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Alto Non-programmer’s Guide
Table of Contents
2.Getting started3
3.The Executive and the NetExec5
3.1Correcting typing errors5
3.2Starting a program5
3.4The NetExec6
4.1Naming conventions7
4.2File name patterns7
5.Recovering from disasters9
5.1Reporting problems10
6.File servers11
6.1Logging in11
6.2About files on IFS and Maxc12
6.3Transferring files12
6.4Listing and deleting files14
6.5Transferring files to and from another Alto14
6.6Access via Chat14
6.7Server Executive commands16
6.8About Maxc17
7.1Programs and file formats19
7.2Printing servers19
7.4Printing from your Alto21
7.5Printing from Maxc22
8.Other things24
8.1Copy and Rename24
8.2Command files25
8.3Dump files25
8.4Neptune and DDS26
8.7Version numbers27
9.Software distribution and documentation28
9.1Obtaining new software releases28
1. Introduction
This document is intended to tell you what you need to know to create, edit, and print text and pictures on the Alto. It doesn’t assume that you know anything about Altos, Maxc, IFS, or any of the other facilities available to you.
You will find that things are a lot clearer if you try to learn by doing. This is especially true when you are learning to use any of the services which use the display. Try out the things described here as you read.
Material in small type, like this paragraph, deals with fine points which can be skipped on first reading (and perhaps on subsequent readings as well).
Much of the documentation in this Guide is intentionally incomplete. More comprehensive information about almost all of the programs and services described here may be found in various on-line documents. Section 9 contains a summary of these and instructions for obtaining your own copies of any that you need.
2. Getting started
To do anything with an Alto, you must have a disk pack. This is a circular, yellow or white object about 15 inches in diameter and 2 inches high. Your secretary can tell you how to obtain a new one from the stock kept by your organization.
The next step is to get the disk initialized with copies of all the programs you will need to use. Here is how to do this:
Obtain the disk pack labeled BASIC NON-PROGRAMMER’S DISK. Find an Alto that has two disk drives, each with four square lights, a white switch and a slanted plastic window. Load the BASIC NON-PROGRAMMER’S DISK into the drive labeled 0. You do this as follows:
The drive should have the white switch in the LOAD position, and the white LOAD light should be lit. Open the door by pulling down on the handle. Put in the disk by holding it flat, with the label facing you, and pushing it gently into the drive until it stops. Then gently close the door and push the white switch to RUN. The white LOAD light will go out, and after about a minute the yellow RUN light will go on. The disk is now loaded and ready to go. If anything else happens, you need help.
On many double-disk Altos, the two disk drives are not labelled. The drive mounted inside the same cabinet as the Alto is drive 0, and the one sitting on top of the cabinet is drive 1. Also, some Altos have a switch on the back of the keyboard housing labelled NORMAL/ALTERNATE. Be sure that this switch is in the NORMAL position.
Now start the Alto. This is done by pushing the small button on the back side of the keyboard, near the thick black cable. Pushing this button is called booting the Alto. It resets the machine completely, and starts it up working on the disk you have just loaded. After you boot the machine, it will tell you at the top of the screen what it thinks the state of its world is, and then it will print a ">" about halfway down the screen. When the screen looks like that, anything you type will be read by the Executive, whose basic job is to start up the service you want to run. There is a section on the Executive later in this document. For now, you will find everything you need to know right here.
You are going to use a program called CopyDisk, which copies everything on the main disk (which you just loaded) onto another disk which you will load into the disk drive labeled 1. This copying erases anything which is already on the disk in disk drive 1, so you should be very careful not to copy onto a disk which has anything you want to keep. Load your new disk into the disk drive labeled 1, doing just what you did to load the BASIC NON-PROGRAMMER’S DISK into drive 0.
The CopyDisk program is not present on the BASIC NON-PROGRAMMER’S DISK, but it is available through a service called the NetExec, which can load a small number of commonly-used programs from the Ethernet. To start the NetExec, type
The CR stands for the carriage RETURN key on the keyboard. In this and later examples, what you type is underlined in the example, and what the Alto types is not. On the screen, of course, there won’t be any underlining. It doesn’t matter whether you capitalize letters or not; the capitalization in this manual is chosen to make reading easier.
