What do you get when a well known games author
turns his attention to producing a serious application package for
the 8-bit Ataris? When that author is Russ Wetmore of Preppie fame,
the result should be something special, and it is. Originally
released in the USA by Batteries Included, HomePak has now arrived
in the UK by courtesy of Ariolasoft, priced at £34.95.
HomePak is not one, but three programs. It
consists of HomeText, a word processor, HomeFind, an unusual
database program, and HomeTerm, a telecommunications program.
They're 'integrated' to a certain extent, allowing you to merge
items from HomeFind into a document you're preparing with HomeText,
or use HomeText to edit files and messages you've received via
Integration applies to the 'human factors' aspect,
too. They all have the same visual style, use similar (slightly
zany) audio and visual prompts and messages, and all permit you to
set the physical characteristics of the screen to your liking, such
as background colour and brightness, and text brightness. All three
programs are very friendly, using windowed menus and lots of helpful
messages when you need them. The bottom few lines on the screen are
used for displaying messages, prompts, and current program settings,
with actual details varying by program.
HomePak comes packaged in a black plastic box,
rather like the library box you get when you buy 10 blank disks.
This has a smart, colourful slip-on cardboard cover. Inside you find
a single sided disk containing the programs, and an instruction
manual. This manual is physically small, measuring about 3.5"
by 5.5" and contains 62 pages (but no index!) printed in a tiny
font. The printing is rotated through 90 degrees, so you have to
turn it sideways and open it away from you to read it. Its small
size and method of binding ensure it won't stay open at the page you
want. Physically, it's a bit of a disaster.
This is a medium level word processor, falling
between the ultra simple such as Cut & Paste, and the
heavyweights like PaperClip and Letter Perfect. It has most of the
facilities you're likely to need for general home use. It's got a
good range of editing facilities, with all of the expected features
present. Extras include cursor skip to start or end of line, screen
or document, auto wordwrap, and choice of insert or overwrite modes.
Pressing the START key calls up a small window containing a menu for
block move, copy and delete functions. Search and replace is also
accessible from here. You're guided through the operations by on
screen messages, so you can't really go wrong.
Text formatting codes are accessed from a windowed
menu. Unlike most word processors, HomeText doesn't put unfriendly
control codes into your text. It inserts an abbreviation of the
command in inverse video, so you can tell at a glance exactly what
it means. It does all the usual things, like indenting, set margin,
line and page size, and line spacing, centring, blocking and
justifying. Your text can be printed boldface, extended, or
underlined, with facilities for customising the codes for your
printer. Any other special requirements, like alternate fonts, have
to be done with raw printer codes. This is a pity, as it detracts
from the general ease of use of the program.
Further choices allow you to force end of page,
specify page headers, footers, page numbering, page wait (for single
sheet paper), and chain to another file. You can also merge in data
from HomeFind, giving you a mail merge facility, should you need it.
Sadly, there's no automatic paragraphing, one of the few facilities
Another windowed menu provides file manipulation
options, such as load, save, delete, directory display, and append
another file to the one currently in memory. You can also preview or
print the current file from here.
The preview facility is handled graphically.
Instead of showing your text, words are represented as black lines,
with special features such as underlining shown in different
colours. This is not the same as having a full text preview
facility, but it seems to work quite well for checking overall
document layout. The only snag is that it needs 5400 bytes of free
memory to work. As you only have 6620 bytes to start with (not 8350
as stated in the manual), it makes the feature virtually worthless.
However, there's a facility to preview a document of any size from
disk rather than memory, so this gets round the restriction if you
save your file to disk first.
The more I use HomeText, the more I like it. It's
got lots to offer the casual user, and it's friendly. The only
serious shortcoming concerns lack of memory. For documents over
about 3 pages you have to resort to writing them as separate files
and chain them together. I find this a nuisance, as often I want to
refer to an earlier part of a document, and maybe even change it to
fit in with something I've written later. Continual saving and
loading separate files wastes valuable time. Perhaps Russ Wetmore
will produce a version for the 130XE which will overcome this. I
hope so, as it would make HomeText even more usable. It might even
tempt me away from my trusty old Atariwriter.
This just has to be the most friendly database
around. You don't have to know anything about fields, records and
indexing - all HomeFind needs to know is the
relationship between a subject and its data, and the data itself.
You set up and make queries on the database with virtually plain
English commands, with most other activities available from menus or
by prompts from the program at the appropriate time. It's relatively
limited as database programs go, but its ingenious design makes it a
delight to use, especially for people who normally find computers a
Creating your database couldn't be easier. It's
harder to describe than to actually do it! The data and its
relationships are input in a simple three part form, like this:
Subject's Tag's Object
where: Subject identifies the person or
item to which the data refers, Tag identifies the subject's
relationship with the data following, and Object is the data
The apostrophe and s on the end of subject and tag
are important, as they tell HomeFind where the subject and tag end.
They also facilitate the use of plain English for input. Let's look
at a few examples to see how it works.
