The Wang Professional Computer. (evaluation) David H. Ahl.
The Wang Professional Computer
Although new to the personal computer market, Wang is no newcomer to the computer field. In the early 1970's, the Wang 2200 was a formidable competitor to DEC, HP, and DG minis. However, it is with office automation, especially dedicated word processors, that Wang has had the most success. Even industry giant IBM has been humbled by Wang's prowess in the office automation market.
In the spring of 1983, Wang announced a personal computer dubbed the Wang Professional Computer. With its IBM-like 16-bit cpu and MS-DOS operating system, it is in the mainstream of the market. However, its menu-driven approach and outstanding word processing package elevate it into a niche of its own.
The Wang PC consists of three units: a display, detachable keyboard, and system unit housing the cpu, disk drives, and guts of the system. As with the DEC Rainbow, the system unit is designed to stand in an upright position on the floor or be suspended from a table or desktop. This feature, combined with the swivel pedestal mount for the display and detachable keyboard, means that the computer can be easily moved aside to provide workspace for other tasks.
The unit has an 8086 16-bit mpu, 128K of RAM (expandable to 640K), one floppy disk drive (a second floppy disk or Winchester drive is optional), five expansion slots, serial and parallel ports, enhanced MS-DOS operating system, MBasic interpreter, and a wide selection of applications software.
We have the impression that detachable keyboards are getting wider and wider on each new computer. Actually, at 18.3 wide, the keyboard on the Wang PC is no wider than many others, but it certainly seems to be.
The keyboard is attached to the system unit by means of a six-foot coiled cord. How far it will realistically stretch in a given installation depends upon the width of the table under which the system unit is mounted. We had a table 30 wide and found that lap use of the keyboard was possible as long as we kept fairly close to the table. Routing the cord under the table will add a foot or more.
The keyboard is a low profile unit with 101 sculpted keys arranged in five logical groupings. The alphanumeric portion is delightfully standard--no arrow or escape keys to cause unexpected glitches for touch typists. We were also pleased to find a small red LED on the caps lock key to indicate when it was depressed.
On the right side is a numeric keypad with the addition of keys for the four arithmetic operations, PRINT, ERASE, and RETURN. Between the alpha and numeric groupings is a group consisting of the four cursor movement keys, HOME, and several other special function and editing keys.
In the top row are four groupings of four control keys each, a large HELP key at the left, and a large CANCEL key at the right. This last key is frequently used to exit applications software packages and change levels on the menus. The other 16 function keys are programmable, although they carry labels describing their functions in the word processing (and some other) software packages. Plastic labels for these keys can be inserted between pinch holders just below the keys.
In addition to the caps lock LED, the keyboard has five additional LEDs for indicating trouble with various components of the system. You will notice these indicators functioning during the 30-second start-up diagnostics.
Since the invention of the manual typewriter, keyboards have been getting quieter and quieter. Wang, like several other manufacturers, apparently felt their keyboard was so quiet that aural feedback was needed to supplement the normal tactile feedback. Frankly, we are not keen on this feature, and for the likes of us, Wang has provided a routine in the operating system to modify the volume and tone of the audio keyclick.
The normal display supplied with the Wang PC is a 12 monochrome (green) monitor. It comes with a desktop tilt-and-swivel stand. However, Wang is touting an optional $150 mounting arm that clamps to the back or side of a table or desk. Four screws fasten the monitor to this two-foot long arm. The flexible head permits a tilt range from 5~ forward to 15~ back. Actually, the head tilts in any direction and, after a few trains rumbled by (we are close to a railroad track), we found our display tilting to the side like a drunken sailor.
Character resolution of the display is 25 rows of 80 characters. Each character is formed within an 8 X 10 pixel matrix. There are two pixels between adjacent characters and adjacent lines which provide excellent readability. The character set consists of the standard 96 ASCII letters, numbers, and symbols augmented by an additional 128 foreign, mathematics, and graphics characters. Character display attributes include normal, boldface, underscore (normal and boldface), subscript, and superscript in either normal or reverse video.
From the character density and interline spacing, it is not difficult to determine that the graphics resolution is 800 by 300 pixels. Graphics are handled by a bit mapping system that is independent of the text display memory thus permitting the simultaneous display of text and graphics.