Within a few seconds, the NetExec will start up. The screen will look much the same as it did while the Executive was running, but with "Net Executive" in the upper left corner. Now type
After a few more seconds, CopyDisk will start up, identify itself, and display a prompt of "*". You should now go through the following dialogue:
*Copy from: DP0CRthe digit zero, not the letter O
Copy to: DP1CR
Copying onto DP1 will destroy its old contents.
Are you sure this is what you want to do? [Confirm] Yes
Are you still sure? [Confirm] Yes
Now CopyDisk will copy the contents of the BASIC NON-PROGRAMMER’S DISK (DP0, "the Disk Pack in drive 0") onto your new disk pack (DP1). This takes about two minutes. While it is running, it records its progress by moving the cursor from the top of the screen to the bottom; this happens twice: once while the disk is being copied and again while the copy is being checked for correctness. When it is done, if all went well it will display the message "Done. DP0 and DP1 are now identical." followed by the "*" prompt. Now type
to exit CopyDisk and return control to the Executive. If something goes wrong, the message "Copy complete, but do not trust DP1" will appear. This means that there is something wrong either with the Alto or with one of the disk packs. Consult your local support staff.
Now you can take both disks out of the machine. Before you do, you should tell the Executive that you are finished, by typing
You will see that after a couple of seconds the screen goes blank and starts to display a white square that jumps around. This is an indication that the memory test program is running properly; an Alto should always be left in this state when it is not being used.
Now take out both disks, by pushing the white switch on each drive to LOAD. The yellow READY light should go out, and about 25 seconds later the white LOAD light should go on. Now you can open the door (against a slight resistance) and remove the disk. Put the BASIC NON-PROGRAMMER’S DISK back where you found it.
If you cannot find an Alto with two disk drives, you can do a CopyDisk from one standard (single-drive) Alto to another; the procedure for doing this is described in section 8.6. Since it is a little more complicated than the method just given, a novice should use it only as a last resort.
Before doing anything else, put a label on the new disk with your name, and any other identifying information you like. This is best done by preparing a paper label that can be slipped underneath the plastic insert on the front edge of the disk pack. Now you can take the new disk to any Alto, load it in, boot the machine by pushing the button on the back of the keyboard, and start working.
When you do this, if you look at the information displayed at the top of the screen just after you do the boot, you will see that it says
---- OS Version x/x ----- Alto #xxx ----- NoName ---- Basic Non-programmer’s Disk ----
This is because your new disk is an exact copy of the BASIC NON-PROGRAMMER’S DISK, which has no owner, and owner and disk name information got copied along with everything else. To give the disk your own name as owner, you should type
to the Executive. It will ask you whether you want the "long installation dialogue"; answer No. When it asks you for your name, type in your Maxc or IFS account name (usually just your own last name), followed by a CR. When it asks you for a disk name, choose a suitable one and type that in, again followed by a CR. Next it will ask you whether you want to give your disk a password. If you do this, the Alto will ask you for the password every time you boot it, and won’t let you do anything until you provide it correctly. This provides a modest level of security for the information on your disk. If you do give your disk a password, it is best to use your Maxc or IFS password, since the Alto will then know it and use it automatically whenever you communicate with Maxc or IFS. Don’t forget the password, since there is no simple way to find out what it is, and you will need an expert to get access to anything on your disk.
There will be a pause for a few seconds, and then the Executive will come back. If you assigned a password to your disk, you will be asked for it first. Now your name is installed on the disk, and the system will display it near the top of the screen whenever the Executive is in control, and will put it on the cover page of anything you print.
After you initialize a disk, you have to edit your user profile, discussed in section 2.4 of the Bravo manual, and your Laurel profile, described in section 3.6 of the Laurel manual. If you are reading this manual for the first time, you will be told how to do these things at the appropriate points. This is mentioned here so that you will remember it next time you initialize a disk.
