Three word processors for the TRS-80 color computer. (evaluation) Scott L. Norman.
Three Word Processors For The TRS-80 Color Computer
Let's get the tone of this thing right at the start: I expect to enjoy writing this review, I hope it will be helpful to a few people, and I certainly don't intend it to be an anti-Radio Shack diatribe. That said, I feel compelled to present a bit of history.
When the TRS-80 Color Computer was first introduced, the ability to produce color graphics from an inexpensive machine had apparently blinded Radio Shack to the possibility of doing much more with it than playing games. Fortunately, the computer soon attracted a loyal following which took it quite seriously. Many of these people have produced really useful software for the Color Computer, and two such independently-authored packages, Telewriter and C.C. Writer, figure in this piece. Radio Shack has come around, too; their word processor, Color Scripsit, has to be considered a real contender.
All right, so this is to be a comparison of three Color Computer word processors out of the half dozen or so currently available. Is it really sensible to consider using the machine for this application? Well, I have done about two dozen articles for magazines using all three of these programs. I also use the Color Computer regularly in preparing drafts of reports for my job.
Until quite recently, all of my work was done with a cassette system; two of the three programs reviewed here now support disks--a worthwhile improvement.
Finally, I should say something about doing word processing with the Color Computer keyboard: It isn't all that bad! True, it is closer to a calculator than it is to a typewriter, but the keys are nicely spaced and have good tactile feedback. A reasonable typing speed is attainable. If you want to push matters, it is even possible to retrofit the computer with a standard TRS-80 Model I keyboard; the built-in debounce routine of the Color Computer allows you to really move along.
Enough. This is a software review. Rather than discuss the programs individually, I will describe how each handles the major tasks required of any word processor. In this way, you may find it easier to compare them. I shall reserve most of my discussion of special, unique features for the end of the article. Unless otherwise noted, anything written about Telewriter and C.C. Writer will apply to both casssette and disk versions.
Text Input and Editing
All three programs use a hierarchy of menus to set up the major operations, and each has some method for keeping the writer informed about the status of the system--e.g. the number of free bytes remaining. Telewriter and C.C. Writer leave you with about 18,500 and 19,000 bytes of working space, respectively, in a 32K computer. Scripsit (I'm going to drop the Color most of the time) comes in a ROM cartridge, leaving about 31,500 bytes of RAM for text in the same machine. This may compensate to some extent for its inability to use a disk.
The corresponding text capacities for a 16K computer are about 2100, 4600, and 15,000 bytes, so you can appreciate the effect of program overhead. In my experience, a double-spaced page of text with normal margins requires about 1500 bytes.
The most elementary function of a word processor is the storage and editing of text. These three programs take different approaches to the job; it is even tempting to say that they have different philosophies. Telewriter is screen-oriented, meaning that you enter text continuously and can move the cursor over the material at random. Text input, editing, and deletion are not differentiated; you just type. The cursor can be moved one space at a time with the four arrow keys, or it can be zoomed along at high speed by simultaneously pressing an arrow and shift. You can scroll the display forward or backward by one screen page at a time, and you can jump up to the top or bottom of the text, or to the beginning or end of a given line by using an arrow together with the Clear key.
By the way, this is a good time to get used to the idea of a specially-defined "control' key, since each of these programs uses one or more. In the case of Telewriter, Clear is generally used to redefine the functions of other keys.
The philosophy behind Telewriter is that once you have selected the Edit function from the main menu, your intent is to add text. Therefore if you place the cursor somewhere in the middle of your material and start to type, the new input is just inserted; you don't overtype anything.
Deliberate action is required to erase material. The Break key erases one character at a time from the right of the cursor, while Clear and Break together (but pressed in that order) erase to the left of the cursor.
There is a special procedure for deleting large blocks of material:
Move the cursor to the end of the block and mark it with Clear-E, then move back to the beginning of the block and use Clear-X to erase. This is typical of other block-handling procedures we shall discuss. When you have finished moving text around, a special Align command (Clear-A) cleans up the material, insuring that there are no partial lines or awkward divisions of words.
