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The Guardian from London, Greater London, England • Page 9
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The Guardian from London, Greater London, England • Page 9

The Guardiani
London, Greater London, England
Issue Date:
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Thursday December 29 1983 9 FUTURES MCI GUARDIAN PERSONAL COMPUTERS AND HOW TO USE THEM innovation rather than the law. The prospect of' having voune Jimmy dragged off Doublegobble wordspl urge For every computer-game demonstrating the principle cassette legally sold, there are seven pirate copies. These ageing computer experts are they don't, oi course, indulge in the practice. Picture by Graham Turner. Pirate's property It is one thing to develop a game program.

It is quite another to prevent unscrupulous rivals stealing your idea and your money. Report by John Keeble. so similar that it can be mass produced and sold under a similar name with similar attractions and at half the price. Since everyone who buys a computer for no more than a hobby dreams of making it pay, there are a lot of people in this market, and the damage to the originals is severe. The piracy problem stems from the industry itself, which has developed its data storage methods in particularly fragile forms.

Programs are recorded on magnetic tapes or on disks; both of which show a remarkable failure rate. This has meant and most definitely still means that anyone who pays out for a program of any kind wants to make a back-up copy as soon as it can be loaded into the computer and that copy is used while the original is kept safely in reserve. Add this to the environment of the school and the computer club, a mushrooming phenomenon sown by the need to join in groups to understand complicated equipment and even more complicated documentation, arid you have a perfect growth area for individual piracy. Recently, software swapping circles have been springing up. The answer to this aspect of the problem is seen as a copying tape but was using a Quicksilva game to prove its effectiveness.

Mr Alistair Kelman, specialist in computer copyright law is among those who believe 1984 is the year of the pirate. "We really need legislation to bring piracy into the criminal law, as it is in West Germany," he said. "There is some movement towards legislation but it is some way away. "As the law stands, it is doubtful that copying comes under the Theft Act, and certainly the police do not get involved. Civil law is fairly straightforward.

If you find someone copying, you can get an injunction to make them stop. The real difficulty arises when you want to stop taking your ideas and using them for another commercial program. There is a line between legitimate research and the use of someone else's copyright work, but that line will only be established in court." Quicksilva's experience of the law has not made it feel like rushing forward to establish case law. It felt that it had not had adequate return for the time and troubles it spent on fighting what it considered to be an unacceptable library, service. Establishing case law is now seen to he a task for the Guild of Software Houses, with each HOST computer users are respectable, honest and as reliable as the program is long.

It is just a foible that they enjoy the use of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of pounds worth of "stolen" software. Young users, too, have accumulated enough illegal" games tapes to send magistrates into a fury of indignation if they really were illegal. The problem for the software industry is that pirate tapes and disks are not. Or, at least, in this uncharted area, no one expects any help from criminal law and very little from civil law. This leaves the software houses especially the games producers with the prospect of huge losses in revenue and the demise of the smaller firms that cannot get their just reward for effort and investment in writing programs.

This year, says the Guild of Software Houses, seven will be made from, every games program marketed. With 100 millions being spent on games, this means that in the impossible event of converting pirate copies to sales, another 700 millions could be added to revenue. The guild, more severe than some software houses in assessing the real damage, puts the loss close to 100 million. In addition, there is a growing spread of pirate business programs, often costing 300 for the genuine article, as computer buffs become more sophisticated and the line between home computing and 'business becomes more and more blurred. But the real problems are still ahead.

Video pirates have been hammered quite successfully and some computer experts are predicting that 1984 will be the year that they switch their interest and their money to a softer target computer games. "Software houses have been young and naive and have ignored piracy, but it could destroy them," said Mr Rod Cousens, managing director of Quicksilva, one of the leading games software houses. In an industry that is only two years old, authors and companies are largely unprotesting and unprotected against the theft of their work. Perhaps the most insidious has also been incestuous the preying of some professional writers on the work of others. It is relatively easy; for specialists to print out the program in a game and then pirate the ideas in a subtly altered "new" product.

