Wordcraft: word processing on a budget. (evaluation) Joe Devlin.
Throughout the land, salesmen in K-Marts, Penneys and other haunts of low cost computers are are being asked the same question by customers looking for computing bargains. "Sure it is cheap, but can it do serious work like word processing?"
I, myself, have been asked this question more times than I care to remember. Since pay scales of salesmen are based on their loquacity and ability to elaborate creatively on the facts, you can guess what the salesmen answer. I had no merchandise to sell and hence tried to be as honest as ecperience allowed. "Can it do serious work like word processing?" they asked. "Sure," I repled, "but you get what you pay for, and the cheaper system will have limitations." I sounded like a salesman hedging his bets. The truth was, I had never spent much time playing with a low cost word processor running on a low cost computer--until Wordcraft 20 arrived.
Each staff member at Creative has at least one favorite package, and he argues vociferously on the relative merits of his pet word processor. Word processors are a bit like home cooking--one likes best what one tastes first. My first word processing package, and the package I still use at home, runs on my trusty old Commodore 8032 computer. It is called Wordcraft.
The computer business is a volatile one. Old machines die and become extinct. The 8032 has always been an also ran in the United States. Nevertheless, it is a beautiful machine for a writer. It has a large green screen with an 80-column display and good looks that make it a popular extra in commercials and futuristic TV shows.
In Europe, Commodore is king. Commodore supports its business machines there, and lots of software is written for these machines. In the United States the story is different. The 8032 was never aggressively sold in the States and never caught on here. Within the U.S., Commodore has concentrated its efforts on promoting lower priced machines. Exit the 8032 and enter its low cost relatives the Commodore 64 and the Vic 20.
I was not surprised when a version of Wordcraft for the Vic 20 arrived at Creative. The Vic is, to a large extent, a redesign of the older Commodore computers; hence conversion of software between machines is relatively painless. It was natural that someone should convert the successful Wordcraft line to the Vic and the 64. Finally, I had the opportunity I had been waiting for, the chance to compare a word processor that runs on an 80-column machine with one that sells for under $100.
I was prepared to find a very limited software package. That is not what I found. I have always been impressed with the 80-column version of Wordcraft (presently called Wordcraft Ultra). Wordcraft 20 lives up to the standard set by its big brother. It is fast, it is powerful, and it is relatively easy to use.
If you have the money to invest in a more expensive computer, you can buy plenty of expensive word processing packages that will offer more tricks than those available from Wordcraft 20. You will be hard pressed, however, to find a package that exceeds the speed, power, and ease of use that Wordcraft offers. Features
Although the list of features offered by Wordcraft is impressive, it is not the list of features but rather the ease with which they can be implemented that first caught my attention. Anyone who uses a word processor knows that he uses the same elementary functions over and over again.
A good word processing package must allow for easy creation of new text, fluid movement of words and phrases within the document, the quick insertion of new material, and the erasure of words that no longer seem to fit. Both versions of Wordcraft perform the basics with style and ease.
The is not to imply that Wordcraft can perform only the basics. Wordcraft Ultra is not only easy to use, it is sophisticated. To my surprise, I found that the programmer who converted Wordcraft for the Vic had managed to pack most of the features that attracted me to Wordcraft into the ROM cartridge that bears Wordcraft 20.
The two versions of Wordcraft share an extensive repertoire of attractive features. The automatic word wrap feature eliminates broken words. Automatic line centering and definable tab stops allow for easy positioning of words on the page. Search and replace can be used to make quick changes. The status lines that appear on the top of the page let you know which page you are working on, where the cursor resides on that page, and how many characters of memory space remain.
Page length and page width can be changed with the stroke of a few keys. A built-in mail list program provides the ability to fill names, addresses, and special phrases into letters for personalized correspondence. If your printer allows, it is possible to underscore text or to print in boldface, and text can be right justified or left ragged.
Wordcraft Ultra does offer some features not offered by its little brother, most significantly automatic page numbering, and automatic headers and footers. Wordcraft 20, on the other hand, makes good use of color within the program to let you know what is going on. It also allows you to change the color of the cursor, erase block, text, and screen background to suit your needs.
Function keys not found on the older Commodore computers that run Wordcraft Ultra are used to provide easy single stroke access to the most often used commands on the Vic.
