by Arthur Leyenberger
Arthur Leyenberger is a human factors psychologist and freelance writer living in New Jersey. He has written over 100 articles about computers in the last four years and continues to be an Atari enthusiast. When not computing he enjoys playing with robotic toys.
As a heavy PC user I am familiar with the major word processors for the MS-DOS computers such as Wordstar (my favorite by habit), Microsoft Word, WordPerfect and others. These programs typically cost hundreds of dollars, have documentation that could strain a pack mule and offer complete word-processing power that is primarily meant for office use. Not since Final Word by Mark of the Unicorn have I seen a seemingly "professional" word processor for the ST. As you may already know, Final Word, which debuted soon after the release of the ST, was less than spectacular. It was clumsy to use, error prone, had copy protection and couldn't produce the normal everyday types of hard copy that people need to do.
For the past year or so there have been three ST word processors that perform about equally and seem to be the most popular with knowledgeable users. They are Regent Word II by Regent Software, Word Writer ST by Timeworks and 1st Word, the freebie that came with almost everybody's ST. Despite the selection of three (and possibly more) good word processors there still has not appeared on the market what I call a "Macintosh-class" word processor for the ST. By that I mean a word processor with multiple fonts (more than just bold, italic and super/subscript), on-screen formatting, professional quality features such as footnoting, endnoting, top-notch spelling checking and more. The ST computer is a mature, three-year-old product. So where is the mature word processor for the machine?
The most recent entrant in the ST word processing sweepstakes is WordPerfect 4.1 for the ST. It originally debuted in the late fall of 1987 but the company itself admits the first release was somewhat buggy. Since then WordPerfect has cleaned up the bugs in the program and provided several updated releases to registered users. The version of WordPerfect that you buy today is virtually bug-free. However, the question still remains—is WordPerfect ST the ultimate word processor for the ST?
I don't have room in this space for a complete review of WordPerfect. Moreover, I cannot do a thorough comparison of all of the ST word processors. What I can do is give an overview of the program as I am actually using it now to write this month's column.
A First Look
What is WordPerfect? In summary, it is a very complete word processor. The ST version which I am discussing, is file-compatible with WordPerfect 4.1 for the IBM PC and other computers, allowing for direct document transfer to and from the ST without losing document format. The program offers a plethora of features such as footnotes, endnotes, macros, spelling checker, thesaurus, sorting, paragraph outlining/numbering, a math mode for columnar numeric tables, indexing and table of contents generation. It uses a full GEM interface complete with drop down menus, multiple windows, mouse or keyboard control and access to any currently active Desktop Accessories.
The WordPerfect package comes with six disks, a 600-page manual housed in a slip case, a multi-colored keyboard template (containing WordPerfect's menu) that is placed above the ST's function keys, a quick reference card and a toll-free number for support (available once the registration card is returned). The whole kit and caboodle costs $395 list, which seems steep compared to other "serious" software for the ST. Although the package appears professional and complete, one might legitimately ask if the program is worth almost as much as the price of a monochrome ST system?
I'll attempt to answer that by means of a guided tour of the program and its features. Starting with installation, setup and on to printing, we'll have a look together, at what might or might not be the best word processor for the ST currently available.
Well, it only took me about an hour to get WordPerfect installed to the point where I could actually print the first few paragraphs above. Like most computer users, I was eager to get the program going and see some output. I read and reread the documentation, used what I consider to be common sense in these matters and it still wasn't as easy as it should have been. I don't think I like what I've seen so far, but I am willing to hold off final judgment of the program until I put it through its paces.
First, I need to tell you the configuration of my system so that you can follow along and, if you have the same setup, learn from my experiences. I have a 520ST with one megabyte of memory, a Supra 20 megabyte hard disk, one double-sided disk drive and an Epson FX-80 printer. I have been using a monochrome monitor but will also try the color monitor as well. I also have a 5 ¼ inch, IBM-type disk drive as drive B, but I decided to disconnect it from the system for purposes of this evaluation. Things often get confusing enough when you are using a program for the first time, and I wanted to keep the system as "stock" as possible so as to prevent any additional problems.
The instructions told me to create a separate folder on my hard disk and then to copy the program, spelling, thesaurus and learn files (each on their own disk) to that folder. I attempted to install my printer and ran into several problems. There are two additional disks, labeled Print and Font, and the instructions said to insert the Print disk into drive A when prompted to insert disk in drive B. This repeatedly did not work, and it was only until I copied the entire contents of the Print disk to the "WP" folder on the hard disk that I was able to proceed beyond that point in the installation process. I noticed that during the printer setup, there was one extra step on the screen that the manual did not mention. You can install up to six printer definitions, which I guess might be useful to some people, but I think the screen prompt was asking if I wanted to save all printer definitions, rather than just the one I chose, to the hard disk.
