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Amiga Format magazine Issue 006

March 23, 2017 - Amiga Format
Amiga Format magazine Issue 006
Old computer game advert for x-out

Poster advert for X-out by Rainbow Arts released in 1990

 

Date of publication: 01 1990

Games reviewed in this mag:

Other Amiga computers features:

Amiga games tips hints and cheats for:

Contents of the cover disk

Click here for a PDF download Amiga Format issue 6

Click here to download the coverdisk ADF (not currently available)


Power drift advert 16-bit conversion Sega

Excerpt from this issue

Christmas is almost upon us, and you can bet that Santa will be overloaded with Amiga-shaped presents for all the lucky boys and girls. Imagine the scene: there you are excitedly tearing through the wrapping paper and packaging – while your children look on? – until eventually you reach your final goal, the fabled Amiga. Casting the manuals aside, you connect everything up, turn on the power and the Amiga springs to life on the monitor screen. But what’s this? All the machine seems to want to do is to display a picture of a hand holding a blue floppy disk. Why won’t it do something? What do you do now? What use are the ‘Workbench’ and ‘Extras’ disks that you found lying at the bottom of your Amiga box? All will be revealed when you book your seat on the Amiga Format ‘Workbench mystery tour.

Amiga Overview

One of the first things that you will come to realise is that the Amiga isn’t like anything you have used before. Even if you have used other ‘WIMP’ based computers, such as Apple’s Macintosh or an Acorn’s Archimedes, you’ll soon begin to find that the Amiga is a different beast altogether. Unlike the Archimedes and the Atari ST, the Amiga desktop environment, called Workbench, won’t appear unless you first insert a disk that loads it into memory. Workbench is built on a ROM-based operating system called Kickstart that contains the ‘Intuition’ windowing environment (the WIMP system), Exec (the Amiga multi-tasking manager), AmigaDOS (the disk operating system) and other system libraries that make up the Amiga operating system.

THE WORKBENCH DISK

We’ll start the tour by looking at probably the most important Amiga disk of all; the Workbench disk. Although the Amiga can quite happily run commercial software without this disk, the Workbench is your ticket to the Amiga’s windowing interface and disk operating system. Once you double click on the Workbench disk icon, a window will open to display the top (or root) directory of the disk. Most of the items within this directory are merely drawer icons which give access to further subdirectories. However, the Shell icon will give you access to the Amiga’s powerful Command Line Interface (more on this later). The more important drawers (System, Prefs, Utils) will be looked at later, but less important to most people is the Expansion drawer. The drawer contains specialist device drivers for add-ons such as touch tablets etc. Unless you intend splashing out on luxuries, chances are you’ll never use this directory. The Trashcan is bit of a lost soul on the Amiga. On other WIMP systems, the trashcan is completely independent of any disks that are current in the drives, and is used to quickly discard files. The Amiga trashcan, however, is just another directory like any other and is used as a temporary storage area for files that you wish to eventually discard. Unfortunately, like other directories, any files within the trashcan will still take up valuable disk space, therefore making its use rather long winded. Just try asking experienced Amiga owners when they last used the trashcan!

