IBM images. (word processing programs) (evaluation) Susan Glinert-Cole.
The question for this month is: can you get a competent word processing program for less than $100?
Inexpensive word processors can often provide the necessary functions for writing letters, doing short papers, and printing out nasty notes to the neighbors regarding the color of their house. Recommending less expensive word processors does not negate the value of a full-featured program like WordPerfect; it acknowledges the value of expedience. There are not that many word processors on the market for less than $100, but I did lay my hands on a few and took them for a test document or two.
PC-Write from Quicksoft is an example of freeware. You are invited to copy the disk and distribute it to your friends. The disk, with an excellent manual, is available for $10. If you wish, you can register your disk for $75. This entitles you to several extras: a printed, bound copy of the documentation, telephone support, Pascal and assembly language source code, a copy of the next update, and a $25 commission every time someone registers a copy of your disk. This is an amazing bargain in these days of multi-hundred dollar software, especially considering the high quality of the package.
The documentation is complete and well-written. My version has a typeset copy neatly held in a nicely illustrated plastic binder, but a manual is on the disk and can be printed out with a provided program. The editor program, with ancillary files, occupies about 28,000 bytes. PC-Write can be run on a fully-loaded PCjr.
PC-Write keeps the current document in memory at all times. A 64K system limits you to about six double-spaced pages. With 128K or more, the limit rises to about 30 double-spaced pages. To give you an idea of how much text that is, a typical "IBM Images' column generally runs about 16 pages double-spaced. This may be a severe limitation to writers of long documents, but long text can be broken up into chapters or sections.
The text entry screen is pleasantly free of clutter. A prompt line keeps track of editing space remaining, the justification mode (on or off), the file name, and the percentage of text before this point in the entire file, which gives you a rough idea of where you are in the document. Cursor movement is flexible: Home and End go to the beginning and end of the current line respectively; the arrow keys go up, down, right, and left; and PgUp and PgDn scroll the document up and down a line. You can also scroll up and down by paragraphs. Ins inserts spaces; the Scroll Lock key toggles between insert and overwrite mode. PC-Write will also move right and left by word, up and down by paragraph, to the top and bottom of the screen, and to the beginning and end of the document.
It also has extensive deletion facilities. You can delete by character, word left, word right, and to the end of the line. The key assignments are well thought out, but the documentation suffers from a poor choice of graphic descriptions. The up-arrow symbol is used to signify the Ctrl key, and an asterisk is used for the Shift key. This can be incredibly confusing. Text is not automatically reformatted; you must request this function when you want it.
Where are several extra touches in PC-Write that make it something special. Pressing the (unshifted) * key will shift the next key pressed; the 5 key on the numeric keypad will produce the same effect for the Ctrl key. This is for people who don't want, or are unable to press two keys at once.
The cursor is used in imaginative ways to indicate the mode you are in. Normally a thin, blinking line, it expands to a block when a Shift key is pressed and to a larger block when Ctrl is pressed. All of the toggle keys, Caps Lock, Scroll Lock, and Num Lock, are signaled by a different cursor. PC-Write can transpose two characters either forward or backward, a facility I wish WordPerfect had. Word and line deletions can be recalled with an "undo' key.
Other pleasantries include a centering key, a case change facility, and provision for changing screen colors if you have a color monitor. The color selection is very flexible: colors can be designated for nine different attributed including the color of marked text, marking text, help screens, ruler line, and so on.
The search and replace facility is easy to use; text can be searched forward and backward. The found string is highlighted, which is a great deal more revealing than a thin, blinking cursor. Wild cards are accepted in a search string, and by entering special search characters with function keys, the search can be made case insensitive. End of the line characters are also accepted in search and replace. This is the only way to alter the spacing of a document on the display.
Text marking is very well implemented in PC-Write. First, the selected text is highlighted, and then the cursor changes to indicate that you are in the "marking' mode. Text can be marked as words or lines; if you make a mistake, moving the cursor backward will unmark it. When you have finished marking, the block can be moved, copied, or deleted at will.
