Atari 520ST – A Hands-On Report

ST520Main

“We aren’t selling home computers. We aren’t selling business computers. We’re selling personal computers. People can use them for whatever they want.” With those words, Jack Tramiel launched the ST series and a new beginning for Atari. Here’s a close look at the first computer in the ST series and the most powerful Atari ever.

By Tom R. Halfhill, Editor

The old stereotypes about home computers are being challenged. There’s a new generation of personal computers emerging that combines massive memory, high speed processing, fast floppy disk drives, hard disk interfaces, considerable expansion potential, stunning graphics, and sophisticated sound. These computers are powerful enough to run state-of-the-art business software and versatile enough to excel at running entertainment and educational programs.

The Atari 520ST was the first of this new breed. Announced at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show last January, it is now becoming widely available. Here are the standard features:

  • 512K of Random Access Memory (RAM), half a megabyte.
  • Motorola 68000 microprocessor. This 16/32-bit chip is clocked at 8 megahertz and can directly address up to 16 megabytes of memory without bank-switching. It’s the same central processing unit found in the Apple Macintosh and Amiga from Commodore.
  • One of the fastest floppy disk drive interfaces in personal computing. Although the interface bus is serial, not parallel, it transfers data at a megabit per second, faster than some hard disks. The basic 520ST system comes with one external drive that stores 400K (unformatted) on a single side of a 3½-inch micro-floppy disk. Double-sided drives which store 800K per disk have also been announced.
  • One of the fastest hard disk interfaces in personal computing. It transfers data at 1.33 megabytes per second, more than eight times faster than the floppy interface. Although hard disks aren’t yet available for the ST, Atari plans to introduce a 10- to 15-megabyte drive by early 1986, possibly for as low as $399. This price is feasible because the hard disk controller is already built into the computer. The hard disk interface can also be used for memory expansion or a CD-ROM (Compact Disc-Read Only Memory). Atari has shown a prototype CD-ROM that stores up to 550 megabytes of data on a single compact disc. (See “Monster Memory,” August 1985.)
  • Built-in Centronics-standard parallel port and RS-232 serial port for printers, modems, and other peripherals. These ports are compatible with IBM cables for printers and modems.
  • Built-in Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) for attaching keyboard synthesizers, sequencers, drum boxes, and other electronic musical devices. Because the MIDI ports transfer data at a very high speed (31.25 kilobaud), they’ve also been considered for such future applications as extremely inexpensive local area networks (LANs).
  • A slot for cartridges containing up to 128K of Read Only Memory (ROM).
  • Intelligent video output port that recognizes whether a colour or monochrome monitor is plugged into the computer and allows the operating system to adjust itself accordingly. This port also has pins for audio input/output.
  • High-resolution monochrome monitor. With a screen refresh rate of 70 hertz – about 16 percent faster than normal monitors and TVs – this monitor is capable of unusually sharp displays. An analogue RGB (red-green-blue) colour monitor also is available.
  • Screen modes with high resolution (640 x 400 pixels, monochrome), medium resolution (640 x 200, four onscreen colours), and low resolution (320 x 200, 16 on screen colours).
  • Palette of 512 possible colours. Any of the four colours in medium resolution or 16 colours in high resolution can be selected from this palette.
  • Three-channel General Instruments sound chip, the same as found in the Texas Instruments TI-99/4A, IBM PCjr, and MSX standard computers. Envelope registers allow the chip to simulate various types of waveforms.
  • A disk-based operating system called TOS (Tramiel Operating System) which combines Digital Research’s CP/M-68K and GEM (Graphics Environment Manager). CP/M-68K is the 68000 version of the popular Z80-based operating system, CP/M (Control Program/Microcomputers), similar to the MS-DOS used on the IBM PC and compatibles. CP/M-68K is vastly expanded, however, with provisions to support up to 16 disk drives with 512 megabytes per drive and 32 megabytes per file. To make this operating system easier to use, it is linked on the 520ST with GEM, a Macintosh-like user interface with icons, windows, and drop-down menus. GEM can be manipulated from the keyboard or with a mouse controller that comes with the 520ST. The two-button mouse plugs into one of the two controller ports built into the computer.
  • Digital Research Logo and Atari BASIC programming languages on disk. (At this writing, BASIC wasn’t finished, and the 520ST was being shipped with Logo only. Atari has said that BASIC will be added to the package when it’s done and offered as an upgrade to early ST buyers as well.)
  • An 84-key keyboard with cursor keypad, numeric keypad, plus ten special function keys.

