A short while ago, I was thinking to myself about all the interesting people we have using OS-9. They have so many diverse backgrounds, interests, and beliefs, yet they all love OS-9. I know most of them pretty well, since I talk to many of them rather frequently. Yet, I'm sure many people would be very interested to read an interview of their favorite OS-9 personality, which is how this article has come into existence. If you have a particular OS-9 person in mind whom you would like to see interviewed, please send me a letter (mail or e-mail) and I'll see what I can do!
Accomplishments: Midi Librarian software for Color Computer, MiniBanners for OS-9/OSK, Towel disk utility, Fest Graphics Adventure, Invaders09, co-author of Multiboot; President of Sub-Etha Software.
JMH: You've been using computers for a long time. What was your very first computer system and when did you get it?
ACH: In junior high, a guy in my English class got me into computers. We'd go down to Radio Shack and type in programs on the TRS-80s there. The first machine I actually owned, though, was a Commodore VIC-20. My dad got it for me when it first came out. It was $299.95 and seemed like an unbeatable deal at the time. I never planned to own a computer, though. I really wanted a Coleco or Intellivision as an upgrade from my old Atari. A year later I would buy a Radio Shack Color Computer hack ed to support 64K. To answer the question I guess it was about 1981. Back when having a computer was a big deal.
JMH: What do you enjoy about computers the most?
ACH: Being able to make them do something. I stayed up all night learning to program the VIC. Simply making the screen change color or print my name was amazing.
JMH: Why did you get into the OS-9 operating system, and how has it affected your life?
ACH: I played with OS-9 Level 1 over a modem back in about '83 but it didn't interest me. Too cryptic. Later on I worked for Radio Shack and got a deal on Level 2 for the CoCo 3. At the time it was just a plaything. I did nothing more than make a custom boot disk and look at it. In 1990 I co-founded Sub-Etha Software and we went to the CoCoFest in Atlanta. There, many people told us that they would buy our products if they ran under OS-9. This would be the main reason I got into it. I ported a Disk Basic program to Basic09, and quickly became one of the OS-9 snobs I previously despised. Now I can't use a computer unless I can switch to another task without having to abort what I am working on. I'm very spoiled.
JMH: Allen, I've had the pleasure of working with you in the OS-9 arena for a few years now. Sub-Etha Software has done much for the OS-9 community, both OS-9/6809 and OS-9/68000. What was your main goal in forming Sub-Etha Software, and do you think you've fulfilled your goal?
ACH: Well, honestly the main goal was to market two programs my partner, Terry Todd, had written. We wanted to also license old CoCo software and bring it back out. Dave Myers of CoCoPro! started doing this as well and since he was doing such a great job, we never carried on with those plans. In that aspect, Sub-Etha is nothing like we planned. However, I'd say it is something much more special. As far as goals, I don't have enough hours in the day to complete all the things I'd like too. Instead, we do everything we can to support our Community.
JMH: Do you wish to mention how you chose the name "Sub-Etha Software" and how it relates to your peculiar clothing at computer fests?
ACH: <laughs> The name for the company was inspired by The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams. It's a sci-fi comedy seen in book, radio, tv, and video game form. We had planned to be called Forty-Two Technology and I still have the dot-matrix micro-font business card sized ad we planned to run. Somehow we decided on Sub-Etha Software, based on all the references in the book. Sub-Etha net, Sub-Etha sense-o-matic, Sub-Etha radio... The bathrobe and towel I am always seen in are based on the wardrobe our hero, Arthur Dent, has on. It's a long story - five books actually - so all I can say is read the books.
JMH: I know you enjoy writing software. Do you believe your programs contain a unique "personal touch" which makes them distinctive?
ACH: Yes, actually. I think programming is an art form. I am not the best artist, but I feel I have a certain style. A lot of that comes from laziness - I tend to do the same things the same way so I don't have to reinvent the wheel each time. Internally I am happy with how my programs are laid out. I tend to write things the way I want them, then I hope I get feedback later on so I can add things others wants. If only we got more feedback.
JMH: Where do you get your programming ideas from? What types of programs do you enjoy writing the most... games, applications, utilities, etc.?
ACH: My ideas come from a need. MiniBanners came from me, for some reason, wanting to print a banner. I had a program in BASIC that did it, but it had square O's. I was going to modify the character set but then decided to use the CoCo 3's internal fonts. It evolved from there. Most everything I have done starts from me hacking out a quick routine to accomplish something - MiniBanners was originally a two line program - then I polish it later. I am starting to get into game programming, but generally I seem to like utilities.
JMH: Can you name a couple people who you admire in the OS-9 community?
ACH: Oh man. Well, always Kevin Darling. I've learned so much from his writings. Others like Alan DeKok, Scott Griepentrog, Vaughn Cato, and Robert Gault come to mind. These are some of the people who have taken the time to answer questions for me and, in many cases, provide sample code. This is tough. There are so many great people in the community. <laughs> You too, Joel.
JMH: What do you think about the future of OS-9 in general?
ACH: We are very excited about the possibility of turning the CD-i players into personal OSK machines. If we had a keyboard and disk drive for them, we'd suddenly have a massive potential market. Imagine selling a word processor CD or creating small products that would run just from a disk. This could be a very big thing. CD-i players are just about everywhere, even here in East Texas. Without something like this, though, I feel OS-9 will continue to be pursued by hobbyists with no significant future other than the industrial applications. Sure, we might someday see set top boxes in every house running OS-9 internally, but that doesn't do me or my company a bit of good. A CD-i future could, though.
JMH: Thank you for your time, Allen!