THE Z88 - NEW DIMENSIONS IN PERSONAL COMPUTING
by Richard Karsmakers
Believe it or not, but a large part of all the articles written
in this issue of ST NEWS have not actually been typed using my
faithful old ST. Yes...my ST is still located on its own desk,
but I recently acquired a new system next to it. A system that is
at least just as powerful as the ST, a system that is specialised
in word processing and everything connected with it. A system
that can be used any time, any place, anywhere. As a matter of
fact, this very article was written while I was lying in my bed!
Now, isn't THAT something unique?
As you might have guessed from this article's title, I'm
talking about the Cambridge Computer Z88 here. A machine that
weighs only 900 grams (that's 31.75 oz). A machine that is
expandable to 3 Mb of RAM memory (ALL INTERNAL!). A machine that
can work for TWENTY hours on four AA sized batteries (when not in
actual use, all RAM data can be maintained for up to one whole
year!). A machine with word processor/spreadsheet, calculator,
diary, filer system, communication programs, calendar, clock
(with alarm), printer editor and a full-fledged BBC Basic on ROM!
A machine that allows flexible transferring of data from and to
other systems (including the ST, as you can see). A machine the
size of a DIN A4 sheet of paper, and only slightly thicker as
one's thumb. A machine that conquered my heart the moment I first
worked with it. A machine that will conquer yours when you'll
work with it. A machine that really demonstrates what today's
technology is like.
Never before had I imagined it possible to have such enormous
power at my fingertips. The thing weighs less than a packet of
sugar, and it fits neatly in every brief-case. Are you on a
business trip? Then the Z88 is the ultimate solution for you. Are
you feeling inspired to write something down or to create a
Basic routine while your normal computer is way off? The Z88 is
the answer. Do you want to perform some rapid calculations, or do
you always forget to write something down in your diary after
having promised to do so? Again, the Z88 is the answer for you.
The Z88 allows you to perform extensive word processing and
programming in the train, in your car (unless you're behind the
wheel, which might prove not to be too healthy), in bed, yes,
even on the loo. In fact, the Z88 can be regarded to be somewhat
of a portable ST; it allows you to do things on places where the
ST itself would be quite unhandy, and later process them further
(store/print) on the Atari.
But the Z88 is not only the ideal solution for businessmen and
people that like to use computers in the weirdest places. If
you're a non-computer freak the machine is also quite ideal for
you. The Operating System and the programs available are full-and
fool-proof and are very easy to use - really, the Z88 must be the
MacIntosh of the laptop range when speaking about
userfriendlyness! The guy that got me into touch with the Z88,
Ton of Data Skip Gouda, told me the machine sells very well to
people that already have a computer, but that it also sells very
well to people that do not know and do not want to know anything
about computers. They just want to work. And that's exactly what
you can do using the Z88: Work. There's no need of booting
extensive operating systems, word processors or programming
languages, as these are already present on ROM the very moment
your machine starts up and are immediately accessible by some
simple key presses.
So let's have a look at the machine systematically.
A regular computer's keyboard, 64 keys, including some special
function keys for immediate access of help-and menu options as
well as a key to get back to the main index of the system at any
time. It is a normal keyboard, but covered with a 3D layer of
rubber that prevents dust or grease from getting into the system.
It types smoothly, and is only a very tiny fraction smaller than
An LCD screen, 3 by 25 cm, of which 2.5 by 23.5 cm are actually
covered by LCD pixels. Principally, over 80 characters can be
displayed on the screen, on 8 lines. This would sum up to a
resolution of about 640 by 64 pixels. Not bad, is it?
At the front of the computer, there are three slots for ROM, RAM
and EPROM (!) expansions. These make it possible to pump the
machine's memory up to 3 Mb of RAM, or to add ROM cartridges with
extra communication programs, a spelling checker, etc. EPROMs can
only be used in slot 3, and the most remarkable thing is that
these EPROMs can also be written to (prommed) with the machine!!
At the left side, there is a socket for an external power
supply, a reset button and a controller for the LCD screen
At the right side, there's a Z88 expansion bus for external disk
drive or monitor as well as an RS232 port through which
communication with other machines is possible.
At the back, there is a location to put the batteries and a
thing with which it is possible to tilt the computer a bit for
ease of work on a desk.
The word processor
On ROM, the major program available is called "Pipedream".
"Pipedream" is a word processor with fairly extensive
database/spreadsheet possibilities. The word processor
understands right justify, blocks, different text styles (be it
only on the printer), reformat, word count, search/replace,
highlight, printer microspacing and a lot more. It can also
perform column calculations. If you want to, the screen can
simultaneously display a tiny page with the text format in it, so
that you can see what the whole page would eventually look like
when printed out.
"Pipedream" has extensive menus and help options, thus assuring
that one can work quickly and smoothly without having to consult
the manual constantly. In that manual, by the way, there's a
short tutorial on how to work with the program, illustrated by
Since the Z88 has a small size and fits neatly into e.g. a
brief-case, it is logical to have it replace something that is
often present in such a brief-case: The diary. So the people at
Cambridge Computer thought it handy to include a computerized
diary as well. This diary allows you to store everything you
would normally write down in a diary - with the main difference
that it always automatically opens on the right date and that you
can store more pages on it for every possible date in the future
(only your available RAM memory is the limit). All standard word
processing edit features are present, and with the 'go to
previous/next active day' commands it is easily possible to scan
for dates and appointments.
The programming language
BBC Basic 3.00 is also standard implemented in the machine.
