A few months ago I finally took the plunge and bought that new computer I had been promising myself for heaven knows how long! Which one did I choose? Well, I opted for an Amstrad PC 1512 - one of Alan Sugar's much-vaunted IBM PC clones. The reason I mention it is that in going through the decision-making process that led up to the eventual purchase, I was reminded of how difficult it must be for readers to choose what musical equipment they are going to buy. My 'inside knowledge' of forthcoming products that comes from working in the music industry makes choosing musical equipment for my own private use a straightforward enough task. Unfortunately, the same is not true of computers!
But why did I want a new computer? Well, since most of this magazine is produced on a BBC B micro I naturally find myself using that particular model of computer on a day-to-day basis for writing and editing articles. And seeing as I take an awful lot of work home with me, I also use one at home. Problem is I don't have the space at home to have two computer systems permanently set up, so I needed a system that I could use both for work and for running music software. Unfortunately, there is no music software available for the BBC that does what I want it to do and so I have been looking round at other makes of computer and the various music software packages they run, with a view to eventually purchasing one. And that's when the headaches began!
The problem wasn't in deciding which music software to go for, rather which computer I should buy. I read all the reviews I could lay my hands on, solicited advice from friends and business colleagues who already owned computers, visited endless computer stores — I even rang the editors of several well-known computer magazines to find out which machines they owned and recommended — and generally ended up more confused than when I started out!!
So why did I eventually settle for an Amstrad PC? Well, believe it or not, the Amstrad's remarkably low price had nothing to do with it! (I could have got an Atari ST for less if I had wanted.) What clinched it for me was the fact that the Amstrad, being IBM compatible, was assured of support and also gave me immediate access to the huge pool of tried-and-tested software that already existed for the IBM PC - no waiting around, in other words, whilst a third party software house develops a decent word processor or spreadsheet (and then waits for the consumer to discover all the 'bugs' in it!) The IBM PC is also well-supported in terms of (primarily American) music software - Octave Plateau's 'Sequencer Plus', for example, is a marvellous package by anyone's standard that works well with the Amstrad (pity it isn't cheaper though). There was also a third benefit to be gained: the Amstrad PC runs the MS-DOS operating system, which just happens to be the same one used by the Pagitek electronic page make-up system owned by the company that typesets this magazine every month. That meant that I could dispense with the BBC micro and key in articles on the Amstrad, insert the necessary typesetting codes to 'describe' the layout of the text on the magazine page, and access their photo-typesetting machine directly instead of converting articles saved on BBC disks to a format compatible with the typesetting equipment. I only wish I had done it earlier!!
The moral of the story? If you can benefit now by having a certain piece of equipment, then do so - don't sit on the fence worrying about whether Company 'X' will bring out a cheaper version in six months' time.
Editorial by Ian Gilby
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