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A look at CD Roms for Atari

By David Guay

Did you ever want a 1/2 gig removal hard drive? Or to have a great deal of public domain and shareware software at your fingertips? Or
for those who do Desktop Publishing, a couple libraries of clipart?

This is what the introduction of CD players mean to the Atari marketplace. We all have seen the revolution CDs have done to the music
marketplace, totally replacing records and a partial replacement of Cassettes as the industry standard.

CD use for the Atari line of computers is relatively new, part of the  reason for this was the cost and lack of Atari specific CDs. With the
cost of a single speed CD player starting at $99, this technology now is within reach of all Atarians. A CD player acts just like a read
only, removable hard drive, but with a lot more storage space than any removable hard drive on the market. A CD boasts of giving 680
megabytes of stored information, but as most of us who use hard drives know a lot of this space is taken up by directories. In reality, most commerial CDs can store about 500 megabytes of actual file content.

CD Players come in four different speeds (single, double, triple, and quad), and the cost goes up with the speed. I mention this as the speed of the player directly relates to your transfer speed. In the case of my single speed it is relatively slow, but the cost was less than half that of a double speed ($99 dollars versus $250).

Like a hard drive, you have to have a driver for the CD player. From my understanding there are a couple of Shareware ones out, but I
personally have to recommend ExtenDos Pro from Anodyne Software. The main reason for this is the support you get from them. ExtenDos Pro is now shipping and allows you to play audio and photo CDs. The upgrade fee if you already own ExtenDos is $15. I am using ExtenDosPro and have not had any problems and the audio capability is real nice.

As of the writing of this article there are several Atari specific CDs available with rumors of several more to be available in the next few
months. In this article, I will be covering the Gemini, Crawly Crypt, Die dritte Atari, and the Atari Mega Archives. The three that are not
being covered at this time are Quik Forms, and two german CDs. I hope to cover these with the new releases. The other two (soon to be
released) are from Cybercube, and a joint Susybee and Toad Computers CD. I will also be covering two IBM clip art CDs and a literary CD.

Gemini CD
Walnut Creek
Suggested retail 39.99

The Gemini Disk has been out for about a year and was the first Atari specific PD and shareware disk available. The format used was both uncompressed and compressed files. I would like to give you an exact figure of the megabytes of information but when I tried to "show info" from the desktop, it locked up my system. This is not the only problem I had experienced with this CD. A member of the local user group had tried to get Aladdin off the CD to work and then called me. When I looked at the Aladdin folder, they had included the main program but not any of the other files necessary to run it. I do have to give them credit for the amount of text files though. I also tried to run some of the demos from the CD (figuring that I could open up some hard drive space) and this also bombed out my system. The demos did work when I copied them to my hard drive, but one of the reasons why I bought the CD was for the ability to run programs directly from the CD.

I also found files in categories that made little sense to me. An example of this was a folder called Clipart with Tiny pics in it, a folder called gags, and a number of folders with just one IMG file in it, and under DTP they had a program called Newdesk, that I could not
get to work, nor from reading the text files could I fathom why it was in the desktop publishing area. The descriptions given, left much to be desired. Half line descriptions for over 2500 files makes it hard to decide what you want to use, especially when there are a number of programs that do the same thing. Gemini does include a lot of PD and shareware software. But who has the time to decrypher what they all do. This disk may be good for a BBS or a user group PD library with a lot of work by the end users. As all software on the disk is now a year old and with the previously mentioned problems, I have to suggest the regular end user avoid this product.
Atari Mega Archives
System Solutions
Suggested retail 25 Pounds

Atari Mega Archives is completely compressed using four compression routines (lzh, zoo, zip, and arc). It claims to have 1.9 gig of
information. When I looked at this CD, I found quite a few programs that I had never heard of and some repetition of the Gemini disk.

Once again there was a scrambled directory so I was unable to get a full "disk info" listing. In fairness, it did not bomb my system and
the problem was limited to the first two directories. I used the desktop info option to read all of the folders I was able to access.
The descriptions where one liners, but gave me at least some idea about each program. Not "another screen saver", etc. AMA also had
information on the internet which I found interesting.

On the back of the AMA cover they ask you to use a shareware program called "Two in One". They explained how to install this program on your hard drive, but the directions where confusing and the doc file was just as bad. I spent an hour repeating the directions, getting more frustrated, then I finally figured out the problem. The directions wanted you to set drive paths, sounds easy, right? Yes and
no, When I set the drive path the program set everything but the drive letter, In my case E:\folder name\arc, etc. I must add that this may
have been my oversight, as I saw the \folder\program\*.* and thought it was installed correctly. Once I added the drive letter the program worked well.

I previously mentioned that the information was completely compressed. This is true of everything but the index files. Even though this is great for archive use, it does not allow me to use the programs directly from the CD, something I want to be able to do. AMA delivers
a lot of quality programs for a reasonable price. This is a CD that bulletin board operators and user groups should have. If you do not mind uncompressing software, then you should consider this CD.

