by Arthur Leyenberger
It feels great to be back in the saddle again. ST-Log is back on schedule, with new backing, a more professional look and all systems go. Renewing my contacts and friends on Delphi (my user ID is ARTL) and on CompuServ (My ID is 71266,46) has been fun, and I look forward to spending more time talking with ST users about the topics that concern all of us.
Diamond in the rough
When I first heard that Abacus Software was preparing a word processor for the Atari ST computer, I thought to myself, Oh, no, not another one. All too often a company that does one thing well attempts to go back to the well and compete with still another word processor, terminal program or whatever. I'm happy to report that Abacus not only excels in the technical ST book category—they are clearly the best and the most prolific publisher—but that they also have a very good word processor. My fears, it seems, were unfounded.
Like several other Abacus products, Text Pro was originally written by Data Becker, a German software publishing company. The three program authors are all professional writers, we are told, so the program reflects what they wanted in a word processor. Although the apparent translation of the documentation is adequate, I would have expected a little more substance, especially from professional writers.
Text Pro is a fully GEM-based word processor with drop-down menus located across the top of the screen, windows with vertical and horizontal scroll bars, and access to any Desktop accessories you may have already loaded when you booted up the ST. However, once you learn the program, you can use keyboard commands instead of "mousing" around. Text is entered in a continuous stream, with formatting commands embedded within the text. Although it is not a what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) program, the appearance of your document on the screen is similar to the final paper output.
An essential part of Text Pro is what's called the Format Template. This is where you can change the appearance of a document to be printed. A Format Template is saved with the text file and determines the number of lines per page, line spacing, margins, header and footer spacing, column width and number of columns (for multiple-column printing) per page. Many format templates can be saved on your disk, since the "look" of a letter differs from that of a report or term paper.
Text Pro is capable of a few more output tricks. Text can be printed vertically (normal) or horizontally to either the printer or a file. In addition, a file can be saved as a "text design" file. Here, the output is saved as a bit-mapped representation of the screen for further editing by Text Designer, another Abacus product. By use of a "place-holder" command, a second file may be merged with your text using the output program.
There is a special feature for C programmers too. In this mode braces are automatically indented. This feature and the 30 programmable function keys make programming in C much easier.
The first Text Pro feature that grabbed my attention was the ability to print in multiple columns. All of the first-generation ST word processors lacked this feature (except for ST-Writer, which was somewhat bugridden). Now, newsletter editors in particular, or anyone else on a tight budget for that matter, can take advantage of formatting your text in however many columns you require. The procedure is straight-forward and the results are impressive.
Text Pro provides the usual block, search and replace, word wrap, justification and other word-processing functions you would expect with this type of program. In addition, certain text attributes, such as normal or bold print, are displayed on the screen. An upper-lower case toggle lets you switch text from one to the other, and the system date and time can be inserted anywhere in the text.
Text Pro comes out of the box ready to work with an Epson compatible printer. If you have some other type of printer you'll have to customize the program for that printer or embed printer codes within the text. The first option entails creating a printer driver by modifying the default Epson driver supplied with the program. There are two ways to approach this. In one, you copy the original driver file to another file name (as backup) and modify the original, since Text Pro is looking for that (original) specific filename. Alternatively, the program has an output feature that lets you choose from a number of printer drivers already created. In either case, you have to create a new driver for your non-Epson printer—although it is not difficult.
A pair of additional utility programs are supplied with Text Pro in order to make it more useful. SPLIT is a program designed to split a very large file in half, and split those halved files in half, until you have files of a manageable size for the amount of memory remaining in your ST. The other program, CONV, lets you convert files from other word processors, such as 1st Word, into Text Pro format. Page breaks and text attributes are acknowledged and carriage returns at the end of lines are changed to floating text. Both of these programs are run outside of Text Pro.