3. The Executive and the NetExec
The Executive is the program to which you are typing right after a boot, and whenever any other program finishes its job. It has a large display area in the middle where your typing and the Executive’s responses appear. Above this the Executive displays a digital clock and some other useful status information: the versions of the Executive and the operating system, the owner name and disk name installed on the disk, the Ethernet address of the Alto you are using, and the number of free pages on the disk. Whenever you call another program, the Executive’s display is erased and replaced by that of the program that you called.
3.1 Correcting typing errors
When you are typing at the Executive and you make a mistake, there are a few special keys you can type to correct the mistake. The BS (backspace) key erases the last character you typed. Holding down the CTRL key and typing W erases the last word you typed. The act of holding down CTRL and typing W is called control-W and is denoted by Wc, and similarly for other control characters. The DEL key cancels the command you were typing completely; it prints "XXX", and then starts a new line with a fresh ">" character. Nearly all programs accept Ac (control-A) as a substitute for BS.
3.2 Starting a program
As we said before, the Executive is for starting up other programs which do the work you want done. To start a program called Alpha, you just type
It doesn’t matter whether you type in capitals, lower case, or a mixture of the two. If the program needs some other information about what to do, you type that after the name of the program. For example, there is an Executive command to type out a document on the screen. Suppose you want to type out the document called "Notes". You just say
>Type NotesCR
The Executive won’t ever do anything until you type the final CR; if you change your mind, just type DEL to cancel the command any time before you type the CR.
Certain operations, such as Type, are performed entirely by the Executive itself, whereas most others are performed by separate programs (also called subsystems) kept on your disk or obtained from the Ethernet. Ignore this distinction for now.
3.3 Aborting
You can usually stop what is going on and get back to the Executive by holding down the left-hand SHIFT key and striking the SWAT key, which is a blank key in the lower right corner of the keyboard on Alto-Is, in the upper right corner on Alto-IIs. If this doesn’t work, you can push the boot button.
If you push the SWAT key while holding down both CTRL and SHIFT, you will find yourself talking to a service called Swat which is of no interest to non-programmers. Usually no harm is done if this happens; you can get back to what you were doing before by typing Pc (control-P; hold down the CTRL key and type P).
3.4 The NetExec
The NetExec is a program much like the Executive in that its main purpose is to start up other programs for you. Unlike the Executive, it loads programs from a boot server available via the Ethernet rather than from your own disk. The NetExec makes available certain programs (such as hardware diagnostics) that are used infrequently and that most users won’t wish to keep on their own disks. Also available are several programs useful for recovering from various sorts of disasters that may make it impossible for you to invoke the normal Executive.
The NetExec may be started in either of two ways. If the Executive is already running, you may simply type
A fuzzy cursor will appear in the center of the screen for a few seconds, and then the NetExec will start up. If the Executive is not running, you can invoke the NetExec directly by holding down the BS key and the ’ (quote) key and then pushing and releasing the boot button. Keep the keys pressed down until you see a fuzzy cursor in the center of the screen; this can take up to 5 seconds.
The NetExec’s display looks much like the Executive’s, but the herald contains the words "Net Executive". The type-in conventions are identical to the Executive’s. To start up a program from the NetExec, simply type the name of that program followed by CR.
Any time this manual instructs you to "use the NetExec to invoke p", where p is the name of some program, you should follow the above procedure. An example of this was given in the instructions for using CopyDisk to initialize your disk (section 2).
The Executive also has a few commands for invoking programs directly from the Ethernet, without your first having to start up the NetExec. At the present time, these programs are Chat, FTP, and Scavenger. More precisely, these commands will obtain the correspondingly-named programs from your disk if they are present and from the Ethernet otherwise.
4. Files
The Alto stores on your disk all of the material you are working on (text and pictures), as well as most of the programs which provide the various services described here. The named unit of storage on the disk is called a file. Each different document you handle will be stored on its own file. The facilities for identifying files are not ideal, but you will get used to them after a while. Better facilities are the subject of current research.
