Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 142 / JULY 1992 / PAGE 18

Test lab. (Windows word processing programs) (Evaluation)
by Robert Bixby, David English, Denny Atkin, Clifton Karnes, Mike Hudnall

Is there a Windows word processor in your future? If you're looking for power and features, the packages in this month's Test Lab offer a number of capabilities rarely seen in DOS word processors: WYSIWYG editing, desktop publishing's graphical and formatting tools, Windows' interactivity, and a common user interface. Many of the packages also boast special tools to make them stand out from the crowd, such as grammar checkers, complete drawing programs, equation editors, and advanced macro languages.

One requirement shared by all Windows word processors discussed in this section is a powerful computer: at least a 386SX (though a 386DX or one of the 486 chips would be preferable) and 4MB of RAM. Most of the products claim that they can run on a 286 with 1MB of RAM. But when you read this claim, remember that you can also jog underwater. Doing so, however, will test your endurance, and it won't take you very far. If you have a lesser system, you'll have to put up with very poor performance from these programs; in fact, you'd be better off using a DOS word processor or GeoWrite.

That said, let's take a look at the features most of the Windows word processors share. You might think of these as the baseline of features--reasons to make the switch to word processing under Windows. If you're considering a word processor that doesn't offer one or more of the options mentioned here, you'll be missing out on something everyone else takes for granted.

Although most Windows word processors share a majority of features, implementation varies considerably. WordPerfect still uses boxes (entities separate from the page and featuring their own editor) instead of the more common frames (entities integrated into the page and using the same editor as the page) for graphics and incidental text. DeScribe requires that frames be created to contain all text and graphics. Ami Pro's frames are much easier to work with than Word's. Ami Pro seems to assume that you want to work with the frame itself--sizing and moving it--whereas Word seems to assume that you're more interested in working with the contents of the frame and makes selecting the frame and working with its size and shape more awkward.

Almost all of the word processors feature draft mode (allowing you to work with text as text rather than as formatted copy), but Ami Pro retains almost all of the formatting in draft mode while WordPerfect's draft mode looks almost exactly like what you would find in WordPerfect for DOS (right down to the light gray letters and the blue background).

Most Windows word processors also provide a series of different kinds of views. In addition to the draft mode, most allow you to zoom in on your text to see it enlarged and zoom out to see a whole page or two side-by-side pages at once. Some allow you to specify a view according to percentage of full size.

Windows word processors almost universally offer styles for specially formatting paragraphs (WordPerfect also allows for open-ended styles that format the entire document). In addition, they provide options like lines and borders that allow you to box a page or a frame and to put lines between paragraphs and columns.

You can find table editors on many Windows word processors. Most allow you to create a table by simply specifying the number of cells and rows, while others require additional information about the width of the table. Some allow for the full range of table customization, including varying column width and row height, different outline schemes, shading, table outline, captioning, and even colors. Most also offer a rudimentary spreadsheet operation.

Not only Windows word processors but nearly all word processors now offer spelling checkers as standard equipment. Thesauruses have also gone from useful extras to must-haves, and now the thesaurus in WordStar for Windows goes the extra mile, offering definitions, alternative words, near synonyms, and antonyms.

Mail merge (or simply merge) is a powerful feature that you can use for preparing mass mailings for business purposes (you can also use it to generate a Christmas letter or other announcements of family events) using a data file and a form letter.

Most of the programs discussed here offer macros, allowing you to assign a macro to a menu or to an icon bar. In this way, you can make your personal commands as much a part of the program as the commands created by the programmers.

Look for special file managers with your word processor. Look for master document features, too. Most Windows word processors allow you to group document files into complete publications for printing and editing. Most also offer table of contents and index generators that will automatically create these features for a master document, checking each of the component documents in turn.

The remainder of the shared features are common user interface features--the standard keypresses and the file-management and document-processing tools.

What will probably impress you most about these packages is their desktop publishing capabilities. Each approaches desktop publishing in a slightly different way, but all seem to have it as their central focus. Let's face it--no one would put up with a Windows application if it didn't offer superior formatting and control along with its WYSIWYG interface. Many writers will prefer to stick with the DOS word processor they know and love. If you're looking beyond writing and you want to turn out splendid documents, you must ask yourself which tools are most valuable to you, seek out the word processor that offers them, and start publishing.

