A couple of months ago I explained the details of the Lenslok security system in CRASH. That explanation obviously came too late for Firebird, who seem to have made a mess of their implementation on Spectrum Elite.

In principle, Lenslok is a good system — it is easy to use, cheap, and it works, as long as the display is at least ten centimetres wide and the user looks directly through a properly folded lens.

The software industry desperately needs a way to stop home copying. If Lenslok — or a similar system — fails, then all honest software buyers will suffer as a result. Unfortunately, Firebird seem to have made several mistakes, and Lenslok isn’t universally loved, if the contents of Lloyd’s postbag are anything to go by!

The first mistake was to install Lenslok wrongly on some copies of Spectrum Elite. It is quite impossible to use one production copy that was sent to CRASH, unless you deliberately ignore part of the instructions.

Before attempting to use the lens to unscramble the pattern of dots displayed on your screen, you have to let the Lenslok system know the size of your telly screen. Rather than type in the appropriate measurement, in inches, cubits, nautical miles or whatever, you adjust two lines on the screen until they are a known width apart — the width of the lens holder, which just happens to be 100mm. The computer keeps a count of the number of pixels between one line and the other, so it can convert from pixels to millimetres (on your telly) with ease.


Unfortunately, Firebird got their sums wrong. A mistake in their code means that you have to set the lines substantially wider than the instructions would have you believe. It is not too difficult to do this, if you use the scrambled display of the letters ‘OK’ to work out the correct setting, but you fail completely if you do just what you’re told.

Firebird have owned up to a different problem, which makes the system completely unusable in some cases. Lenslok uses the lens as a key and the software as a lock. Codes in the program produce graphics which can only be read through a particular lens. Firebird have shipped the wrong lens — the wrong key — with some copies of Elite.

There are millions of possible lenses, just as there are millions of possible keys for most locks (except the one on the Editor’s van, which could be opened with anything sharper than a milk-bottle). If you use the wrong lens, the ‘lok’ stays shut.

You can check your copy of Elite by prising the small transparent lens from its orange plastic holder. Unless you are needlessly violent, you’ll find two small tags projecting from the side of the lens. If there’s a letter ‘A’ on the lens, all is well; but if there’s a letter ‘B’ you’ve got the wrong lens, and no amount of peering at the screen will decipher the scrambled display.

Firebird will replace a type ‘B’ lens if you send it back to them. They’ll also send you a free game as compensation for the time you’ve wasted.

I hope that Lenslok survives these problems, because it has a lot of promise. It would be a great shame if people were put off the idea because of teething problems. Whatever happens, we’ll keep you posted.