agricultural Engineering, which is also a client of the computer company.

Paul Vaughan, Broadway's MD, said: "This order illustrates the versatility of the BBC Micro".

ROM based software takes off

FIRMWARE - software stored on a ROM chip - is becoming standard for serious programs for the BBC Micro.

This is so much so that in many cases the available sockets inside the BBC Micro have been used up and enthusiasts have turned to ROM expansion boards in order to fit all their chips.

Watford Electronics, one of the leading firms selling ROM-based software, has issued a new 13 ROM expansion board for the BBC Micro.

The firm has also produced enough utility chips to fill all 13 sockets.

As well as the Watford DFS and the Beebmon machine code monitor, written by Andrew Bray of The Advanced User Guide fame, the firm has produced two new graphics screen dump chips.

The first, Dump Out 2, is a machine code hi-res screen dump ROM for a wide range of printers.

The second chip, the Epson Dump ROM, is designed specifically for Epson RX and" FX printers, allowing teletext graphics as well as mul-titone screen dumps.

Watford is also entering the micro communications revolution with its Termemu terminal emulator ROM for the BBC Micro and its Prestel Interface ROM.

Computer Concepts, already well known for the Wordwise word processor, is also expanding its range of firmware.

In addition to the graphics ROM and the Printmaster printer utility, it has released Caretaker, a Basic utility ROM.

Among other things Caretaker will allow the Basic programmer to recover a crashed or corrupted program and selectively renumber and/ or save parts of a program.

It also allows the use of single key entry of keywords.

Also planned for release - when the ROM chips are available - is the Accelerator, Computer Concepts' long-awaited BBC Basic compiler.

This is claimed to be the first full floating-point compiler available for the BBC Micro.

Acorn in laser disc drives deal

ACORN is to take part in a joint venture to manufacture laser disc drives in Hong Kong.

The company has reached agreement with BSR International to set up a new manufacturing operation under the name of Optical Information Systems in the Crown Colony.

A joint statement was released by Hermann Hauser, Acorn's chairman, and W.R.A. Wyllie, chairman of BSR International after the conclusion of successful talks in Hong Kong.

Reliability

Optical Information Systems' first product will be a compact laser disc drive which, claim the makers, will feature greater storage capacity, reliability and faster access times than currently available with floppy and hard discs.

This is in line with the new company's long term strategy to develop digital optical technology for computer data storage and retrieval.

HEARD ON THE GRAPEVINE..

ALREADY known for its disc drives and the Amcom DFS, Pace has entered the rapidly growing field of micro communications with the Grapevine modem.

The low-cost hard wired device plugs directly into the telephone system by way of a standard jackplug.

It is capable of operating at 300/300 baud full duplex and also 1200/75 baud, the Prestel rate.

This means that using the Grapevine and suitable software, BBC Micro owners can access Prestel databases.

They can also use bulletin boards such as The Micro User's own Microweb.

It can even go international, as it supports both the European and American transmission frequencies.

Pace is also supplying ROM-based software to work with modems such as the Grapevine in the form of Commstar.

This "drives" the modem, effectively turning the BBC Micro into a terminal with access to databases and bulletin boards throughout the world.

Race on for Z80 second processor

UPGRADE Technology is running neck and neck with Acorn in the race to launch a Z80 second processor for the BBC Micro.

As The Micro User went to press, it was clear that only a day or two separated the two companies.

Upgrade's commercial director Steve Matthews said: "Although not the first Z80 second processor to hit the market, ours has many advantages over the others".

Upgrade's product, which will be available first from northern dealers, has its own built in power supply and is a completely plug-in unit.

It has an internal disc controller, so does not rely on the micro having a DFS, and is suitable for either model A or B.

The disc controller will handle two drives, which can be easily and independently installed by the user via a software utility.

The unit also includes an expansion bus that allows the user to plug in up to three add-on boards.

These will expand the unit's RAM from 64k to 256k, adding serial, parallel or IEEE interfaces, extra hard disc storage or stereo sound synthesis. The Acorn product, though different in detail, is understood to be largely similar. It costs about £100 more, but this is offset by a large amount of bundled software.

Acorn's deal includes free office productivity programs - word processing, spreadsheet, database and graphics a system generator for application software, plus CIS Cobol, Professional Basic and BBC Basic.

OLYMPICS ON BBC MICRO

THE BBC Micro has been programmed to simulate the world's best athletes in the main track and field events which feature in the Olympic Games.

In all cases - allowing for a slight random element - the computer achieves the current world record.

Ranging from the 100 metres to the hammer throw, it is accurate in all details from times to distances.

The games program package involved - called Micro Olympics - has taken several months to write due to the complexities involved.

Players attempt to beat the computer and so establish a world record of their own.

See special offer on Page 79.

Hints for Hobbit fans

GOOD news for adventure fans who find The Hobbit habit forming but can't get there and back again.

Melbourne House has published "A Guide to Playing the Hobbit" by David Elkan. It is the First time that a guide has been published for a BBC Micro adventure.

In three increasingly easy stages the reader is taken through the program's problems and pitfalls, with hints and explanations given as necessary. As the game is different every time it is played, the guide is not a unique solution to the program, more a manual of strategy.