Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 65 / OCTOBER 1985 / PAGE 74

The Writer's Tool For Atari

Robert L. Riggs

Requirements: Atari 400/800, XL, or XE computer with at least 48K RAM, a disk drive, and a printer.

Those of us who can't afford the superexpensive computers-and still need to do extensive computing-try to get multiple duty from our inexpensive machines. Games are nice. But we also want programming languages, spreadsheets, database managers, and quality word processors. As a high school teacher, I use my Atari 800XL for all kinds of time - and labor - saving jobs. Still, word processing is my primary concern and, until now, I've not found a program that was sophisticated enough for all my needs.
    But The Writer's Tool is an extrapolation of all the other Atari word processors I've tried. Anything they can do, The Writer's Tool does better. Even the documentation is superior. The 166-page manual is clear and concise, and it includes an 89-page tutorial especially designed for those who are completely new to word processing, plus a 56-page reference section.
    If you've tried other word processors for Atari computers, you'll find the transition to The Writer's Tool quite painless-and exciting. A quick once-over to note the new capabilities gets you started. Just pull out the quick reference card from the front of the manual and start typing. Then, after getting comfortable with The Writer's Tool, read the entire manual and try out each new feature. The tutorial section leads you, step by step, through each function. The reference section provides detail. Optimized Systems Software makes this word processor very easy to learn and use.
    This doesn't mean that The Writer's Tool is a simplistic, third grade level word processor-not by a long shot. It starts right out with a customizer program that lets you personalize The Writer's Tool to suit your own purposes and tastes. You can preset the printing format, screen display, and sound options so your preferences load automatically each time you boot the program. It's great to be able to change the luminance of the characters and background colors for clearer visibility. Or you can vary the blinking speed of the cursorwhich, by the way, can be either a block or an underline. You can even adjust the screen width to display more or fewer characters per line.

Printing Versatility
By presetting the printer format, you can select new default values for page length, line spacing, beginning footer line, font, single sheet option, line length, left margin, justification, and all tab stops. The selectable fonts are interesting, too. I have two Centronics printers, a 737 (equivalent to the Atari 825) and a 739 (a 737 with graphics). According to their manuals, each has only three fonts plus elongated versions. But The Writer's Tool can print four fonts. Somehow it comes up with a second proportionally spaced font that Centronics doesn't even document!
    The Writer's Tool, of course, supports all the major printers: Atari, the Epsons, Gemini 10X, Prowriter/NEC 8023, Okidata 82A and 92, Comriter CR-II, Mannesman Tally Spirit 80, and so on. There's also a generic printer option, or you can insert printer control codes directly into the text. Printer problems should be practically nonexistent with The Writer's Tool.
    Among the special printing features is something called the automatic header block. SHIFT-CTRL-H puts a block of easily modifiable printer commands on the screen for creating standard page formats. The block has a reverse slash that enables what OSS calls split justification. Everything to the left of the diagonal is justified to the left margin, while everything to the right is printed at the right margin. Now, printing tables of contents is a breeze.
    In fact, The Writer's Tool offers four kinds of justification: (1) justification off, but word-wrap retained; (2) right justification; (3) word-wrap off; and (4) microspaced justification (for printers that offer this feature). You can insert "soft hyphens" in long words, but hyphenation occurs only if the word can be split between two print lines. Or you can insert "hard spaces" to prevent phrases like "Figure 5" from being split between lines.
    Another special printing feature is a graphics driver that, with certain printers, lets you include pictures and graphs in your documents. The images can be created with a Koalapad, Atari Touch Tablet, Atari light pen, or virtually any other drawing program that uses graphics mode 7.5 or 8.
    Like Atari's popular AtariWriter word processor, The Writer's Tool has a print-preview feature. But unlike AtariWriter, it lets you edit the previewed text as well. There's also a Print System screen that tells you, among other things, the number of words in the document. You can use the Disk I/O System screen to determine the number of characters in the document, the location of the cursor, the amount of available memory, and how much memory remains.

Typeover And Insert Modes
For entering text, The Writer's Tool offers both typeover and insert modes. Other word processors sometimes offer only one or the other (for example, AtariWriter is locked in insert mode). Even in typeover mode, you can insert characters or lines with The Writer's Tool by pressing CTRL-INSERT or SHIFT-INSERT. Pressing CTRL-I toggles the insert mode, denoted by a flashing vertical bar. If you don't like to watch the text ahead of the cursor repositioning itself as you insert, you can press SHIFT-CTRL-INSERT to open up a large block of empty space. After inserting your text, you can remove the unused space by pressing CTRL-J.
    If you prefer one-handed cursor movement, CTRL-CAPS turns on a mode that lets you manipulate the cursor keys without simultaneously pressing CTRL. A reminder at the bottom of the screen indicates when this mode is switched on, along with the CAPS LOCK and inverse video modes.
    A big kudo is deserved for the Merge command. Pressing M from the Print System menu activates the Merge System. This is a subprogram which handles the creation of database files and the merged printing of these files with template documents. That means that you can use the built-in database (or another, like SyriFile) to automatically insert names and addresses, for example, into form letters. Don't worry. The tutorial section takes you through it step by step.
    The Writer's Tool lets you move swiftly through your documents. You can quickly scroll forward or backward with CTRL-F (forward) or CTRL-R (reverse), though the text scrolls only 20 lines, so you have to glance up or down three lines to find where you left off. But it's fast-unlike AtariWriter.

A Few Criticisms
There are a few things about The Writer's Tool that could stand improvement. CTRL-W moves the cursor by word, which is nice, but if you move to the end of the document with CTRL-W, the cursor ends up on the last letter of the last word-so if you start typing immediately, you make a typo.
    Another drawback is that The Writer'sTool uses OSS's DOS XL instead of Atari DOS. DOS XL supports single and double density but not the Atari 1050's one-and-a-half density. This isn't a severe handicap-since the disk isn't copy-protected, you can transfer the program to another disk that contains any DOS you like, including the latest DOS 2.5.
    The provisions for tabs could be improved. A special feature of the old Atari Word Processor that came in handy was decimal and right-justified tabs. The Writer's Tool offers neither.
    Still, I can live with a few relatively minor shortfalls. The Writer's Tool remains a superbly designed and executed word processor for serious use on Atari computers. OSS recently cut the price by $30 and now includes a 20,000-word spelling checker as well. And, for once, "user-friendly" doesn't mean "reduced to second grade simplicity." If you've been waiting for a word processor that makes serious writing a pleasure, or if you intend to use your Atari for more than occasional writing, wait no longer. The Writer's Tool can take care of your word processing needs for a long time to come.

The Writer's Tool
Optimized Systems Software
1221-B Kentwood Avenue
San Jose, CA 95129