Software help still exists for users of old Apple IIs


February 08, 1993|By MICHAEL J. HIMOWITZ

Betty was panic-stricken. After eight years of tapping away at her trusty Apple IIe, she made a mistake and trashed the disk that contained her word processing program.

No, she'd never made a backup disk. No one had ever showed her how. Betty isn't exactly a power user. Like millions of PC owners, she learned the handful of keystrokes she needed to do her work and that was it.

Now she was stuck with years' worth of files on disks that she couldn't access. She tried local computer stores, but they couldn't help her. In fact, few retailers stock much Apple II software any more. Apple, which discontinued distribution of its AppleWriter II word processing program years ago, couldn't help either.

This is a growing problem for owners of venerable and much beloved Apple II computers. The Apple II is hardly an orphan machine, since an estimated six million were sold, and most of them are still in use. Although its technology is long outdated, the Apple II remains a fixture in American classrooms, and many loyal users still swear by these reliable and remarkably versatile machines.

Unfortunately for its friends, Apple has been concentrating on its advanced Macintosh line for years and has effectively discontinued the Apple II line. There are relatively few new software titles available, and many old titles are out of stock among the few dealers (mostly mail-order houses) who handle Apple II programs.

But help is available. A friend of mine put me in touch with Phil Shapiro at Washington Apple Pi, one of the largest Apple user groups. With 4,500 members in 40 states and 25 foreign counties, Washington Apple Pi has a large and active Apple II special-interest group.

Mr. Shapiro told me that Paul Lutus, the author of Betty's AppleWriter software, has declared the program to be "freeware," which means that it can be freely distributed. He offered to send Betty a copy.

Subscribers to the GEnie and CompuServe on-line information services can also find copies of AppleWriter in their Apple II sections. Both services have active Apple II special-interest groups, with large collections of program files and plenty of members who can answer questions.

In addition, Mr. Shapiro noted that files created by AppleWriter can also be accessed with AppleWorks, a popular integrated word processing, spreadsheet and data base program that is still widely available.

For its members ($39 a year), Washington Apple Pi offers regular newsletters, a large collection of files and other information for users of all types of Apple Computers, and friendly help from a full-time staff. For information, write to Washington Apple Pi at 7910 Woodmont Ave., Suite 910, Bethesda, Md. 20814.


Now to other matters. A few weeks ago I wrote about entertaining, do-nothing programs for people who like to make their computers look good. The most popular of these, for IBM-compatibles using Microsoft Windows, are screen blankers. These programs are designed to keep an image from "burning in" on your monitor if you leave your computer running but unattended for a while.

Early screen blankers did just that. They turned off the display or flashed a brief message ("Out to Lunch") at random locations on the screen. A keystroke restored your original program exactly where you left it.

But programmers will be programmers, and soon Windows screen blankers became an entire software genre, filling screens with a wild variety of animated images (flying toasters, Energizer bunnies, aquarium scenes, etc.).

Unfortunately, DOS users have had to make do with plain old vanilla screen blankers. Soooo tacky.

But take heart. If you're willing to invest $49.95, you can turn your DOS computer screen into a psychedelic kaleidoscope with Razzle Dazzle from Road Scholar Software. All you need is an EGA or VGA monitor. And it does Windows, too, if you want.

Actually, the Dazzle part of Razzle Dazzle has been around for a couple of years as a delightful stand-alone time-waster. But the publisher has packaged it with a small (12K) memory resident program that invokes it whenever your computer has been idle for five minutes (or whatever period you choose).

The endlessly shifting patterns of lines, shapes and colors are, as we used to say, mind-bending. The publisher claims Razzle Dazzle will generate 2.8 billion different images, and I believe it. The first time I ran it, I found myself staring at the screen for 20 minutes, mumbling things like "wow," and "heavy," and other terms dredged up from memories of misspent youth.

Installation is easy, which is a good thing, because the manual must have been written by a programmer, with pages of descriptions of arcane command line switches and other technophilia. You probably won't need them.

Razzle Dazzle modifies your AUTOEXEC.BAT and CONFIG.SYS files to load itself automatically when you start your computer, although you can bypass this and run it in stand-alone mode if you choose.

Once Razzle Dazzle is active (you can invoke it at any time with a special sequence of keystrokes), there are dozens of menu-driven image, shape, color and timing options to tweak. Or you can just let Razzle Dazzle do its thing. You can save any images or animations in the standard PCX graphic file format for use with other programs or as the background "wallpaper" in Windows.

I haven't said much about Windows here, but Razzle Dazzle comes with a set of program files that will invoke it as your standard Windows 3.1 screen blanker. So if you use DOS and Windows, you can have it both ways.

In short, Razzle Dazzle is a menace to productivity. I respect that. My recommendation to the publisher: Package it with a CD-ROM collection of the Grateful Dead, Iron Butterfly, Vanilla Fudge, Cream, Jefferson Airplane and Jimi Hendrix. Sell it to 40-somethings as a legal trip back to the '60s. Heavy.

For information, contact Road Scholar Software, 2603 Augusta, Suite 1000, Houston, Texas 77057.

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