Classic Computer Magazine Archive Article from Compute! magazine

PC-Write Word Processor
For PC & PCjr

Sheldon Leemon

Requirements: IBM PC with at least 64K RAM, any DOS, and a disk drive (128K RAM and DOS 2.0 or higher recommended); or an Enhanced Model PCjr with DOS 2.1.

Although an IBM PC (and even a PCjr) cannot be considered an inexpensive computer, sometimes the cost of the machine seems to be no more than a down payment after you buy the software needed to operate it. Word processing, for example, is one of the most popular applications for personal computers. But many of the most popular commercial word processing programs for IBM computers cost $400 or more. That's why it's so refreshing to find a program like PC-Write-a professionally designed, fullfeatured word processor that is practically free for the asking.
    PC-Write is not commercial software in the usual sense. It is distributed via the shareware concept. You're allowed to copy and share the PC-Write disk, which contains both the programs and documentation. Indeed, such copying is encouraged, because it's the primary means of distributing the program.
    If you don't know anyone who can share PC-Write with you, it is available from many user groups, bulletin board systems, and from the publisher, Quicksoft. Quicksoft charges a minimal $10 fee to cover the cost of the disk, postage, and handling. That's a price that is hard to beat.
    However, shareware-or user-supported software, as it is also known-is not just an exercise in altruism. Rather, it is a marketing approach that some software authors developed as an alternative to the more traditional channels of commercial software distribution. Its proponents like to compare it with public television. Under the shareware concept, quality software is made freely available to the public without obligation. You can make as many backup copies as you want and try out the program at your leisure. If, after using the program for a while, you decide that it's suitable, you're encouraged to support the efforts of the software developer by making a voluntary contribution. Though a specific amount is usually suggested, any contribution is appreciated.

Chain-Letter Software
PC-Write gives the shareware concept a special twist. If you're satisfied with PC-Write, you're asked to register your copy of the program by sending $75 to Quicksoft. This $75 fee is rather modest compared to the price of comparable word processors, and it buys you more benefits than you usually get with commercial software. You receive not only a copy of PC-Write personalized with your registration number and a bound manual, but also a telephone number you can call with questions about the software, a copy of the Pascal and machine language source code, and the next major update of the program.
    The personal registration number is the key to the most unusual benefit. Whenever you share your personalized copy of PC-Write with someone, their copy will bear your registration number. If that person subsequently registers PC-Write, Quicksoft mails you a $25 commission. There's no limit to the number of commissions you can earn. Therefore, an aggressive registrant can actually make money by distributing the program to friends and associates, like the software equivalent of a (legal) chain letter.
    As attractive as this innovative marketing concept sounds, it is bound to generate some skepticism about the quality and commercial value of the program. You get what you pay for, right? Well, not always.
    First, PC-Write was programmed by a pro. Designer Bob Wallace has been writing text editors since 1969. He has a master's degree in computer science and worked for Microsoft for a number of years, where he wrote much of the MS-Pascal compiler and runtime package. (PC-Write and many other commercial programs are written in MS-Pascal.)
    Second, a careful examination of PC-Write bears out Wallace's observation that in order to make money from voluntary contributions, a program must be very good indeed.

Separate Editor And Printer Driver
Like all word processing programs, PC-Write lets you enter, edit, and format text to print it exactly the way you want it. Unlike most word processors, however, PC-Write splits these functions between two separate programs to save memory. This requires you to save your file, exit the editor program, and then load the printer driver program before you can print your document. Fortunately, if you have more than 128K of memory and are using DOS 2.0 or higher, you can keep the editor and your text in memory while running the printer program.
    The editor program does most of the real work. It lets you enter text and format the appearance of each line on the screen. All the usual capabilities are supported, such as adjustable margins, centering, and right-margin justification. The PC-Write printer driver is used only to divide these lines of text into pages and to properly place headers and footers. Except for special features such as boldfacing, underlining, and subscripts, your text is printed exactly as it looks on the screen. Any line length can be specified, but only 80 columns will appear on the screen at once. To see widths greater than 80 characters, you must scroll the text window right or left.
    The editor portion of PCWrite is responsive and very powerful, boasting a wide range of features. You can enter text in either insert mode (new characters make room by pushing old characters to the right), or overstrike mode (new characters replace old characters). You toggle between the two modes with the Scroll Lock key on the PC or the Function-S combination on the PCjr.
    The wide range of cursor control commands is very logically assigned to the special keys on the IBM keyboard or to double-key combinations. For example, the left and right arrow keys by themselves move the cursor left or right one character; when pressed with a Shift key, they move the cursor to the left or right of the screen; and when pressed with Shift and Control, they move the cursor left or right one word. Other combinations let you move the cursor to the top or bottom of the screen, the beginning or end of the document, forward or backward one paragraph, and allow you to scroll the whole screen up or down one line or page at time. You can even mark the current cursor position so you can return there later by pressing another double-key combination. In addition, the program internally numbers each line of text. You can see the current line number by pressing Shift-F9 and jump directly to another line by entering its number.
    For all of the editing commands, PC-Write makes special provisions for the PCjr keyboard so multiple keystrokes aren't required to emulate the full PC keyboard.