There was nothing in the instructions concerning the Font disk, and I was unable to print anything at first. In fact, every time I tried to print, the program told me it couldn't find the printer file and bombed. After rebooting and going through these shenanigans a couple of times I copied the entire contents of the Font disk to the hard disk folder and went back to re-install. During the course of installing the printer, I noticed errors in the manual. For example, Page 548 says "select printer controls (4)" meaning press the number "4" on the keyboard or mouse click on the fourth option in the menu list.
As it turns out, there were only three options presented, and pressing "4" had no effect. This error, the extra step mentioned above and the confusing/incorrect procedure for reading the files from the Print and Font disks suggest that the program changed after the documentation was written. I can understand this, but the normal practice, especially for programs costing this much and purporting to be "professional," is to include an errata sheet listing the errors or additional steps missing from the documentation. There was no errata sheet included with the WordPerfect package.
Let me mention some other things I disliked about the program. When you want to search for a particular text string you must enter the string and then use the mouse to click on OK. There is no default button that normally is selected when pressing the return key, as with many GEM applications. In fact, hitting RETURN causes the ASCII code for the return key to be entered as the search string. The only time using the mouse to click on OK is not awkward is when you do a subsequent search. Then, you can use the mouse to click on the Search menu, choose forward or reverse and then, since the previous string is displayed, just click on OK.
When you use the copy/paste function and the program accesses the file, there is no "busy bee" icon to let you know the machine is busy. The keyboard is locked out, although there is no indication of it. Whenever the program has to access the disk drive (hard disk in my system), access time is extremely slow. This may be as much the fault of the ST as with the program. Also, retrieving a file is not as straightforward as it could be since you must first choose "List Files," click on the filename and then click on "Retrieve." The file selection procedure done with the familiar GEM file list box seems easier.
Here are a couple of snipits. The template that comes with the package is a good idea, but its execution could be better. The plasticized cardboard slips in behind the function keys and there is a small piece that extends to the left which labels the alternate, control and shift key's functions on the template. Since the left side of the template extends beyond the slot, it holds the template in place so that the four rows of functions can be easily read. However, the right side of the template does not extend past the slot, so the template falls down into the slot, making the bottom two rows of the labels on the three right-most function keys difficult to read.
Another minor problem has to do with the design of the documentation binder. There are no pouches on the inside covers of the binder to hold the quick reference guide and other materials. Further, there are no disk holder pages to house the six floppies that come with the program. Granted, these are minor points, but in an otherwise professionally looking package they stand out as being incomplete.
Although I have some minor complaints about the program, I don't want to give the impression that I hated the program, because that's not true. There is no question that the program is feature-laden, and generally the multitude of features do not get in the way of the primary purpose of the program. Here are some of the things I did like during my 20 or so hours of concentrated use. The automatic backup is a useful feature, especially since you can set the frequency at which the backups will occur. I started out with a five-minute backup interval, but it was just too often and soon became annoying. I then tried ten minutes and eventually settled on 15 minutes. When the automatic backup occurs, a small window appears announcing "backup in progress." You do not lose any keystrokes, although when the window appears the cursor freezes where it currently is.
One feature I liked was the Date function. From the Format menu, selecting date will put the current system date wherever the cursor happens to be. Once the date is inserted into the text, it becomes text and will not change. Another feature I liked was the Menu Bar Lock. When this function is enabled it prevents the menus from automatically dropping down from the Menu Bar when the cursor touches one. Instead, the right mouse button is used to enable the drop down menu and the cursor arrow does not have to be near the menu name. Wherever the arrow is horizontally across the screen, will cause the menu directly above it to drop down when the right button is pressed.
Still another feature I liked was the List Files function. When requested, List Files will display files in the current or another folder and allow you to retrieve, delete, rename, print or copy files. In addition to acting on individual files, you can tag them for mass execution, such as when you want to delete a group of files or copy several at a time. Other functions in List Files include searching one or more files for specific words or phrases and displaying the contents of a file on the screen. Having these file management commands available from within a word processor program is quite handy.
WordPerfect has many other features to like as well. Earlier, I mentioned that the ST user is still awaiting a Macintosh-like word processor and wondered if WordPerfect was the product we have all been waiting for. I'm sorry to say it is not. Although it is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get type of word processor, it does not have multiple on-screen fonts in varying sizes, is not as "classy" as MacWrite and contains too many unpolished aspects to be in that class. On the other hand, in terms of features, a street price of about $250 and WordPerfect's support of Atari users, there is no other ST word processor that can match it.
Sometimes a review reveals as much about the company that created the product as it does about the particular hardware or software under review. This has certainly been true with WordPerfect Corp. Their toll-free telephone support lines, free revisions of the program to registered owners and general attitude show that they are a first-rate company that does business the way it ought to be done. If you need the best currently available word processor for your ST, the only choice is WordPerfect.
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