The price for the complete system (520ST, disk drive, monochrome monitor, mouse, and system software) is $799. A 520ST system with RGB monitor costs $999.

ST520Turtle

Turtle graphics in logo: This geometric figure was created in the Atari 520ST’s low-resolution mode (320 x 200 pixels, 16 colours).

If you’ve never used a Macintosh, working with the Atari 520ST for the first time will be an unfamiliar experience. When you switch on most personal computers, you find yourself either in BASIC or some type of disk operating system (DOS). But the 520ST doesn’t wake up with a READY prompt, command line, or DOS menu. Instead, the first thing you see is the GEM desktop.

Icons along the edges of the desktop screen show a trash can and file drawers. The drawers represent floppy disk drives and hard disks, depending on your system configuration. Menu titles appear across the top of the screen. Floating above the desktop is an arrow that you can move by rolling the mouse or by pressing certain keys. It represents an extension of your hand on the screen.

To view a menu, you move the pointer to the desired title. Instantly, the menu drops down over the screen. (The 520ST’s drop-down menus are summoned slightly differently than the Macintosh’s pull-down menus: You don’t have to click and hold the mouse button.) As you move the pointer up and down the menu, it highlights various options. Some options may be invalid for a particular operation, so they appear in dim print and cannot be highlighted. To select an option, you simply highlight it and click the left button on the mouse.

To call a disk directory, you move the pointer atop the appropriate file drawer icon and do what’s called a double-click – pressing the mouse button twice in rapid succession. The disk drive hums, and a window appears on the desktop. Various types of icons inside the window denote data files, executable program files, and sub-directories on the disk. If you prefer a more conventional disk directory, you can drop down the View menu and select View As Text. The file icons change into a list of filenames which includes such information as file lengths in bytes and the dates on which the files were last updated. Other options on the View menu let you sort the directory by filename (alphabetically), file type, size, or date.

If you’re working with a two-drive system, you can call the directory for drive B by double-clicking on its icon. When this window appears, it overlaps the window for drive A. But the drive A window isn’t erased; by pointing to it and clicking the mouse button once, it moves atop the drive B window. A similar click on the drive B window brings it to the fore. You can flip back and forth between several windows in this manner, like shuffling papers on a real desktop. Options selected from menus, such as View As Text, affect the window which is currently on top of the pile.

All other functions in the GEM desktop work in similar ways: You point to a menu option or icon, then click the mouse button once or twice. For instance, to run a program, you point to its icon or filename in the disk directory window and double-click. The desktop disappears and the program runs. When you exit the program, the desktop reappears.

Some operations, such as deleting a file, require a mouse manoeuvre known as dragging. First you select the icon – in this case, the file you want to delete – by pointing to it with the mouse and then clicking the mouse button. While still holding down the button, you can roll the mouse to drag an outline of the file icon along with the pointer. To delete the file, you would drag it to the trash can icon and release the mouse button. A window appears and asks “Are you sure?”, warning that the file will be erased if you click on a marker labelled “OK.” If you don’t want to delete the file, you can click on a marker labelled “Cancel.” The first choice irretrievably erases the selected file off the disk; the second choice restores everything to normal. (Unlike the Macintosh, you can’t retrieve files from the trash can. As the 5205T manual points out, the 520ST trash can is more like an incinerator.)

This dragging technique is used for other operations as well. You can copy a file from one disk to another by dragging the file icon from the source disk’s directory window to the destination disk’s window; you can copy the contents of an entire disk by dragging its file cabinet icon atop another disk’s icon; and you can organise files into sub-directories by dragging their icons into a folder icon.

You can also manipulate windows as easily as icons. The “active” window – that is, the one on top of the pile if several are displayed – has various control bars and squares along its edges. Pointing to the square in the upper-right corner and clicking the mouse button expands the active window to full-screen size. Clicking this corner again restores it as a window. Dragging the lower-right corner lets you adjust a window’s size, making it larger or smaller. Dragging the top bar lets you move a window anywhere on the screen. Clicking on the small arrows displayed along the bottom and right bars will scroll the material displayed in the window, assuming some of it is hidden due to the window’s size. And clicking on the upper-left corner removes the active window from the screen (“closes” the window).

ST520GemLoRES

In low res, the GEM desktop has a 40-column screen. The Control Panel is a pop-up menu that lets you adjust various system functions.

