Micro Mart Article

By Dave E

Originally published in EUG #67

Thanks to former EUG-contributor Mr. Derek Walker, we recently uncovered this article on the internet which was published circa 1994, and rounded up what was currently available for the BBC and the Electron...

We conclude our round-up of support for classic micros, with a look at the BBC and the Electron. Brief details are also given for other miscellaneous machines. If you use any of the computers covered over the past five weeks, I encourage you to support the worthy efforts of the dedicated user groups by getting in touch. In any correspondence please enclose a SAE, as most groups are run on a very tight budget.

The smaller brother of the BBC computer, the Electron, was covered early in this "Classic Computers" series, but I have shied away from describing the BBC itself. This is certainly not from lack of regard for its status in the short history of microcomputing.

In fact rather the opposite - I have avoided the BBC because its distinction and ubiquity make it so well known; as a result of this, there is still a wealth of information readily available about it. In truth then it needs little introduction.

The BBC computer was designed by Acorn to meet the needs of the BBC TV computer literacy programmes in the early eighties. Simply bristling with interfaces and features, the advanced specifications of the BBC were heralded on announcement as the answer to every home-computer enthusiast's dream. This impressive technical specification, together with an elegant BASIC implementation, rightly led to early government backing for use in both primary and secondary schools, where it has influenced a generation growing up in the era of the microcomputer. The BBC remains the most common micro in education.

As a result of my disinclination to write an article on the brilliant Beeb, I have made little effort to research the support still available. In consequence, nearly all the details given here derive from a single source - Paul Harvey who edits and produces the excellent Byte Back magazine. This is a very professional A5-size publication. Its presentation incorporates scanned pictures and sophisticated layouts, all done by Paul on a Mac-based DTP system.

Although only in production for around six months, Byte Back gives the appearance of a well-established publication. There are eminently readable sections with PD and shareware reviews, software tutorials, classic games reviews, tips, programmes, features (such as on printer types), private adverts for hardware and software, and lists of sources of support.

In the spirit of this column, there is a page devoted to "Vintage BBS News" covering early developments, and a forthcoming series giving details of all the different models of BBC produced down the ages. Paul Harvey intends Byte Back to be a contact point for BBC users, and so the magazine welcomes subscribers' contributions and contains a sizeable Letters section.

Byte Back is produced monthly and available for only £1 including postage. At this price, it is a non-profit making giveaway. I highly recommend it. To obtain however many issues you would like to subscribe to, just send the equivalent in pounds to Paul Harvey, Byte Back, 33 King Henry's Mews, Enfield Lock, Middlesex EN3 6JS. Tel: 0992-652-066.

Beebug (Mike Williams, 117 Hatfield Road, St. Albans, Herts AL1 4JS. Tel: 0727-840-303) is the biggest long-standing commercial support organisation for the BBC. However, there are now some indications that the Beebug magazine may well cease publication in April 1994.

Three groups offering disc-based magazines, PD software and general support for the BBC are Solinet (Ron Marshall, 41 Westbrook Drive, Rainworth, Mansfield, Notts NG21 0FB, Tel: 0623-795-053); 8 Bit Software (Chris Richardson, 17 Lambert Park Road, Hedon, Hull, West Yorkshire HU12 8HF); and BBC PD (Alan Blundell, 18 Carlton Close, Blackrod, Bolton BL6 5DL). BBC PD has been established for some time and has a vast range of discs available at £1.50 for 5.25" and £1.75 for 3.5" with reductions for quantity. Alan writes a PD column for Beebug and distributes the monthly disc magazine Disk User and the bi-monthly disc-based Fast Access.

Yet more PD software and shareware is available from HeadFirst PD (97 Chester Road, Southport PR9 7HH), Mad Rabbit PD (Joel Rowbottom, PO Box 4, Crigglestone, Wakefield, West Yorkshire EFG 43E) and JJF PD (James Farmer, 49 Hollyberry Close, Winyates Green, Redditch, Worcs B98 0QT). For commercial education software, try Rickitt (0460-57152). Commotion (081-804-1378) in Enfield have over ten years experience in supplying schools with bits and pieces or complete kits for "real-world" applications of the Beeb.