Even the" attempts at protecting programs from the totally inexperienced can fail because someone else is making money out of selling programs that will crack them and enable anyone to make a copy. These programs have been widely advertised at prices between 4 and 10 each and sales flourish in spite of commercial and legal pressure on the sellers and the magazines that carry their advertisements. Mr Cousens was incensed recently when the stand opposite his at an exhibition was not only demonstrating IF YOU have owned a puter for any length of time you will eventually no matter how long you try to put it off be faced with a decision no one should be expected to make: choosing a disk drive. In comparison with this, the question of which computer to choose in the first place, which drives most people to distraction, is a doddle. Why bother? Simply because everyone who has bought a disk drive says it is the single thing which 'most transforms their computing lives after buying the wretched machine in the first place.

Before the novelty of owning your own computer has worn off you are quite content to go through the deceptively easy way of run-. ning programs whether space invaders or doing your own tax assessment which merely involves using cassette tapes of the kind familiar to everyone. You simply put a cassette into your own recorder (plugged into your computer), type out the necessary command, press the Play button on your tape recorder, and wait for all the electronic instructions to feed into your computer and flash on to the TV screen. It couldn't be easier. But it could be quicker.

'After a while you get fed with waiting up to five minutes or more for the program to load. And bored to with the number of times Rewind Tape," or Bad Data," or nothing at all, appears on the screen. To rectify this you have to adjust the volume and tone knobs on your tape recorder to try to get the right com- -bination. Or send the tape back for a new one. The inherent contradiction dawns.

You've spent all this on a typewriter stuffed with microchips not because it does things that 'can't be done elsewhere, but because it does them in mil-liohths of a second. And there you are, hapless victim a sales pitch, landed with cassette that takes minutes, yes, minutes, to load something which does calculations with' his Spectrum under his arm does not appeal to anyone. And. even if it did, there is an interesting legal problem. The civil wrong is in copying, not in possessing or even using.

The transient copying of a pirate tape into the computer the loading for running would probably not be actionable and it is regarded as unlikely that the tape, owned by the unhappy Jimmy, could provide any evidence of theft. The same could be true of users of pirate commercial programs where each individual copy is far more damaging to the copyright owner because of the high costs involved. Early attempts at stopping copying have not been totally successful but there are several developments which could change that. The most significant 'in the games industry is the read-only cartridge-loaded chip program which cannot normally be copied and which is robust enougb not to need a back-up. The vanguard of this re'volution has already arrived, with relatively high but falling prices.

The problem is that the main attraction the protection against copying has already taken a knock. An enterprising computer engineer developed and put on to the market a device that would enable Vic 20 owners to copy cartridges. This caused some irritation to the manufacturers, Commodore, and a legal tussle began. It was settled out of court and the engineer, Mr Peter Goss, agreed to work for Commodore instead of selling his device. On the business side, don-gles devices which enable the computer to read the particular program it guards and make copies worthless because they cannot be used without it have been successful but they have added costs and, more importantly, they have taken an expansion port that could be used for something more useful to the user.

And, again, there was a man who made a multi-purpose dongle Now a new generation of locked disks have come on to the market. One, called Copylock, uses what the trade calls a thumbprint, a unique code on each disk, and an encryption of the program. The thumbprint is hidden in a discrete area of the disk and does not record, when the program is copied. "The result is that copies can be made for back up but they can only be used to prime a corrupted original, which would then run," said Mr Roger Burrell, of Export Software International, which supplies Copylock disks. "It adds about 1 to software worth 200." Mr Burrell does not claim that a Copylocked disk cannot be cracked.

He just points out that with the chance of finding the code at one in 168, a person could grow quite frail in the process. But there is one certain fact about computer people, apart from their subjective honesty challenges amuse them. And with the mini number crunchers coming along, there are likely to be a few professionals and buffs trying to beat the unbeatable. which makes it easy to learn. Second, it has a "direct" mode, which provides interaction with the machine.

Third, it is relatively easy to fit a minimal Basic into a small microcomputer, which appeals greatly to the manufacturers of small microcomputers. Basic is supposed to stand for Beginners' AlKPurpose Symbolic Instruction Code. It was developed at Darmouth College in the early sixties by two professors, John Kemeny and Thomas Kurz. They took an existing language, Fortran, simplified it, and anglicised it. They also made it work in direct mode, so that if you sat at a terminal and typed Print the Guardian," then the computer would straight away print "the Guardian" on the screen.

Compare this with the Fortran language which includes a text editing program, a linking loader, a compiler, and libraries of useful subroutines and utilities. On a typical micro it works like thus. First you write your program using the text editor, which is a very simple word-processor. The compiler program converts this Fortran text into intermediate code and saves it on disk. The loader takes this code, converts it into machine code, loads it into memory, and runs it.

