SpartaDOS X / Operating System / commercial

From: Michael Current (aa700@cleveland.Freenet.Edu)
Date: 12/05/91-01:51:27 PM Z

From: aa700@cleveland.Freenet.Edu (Michael Current)
Subject: SpartaDOS X / Operating System / commercial
Date: Thu Dec  5 13:51:27 1991

Reprinted from Current Notes, Vol. 11, No. 8, October 1991
The Power of MS-DOS for the Atari 8-Bit
by Charles A. Cole
     The SpartaDOS-X cartridge (SDX for short), developed and sold by 
ICD, Inc. (1220 Rock Street, Rockford, Illinois, 61101-1437) has been 
available for several years now but doesn't seem to be as popular as its 
older cousin, SpartaDOS 3.2.  Just why this should be so is something of 
a mystery when you consider the power contained in the SDX cartridge.  I 
read a magazine article shortly after the release of SpartaDOS-X which 
called SpartaDOS 3.2 the most pirated piece of 8-bit software ever 
release, and accused ICD of dirty tricks in switching to a cartridge 
that could not be freely copied and placed on pirate BBSs around the 
     After using SpartaDOS-X for the past 2 years, however, I honestly 
don't believe this is what the folks at ICD had in mind at all.  You 
just couldn't cram as much power onto a disk as what is contained in the 
cartridge, without having to swap between several disks every time you 
wanted to do something.  Another advantage to a cartridge-based DOS--
especially for users without expansion memory--is that no user RAM is 
used by the DOS as it is with a disk-based DOS.  As upgrades are made to 
SpartaDOS-X, you can even change the main ROM chip.  I'm currently using 
Version 4.19, released 1-16-89.
     SpartaDOS-X has so many features that I could not possibly cover 
them all in this article, so I'll concentrate on the "most used" and 
"most annoying" features.  Nothing in this world is perfect, and 
SpartaDOS-X is no exception--it does have bugs which need to be worked 
out.  So, here goes!
Main SDX Features
     Format.  This is an area where SpartaDOS-X really shines.  All you 
have to do is type "FORMAT"; a menu instantly pops onto your screen, 
offering the following choices:
     Drive Number.  SDX accepts drive assignments as either numbers (1-
9) or letters (A-I), making it familiar to both Atari and MS-DOS users.
     Skew.  You can choose between Standard and High Speed.  High speed 
sector skew works with Atari XF551, Indus GT, and Happy drives, allowing 
a drive to read/write much faster.
     Mode.  The format mode can be selected between Sparta and Atari.  
The Sparta mode makes disks compatible with SpartaDOS 3.2, and Atari 
makes them readable by Atari DOS 2.0 and all of its clones.
     Volume.  When using SpartaDOS mode, you can give each disk an 
individual name, up to 8 characters.  The cartridge also assigns a 
random, four-digit hex number to each disk for ID purposes.
     Density.  You can choose between single, dual (Atari 1050), or 
double.  The SpartaDOS dual density isn't compatible with Atari DOS 2.5, 
     Tracks.  Choices here are 40 SS (Single-Sided), 40 DS (Double-
Sided), 77 SS, 77 DS, 80 SS, and 80 DS.  This makes SpartaDOS X 
compatible with 3-1/2 inch, 5-1/4 inch, and 8 inch disk drives.
     Format.  After working your way through the above choices, you are 
now ready to format the disk.  You can leave the format menu at any time 
up to this point by pressing the ESCAPE key.
     Build Directory.  The directory structure is automatically written 
to a floppy disk during the format.  This option allows you to perform a 
high level format of a hard drive or RAMdisk from SpartaDOS-X: a very 
convenient feature for hard drive users.
     CONFIG.SYS.  In order to make SDX fully compatible with all 
systems, you may need to write a CONFIG.SYS file on the disk you will 
normally use the most.  Hard drive users can write this file to their 
boot drive.  Unless you have something out of the ordinary in your 
system, though, you can get by without this file, because the cartridge 
automatically boots itself when the computer is turned on, even without 
a disk in the drive.  The following additional hardware items are 
supported through a CONFIG.SYS file:
     OSRAM for a stock XL/XE computer (the default).
     Banked RAM for use with RAMBO XL, AXLON, or compatible memory 
     NONE, for a stock Atari 800.
     INDUS, for compatibility with an Indus GT drive.
     ATARIDOS, for compatibility with Atari DOS 2.0 and all of its 
     RAMdisk, which will format any size RAMdisk as any drive number.  
You can even assign multiple RAMdisks in 16K blocks.  When you do a cold 
boot with an external RAMdisk, such as the ICD Multi I/O box, this 
module does not reformat it.
     CLOCK, for ICD R-Time 8 cartridge owners.  Without this driver, the 
TIME/DATE line defaults to the SDX ROM revision time and date.
     JIFFY, a clock driver for those who do not own the R-Time 8 
cartridge.  You are then prompted for Time/Date input upon bootup.
