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.
Atari users are a vocal bunch. If they disagree with something that Atari does, they are not afraid to let their feelings be known. Likewise, if they disagree with something that appears in ST-Log, we hear about it.
The following message recently appeared on the GEnie service concerning my discussion of WordPerfect in the August ST User column. Since there has been a lot of talk about WordPerfect this year concerning the original buggy version released at the end of 1987, WordPerfect Corp's mid-year supposed withdrawal from the Atari market, and their excellent ongoing support of the product, I want to respond to these comments in this column. Here's the message in question:
"Well, they [the Atari-specific magazines] did it again. The August ST-Log has [a] ‘review’ of WordPerfect. It is incomplete and irresponsible The author, Arthur Leyenberger, pulled some of the dumbest stunts I have heard of in some time in his feeble efforts to install the product on his system.
"He admits in his ‘review’ that he copied the entire Printer and Font disks to his WP directory on his hard drive because he could not figure out how to install a printer correctly. Why did he not call the toll-free hotline for help if he could not solve this problem?
"Better yet, he complains about Search [forward], Search [backward], and Replace. He says that he had to click on the OK box to commence the operation because pressing RETURN simply put a [HRT] code in his search/replace text box. First, you don't have to click OK. You could press F2 again, as the manual suggests. There is also a darn good reason for letting you search and replace a carriage return character. I would die without it!
"This guy usually does a fairly good job of reviewing things but this time, he really screwed up. In addition, he seems to be floored by the idea that one user might want up to six different printer drivers available to him with the touch of a few keys. Sheesh! What about offices where printers move around like they have legs? That happens where I work!
"Even more amusing is his desire for little pouches in the binder to hold the quick reference card and the six WP disks. First, you want the quick reference card by your side where you can get to it quickly, and second, the many updates from WordPerfect mean you have more like eight or ten or more WP disks. Wanna try to put all them in a binder, or would you rather keep the manual there? HAH!
"Oh, and somebody at WP, please call Arthur to tell him how to put his template on his keyboard. He says that the right end keeps falling down into his function keys. If he would put it in properly, this problem would not happen. I have never had that difficulty, and I am always banging it, etc.
"He complains that accesses to his hard drive were extremely slow. Not so for me! When was the last time he reorganized his hard disk? Mine goes like greased lightning.
"Sorry for the tirade, but this ‘review’ really ticked me off. The last and most important note on his review is that he tried to write a review after using it for ‘20 hours.’ This product is so complex and complete that it takes a lot longer than that to learn it well enough to write a decent review."
Well, Mr. Colburn, you have certainly said a mouthful. You are incorrect on several points but also raise a couple of good questions that from time to time come across my desk. It would be easy to ignore your comments altogether or to dismiss them out of hand as the ravings of an overly-sensitive ST user. I'll do neither.
You are incorrect in your portrayal of my comments regarding WordPerfect as a ‘review.’ As I mentioned in the column, "I don't have room in this space for a complete review of WordPerfect . . .What I can do is give an overview of the program. . ." That is precisely what I did. When ST-Log does a formal review of a product it is a stand-alone article, is very thorough and labeled as a review.
As to being "incomplete and irresponsible," I plead guilty to the former (remember, it wasn't a formal review either implicitly or explicitly). Irresponsible, it wasn't. One of the things that ST-Log does very well—in fact, something that all of us associated with the magazine pride ourselves in—is getting information to Atari users in a timely fashion. In ST User, my charter is "news, information and opinion" about Atari ST computing. It is entirely proper for me to give my opinion about a software package based upon my use of it. And that is what I did.
Before I address some of your particular points, I also want to point out that the overall flavor of my overview was positive. Again, quoting myself, "WordPerfect is a very complete word processor." Also, "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." Further, "If you need the best currently available word processor for your ST, the only choice is WordPerfect."
