Atari Portfolio data transfer over serial interface to modern Linux

There are already great tutorials on transferring data from/to the Atari Portfolio digital assistant for MacOS and Windows. Here is how to have it talk to Linux – the quick and shell way.

The biggest obstacle is to get some XMODEM software onto the Portfolio, as the serial connection can be quite unreliable. After a one time bootstrap procedure using a copy over the serial device, subsequent transfers become much more reliable and convenient.

Alternatively to the complicated one time setup procedure, you may also just use the XTERM.COM from the dip Utilities card, that you might still find on eBay.

Prerequisites

  • Atari Portfolio
  • Atari Serial Interface HPC-102
  • USB to D-sub serial adapter cable
  • Null modem adaptor or cable – only needed if the D-sub of the USB adaptor isn’t female
  • A Linux device with USB interface and the minicom and coreutils packages installed
  • A copy of XLOAD.COM and XTERM2.COM on your Linux device

One-Time Setup

  1. Connect the Portfolio and your Linux device
  2. On the Portfolio: Press [Atari]+[S] to open the “Set Up” menu, press [R], set the baud rate to 110, parity to “Odd”, data bits to 8, stop bits to 2, finally confirming these settings using “Initialize!” (occasionally initialization fails – check the interface is properly seated in the expansion slot and try it again)
  3. On the Portfolio: Switch to the dip-DOS prompt and type in the following, without hitting the enter key, yet:

    copy com1 xload.com

  4. On Linux: In a terminal, configure the USB teletype device with the same slow settings, then prepare to copy xload over to the Porfolio, again, without hitting the enter key after the cp command:

    stty -F /dev/ttyUSB0 110 cs8 cstopb parenb parodd
    cp XLOAD.COM /dev/ttyUSB0

  5. On both devices: Hit [Enter] first on the Portfolio and then on Linux.
  6. On the Portfolio: Soon you should get a message of “1 file(s) copied.”. Check the file size using the “dir” command – it should be 179 bytes. If it isn’t, go back to step 3 and repeat the process, otherwise proceed. It took me 5 – 7 times until this worked.
  7. On the Portfolio: Press [Atari]+[S] to open the “Set Up” menu, press [R], set the baud rate to 9600, parity to “None”, data bits to 8, stop bits to 1, finally confirming these settings using “Initialize!” – These are the default settings, so you should not have to change these again.
  8. On the Portfolio: Switch to the dip-DOS prompt and type in the following, without hitting the enter key, yet:

    xload.com

  9. On Linux: In a terminal, configure the USB teletype device with the faster settings, then prepare to copy xload over to the Porfolio, again, without hitting the enter key after the cp command:

    stty -F /dev/ttyUSB0 9600 cs8 -cstopb -parenb
    cp XTERM2.COM /dev/ttyUSB0

  10. On both devices: Hit [Enter] first on the Portfolio and then on Linux.
  11. On the Portfolio:If you get any error messages, XLOAD.COM might still be corrupted and needs to be retransmitted, go back to step 3 and repeat the process, otherwise proceed.
  12. On the Portfolio: Check the file size of XTERM2.COM using the “dir” command – it should be 2944 bytes. If it isn’t, go back to step 8 and repeat the process, otherwise proceed. This worked for me the first time around. You may choose to leave the slower settings enabled on both sides until after this step, if you do have trouble with this file.
  13. On the Portfolio: Try using XTERM2.COM – it should offer you a menu and list it’s functions to be triggered via F-keys. You exit it via [F1].

Sending Files to the Portfolio

  1. Connect the Portfolio and your Linux device
  2. On the Portfolio: Launch XTERM2.COM, press [F2] to receive a file, followed by the filename (stores it in the directory you were just in) or absolute path, for example:

    c:example.txt

  3. On Linux: In a terminal, configure the USB teletype device with the Portfolio default settings, followed by a command to transmit the data:

    stty -F /dev/ttyUSB0 9600 cs8 -cstopb -parenb
    sx example.txt < /dev/ttyUSB0 > /dev/ttyUSB0

Receiving Files from the Portfolio

  1. Connect the Portfolio and your Linux device
  2. On Linux: In a terminal, configure the USB teletype device with the Portfolio default settings, followed by a command to transmit the data:

    stty -F /dev/ttyUSB0 9600 cs8 -cstopb -parenb
    rx example.txt < /dev/ttyUSB0 > /dev/ttyUSB0

  3. On the Portfolio: Launch XTERM2.COM, press [F2] to send a file, followed by the filename (from the directory you were just in) or absolute path, for example:

    c:example.txt

What to use it for?

The Portfolio runs on 3 AA batteries for several weeks (standby time, it’s about 16h, if you were to constantly interact with it). Compare that to modern smart phones that barely make it through a single day on a battery charge. For a device launched in 1989 that is, to me, still very impressive. I started using it daily, as a note pad of sorts.

Apart from recreating a certain scene from Terminator 2 using a batch- and some text-files, I personally like to (ab)use the “Address” application to store notes and tasks. It’s really just a text file, where each paragraph is an item, which the app lists alphabetically by the contents of it’s first line. If you think of it as a sorted, text based key/value store, you can find all kinds of uses for it. When using an ISO date format (YYYY-MM-DD) at the start of the first line, it’s even a superior diary then the Portfolio’s “Diary” application, which is a calendar with alarm function.

If you aren’t into typing in commands, I would recommend to install the file manager FM.COM and launching it via your AUTOEXEC.BAT. Speaking of start up files: You should include the UPDATE.COM patch to address some flaws in the ROM image that can lead to data loss – this can also be found on the dip Utilities card. There are also other useful settings, to be applied via AUTOEXEC.BAT or CONFIG.SYS.

The tools provided on the Atari HPC-701 dip Utilities card are quite essential to the DOS “experience” and I am a bit baffled by Atari’s cash grab of selling these separately for USD 90, at the time. XCOPY is a superior backup command and DIF is helpful to compare text files (like “diff” on Linux), among others.

At the time of this writing, there are still collections of even more software for the Atari Portfolio hosted online. But in reality, RAM and RAM-disk space is rather limited (128kB by default) and you won’t have the space to store more then a hand full of these at a time on the device, hence the importance of being able to transfer files from and to the Portfolio easily.

Unfortunately I haven’t found an application that can still create the Lotus 1-2-3 WKS files used by the Portfolio’s “Spreadsheet” application, but Libre & Open Office, as well as Gnumeric, can still read them. So one could still use the Portfolio to perform tabular data entry or some simple bookkeeping on the go, later on importing these files into the modern applications.

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