The program can call on subroutines and util; ties which are stored on disk, and which handle things like printing out the results. (It would be silly to rewrite these routines every time you wanted to use them.) The first problem is that all this requires about 64K of random access memory and at least one disk drive. Two are virtually essential, and that means a 1,200 micro. The second problem is that you don't find out if your program contains a mistake until the end of this lengthy, process. Then you correct your error and go through the 1 whole thing again: And again All of this arises because the central processing unit of blotches on the screen and burying the smudged data under COMPOST, designated by a pile of simulated leaves in the bottom left hand corner.

Brambleware supports a comprehensive word processing package WORDS-PLURGE which has a merge facility not found in most computer systems. This allows two contradictory statements of Official Policys to be merged into a new document, which bears no relation to either of its parents. SHAMBLES then fine-tunes the output to ensure the maximum strategic de-correlation with the financial control function. GOBBLE BOXFILE tips the unsorted contents of a box file into the computer memory, where it is held in its original undefined format. Once in memory, the instruction DOUBLEGOBBLE BOX-FILE allows the contents of one file to be fused with any other file.

Perhaps the most useful application package is DUM SEC. which provides a transparent interface with existing staff. DUM SEC is an advanced paperless office management system that emulates liveware. It mis-collates reports, double records onto floppy disks and comes equipped with a largely random access memory. When in the mood and it does have moods it spreads rumours over the data highway, misappropriates the tea club money and crashes the mainframe computer on payday.

WAIT puts all incoming telephone calls through a random queueing sequence, using a Monte Carlo switching algorithm. EXCUSE generates 25 plausible reasons for delaying a meeting. SHADOW gives cover for unauthorised absence by simulating a managerial presence. This can be activated at a distance, using a portable acoustic coupled and a GPO landline. BRAMBLEWARE offers a degree of dis-integration that gives most Offices of the Future that Stone Age Look.

Cast lovely Lisa the house-mouse from your affections she'll make a good breakfast for the Housecat. Forget Apples, Apricots, Acorns and Peanuts come Brambling instead You will never regret it! Take steps now to preserve the ecology of your office before it is too late. language. Quick and dirty programs can provide fast answers to small problems, where Fortran and Pascal are too tedious, and where the problem does not justify the effort of writing in assembler. But In education, a better language is available Logo.

It was developed by Seymour Papert, who studied under the Swiss educational philosopher Jean Piaget before becoming professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Logo is a learning language and, like Basic, interactive, not compiled. It can be used by any child old enough to use a keyboard. For the business' user, versatile database programs are replacing programming altogether. Ashton-Tate's dBase II, The Bristol Software Factory's Silicon Office, Personal Pearl and similar flexible programs can be customised to do anything the average business user would want to do in Basic, but quicker and easier.

Precision Software has just launched a similar program, Superbase 64, for the Commodore 64. It costs only 99.95, where those for "real" business machines cost 350 to 900. For those who still need Basic programs, there are programs which write programs. Examples include Codewriter and The Last One (which, somewhat ironically, has just been released in its third version). Again, code-writers have recently started to appear on small micros.

The Last One is now available for the Commodore 64, One of the leading companies in the field, Dynatech Micro-software, based in Guernsey, has just released Home Filewriter on disc. This is a version of Codewriter for the Commodore 64 and Atari micros. None of this is to imply that Basic will disappear. It will long remain the language of the computer enthusiast I know, I am one. But for most normal people it has already outlived it usefulness.

13VS If computers baffle you, perhaps you should try a dose of Brambleware logic, suggests Antony Anderson DO computers terrify you Do you freeze when you see a seven-year-old manipulating the keyboard of a micro-computer with dexterity? The Office Manager feels exactly the same way about the computers that invade his daytime habitat. Such is the competition to sell computers to managers, that one. rather staid, manufacturer has thrown caution to the winds. He supplies free, with each new computer, a "Lion packaged as a Housecat," presumably housetraned, helpful around the office, a good mouser and preprogrammed to go on safari looking for choice morsels of data for its mate. Office managers who are fed up with computer-based menageries salesmen may now take comfort in BRAMBLEWARE, a new range of user-friendly computer packages that is based on the Bramblebush Operating System.

