Electron User Menu System

By Dave E

Originally published in EUG #59

Those pesky Electron Users, eh? Hard to find complete issues of the mags for sale nowadays, practically impossible to track down the original companion cassettes. Discs containing all the listings from each mag are available to download from www.8bs.com but these versions miss the vital Menu System and, without it, you're faced with a disc full of files that you don't know whether to CHAIN, *RUN, *LOAD or *EXEC. Imagine trying to navigate the EUG disc without the Menu System and you'll get the idea.

There's also a fairly complicated history behind Electron User media. Throughout most of its life, EU only produced companion cassettes but, for a short spell (1988-1989), ACP/Pres produced companion discs (at £4.99 each) which could be ordered completely individually from the magazine. However, they were not popular and have now probably passed into the 'Irrecoverable History Of The Elk' bracket of software.

If people talk of companion discs to the Electron User magazines now, they are probably discussing straight tape-to-disc transfers of the original files which were on cassette. Generally, it is pretty easy to make a disc of equivalent files, simply by connecting a disc drive and tape player to your machine, LOADing from tape and then SAVEing to disc. Electron User was very good at ensuring its programs would work at whatever address they were loaded into, and relocate if there was a problem. If you download the Electron User disc library 8BS offers, you will be retrieving files transferred by this method.

The obvious question then is "Why no Menu?" and a combination of factors constitutes the answer. Firstly, the tape-based Menu was a hybrid BASIC/machine code program that was embedded with the *TAPE command and protected. Although it could be transferred to a disc, after selecting the required program, it would disable the disc system. This would have the effect of rendering it practically useless as, because the utility was protected, it was impossible even to hack into it and see the filename it had been searching for!

Secondly, the tape-based Menu was Electron-specific. Although quite frequently games and sundries published in Electron User magazine worked across the BBC series, the Menu System used odd CHR$ definition numbers which meant the Electron User logo appeared as a jumbled mess on the BBC B and Master machines. Again, not very professional.

Thirdly, the Menu refused to work at any other address apart from &E00 which meant it was restricted to the AP4 disc system on the Elk and would not work at &1900 on the BBC Model B.

The solution to all of these problems however, has now been found. The Menu System has been recoded into a complete BASIC utility which is very easy to adapt to create your own Menu equivalent to the original tape-based ones (providing you have the original tape Menu to load and scribble onto paper, of course). I have successfully altered it to suit each companion "disc" made up of transferred tape files, and it appears and functions identically.

The version included here incorporates some sample filenames from the EUG #59 Menu and LISTing it will demonstrate how easy it is to alter it for the disc versions of any cassettes you may want to transfer to ADFS or DFS discs.

Hopefully EUG will accumulate all of the Electron User companion cassettes one day and discs incorporating this Menu system will succeed those currently available.

Dave Edwards, EUG #59