Moving sections of text around is very easy. The copy function works fine, and block deletes can be recalled if you goof. The marked text can be copied to a file. PC-Write can also bring a file into the current text. This is done in the marking mode, so you can see exactly what range you have inserted.
Margins and tabs are changed with a "ruler line.' Pressing F2 calls it to the screen. The ruler can be edited like text, but only four characters are accepted:
R for right margin, L for left margin, T for tab, and P for paragraph margin. The ruler line is also used to divide the screen into two windows. You can edit in either window, but you can't move text from one to the other.
Text formatting is done either onscreen (what-you-see-is-what-you-get mode) or with a set of dot commands. Printer commands, for font changes and so on, can be placed in the text. PC-Write can generate headers and footers, extra margins, multiple line spacing, page numbers, and extra vertical lines at the top.
Program execution is very fast. I didn't find any bugs in it, but I only used it for a couple of hours. If you are looking for an inexpensive, reasonably sophisticated word processor, PC-Write is worth going out of your way for.
Bank Street Writer
As a professional writer, I have some serious reservations about Bank Street Writer from Broderbund Software. First and worst, there appears to be no way to reform text after you have diddled with it. Second, when you exit the program, it does not correctly restore the cursor environment if you have selected a (non-blinking) block for a cursor.
Another thing that irritated me was that text in bold and underlined modes is delimited by gigantic reverse video blocks that say BOLD and UNDERLINED. Also, every time you elect to indent or change the margin, another giant reverse video billboard appears to let you know that the text is indented or the margin is changed, even though you can see it perfectly well on the display. If you do a lot of bolding, underlining, or indenting, the screen is a mass of screaming reverse video messages.
Almost every time you want to do something, like move text around, it asks you a tedious number of questions, and then asks you if you're sure you want to do it. I found this, as I said, tedious. Also, many commands are selected from a menu, which is splendid. However, you have to use the tab key to move to the desired selection and this becomes irritating after a while.
Document size is limited to about 6000 words. When you ask BSW how much space is left, it tells you in words, but it doesn't tell you how big a word is. Similarly, the documentation is mum about system requirements, except to say that, under DOS 2.0, it will allow you to edit only very small files. And finally, the program is copy protected, although they do supply one backup disk in the package and will send you another one free if you make a mess of both provided copies.
On the prositive side, Bank Street Writer is crashproof and very easy to learn. I think it more suitable to children learning their way around word processing than it is to adults. It has move, move back, copy, search and replace, erase and unerase, move to the beginning/end of line and top/bottom of document. Text entry is always done in the insert mode; there is no overstrike mode in BSW.
The print facilities are pretty complete. BSW will let you do headers and footers, change the page position numbers, insert printer commands in the text and set right, left, top, and bottom margins. Line spacing can be single, double, or triple, and you can opt to print either multiple copies of a file, or only part of a file. Tabs can be set; lines can be centered; and files can be deleted or renamed from within the program. BSW is menu driven, but you can also assign function keys to commands.
I found this word processor immensely tiresome, but I think kids and beginners will enjoy its simplicity and ease of use, although the documentation is not very good. It consists of a 55-page pamphlet that exhibits one of my particular pet peeves: it won't lie flat on the desk. There is an on-disk tutorial, and you are instructed to invoke it by pressing T when the program is loading. I tried that, and it didn't work. No phone number is to be found anywhere in the manual. BSW will run on PCjr. and retails for $79.95.
Bonnie Blue Word Processor
Another deal of the decade is the Bonnie Blue Word Processor from Bonnie Blue Software. It retails for $50 and does everything but sign your name. I have to admit that the copy I have is a final "beta test,' and the documentation is a draft. I experienced no problems with it, but several features were not yet implemented. The manual is very complete (more than 100 8 1/2 X 11 pages) and clearly written, but suffers from a lack of an index and an adequate table of contents. Bonnie Blue is a very powerful program with many neat features; without a good map of the manual, you can waste a lot of time tryping to find what you're looking for.
