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Undercolor/850106/Reviews

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UnderColor, Volume 1, Number 6, March 8, 1985

  • Title: Reviews
  • Author: empty
  • Synopsis: empty
  • Page Scans: Link

Article

Review—CoCo Checker

By Mark Haverstock

PRODUCT

CoCo Checker

by Jeff Francis

Tape or disk

Spectrum Projects

P.O. Box 21272

Woodhaven, NY 11421

(718) 441-2807

$19.95

CoCo Checker is a complete diagnostics program for the Color Computer and compatibles. It lets the owner check up on the computer itself and a range of peripherals. As with Jeff Francis’s other programs, it is very easy to use. Once the program is loaded,

menu selection is made using the up and down arrow keys.

Starting from the inside out, several test options are available. The 6809’s timing accuracy, video display generator, PIAs, disk controller, sound multiplexer, ROM and RAM chips may be tested individually, letting the user diagnose most of the main components of the computer without having to physically open the case and substitute chips on a trial and error basis until the problem is found. The ROM and RAM checks deserve special mention, as they perform informative multiple checks in a speedy manner. All three ROMs—Basic, Extended, and Disk—are checked and identified by version. The test recognizes the versions currently in use, and will print checksums of all the data in an 8K ROM if it doesn’t recognize the version of Basic you have. This could be useful for custom-made ROMs. RAM checks has three options: fast, slow and slowest. Even the slowest of these took only about 46 seconds to complete. However, if one or more of the RAM chips is bad, you’ll have to resort to the plug and substitute method until the test runs error-free. There is no facility available to locate the faulty chip.

The keyboard test will check standard Color keyboards, as well as the add-on varieties. One nice feature is that it will check keyboards with function keys, such as the HJL and others. A keyboard is displayed on the screen during the test, and the corresponding number or letter will flash when pressed if the key is functioning properly.

Disk and cassette l/O are checked by writing and reading sample data to each and comparing for accuracy. Caution! Remove the program disk after the test is loaded. When performing these tests, use a blank tape or blank formatted disk. During the disk test, disk speed is measured. Also, a map is drawn on the screen indicating CRC errors, l/O errors, and verify errors.

Other peripheral items that may be checked include the joysticks, printer port and Multi-Pak Interface. The Multi-Pak test is a first for this type of program.

If There is a Problem

The instructions for the tests are complete and well-written, including the obligatory statement that opening the computer, etc. will void the warranty. What should you do if a problem is detected? The documentation doesn't include detailed fix-it instructions, nor should it. Obviously, if you're one of those persons who have experience working with computer circuitry, by all means do so. Many suppliers, including Spectrum Projects, can supply you with the necessary parts to make repairs. Also, a service manual is available from Radio Shack National Parts. If you've had little experience working with electronic circuitry or your unit is still under warranty, it would be best to send it to a qualified repair facility, such as a Radio Shack Computer Center. Your "diagnosis" may help a repair technician save time.

The CoCo Checker has a broader range of tests than other available programs, such as the Diagnostics ROMpak. I would recommend it as a reasonably priced utility that both novice and experienced Color Computer owners should have. (end)

Review—CaIc Comparison

By Jeffrey S. Parker

PRODUCT

VIP Calc

Softlaw Corp.

132 Aero Camino

Goleta, CA 93117

805-968-4364

$69.96 tape or disk

disk: requires 32K minimum, at least one drive

DynaCalc V 5.0:3

Computer Systems Center

13461 Olive Blvd.

Chesterfield, MO 63017

$99.95 disk

64K and one disk drive

Anyone who has ever balanced a checkbook has used a spreadsheet. Spreadsheet: this frightening phrase was first coined by accountants working with huge rectangular worksheets, on which they kept track of the ledgers for companies. With these "spreadsheets," they could track the past financial

history of their companies and extrapolate as to what might occur in the future if they were to take certain action or make certain investments.

Working with an eight-foot piece of paper can have its drawbacks; to improve conditions someone invented a pen with erasable ink. Computers have changed all that. Gone are the huge rolls of spreadsheet paper—now there are high resolution monitors, and Visicalc. I mention Visicalc because it has become an industry standard, and has been around for many years now. It is also the program which both Dynacalc and VIP Calc are modeled after. They are "Iook-aIikes"; they both look and run very similarly to Visicalc.

