Signature 1.02. (word-processing software) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Herbert L. Tyson
Finally--here's a word processor with the full range of features, ease of use, and graphical capabilities XyWrite and Displaywrite users have been asking for.
Signature, XYQUEST's upgrade for XyWrite and IBM Displaywrite, is the full-featured word processor many of us have been waiting for. And it isn't just another jam-packed program; it's fast, too. Version 1.02, the latest release as of spring, has a search-and-replace feature 16-20 times faster than the one in XyWrite.
If you missed Signature's release last November, you aren't alone. Bequeathed to XYQUEST when IBM disbanded its desktop software division last year, Signature was virtually unadvertised. It's just as well--the original release wasn't the lean, mean writing machine it is today. Version 1.02 is fast, efficient, and well worth looking into if you're in the market for a word processor or have been wanting to upgrade the one you have.
Signature has replaced XyWrite's arcane and illogical interface with the CUA (Common User Access) interface. CUA lets users move among diverse applications without having to learn a new interface for each one. XyWrite converts who don't want CUA can move their old keyboard setups to Signature using the transition utilities provide with the XyWrite upgrade package. XyWrite command line aficionados need not despair, either--the command line is still there, enhanced with a built-in command stack. The stack remembers the latest commands and will recall them with a simple keystroke.
Most of the core features expected in today's industrial-strength word processors are here. These include indexing, tables of contents, conditional mail merges, footnote and endnote control, automatic numbering, styles, snaking columns, column tables, spelling, thesaurus, context-sensitive help, document summary information, macros, and user programming. Signature has built-in file and directory management, file find, and multifile text search, plus side-by-side document comparison. Integrating Word for Word's conversion modules, Signature provides robust (but imperfect) document conversion between itself and Microsoft Word for DOS, WordPerfect, Microsoft Rich Text Format, dBASE, Lotus, Excel, and a wide variety of other text and graphics formats.
One exceptional aspect of Signature is its search-and-replace function. Its wide array of wildcards and special search characters enables users to specify virtually any search pattern imaginable. Included are wildcards for punctuation, line separators, word separators, letters, numbers, and more. Improved over XyWrite, Signature now sports search capabilities usually found only in programming editor (OR, NOT, and "regular expressions"), as well as the ability to protect wildcard matches when replacing.
Signature's biggest accomplishment is WYSIWYG editing at zoom levels from 5 to 400 percent. The program incorporates Bitstream's scalable Speedo fonts for onscreen display and for printing. Speedo fonts provide nearly 800 characters at virtually any point size in three type-faces: Courier, Swiss, and Dutch. Signature is the only "pure DOS" word processor that lets you create and edit documents while working in a graphical WYSIWYG mode. Even in graphics mode, Signature still seems livelier on a 286 12-MHz CPU than Word for Windows is on a 386 20-MHz system.
One of Signature's big strengths is style handling. One particularly interesting facet is the ability to embed text as part of a style definition. Suppose you have a style called Chapter that always has the same leading text. You can include the word Chapter and a chapter counter as part of the style. Anytime you apply that style, Chapter and the incremented chapter number automatically appear in the document.
Flexibility with styles wouldn't mean very much if you were limited to one style per paragraph--a limitation of Microsoft Word for Windows and Lotus Ami Pro. Signature lets you use multiple styles within a paragraph. Consider a recurring passage (such as a warning or a notice) whose format differs from surrounding text in several respects. Signature lets you handle the transition to and from that passage with styles, rather than with a series of individual formatting commands. This can greatly ease the task of formatting complex documents. Using styles is easy: Ctri-Shift-S drops down a list of all currently assigned styles for point-and-shoot insertion at the cursor.
A key reason for the popularity of XyWrite--and now Signature--with the writing and publishing community is the completely customizable keyboard. Don't like CUA? Get rid of it. Would you like to be able to use the left and right Alt keys as distinct shift states? No problem. You can even tell Signature to use nonstandard keys as Shift keys.
Signature's menu interface is also fully customizable and programmable. In addition to letting users modify the main menu and help files, Signature supports user-created stand-alone dialog boxes that reside in separate files. These creations can be invoked with key assignments or directly from the command line using the DLG (DialoG) command. Skilled users can create sophisticated new capabilities, adding features such as address and telephone books, customized lists, boilerplate selection, and customized search facilities.
Sure to be one of Signature's least utilized but most powerful aspects is Signature Programming Language (SPL), an improved version of XyWrite's XPL. For most simple editing chores, the built-in macro recorder lets you record and replay macros on the fly, without learning any SPL at all. For users who need more horsepower, however, SPL has much to offer.
Like most products, Signature could stand improvement. The speller and thesaurus are slower and less thorough than XyWrite's. Plus, if you spell check w ant, Signature has no qualms about the w just sitting there all by itself.
The slowness of the spelling checker is ameliorated somewhat by the fact that you can instruct Signature to spell check a document in one pass, placing all questionable words into a file. It's then a quick job to edit that file. I edited this article in about half a minute.
Another issue is manipulation of graphics--which is not itself a graphical process in Signature. The ability to size and scale graphics and manipulate tables using a mouse would add immeasurably to the interface. This isn't likely for the DOS--only version, but it will probably be included in the Windows version, which XYQUEST is now preparing. Users who work with graphics and tables may find the advantages of a graphical user interface (GUI) compelling enough to move to the Windows version.
Even without a true GUI, Signature now stands well above the non-windows versions of WordPerfect 5.1 and Microsoft Word, Signature's main competitors. Since the introduction of their Windows counterparts, the evolution of WordPerfect and Word has slowed.
For fast WYSIWYG editing without Windows' overhead, Signature is now the best (and perhaps only) product on the market. Of course, with fierce competition between OS/2 and Windows, some may question the very existence of a market for non-GUI word processors; aware of this, XYQUEST is readying the Windows version of Signature for a late-summer release.
Whether you want to wait for the Windows release or not, you'll be hard-pressed to find a word processor that's as fast and feature-rich as Signature 1.02. I highly recommend it for any serious writer.