ST520GemMedRES

In medium resolution (640 x 200 pixels, four colours), the GEM desktop has an 80-column screen. Note the two disk directory windows.

ST520TypeStyles

The 520ST is capable of displaying numerous type styles, as seen on this hi-res Logo screen.

One unusual feature of the 520ST is its intelligent monitor interface. When you boot up, the operating system checks whether a monochrome or colour monitor is attached to the computer and adjusts itself for one of three possible screen resolutions.

With the monochrome monitor, the operating system automatically configures the GEM desktop for high resolution – 640 x 400 pixels, black and white. The display is extremely sharp and stable because of the monitor’s 70 hertz refresh rate, which means it redraws the screen image 70 times per second rather than 60 times as on standard monitors and TVs. (This is possible because the monitor uses its own 70 hertz oscillator instead of synchronising with the 60 hertz power line.) Furthermore, the display is paper-white, not blue-white, easier on the eyes. When the monochrome monitor is hooked up, the operating system won’t let you enter the medium- or low-resolution modes, which have colour.

If the 520ST is booted up when plugged into its RGB monitor, it defaults to medium resolution – 640 x 200 with four simultaneous colours. Because this screen has the same horizontal resolution as the monochrome mode but only half the vertical resolution, the aspect ratio is slightly distorted. Icons appear tall and skinny, and characters are narrower.

The low-resolution mode – 320 x 200 with 16 simultaneous colours – also requires the RGB monitor. (The RF modulator included in pre-production 520STs has been eliminated from production models, so it can’t be attached to ordinary TVs. There’s also no direct output for standard composite monitors, although one could probably be rigged from the RGB pins.)

To enter the low-res mode, you boot up in medium-res, then drop down the Options menu and select Set Preferences. A small window appears with markers for low-res, medium-res, and hi-res (the hi-res marker is dimmed to indicate it’s not available with this configuration). To change modes, you click the mouse button while pointing to the appropriate marker.

If you want your 520ST to “wake up” in low-res instead of medium-res, you can drop down the Options menu and select Save Desktop. This selection saves all adjustments you’ve made to GEM onto the operating system boot disk. Other preferences can be saved this way, too. By dropping down various menus, you can specify whether warning windows should appear when copying or deleting files; turn the keyboard click and error beeps on or off; adjust the keyboard’s auto-repeat delay and repeat rate; set the mouse button’s response speed for double-clicking; choose the desktop’s foreground and background screen colours from the 512 available hues; set the real time clock’s time and date, which is automatically stamped on disk directories whenever you save a file; and configure the RS232 and parallel ports for certain peripherals.

The 520ST doesn’t have sprites or player/missile graphics, but animation is possible in any of its screen modes by a technique called bit-block transfer. Like sprite graphics, it allows you to move objects around the screen without erasing the background. The mouse pointer and the bumblebee icon that appears when the disk drive is busy are examples of bit-block animation. Unfortunately, these capabilities are not supported in Logo, the only language shipped with the 520ST at launch. The Logo is actually a translation of Digital Research’s Logo for the IBM PC, and it has no commands for animation or sound. Reportedly, the BASIC being prepared for the 520ST is a translation of Digital Research’s BASIC for the PC.

ST520Doodle

This low-res picture was created with Dr Doodle, a simple drawing program written by Digital Research and included on an ST demo disk.

ST520Gem

In high resolution (640 X 400 pixels, monochrome), GEM closely resembles the Macintosh desktop.

ST520Error

Error messages on the 520ST are usually more helpful than the cryptic error codes of days past.

When the 520ST made its first appearance at the Winter CES, it was hard to believe that anyone could design a system like the 520ST and throw together a prototype in only about six months – the time that had elapsed since ex-Commodore President Jack Tramiel had acquired Atari from its parent company, Warner Communications.

Forced to trim down from several thousand employees to several hundred, Atari accelerated development on the 520ST by taking advantage of some ready-made parts. The 520ST came along just in time for Digital Research’s CP/M-68K and GEM. This is important in understanding the underlying structure of the 520ST, which has been nicknamed the “Jackintosh.”

