First XLEnt Word Processor
Up there with the best-and only $29.95
The only thing misleading about the title of First XLEnt Word Processor is that it's not the first excellent word processor for the 8-bit Atari. True, this is the first word processor from XLEnt software-and it is an excellent word processing program. First XLEnt takes its place among the very best, and carries the very attractive price of $29.95.
Other top Atari word processors such as PaperClip, AtariWriter Plus and Letter Perfect offer powerful features such as advanced screen editing, cut-and-paste block moves, search-and-replace, chaining files, support for different printers, mail merge, etc. In addition, a program like Word Magic can also put pictures into the text, use the joystick for cursor movement and edit two documents at once. First XLEnt offers all of the above, plus icon commands and a whole list of uniquely civilized amenities.
Word processing is a personal thing, and it's hard to predict what a person will like or need. Here's what made me like First XLEnt so much that I now use it for all my word processing.
- Speed: The first quality of user-friendliness is speed. First XLEnt is fast. Search-and replace is almost instantaneous, even on large documents. Cursor speed is adjustable on the XL/XE machines, but it's too slow on the 800. However, you can use the joystick to move long distances, and that speed is adjustable on all machines. Things slow down in the insert mode near the beginning of a long document, of course. But First XLEnt provides a quick way to open up blank lines, use the overstrike mode, then close up the extra spaces. Very neat.
- Simple, clean text files: First XLEnt does not add any obscure codes, headers or other garbage when saving to disk. Other programs can use the files without problems. Also, First XLEnt can load anything, from any Atari DOS source.
- First XLEnt is unprotected and has a standard DOS interface: It comes with DOS 2.5, but you can substitute your own DOS (if it's not too big). This means you can use a high-speed DOS, a custom RAMdisk, etc.
- Inversing the text when defining blocks: This is the only way it should be done.
- Word-wrap parsing on hyphens as well as spaces: This makes breaking words much easier. First XLEnt also has soft hyphens that are invisible unless needed for a line break, and hard spaces which prevent a line break at that space.
- A visible, editable cut-and-paste buffer.
- A true file insert: This allows you to insert a disk file anywhere in your text without losing the end of your document.
- Partial document save: You can save any portion of the document in memory to disk.
- Disk file preview (called "spool" in the First XLEnt): This handy feature lets you look at the contents of a disk file without disturbing the document in memory.
- Aligning your paper to the first printed line instead of the top of the page: At first I was suspicious, but now I think it's great.
- A software switch to toggle between line feed and carriage return: No more fumbling for the DIP switch on the printer when changing to another computer, such as an ST.
- Superb handling of margin settings: You can make your margin changes either relative or not relative to the starting margins. There is also a margin release and automatic indentation and outdentation. These are joys to use.
- Full-screen windows: When working with two documents in memory, First XLEnt flips between them instead of splitting the screen.
- One-pass double-column printing: Since some formatting commands won't work with one-pass printing, two-pass double-column printing is also available. Double-column printing will only work on XL/XE machines.
- A very good 80-column print preview: It actually uses a software-generated 80-column text to produce a readable demonstration of what your document will look like. Unfortunately, it returns you to the document in the strikeover typing mode, even if you started with the insert mode, so beware.
- Very comprehensive printing capabilities: These include conditional page breaks to overcome "widows" and "orphans" (single words left at the top or bottom of a column). Other unique features include skip text, which puts notes on the screen that will not be printed, verbatim bytes, ASCII numbers and even disk files from the middle of your text. You'll have complete access to all of a printer's features (including graphics).
The First XLEnt Word Processor has only a couple of serious limitations. The most obvious is a maximum of one screen-800 characters or less- for each cut-and-paste buffer move. This didn't bother me too much because my writing habits don't require many large block moves. However some people will be irked by moving text in sections. The other serious limitation is that headers and footers are restricted to one line. This also is not a problem for me, but it might not be adequate for others.
Other problems are more in the nature of annoyances than serious limitations. Some stem from the icons which are used as a function menu. I know icons are hot right now, but in this application they just require more keystrokes and use up four lines which I'd rather have for text.
- The instruction manual is good until it starts talking about printing, then it gets murky.
- When you go to the icon menu, you're not always returned to the same spot in the text where you left, or, as noted above, not always even the same typing mode.
- The inverse text marking of the cut and copy functions is not used for the block delete. In fact there is no visible marking of the block delete at all.
- The screen advance command flips directly to the next screen, but the previous-screen command scrolls. It's not really that slow but it bothers me because I use it a lot.
- The [CONTROL] commands on the 800 are [OPTION] commands on the XL/XE. I wish these had been consistent, because some of us use both machines.
- The otherwise excellent print preview does not display expanded or condensed characters correctly.
- You can't save your settings of cursor speed and shape, screen contrast, typing mode, margins, tabs, word wrap, etc.
- You can't save page-formatting defaults either. This is less of a problem because you can always load a preset format line, but it would be nice if it was automatic.
- You can't search-and-replace a carriage return. You can't do this with any other word processor either. But I wish somebody would include it so we could deal with Atari's nonstandard return.
Overall, First XLEnt Word Processor is great software. Although not perfect, it's as good or better than any other word processor you'll find for the 8-bit Atari. First XLEnt suits my own work-style very well. I used it to write this review and I'll use it from now on.
P.O. Box 5228
Springfield, VA 22150
$29.95, 48K disk
CIRCLE 263 ON READER SERVICE CARD
Charles Cherry is a regular Antic contributor and former Product Manager of The Catalog