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Hands-on library computing.

It has been nearly a year since I wrote a regular column for any publication. My last monthly deadline evaporated when the magazine I was writing for marked the onsets of the current recession by financially self-destructing. A few additional months of midnight watts were consumed finishing The Essential Guide to dBASE IV in Libraries (Meckler, 1991).

By fall of 1991, I had begun to miss having a platform from which to expound, justification for requesting review copies of wonderful new software, and -- amazingly enough -- the challenge of putting words to ideas under the pressure of a deadline. It is with great pleasure that I return to these pages.

This column is aimed at practitioners -- those who aren't afraid to roll up their sleeves, scrtch their heads, and as a last resort, even read the manual in the search for solutions to library computing problems. Some of the topics covered will be of interest to novice and occasional users of computers. Others will appeal more to "hardcore" types. Across that spectrum, an effort will be made to keep the discussion as clear, understandable, and informative as possible.

I will write about that which I understand and am involved with on a day-to-day basis: IBM-compatible software and hardware. More specifically, I will spend most of my time writing about tools and techniques for those who manipulate library-oriented data. Among the categories of software I will be discussing are:

* batch languages

* keyboard macro programs

* quick-and-dirty programming languages

* dBASE IV and other xBASE dialects

* text-oriented data managers

* data managers that are particularly easy to use

* CD-ROM products of all kinds

* system-simplifying utilities

* card production packages

* circulation systems

* public access cataglog software, both CD- and magnetic-mediabased

* MARC editing packages

* remote access telecommunications packages that allow one to create dial-up information systems locally

* shareware and public domain software of special note

Chinon Woes

Chinon is not a name that jumps to most people's minds when CD-ROM technology is mentioned. Hitachi, Sony, Philips, and Toshiba labels are found with far greater frequency in libraries. As CD technology breaks out into the mainstream of personal computing, however, new players emerge.

As the first drive offered by Texas mail-order giant Compuadd, Chinon products have suddenly begun appearing in my corner of the world. I learned a number of interesting things about Chinon and Compuadd recently when helping a high school library bring up the Maine State Library's MaineCat statewide CD-ROM union catalog.

As of September, Compuadd was not yet on top of its game as regards CD technology. The firm sells a kit consisting of the CD-431 external drive, a power supply, a SCSI (Small Computer System Interface, pronounced "scuzzy") interface card, a cable for connecting the card to the drive, and the Microsoft Extensions and device driver software on floppy disk.

Unfortunately, the firm does not sell the cable needed to connect the first drive to a second drive. In various conversations, Compuadd represenatives have maintained:

* no user would ever want to connect two drives

* it is not possibel to connect two drives because of limits imposed by the interface card (notwithstanding the ostensible seven-device capacity of any SCSI interface)

* the new catalog might contain a new cable, but no one will be told about it until the catalog appears

* there is no deman for chainting capability; therefore Compuadd doesn't support it

Yet the Chinon manual clearly describes and illustrates chaining, right down to listing the part numbr for the subject cable.

Chinon's American subsidiary provided the definitive if tardy answer to the dilemma: any SCSI cable with connectors of appropriate gender should work. An Apple dealer was suggested as the ready source for the item.

However, since the library in question had been sold two cards, two card-to-drive cables, and there was no Apple dealer for 100 miles, we instaslled both SCSI interfaces and were in no times. That's a white lie, actually.

One of the SCSI cards had to be set to a device address different from the default of 300 in order to avoid a conflict with the other. The Chinon documentation for this reaches new heights in multilingual obscurity -- the directions are equally incomprehensible no matter wht language one is speaking. A bit of trial and error revealed that toggling just one switch on the card woudl change its address to 304 and allow both cards to cohabit comfortably.

The device lines in the CONFIG.SYS file that allow the cards to coexist are:

device=:dev:chinon02 /d:mscd000/a:300 /0 device=:dev:chinon02 /d:mscd001 /a:304 /0

In the AUTOEXEC.BAT file Microsoft Extensions is invoked with:

bin:mscdex /d:mscd000 /d:mscd0001

The "/0" defines the SCSI device number for each drive. As each card is installed at a different device address, each drive is at the beginnig of its own SCSI chain.

