CFOG's PIP, October 1988, Volume 7 No. 5, Whole No. 67, page 79

The Z-System Operating System and Mini Winnie Hard Disk: an Unending Source of Delights

by Rick Charnes

[A number of folks have asked me recently about where to get a hard disk for their Osborne or whatnot. For a 10 or 20 Mb hard drive one of the few CP/M sources is Advanced Concepts E & C, 8926 SW 17th St., Boca Raton, FL 33433, 1-407-482-7302. Their Mini-Winnie 10 Mb 3.5 inch drives are $595 and 685. Mini-Winnies work with Kaypros, Morrow MD-2 and 3, Osborne 1, Xerox 820, Sanyo MBC Series, Epson QX-10, and many other CP/M systems. For Kaypro users, ACE&C offers a special version of the Advent TurboROM for $79 (when purchased with a Mini-Winnie) that boots directly from ROM and increases the formatted capacity of the Mini-Winnie, along with all the other advantages of the TurboROM. ACE&C also offers a 5.25 inch half height external kit for $389, you provide the drive. The drive from you Mini-Winnie can be removed and installed in an MS-DOS machine later if you decide to make that change.

Rick Charnes wrote a series of articles and columns for the Morrow Owners Review, a magazine published for owners of Morrow CP/M computers from April 1984 through the end of 1987. MOR is gone, but the articles remain, and Rick has kindly consented that we republish them. This review originally appeared in the MOR December 1986/January 1987 issue and is copyright 1986 by Rick Charnes. Rick opened his article noting that Morrow Owners Review had made special deals available to its readers, Morrow owners, for a bootable Z-System and a Mini Winnie hard disk system. There have been a number of developments in the Z-System world since Charnes wrote this review and his other columns. In particular, read the June 22nd issue of PIP about NZCOM and Z3PLUS. NZCOM works nicely with the Osborne 1 and Mini-Winnie, I have been told by one user who has the combination. -- bhc]

I would like to share some of my own experiences with the dynamic duo of Z-System bootable disk for Morrow computers and the Mini Winnie hard disk in hopes of conveying just a little bit of the extraordinary nature of this new computing experience.

For the last 4 months I have been using on my Morrow a combination of a Mini-Winnie hard disk and Z-System, the replacement operating system from Echelon, Inc. that is taking the 8-bit world by storm. Quite simply it has been the most enjoyable and pleasurable experience I have had in my 2 1/2 years of computing, and I would recommend without reservation this combination for anyone who is interested in taking advantage of the fullest power of our Morrow computers and in using the most advanced operating environment available on our sturdy machines. Its elegance, sophistication, flexibility, and the sheer number of features makes anything else pale in comparison.

About 6 months ago, I had an important decision to make. I was at a crossroads in my computing. Initially attracted to computing for its ability to help me with my writing, I was beginning to use my MD-2 1/2 (pet phrase for a double-sided MD-2) less and less as a tool and more as something enjoyable in itself, something to experiment with, learn about, and explore. Starting with the extraordinary MexPlus modem program -- the commercial version of MEX -- I got my feet wet and began doing some easy and simple programming, writing beautiful and fancy menu displays for myself and learning to master the amazing and complex interfaces between a computer bulletin board and my own computer. Being practically a language in itself, MexPlus affords the beginning programmer and modem aficionado the perfect introduction to test his or her mettle in an interactive environment.

But all this had one side affect after a typical heavy session of making sure the proper parameter was correctly stored to the right string variable, the number of floppy disks which all the auxiliary programs I was using required started making my desk look like the day after an amateur frisbee tournament. I was beginning to accumulate programs the way I used to collect stamps when I was a kid, with one exception: my stamp albums were expandable.

All the MS-DOS propaganda was beginning to get to me, too. As a radical at heart, I don't really buy the pro-CP/M argument which says, "if you've got something that works, why change?" I was getting restless. That argument is fine for folks for whom application is more important than process, but I was fast moving away from that world. And my friend with an MS-DOS business was hot on my heels to get me a IBM clone "cheap".

