Eighty Columns on the Atari

From: Michael Current (aa700@cleveland.Freenet.Edu)
Date: 02/12/92-12:05:02 AM Z

From: aa700@cleveland.Freenet.Edu (Michael Current)
Subject: Eighty Columns on the Atari
Date: Wed Feb 12 00:05:02 1992

Reprinted from the A.C.E.C. BBS (614)-471-8559

     Eighty Columns on the Atari
       by Dr. Warren Lieuallen
      Reprinted from Fuji Facts
the newsletter of the Atari Computer
       Enthusiasts of Columbus

    For quite some time now, the
possibility of having an eighty
column screen (as opposed to the
forty column screen that we are all
so familiar with) on the eight-bit
Atari computers has been discussed,
announced, and even realized by a
few.  But for the most part,
significant expense and hardware
modification has been required to
achieve this new look.

    Many other computer systems have
an eighty column screen:  IBM and all
the clones, the Amiga, modified
Apples, and even the Commodore 128!
It is widely accepted by many that
serious word processing, and business
applications in general are not
practical, or even possible without
eighty columns.

    We all know better of course,
having had the intelligence and
foresight to purchase and use Atari
computers systems.  As I write this
article I am word processing on a
forty column screen, and doing it
quite seriously, I might add!  I have
used spreadsheets and business
graphics packages, and have even run
The Bookkeeper a time or two.
However, the fact remains that there
are times when having eighty columns
on the screen would be desirable
(otherwise, all our word processors
wouldn't have print preview, would
they?).  A good example is that of
trying to align columns of figures or
text on the printed page.  Even with
careful use of the print preview
features, it often turns out that the
page must be printed several times
before it turns out correct.  How
much easier this job would be if we
could just see the entire page on the
screen -- all eighty columns.

    Well, now you can.  There are now
available several methods by which an
eighty column screen can be simulated
on the Atari computer system.  They
all work in a similar manner, and
basically involve "drawing" the
characters on a Graphics 8 screen.
This is because the resolution of a
Graphics 8 screen is 320 by 192
pixels (without the text window at
the bottom, so it's really Graphics
24).  If each character were only
four pixels wide (instead of the
usual eight), eighty characters would
just fit across the screen.  And
that's exactly what happens.  The
characters are redefined as graphic
bit patterns four pixels wide, and
the operating system is redirected to
use complicated drawing routines for
all screen output--that's the tricky

    All of the commercially available
eighty column packages require some
hardware modification of some type.
There is one product called the Ace
80 cartridge, or the Ace 80 XL for XL
computers.  This device is a
cartridge, just like the others we
are used to, and is inserted into the
appropriate cartridge port before
booting the system.  A review of this
new product appeared in a recent
issue of ANALOG, so won't be repeated
here (I really don't know anything
other than what I read!).

    A second device is the Omniview
80 chip, which as the name suggests,
is an eighteen-pin IC chip.  This
chip replaces the old operating
system chip inside the computer.
Installation depends upon which
computer you have (800 XL, 1200 XL or
130 XE), and whether or not the OS
chip is socketed or soldered.  In any
event, once this chip is in place,
the standard default screen can be
changed to an eighty column format by
merely pressing Control-A, and then
pressing System Reset.  The eighty
column text is surprisingly readable,
even on a color TV set (the worse of
all possible display mechanisms for
80 column text), although the color
really needs to be turned way down.

    However, the eighty column
feature is only available from BASIC,
or assembly language programs which
do not reset or interfere with the
"redirection" of the operating system
to the Omniview routines.  What this
really means in plain English is you
can only use the Omniview 80 from
BASIC, from the SpeedScript 80 word
processor included with the chip, or
from programs you write yourself.  I
have tried all of the word proccesors
I own (nine, at last count!), and
none of them will use the eighty
column screen.  The Omniview 80
documentation includes modifications
which can be made to several versions
of Letter Perfect and Data Perfect,
but I have not done these yet.
OmniView 80 also includes OmniWriter,
a specially modified version of the
public domain word processor
SpeedScript, which does function in
80 columns.

    The Omniview 80 also includes new
floating point math routines which
are considerable faster than the ones
in the Atari OS.  Running a benchmark
test, I found the Omniview routines
to be approximately 75% faster than
the Atari routines.  However, in my
day to day usage of the computer, I
did not notice any significant
differences in program execution
time.  Applications which make heavy
use of mathematical functions should
benefit from Omniview's speed.

    Finally, the Omniview replaces
the operating system in the XL
machines with one which much more
closely approximates the old OS of
the 800 machines.  This means that
the translator disk is no longer
needed.  If you have any programs
which needed "OS translation" before,
you will appreciate this feature.

    The other possibilities are all
software drivers.  One of the first
was Compute!'s Video 80 program,
written by Charles Brannon.  This
program creates a new input/output
device for the Atari, the "V:"
device.  This device includes the
eighty column screen handler, as well
as supporting a window feature, with
user definable margins all the way
around.  A demonstration of these two
features combined with each other is
impressive.  However, the limitations
of Video 80 are even more restrictive
than those of Omniview 80.  Programs
using Video 80 are limited to those
you write yourself, although both
BASIC and assembly language should
remain valid possibilities.
Secondly, the logical line length is
shortened to eighty characters,
rather than 120 as in Atari BASIC.
Lastly, this program requires the
Translator disk on XL machines.

    These limitations
notwithstanding, it is hard to beat
the price/performance ratio of Video
80, as this program is in the public
domain and therefore free.  If
nothing else, it serves as an
excellent introduction to the world
of eighty columns, and will allow you
to decide whether to invest further
in this field, or to be glad that
your Atari displays forty legible
characters per line.  I am currently
working on a BASIC word processor to
work with Video 80, but due to both
the shortcomings of BASIC and myself,
this program will be of limited
usefulness.  If anyone would like to
collaborate on this project with me,
I would be delighted.

    I recently came across programs
called Text 80, and Script 80, but
have not been especially successful
in getting them to function.
Finally, there is a small (13 sector)
utility called HIGHREZ.COM, which
also produces an 80 column screen.  I
have not used this extensively, but I
imagine its is quite similar to Video

    As we have been told for more
than a year now, Atari is developing
an eighty column device, the XEP 80.
Several reviews of this product have
appeared elsewhere, and I have little
to add.  Watch for an in-depth review
once this device is actually
available to we users.

    Batteries Included had a BI-80
board under development for the Atari
systems, but cancelled it at the end
of 1985.  Another product called the
Bit-3 board was supposed to include
an eighty column driver for the 800
computers.  The last time I saw an ad
for this product, it cost $249.00; I
don't know if it is still available
or not.
 Michael Current, Cleveland Free-Net 8-bit Atari SIGOp   -->>  go atari8  <<--
   The Cleveland Free-Net Atari SIG is the Central Atari Information Network
      Internet: currentm@carleton.edu / UUCP: ...!umn-cs!ccnfld!currentm
     BITNET: currentm%carleton.edu@{interbit} / Cleveland Free-Net: aa700

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