The heart of an Apple II hides in MS-DOS micro.
The new WPC Bridge computer from Cordata Systems, Inc. of Compton, Calif., is well-named. This one machine can run both MS-DOS and Apple II software. Even better, files can be moved from one operating system to the other. This provides educators with exciting capabilities.
The Bridge is actually a souped-up version of the company's reputable CS 40 IBM compatible. It contains Diamond Computer Systems' Trackstar bard, a 128K Apple emulator that has a very good reputation in the education market. (The version in the Bridge has been enhanced to support its high-resolution monitor.) This new machine runs Apple II emulation software licensed from Diamond as well. Users truly get the best of both worlds in this $1,695 machine.
The Basics of the Box
The WPC Bridge comes as a single unit containing a built-in monochrome monitor; two 5.25", half-height, 360K disk drives or an optional hard disk and one disk drive; and the CPU box. A detachable IBM AT-style keyboard rounds out the basic hardware.
Considering the amount of internal electronics required for this dual-personality computer, the Bridge's footprint is small--just 13.5" x 16".
There is 512K of RAM available, with 40K taken by the Apple emulation when it's running in the background, and the Trackstar board's 128K is available for Apple programs. RAM can be increased to 728K for MS-DOS, but not for apple.
A parallel port, a serial port and an Apple game port come standard. There are also additional video ports for attaching monochrome and color monitors. Three more expansion slots will accommodate MS-DOS add-on boards.
The Bridge's main controls--on/off, contrast, brightness and reset switches--are located on the front of the unit, offering easy access. A toggle switch for changing to a color monitor and a switch for boosting the computer's speed from 4.77 MHz to 8 MHz are in the back.
The Bridge comes with Electric Desk software that runs under MS-DOS. This integrated package comprises word processor, spreadsheet, database and communication programs. Overall, Electric Desk is good enough to get started, but most educators and students will probably want to use more popular applications.
Two pieces of software for users interested in the Bridge's unique, dual-operating-system capabilities are on disks titled Bridge Boot and XLATE.
Starting the computer with Bridge Boot automatically loads both operating systems. Out of the box, the program will boot into MS-DOS with Apple available in the background, but the software can be reconfigured so that the computer boots straight into Apple emulation. XLATE is the file translation utility for converting files from one operating system to the other.
The DOS Personality
The DOS operating system included with WPC Bridge is Microsoft's DOS (MS-DOS) Version 2.11, although Cordata calls it CS 40 DOS 2.11, Release 1. It works just fine. Whether the computer is started with Bridge Boot configured to go into DOS or with the separate DOS 2.11 disk, the familiar A> command-line prompt greets the viewer.
We tested the computer with common applications software. WordStar Version 3.3 ran without a hitch at both speeds, as did dBASE II. We also ran a few programs written in GW-BASIC, although it is not a part of the package, and had no problems. A variety of game software was tested successfully.
In short, we did not find a DOS program that wouldn't run on the Bridge, although we did not do exhaustive testing.
A Sony Multiscan color monitor was connected and functioned without difficulty. An Epson RX-80 dot-matrix printer also worked flawlessly.
The Apple II Personality
The WPC Bridge functions admirably as an Apple II emulator. Booting with the disk labeled Bridge Boot automatically puts the Apple mode in the background, and hitting [ALT] [ESC] switches back and forth between the Apple and MS-DOS operating systems. The machine alternates just as smoothly from within applications. When you move from AppleWorks into WordStar, for instance, your WordStar document immediately appears exactly as you left it.
The Bridge will run 99 percent of software written for the Apple II series, including the II+, IIc and IIe. The Apple programs we tested all worked fine in Apple mode--among them AppleWorks, the ProDOS version of AppleWriter, a Mindscape program called Comparative Physiology Exploration, and Apple's ProDOS User's Disk. However, the Special Compatibility function had to be invoked to get Mindscape's Grammar Mechanics to boot.
Special Compatibility is one of several options available from a menu that appears when Switch is typed at the DOS A> prompt. It's there in case an Apple program won't run in the "normal compatibility" default mode.
Special Compatibility operation requires a DOS 3.3 System Master Disk, from which the Bridge loads Floating Point BASIC instead of using its own FPBASIC. This provides a higher level of compatibility for troublesome programs.
Although the user can actually switch back and forth from within DOS and Apple programs, it's unlikely that this will occur too often.
What's more likely is that a user might want to transfer some data from a DOS application into an Apple program, or vice versa. The XLATE utility does this handily, although there's a bit of disk swapping involved.
Translation between MS-DOS and ProDOS is not direct but uses DOS 3.3 as a go-between. Thus, someone wanting to move a ProDOS AppleWriter text file into WordStar would first use the ProDOS-to-DOS 3.3 conversion utility on an Apple ProDOS User's Disk, then use XLATE for the DOS 3.3-to-MS-DOS conversion.
Despite the steps involved, the process worked perfectly when we tried it. And Cordata is said to be planning to make available a Diamond Computer Systems' utility that allows for direct translation from ProDOS to MS-DOS.
Both binary and ASCII text files are transferable. However, the binary file must be compiled specifically for one of the computer types, such as an Apple IIe, that the WPC Bridge can emulate.
Technically, what happens when files get transferred from one operating system to the other is that both operating systems are working, one reading and the other translating and writing. The separate banks of RAM make this physically possible.
Help for Problems
Makers of the WPC Bridge have provided a section in the documentation to help anyone encountering problems running Apple software.
If a disk won't boot, the first recourse is to try the Special Compatibility option already described. It worked for us.
For really stubborn Apple programs that don't respond to this treatment, the Bridge manual suggests the old standby: drive reassignment. In other words, make Drive A become Drive B and change B to A. There are other helpful hints, including the suggestion to hook up an external Apple drive as a last resort.
Which Drive is Which?
We experienced some temporary confusion with the way the Bridge handles drive assignments. In MS-DOS, the top drive is Drive A and the bottom drive is Drive B. For Apple programs, the bottom drive is Drive 1 and the top drive is designated Drive 2. There's a very good reason for this in a machine running two different operating systems: It provides a primary or boot drive for each.
The default arrangement is fine, however, once you get the hang of it. In fact, it seems the most logical set-up. But if you're not happy with the way things are, drives can be reassigned for both modes of operation with Option 4 on the configuration menu.
Previously called Corona, Cordata has been producing microcomputers and peripherals for seven years, so it's not a Johnny-come-lately to the industry. And the fact that the company chose to buy its Apple emulation products from Diamond Computer Systems, the leader in that field, has a lot to do with the quality of this product.
All in all, the WPC Bridge is a handy piece of machinery that does what it claims to do quite well. It provides educators with a single unit that will run software in both of the leading educational operating systems.
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|Title Annotation:||Hardware Review|
|Author:||Tyre, Terian; Jones, Pam|
|Publication:||T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)|
|Date:||Aug 1, 1988|
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