No one can pick the perfect word processor for you, but the reviews and the features grid in this month's Test Lab will help you make that decision. Like the other word processors in this month's Test Lab, Ami Pro 2.0 has a long list of text-editing, page-formatting, screen-display, and file-handling features. It's both fast and polished, as you'd expect with a second-generation application from a company the size of Lotus. Choosing the best of the group is a tough decision; these are all powerful programs. However, Ami Pro clearly stands out from the others in three areas: advanced layout features, extensive support for styles and macros, and a fully integrated design.

Using Ami Pro's layout features, it's relatively easy to create documents that look as though they've been desktop published. Ami Pro uses frames to let you create, move, and alter the size of your graphics. You can fix a frame on a page, repeat it across multiple pages, make it transparent, and have text flow around it. Graphics can be rotated, flipped, scaled, cropped, edited, adjusted for gray scale, and created from scratch with the built-in drawing and charting programs.

Ami Pro includes support for 24-bit color graphics (for 16 million colors) and can create multiple columns of varying widths and gutter sizes. Styles let you save and reuse a document's text and layout preferences. In Ami Pro, styles can include text, graphics, and automatic macros. They're very flexible; you can move a style from a document to a style sheet or the other way around. You can create global styles that operate across more than one document--so that when you change a style, the connected documents are updated automatically.

The macro language is just as powerful. Add your own menu items and create dialog boxes that change according to the user's response. Once you've created a macro, link it to one of Ami Pro's Smarticons. These are small icons that you can place at the top, bottom, left, or right of the screen. You can also float them so they can be quickly moved to the least obstrusive position.

The package ships with 100 icons; you can use the integrated drawing program to create your own. The program comes with 27 preprogrammed Smarticons, including ones that let you save, print, cut, paste, change viewing levels, show or hide the ruler, and check a document's spelling.

With the new Power Fields feature, you can embed a macro directly into a document. For example, a business letter could automatically request the name of a person, look up the current address in another file, and place the name and address into the letter using a special predefined format.

In the area of integrated design, Ami Pro receives top honors for its group of tightly integrated programs: a draw program, a chart-making program, an image-processing program, a table editor, an equation editor, and an outlining program. Because of its unique integration of component programs, everything in a document can be edited in place, right on the page, including drawings, charts, equations, scanned images, and tables. You make your changes in the document itself, not in a separate screen or view.

Other significant features in Ami Pro include the ability to intelligently import documents in a variety of word processor formats, including WordPerfect, Microsoft Word, Microsoft Word for Windows 1.0, WordStar, MultiMate, DisplayWrite, ASCII, RFT, and DCA. Lotus calls this "no-questions-asked file import." You simply select the file, and the program takes care of converting the file to Ami Pro's native format.

Ami Pro can also import an impressive number of graphics formats, including EPS, PIC, PCX, CGM, HPGL, WMF, TIF, BMP, and DrawPerfect. In addition, you can import data from other kinds of applications, including those that save in dBASE, Paradox, Lotus 1-2-3, Excel, SuperCalc, and DIF formats. A handy Status Bar lets you quickly alter the current style sheet, typeface, type size, editing mode, page number, and location of the Smarticon display. It dynamically displays program information by showing such messages as Playing macros and Comparing documents. It also works with Lotus's own cc:Mail for Windows to let you know when you have new mail.

Add extensive revision marking and document comparison, extremely fast printing, four-level undo, and a free copy of Adobe Type Manager, and you have a powerful word processor that you won't outgrow any time soon. On the downside, you can't edit in the facing-pages view, select a whole document, or flow text from frame to frame. And you'll have to spring for the developer's kit, which costs an additional $9.95.

All in all, Ami Pro is well rounded and feature rich. It stands up well against any Windows word processor, including Microsoft Word for Windows 2.0. For advanced layout features, it's definitely the one to choose. DeScribe Word Processor 3.0 is sort of like a quirky college friend of mine: It doesn't always act the way you expect it to; it's not afraid to take a different route to reach the same destination; and, despite its strange appearance, it's a hard worker that gets the job done. Some of the program's eccentricities can be traced back to its origin--it was first released for IBM's OS/2 operating system.

The DeScribe disks include versions for both Windows and OS/2, making the program a logical choice if your working environment includes both operating systems.

