DR Ikonography

A universal software interface with windows and ikons, and CP/M on a chip are the two products chosen by Digital Research to spearhead its attack on the home computing market.

Visual Information Processor (VIP) is a software development tool that allows software companies to write programs with a common user interface. Written in the systems language C, it comes with a collection of link utilities that will allow the companies to adapt their programs within a matter of days to run on different machines.

DR claims that VIP will run on any of the processors used in home micros.

From the user's point of view programs that use VIP will have many of the benefits associated with Apple's expensive Lisa. The screen will be split into a series of windows. One carries the options available, which you can select using the space bar and return keys. A one-line prompt/command line at the bottom of the screen gives you information on what each option does.

The rest of the screen is used for either text or a visual representation of what the program is doing (called 'ikons' in Apple parlance).

As an example of how this could work, a database program might use a collection of filing cabinets to represent the database. Drawers can be opened to reveal their contents which are represented as a collection of folders. Opening a folder would result in the text being printed on screen.

Programs written using VIP can be integrated to allow the transfer of data from one program to another - so you could take a file from your spreadsheet program, edit it with a word processor and store the results in your database.

DR would not be drawn on how much VIP will cost the user. The intention is to license the 'soft technology' to the micro manufacturers, who would then sub-license VIP to software houses. Because the financial arrangements will vary from machine to machine the actual cost is difficult to pin down. However, it is thought likely that VIP will add around 50p to the cost of a typical program.

The launch of Personal CP/M is an attempt by DR to maintain its position as number one operating system for 8-bit and 16-bit processors (like the Z80 and the 8086). Putting it on a chip should lower the cost and avoid the need to load it from disk every time the micro is used.

It also avoids the more user-violent aspects of CP/M, such as its incomprehensible error messages. On powering up the machine, the user will be confronted by a menu of plain language commands, similar to that used by VIP.

DR's new products will be available by the end of the year and the company is already negotiating with manufacturers.

VIP and Personal CP/M are the first parts of DR's strategy to challenge its arch-rival Microsoft.