All the expected graphics statements and commands are implemented in Microsoft Basic, and most programs developed for other machines should run on the Wang PC. However, since the pixel resolution of the Wang PC is 800 X 300, the proportions are slightly different from those of the IBM PC and its clones. Thus, a perfect square on the IBM PC will be a rectangle on the Wang PC and vice versa. Also, a graphics program designed for the maximum height of the IBM PC screen (350 pixels) will spill off the Wang PC screen. For the most part, we do not see this minor incompatibility as a problem, since most vendors of applications software have modified their packages for the Wang PC, but there may be certain off-the-shelf IBM Pc packages or programs in books and magazines that will not run without some changes.
The system unit is a sizeable component measuring 23.1 X 14.9 X 6.5 and weighing 28 pounds. Although designed for vertical placement (the Wang logo is at the top), it may also be used in a horizontal position. Although generally pictured under a table, there is no reason the unit could not rest on the table as well.
Everything plugs into the back of the system unit, and it is on the back where the power switch is found. If it is mounted under a table, this means that the power switch is practically inaccessible. We finally resorted to plugging the system into a switchable power strip to turn it on and off. In all fairness, the people at Wang tell us that this will be remedied shortly--but, hey guys, the PC has been out for a year; haven't your users been yelling about this?
The system unit houses all of the electronics and disk drives. The mpu is a 16-bit 8086 operating at 8 MHz. Moreover, all keyboard data is buffered, so the mpu is interrupted less than once every 10 ms. This leads to some excellent execution speeds compared with the other machines in its class (see Table 1).
An 8087 co-procesor for high-speed arithmetic operations is available as an option. The Wang PC is furnished with 128K of memory which can be expanded to 640K.
Standard ports include a Centronics parallel printer port and RS-232 serial port. Five expansion slots are available for additional memory and other options. These slots are unique to the Wang PC; it does not accept IBM PC boards. Some of the boards currently available include a CP/M-80 emulation card with a Z80 on board, minitor/ graphics card for any RGB monitor, Winchester drive interface, and multiport communications card.
In contrast to some other systems, the system software sends all eight bits of every byte to the printer (many systems use only seven bits). This is to take advantage of the international character set and dot-addressable printer graphics. This works fine with most Epson and other similar printers; however, some older printers will balk at (or ignore) the eighth bit. The system has four printer drivers built in: Wang dot matrix printer, NEC Spinwriter, a general parallel printer, and a general serial printer. It is easy enough to add your own printer driver--this was one of the first things we did--but there may be certain special features like a double underscore that will not work correctly.
The basic system comes with one double-sided, double-density 5 1/4 floppy disk drive with a capacity of 320K. A second floppy disk drive can be added or a 10Mb Winchester drive installed in the second opening. Our system was equipped with the Winchester drive. We have had some unfortunate experiences with Winchester drives on other systems--one got out of whack from being moved and another forgot everything it knew when we mistakenly tried to format it as a floppy disk. However, after a jouncing ride in a car from Lowell, MA to Morris Plains, this one worked fine. Moreover, the operating system is smart enough to not allow you to reformat it. Bottom line: it worked flawlessly.
Upon powering up, the system goes through a 30-second diagnostic self-check. Frankly, waiting for this gets old fast. In addition, a systems software diagnostic disk is furnished with the system.
MS-DOS Operating System
As should be well-known to the readers of Creative Computing, Microsoft's MS-DOS operating system is virtually identical to PC-DOS for the IBM PC (which Microsoft also wrote). In the 16-bit arena, MS-DOS has an enormous lead over CP/M-86, and it is well on its way to becoming the worldwide standard.
However, as is wont to happen to standards in the computer industry, manufacturers apply their own customizing in an effort to gain competitive advantage or make better use of their hardware features. In keeping with this tradition, Wang has added some nifty features to MS-DOS, principally one which disguises it completely as a menudriven operating system.
Frankly, one of the least user-friendly aspects of using a computer is interacting with the operating system. Wang has improved this function considerably with what they call System Screens. Each screen has a label at the top identifying the screen, software release version, date, and time. In the center is a list of items that may be selected. The space bar moves the cursor from item to item; the EXECUTE key selects an item; and CANCEL goes to the previous menu. In addition, the HELP key furnishes additional information about the items on the screen.