Although the Atari’s desktop screens can easily be mistaken for the Macintosh’s, the 520ST is actually quite different from the Mac. True, GEM has all the icons, windows, menus, and other Macintosh screen graphics. But GEM is really just a shell – a layer between the user and the real operating system, CP/M-68K. In fact, it’s possible to leave GEM and enter this lower level. All the fancy graphics can be made to disappear and you see a screen prompt, A>. This prompt is familiar to users of CP/M and MSDOS/PC-DOS (a descendant of CP/M). You can enter commands such as DIR to call a disk directory or TYPE to display a file. Like CP/M and PC-DOS, CP/M-68K allows programmers to perform various system functions by calling routines in the Basic Input/Output System, or BIOS. Digital Research even says that CP/M file structures are upwardly compatible with CP/M-68K.

GEM, too, is a module that has something in common with other systems. Digital Research sells a version of GEM for the IBM PC and compatibles, and publishes guide lines for writing application programs to work with GEM.

All this doesn’t mean that the 520ST can run CP/M or PC-DOS programs, of course – the machine languages are completely incompatible. But it does mean that programs written in compiled languages such as C can be adapted for these various systems without complete rewriting. If software companies take advantage of this, it could significantly boost the amount of software available for the 520ST.

Another consequence of the 520ST’s shell-like operating system structure is that the machine has not been designed around its user interface. The computer is functional without the mouse, and the key board includes such traditional features as cursor keys.

Combining ease of use with real power, speed, and the potential for future expansion, the Atari 520ST is an important addition to personal computing. It lends itself to users who prefer to buy their software off the shelf as well as to programmers – a versatile representative of the new generation.

First published in Compute! magazine, October 1985

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Gem Desktop – WIMPS for All

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Digital Research’s version of Gem runs on the IBM PC and compatibles. Versions for other systems will be supplied by hardware manufacturers.

Digital Research’s Gem brings a uniform Mac-style graphics interface to a wide range of personal computers, including the IBM PC.

By Mike Lewis

The arrival of Gem marks the most realistic attempt yet to bring the marvels of overlapping windows, pull-down menus and multiple founts to a wide range of personal computers. It is a strategically important product, for both programmers and end-users. If it succeeds it will do for graphical interfaces what CP/M did for operating systems.

The comparison is an apt one because, above all, Gem is to do with portability. Just as CP/M allowed software houses to write a program for one computer in the expectations that it would run on many others, so Gem gives them the world of Wimps – windows, icons, mice and pointers – without having to worry about the details of widely differing graphics hardware.

Gem is not itself an operating system, but rather a layer of software that lives between the OS and an application program. The hardware-dependent parts are provided by Gem’s licensees – that is computer manufacturers and OEMs – while writers of application software gain access by means of a programmer’s toolkit.

Software yet to come

What Gem will do for the end-user depends on the extent to which developers of databases, spreadsheets, accounting packages, etc. make use of the goodies that it offers. So far, Gem-based packages have come in a trickle rather than a flood, but it’s early days yet.

In fact, the only Gem offerings to date have originated, not surprisingly, from Digital Research. These include Gem Draw, Gem Paint, Gem Graph and Gem Wordchart, all of which should be available by the time you read this. At the moment, the only established product is Gem Desktop, which is in many ways the hub of the system.

To run Gem, you will need 256K of RAM and a graphics display. A hard disc is advisable, but not vital. The version we tried was for the IBM PC, but it ran quite happily on the closely compatible Compaq Deskpro and Olivetti M-24. Versions for other systems will be supplied by the hardware manufacturers – they already exist for the Atari ST series and the entire Apricot range – but the IBM version is sold by Digital Research itself.

Of course, you will also need a mouse. In fact, Gem can be made to work with various pointing devices, such as joysticks and touch-screens, provided the manufacturer supplies the necessary drivers. We used the two-button Microsoft mouse, only the left-hand button being operative in Gem. In the IBM version you can get by with the cursor keys instead of a mouse, but it is a slow and clumsy alternative.

Installing Gem is simple, the whole operation being carried out by a batch file called GemPrep. If you are using floppies, you end up with two discs: a start-up disc and the disc containing the Desktop program. To start Gem itself, you place the start-up disc in Drive A and type GemRun. You are then prompted to swap discs, after which Desktop takes over the screen. Drive B remains free for other programs and data. You can also start Gem from a hard disc.

The aim of Desktop, in a nutshell, is to replace the DOS command line. It does not replace DOS itself or even Command.Com, but it does provide an easy way of carrying out basic housekeeping tasks without having to remember unfamiliar commands. Experienced users might prefer the old fashioned A> prompt, but a newcomer should find Desktop less intimidating and easier to learn.