The default text entry screen is reminiscent of spreadsheets: both the rows down and the columns across are numbered. The screen format can be changed to several other layouts if you don't like the default. Bonnie uses the function keys, combined with Alt, Ctrl, and Shift, for most of the commands. Less frequently used facilities like disk and file commands, remapping keys, and doing word counts are entered on a command line. The top line is reserved for toggle key information, and the second line for command entry. This makes the display a bit cluttered if the row and columns are on-screen, especially when a function key invokes a secondary menu (this, too, is placed on the second line, and things get hard to read).
To give you an idea how flexible Bonnie is, the summary of commands and keystrokes runs nine pages. Along with the usual cursor movement of right/left by character and word, beginning/end of line and document, and page up/down, the scroll lock key is used to scroll text up and down. If you press Alt and S, the cursor will scroll all by itself to the bottom of the text or until you toggle it off. Similarly, Alt and T will scroll the cursor to the top. Both the speed and direction can be controlled from the keyboard during the scroll. If the Scroll Lock key has been toggled on, these two commands scroll the text, instead of the cursor.
Bonnie Blue has a whole set of "attribute paint' keys. With them, you can underline, bold, reverse video, or change the colors (if you have a color monitor). The attributes can be painted on by character, word, or line and can, of course, be set so that all text entry carries the current attributes. There is also a set of keys for "unpainting.'
Other keys center lines; do on-screen justification; delete by word, line, or block; move, copy, and save a block as a file; undelete by word, line, or block; set/clear tab at current column; and reformat text. There is also an automatic indent facility for block-structured language programmers (or for offsetting text) and a left/right margin control.
If you can't remember the keystrokes, there are on-line help menus that pop onto the screen with a press of a function key. And, if you don't like their help screens, you can write your own. The keyboard can be entirely reconfigured (with the exception of state keys like Shift) and there is a fast and nifty word count command which can begin and end the count wherever you like.
The summary of print facilities, implemented as dot commands, take up an entire page, and the printer options take up another page and a half. The usual top/botton/right/left margins are there, as well as super- and subscripts, line skipping, headers and footers, include/chain file, centering, and wait.
I am very impressed with this word processor. There are very few features to wish for (footnotes and automatic reformating are two), and the price, for the value, is really amazing. The program isn't small--about 118,000 bytes--and the minimum memory configuration I guess to be starting at 192K (the manual doesn't say). Unfortunately, with all that overhead you can only edit a document of about 32K. With a document of maximum size, however, the program is still lightning fast. When text exceeds the size of the edit buffer, an amusing message appears. The files can be saved as ASCII, and almost everything can be switched around if you don't like the way Ron Greenberg, the author, assigned defaults.
Emerging Technology, the company that makes the wonderful editor Edix, has come out with an "integrated' $99 package called Offix. Basically, it combines form design with a database query facility, a report generator, and a word processor. The package consists of a disk, housed in a plastic folder. There is no documentation. I shook the package a few times hoping something would fall out, and then decided that maybe they were taking lessons from SurlySoft. In fact, the documentation is entirely integrated into the program; a printed manual is unnecessary. The program is semi-copy protected. The original is needed for booting the program; it can then be removed and a data disk substituted. Additional disks are available for $20. The program can be installed in the colors of your choice.
When you type OFFIX, a couple of file drawers appear on the display, and you are told how to get help. After that, you have the option of running a tutorial, getting help for the initial menu, or going to work. The system is entirely menu driven, but the menus must be invoked with a function key. This is convenient for the advanced Offixer, who knows what's what and wants to get right down to business. No matter where you are, you can request help for the various facilities. At the inital menu level of each category, you can get a tutorial on the subject.