There are several missing features in this word processor. First off, there is no Undo function. Once you erase something, it's history. There is no way to save a file under a different name while editing a document. Often, you want to take a file, make a few changes here and there and save it under a different name. Text Pro forces you to copy the file first, from the GEM Desktop, then edit the newly created file. No major problem, merely a minor hassle.
There is no way to specify a last page to print when printing to the screen or the printer since the program prints from a starting page to the end. Further frustration occurs because there is no graceful way to stop the printout. There is no provision for a clipboard or second window to aid text editing and copying. And there is no on-line help.
Despite the few flaws (really only missing features rather than bugs), Text Pro is a useful, second-generation word processor for the Atari ST. Its ability to print two-line headers and footers, display output on the screen, print multiple-column text and perform logical hyphenation makes the program one of the best currently available for the ST. In addition, such features as sorting, indexing and creating a table of contents make Text Pro worthy of your serious attention when choosing a word processor. Also, its list price of under $50 won't require a second mortgage on the condo.
More WordPerfect and Piracy
Recently, CompuServe was abuzz with the potential withdrawal of a major ST software publisher. WordPerfect Corp. had contacted SYSOP Ron Luks and told him that because of software piracy, they were planning to remove the word processor WordPerfect from the ST market. Never in my five years of using CompuServe have I seen such a quantity of responses to Ron's initial message. It all culminated in a CO (conference) with several WordPerfect representatives and about 50 CompuServe users to discuss the issues.
Piracy is not new to the Atari or any user community. It has the potential for drying up the supply of software and hurting those legitimate users who paid for their hardware and the software they used. In fact, some people believe that the lack of 8-bit Atari software is due directly to the amount of piracy that has occurred for years in this market.
Anyway, it seemed that WP Corp. had discovered several pirate bulletin boards that were making their WordPerfect program freely available to anyone that called. This had (understandably) upset them, and they decided that the ST software market was one that they no longer wanted to participate in. As it turned out, the decision to leave the ST market had not been made at that point, and the positive responses from CompuServe members helped persuade WordPerfect Corp. that the majority of ST users are not thieves.
However, a number of interesting and significant points were raised in the message base and also when I spoke to Todd Ashman (Director of Atari marketing for WP) and Jeff Wilson (manager of Atari Development for WP). One point that was repeatedly made by the WP folks is that the initial release of WordPerfect had a number of bugs in it. They freely admit that it was released prematurely and was not thoroughly tested. Because of the relatively high price ($395 list, average street price about $250) and the type of excellent (my words) support given to their products, WP was able to release two upgrades to all registered users at no charge to them. They have also provided toll-free support lines to help users install and use the product.
Although there were no major bugs in the software, there were quite a few little things that would accumulate and ultimately crash the program. The printer support section of the program has been rewritten to match the function of the PC version and have less variability in operation. Some of the ST operating-system calls had to be redone and replaced in order to prevent the program from hanging, due to bugs in the Atari operating-system software.
Another version of WordPerfect, which was due to be released during the last week of March, is said to be virtually problem-free. All registered users will receive this upgrade automatically, at no cost to them. The latest version of the program will also incorporate many suggestions from users to improve its operation.
The piracy issue basically comes down to the fact that the PC market is 50 times bigger than the ST market. In this market, even a large percentage of piracy does not prevent the company from making a profit. Unfortunately, the smaller ST market feels the effects of piracy first. Piracy has the effect of causing a proportionately larger percentage of lost sales.
WordPerfect is currently the only major-league software publisher that has a product in the Atari ST marketplace. That's major league, as in MS-DOS software publisher selling a product consistently in the top ten list. If we as ST users wish to continue to have companies like WordPerfect, with their high level of support, quality product (now), and open-minded attitude support our computers in the future, we had better put a stop to piracy now.
It's one thing to be against stealing software yourself and not do it. But we all need to be vocal about it and spread the word. Atari users are not necessarily any worse than other computer users when it comes to piracy. But the bottom line is that stealing software is not only wrong, it can have harmful effects on the longevity and health of your computer.
Piracy. Just say no.