Although all basic versions seem to fade away rapidly when you're
comparing them with GfA Basic (yeah, let's be honest), BBC Basic
more than suffices for its aim. This aim is to allow the user to
manipulate text/data files for further processing; all file-and
string-options are therefore present but some other commands have
been left out. Its speed is quite impressive, though - screen
output can be quite much faster than the screen can handle!
In Basic, one has about 40 Kb free to program (this seems to be
the same for all memory configurations, as I have looked at this
with a 128 K RAM card and later with a 512 K RAM card).
The calculator is called a 'pop-up', and this means that it can
be called from Basic or "Pipedream" whenever you want - you only
need to press ESC to go back to the main program.
The calculator knows how to handle standard calculating
operations, has five memories and has a very nice feature called
"Unit". With this feature, it is possible to convert commonly
used English units to European (normal - haha) ones and vice
versa. That's why I knew so fast how many 'oz' the machine
This is just a standard calendar, that also allows you to seek a
specific date to check on which day it would be. Just like the
Calculator, it's a pop-up and can thus be called from any main
program you want. When called from the diary, 'active dates' are
specified by markers next to the date.
Of course, a computer like this would not be complete with a
real-time clock built in. So the Z88 has one. This can be called
from any application and can thus give you the time whenever you
want it. Its accuracy is in seconds, and I really like the fact
that it also specifies the actual day you're on.
This computer would not be complete with a built-in clock, and a
built-in clock would not be complete without an alarm. So that's
included as well. An enormous amount of alarms can be set (I
tried to check the limit, but I stopped when the thought popped
up in my mind that the only limit might very probably be RAM
memory...), and each alarm can be specified on time, number of
repeats, repeat interval and alarm type (sound a bleep or even
execute). Pretty neat, isn't it?
The filer is a sub-program that allows you to manage the files
in RAM or on EPROM. With this, it is possible to catalog files or
to write them to EPROM. Writing files to EPROM is a very safe way
to store them, since they are burned on a special kind of ROM and
can therefore be stored without the need for constant power. The
only disadvantage of EPROM use is that they can only be
programmed once. After that, they have to be erased using an UV-
lamp to create free space on them. During this, all data will be
lost. A de-luxe Z88 EPROM eraser is also available.
The Z88's filer system supports the hierarchical filing system.
The Printer editor
With the Z88, it is possible to print out files using any
standard serial printer. Therefore, it also includes the
possibility to specify your printer's control codes using the
printer editor. Now, it is possible to print your documents
directly using a serial printer. Using a parallel printer, by the
way, is also possible. Therefore, you'll have to establish a
communication link with your ST for example, using a null-modem
cable and the program " Z88-Atari ST Link".
This can be compared with the ST's Control Panel. With this pop-
up, you can specify things like keyboard repeat, keyboard bleep,
map on/off, date format, RS232 transmit/receive rates, the time
after which the machine turns itself off, etc.
These are the built-in modem facilities. With this, it is
possible to communicate with other computers (send/receive files)
or call Bulletin Board Systems. For the latter the commonly used
VT52 protocol is used. This feature is the strongest point of the
machine, that also allows it to be used as an extension to
existing computer systems. The built-in communication options are
fairly limited, though, and that's why additional communication
packages are available on ROM.
It is possible to buy printers, EPROM erasers, modems and memory
extensions for the Z88. All three memory expansion ports can be
stuffed, with e.g. 3 Mb RAM (3 x 1 Mb RAM), or a combination of
RAM, ROM and EPROM (I myself have 512 K RAM and 128 K EPROM on
board). Printers have to be serial, but with the "Z88-Atari ST
Link" program it is also possible to print on your ST's printer
for example using the import/export program.
The EPROM eraser is a pretty neat piece of machinery, that
erases an entire EPROM in 20 minutes using a UV light source.
It's about as big as the Z88's power supply (let's say...three
packets of cigarettes stacked upon each other) and weighs just
about nothing. The power supply, by the way, is optional and
needs to be bought separately; it costs 49 Dutch guilders.
The ST Software: Z88-Atari ST Link
This is a program to be run on the ST, that knows how to receive
and send data from and to the Z88. It also knows how to convert
"Pipedream" text files to "1st Word" text files - though I find
the result not quite satisfactory (reformatting the file on the
ST results in one large paragraph, for example). Really, this
piece of programming is no match whatsoever for a machine like
the Z88. And priced at 124.50 Dutch guilders (for one disk plus
extremely meagre manual and a very simple cable) it's FAR too
expensive. One'd better get a PD communication program and write
the conversion routine yourself (on the Z88 or the ST). The
program is also VERY SLOW. When you want to convert a "Pipedream"
file to "1st Word", for example, the program also prints all text
on the screen before it is actually sent to the disk. Clumsy and
slow! Converting this document took several minutes!
I am afraid I wouldn't know what to do without it now. I have
grown used to working with the thing very quick, and I have
managed to build my life quite around it (I now use it for most
of my ST NEWS word processing, for my diary, to do calculations
- No on-screen text styles in the word processor
- No other characters available than those on the keyboard
- I couldn't find the explanation of the Index option 'Purge
System' in the manual. This really made me eager to find out
and I tested it, to find that it clears all your RAM and
'suspended activities'. And I lost some working files.
- Rather expensive add-ons
- Easy, compact, economical and powerful
- Extremely user-friendly and full-proof
- Safe and fast storage when using EPROM
- Quite cheap main system
- Easy turning on/off (when you quit while loading or saving, the
machine will simply continue doing it when you turn it on
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.