One more thing about Telewriter: It employs a software-generated character set to make full-screen editing practical. Material appears on the screen in true upper and lower case (black on green), and the shift keys work just as they would on a typewriter. By reducing the spaces between characters and lines, Telewriter manages to put 24 lines of 51 characters on the display and still remain legible. The line length can be changed for printing.
Color Scripsit uses a different approach to full-screen editing. You begin by selecting the Edit Text option from the main menu to start writing. Later, moving the cursor to the middle of existing material and starting to type will result in the new material overtyping the old. You must leave Edit and enter a distinct Insert mode to avoid this.
The Scripsit control key is the Break, and Break-3 is the combination which gets you into Insert mode. The text "opens up' to accept new text, with everything after the cursor position dropping down a line. When you have finished making additions, the Clear key closes the text and returns you to Edit mode.
The procedures for deleting text (other than by overtyping) are similar to those used in Telewriter. The Clear key deletes the character immediately to the right of the cursor, while the Shift-Clear combination deletes to the end of the next word. There is also a block delete function. First you mark the beginning of the block, then the end, and finally you use the Clear key to actually do the deletion.
Scripsit also allows you to scroll through a mass of text, although there are no commands for jumping by a complete page at a time. You can skip from any point to the top or bottom of the text, however. The Scripsit display is certainly unique: everything is in upper case, with capital letters displayed in yellow on a red background, lower case letters the reverse. This can be a little confusing in the beginning if you use a black and white receiver, because the contrast is reversed from that in Basic programs.
The conventional display is 32 columns by 14 or 15 lines; one or two lines are reserved at the bottom for status information. When the line length is later reformatted for printing, Scripsit shows you how the text will appear. The video display then becomes a 32-column window which can be scrolled horizontally as well as vertically.
C.C. Writer takes a very different tack. It is a line-oriented system which assigns a reference number to every sentence. You must remember to terminate every sentence with an Enter command, rather than typing your text continuously. The program inserts spaces between sentences when printing the text, of course.
With C.C. Writer, text entry and editing are completely separate operations. The sole exception is your ability to edit the current sentence before hitting Enter. You can backspace to correct an error, although this erases anything typed after the mistake was made. Once material has been entered, you must leave Enter mode, return to the main menu, and select one of two other modes: Edit, for working within one sentence at a time, or Insert/Delete/ Move, for performing one of these three operations on a complete sentence or group of sentences. The Edit mode also has Insert, Delete, and Change submodes.
This is beginning to sound much worse than it really is. In practice, you return to the main menu by typing Slash-q (that's right, Slash is the C.C. Writer control character), and thread your way through a couple of prompts to arrive at Local Edit. If you know the reference number of the sentence on which you want to work, you specify it; otherwise, keep hitting Enter to invoke the Line Seeker, which allows you to use the arrow keys to scroll up and down through the text. When you find the target sentence, Enter re-invokes the editor. Now, you can move the cursor to the desired position and use i, d, or c to insert, delete, or change material.
A prompting line keeps you informed as to which mode or sub-mode is in operation at any time. Insertion works just as for Scripsit, deletion is performed one character at a time by depressing the d key, and change is an overtyping operation. You must work your way back to the main menu eventually, but this is made easy by the generous use of prompts.
Large chunks of text must be deleted one sentence at a time. The Delete option of the Insert/Delete/Move command is selected, and you are prompted for a line number. If you specify one, the computer prints the line and asks you to verify your intent to delete it. If you agree, the line is killed and you are asked to specify another. If you have specified the wrong line, a negative answer saves it and returns the prompt.
Incidentally, only the cassette version of the program uses the three-way Insert/Delete/Move. The disk version has separate commands for each of these options.
C.C. Writer uses the standard Color Basic font, with reverse video denoting lower case. Relatively little text is visible at any one time, because of the start-of-line prompts and reference numbers.
Word Processors must provide for embedded comands--special instructions for modifying the text format as it is printed. These must be incorporated into the text, and the program must recognize them as commands and execute them without printing their literal form. Special control characters are the order of the day.