     XEP80, a driver for the Atari XEP80 adaptor.
     ARC Utility.  Before SpartaDOS-X was officially released, ICD was 
allegedly going to incorporate a database program into the ROM.  The 
database was changed to an ARC utility, however.  But this is no 
ordinary ARC--it's faster than the disk-based versions.  ARC is called 
from the command line processor, with options to add, move, update, 
delete, extract, print, list, suppress compression, high speed (screen 
off), and encrypt/decrypt.  An encrypted archive cannot be read or 
extracted by anyone who does not know the password you used.  ARC uses 
four compression/decompression methods, automatically selecting the most 
appropriate without any use input.
     Attributes.  Formerly known as Lock/Unlock or Protect/Unprotect, 
you now set an Attribute as desired.  In addition to locking and 
unlocking files, this command allows you to create hidden files.  An 
example of a hidden file would be the high score data module for a game.  
If you don't want this file to always show up in your directory, but 
still be there so the game can update it, you can mark it as a hidden 
     BASIC.  Turns the internal BASIC on in an 800XL or 130XE machine.  
When used with an 800, you piggy-back the BASIC cartridge into the top 
of the SDX cart, and turn it on with the CAR command.
     Cartridge.  Turns on any CARtridge, such as Basic XL, Basic XE, 
Action!, or a game which is piggybacked on top of the SpartaDOS-X 
     Change Directory.  Change Directory (CHDIR) is the same as the MS-
DOS "CD" command.  It can also be entered as "CD" or "CWD," and us used 
to change the default directory or subdirectory.
     Check Disk.  Check Disk (CHKDSK) is exactly the same as the MS-DOS 
version and tells you the disk volume name, its hex code number, the 
number of bytes per sector of its format, the total bytes available on 
the disk, and the number of free bytes available.
     Change Time/Date.  Change Time/Date (CHTD) stamp of a file or files 
will change files to the time and date set on the internal clock with 
the Jiffy command or the R-Time 8 clock cartridge's current settings.  I 
find this command convenient when UNARCing files that I have downloaded 
from an on-line service or BBS, as a record of when it was downloaded.  
If the file was originally written by a SpartaDOS user, it will have 
their stamp on it when it is UNARCed.  I like to know the date 
and time that I acquired the file, so I use this command to change the 
     Cold Boot.  COLD performs a cold boot similar to turning the 
computer off and back on, or pressing the RESET key.  The big difference 
here, though, is that you do not lose your RAMdisk contents if you are 
using a modified 800XL or 130XE with internal RAMdisk.
     Copy.  The COPY command is used in the exactly same manner as the 
SpartaDOS 3.2 or MS-DOS copy command.
     Directory.  The DIR command lists the directory of the default or 
specified drive.  An optional "DIRS" command lists a shortened directory 
in AtariDOS format (no date/time stamp), and changes the file size 
reading from bytes used to sectors used.  Options to the DIR command 
allow you to count the number of files on a disk or list only those 
files that meet certain specified criteria, such as only ARCed files, 
hidden files, protected files, etc.
     Erasing Files.  The ERASE command is used exactly the same as with 
SpartaDOS 3.2 or MS-DOSE to erase one or more files.
     Finding Files.  FIND searches all directories on all drives for 
files matching the given filename.  This is especially useful to hard 
drive owners trying to locate a specific file without a printed 
directory listing.  It even searches RAMdisks if they are used.
     Versatile Menu.  MENU is, in my opinion, the best feature of the 
SpartaDOS-X cartridge.  It combines the SpartaDOS 3.2 XCOPY menu with 
many other features which allow you to copy, erase, rename, print, or 
move files around.  You can even create or delete subdirectories, change 
drive assignments, show the amount of free space on a disk, or print 
directory listings.  When you type "MENU," the screen is immediately 
filled with a menu from which you can tag or untag files for copying or 
deleting, and all of the other options.  Directory listings are 
automatically sorted into alphabetical order when they are presented on 
the menu, but are not actually sorted on the disk.  You can change the 
sort option to Name, Extension, Date, or Size.
     Prompt Options.  You can change the default "A>" MS-DOS style 
prompt to anything you desire, even multiple lines of text by using the 
PROMPT command.
     Swapping Your Drives.  The SWAP command allows you to swap your 
drive configuration at will, which is especially useful to Multi I/O, 
Black Box, or hard drive users.  As an example of this, I use Clayton 
Walnum's _Microcheck_ program from _ANALOG_ magazine to maintain my 
checking account, and even print my checks, running it from my hard 
drive.  _Microcheck's_ default settings are set to read the check data 
files from a disk in drive #2; however, I use my XF551, which is drive 
#5, to store the data.  When I run Microcheck, all I have to do is type 
"SWAP 2,5" to reverse the assignment of drives #2 and #5.  The XF551 
then thinks it is drive #2, and can be accessed by _Microcheck_.  When 
I'm done with _Microcheck_, typing "SWAP 2,5" again sets the drives back 
to their original designations.