SYSTEM Of all the subdirectories that branch off from the Workbench root directory, the System drawer is without doubt the most important of them all. Here’s a rundown of the programs you’re likely to find: CU – The Command Line Interface provides an alternative method of controlling the Amiga. In fact, using the Command Line Interface (CU from now on) is a little like using a machine such as an IBM PC, where instead of pointing and clicking on icons using the mouse, all commands are issued by typing them in manually using the keyboard. If you wish to get the very most from your time working with the Amiga, a basic understanding of the CLI is a necessity. Carrying out a task from the CLI is much simpler and quicker than attempting to carry out the same task from the Workbench. In some cases the CLI offers facilities which aren’t even available from the Workbench! DISKCOPY – With a filename as subtle as a sledge hammer, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what this command does. Do I? FORMAT – Before a disk can be used to store data, it must first be initialised. For this task, the Format program is your person. FASTMEMFIRST – FastMemFirst attempts to force programs into expansion memory, therefore freeing up valuable chip RAM for data such as graphics, sound samples etc. If you only have 512K, then FastMemFirst will have no effect. SETMAP – Because of language differences, different countries use different keyboard layouts on equipment such as typewriters and computers ($’s and £’s etc). The SetMap command is used to change the keyboard configuration to any one of several presets available. For UK Amigas, the keyboard configuration is automatically set to ‘GB’, but this can easily be changed to anything from American (you’ve three different US keyboard layouts to choose from!) to Greek.
INITPRINTER – As the name suggests, InitPrinter is used to initialise your printer. This process basically involves reading the printer driver into memory and setting the printer up ready for use. NOFASTMEM – If you have a RAM expansion in your machine (ie, you’ve more than 512K of memory), then the NoFastMem command is used to disable this. This is necessary with some very old (or badly written) software that will not function correctly if more than 512K of memory is resident. MERGEMEM – MergeMem is of use to users who have multiple RAM expansion boards connected to their Amigas. The program attempts to pull all free memory available across RAM boards together in one, continuous ‘memory pool’. Definitely one best left for the techies.
FIXFONTS – Adding or removing a point size for a particular font isn’t just a case of copying the new font data directly into the Workbench fonts directory: the font’s header file (.font) must be informed of the change. This is where FixFonts comes in. FixFonts will check all available point sizes for all the available fonts, and make any necessary modifications to the font header file.
UTILITIES The Utilities drawer contains a whole host of useful little utilities to make the life of an Amiga user much simpler. Most are new additions to the Amiga Workbench, and are designed to provide greater control over the system for the Workbench user who doesn’t want to resort to using the CLI.
NOTEPAD – What’s the first piece of software you’ll be buying for your new Amiga? A Word Processor perhaps? NotePad is a mini word processor to keep you going until your fully-fledged word processor arrives. NotePad allows multiple fonts onscreen, full cut, paste and copy and search and replace.
MORE – Display the contents of any text file with More, a powerful text display utility. CLOCK – Keep track of time without taking your eyes off the screen.
CLOCKPTR – Even more convenient than an onscreen clock, ClockPtr attaches a digital clock display to your mouse pointer. SAY – You’ve probably already. discovered the Amiga’s powerful speech synthesis capabilities. Say can be used either to read out existing text files, or just as a fun toy to allow you to experiment with the powerful facility.
CALCULATOR – In true multi-tasking style, the Workbench calculator will happily run alongside any program that operates from the Workbench.
CMD – CMD is a powerful little tool that allows you to redirect output to either the serial or parallel port to a designed disk file. This allows you to print things out while your printer is off-line. When you are ready to finally print, the outputted file can then be sent straight to the printer.
GRAPHICDUMP – GraphicDump attempts to dump the frontmost screen to the printer. To give you time to bring the desired screen to the front, GraphicDump will wait 10 seconds before it starts to print.
PRINTFILES – Want to take a hard copy of a text file? If so, then Print- Files is the tool for the job. INSTALLPRINTER – Guess what this program does! Surprisingly, lie answer isn’t as obvious as it may seem. What InstallPrinter actualy does is to copy printer drivers on your Extras disks across to the Workbench disk. Once coped, you must then use the Workbench Preferences tool to select the driver to be used.

PREFS

Although the Prefs drawer appears to contain five separate programs, strictly speaking, only two exist: Preferences and CopyPrefs. The remaining three icons (Pointer, Printer, Serial) merely call separate parts of the main Preferences program. Read on for more…
PREFERENCES – The Preferences program is one of the most important programs on the Workbench disk. Its sole role in life is to allow you to customise (or ‘configure’, as Commodore would no doubt prefer) your Workbench to your to your hearts delight. Once any changes are made the new configuration can be stored for recall whenever the Amiga is rebooted from the Workbench disk. The program is made up of four separate sections. The first page pops up as soon as the Preferences program is run. From this top page, the general configuration of the Workbench (colours, screen positioning, text size etc) can be changed. Next up, and probably most important of all the pages, are the printer configuration pages which are used to install your printer onto the Amiga system. Printers may be connected to either the parallel or serial ports, therefore Preferences also includes a serial port setup page. Baud rates, handshake type, stop bits and other techie things that only comms users understand can be easily be set. Most fun of all is the mouse pointer editor which, as the name suggests, allows you to change the general appearance and colour of the mouse pointer sprite. The sprite will not take on its new form until you exit back to the main Preferences page.
COPYPREFS – CopyPrefs is used by people who have assigned the logical path where the preferences configuration file is stored, to something other than the standard boot disk. Clicking on CopyPrefs will transfer the configuration file to the ‘DEVS’ directory of the disk currently inserted in the internal drive.

WHAT YOU CAN’T SEE

To the casual Workbench user, the Workbench disk appears to be a just a collection of tools and utilities to carry out such mundane tasks as formatting and managing disks, installing printer drivers, setting screen colours etc. However, hidden deep below the surface of your Workbench disk is a vast array of hidden files that provide you with unparalleled control over your new machine. These ‘hidden’ files are accessed from the Command Line Interface (see above for more) and allow far greater control over the Amiga. The most commonly used CLI commands are DIR, which displays a listing of the contents of a particular directory, COPY, which copies a file (or files) to a user specified destination, and CD, which allows you to move around, and in between disks. If this taster of the CLI has whetted your appetite, watch out for future articles in Amiga Format on this feature. The Workbench disk also contains all those important little files that actually make the Workbench work. Most are simply auxiliary files used by the Amiga system, but for the curious among you here’s a list of those hidden extras. DEVS – Short for devices, the DEVS directory contains 0/S device drivers for the parallel and serial ports, printer output, the RAM disk, the Amiga speech synthesiser etc. DEVS also contains two sub directories containing the system keymaps used by the SetMap command and the printer drivers. LIBS – Yep, you’ve guessed it. LIBS is short for libraries. This directory contains complicated operating system libraries. A library is basically a collection of routines that, once opened, link into the operating system to allow control over a particular aspect of the machine. For example, the library diskfont.library is used by programs that wish to take advantage of the Amiga’s powerful font handling capabilities. FONTS – Doesn’t take a brain the size of a planet to guess what this directory contains. Any program that allows different fonts to be used will always read its fonts from this directory, unless told otherwise (that’s got you confused, hasn’t it!) C – The C directory contains all those lovely CLI commands that I mentioned earlier, all as separate program files. S – The S directory usually contains AmigaDOS batch files (or sometimes called Script files – hence S for Script). Batch files are ASCII text files containing a list of CLI commands to be run when the batch file is ‘executed’. Don’t worry about batch files for the meantime, we’ll have plenty of fun with these in future articles! L – The L directory contains device handlers that AmigaDOS uses itself to carry out such tasks as disk validation, RAM and port management etc.