Then I happened to read Ted Silveira's series of articles in Bay Area Computer Currents (still available from MOR on disk) about an operating system and environment called Z-System. At first I didn't really understand it fully, but I was nevertheless extremely intrigued. I had heard of ZCPR3 (one component of a full Z-System) before, but had always assumed it was for folks on a higher technical plane than myself and furthermore, that it needed to run on a hard disk. But Ted explained that he had been running it on his floppy-based MD3 for quite some time.

I started looking around and investigating. There is a non-commercial version of ZCPR3 for Morrow computers travelling through the bulletin board circuit. Considering the amount of courage it took me to install ZCPR1 on my system a year or more ago (which turned out to be incredibly easy), I was initially quite hesitant. After a few false starts, however, I found installation it to be not at all past my level of expertise and soon found myself running ZCPR3 for most of my day-to-day operations.


'Z-System' is a full replacement operating system for CP/M computers, complete with a new BDOS, called ZRDOS; whereas ZCPR3, for 'Z80 Command Processor Replacement version 3', replaces only your CP/M 'console command processor' or CCP, that part of your operating system that deals with commands that you type in from your keyboard at the system prompt. In any case, when you're running it, all of your old CP/M software runs fine, only better.

I found the new things I could do with my new system most exciting. It opened up a whole world to me, one that a blossoming but still new computer learner such as myself felt extremely happy to be in. The only other time I remember being so excited computer-wise was when I first discovered the wild and wonderful world of modeming.

I should first say, though, that ZCPR3 is not for everyone. Those who will enjoy it the most are those for whom the joy of experimentation and learning is important. Those who necessarily spend most of their time within a single application or program probably will not find it that useful. If you're the kind of person, like myself, for whom your computer is a wonderful, magnificent toy (in the good sense!), ZCPR3 can promise you rewards and magic the likes of which you've probably never before even imagined.

I ran ZCPR3 for about 3 months on my floppy-based MD3. But I was still engaged in the old debate: whether to stay with my Morrow and the CP/M-compatible world or to join the MS-DOS crowd. My experiences with ZCPR3 were having the effect of pushing me in the direction of the former, but that money I had saved was burning a hole in my pocket. Visions of 640K RAM had the impudence to remain dancing before my eyes. I also had my eye on a nice RAM disk from Westwind. I was attracted to the idea of fast and -- having recently gone through an ordeal with noisy disk drives that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy -- quiet, computing. But then again, ZCPR3/Z-System cannot run on WestWind products. [It has been reported that this problem has been solved by the Bridger Mitchell of Plu*Perfect Systems, utilizing NZCOM. We'll have a report in the next issue of PIP. -- bhc] How devoted was I to my new operating system -- would I sacrifice the advantages of a RAM disk for it? It seemed that talking with 3 people would get me 5 different opinions of which way to go.

Then I heard about the Mini-Winnie hard disk, which is, as I type, receiving these words onto its commodious 20 megabyte storage space. The key to why this can run Z-System while other hard disk systems can't is simple: other hard disk software locks you into its own modified operating system, while this leaves you with what you started: pure CP/M Digital Research 2.2, from which you are then free to load Z-System or whatever CP/M-compatible environment you choose.

The Mini-Winnie ('Winnie' stands for 'Winchester', the generic name for hard disks) is about the most inexpensive hard disk one can stick on to a Morrow, and from the several reviews I've read in addition to my own experience, the quality doesn't seem to suffer a bit. It appears to be a top-notch, well-made product. And it comes with one important extra, something that is on the rare side in the computer field: customer telephone service that just won't quit. If you have any doubts about there being friendly, courteous, decent and helpful people in the computer world then Tony Nicotra, president of AC&E, will disabuse you of any notions to the contrary. After reading a positive review of the Mini-Winnie in San Francisco's local computer magazine, I wrote Tony a a rather long, eight or nine question letter outlining some of my admittedly rather arcane but to me important concerns. When I received a phone call 3 days later at 10:00 p.m. Florida time from Mr. Nicotra, who took a full 45 minutes with me to answer my questions and then some, the feeling started growing in me that this was something I wanted to do.

I had not heard of the Mini-Winnie before, as most of their sales have previously been with other CP/M computers, but a growing number of satisfied Morrow users are now owners of this hard disk system, and Advanced Concepts is making special efforts to be available to our community.