One last more. Anyone looking for compact drives should be aware that while the Chinon external drives are petite indeed -- about the size of a 5.25-inch half-height internal drive unit -- they come with a mammoth, fist-size external power supply that you will want to keep well out of toe stubbing range. A standard PC power cord connects the power supply to an electrical receptacle. A skinny wire about 5 feet long and integral to the power unit connects it to the drive.

I don't know that the Chinon configuration is better or worse than that offered by other manufacturers. It is just different. Only time will tell how Chinon matches up in performance and compatibility.

DOS 5.0 and Microsoft

Extensions: Gotcha

Murphy's 18th law of software upgrades states, "Rarely is a product improved, or previous defects corrected, without the introduction of irksome incompatibilities in systems that previously worked without flaw." This law is sometimes abbreviated, "Gotcha! DOS 5.0 is a case in point.

To state the matter in concise, techie terms: invoking Microsoft CD-ROM Extensions version 2.1 or 2.2 under DOS 5.0 will produce an "Incorrect DOS version" error message unless the SETVER.EXE devide driver has been previously installed.

The installation routine provided with the DOS 5.0 upgrade package I purchased automatically inserted the instruction "DEVICE=C::DOS:SETVER.EXE" IN the CONFIG.SYS file on my hard drive. If the CONFIG.SYS file is damaged or lost and must be reconstituted, it is very easy to forget to insert the SETVER line, however. The immediate evidence of such an oversight is the "Incorrect DOS version" complaint.

The bottom line: if your CD-ROM products don't work after a DOS 5.0 upgrade, look first to SETVER for a quick fix.

Do Real People Do Windows?

Politics, aesthetics, and a peculiar strain of techie chic intrude at times on what ought to be simple, even boring questions of software choice. True Believers ar streaming out of revival tents, energized by the software evangelists from Microsoft and its corporate apostles, and dedicated to converting the world to the one true operating environment /word processor /database manager / spreadsheet /communications program /utility set.

There are some wonderful products on the market. Of that there can be no doubt. That any one of them is enormously better than all others is doubtful. Having neither infinite time nor unlimited funds, I tend to stop looking when I find a product that will accomplish the task at hand fast enough and well enough for my immediate needs.

In this I suspect I am typical of most computer users. Before I abandon the tools I know, and the expertise I have developed in using them, I must see a very large advantage. Small incremental gains need not apply.

The most vociferous arguments among contentious computer types these days tend to center on which of the proliferating possibilities is the best "operating environment." Today we find plain vanilla, command-oriented DOS, albeit with the addition of a few nifty enhancements in version 5.0, facing a phalanx of multifeatured contenders. DOS 5.0 also offes DOSSHELL, a rudimentary menuing and file management system.

Inspired by the Macintosh, Microsoft Windows 3.0 running on top of DOS brings a graphical, point-and-shoot control system to IBM-compatibles. While not as elegant or as seamless as the Mac interface, Windows 3.0 is a serviceable imitation -- particularly on a speedy 386-level PC.

OS/2 is a completely new operating system conceived from the ground up to overcome the limitations of DOS. The new plumbing is overlaid with a glitzy facade called Presentation Manager, the operation of which is not dissimilar from that of Windows or the Mac.

IBM pushes OS/2 as "a better DOS than DOS, a better Windows than Windows." So far it lags far behind Windows both in sales and in the number of applications programs taking advantage of it.

We won't even being to touch on the DOS super clone DR DOS from Digital Research (newly acquired by networking giant Novell); Solaris, the newly announced UNIX variant from Sun; various other flavors of UNIX featuring various windowing operating environments; the GeoWorks alternative to Windows; or a host of wanna bes.