Fuzzy Logic in its compiler gives Bramble-ware a unique ability to mix cause and effect making it a must for the non-expert systems manager. He will be safe with the new system, because it leaves him free to carry on much as he did before, only more so. The Random Tangling Fudgeware RTF provides interlaced crosstalk between timesharing programs on the same machine, as well as a sophisticated spreadsheeting facility that allows the user to spread facts as thinly as he likes. These features give a high level of user security and turn the audit trail into a masterpiece of creative accountancy. When the BLUR command is pressed, selected numbers, rows or column can be de-focused.

The SMUDGE subroutine allows digitally encoded blotches to be placed upon the screen; these are then moved into position with the SQUIRREL cursor. The command NUTS terminates the subroutine by depositing the the computer is simply a mass of switches, while the human operator wants to instruct it in something as much like English as possible. Therefore language interpreters and compilers" are used to translate one into the other. Basic works differently because it translates and interprets every instruction as it comes to it. If it finds an error, it reports it straight away.

Thus the Fortran (or Pascal, or Cobol) programmer has to think through the whole program or a substantial module first. He has to write accurate code so that it is readable. After all, he or someone else will have to be able to follow it at the error-elimination stage called debugging." By contrast the Basic programmer can write his program almost a line at a time, and test it as soon as it is written. This encourages badly structured programs, because the writer may not have a clear idea of the overall design of the program. Further, Basic is not a standardised language like Fortran.

There are dozens of mutually incompatible Basics, some bug-ridden, and some written by people you wouldn't trust to write to their own mothers. A program written in one micro's Basic will not run on another machine. It's a mess. Finally, the end result is inefficient. When a Fortran program is compiled, it is converted into machine code instructions the opu understands but the operator doesn't.

In 'his form it runs extremely quickly and efficiently. By contrast, the instructions in a Basic program have to be reinterpreted all over again every time the program or even a single line is run. Therefore Basic programs run very slowly, unless they are also compiled. (Basic compilers are now available for several small micros.) Basic is still a usefu' Computing's Basic complications Conundrum of the disk drive You want to stretch" your system Daniel Valence offers a map to the double-sided dual-density disk maze a joint legal move in the near future. But he adds: "What frightens us is that we could put up the money but our legal advice is that it would be 5050 whether we win or lose because the law is so vague.

It seems it would depend on the sympathy we found in the court." The bigger runs are also being brought to bear on the pirates. Computer trade associations and the biggest manufacturers are joining to compaign for clear laws with penalties similar to those introduced in the Private Member's Bill which amended the Copyright Act to stop video piracy. Leading figures in the industry are expected to meet members of the Parliamentary Information Technology Committee to try to persuade them that a Private Member's Bill could be introduced to set a 2,000 fine on an offence of software piracy. At present, all offences under the Copyright Act, except video, carries a 50 fine limit. While legislation and case law is being sought, the industry is looking for practical ways of stopping the buffs from exploiting its wares.

Apart from straight copying anyone with a ZX81 upwards can take an expensively-produced professional program and write a clone facilitates the making of "back-up" disks in case the original is accidentally erased. With dual drives you easily double the storage capacity mentioned above to 1.60OK. And you won't see much change from 600. To confuse matters further, you have to choose between disk drives which take disks 5.25 inches in diameter and ones which take 3 inch ones. The latter have been adopted as standard by the Japanese and may well take over in future.

But most drives sold at the moment take 5.25 inch disks, and as a result most of the software has been written for the bigger disks. What did I do? I ran for cover and bought the cheapest 5.25 inch single-sided drive I could find in the micro magazines. At the last moment I succumbed to a double-track model just in case I might need that extra space. The cost was 199 for the drive and 69 for the interface to go inside the computer. On my first try it failed to work.

I rang up the distributor of the drive, who swore that the 'problem lay with a faulty interface. After some discussion the manufacturer (Acorn) admitted that the interface lacked some vital component as my model (a BBCB) was one of the earlier ones. After a few days that was put right. The moral is make sure that you get an interface which is genuinely compatible with your computer and if possible see it in action before you take it away. Check what software is available before you buy, and remember that merely to transfer your existing taped programs to disk can be an exacting problem, as most of them contain codes to prevent this happening.

Otherwise, an ordinary 100K drive of any of the makes mentioned above will give you all the memory power you need at least for a few years. By-which time market forces will have sorted out the 3in from the 5.25in, the double from the single density, and the double from the single sided. By then, too, prices will almost certainly be a lot cheaper. member company helping to pay what could be very, large amounts in legal fees. Mr Nick Alexander, chairman of the guild and managing director of Virgin Games, said the organisation had already had some success in forming an agreement not to poach each other's staff and ideas.

