IBM Personal Computing
Donald B. Trivette
One of the problems of writing about technology in general and computers in particular is how fast one product surpasses another. So this month I'm going to revisit three past columns and update you on some new and better products.
In June of 1985 I wrote about the Hewlett-Packard LaserJet printer which has since become an industry standard, although I take no credit for that. At the time I tested the machine, I asked the engineering types at Hewlett-Packard why they didn't make a combination office copier and computer printer since the two technologies seem so similar. They told me that the machines were really incompatible and the cost would double. Having been raised to respect police and engineers, I made no mention of the copier idea in my column. Nor did I dwell on the limitation of only being able to use eight different type styles—after all, that was in 1985.
Last month Xerox sent me its 4045 Laser printer to test. It has an arm under which one can slip an original and—guess what?—out comes a perfect Xerox copy. The copier feature adds a couple hundred dollars to the cost of the printer, but it's worth it. The 4045 permits the use of up to 22 fonts on a single page, and best of all, the command sequences to establish fonts, underlining, bolding, and other special effects are much simpler than those used on the HP. For example, I wrote that the sequence to begin bold printing on the LaserJet was ec&10Oec(0Uec(s1p10v0 s1b5T; the sequence for the 4045 is simply *b.
Hewlett-Packard hasn't been idle in the intervening 18 months, and it's sure to have improved the LaserJet. But if you are looking for a high-quality laser printer, check out the Xerox 4045.
My February 1986 column extolled the virtues of compiled BASIC and the then new version of the IBM BASIC compiler. If I told you to buy it (I can't bare to look back), I apologize. After I wrote that column, Microsoft sent me a copy of its new QuickBASIC Compiler, which retails for $99. The IBM BASIC Compiler was priced at $495 in February of 1986—today it's $539.
I don't have the space to tell you why compiled BASIC is so much faster than the BASIC built into your PC (see the February column), but I do have the space to tell you that QuickBASIC is equal, even superior, to the IBM software. In all my tests, the Microsoft product compiled larger programs, produced smaller EXE modules, and did it in less time than the IBM product which costs five times more. QuickBASIC uses the same commands, files, and switches as the IBM compiler—and why not? Microsoft wrote the version sold under the IBM name.
If you're thinking about a BASIC compiler, don't think about IBM; just buy Microsoft's Quick-BASIC. (By the time you read this, version 2.0 of QuickBASIC will be available.)
In writing about a RAM-resident spelling checker and a thesaurus in April of 1986, I noted that both products use the Random House dictionary. "Wonder what happened to Webster's?" I joked. Simon & Schuster was quick to let me know that it markets Webster's New World On-line Thesaurus and Webster's New World Spelling Checker.
I'll never give up IBM's Word-proof for another spelling checker, but I'm open on thesauruses. I was fairly happy using Reference Software's Reference Set, until I tried Simon & Schuster's product. It sets a new standard for online thesauruses.
Like most RAM-resident software, Webster's is called to the screen by pressing a preselected key combination—on my PC it's Alt-T. The program then tries to match the word under the cursor with one in its dictionary; failing that, it strips the word of prefixes and suffixes and attempts to locate the root word in its dictionary. Type "readmitted" and the program displays 20 words similar to the root "admit" in a window superimposed on the screen. Now here's the amazing part. Select the synonym "declare" and the program tries to add prefixes and suffixes to compose three choices: redeclared, declared again, and declare. By paring down to a root word, the program is able to generate more than 120,000 synonyms.
Along the same line, the program changes articles to match the nouns they precede. Placing the cursor under "an automobile" and calling forth synonyms shows but one7mdash;"motor car." When you select that synonym by pressing the F10 key, Webster's not only replaces "automobile" with "motor car," but also changes an to a.
One feature I particularly appreciate shows parts of speech and separates synonyms by meaning. For example, "fire" displays 19 synonyms for the noun, 13 for the verb, and 4 for the modifier "fiery." In addition, any of those words may be looked up for even more synonyms by simply pressing a key.
Webster's On-Line Thesaurus, at $70 from Simon & Schuster, is a must for anyone who writes.