Imagine we want to set up a database of our
friends. We'd probably want to hold their names, addresses, phone
numbers, and other personal details. Straight away we can begin
entering the data, in any order, with our own choice of tag name:
Bill's surname's Wooton-Smythe
If a subject or tag aren't already in the
database, HomeFind responds with a cheery 'news to me!' message, and
you choose whether to add it or not. This process is repeated for
each line of data input. If a subject and tag already exist, then
HomeFind handles the data immediately without further user
You might decide to enter addresses next, so your
input could look like this:
Mike's address's 1, High St, Bingham
This time the subject's already in the database,
so HomeFind can handle it. However, address is a new tag so you get
a prompt for permission to add. In this way you can add any detail
with any tag to build up a collection of related data about each of
the subjects. You don't have to have the same tags for all subjects,
just include whatever you want to suit your purpose. And that's all
there is to setting up a basic database!
You can update your database at any time. To add
new subjects or tags, simply enter them as described above. There's
also a facility for adding object data to data already there, or for
replacing old object data with a new version.
Deletions were a bit of a puzzle, as the manual
doesn't say anything about removing obsolete data! It seems you
achieve it using a variant of the replace data procedure, in effect
giving each tag null data. Subjects and tags having only null data
then have to be physically deleted by 'compressing' the database,
available via one of the menu options.
HomeFind's data retrieval features are as simple
to use as the data input facilities. To display all object data
about a given subject, for example Mike, you need only type:
Mike's address's 1, High St, Bingham
birthday's 15 January
computer's Atari 130XE
and so on.
ask for any detail, using the words 'what', 'when', 'where' or
'who'. For example:
what's Mike's computer,
HomeFind will reply with the appropriate detail. Actually, the words
'what', 'when', etc. are only included for clarity - the retrieval
works without them.
Retrieval can also be achieved using the tag alone, the object
alone, or the tag and object. For instance, you could key in 'who's
computer's Atari 130XE', and get a list of all subjects with an
Atari 130XE. Or you could enter 'computer' and get a list of all
subjects with a computer. Regrettably, there's no wild card feature,
a serious omission reducing the usefulness of HomeFind somewhat.
HomeFind's print facilities consist of a printer ON/OFF toggle! The
printer lists 'relevant' screen output, i.e. it prints what goes to
the screen, but filters out prompts, error messages, and the like.
There are no facilities for producing customised reports or address
labels directly, but you can extract data and write it out as a DOS
file. This can then be loaded into HomeText and processed as you
HomeFind is not meant to be a full blooded database program, being
limited in scope and facilities. But it's elegant, friendly and very
easy to use, and could be all you need for basic home or school
HomeTerm was designed for use in the USA. Unfortunately, for UK use
it's lacking in certain essential areas, these being modem
interfacing and split transmission rates for use with Prestel,
Micronet, and other services using 1200/75 split baud rates.
using it with the Miracle Technology Datatari interface and WS2000
modem and could get no further than the initial screen displaying
the message 'Modem Error!'. Pressing any key after this resulted in
the reloading of the HomePak main menu. Calls to Ariolasoft produced
no solution, but they promised to run tests with the Datatari and
call me back. To date I've had no reply.
instruction manual says HomeTerm's designed for use with Atari 835
and 1030 modems, which aren't available here. You can also use other
modems via the Atari 850 serial interface, but this device seems to
be as rare as hen's teeth in the UK. It mentions the set up
procedure required for the MPP modem (again, USA only), which uses a
custom R: handler to emulate the 850's RS-232 handler. It seems
likely that something similar's required for the Datatari. Anyone
out there know of one?
review, the best I can do is to describe HomeTerm's facilities
without the benefit of practical experience. At least this will be
helpful to the lucky few with an 850 interface at their disposal.
HomeTerm has three operational screens. One is for interactive use,
when you're online to another computer. This has some nice features,
like automatic wordwrap to prevent breaking a word across two lines,
and a 120 character edit buffer into which you can key your message,
and edit it before transmission. The other two screens are menus,
one being the Functions Menu from which you control the program's
main functions, such as file upload/download, etc. The third screen
is the Files Menu, giving you a 'mini-DOS' facility. This allows you
to format a disk, list directory, or copy, delete, rename, lock or
unlock a file, all without leaving HomeTerm.
HomeTerm handles transmission rates of 300 or 1200 baud only, in
full or half duplex mode. It can also handle four different
transmission coding methods/protocols, these being
standard ASCII for general use, ATASCII for use when sending Atari
special characters, inverse text, etc., Vidtex for use on the USA's
famous CompuServe Information System, and Xmodem file transfer
protocol for uploading/downloading of files to/from other computers.
any length can be transferred via upload/download. HomeTerm
automatically segments outgoing or incoming files into 7K (buffer
sized) chunks, interrupting the transmission to load from or write
to disk as required. The buffer can also be used to capture anything
appearing on the screen. Then you can dump it to disk or printer for
later reading, or back to the screen for instant review.
HomeTerm has a number of other good features, including a real time
resettable clock for timing those long distance calls, and a macro
facility for automating regularly used character sequences, such as
So that's HomeTerm. On paper it looks excellent, but until the
interface problem gets fixed, there's no way of knowing for sure. As
far as I can tell, the only thing it lacks is split baud rate for
Prestel type services, and this may be important to some people.
HomePak is a fine suite of software. Given a working version of
HomeTerm, you get three eminently usable applications for less than
£12 each, a bargain in anyone's terms. If Ariolasoft could fix the
interface problem, provide Prestel support, and do something about
that awful manual, the package would be unbeatable. Even without,
it's still a very good buy.