Telewriter uses the Clear-Period combination to generate a small carat, which can be followed by one or more commands. The commands themselves are much the same as those used by the print formatting menu, namely a capital letter followed by a number. For example, M20 resets the left margin to 20 spaces, and C40 tells the printer to switch to 40-character lines.
Embedded commands must appear on their own lines, without other text, and must be indented by at least one space. You can "stack' several of them on one line, and there is no particular order in which they must appear. There is a fairly complete set of such commands, including five which control the fonts of an Epson MX-80 Printer, and provision has been made for the user to define his own commands. These would normally be strings of ASCII control codes to be executed by the printer.
The embedded command syntax is also used for a few other purposes: centering a line of text, aligning partial lines with the left margin, or defining a header to be printed at the top of each page, for example. One thing which Telewriter unfortunately does not provide for is the setting of tabs. It comes with predefined tabs every eight positions, which is really too much for indenting a paragraph. You must, therefore, punch the spacebar five times or so to get indentations.
Color Scripsit is a little less versatile in this area. You can set tabs, center a line, define headlines and footers, and change from left to right-justification, but that's about it. Line length, and margins, to mention a couple of major parameters, can be set only once for the entire document. This is unfortunate, because a standard method of setting off a direct quotation or other material is to print it with wider margins (shorter lines) than the main text, perhaps single-spaced in an otherwise double-spaced manuscript. You can adjust the margins with judicious use of tabs, but is not convenient.
The embedded commands in Scripsit are set with the Break-number key combination. Tabs are set by spacing over the desired distance and hitting Break-5, for instance. The manual describes a much more complicated procedure, for unknown reasons.
To change line alignment, you place the cursor on any blank space in the line on which you want realignment to begin, and enter Break-6. A three-option menu comes up, giving you a choice of flush left, flush right, or centered text. Note that "flush right' is not right justification, i.e. the padding of text with extra spaces to fill the lines. In any case, after you make your selection it is marked in the text by a nonprinting character, a green-and-black graphics block. All of the alignment commands are toggled and remain in effect until reset.
In C.C. Writer, embedded commands appear at the beginning of the first line to which they are relevant. They take the form of a slash (/) followed by a lower case letter and a number where appropriate. For example, /c centers the following line, /s4 skips four lines, and /p skips one line and starts a new paragraph (the indentation is set in the print format menu). There is limited control of line length: the /i command indents both margins by five spaces until cancelled by another /i. There is an implied hierarchy to the commands, but it rately causes any problems.
Other Editing Functions
I have already described how the three programs go about deleting blocks of text. All three also have the ability to move pieces of text around, which is one of the great features of word processing. Telewriter and Scripsit handle this job in similar ways: the beginning and end of the block are marked, and the move is then accomplished by designating the new location. Telewriter uses Clear-B to mark the beginning, Clear-E for the end, and Clear-C to copy the block to its new location. This is a copying operation, not simply a move, so the original block must still be deleted. Scripsit uses only one command, Break-9, to mark all three locations of interest for a move. If you want to copy a block of text, use Break-: for the three commands.
With C.C. Writer, you must call up the Move command (disk version) or option (cassette version). You then use Line Seeker to move through the text to the beginning and end of the selected block, which you identify by entering B and E. Finally, you move to the sentence in front of which you want the material to be inserted, and enter T (for Target) to complete the move. There are no provisions for copying material.
All three programs have provisions for finding a specified character string and either changing it or not, at your option. In Telewriter, Clear-G allows you to specify both the character pattern to be found and its replacement. With the text screen on display, Clear-N causes the cursor to jump to the next occurrence of the search text; Clear-R causes a specific occurrence to be replaced. You can get pretty speedy at this by holding down the Clear key and alternating between N and R with two fingers of the left hand.
You can use this technique with a null entry as the replacement string to delete selected occurrences of a word or phrase.
Scripsit works in similar fashion, with Break-7 as the command for specifying the target and replacement strings. The Enter key steps you through the text from one occurrence to the next, and at each one you have the option of changing, leaving unaltered, or changing all subsequent occurrences of the target.
And C.C. Writer? Here you have the Global Edit command or option, which will prompt you for the traditional two strings. At every occurrence you can enter n to skip, or just use the enter key to make the replacement.