The program has a friendly tone, and is very iconic. First you must point to a file drawer and open it (by pressing O). Then you must select a folder which you take out of the drawer and open. Then you can do several things: design an empty form for the folder; fill in some forms; search filled-in forms for names, numbers, or numeric ranges; erase forms; and generate reports. When you have finished, you can replace the folder or leave it out for another time. If you want to replace the folder, you must first close it and then put it back. Finally, you close the file drawer. The process is reminiscent of adventure games at their finest. "You are in the cabinet room. What do you want to do? Open the drawer. OK. Look in the drawer . . .'
While Offix does have a word processor, it is quite limited. Search and replace, block move and copy, and a few delete options (by line and block only) are there, but text marketing can only be done by entire lines; you can't mark partial lines. Page layout is done by filling in fields on a picture of a page. You can adjust the left, right, and bottom margins; the number of lines per page; and the line spacing (single, double, or triple). You can supply a page heading and turn page numbering on and off. As a word processor alone, I think you would be better off with another product. However, the Offix word processor is not designed for writing books. Rather, it is means for designing forms to be used with the database query facility. In this context, the product is quite nice.
Each folder can have one form with up to 50 fields, although the form cannot exceed 22 lines or 80 columns. Once the form has been created, you fill it in with the relevant information. A folder full of forms can then be searched for specific entries. In addition, you can write a stock form letter with the word processor, using field names in curly braces where you want information filled in from the database. Offix will generate the letters and print them to the screen, the printer, or a file.
Offix can also generate reports, which consist of data taken from filled-in forms printed in columns. Generating a report involves filling out a form for search criteria, for column titles, for width, and for report layout.
The program is reasonably fast, although it does do a fair amount of disk writing when filing forms and searching for things inside the folder. The human interface is really fine; if you press an incorrect key, a message (in plain English) tells you what the problem is and offers help.
All of this menu/help/tutorial exacts a price: the program is enormous and requires at least 192K and two 360K disk drives to run. If you are looking for a program that can do some light database/form letter and report generation, Offix is definitely worth the price. Be aware, however, that it is not for doing manuscripts of even six doublespaced pages if your requirements are the least bit unusual. Not being able to move parts of lines really cripples the flexibility of the program.
I haven't actually seen Friendly Writer with FriendlySpeller from FriendlySoft, but the advertisement looks enticing. For $69.95, you get a word processor, suitable for letters of up to six pages, and a spelling checker. The package looks fairly powerful: user-defined layouts; single or double spacing; adjustable right, left, top, and bottom margins; on/off justification; move copy; insert and delete by character, word, or block.
Reformatting is claimed to be automatic, and it will produce on-screen underlining with "most monitors.' I think this means that it will do actual underlining on the IBM monochrome display, and signal underlined text by a color/intensity change on other monitors capable of supporting this type of variation. FriendlyWriter supports more than 35 printers with automatic initialization. It looks like a good deal for light word processing.
So which one of the numerous, less expensive word processors would I recommend? Xywrite, as I have said, is excellent. PC-Write is the buy of the century. It isn't quite as flexible as Xywrite, but the price of $00.00 makes up for a great deal. Bonnie Blue is more powerful than PC-Write, and can also be used to excellent effect by programmers regardless of language preference. The $50 price tag is fair for the extra features available.
Offix is a nice, inexpensive alternative to complicated, pricey and user-surly database managers. Bank Street Writer is probably more appropriate for children or adults who use a word processor infrequently. It does not want to let you make a mistake.
The conclusion? You can get a competent word processor for less than $100. Which one you choose depends, as always, on your specific requirements.
Photo: Bank Street Writer.
Photo: Bonnie Blue Word Processor.
Photo: Offix drawer level.
Photo: Offix folder level.
Products: PC-Writer (computer program)
Bank Street Writer (Word processing software)
Bonnie Blue Word Processor (computer program)
Offix (computer program)