DeScribe works with the concept of objects. Each distinct block of text--such as a headline, footnote, cutline, or body copy--is treated as a separate object, which can be moved, resized, and restyled. Graphics are treated as objects as well. While this approach makes working with complicated document formats a snap, it does take some getting used to if you've never dealt with an object-oriented word processor.

The text and graphics tools, contained in small, movable toolbar windows, can be sent away or summoned back with a simple click of the right mouse button, so they don't use valuable screen real estate when they're not needed. The dialog boxes and menu choices are logically labeled and arranged, and comprehensive help is available for each item. You hide the toolbars and turn off the rulers and borders to get the maximum amount of text onscreen.

DeScribe deviates from accepted Windows standards in some operations, probably a by-product of its OS/2 heritage. For example, to access a menu, you press and then release Alt before pressing the letter of the menu, instead of holding Alt down while pressing the letter. And perhaps the most annoying omission is the lack of a draft mode for faster screen refreshes. Although DeScribe is reasonably speedy on machines with a 386DX chip or better, it's quite poky on a 386SX.

What makes DeScribe a serious contender in the Windows word processor race? It features a wonderful set of 50 predefined style sheets, including brochures, invitations, faxes, invoices, memos, to-do lists, envelopes, and more. Other well-implemented features include automatic drop caps, DDE support, mail merge, search and replace with pattern matching, table generation, and automatic handling of windows and orphans. There's even a facility that allows programmers to launch a compiler from within DeScribe and compile the current document, allowing you to use DeScribe as a sophisticated text editor.

DeScribe's most unique feature is its infinite undo capability. Every action you've taken since you most recently saved the file--whether it's changing a word or inserting a graphic--can be undone a step at a time.

If there's a feature you're missing, such as word count, you can probably add it with DML (DeScribe Macro Language). This comprehensive language, structured like a hybrid of BASIC and Pascal, is reasonably easy to learn. DeScribe includes 30 sample macros and a Macro Manual with the package.

DeScribe's spelling checker and thesaurus are a pleasure to use. You can check the spelling of a particular word, or you can automatically check all the text in a single object or the entire document. The spelling checker also includes definitions, which are particularly handy if you're not sure you're using the correct spelling of a word for a particular context. While DeScribe has a conventional user dictionary, it also allows individual document dictionaries, so you can add words and abbreviations that are specific to a particular document. The thesaurus offers synonyms, antonyms, related words, contrasted words, and compared words, as well as definitions.

DeScribe's drawing tools are as good as those found in some basic structured drawing programs. You can create art in 16 colors using filled or hollow circles, Bezier curves, ovals, lines, polygons, rectangles, rounded rectangles, and squares. Line sizes from hairline to 12 points and 22 fill patterns are also supported. Graphics may be grouped and placed in front of or behind other graphics or text. You can also import bitmap graphics in 20 formats, thanks to DeScribe's licensed HiJaak technology. Text import and export are flexible as well, with almost 60 different formats supported. Most DOS word processors and spreadsheets are supported, but the only Windows formats included are Ami Pro and Excel. You'll have to use DDE or Microsoft Rich Text Format to transfer formatted data to other Windows programs.

For any question not covered in one of the exemplary manuals, the company provides 90 days of free technical support. After that, plan to pay $95 per year or $10 for the first three minutes and $1 per minute after that to get your questions answered. The company also has a support BBS.

If you can live with DeScribe's user-interface oddities, you'll find it a capable and powerful word processor. Although it lacks some features, such as automatic footnotes and a draft mode, its superior object-oriented page-layout capabilities make it an excellent choice for those needing a word processor with desktop publishing capabilities.


In Windows-land, Microsoft Word for Windows has always been the word processor to beat. With Ami Pro 2.0 and WordPerfect 5.1 for Windows, the competition's hotter, but for my money, Word for Windows 2.0 is still king of the hill.

WinWord 1.1 was a solid word processor that introduced a feature that was to become the most imitated interface element in the Windows world--the toolbar. With version 2.0 of WinWord, Microsoft has taken the toolbar and dramatically extended it to include a full row of buttons for the most common tasks.