Although embedded commands take care of incremental changes, all three word processors need separate format menus to set most of the parameters which govern the appearance of the printed page. The degree of control varies quite a bit between programs.
The format menu for Telewriter is the most elaborate, largely due to the provisions made for interfacing with the MX-80. It also affords the user an opportunity to change the baud rate for transmission from computer to printer; the default is 600 baud, but there are provisions for going as high as 4800. Of course, conventional print parameters such as side, top, and bottom margins; line length; and spacing can all be controlled.
A single-letter command is used to generate a flashing cursor next to the desired command; the default values are all displayed, so it is an easy matter to decide which ones you want to change. One which will almost certainly change is the number of characters per line. The default is 50 to match the width of the screen display, but 60 is a much more reasonable value for printing on 8 1/2 X 11 paper.
One useful feature is the ability to print only a portion of the material in the text buffer. This is especially useful for previewing a piece of text with a complicated format, for example. It just calls for a little coordination. First, the end of the desired text block is marked with Clear-E while in the Entry/Edit mode. The cursor is then moved back to the beginning of the block, and the Clear-M command is given to return to the main menu. Now the F command gets the format menu, and finally the % key performs the desired partial print. There is an analogous partial save command for recording part of the text buffer to tape.
As I shall discuss a little later, Telewriter supports chain printing--the stringing together of several text files from tape or disk to create a long document. The format menu controls this by asking for the number of files in the queue. This should be one less than the total number of files you plan to print, since the first one must be loaded into RAM before you start printing.
Color Scripsit employs a considerably shorter format menu, which it calls standards. It affords control over the basic size parameters, though, and includes a couple of special features: the option to print in all capitals and a hyphenation minimum. The former would seem to be a real curiosity, until you consider that Scripsit offers the option of recording files on tape in ASCII format, which means that it can be used to compose and edit Basic programs. The all capitals option must be used if such files are to be read properly by the Color Computer.
What about hyphenation? Scripsit can identify words which are candidates for hyphenation, so that their first halves can be moved up to help fill out a short text line. This can improve the appearance of a printed document. To invoke hypenation from the Edit mode, use the command Break-8. The cursor will move to the first word that can be hyphenated, although it may not stop at the first letter of a syllable. Move it back with the left arrow key until it is so positioned, and press Break-0. The letters to the left of the cursor will shift up to the end of the previous line, followed by a hyphen. Normally, the program will identify words that can be hyphenated if at least three characters fit on the previous line; this is the "hyphenated minimum' which can be changed on the standards menu.
Scripsit has one quirk which must be taken care of with this menu. The default for the number of print lines per page is 66, which is appropriate for an 11 page; however, if you plan to print a double-spaced document, you must change this to 33 to locate pate numbers, headers, etc., properly. The two other programs can figure this out for themselves.
The format menu for C.C. Writer called Page Controls, is fairly elaborate. It includes options for pausing at every page break, ejecting the last page of a document, setting the paragraph indentation, and specifying a header to be printed on every page but the first (the other programs incorporate headers with the text). It is unique in that it also has a true right justification option. It cna also be a little maddening, at least in the cassette version, because to change one of the parameters you must review the entire menu twice.
You must step the cursor through every option even if you decide to change nothing; change one parameter, and you must review the whole list again. It increases your chances of getting the setup you want, I guess. Things are somewhat better with the disk version in which your personalized defaults are stored and called up for each document.
Handling Storage Media
The three programs vary in the degree of flexibility with which they interact with tape or disk. Telewriter and C.C. Writer allow you to chain files together during printing, while Scripsit relies on its larger buffer to hold anything you might want to print.
I have already mentioned that Telewriter requires the number of files in the tape queue to be specified: with C.C. Writer, you use an embedded command to specify the next file to be printed. The syntax is /d followed by the next filename, and this must be the last line in a file.
The inability of Scripsit to chain print can be a liability; the draft of this review comes close to filling its buffer, for instance. Of course, you can always print one file, manually position the tape and read the next file into memory, print that one, etc., but this is awkward. The text would be broken up with large white spaces, too, because Scripsit automatically advances to the top of the next page after finishing a printout.