Each of these programs will be evaluated for their own merit, in terms of error handling, ease of use, documentation and performance. I would like to remind the reader that after reading this article, you should not leap to a conclusion and rush to go buy a program. You should evaluate carefully and thoroughly what you need and how much you want to spend, and what is right for you. I cannot judge these programs and say, "this is better, this is the one for you"; I can give assistance to readers so they in turn can make a well thought-out and educated decision as to which program is best for their needs.

If it weren’t for Dynacalc, VIP Calc would probably be the finest spreadsheet program available for the Color Computer. VIP Calc is powerful enough to handle all home uses and capable enough to handle some professional uses, too. One of the nicest features about VIP Calc is its command format, which is in some ways identicle to, and as easy to use as, the other programs in the VIP Library. At this writing, the VIP Library has just come out in a one-disk package, which in some ways makes it resemble a Lotus 1 2 3 for the Color Computer.

VIP Calc is loaded and auto executes. The first screen shows the spreadsheet, and VIP Calc is in the enter mode. Like Visicalc and Dynacalc, VIP Calc has help screens for every mode, and gives the user a command summary and the function of each command. This extensive on-line help menu can be of great assistance to the new user, and is a welcome change from the other VIP Library programs which have few or no on-line help menus. VIP Calc has nearly all the features of Dynacalc, with the exception of high resolution graphics capabilities. Some of its features are unique, such as extensive printer formatting, a 256 character type-ahead buffer, and transferability to other VIP programs. That is to say, one could create a spreadsheet using VIP Calc and save it in ASCII form, then load it into a report being prepared with VIP Writer. This report could then be sent via VIP Terminal to a home office, or a business associate in California.

VIP Calc, while strongly resembling many other spreadsheets on the market, does have some special features worth paying attention to. Of these special features, one of the most notable is VIP Calc's ability to provide the user with an extensive array of printing options and formats. VIP Calc will let the user print any or all parts of a spreadsheet, virtually any way the user wants to. Another very important feature of VIP Calc is its windowing capability. VIP

Calc can divide the screen of a 32K machine into eight horizontal windows, and the 64K machine can provide up to 16 windows. This means that the user can view up to 16 different areas of a spreadsheet at a time, and have them scroll either synchronously or independently. The results of calculations performed near the beginning of the sheet can be viewed near the farther end of the sheet: change an

investment for January, and see what you wind up with in December!

Yet another feature of VIP Calc is double-precision mode. While taking up to twice as long to calculate as single precision, the double precision feature lets the user calculate figures to 16 digits instead of the Color Computer’s usual eight digit numbers.

Screen default sizes and options, like in other VIP Library programs, are another nice feature of VIP Calc. The user can select between 32, 51, 64 wide and narrow, and 85 column displays. In addition, 21 or 24 rows can be selected, as well as screen color and inverse video. VIP Calc does have some drawbacks, and four problems in particular stand out. The first of these is speed. VIP Calc takes a very long time to screen update, particularly when it is doing a horizontal screen update. The average screen update time is six seconds, which can be extremely frustrating to wait for after every cursor movement or recalculation. The reason for this delay is the way the program writes its hi-res graphics screen. The time factor is an important one, particularly where one is dealing with many calculations. Mitigating this is a toggle to turn off auto recalculate, after which you may either recalculate manually or wait to recalculate until a large number of entries have been made. Single precision is slow, but double precision can take as long as a minute and a half to complete a large worksheet of recalculations.

VIP Calc has a workspace in a 64K machine of 22,118 bytes of RAM after it is initialized. As in other spreadsheets, one has to give up some feature to get more workspace—in this case the hl-res screen feature. Once the Dump command has been executed, you get about 8700 more bytes, but you cannot get the hi-res screen back without saving the work in progress and restarting VIP Calc. The default screen size is 32 x 16, and the speed factor does increase substantially.

Another drawback is VIP CaIc's help menus. They are somewhat less than extensive; sufficient is a good way to describe them. The help tables list the commands, but they do not go into any kind of explanation of the given command, nor give any detailed information about the command. There is no option to delete the help commands—they are stored on disk file, and can either be used or not.

VIP Calc has a good error handling routine, which makes it difficult to destroy entered data or carelessly wipe a spreadsheet clean.