Since the features accessed by the toolbar are at the heart of WinWord, let's take a quick toolbar tour. Going from left to right, you'll find buttons for opening and saving files; cutting, copying, and pasting; undoing; creating numbered and bulleted lists; building tables; creating frames; drawing (WinWord has an on-board drawing program); graphing; printing envelopes; checking your spelling; printing; and zooming between full-page and 100-percent views.

Almost better than these new buttons is the fact that you can add your own. You can map any native WinWord command or any macro you've created to a button. Here's a simple example of a button I've added to WinWord's toolbar.

I found that I spent a lot of time either typing the date in documents or going through WinWord's menus to insert the current date. I decided it would be nice to have a button on the toolbar for this chore. First, I created a macro to insert the date using the following keystrokes: Alt-I, T, Down Arrow, Down Arrow, Enter. Next, I double-clicked on the toolbar to bring up the options dialog. I selected my insert-date macro's name, indicated where on the toolbar I wanted my button, and chose a button design from the list of those available. I clicked on Change, and my new button was on the toolbar. That's all there was to it.

Looking beyond WinWord's new buttons, you'll find that the ribbon and ruler, familiar from WinWord 1.0, are present in 2.0 but they're combined. The ribbon sports drop-down list boxes for styles, fonts, and font sizes, plus buttons for styles (bold, italic, and underline), justification (left, center, right, and proportional), and tab settings (left, right, center, and decimal), as well as a button to turn paragraph marks on or off.

With 2.0, you can double-click on each of these elements to call important dialogs. For example, double-click on the ruler, and you'll pull up the paragraph style dialog box. If you double-click on the ribbon, you'll get WinWord's character-formatting dialog box. And if you double-click on the toolbar, you'll find yourself in WinWord's Option module, where you change buttons and keyboard assignments, among other things.

As you may have gathered from the description of the buttons, there's more to WinWord than just an improved interface--there's a boatload of new features. I'll touch on some of the most important.

For desktop publishing, this version of WinWord has frames. A frame is simply a way of unifying a graphic or a region of text so it can be moved. And moving frames is easy with WinWord's new drag-and-drop capability. To move a frame, select it, click the mouse on it, and drag it to its destination. (Drag and drop works with any WinWord object and is not limited to frames.)

Another great DTP feature is text rotation, which lets you alter the angle at which text appears.

Desktop publishing features are exciting, but those of us using a word processor for day-to-day tasks will be glad to find some impressive business muscle in WinWord. At the top of the list is envelope printing. For a year, I've been debating whether to get a dedicated label printer, but this feature is so nice that I've decided that WinWord and my printer are all I need. To print an envelope, all you do is click on the Envelope button and put an envelope in your printer. If you have an inside address in your letter, WinWord will find it and supply it in the dialog box. If there's no inside address, you simply type it in. This may seem like a small feature, but it's one that will save you hours every month.

As you'd expect with any top-of-the-line word processor, WinWord comes with an on-board spelling checker and thesaurus, but what's new in 2.0 is a grammar checker. Most writers will get at least some useful advice from this tool.

Other features that bear mentioning include topflight file conversion, superior help for WordPerfect users, excellent print merge, and a first-rate tutorial. When you come down to the bottom line, WinWord is hard to beat. It's done everything I've asked of it and more. I unreservedly recommend it.


WordPerfect has entered the Windows word-processing arena, and pundits wait with bated breath to see whether it will be a success.

Unlike WordPerfect's entry into the Mac, Amiga, and ST environments, this release comes at the tail end of a pack of serious contenders. It's identified as 5.1 (probably to get an edge on the 2.0s and 1.0s on the market), and it's very much analogous to the latest DOS version, with the advantages of a graphic interface. The major complaint about the DOS version has been the length of time it takes to learn the simplest of tasks. Just setting the margins or defining a page layout takes several keypresses, and the logic of the menu system is enough to try any new user's patience.

WordPerfect 5.1 for Windows is a piece of cake to use. Ironically, the people who'll probably have the most trouble adapting to it will be those poor souls who've already invested months and years of effort into learning the DOS version. For them, WordPerfect has provided a keyboard overlay that reminds you a little of the command structure of the DOS version, but no matter what you do, the rules in Windows are different from the rules in DOS.