The initial Desktop screen shows an icon for each floppy or hard disc and a trash can. There is also a menu bar with four choices: Desk, File, View and Options. To do anything useful, you have to select a disc by moving the mouse pointer to the icon and clicking the button. This switches the icon to a dark picture on a light background, Gem’s standard way of highlighting a selected object.

GemDesktop02

Desktop provides a separate scrollable window for each sub-directory. Each icon in the window represents either a file or another sub-directory. The user is able to move windows to anywhere on the screen, change their size and make them overlap.

GemDesktop03

The Get Info option in the file menu brings up an information box for the currently selected object, which may be a disc, folder, application or document. In this case, it is the floppy disc in drive A which is selected, as indicated by the reversed disc icon.

To see what’s on the disc you open the drive, either by double-clicking the icon or by selecting Open from the File menu. Gem responds by displaying the disc’s root directory in a window, with an icon for each file. These so-called directory icons come in three varieties: folders, which are DOS sub-directories; applications – Bat, Com and Exe files; and documents, which are meant to cover text and data files, but are in fact anything that is not a folder or an application.

Branching

Since a folder is a sub-directory, it can itself be opened to display a further window of icons. Folders may contain other folders, reflecting DOS’s tree-like structure. There is a New Folder option in the File menu which serves the same purpose as the DOS MkDir command, and you can copy files between folders, root directories and other discs.

Copying a file is simply a matter of selecting the icon, then dragging it with the mouse button held down to where you want it to go. Gem warns you if the file already exists at the destination, and also gives you a chance to rename the copy. You can copy entire discs in this way, just by dragging one disc icon on to another. If you drag an icon to the trash can, it is deleted after a suitable warning message.

The most important operation that you normally carry out at the DOS command line is to invoke an application program. In Gem, this is done simply by opening the application’s icon. Before handing over to the program, Desktop invites you to enter a parameter, the name given to a command line tail, for passing to the program. Although the application takes complete control of the screen, when it finishes the Desktop reappears exactly as you left it.

The other type of icon which you can open is a document. The aim here is merely to see what is in it, via the DOS Type command. Bear in mind that a Gem document is not necessarily text, so trying to open a binary file will result in a screenful of rubbish.

Opening a document in this way reveals one of the main weaknesses of Desktop, something which is also evident when you wish to format a floppy or carry out a disc-to-disc copy. In each case, Desktop steps aside and allows the equivalent DOS command – Type, Format or DiskCopy – to take over, exposing the user to precisely the sort of cryptic dialogue that Desktop is designed to avoid.

Having opened a document, it is a trifle disconcerting to see your attractive Desktop display disappear, albeit temporarily, to be replaced by a monochrome text screen, with the contents of the file flashing past and only the Control-S key to stop the scrolling. Would it have been so difficult for Digital Research to have displayed the file in a Gemstyle window and to have given the user a little more control over the scrolling? As it is, relinquishing control to DOS in this way gives Desktop a decidedly unpolished appearance.

Fortunately, these are the only occasions on which Desktop’s dealings with the user are open to criticism. In general, you are never left wondering what is going on and most of the system’s messages are polite, clear and to the point. When you start an operation that might be either time-consuming or destructive, such as copying or deleting a file, Desktop issues an unambiguous warning and gives you a chance to back out. More confident users can switch off this feature.

A particularly interesting aspect of Desktop is the way in which documents with the same file type can be linked to a specific application. Once this is done, opening a document of the relevant type will have the same effect as invoking the application, with the document’s name as a parameter.

For example, you could assign all documents of type Txt to WordStar. Then when you double click on a file named Report.Txt, Desktop will load WordStar which will in turn open Report.Txt ready for editing. To help you remember which documents work with which programs, you can superimpose special icons on the normal application and document icons. Thus there is a typewriter icon which would be suitable for a WP program, and one resembling a sheet of paper for word-processed text.

Resume later

Normally, this link-up between applications and documents survives only for the current Gem session. The same is true of the various toggles and switches which you can set to disable the warning message before file deletions, for instance. However, if you use the Save Desktop function in the Options menu, all these settings are written to disc. The next time you invoke Desktop, the system will be just as you left it.

In any discussion of Gem, there is a strong temptation to make comparisons with the systems that has most furthered the Wimp cause: the Macintosh. Certainly, Gem has a great deal in common with the Mac, at least from the user’s viewpoint. This is no bad thing, because once you have learned how to operate one of these, you will know the other too.