In addition to being easy to use, it is also very easy to add items to the System Screens. It took us just a few minutes to add an additional menu item, "Benchmark Test,' complete with a more elaborate explanation which appears when the HELP key is pressed.
For diehard users who want to subject themselves to the fun and frustration of MS-DOS itself, that option is available. Actually, for certain things it might be faster to go directly to a program from MS-DOS instead of wading through two or three menu screens. The nice thing is that Wang has left this choice up to the user: menus or MS-DOS, whichever is most comfortable.
Most small business computers that come with bundled software include one of the well-known word processing packages such as WordStar or Perfect Writer. In our reviews, we generally note how well the included package is integrated with the hardware features of the computer. However, Wang PC offers its own WP package, so our review of it is somewhat longer than usual.
As we mentioned at the outset, Wang is a major producer of dedicated word processing systems, so it was only natural that they would choose to implement Wang Word Processing on the Wang PC. Right up front, let us say that this is a most impressive system. Even after spending several weeks with the computer, we are sure that there are many features that we did not discover. But here is what we did find out.
The system is menu-driven with a hierarchy of menus and numerous special function keys. They first menu offers the following choices: Edit Old Document, Create New Document, Print Document, Document Index, Utilities, and five other functions. Pressing the spacebar highlights menu items in turn while the EXECUTE key selects the desired one.
Entering the edit mode brings up a screen with a status line on top. This shows the document name, page, line, and cursor position. The second line is a format line which shows line spacing and the position of tab stops and margins, rather like an old manual typewriter. A message line at the bottom left displays error messages and system information.
Normally, when entering text, you are in an overstrike mode. To delete a character nor portion of text), you move the cursor to the start of the text to be deleted, press DELETE, move the cursor to the end of the portion to be deleted, and press EXEC. To insert text, you move the cursor to the point at which you wish to insert something, press INSERT, and everything after the cursor disappears with the exception of 29 characters following the cursor which reappear at the bottom of the screen. When you have finished inserting, you press EXEC, and all the text reappears in the new format. If you are used to a word processing system which inserts characters by pushing the whole screen of text around, the Wang approach will seem mighty strange, but it works well, and we got used to it in short order.
An interesting feature is the use of low-intensity dots to show each hard (deliberate) space. Other spaces, such as those created at the end of lines as words wrap around, are completely blank. We found this feature very helpful as it removed all ambiguity as to how a document would appear when it was printed.
As mentioned, the cursor keys move the cursor a character or a line at a time around the document. Curiously, there is no way to jump in slightly larger increments, in particular, a word or a paragraph at a time. The GOTO key in conjunction with the cursor keys moves the cursor a page or a line at a time. To move to other pages, you can use NEXT, PREV, or GOTO a particular page number.
The PAGE key is used to instruct the system where a page break will occur when the document is printed. A page can contain a maximum of 126 lines or 4000 characters, far in excess of what fits on a typed page; this is useful for printing charts on continuous form paper. Inserting page breaks is not just a nice, extra feature; you must use it since the printing routines will not automatically create pages in the final printed document. The latest version of the word processing software allows repagination of a document manually or automatically.
The latest version also has the ability to print headers and footers (including page numbers). It also has several "advanced' printing functions such as printing text directly from the screen, print spooling, merging two documents in the printing process, and a "typewriter' mode which lets the system act as an electronic typewriter.
The format keys are used to establish a layout that is specific to the requirements of each document. In addition to the primary format line (tab stops, etc.), a document can have a secondary format line (for tables or charts). These are quite easy to create, change, and call up.
In addition to the format line, there are several specific formatting function keys including DEC TAB (aligns decimal points in a column), INDENT (temporarily change left margin), and CENTER (centers a character string). A subscript /superscript key raises and lowers text by half a line. There are also keys to create boldface and a single or double underscore. These attributes can be applied "manually' a character at a time or can be toggled on and off.
The system has a search and replace feature which can search for up to a 32-character string and selectively or globally replace it. There is no wildcard search capability. Blocks of text can be moved or cpied within a document or from one document to another.