Each program has a noteworthy media-handling feature or two. I have already mentioned the Telewriter Partial Save. Another particularly useful command is verify, which allows you to check the integrity of a recorded file before clearing RAM for further work. This is of particular value when working with a 16K computer and cassette recorder; I have written things that required the chaining of more than 20 files, and you'd better believe that I was in no mood for an I/O ERROR message in the midst of a printing session.
Telewriter and Scripsit share the ability to append a recorded file to whatever is in RAM, assuming the two will fit. Telewriter even gives you a detailed message if the sum of the two files is too large and tells you the amount of overflow. The main menu command for the append function is A; a special command is meeded because a normal read destroys whatever was in the text buffer. The Scripsit read operation (Command 2 from the main menu) is nondestructive in this sense, so the same command can be used to append text.
The disk version of C.C. Writer has a very nice teature: single-keystroke commands to make a backup copy of whatever is in the text buffer. A B command from the main menu will cause the text to be written to a disk file called BACKUP/CCW. Entering an isolated lower case b from the Type (input) mode will do the same thing--very handy if you want to leave the keyboard for a few moments in the midst of a long session.
In this review, I have tried to give you a feeling for what it is like to work with Telewriter, Color Scripsit, and C.C. Writer. Of course, almost every aspect of each of these programs has subtleties that I haven't discussed. There would be no piont in my reproducing the instruction manuals, after all. What I would like to do, though, is share a few impressions I have gained through working with the three programs. These are highly subjective, but they may still be of interest to anyone contemplating the purchase of a Color Computer word processor.
I think that the strongest of Telewriter's features is the free-wheeling mode of operation which its full-screen editing promotes. My own writing style is rather loose and floppy; I skip back and forth to change the last paragraph, add to the current one, and so on. Somehow, Telewriter seems to fit my undisciplined style; switching between text entry and correction modes just slows me down.
The relatively high-density format helps, by making so much of the text visible at any time. All in all, I think Telewriter gives the user the best control over the appearance of the final printout, too, although I still regret the absence of a tab setting command.
Color Scripsit does almost everything I need, but a few things do get in the way. I have mentioned the lack of file chaining, which would never come up at all if I wroter shorter pieces; the inability to scroll back and forth by a page at a time; and the requirement to go into Insert mode to add text to the middle of a file.
To these I should add the use of redefined number keys, rather than letters, for commands and menu selection. The simple fact is that there is no mnemonic relationship between Break-5 and the tab setting function; wouldn't Break-T have been better? At the very least Radio Shack should furnish a keyboard overlay with this package. The procedure for defining headers and top and bottom margins also seems more cumbersome than necessary.
What do I like about Scripsit? Well, I think the hyphenation function is neat, and so is the Print to Tape option which writes files in ASCII format. The concept of using a word processor to compose a Basic Program seemed a little strange to me at first, but the ability to find and change character strings has come in handy for renaming variables and for adjusting line numbers in the middle of a program. This dual-purpose operation might be an important consideration if you are really interested in keeping down the cost of your software library.
The ability of Scripsit to print text flush against the right margin is useful for special jobs such as return adresses on business letters, but it doesn't take the place of true justification. I think that the appearance of correspondence is much improved by straight left and right margins. This is the unique province of C.C. Writer, at least among the three programs discussed here.
The C.C. Writer justification routine is too slow to be useful for a long manuscript, though. This may be due in part to the program being written in Basic--another unique piont. The advantage to this, of course, is that you could probably "customize' your own copy of C.C. Writer fairly easily.
The Bottom Line
Here's the bottom line: Each of these programs has its strengths, although differences in working styles could make for some real mismatches between writers and software in individual cases. Together with other recently announced word processors, these three give Color Computer owners quite a reasonable choice in applying their machines to professional and personal writing
Try to think about your own needs and style of operation, and make allowances for future development of both when selecting one.
Products: Cognitec Telewriter (computer program)
TransTek C.C.Writer (computer program)
Radio Shack Color Scripsit (computer program)