Last but not least, VIP Calc comes with the most complete set of documentation Softlaw has produced thus far. This is to say that it is a very weII-organized manual, in the form of a tutorial, and provides a detailed explanation of VIP Calc's commands, features and functions. The text of the tutorial does contradict the text of the command summary section in

several places, which can get confusing, but on the whole the manual is very usable documentation. Further explanation and simplification would be nice to see in a future version of the manual.

All in all, VIP Calc is a very powerful software package for the Color Computer. While by no means the finest spreadsheet available for the CoCo, it is quite capable of handling both personal and professional spreadsheet needs, and includes some unique features not found on other spreadsheets.

Dynacalc is one of the most powerful programs for the Color Computer to come along. There is no finer example of integrated software for the CoCo to date. Dynacalc is a spreadsheet which incorporates an integrated high resolution graphics package in its design. A thorough manual and the most extensive on-line help menus thus far developed for the Color Computer round out the package.

Dynacalc is head and shoulders above the rest, with or without its graphics. The only close contender on RS-DOS is VIP Calc. Dynacalc was written for Flex also, but the RS-DOS version appears to be somewhat more orderly in its command design, and slightly fuller featured.

Like VIP Calc, Dynacalc uses a hi-res screen display, which is 51 x 24 and is not user definable. Again, the user must deal with the element of recalculation time with Dynacalc. While taking some time (average 10-20 seconds) for recalculation, on the whole Dynacalc is substantially faster than VIP Calc.

Dynacalc's hi-res display cannot be dumped to provide extra memory, but by deleting the very extensive help menus, composed of about eight pages of video RAM, one can restore an additional 8500 bytes of RAM. These help menus are available for every mode of Dynacalc, and not only give the command summary, but also give a full explanation of what each command does, and a full explanation of each formula, too. This is very much like having the manual on-line.

The manual itself should be mentioned here. While it is somewhat rigorous, it is quite thorough in detail and explanation, and even a novice could understand its easy to follow language.

For those users wishing to really fly around a spreadsheet, there are options allowing cursor control by means of a mouse or joystick. This is user selectable, and you may toggle back and forth between joystick/mouse and keyboard whenever you wish. The cursor is a very large oscillating line on

the screen, which gives one a feeling of confidence watching it move, and tells the user where they are located on a given worksheet very rapidly. Dynacalc is also capable of windows, though limited to two windows maximum at any one time. These can be formatted either vertically or horizontally, and can scroll either synchronously or independently. Dynacalc has superb error handling, making it almost impossible to destroy data accidentally, and alerting you when you make an illegal command entry.

And now to graphics! What a selection! Line graphs, bar graphs, high/low/close graphs, pie charts—all drawn in high resolution graphics, all ready to be printed on a dot-addressable dot matrix printer. Printer drivers are developed from the master disk using a program feature called "Create," which lets the user create bootable back-up copies of Dynacalc with a printer driver installed on that disk for a given printer (such as Gemini, C. ltoh, Nec, etc.). Labels and captions can be added to any graph anywhere, and any graph can be defined by any range or part of a spreadsheet. These fully integrated graphics, combined with windowing features, are what people find on 16-bit machines.

There are far too many features of the program to go into in this article. Thirty-six mathematical and logical functions, autorepeat, output to ASCII/text files for word processors, all of these functions and more are available with Dynacalc. If one is using Visicalc at work, this is a superb program for home expenses, but the power shouldn’t be wasted there. Compared to Dynacalc, Visicalc is somewhat limited . . .

As can be seen, by sheer magnitude alone Dynacalc emerges as a Jaguar compared to the VIP Calc Cadillac. Both built for performance, designed for elegance and appearance, but the Jaguar, a sleek, dynamic, integrated art form in motion, will win out in the long run.

This is not to say which is the best; that product could be announced tomorrow. This is not to say which you should buy; that decision is up to the reader, and as personal as a choice in fine automobiles. Cost must be weighed, type of use, design features, etc. One very important question to ask, before getting carried away with Dynacalc, is will there ever be a need for graphics in a given use? Are all those fancy bells and whistles needed? This is VIP Calc, this is Dynacalc; now it‘s up to you. You be the final reviewer: you decide. (end)

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