Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 10, NO. 6 / JUNE 1984 / PAGE 66

The Idea Processor; a step beyond word processing. (evaluation) C.J. Puotinen.

To anyone perusing the ad pages of catalog-thick computer magazines, it seems that every issue brings a hundred new programs, each claiming to do more different things faster than every other program. To complicate matters, most programs--old or new--are so difficult to learn, use, and understand that finding one to match your needs is often only the first step in an increasingly frustrating journey.

Into this chaotic arena has stepped a new and different performer, The Idea Processor.

Here is a program that lives up to its name, taking you a step beyond word processing into text management. More important, it is easy to understand and operate, truly simplifying any project from routine correspondence to technical reports, project proposals to Christams card lists, household inventories to office recordkeeping, short story manuscripts to Gothic novels, and doctoral theses.

The Idea Processor combines a text editor (word processing program) and cardfile (text database management system). It runs on the IBM Personal Computer, PC XT, and IBM-compatible computers with 192K of memory and dual disk drives. The Editor

The Editor offers all the standard word processing features. For example, with a single keystroke you can delete a single letter, a single word, an entire line, part of a line, or a block of text. Unlike many programs, The Idea Processor allows you to replace anything you erase accidentally.

Search commands find and can replace any word or phrase up to 40 characters in length. Global search and replace commands change every occurrence of a word or phrase automatically or through individual verification.

Block commands mark any section of text up to 2500 words in length and then move, copy, or erase it. Blocks of any size can be transferred to another file for storage.

The Idea Processor also displays underlining and boldface letters on the screen, something appreciated by those whose word processing programs mark such featured text with hard-to-find screen characters.

It is easy to learn The Idea Processor commands; in fact, most new users master them in afternoon. This is because the program makes full use of the IBM keyboard and its special function keys. For convenience, commands are reviewed on a single unobtrusive prompt line at the bottom of the screen. A single keystroke changes this command review so you can check any of 34 commands in a second or two. In addition, a Help key displays whatever explanation you request. A convenient reference card lists commands by category, and the comprehensive index in this manual makes it easy to find whatever information you need.

The Idea Processor configures the margins, line spacing, pagination, and related features of a printed file by using a simple print format menu and printer codes. The format menu sets top, bottom, left, and right margins, line spacing, and a justified or ragged right margin; printer codes create page breaks and headers and footers, and involve other features such as automatic footnoting and automatic counters.

Because the program does not format text on the screen as you type what you enter appears 80 columns wide, single spaced, with ragged right margin. But you don't have to print a file on paper to see what it looks like; the print-on-screen option lets you preview any page or the entire file. The Cardfile

Now to the Cardfile. This part of the program is menu-driven; that is, you select commands from a screen display.

The Cardfile doesn't care where you get your information. It can come from scribbled notes, files transferred from an on-line database, old text files, or your imagination. But once you have something to work with, the Cardfile puts it in order.

You type or transfer information onto "cards," storing each card in a "drawer." The capacity of a drawer depends on available disk space and memory; a drawer might contain a dozen, several hundred, or a thousand cards. The drawer is, in turn, stored in a "cabinet" which can hold up to eight drawers. Drawers are interchangeable among cabinets.

When you store a card in a drawer, you index the card with one or more keywords. Later, you see its keyword(s) to retrieve the card.

The fun begins when you use the whole Idea Processor. Imagine that you are typing a report, using the Editor. You need a fact stored in the Cardfile. A single command switches you to the Cardfile, where you select the Fetch Card command and type an appropriate keyword. While working in a cabinet, you have access to all the cards stored in all its drawers, and you can review the keywords found in that cabinet at any time.

When you fetch a card using a keyword, the first card indexed with that keyword appears, along with a notation showing how many cards in the cabinet share that keyword. For example, "1 of 14" tells you that this is the first of 14 cards having the same keyword.

You can look through all the cards in the series, or you can specify a set of keywords with the "and/or/not" option. For example, if you enter the set "apple or banana and orange not chocolate, the screen will display only cards indexed with apple and orange or with banana and orange, none of which are indexed with chocolate.

Once you display the card you want to use in your report, you press a single key to return to the edit screen. Press another command and your card appears in your report. You can use the card as is or change it with edit commands.

The program is very flexible. You can transfer blocks of text from Editor to Cardfile for storage as cards. You can fetch a card but change it before bringing it into your report. You can revise any card at any time. And you can add, erase, or change the keywords of any card. One of the most exciting features of The Idea Processor is its ability to store screen images generated by other programs. For example, if you create a spreadsheet or iullustration with a program like 1-2-3, VisiPlot, or dGraph II, you can save the screen display and store it on a card. Then whenever you want to use the illustration, you simply fetch its card and move it into your report. Once an illustrated card is in your Cardfile, you or anyone working with your computer can use that graph, financial statement, or picture without having to refer to the software that created it.

The designers of The Idea Processor claim that once you type something on a card, you never have to type it again, and that is not an exaggeration. If the card you want is indexed with a five-letter keyword, it takes only ten keystrokes to move from Editor to Cardfile, enter the Fetch Card command, type the keyword, display the card, return to the Editor, and insert the card into your report.

As though these features weren't sufficiently timesaving. The Idea Processor offers another convenience that once experienced is hard to live without: the keyboard macro. At any time, you can define a keyboard macro as any sequence of keystrokes (letters, numbers, edit commands, etc.), up to 100 keystrokes in length. Then whenever you need that sequence, you type a single key and it repeats automatically.

Occasionally, someone devises a test to measure the efficiency of different word processing programs. In a recent issue of PC World, Burton Alperson compared three popular programs by counting the keystrokes each required to edit a simple document. WordStar used 275 separate keystrokes. VisiWord 326, and Microsoft Word 149. Writer Tim Knowlton read Alperson's report and tried the same exercise using The Idea Processor; he used only 131 keystrokes. If the efficiency of a program can be judged by the number of keystrokes necessary to complete an editing project, The Idea Processor has a significant edge on its competition. Documentation

The manual for The Idea Processor is well organized, thoroughly indexed, and easy to understand. It includes an overview of the program, descriptions of individual commands, step-by-step lessons, expert techniques, an appendix of IBM DOS commands, a glossary of computer terms, and a reference section.

Three disks come with the package: the program disk, a self-running demonstration, and a disk of lesson files. The self-running demonstration produces a slide show of the various features of the program. All you have to do is watch. On the lesson disk, several files are interactive tutorial exercises; you follow the instructions on the screen and enter commands yourself using the program to complete simple exercises. This disk also contains files for your use as you work through the tutorial section of the manual.

The Idea Processor is an exciting, unique, and versatile program. It is an important breakthrough in text preparation and editing, ideal for office and academic use, computer program writing, manuscript preparation, and research.

Finally its price is a pleasant surprise, only $295 or about half of what most experts guess when they see what the program does.

Products: The Idea Processor (computer program)