Who rattled your cage? (Computing with the Amstrad)CAGE COMMS ROM (Amstrad Action)
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IAN SHARPE tests an impressive new viewdata comms program

OVER the past year I have reviewed two comms programs for the CPC. The first was Pace's Commstar, which is robust but limited. The second was Monflair's Axis, a powerful system with great potential, but let down by annoying flaws, and only runs under CP/M Plus.

Now we have The Cage Rom, a comms program for all models of CPC. It replaces the rom in your serial interface, and comes in versions for the common types such as Amstrad's own and the KDS.

It is viewdata only, which means that its main use will be for Prestel, and you can't use it to access Micro-Link or other scrolling Ascii services. If you decide this program is to form the basis of your comms system and want scrolling Ascii, your best bet is to get hold of Mex, a public domain (free) CP/M program.

Once the rom has been installed in your rom box or serial interface it is accessed by typing |CAGE. You are then presented with the main menu, each option leading to a sub menu.

If you have an autodial modem the rom can be configured to dial the required number from a directory on tape or disc. It will also automatically send your ID and password if you want it to. This information is optionally encrypted when it is saved, and so can only be used with a further password, making it secure if anybody gets hold of your disc or tape.

Once logged on, the rom can store (or tag) the number of the current frame by pressing Tab, Shift, and a letter key. Once that's done, pressing Tab and the letter key will return you to that frame, even if it has a b-z suffix.

This is superior to Prestel's own system, and what's more, the tags can be edited and saved so once set up they're permanently available. This feature allows you to move around regularly used areas of Prestel (or whatever service you're using) quickly, and with the minimum of fuss.

Cage centres around the manipulation and editing of frames captured from the host service or created with the built-in editing facilities. The CPC's memory is divided into a series of frame stores, each capable of holding a page. Capturing frames into store is simply a matter of pressing Copy. On a 64k machine 27 frames are available - about the same as Commstar. On a 128k CPC this number rises to 94.

The process of saving a page is very fast - faster than you can read it - so it's possible to dash round Prestel saving frames of interest without reading them, and then logging off to view them at your leisure.

With Commstar, and to a much
lesser extent Axis, the frame capture process is slower and so not quite so well suited to this type of operation. With Axis, the lack of definable keys/ frame tagging makes getting from frame to frame longer, so widening the gap.

This method can slash your online time - particularly on a 128k machine - and regular users could find the rom paying for itself, making it a viable upgrade from other packages.

The stored frames can be edited with the best CPC viewdata editor yet, and chunks easily copied between frame stores. You'd expect this aspect

- of Cage to be well developed, as coauthor Ian Hoare uses it to edit anything up to 50 letters a day on Prestel's Amster's Cage area.

I must mention Pedro, the pixel editor. Normally designing Prestel graphics, which are built up from graphics characters, is a pain. With Cage this has been turned into a relatively simple process whereby you can edit the frame pixel by pixel.

When you've finished creating or editing frames they can be saved or transmitted to the host service. In this way you can do all the editing work off line, and then log on to send it to somebody's mailbox or one of the many interactive areas.

I did miss an option to save frames as Ascii files, as it's often useful to be able to load them into a word processor or process them from Basic. The omission is due to lack of space -you can only cram so much in a 16k rom, and the authors have packed a heck of a lot into this one.

Fortunately the facility to be able to drop in and out of Basic allows you to write up to 7k of Basic and/or machine code to add facilities that aren't built in. In this way you could write a routine to save the frame stores as Ascii, or perhaps take a word processor file and put it into the frame

stores for transmitting as mailboxes. If you aren't a programmer, the efforts of other Cage rom users are available as telesoftware on Prestel.

Talking of telesoftware, the standard formats are handled by Cage, and any decompaction necessary is automatic. Flexible print options give you a fast text or monochrome graphics dump, printed side by side if your printer supports reverse line feeds. Green screen users can select an alternative colour scheme for clearer viewing.

The 60 page manual is comprehen-
sive and written in an informal style. In the event it should need clarification or prove insufficient, Ian Hoare and Dave Gorski are readily accessible through Amster's Cage.

To do this program justice would take at least three pages. As it is I've only given you an all-too-brief outline, leaving much unsaid. If you are thinking of getting into comms - or already are - I unreservedly recommend this program for viewdata work. It's the first one I've used that's powerful, bug-free (as far as I can tell) and I've felt happy with.

Ian Hoare and Dave Gorski are justifiably proud of The Cage Rom. It is well thought out, well implemented, and since its introduction has been chosen as the basis of two comms packages.

Arnor is even stocking it alongside its own products, and I now use it in preference to anything else. What more can I say?


★ PUBLISHER: Amster's Cage
★ YEAR: 1987
★ CONFIG: ???
★ AUTHORS: Dave Gorski & Ian Hoare
★ PRICE: £34.50


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L'Amstrad CPC est une machine 8 bits à base d'un Z80 à 4MHz. Le premier de la gamme fut le CPC 464 en 1984, équipé d'un lecteur de cassettes intégré il se plaçait en concurrent  du Commodore C64 beaucoup plus compliqué à utiliser et plus cher. Ce fut un réel succès et sorti cette même années le CPC 664 équipé d'un lecteur de disquettes trois pouces intégré. Sa vie fut de courte durée puisqu'en 1985 il fut remplacé par le CPC 6128 qui était plus compact, plus soigné et surtout qui avait 128Ko de RAM au lieu de 64Ko.