It is clear from that column that: 1) I liked the program more than I disliked it, 2) I thought it was a very powerful word processor, and 3) I recommend WordPerfect because it is the best currently available ST word processor. OK, about your specific points, Mr. Colburn.
I tried again and again to install the printer and fonts and continued to have problems. I read and re-read the manual, I tried to figure out what the screen prompts were asking me and I still was unsuccessful. Copying the entire disks to my hard disk was a last resort and appeared to allow me to proceed. Now, why didn't I call the WordPerfect hotline? Quite frankly, I was writing my column over the weekend with a deadline that had already come and gone As you might know, if you call WordPerfect on a Saturday or Sunday, a recorded message will tell you that their normal business hours are Monday through Friday.
Of course I could have waited until Monday, called the WordPerfect hotline and hopefully straightened out the problem. But please remember once more that this was not a review of the product, it was a first impression. If the user cannot figure out how to install the program from the information in the manual and the on-screen prompts, then the program is not as good as it could be. By the way, I did contact WordPerfect after the column was written and spent over an hour discussing with them the problems I had. They were aware of some of these problems and appreciated my input. Further, I did not have the benefit of the latest 4/15/88 version which, when I finally did get it and installed it, worked fine.
You are quite correct that one can initiate the Search and Replace function with the F2 key. That was an oversight on my part. Also, I certainly agree that being able to search on the carriage return character is an important feature. Some PC word processors don't even allow you to do this.
Next, thanks for the vote of confidence you gave when you said, "this guy usually does a fairly good job of reviewing things." I try to be as knowledgeable as I can and write from the viewpoint of a user. As far as saving up to six different printer drivers, I agree that it is valuable in an office. I said, "You can install up to six printer definitions, which I guess might be useful to some people. . ." In the home, where most of the STs sold in the United States reside, very few people would need to have more than one installed printer.
You find it "amusing" that I would want a place in the binder to hold the quick-reference guide and six WordPerfect disks. If most ST users are like me, they have quick-reference guides and floppy disks all over the place. When I am not using a particular program, I would like to keep all of the documentation and disks together. I wouldn't need to keep more than six disks with the binder because when updates arrive, I replace the previous disks so as not to get the versions confused. "Hah!," indeed.
Referring to the function key template, I don't know what you mean by "if he would put it in properly, this problem would not happen." It does fall down on the right side and the nice folks at WordPerfect agreed with me. I solved the problem by taping an "ear" on the right side. [ST-Log solved the problem by bending back the long tab that fits behind the function keys so that the top of the card slants at a 45-degree angle away from the user. The quick-reference card is easier to read at this angle, and it doesn't fall down into the slot on the right-hand side—Ed.] In mentioning the binder and template problems in the August "ST User," I referred to them myself as "snippets" and "minor problems."
Finally, you complain about my "20 hours" spent with the program, that this amount of time is insufficient to "write a decent review." Of course it is, and as I said above, this was not a formal review of WordPerfect. As it turned out, I did spend much more time with the program. That column was originally scheduled to appear in the December '87 ST-Log. As it happened, there was no December ST-Log and when we resumed publication in May 1988, I went back to that column and rewrote most of it. The original column was much more negative, based upon all of the bugs and crashes I encountered in using WordPerfect. When I rewrote it in March, I had the benefit of using a later version of the program which eliminated most of the problems.
In a second, almost identical message you sent on DELPHI to Clayton Wal-num, the executive editor of ST-Log, you said "I am extremely disappointed in (Art Leyenberger's) hatchet job on WordPerfect. It appears that he succumbed to the drive to get in line with other reviewers who have also done unfair and ill-informed reviews in other magazines such as Atari Explorer."
As you can see, my comments about WordPerfect were not the "hatchet job" you characterized them to be. Presumably other magazines also did not have the advantage of the latest version of the program. Besides, the lead time required in publishing a magazine will almost always ensure that information about products will be three to four months old by the time it is printed.