These features are icing on the cake. They average user, or they may be used frequently by those with special needs. But if the basic commands didn't work well, patience would run out long before the fancy features were invoked. Other word processors may offer more features, but few packages work as elegantly as Wordcraft does. What You See Is What You Get
Wordcraft is a screen based word processing system, one in which what you see on the screen is what comes out of the printer. to my mind it is the best approach to take with word processor.
not all word processing packages are screen based. Some have you embed special characters into the text that appear on the screen. These embedded characters (for example the phrase . . . page to force a new page) usually remain on the screen, taking up space and cluttering the page. The commands do not appear on the printed page. Instead, they affect the way in which the page is printed (. . . page causes the printer to start a new page). In Wordcraft you edit text as it appears. If you tell the computer to skip a page it will skip a page both on screen and when printed out. There are no embedded commands appearing on the screen where only your words should be.
Wordcraft accomplishes this feat by using two modes. The Typing mode is used for entering text and the Command mode is used for entering commands. Either mode cna be reached at any time with the stroke of a single key. There is no need to exit to a menu and call up a version of the document that shows how it will appear when printed and then go back to type mode and remember what needs to be changed.
Neither does Wordcraft make use of on screen menus. All the commands must be memorized. This does take a little time. You command Wordcraft with easy-to-remember mnemonics such as the W for width or P for print or with the function keys. The advantage of this method is that there are no menue to wait for and no menus to clutter up the screen. In the place of the menus, Wordcraft uses the top three or four lines of the screen to keep you informed about where you are in the document and what you are doing.
The screen based approach works best on a computer that displays a full 80-column screen at a time. Although Wordcraft 20 can create and print 66 lines of 99 characters, the Vic screen can display only 25 lines of 24 characters at a time. Once you type the 25th character of a long line, the screen automatically scrolls over to let you see the next 22 characters. Scrolling across the page to see what is on the otehr side is no fun. Obviously it is much more convenient to work with Wordcraft Ultra which offers a full 80-character page width.
One of the nicer features of both versions of Wordcraft is the ability to reset the width of the page painlessly in the blink of an eye. This provides a solution to the restricted page width of the Vic. On Wordcraft 20 I set the page width to 23 characters so I can eliminate scrolling, and then I reset to full page width when it comes time to print. The Constraints Of Memory
Another difference between the two versions of Wordcraft results from the amount of memory available to each program. Wordcraft Ultra is supplied on disk. Wordcraft 20 is supplied in ROM cartridge and plugs into the Vic like any game or memory cartridge. Wordcraft Ultra must be loaded into memory to operate. Wordcraft 20 operates within the ROM and does not chew up memory space. This is fortunate, because there is no room to load the 16K Wordcraft 20 program into the memory of the Vic.
You can by Wordcraft 20 with or without an extra 8K of RAM memory space built into the cartridge. If you have already purchased a memory expansion cartridge for your Vic, buy the cheaper cartridge without memory. If not, you will need the extra memory offered by the more expensive version.
I used the version with the extra 8K. It provided me with a little over 7000 characters of storage space. This translates into about four 80-column, double spaced pages. Obviously, Wordcraft Ultra running on a machine with much more memory can store many more pages within memory. Memory is not, however, the only place to store text.
If you need to create a document that will not fit into memory, you can do so by breaking it up into separate documents each with a separate name. Wordcraft 20 gives you the option of saving these documents to either disk or tape. Wordcraft Ultra saves all its documents to disk and offers the option of dividing pieces of a large document into chapters with the same document name but different chapter numbers. Chapters can be linked together and printed out automatically. You can, of course, print as many documents as you like from Wordcraft 20, but each document must be loaded and printed separately.
Included in the price of the Wordcraft 20 is a 31-page user's manual and a cassette full of useful routines such as an instruction program, mailing management routine, and a conversion program that allows files to be transferred from Wordcraft 20 to other versions of Wordcraft.
The manual is easy to follow and well written. It begins with a 14-page tutorial that gets you started with the basics--how to type in a new document, edit it, print it, save it to disk or tape, and then retrieve it.
Plug the cartridge in , connect up the TV and turn the computer on and follow the tutorial. Within an hour or so you should have the fundamentals down pat. Finish the tutorial and you will have learned to perform all the routine functions required by most word processing applications.
The next time someone says to me "Sure the Vic is cheap, but can it do serious work like word processing?" I will tell him about Wordcraft 20. The Vic imposes its limits of small screen size and memory on the software, but the package is superb, nevertheless.
The Wordcraft line continues to grow. UMI will have released a $99 Wordcraft cartridge for the Commodore 64 by the time this article is printed. If you already own a Vic and want a word processing package for your machine I highly recommend Wordcraft 20. If you don't already own a Vic, check out Wordcraft for the Commodore 64. Running Wordcraft on the Vic requires the purchase of at least an extra 8K of memory. The Commodore 64 has more than enough memory built in. You may find that the savings you will realize by not having to buy the expanded memory version for the Vic will almost account for the difference in price between the Vic and the 64.
Products: Wordcraft 20 (computer program)