On-Line Help Screen
Since so many cursor commands may be a little hard to keep track of, pressing the F1 key brings up a help screen that details all of the special key assignments. You can customize the program, too-permanently assigning any command sequence to one of the Control key combinations. That way, if you are already used to another word processor, you can set up PC-Write to emulate it (the default assignments correspond to those used by WordStar).
    PC-Write also lets you move the cursor to a specific word or series of words using the Search command. You merely designate a search string by pressing F9 and typing in the word or phrase. From then on, a single keypress moves the cursor either forward or backward to the next occurrence of that string in the document. You can even use certain wild card characters in your search string. An F5 character will match any letter or digit, an F6 will match any character except a letter or number, an F7 will match any one character, and an F5 will match an end-of-line character. For example, the search string "comput[F5]" could be used to find both "computer" and "computing"
    You can also designate a replacement string. Hitting the F10 key replaces the next occurrence of the search string with the replacement string, and Shift-F10 replaces all occurrences of the search string within the text. There is even an unreplace feature so you can switch them back in case you made a mistake!
    PC-Write makes it easy to delete, move, and duplicate text. There are single-key commands for deleting a character, a word, or a line. For deleting or moving larger blocks of text, the F6 key lets you start defining sections of your document (this text appears in inverse video). You can use all of the program's powerful cursor movement keys to extend the defined area. For example, a whole paragraph can be marked by pressing F6 and Control-PgDn (next paragraph). When you've defined the paragraph, you can delete it by pressing a single key.
    Whenever you delete more than one character at a time, the erased text is moved to a holding area so it can be inserted somewhere else. This feature can also be used to retrieve text that was removed by mistake. Defined blocks can be saved on disk or printed out, and text can be merged into a document from a disk file. You can also duplicate a defined block of text elsewhere in the document.

Convenience Features
In addition to its clean implementation of standard editing features, PC-Write contains many nice extras which are usually found, if at all, in only the most comprehensive (and expensive) word processors. There is a single keystroke combination which transposes two letters, rather than making you delete one letter, move the cursor, and type it in again. Likewise, the F8 key switches lowercase letters to uppercase and vice versa.
    When loading a file, the program lets you choose whether you want an automatic backup file created. A keyboard macro feature lets you define any key or combination of keys as any series of characters. This means you can insert commonly used phrases, such as your name, with a single keystroke. It also means you can customize the program's command sequences to make them easier to remember, and frequently used combinations of these commands can be available by pressing one key. The keyboard macros can even be made a permanent part of the PC-Write editor by saving them in a disk file.
    The level of customization possible with PC-Write is truly staggering. You can create special characters which will send any sequence of command codes to the printer, allowing you to create overstrike characters or even dot-matrix graphics characters. You can designate how special characters will appear on the screen, so that underlined text, for example, can be displayed in boldface, inverse, or blinking characters. If you're using a color monitor, you can set the foreground and background colors for regular text, marked text, text which appears between printer control characters, and the status line.
    If you're a programmer, the possibilities are endless. Because you can obtain the source code for PC-Write by registering your copy, virtually any modification can be made.

Excellent Support
The author's commitment of support is as important as the program's many fine features. One of the advantages of the shareware system is that it opens up dialogue between the software author and users. You can report bugs and suggest improvements, and the unconventional method of distribution frees the author to make changes as often as he wishes. PC-Write has undergone a number of revisions within a short period of time. Some of the more recent enhancements include the keyboard macros and the special font characters for turning on boldfacing and underlining.
    Inevitably, there are still some features of PC-Write that aren't perfect. Even if your computer has enough RAM (at least 128K) to hold both the editor program and printer driver in memory at once, you still can't switch back and forth. It's also inconvenient to have to exit the editor to DOS whenever you need to see a disk directory. And it would be nice if microspace justification were added to the printer driver.
    These problems are less important, however, when viewed in context of the program's overall excellence. Moreover, because of the ongoing support of PC-Write, there is a pretty fair chance that even these flaws will be cleaned up in a future revision.

Quicksoft 219 First Avenue North, #224
Seattle, WA 98109
$10 (program disk)
$75 (registered copy)