Crawly Crypt
Crawly Crypt Corp.
Suggested Retail 39.99

The Crawly Crypt CD is 463 megabytes of PD software ready to run directly from the CD. I was able to get a "show info" for the entire
contents of the CD (took 45 minutes). I was unable to accomplish this with either the Gemini Disk or the Atari Mega Archives.

Almost all of the software on the CD was able to run directly from the CD. This allows you to use the programs on the CD without using up valuable hard drive space or floppy disks to utilize the programs on the CD. There are some repeat programs between this CD and the Atari Mega Archives, but I am able to overlook this as I can use the programs directly from the CD.

The directories where well laid out and there where complete descriptions of all the programs, not one liners. I found this invaluable when I wanted to find a program to do a specific thing.

The CD also has a number of software demos and Falcon specific software. The demos are of commercial software with some functions
removed or disabled, this allows for end users to "play before paying". The only real complaint I have, was the amount of on-line type magazines that where on the CD.

As most everything runs directly from the CD, I would have to recommend this disk to end users and user groups. For BBS operators, the Atari Mega Archives may be a better buy.
Die dritte Atari
Bernd Lohrum
Suggested retail 39.99

This is the third CD from Germany, I was mildly surprised to find the directories in English. I found a mix of English and German language software, unfortunately I was unable to read the descriptions, They were all in German.

Most of the software is set up to run directly from the CD, unfortunately a little over half of the software is in a language that I do not understand. This is a minor problem with some of the games, but the utilities are another story. There was a fax program that I would have liked to use, but it was in German, making it useless to me.

I would recommend this CD to those of you who read German, or don't  mind not being able to utilize all the available programs.

Desktop Bookshop
WeMake CDs
Suggested Retail 19.99

The Desktop Bookshop is a collection of AscII files of the great literary works through history. It also contains a number of government documents, from the constitution to treaties our goverment has made over the years. It also has a complete King James Bible.

I found this CD to be informative and even though some of the information is already dated (listing of Senators), it is a great learning tool. The cost to get most of the information on this CD in hard copy would be beyond the budget of most of us.

I recommend this CD to those with children and those who just want to read the classics without the cost.

Clip-Art Cornucopia
Walnut Creek
Suggested retail 29.99

Clip-art Cornucopia is an IBM PCX and Word Perfect image CD. All images are in both PCX and Word Perfect format. Pagestream does load directly from the CD (I have not tried all the PCXs). It is a good collection from what I have used. I found that this disk was
difficult to work with because the authors have not provided a printout of the images available on it. So you could do what I do. Via
Convector or Pagestream, look at the images that sound good and do a printout. If you know of a program that does printouts of PCX please let me know. I tried IMGcat and it would not print from this CD. Also if you do a print out, I would buy a copy of it. Would I suggest the CD?  Yes, because of the price, and the artwork loaded directly from the CD. No because there are other CDs that have sample printouts of the contents.

Clip Art Heaven 2
Most Significant Bits
Suggested Retail Unknown

Clip Art Heaven 2 has images in PCX, TIFF, BMP, and WPG. Not all IMGs are usable in Pagestream. Pagestream could not load a graphic directly from the CD. I am able to overlook this lack of direct importing as I use convector to vectorize my pictures before hand
anyway. The CD comes with a complete printout of the files on the CD. This is a necessity because of the different formats included. It also explains the higher price and is nice to have. I would suggest this CD even if you have a hand scanner. This CD is a terrific resource.

This is how the currently available Atari CDs rank (1 poor, 10 must have)

CD Name BBS User Groups End User
Atari Mega Archives 10 10 5
Crawly Crypt 5 10 10
Die Dritte Atari 5 5 5
Gemini 1 2 1
Clip Art Heaven n/a 5 10
Desktop BookShop n/a n/a 10

I see CDs adding a new dimension to the Atari platform. Especially as more people invest in them. I look forward to CDs that can be utilized as read only hard drives. Think about it, 500 megabytes of information on each CD. The storage space savings alone is invaluable to most of us.

I have only covered the basics of the drive and the CDs. I did not try to cover everything on each of these CDs. The things that I
looked for dealt with a possible use as a hard drive with direct loading, and content that matched my work in DTP. Printed catalogs of
the collection and the layout of the material were also part of my evaluation. I also tried to gauge whether enough information was given to use the disk with ease.

All the PD CDs had on-line magazines and some info about the Jaguar. I found that this information gets dated very quickly and is somewhat out of place on a permanent storage media like a CD. I found a press release for the release of the Jaguar on the Gemini CD, which undoubtedly is no longer usable.

My wish list for future CDs;

  1. Clip art exclusively for the Atari in IMG format.
  2. More CDs with programs that can be run directly from the CD.
  3. Classic copyright software on a CD or even a new program or two.
  4. A catalog program that you could type in a name of a program or a type of program and it would give you a list to choose from.

About the Author: David Guay is an Atari computer nut who lives far far away in the northern reaches of New England. He entertains himself by forcing his computer to access CD Rom disks from any source possible, while still maintaining his sanity.