If you have a large collection of macros from WordPerfect 5.1 for DOS, you can convert them with a handy conversion utility, though some of them won't be usable. But you might need fewer macros because the commands are so much handier in the current version. Also, the macro language has been completely redone, making writing a macro much easier. You can write your macro right in the main editing screen and call it up for editing anytime. WordPerfect for Windows has a rich macro language that provides means to create your own dialog boxes and menus, though in my opinion Ami Pro 2.0 does an even better job in both of these areas.

WordPerfect also provides a file manager that allows you to leave behind the superawkward file handler of Windows 3.0 and the merely awkward file handler of Windows 3.1. However, if you've ever used a truly effective file handler like the ones offered for Macintosh or in GeoWorks Ensemble, you'll look at this collection of file managers (including WordPerfect's) and wonder why they can't be better. I know I do.

As for object linking, WordPerfect doesn't have it yet, Microsoft Word for Windows 2.0 just got it, and Ami Pro has always had it. WordPerfect supports DDE, however, so it's not completely linkless, and it features a handy spreadsheet importer that will convert the most common spreadsheet formats into a WordPerfect table for insertion into text.

WordPerfect doesn't handle frames (or boxes, in WordPerfect parlance) as well as Ami Pro, or even as well as Word (though the boxes appear to be more reliable and leakproof than Word's frames). Rather than letting you simply select a tool and drag a box, WordPerfect requires you to make at least two menu selections. And when WordPerfect boxes contain text, the text isn't directly editable. You have to double-click on the box, which takes you to a separate text editor, where you enter the text in a distinctly marginal WYSIWYG environment. This procedure is a serious drawback for desktop publishers (although it's a vast improvement over the command structure of the DOS product). If frames are an important part of your publication, you should consider Ami Pro over Word or WordPerfect in their current releases.

Another drawback for many users will be WordPerfect's voracious appetite for RAM. I attempted running it on two machines with only 2MB. The 80386 machine simply crashed at regular intervals. When I ran the program on an 80286, it was more insidious and would begin failing in unpredictable ways before eventually dying. On an 80386 with 4MB, its performance was flawless. The lesson is clear: If you have less than 4MB, beef up before installing WordPerfect. It will save hours of frustration with marginal and unpredictable performance.

WordPerfect for Windows is best for users who will be sharing documents with WordPerfect for DOS or another platform. Under these circumstances, DOS WordPerfect users will be drawn to the Windows product and eventually demand to have their own machines refurbished for Windows so they can use WordPerfect for Windows, too.


WordStar for Windows has the distinction of being the only Windows word processor to offer you WordStar- and WordStar 2000--compatible keystrokes, and for that reason it will automatically attract the attention of longtime users of those DOS programs. The real strengths of this programs, however, are advanced text editing and desktop publishing.

In part because it's a Windows product, WSWin handles text editing with lots of flexibility and often with ease. I like being able to use the old WordStar-compatible key commands, and the pull-down menus are fine, but I really like pressing a single button at the top of the screen to choose a paragraph style, font, point size, emphasis (bold, italic, underline, or double underline), or view mode. A press of a button also changes alignment, number of columns, spacing, and other features. There's even a Toolbox bar with buttons that allow you to create and insert graphics. As a touch-typist, I was pleasantly surprised to find how easily I could manipulate text and use the buttons in this interface.

The program's extensive array of text-editing features includes search and replace, spelling checks, a thesaurus, footnotes, endnotes, superscripts, subscripts, headers, footers, and contents- and index-generating capabilities--and the list goes on and on. (See the features grid for the full story.) Gone are the dot commands of earlier WordStar packages, but with Windows, you won't really need them.

According to WordStar, this is the only word processor with a thesaurus that provides synonyms, antonyms, near synonyms, near antonyms, and see-also references. In addition, the thesaurus gives you definitions so that you can choose the best word to convey your meaning. I found 18 definitions for the nondescript good, and for each definition, there's a list of synonyms--pretty impressive. This degree of help and control is available for a number of features.

The package comes with more than 20 paragraph styles, and each controls over 60 paragraph attributes. Need color in your documents? You can choose from 16.7 million colors for text, graphics, tables, borders, and background. There's even widow and orphan control. To make life easier and show you the capabilities of the program, WordStar provides more than 45 document templates--reports, memos, a newsletter, and more. I like being able to open a new file, designate a template, and replace sample text and graphics with my own for a sharp, impressive document.

