Though the whole world of PCs, and Abel, have developed a lot since this review was published in 1999, it still gives a good "external view" of Abel.
Abel [for DOS] was the first ringing program I ever bought. For those who have not heard of Abel it is a bellringing simulation program that allows you practice ringing in various modes. You can set the computer going and simply watch it ring methods. You can join in and "ring" one or more bells with the computer using the keyboard. You can also use electronic handbells and practice method ringing that way. There is the facility to check just how good your striking is against perfection - often very illuminating!
Around 95% of existing users have found that home use was enough for them and I expect that this figure will change little. However, a very important feature in today's climate is that Abel allows you to put simple sensors on tower bells, tie the bell(s) and practice ringing without disturbing the local, vocal, "Midge Mather" contingent. The making of the sensors was very simple to those with a modicum of electronics expertise.
What has changed for the Windows version? Now the resources needed are more advanced in that you need a computer with at least a Pentium 100Mhz CPU or equivalent and Windows9x. Abel comes on a CD and is simple to load into the computer; a shortcut is automatically put on your desktop. The program is quite small in today's terms, a little over 5MB of space is needed [Editor's note: actually, you need about 12MB, or about 27MB if you don't already have DirectX installed, as we added more voice prompts and libraries since the beta test version that Mike reviewed], and part of the available space on the CD has been used to include recordings of ringing, playable on any CD player, that are to be used for listening practice - very useful.
It does all that the earlier version did, but better and also has some additional features that are well thought out. Obviously it now runs under Windows, the previous version was very DOS only! The screen is clearer, being broken down into 3 basic areas, the method and how fast it is to be rung, etc, the ropes or handbells and lastly a list of the changes being run. Being Windows based much more use has been made of drop down menus and the whole program is easier to control because of this. In general there has been a significant improvement in the program's "usability", e.g. the ease of entering compositions to be rung and also the printing out of the "blue line" is now possible. The standard Windows format of help file is available. The ability of the Abel to work with today's high-tech computers has been much improved.
Perhaps the biggest boon has been the use of real tower and handbell sounds. You might easily think that you were listening to a CD recording of perfect ringing! Thoughtfully, the more bells being rung the lower the tenor note and the slower the peal speed of ringing. Someone has also patiently recorded himself saying, "Stand", "Rounds", "Go Plain Bob", and so on so that these calls are clearly audible.
There is a huge library of methods, from Singles upwards, meaning that there is something for everyone to practice! There is also a range of sample compositions. There is the facility to add newly rung methods and/or compositions of your own.
Overall I am very impressed. The program will cost £20 [now £22] and is well worth it. I strongly suggest that anyone in a tower that has potential neighbour problems consider the benefits to be gained by using Abel, especially if they are starting a new band after a break in the local ringing tradition. There is nothing more irritating to locals in earshot than a single bell ringing out endlessly. On the other hand it is useful for a learner to be able to hear the point at which their bell rings out. Abel satisfies both sides. Having several bells connected to sensors means the whole band could practice on silent bells. You could even have every bell in "The Bull Ring" put on a sensor without overloading Abel!
[An obsolete paragraph about upgrading from the DOS version has been deleted.]
Chris Hughes and Simon Feather are to be congratulated on a fine product. By the way, it is pleasing to note that nearly £15,000 has been donated to charities, £10,000 ringing related, from sales of the previous versions. Well done!
Reprinted with permission from The Ringing World, 4th December 1999.