Booted but friendly

3rd January 1997 at 00:00

Acorn A7000 PC, 4Mb Ram, 540Mb hard disc, stereo monitor and pre-loaded software; Pounds 1,395 Xemplar Tel 01223 724201

As competition in this market intensifies, Xemplar, the joint Acorn-Apple school computer supplier, has joined the fray with its first Junior Toolbox system, based on an Acorn A7000 computer (other Toolboxes based on Acorns and Macs will soon be launched).

The Xemplar Junior Toolbox has been designed to meet primary IT requirements. The suite of pre-installed programs is accessed through a simple menu. The software includes graphics and art packages, document creation, spreadsheet, database, music composition packages and four CD-Roms (Talking Textease; Retreeval; Splosh+; Spex+; Datasheet 2; Banner; Gallery; TableMate; Portfolio; Music Box; ScreenTurtle and Image FS2, four CD-Roms from Anglia Multimedia - Garden Wildlife, Vikings, Seashore Life, Animals In Art). The system is designed to eliminate common problems such as deletion of programs, lost work and unwanted files being saved to the hard disc. It is easy to install more software when required. Customers also get a Pounds 50 training voucher, a parallel port sound sampler and comprehensive telephone support.

Unlike any other Acorn computer, the Junior Toolbox sets itself up as soon as you turn it on. When start-up is complete, children see a very much simplified, tree-like menu structure from which all the software they need is available. They can access the hard disc where only their own work tools are visible to them. It is via Launch Pad that the IT co-ordinator is able to manage the system. Launch Pad has two modes of operation: "unlocked", where all changes can be made; and "test" , where you can dry-run the system before "locking" it up again ready for the children. Launch Pad also offers full control over the menu tree and its appearance, and managing the system has been made easy for the non-specialist teacher.

Bundling hardware and software creates attractive savings - about Pounds 300 on the price of the separate items.

Sceptics will ask, Why base such a system around a computer that is likely to have a limited shelf life? Well, the Junior Toolbox is not really about hardware at all. It's to do with making the computer more friendly by simplifying tasks and not allowing novice users to fall down potholes in the process.

Like the Mac operating system, Acorn's Risc OS has a lot going for it. The fact that I can run the same software on both a 1996 Acorn Risc PC and a 1988 Acorn A420 in my classroom says a great deal about Risc OS as an investment in IT. I could never do that on equivalent IBM and compatible systems.

The Junior Toolbox's Launch system goes far enough, offering sufficient protection for novice users and full hands-on to those who know what they are doing.

The software covers all the tools required to deliver the IT curriculum at the primary level, apart from monitoring. Additional items relevant to the foundation subjects would be easy enough to add. Turnkey systems always cost a little more than an off-the-shelf box, but this is a complete educational package with lots of support and, believe me, that's always worth spending extra for.

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