A file is identified by its name, which is a string of letters (upper and lower case can be used interchangeably), digits, and any of the punctuation characters + . ! $. A file name can have two parts, which are called the main name and the extension; they are separated by a period. For example, "Alto.Manual" is a file name, with main name "Alto" and extension "Manual". File names cannot have blanks in them, or any punctuation characters except the ones just mentioned. A file name must not have more than 39 characters; most people don’t notice this restriction.
4.1 Naming conventions
It is important to name your files in some systematic way, using the extension to tell what kind of file it is, and the main name to identify it. For instance, useful extensions might be Memo, Letter, Note, Figure, Calendar. If you are a secretary keeping material for several people on one disk, you can stick the person’s initials in front of the extension, e.g. BWLmemo, JGMmemo etc. If you don’t have anything specific in mind, it is customary to make the extension the same as the name of the program that creates the file, e.g., Report.bravo for a document that doesn’t have any special properties, and is written using Bravo.
Here is a modest list of extensions commonly encountered on Non-programmers’ disks:
.alAlto display-format font file
.bootA file that can be booted from
.bravoBravo-format text file
.cmCommand file for the Executive or other programs
.imageRunnable Mesa program (subsystem)
.pressPress-format file (suitable for printing)
.runRunnable Bcpl program (subsystem)
.~An Executive command that is executed directly by the Executive (there is no actual file corresponding to this name).
The Alto doesn’t care whether you capitalize letters in file names or not (i.e., ALPHA and alpha and aLpHa refer to the same file), but it is a good idea to use capitalization to make names more readable. This is especially useful when a name consists of more than one word, since blanks are not allowed in file names: e.g., TripReport or MasterList.
4.2 File name patterns
The Executive provides some simple facilities for handling files. First of all, it allows you to name a group of files by using file name patterns containing the magic characters "*" and "#". The "*" character stands for any string of characters. For example, the pattern "*.memo" stands for all the files which have the extension "memo", and the pattern "*.BWL*" stands for all the files which have BWL as the first three characters of the extension. The "#" stands for any single character; for instance, "###.memo" stands for all the files which have a three character main name and the extension "memo". If you are curious to see what a pattern expands into, you can type Xc immediately after typing it to get it expanded.
If you type a file name or a pattern to the Executive, and then type a TAB, it will give you a list of all the files whose names start with that name. So, for example, typing
will get you a list of all files which have an extension starting with the characters BWL.
Another useful thing to know is this: if you are in the process of typing a file name to the Executive, and you type ESC, it will add as many characters as it can to complete a file name. If you type "?", it will give you a list of all the files which start with what you have already typed; you can then go on and finish the file name.
Here is a summary of magic characters for getting file names expanded:
ESCcompletes the file name if possible; if not, completes as much as it can, and flashes the screen.
TABshows you all the file names which match what you have typed since the last blank, and erases what you typed.
?like TAB, but doesn’t erase anything.
Xcretypes the command line with all file name patterns replaced by the list of file names they expand to.
There are two more simple commands for dealing with files. To delete a file, or a group of files, type
>Delete file1 file2 ...CR
Warning: once you have deleted a file, you cannot get it back. Proceed with caution. If you have enabled version numbers and there is more than one version of a file, the one with the lowest version number gets deleted.
To get the contents of a text file printed on the screen, type
>Type fileCR
If the contents won’t fit on the display, the Alto will show you as much as will fit, then ask if you want to see more. If you do, just type a space; if you want to stop, type No.
When the Executive is running, it displays two lines of status information near the top of the screen. Included in this information is the amount of space which is left for storing files. This space is measured in disk pages; it takes about 5 disk pages to store one page of text. It is prudent to keep at least 150 disk pages available; if your disk has fewer, you should delete some files, perhaps after sending them to a file server (see section 6).
At this point you know enough to use Bravo to begin creating and editing text. Bravo is described in its own manual, which is part of the Alto User’s Handbook. You should start reading the Bravo manual, and not try to continue with this guide until you have become familiar with the material in the first two sections of the Bravo manual. The remainder of this guide contains more information about the Alto which you won’t need on the first day, but will probably want in the first week.
