Geap Dot Writer. (evaluation) R.W. Steur.
I had read with envy the reviews of the GEAP graphics editor and programmer package distributed by RCM Computers. But having a printer without block graphics capabilities (the original Epson MX-100), I found myself out in the cold. So I was pleased to find that a new expansion module for GEAP permitted the MX-100 to print block graphics, albeit slowly.
At the same time I made an even more exciting discovery--the new Dot Writer package from the same firm. Dot Writer is part of the GEAP family and works hand and glove with it and with your word processor to open a whole new world of world processing possibilities.
Dot Writer version 1.5 is available for the Epson MX series printers with either the Graftrax 80 or Plsu ROMs. A new version has just become available for the C. Itoh 8510 series and the NEC 8023A printer. Dot Writer is available only on disk and appears compatible with most DOSes.
There are really three major parts to the Dot Writer package. The first part is Dotprint, which is the print module used to print an ASCII text file prepared with any word processor producing such a format, including Newscript, Scripsit, Electric Pencil II and Lazywriter. The text is typed in as usual, imbedding the special Dotprint commands, and the file is saved. At print time the Dotprint program formats the text.
The second aprt is the Dotwrite editor, which permits creating, test-printing and saving to disk of everything you create or modify. When you use this editor, you also have available all the editing power of GEAP as well as the specialized high-resolution commands of Dotwrite. Anything created with GEAP/Dotprint can be printed using the Dotprint module.
The third portion of Dot Writer is the character font library. Twelve different fonts come with the package. These can be expanded, magnified, and reversed by Dotprint commands.
One additional program included in the Dot Writer package is a Basic subroutine which can be included in your own programs to bring high-resolution graphics created with Dotwrite. The manual cautions that programming experience is required. Documentation
Speaking of the manual, it is very good. Everything is clearly explained, including a section on file management for various disk configurations. Good examples of the various commands and functions assist in understanding and using them quickly. A helpful touch is the use of different colored pages as flags to find the various sections.
The Dotprint Module
The Dotprint module can serve as the scripting or formatting module for any word processor producing an ASCII file, but Newscript is a particularly logical choice (and recommended by RCM computers) since the Dotprint command format and structure follow that of Newscript plus some special commands of its own. Missing are the run-time options of Newscript but Dotprint does have the KE command for keyboard input during printing and, most important, the IMbed and APpend commands for disk files.
Probably the most significant feature of Dotprint is its ability to print in bit image mode the variety of lettersets in the font library. There are roughly 50 fonts available now, and the number is growing. A very limited cross section is shown in Figure 1. In addition, Dotprint supports the regular Epson font as an alternative.
Dotprint has been provided with a very useful and adaptable underlining function. The examples in Figure 2C show how either individual words or both words and intervening blanks can be underlined. The position of the underline can be adjusted to suit the various character sets, and multiple and/or thickened underlining is a breeze. Single or multiple thickened lines can be printed across the text space without text, as shown in Figure 2.
Small hi-res drawings as seen in part D of Figure 2, can be included within a text line as part of either the main font or the alternate font. To use larger drawings in the text, the hi-res drawing can be created using the Dotwrite editor, saved to disk as a bit-image file, then included in the text by use of the IMbed 'filename' command.
Letters and drawings can be magnified before printing by a simple command, with results such as those in Figure 2F. Two centering commands are available: the first is exactly like the Newscript command and is used for nonproportional printing; the second is used only when the proportional printing option is in effect.
Did I say proportional printing? Yes I did--but I have an Epson printer, which doesn't have a proportional font. But I said it and Dotprint does it with Dot Writer Letterset fonts, though not with the regular Epson fonts. Figure 3 demonstrates both the versatility and the effectiveness of the proportional printing function.
The Dotprint SDn controls the dot spacing between letters, whether in mono or proportional spacing, while SWn controls the minimum width of blank spaces when in proportional spacing mode. The effects of these commands are illustrated in Figure 3.
Use of the proportional print option provides a printout that is very professional looking. Control of both the inter-character and inter-word spacing allows variation of not only the appearance of the text but the amount of space required as well. It should be noted that the current version of Dotprint does not support proportional printing of very large letter fonts which cannot be held completely in RAM, but it is hoped that future versions will overcome this restriction.
There are several more features of Dotprint worth mentioning. The IGnore command provides a means for including non-printed comments within the text file but, in addition, also permits some debugging of the imbedded commands in your text file without actually printing out the complete text using the Dot writer fonts. This can save considerable time.
A darkness control, DA n, controls double strike while EM on/off is for emphasized print mode; the two can be used at the same time for a very solid black printout.
The MF n command magnifies the resident font by a factor of n, both vertically and horizontally. Thus, it is not the same as the double width function. Excessive magnification does result in somewhat ragged characters, however.