Some readers may wonder why I spent the limited space in this column discussing the comments of one person about a product we all agree is the best currently available word processor for the ST. I did so because I want to differentiate for Mr. Colburn and everyone else, between a review of a product and informed opinion. Of course a reviewer must state his or her opinion about a product, but it is done in a much more structured way. Talk about structure, BYTE goes so far as to distinguish between "previews" and "reviews" in their articles.
Anyway, I thank you, Mr. Colburn, for taking the time to let us know your feelings. If anyone else has any comments please feel free to write to the editorial office of ST-Log, or better yet, contact me directly on DELPHI (ARTL) or CompuServe (71266,46).
It wasn't that long ago when the computer mouse was a novelty. I remember my pre-mousing days when the thought of using a mouse barely entered my mind. Before the popularity of graphical user interfaces few people had even heard of a mouse outside of a research lab.
The mouse is now as common on most computer desks as a can opener is in the kitchen. Just to show how far we have come, I recently read that Microsoft, one of the leading suppliers of aftermarket mice, just sold its millionth mouse. According to the company, it took four years to sell the first half-million of the little rodents, only one year to sell a half-million more, and they predict that it will take only four months to sell the next half-million.
Of course, ST users take the mouse for granted. It would be difficult to even use the ST without a mouse It's interesting to contemplate what will be as ubiquitous five years from now. Touch screens, voice recognition input or what?
Fight For the User
Like the Apple Macintosh and Commodore Amiga, the Atari ST computer uses a "friendly" user interface. One of the things that makes it so friendly is the use of icons on the screen. For example, you don't need to know and remember any complicated commands to run a program. Just click on the program's icon and the program starts.
Likewise for copying a file All you do is click on the file you want to copy, drag it to the disk icon or window and the file is copied. Deleting file is just as easy: anybody can understand the trash can icon.
But using a program on the ST is not always as easy to do as using the Desktop. Programs are typically more complex than the Desktop, and it's up to the programmer to design the way the program is to be used. Design of the human-computer interface is often an afterthought and secondary in importance to the functions of the program.
If you are a programmer who wants to know how to design a good user interface, or if you are just someone interested in the subject, I recommend a book that addresses these topics and more. Called Designing the User Interface: Strategies for Effective Human-Computer Interaction, this new book is written by Ben Shneiderman, a human-factors professional and associate professor of Computer Science at the University of Maryland. It is published by Addison-Wesley, Reading, MA 01867 (617-944-3700).
In his book, Shneiderman examines all aspects of the complex interaction of humans and computers. The book covers menu-based and command-based programs, offering guidelines to make these programs easy to use. There are chapters on interaction devices such as keyboards, mice, touch screens and other techniques. Other chapters discuss response time, screen design, systems messages and documentation. The book ends with material on methods of testing and evaluation and a thought-provoking treatment of the "ten plagues of the computer age."
Although the book is written primarily as a textbook, it is interesting reading and provides a wealth of information about the use of computers. The information is applicable to researchers, practitioners and users alike. As a reference work, it belongs in the library of every programmer, software designer and serious user. I highly recommend it.
More ST Bookshelf
Michtron has just published a new book about GFA BASIC. Written by George Miller, the $30 GFA BASIC Programmers Reference Guide, Vol. 1 contains valuable information for any GFA BASIC programmer or would-be programmer. Since each GFA BASIC command is explained in detail, many with sample programs, the book provides more information than is available in the manual. There are tutorial chapters on creating graphics, using sound on the ST, using the included shape editor and more.
One chapter discusses a full-featured terminal program. This example of how to write a major program in GFA BASIC also explains the functions necessary for using the Xmodem protocol for file transfer. In addition, the program demonstrates how to access the serial and parallel ports from GFA BASIC.
If you are interested in GFA BASIC Programmers Reference Guide, Vol. 1, check out your local computer store. If they don't have it, contact Michtron at 576 S. Telegraph, Pontiac, MI 48053 or by telephone at (313) 334-3553.