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Computers Column

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Retail businesses enjoyed an increase in Christmas sales of between 15 and 20 percent this year, and computer manufacturers did even better, according to industry experts.

Clive Smith, the research director for the Yankee Group in Boston, said stores sold more than 5 million computers to the home market in 1983, compared with 2.3 million in 1982. More than half of those sales came in the last four months of the year, he said.

"Sales went extremely well for whatever was out there," Mr. Smith said, noting that Coleco Industries and the Atari unit of Warner Communications Inc. sold few machines because of difficulties getting products on the store shelves.

Mr. Smith said independent surveys and anecdotal evidence also showed that the number of people buying computers for education increased this year, while sales of entertainment packages decreased.

The computer scientists who developed the basic programming language 20 years ago are now developing a new version of the language.

John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz, professors of mathematics at Dartmouth College (Mr. Kemeny was formerly Dartmouth's president), say they expect to test the first version of "True basic" this summer. They are writing the language into the International Business Machines Corporation's personal computer, and expect to adapt the language to other computers toward the end of the year.

Unlike the original basic, True basic will be trademarked, Mr. Kurtz said. With the trademark, computer manufacturers will be required to obtain approval from True basic Inc., a company formed by the Dartmouth professors, before they may use the language in their machines.

Mr. Kurtz and others said the versions of basic now used in microcomputers are poor partly because computer manufacturers were not required to meet certain programming standards.

True basic will have more logical sequences of program instructions and will allow more varied uses of the computer terminal's screen, Mr. Kurtz said. Critics of the current versions of basic say the language's structure is confusing and difficult to use for complex programs.

The new language is being devised to deal specifically with the criticisms basic has encountered in schools, Mr. Kurtz said. The researchers are using the ibm machines as prototypes because there are many of them on the Dartmouth campus, he said.

The New York State School Boards Association has decided to lobby this year for legislation that would give computer equipment and software priority over other items when school districts face budget cutbacks.

The association overwhelmingly passed a resolution in November asking that computer purchases be classified as contingency rather than noncontingency budget items. When voters reject budgets, district officials are authorized to spend money only on contingency items.

Voters have the power to approve or reject budgets in about 700 districts in the state, said Stanley L. Raub, executive director of the association. Mr. Raub said up to 30 percent of the districts' budgets have been rejected in some years; last year, he said, about 12 percent of the budgets were rejected.

"What we're saying is that [computers] are absolutely necessary," Mr. Raub said. "We're in the middle of a high-tech thrust, and it's very difficult to teach technology without hardware and software."

Besides computer equipment, the expenditures not protected in districts with budget problems include some transportation services, library books, and laboratory and other equipment.

Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell has announced grants worth $1.5 million to fund 12 demonstration projects for computer-based education in elementary and secondary schools.

Mr. Bell said last month that 213 organizations had applied for the grant money, which was available from the Secretary's discretionary fund. Most of the grants will go to consortia of schools and colleges.

The organizations receiving the money were the University of Arizona at Tucson, the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, the Coeur d'Alene School District in Idaho, the Lynnfield Public Schools and The Network Inc. in Massachusetts, the Montclair Board of Education in New Jersey, the Houston Independent School District, wicat Systems of Utah, the Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, and the Educational Communications Board of Wisconsin.

Notes: The International Communications Industry Association of Fairfax, Va., has published a directory of organizations and foundations that make grants to schools for purchases of computer and audio-visual equipment. ... A study at Villanova University has found that video arcades are poor places for social intercourse. College students monitored while they played games at an arcade rarely talked, the researchers said, except for occasional outbursts of glee or frustration. ... The impact of the International Business Machines Corporation continues to grow. The Tandy Corporation earlier this month announced that it would manufacture a personal computer that is compatible with the ibm-pc, leaving Apple Computer Inc. as the only major manufacturer without a machine similar to ibm's. ... Some leading researchers and developers of educational technology have formed The Journal of Educational Computing Research. The editorial board of the publication will include Alfred Bork of the University of California and Seymour Papert and Joseph Weizenbaum of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. ... The Oak Park, Ill., marketing-research firm talmis estimates that computer-based training programs for business will grow by 256 percent in the coming year.--ce

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