THE EXTRAS DISK

The Extras disk contains a host of different utilities and auxiliary files that are designed to further enhance the Amiga Workbench environment. Most important of them is all is AmigaBASIC, a powerful Microsoft BASIC interpreter. AMIGABASIC – Unlike eight bit computers like the Commodore 64, the Amiga’s BASIC language is not built into ROM. Instead, AmigaBASIC has to be loaded from disk every time it is needed. Unlike the seemingly accepted norm, the Amiga’s bundled BASIC is in fact a very powerful and very usable system indeed. AmigaBASIC was developed by the Microsoft Corporation, who are probably better known for their activities within the PC market. Although the interpreter is based around the Macintosh version, AmigaBASIC includes many powerful Amiga specific commands. To help you get the most from your BASIC programming, Extras also contains a drawer that is positively bursting with useful source code. There’s example code for such tasks as loading and saving IFF pictures, using the speech synthesiser and accessing the screen hardware.

TOOLS

As the Commodore enhancer manual states, ‘the tools drawer contains several utilities that let you ‘work’ with your Amiga.’ Couldn’t have put it better myself!

MEMACS – Not quite a word processor, MEmacs is an Amiga version of the universally-adopted ‘Emacs’ text editor that can be found running on machines as diverse as Atari STs and Unix 3B2s. FED – Now this really is the business. FED is a powerful utility written by Dale Luck of Commodore- Amiga which allows you to edit existing fonts, or even create your own from scratch. Similar programs on machines such as the ST and the Mac could set you back a lot of money, but with the Amiga, you get one for free!
FREEMAP – FreeMap displays the amount of free ‘chip’ RAM available in a graphical form. Each pixel in the map area represents a 64 byte block of free memory. If any bytes within this 64 byte block are not free, then the pixel remains unfilled.
PERFMON – PerfMon, short for Performance Monitor, dynamically displays the amount of free chip and fast ram, and the performance of the 68000 central processor. While the program isn’t really of much use to most users, ifs quite interesting to watch.
KEYTOY2000 – Mac users will feel instantly at home with Keytoy2000. Keytoy is an Amiga version of the Macintosh ‘KeyCaps’ accessory that allows you to view the current keymap setting when various qualifier keys are depressed (Alt, Shift, Control etc). Although the filename sounds like the program was designed for the 2000, 500 users can benefit.
PALETTE – Palette is a simple utility that allows you to change the colour palette of any standard Intuition screen that is currently open.
ICONED – IconEd lets you edit the appearance of Workbench icons using a paint package-like editing system. Just load the icon that you wish to edit into IconEd, make the necessary changes, resave, and your new Icon will be installed.
ICONMERGE – Icons on the Amiga can be a lot of fun. Not only can you create your own using the IconEd utility, but you can also breathe life into your creations using IconMerge. Put simply, Icon- Merge will let you animate an icon by attaching an extra icon image that will be displayed when the icon is selected. Although this approach is rather simple, some impressive results are possible. PCUTIL The PCUtils drawer provides you with the necessary tools to allow the use of a 5 1/4 inch PC disk drive with the Amiga. With the addition of a 5 1/4 inch drive, you can copy files between PC format disks and the Amiga.
PCCOPY – PC Copy allows you to copy files from a 5 1/4 PC disk to a standard Amiga 3 1/2 disk. PCFORMAT – As the name implies, PCFormat will let you format a 5 1/4 disk to the PC disk format, for use with both PCCopy and ToPCCopy. TOPCCOPY – ToPCCopy will basically carry out the reverse process of PCCopy, namely copy files from an Amiga format 3 1/2 disk to a PC format 5 1/4 drive.

EXTRAS’ EXTRAS

With the release of 1.3 of the operating system, the Extras disk has very much become an overspill for files that didn’t quite fit onto the Workbench disk. You’ll find a mass of spare printer drivers (any one of which can be installed onto the Workbench disk using the Install- Printer’ utility), a whole host of different keymaps and several new fonts to brighten up your documents (Helvetica, Times etc). Also lurking on the Extras disk is a rather strange directory called FD1.3 . Upon examination, the drawer contains a single icon saying IMPORTANT! BASIC FD Files Here!’. What are FD files?’ I hear you ask. Put simply, AmigaBASIC (and any other languages) can take advantage of operating system libraries that can contain a number of special routines (See intro for more). For AmigaBASIC to be able to access these routines, it must be told the parameter format of each routine, and which processor registers must be used. This information is contained within these special FD files.

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