Here's the bottom line. So far I have not seen a single applicant important enough and good enough to make me want to switch from DOS 5.0. WIndows is cute, but it sucks horsepower that I would rather see harnessed to racing through database reindexing or blasting those normally lazy dBASE IV pop-up menus onto the screen. Running on a 386-based system, dBASE is good enough for now. The theoretical benefits of a "real operating system" like OS/2 remain irrelevant until I can see some payback in terms of the work I do.

UNIX is important an wil become even more important at the medium and large systems level. Indeed, the linking of UNIX-based resources running on cheap, powerful PCs to the great "networld" is one of the most exciting prospects for the coming decade. But that is R & D, not daily routine.

The operating environment enhancements most important to me are:

* DOS 5.0 for its significant improvement in the DOS command interface.

* Quartedeck's QEMM 386 memory manager for its superior utilization of memory resources, leaving a lot of space for the biggest application programs

* DESQview, also from Quarterdeck, a wonderful utility that allows one to run multiple programs simultaneously (and much more conveniently than under Windows)

* the wonderful file manager Xtree Professional

* Norton Utilities

* parts of PC Tools (specifically the back-up and caching utilities)

* and the shareware file compression utilities PKZIP, PKUNZIP, and PKLITE from PKWARE, Inc. (7545 N. Port Washington Rd., Glendale, WI 53217).

Does this make me a stick-in-the-mud? Am I a reactionary dullard not to be seduced by the joys of changing wallpaper or the jollity of a quick game of solitaire? Hardly. The test after all is this: what is the shortest route between where you are and where you need to be. Since I know command-driven DOS and a variety of tooslthat work under it, I have no reason or justification to switch until compelling new tools that require another operating environment appear.

Those who start from another point, perhaps as a novice computer user, probably will find that they can get more work done sooner by learning computer use through a menu-based approach. Moreover, those who must use a Windows-based tool (e.g., desktop publishing, mathematical modeling, or computer-assisted design software) will just do it, regardless of other issues.

New operating environments will not supplant older ones, but will add to the confusion of options available to users. It will be less and less likely that one will be able to turn to one's colleagues for a quick and definitive answer to a computing question. If and when Windows becomes indispensable to me, I doubtless will use it, albeit part-time.

Magellan ROMs

The tidal wave of Venus images gathered by NASA's Magellan space probe has begun to break. The first five discs are now available from the National Space Science Data Center, Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, MD 20771 (301-286-6695; Internet: request @nssdca.gsfc.nasa.gov). The first disc is $20, with each subsequent disc in the same order costing $6! Image-viewing software provided is IMDISP for PC compatibles; Browser, Pixel Pusher, and True Color for Macintosh.

Additional CDs are expected to follow at the rate of eight a month until a full fifty-disc set of mapping images for the entire planet has been issued.

In the Pipeline

In upcoming issues I will be writing about a variety of issues of concern to hands-on computer users: techniques for constructing roll-your-own dial-up information systems; the DBM format and associated utilities as part of a scheme for extracting, manipulating, and repacking MARC records using dBASE IV; the notion of "infosmithing" -- designing and implementing entirely new information sources and information access pathways as an integral component of the role of the library professional.

I also will be reviewing to greater or lesser degree the following: Ocelot2, Facts on File on CD-ROM, Folio Views, the new Microsoft Bookshelf, Microsoft Visual BASIC, Nutshell II Plus, askSAM, and Pro Cite.

Suggestions, comments, corrections, and questions may be addressed to: Karl Beiser 18 Elizabeth Avenue Bangor, ME 04401 E-mail: GEnie: KBEISER; Internet: kbeiser@maine.maine.edu.

Karl Beiser is the library systems coordinator at the Maine State Library and the software editor of Computers in Libraries. He may be reached at 18 Elizabeth Ave., Bangor, Maine 04401.
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Author:Beiser, Karl
Publication:Computers in Libraries
Article Type:Product/Service Evaluation
Date:Dec 1, 1991
Words:2232
Previous Article:Year-end roundup.
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