     Time/Date Display.  Typing TD ON turns on the Time/Date display at 
the top of the screen, and typing TD OFF turns it back off.
     Viewing the TYPE of File.  The TYPE command provides another very 
useful feature.  You can easily read text files on screen by using this 
command, or even view BASIC or binary files.  After viewing a few files 
of each type, you soon learn to recognize certain traits that 
differentiate BASIC, binary, GIF, Autorun, ARCed, etc., and can use this 
command if you're not sure what type of file you have.
     Recovering Your Files.  If you accidentally erased the wrong file, 
and have not yet copied something over it, the UNERASE command will 
recover it.
     Turning the Cartridge OFF.  The X command gives me more trouble 
than any of the others, and I wish ICD would come up with a bug fix for 
this.  X turns the SpartaDOS X cartridge off for loading and running 
binary files.  Their intent was to allow the use of the SpartaDOS X 
cartridge at all times by simply turning it off, and not having to 
remove it to run AUTORUN.SYS or binary files.  Unfortunately, they only 
went half way.  You can turn it off with this command, but there is no 
way to turn it back on short of powering down.  Once it is disabled with 
the X command, even the COLD command is disabled.  The on-line services 
have two or three utilities of the "X-ON" variety that are supposed to 
turn the SDX cart back on once the X command has been given, but none of 
them work unless you can modify your programs to call these routines.  
For programs such as Atariwriter+, Synfile+, etc., this is impossible.  
So my biggest complaint with SpartaDOS-X is the constant need to power 
down and reboot once the X command has been issued.  If you don't, when 
you hit the RESET key you just get an error message, "No DOS present" 
and must turn off the power to recover from this condition.
Compatibility and Cost
     Despite ICD's best efforts, SpartaDOS-X isn't compatible with all 
software.  I've encountered a few programs that will work only with 
MyDOS or AtariDOS 2.0/2.5.  With these programs, you have no choice but 
to remove the SDX cartridge and run without it.  This really gets to be 
a hassle when testing out newly downloaded programs.  Was the program 
written by someone with an Atari 800?  800XL?  130XE?  With BASIC?  
Without BASIC?  With BASIC XE?  BASIC XL?  You might have to try several 
loading methods with and without SDX until you find one that works.  It 
would really be nice if the programmers at ICD had installed code within 
the cartridge that would analyze a file and automatically set the 
cartridge's parameters, especially for AUTORUN programs.  The SpartaDOS-
X manual devotes several appendices to the running of AUTORUN.SYS, 
_Turbo-BASIC_, etc., but few of their hints and tips really work.
     Perhaps a big reason for the failure of this fine software to gain 
widespread popularity is its cost: it definitely ranks among the "top 
ten" most expensive Atari 8-bit software packages.  The retail price 
listed in ICD's 1990 catalog is $79.95.  Even at a 10% or 20% discount 
from a mail-order distributor, it's still an expensive program.
     Unless you use a lot of commercial autorun files, such as 
_Atariwriter+_ (See Editor's Note), _SynFile+_, _Print Shop_, etc. which 
can't be modified to run with SDX, the inconveniences and 
incompatibilities encountered are minor when judged against the added 
power of SpartaDOS-X.  The manual that comes with SDX is extensive and 
well written, and its similarities to MS-DOS make the transition from 
MS-DOS computers at work to my Atari 130XE at home so easy it's worth 
the few annoyances.
     How could SpartaDOS-X be improved?  If ICD can't totally solve 
incompatibility problems in future upgrades, a switch mounted of the 
cartridge to enable/disable it without the continual plugging in and 
unplugging would be a great help.
     Despite the shortcomings, I'd put up a good fight before I'd part 
with my SpartaDOS X cartridge!  Once you learn how to use it, you'll 
never go back to anything less.  Yeah, it has quirks--but so does every 
other DOS I've used.
     [Editor's Note: Since this manuscript was submitted ICD has 
announced its intention to abandon the Atari 8-bit market beginning in 
1992 and is presently selling off its inventory at discount prices.  The 
most current revision of SpartaDOS-X is 4.20.  If you wish to purchase 
the SDX cart, or upgrade the ROM from an older version, now is the time!  
Write to ICD at the address given at the beginning of this article, or 
call ICD directly: 815-968-2228 voice or 815-968-2229 BBS.  Also, aver 
the past several months Charles has been hard at work seeking remedies 
for the problems with SDX noted in this review.  In future issues of 
_CN_ he will present a review of a "patch" that permits use of SpartaDOS 
with AtariWriter+, as well as an article on how to modify the SDX 
cartridge to disable it without the need to remove it when running 
incompatible software.  If you're a Sparta addict, stay tuned!]
 Michael Current, Cleveland Free-Net 8-bit Atari SIGOp   -->>  go atari8  <<--
   The Cleveland Free-Net Atari SIG is the Central Atari Information Network
      Internet: / UUCP: ...!umn-cs!ccnfld!currentm
      BITNET: / Cleveland Free-Net: aa700

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