The Mini-Winnie hooks up to your Z80 socket, so those whose chips are socketed and not soldered to their circuit boards will have an easier time. It comes with everything necessary to run: fan, power supply, cables, enclosure, interface card, and software. Installing it to your system is accomplished through a fairly clear-cut, two-step process. First you create a new system/SYSGEN image with your own MOVCPM program. This moves your operating system down 2 or 3 K, enough space for the hard disk software to do its thing. Next you run the Mini-Winnie's INSTALL program, which asks you 6 or 7 questions (Morrowites can mostly use the defaults). It then links to your just-created system image. After an initial problem and a phone call to Tony (who ascertained that I had reversed the connecting cable) I was up and running. I would heartily recommend this system to anyone looking for a hard disk add-on to their Morrow, and for those wanting to run Z-System as well it is an indispensible piece of hardware.

For one like myself who spent a year and a half doing nothing but using Newword to write text on an MD2 (with single-sided drives), the combination of these two has been a completely new experience for me, one which continues to give me much pleasure each time I use it. The sheer number of things one can do and the flexibility and ease with which one can do them can pour fresh blood into even the most tired of CP/M-ers.

Now that I have a hard disk, one of the really nice features of Z-System and something I've now come to use daily is opened up to me: its elegant and sophisticated menu system. [If you don't like menus, don't let Rick's infatuation with them deter you from interest in Z-System: they are not inherent in or required by Z-System. But they are fairly easy to set up if you want to tailor a system for a user so that the user NEVER sees a system prompt. -- bhc] Based on a demo menu available on BBSs, I have created my own personal series of visually pleasing menus, complete with reverse video, blinking prompts, and dim and normal text. From these menues I can do practically any task I frequently do, occasionally do, never do, or can't even dream of ever doing but like to have there for the sheer fun of it -- simply by pressing a single keystroke. Seeing an attractive menu of this sort that you have created for yourself through your own programming effort and pleasure -- something that looks as good or better than any professionally written commercial program that probably can't do half the things your menu system does -- is a very satisfying feeling.

The key to this is one of Z-System's nicest features that I alluded to briefly before, a 200 (that's TWO-HUNDRED!) character 'multiple command line buffer.' In other words, in back of the menus you can put in a l-o-n-g series of commands, whatever you like, up to characters long, along with the key 'identifier.' Then when you're back in your menu, you simply hit this key identifer (you don't even have io hit <RETURN>) and away it goes. You just sit back and file your nails or (what I like to do) just watch. But that's not all.

I have paid special attention to and received special enjoyment out of these menus as I have long thought that CP/M always needed some "prettying up." I have seen the beautiful graphics and art work done on other operating systems, and I have known my Qume 102A terminal and most Morrow terminals are capable of much more along the lines of attractive displays than they are usually given by application programs. Through Z-System's 'ECHO' command, which sends control codes and escape characters as well as text directly to the console, I simply send my terminal's codes for reverse video, blink, underline, dim, etc. This creates a friendly, personalized environment that adds a very nice touch and for me fills in something that I have long thought missing from most applications.

Almost of your old CP/M programs can run without modification on Z-System. The bugaboo that has scared some people away from ZCPR3/Z-System, the TPA that it does take from you for its own needs, seems to me to be greatly exaggerated. The programs I run daily -- NewWord, Wordstar 3.3, dBASE II, and MexPlus (which is much more memory-hungry than its public domain counterpart) along with the myraids of CP/M utilities I've used for years -- all operate without any problems whatsoever.

It is, of course, most enjoyable on a hard disk. There are over 100 utilities that run only on ZCPR3, and it's very nice to have access to them. On the other hand, I used ZCPR3 for 3 months before getting my Mini-Winnie, I know several people who do the same, and I know one of the country's top ZCPR3 programmers operates from a floppy machine. The lack of a hard disk shouldn't deter anyone. For those who are interested in the Mini-Winnie, MOR has negotiated a very reasonable price with Advanced Concepts for bulk purchases.

I would encourage anyone eager to enhance and modernize their computing to try Z-System on the Mini-Winnie hard disk. Z-System is a continuously evolving, ever-changing, organic entity, one that is has given me much pleasure. Its rewards are tremendous, and promise to be so for many years to come.