I’m not nearly the first person to have extracted data from Signum! files. In fact, Application Systems regularily pointed people that had trouble with their files to third-party developers to look into those problems. In this section, I want to present all of the strategies and tools that I came across while building this tool.
1. Buy and run Signum on an ATARI
One way that works is to find someone with a working Atari ST machine, get the installation files from ASH, use or buy a product key and load up the document. You can then print the document to paper or save it as ASCII text. You can even define which ASCII character to use for any given Signum Scancode.
Make sure to export any hardcopy-images embedded in the file and to convert them to a more common format using something like zView.
2. Run Signum, use an emulator
You can also set-up an emulator and install Signum! there with a similar effect. The major advantage is that you don’t need actual Atari Hardware and that you can redirect the ESC/P printer commands to a file, which can then be interpreted by a virtual printer to create a PDF or image. The disadvantage is that you need an original TOS ROM (or MagiC, EmuTOS didn’t seem to work) and that Signum only prints in bitmap mode, so any character information is lost this way too.
3. Use a converter
I actually found a working copy of papyrus 7 (demo) after a lot of digging around
and it turns out that this actually just calls
TEXTCONV.PRG by Andreas Pirner.
Version 1.23 is the one that comes with papyrus and I don’t agree that it’s
useful. Yes, it can export to RTF and all the letters and numbers survive, but
subscript, superscript and formulas are not close enough to be readable, the
line-height was too low, the alignment was off, and more. Also, while papyrus
(for ATARI) supports signum fonts, modern tools to read those files don’t,
so you still end up needing to find a perfect match for your font for newer systems.
There’s also the SignumRead (
S/MYUTIL/SIGNUMRE.M) program from the
Megamax Modula-2 development environment, which scrapes some text
from the SDO files.
4. Use an alternative
Finally, there’s also FaaastPrint, which is really similar to my tool. This program loads an SDO file and can generate “fast” printer output, i.e. ESC/P commands that print characters with the default printer font. I’ve not tried it, but it seems very customizable by way of the “Konvert” tool, but also really hard to use, because every character in a charset needs a custom command.