I have no doubt that there is much more support around for the BBC. Some companies listed here also deal with other Acorn products, such as the Archimedes or the Electron.

The Electron

The Electron was produced by Acorn in 1983 to fill a gap in the market for their BBC computer. For those attracted by the educational affiliations of the BBC but unwilling to fork out £400 for a Model B, the Electron offered BBC BASIC and some compatibility at half the price. Many hardware embellishments incorporated in the BBC design were stripped out for the Electron, but a 50-way expansion interface was provided to enable gradual upgrading with a plethora of bolt-on enhancements. Of the early cheap 8-bit home computers, the Electron displayed particularly attractive graphics capabilities and the advantage of 80-column text.

As for the BBC, I owe thanks for a good deal of the information given here to a single source - Will Watts, founder and editor of the Electron User Group magazine (EUG, 134 Great Knightleys, Basildon, Essex SS15 5HQ).

Will started EUG in June 1991 and originally published a substantial, informative and readable printed magazine in A5 format, produced on an Electron using a Slogger Stop Press 64 Desktop Publishing system.

Recently EUG has graduated to become solely disc-based, with 3.5" or 5.25" DFS or ADFS formats. This has led to greater interaction with owners of BBC B, BBC Master or even Archimedes machines, though the Electron remains the centre of EUG's attention. EUG is particularly keen to hear from all amateur programmers of Acorn machines - at any level of ability. So if you enjoy programming, get in touch with these fellow enthusiasts. As I no longer have access to any Acorn machines, I have unfortunately not been able to check out the latest EUG disc mags. But if they are anything like as impressive as the printed versions I read cover-to-cover for my Electron review this time last year, then I heartily recommend all Elk users to get a subscription. Copies are available at £1.30 each (specify disc size and format) by sending a cheque to organiser Derek Walker, EUG (subs), Bishopbriggs, Glasgow. Again, as with Byte Back, EUG is non-profit-making, in that the subscription charge covers only the costs of production and mailing. These dedicated groups run on pure enthusiasm and deserve every support.

The Electron is still well supported by suppliers on the hardware side. Pres (PO Box 319, Lightwater, Surrey GU18 5PW. Tel: 0276-472-046) produce a range of add-ons. Their AP1 (Advanced Plus 1) provides essentially the same facilities as the old Acorn joystick/ADC. Pres disc interfaces for an updated ADFS (AP3) or DFS (AP4) connect via a cartridge slot in the AP1. Six sideways ROM/RAMs can also be added via an AP6 upgrade to the AP1.

Slogger Computers ("Four Hazels". Allard Way, Broxbourne, Herts, Tel: 0992-464-248) supply a similar range of addons. Their Rombox Plus has four ROM/RAM sockets, two cartridge slots and a parallel printer port. The older Rombox is just a sideways expansion for 8 ROMs. Slogger's Master RAM Board fits inside the Electron to provide 64K. Space does not permit a description of their Pegasus 400 DFS disk interface or RX expanson system, or to tell of the wonders of the Stop Press 64 DTP package - you'll have to get hold of their catalogue. Slogger also provide a full Electron repair service, though this won't come cheap. A variety of educational and applications software titles are still available from suppliers.

Try Software Bargains (0532-436-300), Bell Computers (0525-383-074), Rickitt Educational Media (0460-57152) and Adventuresoft (021-352-0827). For public domain software contact Electron PD, 5 Edward St, Clifton, Brighouse, West Yorkshire D6 1QR and HeadFirst PD, 97 Chester Road, Southport PR9 7HH.

The observant will notice that a couple of these suppliers have already been cited for the BBC. Actually there is probably more in common than I have indicated - as you would expect given the relationship between the Beeb and the Electron. Thus, Slogger and Pres also do stuff for the BBC.

Originally Published in MICRO MART
Reprinted EUG #67