I mentioned that I was pleased to find that GEAP could print block graphics on my Epson MX-100. i was even happier with the ability of Dotprint to utilize block graphics as part of a text file. The block graphics set is included in the font supplied as part of the Dot Writer package. The lo-res graphics file is imbedded in the text file and printed as part of the file, as seen in Figure 4A, while in Figure 4B the corresponding hi-res figure in bit image format has been printed.
Surely this must be the answer to all our word processing formatting problems, right? Wrong. We haven't quite reached perfection yet. The primary limitation of the capabilities of Dotprint is speed. First, almost all of the Dot Writer lettersets require two passes (two lines, eight dots high) to print. Next, bit image printing in the Epson and NEC printers must be unidirectional to maintain precise vertical alignment within characters. Further, total printing time is increased by the use of frequent font changes, with resulting disk accesses. An elaborate document could take a while to print out using Dotprint, but the result can be well worth the wait. The Dotwrite Module
Now let's take a look at the Dotwrite portion of Dot Writer. This is actually a pair of GEAP expansion modules and can be used only in conjunction with GEAP vers. 2.1. Programming bit-image graphics for printers with this capability is an involved and tedious task. The GEAP Dotwrite program was designed to do all of the bit-image graphics programming for you.
Dotwrite has three purposes:
* Printing Dot Writer lettersets in text form.
* Creating lettersets and modifying existing ones.
* Creating hi-res graphics.
You use the TRS-80 screen as a sketch pad to draw letters or artwork. As you progress you can send your work out to the printer to see how it looks in bit-image form. Then when you are satisfied with the result, the program converts the screen image into bit-image format and stores it on disk.
There is also a Dotread module supplied which is a stand-alone Basic program to print a file created by the Dotwrite "output to disk" option. This can be merged into your Basic application program to provide individual and outstanding printouts for your programs.
The ability to print text directly from Dotwrite is useful for creating posters, notices, etc. Text can be entered from the keyboard or loaded from a disk file, using a previously created printer setup file or creating a new one.
If you were starting from scratch, you would first load the letterset you want to use, then a command is given to allow the program to determine the screen limits, based on your answers to a series of questions which appear on the screen. After this, a vertical line appears on the screen. This represents the limit of the characters which will fit on the paper.
Key in your text, within the screen window, and when you are through, you go to the print mode. At this point you have several printing options from which to choose.
As I mentioned, there are many letter fonts available. But suppose none of them quite fits your needs or wants. Then create your own or modify an existing one. Block graphic pixels are used to draw the letters on the screen and represent the dots in the bit image format. Letterset Manipulation Utility
During preparation of this review a new Dot Writer module became available. The Manipulation Utility module consists of a group of routines which were developed originally to assist in the creation of lettersets by the author of GEAP. It is intended for use by those familiar, if not proficient, with the GEAP and Dot Writer programs. A variety of routines is provided for the manipulation of individual characters or complete lettersets. In have found certain ones particularly useful to me.
For example, suppose you have created the capital letters of a letterset and don't want lowercase. To avoid the problem of an unshifted (lowercase) letter in the text file, simply use the copy between lettersets utility to copy the uppercase letters into lowercase positions as well. Shifted or not, you'll get the uppercase you want.
You want to print a small hi-res figure as part of your text; what's the simplest way to accomplish that? Well, if there were a blank spot in the letterset you were using, it could be put right in there. And how do you find the blanks? Why, option 4 of the Manipulation utility will do it for you and list them to the printer.
A move routine permits you to move a letter or series of letters within the frame, and/or center or justify the letter(s). There are other options, for magnification and for special effects like adding "wiggles" to a letter, but they are icing on the cake. Program Support
One aspect of software that most of us are quite sensitive about is the support provided by the manufacturer. My own experience with RCM Computers has been reassuring in this respect. For example, I found a bug in the IGnore command and within a few days of contacting RCM Computers I received a contacting RCM Computers I received a patch which took care of the problem. The company is quite responsive to users' comments and suggestions. Further, their update and upgrade policies and pricing are very reasonable. They are developing a User Library to which users can contribute and so share their talents with others around the country. Conclusions
What lies ahead for this program? I expect that it will be adapted to more bit-image printers, certainly. The GEAP family of programs has expanded so rapidly that I would be very much surprised if new versions with increased flexibility, utility and ease of use were not forhtcoming in the near future.
The Dot Writer programs have expanded the word processing capabilities of the TRS-80 Models I and III to an extent not imaginable, at least by me, as late as the end of 1981. In conjunction with a powerful text editor such as Newscript, Dot Writer provides the TRS-80 user with almost limitless word processing possibilities in business and recreation applications. This is a best buy if you are involved in word processing and have or plan to buy an approriate Epson, C. Itoh, or NEC printer.
Products: RCM Computers GEAP Dot Writer Version 1.5 (computer program)