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Brian Pankuch

Note: This article was scanned using OCR from the 1985 Summer CCCE Newsletter. Please contact us if you identify any OCR errors.
Summary of standard model:
Price $2900
Memory 256 K
Disk drive - One of 640 K capacity, 68000 processor, Liaison Operating System, p-system 4.2 w/LAN (local area network), multiuser software.
Other needed equipment
Terminal $700 and up
Language: Pascal, BASIC $225 and up.
(Stride Micro was formerly Sage, and they changed their name to avoid legal barriers with other companies using the same name.)
Well I finally did it about a year ago. Got tired of borrowing a free machine from work and was finding more and more uses for a personal computer. I started by asking myself what I wanted and needed in a system. Most of my time is spent writing programs in Pascal. Some time is spent on reports for work and on reviews such as. this. The p-system can be used as a primitive word processor. (Five keystrokes and the editor is in the word processing mode with the advantage that you use all the usual editor commands to do editing whether for a program or a report. The system does a few extra useful things for you such as keeping within margins when you add or delete text.} My need was a system which had Pascal and the p-system. No problem since you can buy both for both systems, but on most it costs extra. On the Stride the p-system comes with your purchase.
Another big factor was the large size programs I was writing, over 100 K in most cases. So I needed more space on the diskettes for storing parts of programs. Pascal is a compiled language: this means a program needs to be compiled each time I want to see a result on the screen. A very fast CPU will both speed up compile time and the rate at which the little lights (pixels} that make up the graph{cs on the screen can be turned on/off. The Stride uses the Motorola 68000 CPU whose speed allows the Stride to compare with a DEC VAX which is a much larger and more expensive machine.
The least expensive Stride gives you· 256 K RAM expandable to 512 K (each K allows storage of 1000 characters} with a single disk drive. What a disk drive! It holds 640 K.
So I did it. Got a Stride with one disk drive. Instead of the standard 256 K memory I got an additional. 256 K for a total of 512 K ($500 extra}. The base price for the 256 K Stride is $2900. If that sounds too good to be true, it is. At this point you have a computer with the Liaison (p-system} operating system. You still need a terminal. Yes a terminal, not a monitor, and a language.
The Stride should work with any terminal configured properly. If it isn't one being actively supported by Stride then you better be sure your dealer is willing to configure it for you. Otherwise, it is a bit like pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. The terminal adds about $700 unless you already have your own
You have a wide choice of tools, i.e., languages and operating systems. Application programs are available, but you simply won't have anywhere near the choice of programs that are available for the Apple or IBM. Then how many word processors or spreadsheets do you really need?
For languages you have a choice of 68000 Assembly, APL, BASIC, C, CBASIC, COBOL, Forth, FORTRAN, LISP, Modula-2, Mumps, Pascal. They vary in price from $225 and up. If you wish to purchase additional operating systems you again have wide choice - CP/M-68K, RM-COS, UNIX v, Idris, HyperFORTH, PDOS, BOS, Mirage, MOSYS, TRIPOS, Mumps.
You might wonder if you really need 512 K RAM? No you don't need it, but if you have a second terminal available you can have two users on one Stride with the 512 K. The software for two or more users is part of the standard package, but a second disk drive would be an idea. I haven't used this feature, but I understand it can be difficult to hook up.
Have you heard of the 'ram disk'? This allows you to put aside part of the computer's memory as a 'ram disk'. On my machine I set aside 385 K of computer memory for a 385 K 'ram disk' that exists only in the computer memory. The 'ram disk' is noiseless and blindingly fast. Although it requires two transfers to get all the information from a real 640 K diskette drive to the 'ram disk' then to another diskette (as in making back up copies} I find I rarely need to transfer the entire 640 K and one transfer is sufficient.
How about the speed of the overall machine? I was using a 16 bit Terak which is about 5 to 6 times fas;ter than an Apple on most operations and raced the Terak to be the Stride. A 32 K program I had written was put into the editor then compiled, 'linked and run. The Stride was over 7 times faster, which makes it a lot faster than an Apple. When you're compiling and recompiling large programs this is a time saver. When you are doing a large number of calculations or graphics the speed is really appreciated.
Not so many years ago it was popular to compare your car!s 0-60 mph time to others to see who had the fastest car. Times change but not people. Now I'm the kid with the biggest, fastest computer in the neighborhood. People always want to know the speed, amount of RAM memory and the amount of storage on the disk drive. The Stride is a winner on all three.
For my uses, primarily programming, the system works fine. Some of the disadvantages I have found over the last year come from support. When you have a problem the first step is to ask a friend. No one I know has a Stride. Next step is the manuals. On a scale of 1-10 (with 10 the best), I'd give the manuals a 3. Supposedly new mariuals are available which can be read by someone who didn't invent the Stride, but I haven't used them. The next step would be your local dealer. There have been three different dealers in the last year in my area and not one is able to answer questions. Next, the Stride offices. In the course of writing this review it occurred to me that people teaching chemistry would be interested in word processors which allowed writing chemical formulas. This means sub and superscripts in the word processor. First I called the' Boston office, they thought it would be possible. Trying to get it more definite, I called the Reno office; they didn't think it could be done.
So if you buy something, make sure you see it work. Not to be too hard on Stride, their people are always courteous and will usually tell you frankly whether they know an answer or not. It is a problem for all companies. By the time an employee knows the answers to the tough questions, they are too valuable to be answering the same questions over and over again. Understanding the problem may help your blood pressure, but this still leaves questions unanswered. For instance, it took me over two weeks to find a way to transfer programs from the Terak to the Stride. (Once transferred they worked fine. It was the transfer process which was the problem, not the p-system or Pascal.)
Another problem I find is that my screen frequently freezes. You have to reboot and when you do that you lose everything in RAM memory including 'ram disk'. This means you have to back up to the diskette often. This p-system seems less robust and more fragile than those on the Terak or Apple.
I have only talked about the smallest machine. For a price you can get up to 3000 K (3 meg) of memory and can add hard disks from 10 to 448 meg. You can add a lot of users to machines of this size. Stride is a.real mover and seems likely to keep up. with the latest hardware and software innovations. Two other factors which sold me on buying a Stride were a 20% educational discount, and a deal where you could trade in your old machine toward a new one getting the present value of the old machine toward the new one. I was disappointed to find in my last contact with Stride that they are no longer honoring this last commitment. 
In February 1985 Stride announced a graphics board for $400 which sounds fast and versatile. I haven't seen it yet.
In summary, if your needs are similar to mine, I would 1 seriously look at this system. Be very sure there is strong local dealer support. Get everything set up and running the way you want before walking out with the machine. Actually that's a good idea with any purchase, isn't it?
*Department of Chemistry
Union County College
Cranford, NJ 07016
06/12/85 to 06/15/85