Probably the biggest adjustment for you if you're a longtime WordStar user is working with frames in this frame-based program. Whether you're creating or importing text, graphics, or tables, you'll use these frames; and the controls you use will take some getting used to, especially if you're not accustomed to Windows.

For getting a handle on using frames and other features, I found the online tutorial indispensable; the four manuals that come with the program are well done, too. If you stick with the tutorial and practice using these frames, the payoff is a remarkable degree of control over the way your document looks.

With WSWin, you also get Bitstream FaceLift, which includes 13 scalable typefaces, and Correct Grammar, the company's grammar checker, which works with several Windows products.

Need to import or reference spreadsheet data files? WSWin can do it. It can also import major graphics formats, including DRW, PLT, EPS, WMF, MacPaint, TIF, PIX, PCX, and BMP. And WordStar offers you a long list of major word processors that you can import from or export to. What's more, in addition to its DDE linking capabilities with other Windows applications, WSWin offers links to DOS applications.

As powerful and attractive as WSWin is, there are some significant omissions you need to be aware of. For example, you can open only one document at a time, although it's possible to open two versions of the WordStar program. Also, WSWin doesn't offer macros, which keeps you from automating certain procedures. Finally, I wasn't able to get a word count without running Correct Grammar. This isn't a tremendous inconvenience, but the word counts aren't as easy as they were in the DOS version.

I found performance lacking on a 386SX/20 but just fine on a 486SX/25. If you lack powerful hardware and especially if you need speed without a multitude of desktop publishing features, a great DOS word processor like WordStar 6.0 or 7.0 will probably better meet your needs. However, if you want WordStar command-key compatibility and if the features and speed of WSWin meet your needs, it's a capable program you'll want to consider.

Get Me to the Church on Time

No one can guarantee a marriage will last, but a new software product from Ninga Software will at least make sure the wedding ceremony is a dream instead of a nightmare. Ninga is a young company determined to fill a niche in the home-software market with Wedding Planner, a complete guide to orchestrating a wedding.

Designed for IBM PCs and compatibles, Wedding Planner helps prospective brides and grooms completely organize all those time-consuming but necessary wedding details in a concise, alphabetical format that's simple to access. Perhaps the biggest advantage of using the program is that it handles all list keeping by tracking invitations, RSVPs, gifts, and thank-you notes. You can view up-to-the-minute information in each of 15 different reports that will tell you, for instance, which RSVPs you're still waiting for.

Daily calendar prompts serve as reminders for an assortment of things, such as when to order the bride's gown and when to book a reception hall. A budget feature allows you to keep a running total of all wedding expenditures. Tips on everything from buying an engagement ring to ordering a wedding cake are included in the General Wedding Information feature. You can even print out address labels for your invitations and thank-you notes.

Suggested retail price for Wedding Planner is $49.95. For further information, contact Ninga Software, 736 8th Avenue SW, Suite 330, Calgary, Alberta, Canada T2P 1H4; (800) 265-5555.

Schemers Unite

Don't let the name fool you. The SCHEMER's Guide, published by Schemers of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, isn't a handbook for conspiracy; it's a guide to what some astute educators hope will be the future programming language of choice. Scheme is a streamlined programming language, derived from the artificial-intelligence language LISP, which places concept above syntax--unlike BASIC and Pascal.

The president of Schemers, Terry Kaufman, says the way computer science is introduced to students in school these days could jeopardize the country's future as a competitor in the technology marketplace. "Colleges are already noticing a drop in the number of students choosing to major in computer science," Kaufman says.

After spending ten years working for IBM, Kaufman thinks businesses, too, should be concerned about the quality of computer-science knowledge new employees--especially recent college graduates--bring to their jobs. Scheme, he says, is such a simple language to learn (it encompasses object-oriented programming and techniques), yet it's very powerful, and it helps you learn other languages more easily. To find out more, contact Schemers, 4250 Galt Ocean Mile, Suite 7U, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33308; (305) 776-7376.

Life Can Be Easier

A new development from Microsystems Software should help some of the 43 million disabled Americans who are either currently working or looking for a job. ADAPTA-LAN, a set of local-area-network programs designed for physically challenged users, is installed on a network of IBM PCs or compatibles, providing employees with screen magnification; word prediction; and access to the PC by way of external switches, visual beeps, and more. ADAPTA-LAN's nine software packages include MAGic and MAGic Deluxe screen-magnification software for DOS and Windows; HandiKEY and HandiCODE for PC access without a keyboard; HandiSHIFT and HandiWORD for those with limited keyboarding ability; HandiCHAT for nonspeaking persons; HandiPHONE telephone and modem access for people with physical limitations; and SeeBEEP, a visual indicator of a PC audio beep for the hearing-impaired.