Windows have a near identical anatomy in both systems. By manipulating the various controls around the edge of the window, you can scroll it any direction, move it, alter its size or close it altogether. The only difference is that Gem’s windows also have a Full box: you click this once to make the window fill the screen and click it again to return the window to its previous size. This would be a useful addition to the Mac.

Another small difference is in the use of pull-down menus. On the Mac, you pull down a menu by pointing to it and holding down the mouse button. You may then drag the mouse to the option you want and release the button. In Gem, the menu drops down as soon as you point to it, and the option is selected by a single click.

Desk accessories are also common to both systems. These are mini-applications which can be invoked from their own menu, either from the desk top or within other programs. Gem has just two of them, a clock and a calculator, while the Mac sports seven, including the indispensable scrapbook. Gem also lacks the equivalent of the Macintosh clipboard, a handy means of cutting and pasting between programs.

GemDesktop04

Desk accessories may be invoked from Desktop or within a Gem application. The clock and the calculator are supplied with the package. Programmers who have the Gem Toolkit may add their own accessory programs.  

But it is from the programmer’s point of view that the real differences between Gem and the Macintosh emerge. When you program the Mac, you are locked into a fairly fixed configuration. Access to the graphical interface involves working closely with the hardware and with the Mac’s ROM-based service routines, and this can be quite an undertaking. You can do a lot of Mac tricks in certain high-level languages like Microsoft Basic and Mac Pascal, but these are interpreted rather than compiled and so do not appeal to software vendors.

The Macintosh is controlled by a piece of software called the finder. This, together with the ROM routines, serves as operating system, Wimp manager, and desk top. It is highly machine specific, and adding non-Apple hardware like third-party hard discs generally involves obtaining a modified version of finder.

By contrast, Gem works in co-operation with existing operating systems, its role being confined to servicing programs that want to use the graphics interface. The programmer can communicate with DOS as before, and can continue to use all his or her favourite tools like keyboard enhancers and RAM discs. And you can use any language that permits calls to compiled library routines – although the calling sequence is particularly geared to C.

Highly portable applications

Because all interaction with graphics devices is routed through a set of drivers, Gem programs can be highly portable. This does not mean that you can port Gem itself from an IBM to an Apricot and expect it to work. But once you have Gem on both systems, your application code can be successfully transferred, which is more than can be said for packages that try to do their own clever displays by directly accessing the computer’s screen-mapped memory.

This approach also means that applications written for non-Gem environments can be used in a Gem system without change. Familiar programs like WordStar and dBase will run quite happily whether they were invoked from Desktop or the DOS command line, and they will not be put off by any Gem routines that happen to be resident in RAM. What is more, the user is not tied to Gem and can return to normal DOS operation whenever he or she feels like it.

But although these are important advantages, Gem will not succeed if it merely provides a standard, intuitive mechanism for invoking non-standard, non-intuitive applications. The future of Gem depends critically, on how readily the likes of Micropro and Ashton-Tate incorporate the Gem brand of Wimps into their mass market products.

So far the prospects are good, with around a dozen major houses promising Gem adaptations of their packages. The products include Thorn EMI’s Perfect range, the Pegasus accounting system, Lifetree’s Volkswriter, Plan from Chang Labs, SPI’s Open Access, Compsoft’s Delta, and the Prospect Graphics Library.

It is true that all these represent just announcements rather than actual discs and manuals on dealers’ shelves. But with this sort of muscle behind it, Gem certainly looks like being off to a good start.

Conclusions

  • With its Mac-like user interface, its availability on a range of business micros, and its ability to work with existing applications software, Gem certainly looks like being a winner.
  • At first sight the Gem environment is nice and friendly to programmers, especially those who do not want to work too closely with the graphics hardware.
  • In spite of a few rough edges, Desktop is a highly acceptable alternative to the DOS command line. It can be mastered very quickly and so should appeal strongly to computer novices.

Specification

  • Description: Gem is an operating system extension that lets programmers use overlapping windows, icons, mouse support, pull-down menus and multiple fonts; Desktop uses Gem to perform the common DOS utility functions.
  • Hardware required: IBM PC family or compatibles, Atari ST or Apricot, other versions available soon; bit-mapped graphics display, 256K RAM, mouse or other pointing device.
  • Publisher: Digital Research, Oxford House, Oxford Street, Newbury, Berkshire.
  • Price: Desktop costs £49.95 plus VAT
  • Available: Now

First published in Practical Computing magazine, August 1985