Now, with the guild growing, it is moving on to deal with commercial piracy at home and abroad. Computer programs are not specifically covered in the Copyright Act, he said, and "no-one has felt brave enough to take a case to the High Court to establish a precedent." The guild, while looking at legal possibilities, is lobbying the Department of Trade and Industry for protection for a sunrise industry in line with the Thatcher concept of small hitech firms building the future. But its most optimistic guess is that it will take two years to get legislation and, by that time, the weakest software houses will be out of business. At the moment, the bottom 100 of the 300 houses change monthly as hopefuls fail and -others take their places. Perhaps more would survive if they could reap the full rewards of their efforts," said Mr Alexander.

He foresees agreement on likely to be wanting a lot of storage space for retrieving data, business usage, or storing those novels you may be writing, then you don't want to buy something that might be inadequate by then. But once you start thinking big, the problems rise disproportionately. Disks normally come as 100K single-sided (ie containing 100,000 bytes of memory, with each byte containing the equivalent of eight characters) or double-sided, so you can turn them over, thereby doubling the storage capacity. But a single-sided disk can have the standard 40 tracks (ie laying down its magnetic tracks at a pitch of 48 tracks an inch) or 80 tracks, which effectively doubles its capacity by a different route. Thus if you have a single 100K disk which is double sided and 80 track, you have got 400K of storage.

All this presumes you are operating with a single density system, which is the most common one. But you can adapt the computer (at a cost) to operate in double density, so that you can effectively double the storage capacity of your disks, whether they are operating double or single track or single or double sided. In other words, a single disk drive system which is double sided, 80 track, and in double density will have a memory capacity of 800K. which is far more than most home-computer users are likely to want. Alternatively, you could opt for a dual drive, which has two disks in the same case.

This enables you to keep programs in one and data in the other and also Basic is a useful language, but that usefulness is slowly dating, says ack Schofield FOR most people, "to learn computing" means to learn programming, and to learn programming means learning how to program in Basic. Both of these ideas are wrong. Writing in Basic has the same relationship to computing as rebuilding an engine does to driving a car. The vast majority of people who use computers in the real world- cannot program in Basic or, indeed, in any of the many computer languages available. Nor do they need to.

Of the world's most important, most successful or most profitable programs, the number written in Basic is so small as to be negligible. In fact, I can't think of any. Nearly all the best microcomputer games and executive tools are written in assembler, which is a mnemonic language (ADC, RTS etcj which translates directly into machine code (l's and O's). Nor is Basic particularly popular in educational circles, though few go as far as the eminent Professor Dij-. kstra and claim that learning Basic causes brain damage.

However, Logo and Pascal are clearly superior from the educational point of view. In science and engineering, Fortran (Formula Translator) is the most useful language. In the business world, where Cobol (Common Business-Oriented Language) still dominates, some firms feel that knowledge of Basic is a disadvantage, in that it encourages bad programming habits. does, too So why is Basic so popular? There are three main reasons. First, Basic is reasonably English-like, in a fraction of a second.

The cheek of it. Enter the disk drive. Unlike a tape, which has to unwind itself laboriously to disgorge its program, a disk (not unlike the way a gramophone head can find any part of an LP quickly) offers the computer almost instantaneous access to its programs or data memory. If you are serious about these things you must get a disk drive. It's just a case of ambling down to the shop and buying one.

There are only two problems. The minor one is the cost. It could' be anything from a third to twice as much as the computer itself costs. No sweat. Either you can afford it or you can't.

The major problem is which disk drive to choose. If you merely want to transfer existing programs from tape to disk and obtain more storage space for data, then an ordinary 5.25-inch single drive with 100K of storage capacity will suffice. This can hold in memory the. equivalent of 130,000 words. There are quite a few makes on the market, including Cumana, TEAC, Mitsubishi, Shugart, Cannon, and Opus.

They are mainly Japanese in origin and range from 180 to 270 each. As long as you check that the drive is compatible with your own micro arid that your computer has a disk filing system (which could cost you anything up to 100 if it hasn't) then you are all set to go. The real difficulty arises when you start to look into the refinements possible and consider what you be doing with your computer in two years' time. you are.

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