The package retails for $2,995 per server with an unlimited number of users. For more information, contact Microsystems Software, 600 Worcester Road, Framingham, Massachusetts 01701-5342; (508) 879-9000.

Super Floppy

Maxell says its new Super RD (Reliable and Durable) 3 1/2-inch floppy disk, the MF2-HD, is for "less accommodating" environments--as in ultradusty offices and different floppy drives. One of Maxell's improvements over other disk brands is its patented, airtight Dual Interlocking Flex-Shutter, which provides "a virtually contamination-free internal floppy disk environment." The shutter fits more tightly against the disk casing than other shutters do, helping to keep out all kinds of dust and microscopic particles that could contaminate the inside magnetic surface.

Both the shutter and casing are made of new materials developed by Maxell. According to Maxell's tests, no visible wear occurs even after more than 10,000 shutter openings and closings. The highly flexible cartridge casing lets it adapt to changes such as the level of pressure applied by different disk drives. As a result, the magnetic head achieves optimal contact with the magnetic disk at all times, and that maximizes the reading and writing accuracy of the disk drive.

Maxell has set the suggested retail prices at $35.70 for a package of ten unformatted disks and $38.60 for a package of ten formatted disks.

A Better Mousetrap

The ideal mouse might not be a mouse at all, according to Interlink Electronics, maker of a mouse replacement for those who find conventional mice and trackballs cumbersome.

Interlink has adapted its Force Sensing Resistors (FSRs) to allow you to use a key, button, or joystick as a full two-button mouse with fingertip control. The device is integrated into your keyboard rather than attached as a peripheral. Toggling a key, button, or joystick lets you control the direction and speed of the cursor.

Interlink's alternatives include a Dedicated Pointer Location, which is like having a two-button mouse integrated into your laptop case or keyboard and with which you can perform point-and-click operations with one hand; a Joystick Pointer, which is a hinged, collapsible stick the size of a keyboard key that's integrated into the keyboard; and the Key Mouse (developed in conjunction with Key Tronic), which is a key-cap pointer that uses FSRs placed under a key cap.

Integration into existing keyboard designs is simple and inexpensive through a fully debugged, single-chip interface that supports RS-232C serial ports, the IBM PS/2 mouse port, and standard bus mouse interfaces. Designed to operate with both DOS and Windows mouse drivers, the devices require no software modification to the host computer. For more information, contact Interlink Electronics, 1110 Mark Avenue, Carpinteria, California 93013-2918; (805) 684-2100.

Slidex Disk-Storage System

Now there's hope that science will cure disk-zap in our lifetimes. The Slidex FD-3000 is a patented filing system for 3 1/2-inch floppies that protects disks from static and magnetism while allowing you to file and retrieve them easily.

Disks are "snapped" onto rigid plastic pages that can be stored as hanging files, in three-ring binders, or as stand-alone books holding up to 24 disks per book. A thick, stainless-steel plate inside the front and back covers provides magnetic protection.

To find out where to buy Slidex disk-storage units, contact TRIWEF (Slidex distributor), 200 Valley Road, Suite 204, Mount Arlington, New Jersey 07856; (201) 770-2800.

Roll-Your-Own Manuals

Any company, large or small, stands to benefit from having a policy handbook that answers questions most often asked by employees--information on salary reviews, company holidays, benefits, leaves of absence, and other critical policies. Lack of such policies can affect employee morale and even result in legal problems down the road. Preparing an employee manual can give employers the impetus to form policies when they haven't previously done so.

Employee ManualMaker has been edited and reviewed by a variety of industry specialists. It includes more than 125 policies and 30 benefits, which are organized, defined, and written for review and customization.

A special primer section includes advice on the best ways to find and hire employees, an employee application with a special preemployment release to help gain information from previous employers, and much more. Employee ManualMaker retails for $130. For more information, contact JIAN Tools for Sales, 127 Second Street, Los Altos, California 94022; (800) 346-5426.