Because much of our day-to-day communication takes place by means of our Alto-based electronic mail system, you should also start learning to use Laurel. Begin by reading the first two sections of the Laurel manual, which is also part of the Alto User’s Handbook.
5. Recovering from disasters
There are various ways in which your Alto disk can become damaged. If this does happen, the procedures described in this section will almost always allow you to recover the disk, or at worst will let you copy files from the sick disk to a healthy one. It is probably a good idea to get some help with this if you are not experienced.
Here are the symptoms of trouble:
You can’t boot the disk and get to the Executive.
You are out of disk space, but you think you should have plenty; in other words, some disk space has apparently gotten lost.
You get an error message from some service which says something about disk errors or file errors, and perhaps recommends that you should run the Scavenger.
You hear a funny buzzing noise from the disk for a couple of seconds, after which the service you are using breaks in some way.
It may be that the problem is caused by an incompatibility between the disk drive on which your disk pack was written, and the disk drive on which you are trying to use it. This is a likely cause of your problems only if you have been moving the pack from one machine to another, and if you notice that it works properly on some machines but not on others. If your problem is caused by disk incompatibility, the procedures described below won’t do you much good. Instead, you should report the problem to the hardware maintenance staff, so that the offending disk drive can be realigned, and make yourself a new disk pack on a machine known to be in alignment. You can transfer files from the old pack to the new one using the procedure described in section 6.5.
The first step is to run a program called Scavenger. If your disk is healthy enough to let you boot and use the Executive, you can just invoke the Scavenger by typing
If it isn’t, you should use the NetExec to invoke Scavenger, as described in section 3.4.
If that doesn’t work, hold down just the BS key and press the boot button; this should give you the dancing white square of the memory diagnostic. If it doesn’t, either your Alto’s Ethernet connection is broken, or the boot server that provides Alto programs over the Ethernet is down or unavailable. Either find another Alto without these problems, or load in a disk which is still in good shape and has the Scavenger program on it, invoke the Scavenger, and then unload the good disk and load your sick one.
The Scavenger will ask you whether you want to change disks, and give you a chance to do so if you say Yes. Then it will ask you if it can alter your disk to correct errors; say Yes.
The Scavenger will now work for about a minute. As it runs, it may ask you whether it is OK to correct "read errors". If they are "transient" errors, answer Yes fearlessly; if they are "permanent" errors, it is best to ask for advice from an expert. When the Scavenger is done, it will tell you what it found. If it has succeeded in making your disk healthy, you can go about your work. Delete the files Garbage.$ and ScavengerLog which the Scavenger leaves around. It is a good idea to go through this scavenging procedure once a month or so, just to keep your disk in good shape.
If things are still in bad shape (i.e., you can’t boot and run the Executive), the next step is to boot the NetExec again and type
This should get you a fresh copy of the operating system, which will ask you whether you want to Install. You should say Yes, and go through the Install procedure described in section 2. If all goes well, you will then find yourself talking to the Executive and can proceed normally.
If this doesn’t work, there is one more step to try. Boot the NetExec again and this time type
This should get you the FTP program described in section 6.3; use it to transfer the files <Alto> and <Alto> from a file server (Maxc or IFS). Then boot the Scavenger as described above and run it again. If this fails, you should consult an expert. If no expert is available, you can boot FTP again, and use it to transfer files from your broken disk to a file server or to a clean disk on another Alto (made using the procedure described in section 2).
The Scavenger leaves all the stuff which it wasn’t able to put into a recognizable file on a file called Garbage.$, and it leaves a readable record of everything it did on another file called ScavengerLog (unless it tells you that you have a beautiful disk). There are two kinds of entries in ScavengerLog: names of files removed from the directory or otherwise modified, and names of file pages which were put into Garbage.$.
5.1 Reporting problems
If your Alto itself is broken, obtain a trouble report form, fill it out, and leave it in the proper place; procedures for doing this depend on your location.
If you have trouble with Bravo, report it using the procedure in section 4.3 of the Bravo manual. If you have trouble with Laurel, see section 4 of the Laurel manual.
For other problems, consult your local expert.