Documents are printed through the print menu. The primary menu allows the selection of the document name, start and end page for printing, page length, margins, pitch, justification, lines per inch, and type of form. If you have a printer that is able to respond to the embedded control codes, all the character attributes (bold, underscore, etc.) will be reproduced in the hard copy.
Glossary is a feature that lets you store commonly used text such as addresses, standard paragraphs, and forms in special documents called Glossary Documents.
Such documents can be recalled and entered into another document with just two keystrokes. This is an exceptionally handy feature, and, with a Winchester disk, you hardly notice the time to retrieve the document and insert it.
The system has a spelling verifier utility which locates misspelled words and allows you manually or automatically to replace them with the correct spellings. The spelling verifier includes a 30,000-word master dictionary. In addition, it has a dictionary builder that allows you to add words of your own.
The most recent WP release has two unexpected utilities, Math and Sort. The Math utility allows you to add, subtract, multiply, divide, and calculate percentages within a word processing document. This is almost a mini-spreadsheet capability.
The Sort utility automatically arranges lists of information such as names, addresses, and numbers, in either alphabetical or numerical order.
Wang PC Basic = MBasic
Although the documentation refers to Wang Interpretive Basic V1.20, it is really Microsoft GW (Gee Whiz) Basic that is implemented on the Wang PC. This is the most advanced version with all the bells and whistles including all of the advanced data file input and output commands, extended functions, and debugging features.
In addition, this implementation has the full range of graphics commands including COLOR, PALETTE, and PAINT. It also has sound capabilities including BEEP, SOUND, and PLAY, although the internal 2 speaker hardly does justice to the sound generation hardware.
There are three types of software for the Wang PC: that which is sold and supported by Wang directly, that which is distributed (but not supported) by Wang, and third party software. A most impressive range of applications software is available for the Wang PC when one totals the offerings in all three categories.
For example, in the second category, we tried Lotus 1-2-3, TK olver from Software Arts, and Microsoft Multiplan. All three packages are customized to take advantage of the function keys on the Wang PC, and all three come with a function key overlay and quick reference card or booklet. (We weren't too impressed with the plastic function key overlay of Lotus 1-2-3 as it did not fit quite right, but frankly, that is a very small nit against the excellent operation and capabilities of the package.)
As mentioned, these packages fall into the category of "Wang Distributed Software' and are applications evaluated and distributed by Wang. Also in this series are Advanced VisiCalc, VisiOn, and the Peachtree accounting packages including job costing, accounts receivable and payable, payroll, general ledger, inventory control, and calendar management.
Basic and Wang Word Processing are in the first category (sold and supported). Other packages in this group include MicroFocus Level II Cobol; Wang Office, an integrated package providing time, task, communication, and information management; PC Business Graphics to produce line, bar, and pie charts; and PC Data Base, a versatile, relational database package.
Other optional languages include a Basic compiler, Pascal, Fortran, and a compatible version of Wang 2200 Basic.
In the area of data communications, Wang has an especially rich offering with a hardware/software local interconnect option and packages which emulate the IBM 3276 (sync or bisync) and 3270. These packages permit the Wang PC to interact with a wide variety of IBM mainframes without any programming changes. A 3278 emulation board allows the Wang PC to replace a 3278 terminal while maintaining the ability to operate concurrently and independently of host programs. A program to emulate the DEC VT-100 is also available.
The Voice Attachment is a hardware /software option combining a smart modem, automatic answering device, and conference speaker phone all in one compact unit. It can dial, control and monitor both voice and data calls, automatically answer incoming calls, function as a 300-baud modem, and operate as a telephone amplifier.
A related software package is PC Notebook, a package for the storage and retrieval of unstructured text. It functions with the Voice Attachment by searching for an dialing phone numbers automatically. The key feature of PC Notebook is its sophisticated query and selection capabilities through which it can access any entry in the notebook from just a single word or string.
In a word, the documentation with the Wang PC is outstanding. Unlike so many other computers that furnish a meager introductory guide and applications software manuals written by the software vendors, everything for the Wang PC seems to be fully customized and printed especially for it.
The Introductory Guide is a fat 500-page manual that covers unpacking, connecting, system screens (menus), the editor, and a great deal in between. Illustrations of the hardware components, keyboard, and screen are included wherever appropriate. In addition, the manual includes a customized glossary and an index, a rarity in a manual of this type.
