Product: Software From Poland
Publisher: Bobrowski PD
Compatibility: BBC B/B+/Master 128
Reviewed by: Dave E
Originally published in EUG #67

Over the past few years, the PD World section of our site has grown significantly but, on comparison with Public Domain libraries for other 8 and 16 bit machines, regrettably it's relatively small. The Electron, probably because most people used it primarily as a tape-based machine, never had a thriving PD marketplace. The BBC did have a fair share of PD demos, games and utilities published for it - but its programs usually ran fairly slowly on the Electron (if at all!) and most so-called Electron PD libraries set themselves up by 'modifying' BBC PD discs, usually without a lot of thought.

I was lucky enough to be around when the library BBC PD was still going strong, and indeed I still have Alan Blundell's sixteenth Summary Catalogue somewhere in my library of BBC/Electron literature. It was printed out with a dot-matrix printer, and had textual descriptions for all of the available discs, which were available for £1.00 each. When www.8bs.com started up, at the birth of the internet, the mantle had passed to Chris Richardson, who decided to ditch the £1.00 per disc and put the entire collection up for free on his site. Similarly though, he never populated the list with any screenshots - the textual descriptions were just 'lifted' and stuck next to the downloads on a long list on the site.

Until very recently, there were a lot of BBC PD discs which I had never downloaded and played. After all, the primary focus of this site is the Electron and there are ample pure Electron software releases to collect and archive - without being distracted by BBC discs that "just might work". But then without warning, www.8bs.com disappeared, taking the whole of the BBC PD collection with it! As you will know if you check this site regularly, this prompted me to get ahold of the BBC PD collection and put it up on this site. In doing so, I went through a voyage of discovery in regards to each disc's contents and discovered this very disc, by Bobrowski PD, which is compatible with BBC B, B+, Master 128 and Acorn Electron. It was described simply in the text over at 8BS as "INTRODUCING POLAND", which I incorrectly figured would be a load of text files and digitised pictures.

I am happy to say, however, that I was completely wrong. Polish Demos #1: Software From Poland is a rather impressive piece of work. It contains two, as they are known, 'mega-demos', one other demo, one strategy game and several educational programs and machine code utilities. Everything is wrapped up with a nice menu system - all in all, not bad going for one single-sided DFS disc!

I will turn to the 'mega-demos' first, primarily because these may be the only two 'mega-demos' which exist for the BBC series. What exactly is a 'mega-demo', you may ask? Well, a mega-demo is a demo which loads in a number of parts, usually serially, and which demonstrates very different features of the computer it is utilising. (The most famous ones on the Amiga, which I remember well, were the Budbrain Megademos, the Crionix Megademos and Hardwired.) The mega-demos here are, of course, not up to the standard you might have experienced on an Amiga or a PC, but they are graphical Mode 1 mega-demos - with maps and information built up on screen in a surprisingly alluring way. They each deal with the same theme, not surprisingly when you consider the title: the country Poland. Each mega-demo begins with a fascinating graphical intro, complete with music and scrolling message.

Presenting Poland introduces the country of Poland, its composition and its capital cities. Presenting Poland 2 presents a very brief history of the country throughout the ages. Both demos feature textual descriptions towards the bottom of the screen and updating maps which fill about 4/5ths of your screen. The maps are built up more slowly on the less powerful machines, so unfortunately they take several ice ages to completely appear on the Electron, but Bobrowski cleverly uses the same map to illustrate different things on occasion, hence the total time spent waiting is lessened considerably. The first demo ends with an advertisement for the second. The second demo ends with an advertisement for a third. Whether a third was ever produced we do not know.

Everything on the disc has been programmed by Mr. Bobrowski and his other demo, Periodic Table, is also a neat little illustration of how education can be simplified with clever programming. You can navigate the Periodic Table, selecting elements and learning interesting information about them, with the aid of the cursor keys and RETURN. Naturally, as someone who spent most of his Chemistry lessons trying unsuccessfully to get high off the fumes of burning magnesium, there was nothing to interest me personally in this offering, but a great deal of work has gone into something and the demo is visually very attractive.

Battleships is a graphical version of the game everyone has played with their computer in at least a few lunch-hours. This version is done in Mode 4 with nice opening titles and illustrations of battleships. On top of this, it also plays a pretty good game and could have qualified as at least a superior magazine type-in, if not an early professional release.

Non-Linear Equations is a mathematical utility which both plots graphs of the form y=f(x) or calculates the roots of an equation where f(x)=0. As I am not a mathematician this utility was also a bit beyond me but again, it is presented very well and everything happens very fast.

A handy text file describes the five utilities which are also supplied on this disc, in source code format. *ATTACH is an alternative to using *SPOOL and *EXEC to join together two programs and allows you to simply attach one file to the end of another; the listing is then automatically renumbered. *PSAVE allows you to save part of a BASIC program by specifying line numbers. *SNIP works much quicker than the DELETE command and wipes out any lines bigger than the number you follow the command with. Finally, *SQUASH and *EXPAND are used with pictures to respectively 'compact' and 'unpack' them as they are saved to disc.

On the original BBC PD disc version, which is over in the old catalogue of BBC PD discs currently carried by this site, we were surprised to find its flipside contained another seven music demos, also by Bobrowski PD! As these were not mentioned previously either in Alan Blundell's paper catalogues, or in the old listings provided by www.8bs.com, we suspect that barely anyone will have seen these before. Not only this, but the discs have quite clearly been designed as two standalone discs, not a double-sided disc, so it was simply a question of *COPYing the files on side 2 to side 0 of a blank disc (and rewriting the !BOOT file) and we had discovered another missing PD disc. These music demos are also of a very superior quality and are definitely worth checking out.

In conclusion then, regarding both of these discs, we would say do not hesitate! Mr. Bobrowski has even designed Polish Demos #1: Software From Poland to work with ADFS &1D00. The final result is a very polished PD disc which, because of its rather spartan description elsewhere on the 'Net, has been rather unfortunately overlooked until now.