Ami Pro 3.0. (word-processing software) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Mark Minasi
Last year, Lotus Development released version 2.0 of its excellent Windows-based word processor, Ami Pro. It was a major upgrade that included an abundance of new features. This year, Lotus does it again with Ami Pro 3.0. Some dull spots have been polished in this version, which is also feature rich and fairly fast--easily packed with enough stuff to warrant upgrading.
Want to move some text? Highlight it, and then click and hold the cursor anywhere in the highlighted area. The cursor becomes a pointer with a scissors. Now move the cursor anywhere, then release the button to move the text. This is without doubt my favorite 3.0 feature.
The Smartlcons just got smarter. In Ami Pro 2.0, you couldn't make your own icons, and modifying the Smartlcon bar was a pain. Version 3.0 has multiple Smartlcon bars, plus icons that are simple BMP-type bitmap files that you can alter or create with Paintbrush. You can also put "spacers" between groups of icons, allowing you to put the cut, copy, and paste group in a different area from the frame create and frame modify group.
Right mouse-button support: You've always wanted it; now, you've got it. If you're like me, you're constantly modifying a style or a frame. Under 2.0, that meant highlighting the item in question and then clicking on some menu item to change it. Now, you just click the right mouse button. It's an improvement, for sure, but why don't vendors follow the lead of Micrografx, which lets you define the right mouse button to do anything in its Designer product?
Ami Pro 3.0 lets you see a document now before opening it; it lets you do the same thing with a style sheet. And that style sheet preview is useful, as serious Ami Pro users depend upon style sheets. Trust me: You're wasting your time massively if you're not using style sheets.
Envelope printing is no fun under any circumstances--on a humid day, not only will the laser printer address the envelope but it will also conveniently seal it. But the new envelope-printing function in Ami Pro 3.0 is easy to use. The program also has a new-and-improved mail merge for those of you creating junk mail with your PC.
Ami Pro has always had a spelling checker and a thesaurus. Now, the spelling checker is the unabridged Houghton-Mifflin dictionary. There's also one of those annoying grammar checkers, if you like that sort of thing. They're good for finding some things that spelling checkers can't find, such as when you type verses when you meant versus.
Today, it seems as if everyone's tweaking programs to use OLE, which enables you to combine the best features of your favorite packages in a single document. Lotus has tried to implement OLE in Ami Pro 3.0, but sadly, it has fallen short of the mark. While Ami Pro is OLE-aware, it's not OLE-smart. For example, it can't start up an OLE server like Excel unless excel.exe is on your PC's path--a totally unacceptable bug shared by no other product that I know of in the industry.
But you will find more helpful help in 3.0. There's a tutorial that will get new users up and running quickly, as well as improved context-sensitive help. For WordPerfect users, there's a SwitchKit that makes Ami Pro respond to the WordPerfect keystrokes.
Of course, with every great new upgrade, there are some problems. Since version 1.2, Ami Pro has allowed you to anchor frames to paragraphs, something that I do all the time. But now, the default is not to anchor a frame to a paragraph but rather to set it on a particular page and in a particular location. Despite the Set As Default button in its Modify Frame dialog box, Ami Pro 3.0 refuses to remember that I anchor frames to paragraphs. Hence, I've got to click on the Modify Frame and Anchor to Paragraph Above buttons every time I create a frame. Ditto for the graphics scaling of a frame.
And it's totally unacceptable that version 3.0 of a Windows 3.x product still has so many crashes. I've typed three-page memos on an 80486 with 16MB of RAM and 300MB of free hard disk space, only to have Ami Pro 3.0 crash-taking my data with it-when I saved the file. Other vendors are stamping out their UAEs; Lotus, you can, too.
Ami Pro 3.0 also has some bugs that it has suffered from since version 1.2, bugs which have been reported to Lotus but that still have not been fixed. For example, the search-and-replace function will sometimes destroy data in a document; the macro language is limited and buggy; and you can't search for and replace two consecutive carriage returns in a document.
In spite of these shortcomings, if you need a full-featured word processor, Ami Pro 3.0 is every bit as good as Word for Windows. WordPerfect for Windows is a real dissappointment and little competition.
But what about the lower-and higher-end parts of the market? What about the person who only needs to write the odd memo, letter, or 10-page report? And what about the person trying to lay out a 200-page book? Is Ami Pro 3.0 the right tool? Possibly. Ami Pro 3.0 comes with a pile of prebuilt style sheets that do much of the work of document preparation for you. There's even a booklet that profiles these style sheets, making it child's play to find the style sheet that's right for you. So I can recommend Ami Pro 3.0 to the busy executive without reservation.
As to Ami Pro's desktop publishing abilities, I can speak from experience, since I've written and laid out two 200+-page books with Ami Pro 2.0 and 3.0. It does 90 percent cent of what you'll need to get your document looking pretty. The nature of Ami Pro (oriented toward frames and style sheets) appeals strongly to me, as it seems logical and lets me leverage the design work of one document into my future documents.
However, Ami Pro lacks "floating" frames, frames that say, "Let's see--if I can fit right here on the page, then that's where I'll go. But if I can't, then I'll move to the next page and grab the text that originally appeared after me and use it to fill up the previous page." This type of experimentation helps prevent the ugly appearance of large white blocks at the end of a page. Unlike using Page-Maker, if you want to change a font or font size throughout a style shet, then you've got to change each style by hand (there is, however, a macro that will do most of this work for you). There's no way to place text indentations on the left for left-hand pages, but you can put those indents on the right for right-hand pages. Quibbles, yes, but FrameMaker can do those things; perhaps Ami Pro 3.1 will also be able to do them.
If you bought Ami Pro 2.0 after January 31, 1992, you can upgrade to 3.0 for $49. It costs $79 to upgrade if you purchased 2.0 before then. If you want to switch from one of the other word processors on the market to Ami Pro 3.0, you can do that for $129. Buying Ami Pro 3.0 outright costs the usual $495 that all word-processing packages seem to cost these days. No matter what the cost, it will be money well spent. Ami Pro 3.0 is without a doubt the best Windows word processor on the market.