Our praise goes to the folks at Wang for putting together an integrated Basic reference guide and finally abandoning the inadequate documentation that Microsoft has been supplying to the manufacturers. Why some manufacturer didn't redo the Microsoft guide long before this is beyond us, but perhaps this will set a precedent.
The Word Processing Guide is curious. It is divided into two sections: a Training Guide and a Reference Guide. However, the material is practically identical, just presented in a different order. We found the Training Guide quite easy to use and more efficient than the Reference Guide, although perhaps we would lean toward the Reference Guide after becoming more familiar with the system.
The manuals with the applications packages are all customized for the Wang PC. This contrasts with the approach of many other manufacturers of furnishing the manual from the software vendor with a few sheets showing how it is adapted to the particular computer.
All the manuals are in three-ring looseleaf binders, thus making updates neat and easy to insert. The Introductory Guide, for example, came with approximately 100 sheets to replace and augment those of the manual.
Wang offers four partially bundled configurations of the Wang PC at prices below those of the individual components. The components are also available unbundled.
The PC001 base system consists of the system unit with 128K, single floppy disk drive, keyboard, MS-DOS, and Basic interpreter. Price is $2595.
The PC002 adds the character display adapter and monochrome monitor and costs $3265. The PC003B adds (to the PC002) a second floppy disk drive and costs $3790. The PC004A adds (to the PC002) a graphics display adapter and second disk drive. Price is $4030.
The PC005 adds (to the PC002) the graphics adapter and 10Mb Winchester drive; it costs $6400.
A bundled software package consisting of Wang Word Processing, Multiplan, and asynchronous communications costs $650.
add-on memory boards cost $500 for 128K, $850 for 256K, and $1700 for 512K. The 10Mb Winchester drive is priced at $2385.
From this, it should be evident that Wang is not trying to gain a place in the market by using price as its primary weapon. Complete configurations cost just slightly less than comparable versions of the IBM PC; thus customers must make a purchasing decision vased on hardware and software features.
Choosing A System
The Wang PC is in the mainstream of modern small business computers with its 16-bit 8086 mpu, MS-DOS, and wide selection of applications software. Its easy-to-use menu screens and word proceesing package, based on the dedicated Wang WP system, are oriented to a business user, not a computer hacker.
The other applications software is excellent and includes packages that ought to answer the needs of the majority of business users. For users who want to do their own program development, the availability of both interpreted and compiled Basic, Pascal, Cobol, and Fortran should be more than ample.
For users who wish to communicate with other personal computers, a distant database, or a mainframe, Wang offers a wide selection of options including software that emulates the most widely-used terminals.
We were very impressed with the speed of the Wang PC, it being two to three times as fast as most of its competitors. This speed is a real benefit when reformatting word processing text screens, recalculating large spreadsheets, and preforming recursive calculations in TK olver.
One fault we found was in the sparsity of information about the use of color graphics. Presumably, the capability exists as it is mentioned in the Business Graphics brochure, but it was not at all clear what was necessary to take advantage of this feature.
Another minor problem was in setting up a printer driver to take advantage of the features of the computer and vice versa. We would have liked to see drivers for more printers on the operating system disk.
As might be expected, no games or educational software exists or are planned for the Wang PC; the machine is aimed squarely and exclusively at the business user.
Despite these minor shortcomings, we would have no hesitation in recommending the Wang PC to anyone who wants a state-of-the-art personal computer for business applications.
Table: Creative Computing standard benchmark.
Photo: The keyboard is 18.3 long and has five logical groupings of keys.
Photo: The cursor keys are arranged in a logical pattern. Above them are permanent editing keys. Although they carry labels, the function keys in the top row are programmable.
Photo: With the display on the optional extension arm, only the keyboard occupies desk space.
Photo: The Wang PC consists of a display (on optional arm), detachable keyboard, and system unit.
Photo: Easy-to-use Systems screens (like this one) replace the usual MS-DOS commands.
Photo: The word processing package makes extensive use of menus (like this one).
Photo: Sample screen from Spelling Verifier program.
Products: Wang Laboratories PC 200 (Microcomputer)(Computer) - Evaluation