Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 140 / MAY 1992 / PAGE 70

Microsoft Word for Windows 2.0. (Evaluation)
by Robert Bixby

Word for Windows--or WinWord, as it's affectionately known among its followers--avoids many of Windows' worst pitfalls. It manages to be quick (it has no trouble keeping up with my fastest typing) while providing a suite of formatting options that put in the running for the most complete desktop publishing option available in a single package. It provides all of the functionality of a first-rank word processor, and it includes frames and linking more commonly seen in desktop publishing packages.

Word for Windows is a very powerful and friendly word processor, but the path to its current release has been far from perfect. Early releases of the 2.0 version suffered from problems such as faulty implementation of templates and inconsistent spelling checks and margin performance. However, Microsoft should have cleared them up by the time this appears in print.

What remains is well worth your full attention. The interface is good--somewhat better than that of WordPerfect's Windows offering because it's more closely tied to the Windows standard.

Winning over WordPerfect users is of concern to the folks at Microsoft, of course, since that program has such a huge market share while Word has had to wear the bridesmaid's dress. The Word for Windows promotional literature stresses how easy it is for WordPerfect users to make the switch. For instance, Word for Windows includes a special WordPerfect Help system keyed to the specific kinds of problems WordPerfect users may encounter in making the transition. And former WordPerfect users can simply enter keystrokes they're familiar with, and they'll be shown how to execute the same procedure in Word for Windows.

It doesn't matter which word processor you use, if all you're doing is straight typing. The differences between word processors become key when you're engaged in specialized activities like desktop publishing. Word for Windows meets many of these demands.

It supports frames, which are isolated islands of text or graphics on the page. The frames are similar to Ventura Publisher frames: By dragging them with the mouse pointer, you can adjust their position and size. You can link them to the text, causing a frame to move from page to page as the tex does. In Word for Windows, you simply drag a tool to create the frame and then click on it and start typing--it's much easier than the process found in WordPerfect for Windows. You can also eliminate the frame and leave its contents in the page. I experienced some problems with the frames in my test document. At one point, text from the page suddenly became inserted into a frame, and I had to cut and paste to get it back on the page.

Word for Windows supports columns and provides a fairly intuitive way to insert them. Once again, I ran into problems in my test document with columns suddenly disappearing. A quirk that may bother some people is that moving the cursor down to the bottom of a column will take you to the same column in the next page rather than to the top of the next column. To move to the next column, you must move to the bottom of a column and then move right. When you reach the end of the last line, the cursor leaps to the top of the next column.

Part of desktop publishing involves entering graphics and special characters like curly quotes and long dashes. It would be unfair to single out Word for Windows as having poor implementation of special characters because most Windows products require a very awkward procedure for inserting them. In Word for Windows, you have to switch to Num Lock, hold down the Alt key, and type in four-digit codes to generate curly quotes and long dashes.

I grew so tired of halting my typing every couple of lines to insert a quotation mark or a long dash that I eventually assigned these functions to macros. Word for Windows shines in this area, making the key assignment part of the process of initiating macro recording.

Once you've created a macro, it's very simple to edit it. Though Word for Windows won't allow you to edit the macro in the regular text area the way Ami Pro and WordPerfect will, its macro editor allows you to have access to all of the menus. And you can even create macros to use in the macro-editing window.

Word has adopted OLE (Object Linking and Embedding), which Ami Pro has had for some time. You may be familiar with Windows' dynamic linking. It allows you to paste cells from a spreadsheet to a word processor document and have those cells made current each time the spreadsheet changes. OLE goes a step beyond this by having the embedded cells in the word processor document "belong" to the spreadsheet. To access the spreadsheet program from the word processor document, you just click on the cells. It's as if there were a rectangular hole in the document through which you can see the actual spreadsheet.

If you're looking for a real traffic stopper in Word for Windows' features list, it's the integration of an online grammar checker. Although limited, as are all such programs, it represents a real advantage over the competition. When you've finished writing, you can invoke the grammar checker from a menu option as if it were a spelling checker. Word for Windows will also provide readability statistics (such as grade level) on a document.

Software publishers seem to think that no one will respect them unless their products are truly massive. And make no mistake--Microsoft is highly respectable in this regard. Word for Windows is huge. I had to buy a larger hard disk and upgrade from MFM to IDE so I could have Ami Pro, WordPerfect for Windows, and Word for Windows on my hard disk. If you want a Windows word processor, clear about 15MB from your hard disk. At least Word for Windows seems more amenable to running on the basic Windows box--an 80286 or 80386 with 2MB of RAM. (Word for Windows claims to need only 1MB of RAM, but I had no way to test this.)

Almost like children going through a troubled adolescence, Windows word processors loom large in potential but are sometimes maddening to deal with on a daily basis. Most people who've used a really demanding Windows program have stumbled across a few unexplained application errors (UAEs). You'll be working along, thinking everything is fine, when suddenly a box appears informing you that Windows has experienced an unexplained application error and is shutting down your application. Your work is gone.

Word for Windows seems to have far fewer UAEs than the competition. While I've found it advisable to close WordPerfect for Windows every hour or so to prevent the UAE monster from appearing, I have yet to encounter a single UAE with Word for Windows 2.0.

Word for Windows has an equation editor, a simple drawing program, and a graphing program, so it's clear that Microsoft knows who the competition is--and that it plans to match both Ami Pro and WordPerfect feature for feature.

If you want a solid word processor that stands toe-to-toe with high-end desktop publishing programs, you're looking for Word for Windows. Microsoft has a proven track record for support and upgrade options, which should keep you economically up-to-date as long as you stay with Word. It will meet your needs for word processing, and it offers a complete suite of specialized options for formatting, publishing, and data handling.