Classic Computer Magazine Archive START VOL. 1 NO. 2 / FALL 1986


by Ian Chadwick

Which word processor should you buy? START examines seven ST word processors now on the market and looks at future products. An extensive chart compares over 90 common features.

More people use personal computers for word processing than for any other purpose. This is hardly surprising: even rudimentary word-processing software makes typewriters look paleolithic by comparison. Perhaps this marvelous new way of writing is the main benefit you hope to get from your ST computer, but even if it is not, selecting a word-processing program is certain to be one of your early software decisions.

What do you need to know to make an intelligent decision about getting a word processor? It depends on your intended use. If you are a professional writer, the word processor will be a tool far more important than any typewriter. Plan to spend some bucks on it. Carefully consider the requirements your marketplace imposes on your output (including efficiency), and shop for features you will need. If you are a beginner, an inexpensive or free program may be all you'll ever need.

ST software is still in its infancy, and as a result there are no word processors that fully use the potential of the machine. Nonetheless, the word processors now available should meet the needs of many of you, and several new processors will enter the market in the coming year.


Two free word processors are available that should do the job until you have a better idea of what you really want and need: 1ST Word and ST Writer Both are from Atari, but are quite different from one another

1ST Word comes free with the purchase of either the 520 or 1040 ST. A GEM-based program, it uses the mouse on the familiar Desktop, pull-down menus, windows, and any desk accessories the writer specifies. Useful for modest writing projects that don't demand much formatting, it is easy to learn and use for the beginner. Unfortunately, 1ST Word lacks headers, page numbering, file merge, and common printer options that most users want for any serious or lengthy writing. It is a bit slow for the practiced typist, and has no global reformatting capability, making this a tedious chore in a large document.

ST Writer, on the other hand, is a capable and mature outgrowth of the successful AtariWriter for 8-bit Atari's. It is good enough for moderately demanding work, but lacks the document-oriented features necessary for technical writing and other major undertakings such as scripts and books. It is not GEM-based, however it is free. Atari supplies copies to all dealers and registered Atari users groups. They may legaIly copy it for you. It also appears on CompuServe as downloadable software in SIG*ATARI, and on Atari's own free BBS (408) 745-5308.


Five commercial word processors are available at this writing: Haha Writer, FinalWord, Let's Write, Regent Word and TextPro. The chart accompanying this article details the features of these five programs, plus the two free ones. You may find one of them suitable for you now.

FinalWord, from Mark of the Unicorn, is the most complete and expensive-$145. Powerful and sophisticated, but not GEM-based, it was designed to emulate Perfect Writer, a very popular program in the IBM environment. Unfortunately, it suffered in the translation, fails to exploit the ST's memory, and has several bugs (see review, "The Final Word," Antic, April, 1986). This is a document processor, i.e., suitable for big projects, and has most of the features a professional writer of complexly formatted material would need.

a word-Processing
program is certain to
be one of your
early software

Let's Write, from Mark Williams Company, sells for $79.95. This tool is a collection of programs that perform the range of tasks required of a word processor, however they are not integrated as state-of-the-art word processors are. Not GEM-based, the main program is MicroEMACS, a command-driven text editor derived from the mainframe and academic computer worlds. It is powerful hut complex, and definitely not easy to use. Supporting programs format the text, control the printer, check spelling, and communicate online. It doesn't use the mouse, the Desktop, or even help-screens, but once you learn it from its large, indexed manual, it is powerful and reliable.

Regent Word, from Regent Software, is designed for the ST, but is also not GEM-based. The stand-alone word processor costs $49.95, but recently the company combined it with Regent Spell into a package called Regent Pak, that sells for the same price. Be sure to ask your dealer for the Pak when you shop for Regent Word. Regent Word II, 100 percent GEM-based, including built-in spelling checker, was in development at this writing, and may now be available for about $100. In some ways Regent Word is similar to ST writer: command-driven, one file at a time, full RAM available, headers, footers and page numbers, etc. (see Chart for comparison), but its command set and output functions are not as full as a professional needs and it lacks some niceties I've learned to appreciate, such as a cursor jump to the beginning or end of a line, multiline headers, and search-and-replace in reverse. These are not fatal flaws, but I'd like to see Regent Word II before buying this package.

Haba Writer, $74.95 from Haba Systems, is a GEM-based program and very easy to learn and use, but make sure you get version 1.D2 or later because earlier versions were buggy. As of August, 1986, Haba Writer will have a spelling checker and mail-merge function. It can keep seven separate files available for work in RAM at the same time and has a WYSIWYG display. WYSIWYG means "What You See Is What You Get," that is, the screen is formatted identically to your printer output. As a part of the GEM world, Haba Writer can enjoy the benefits of RAM-resident desk accessories such as Michtron's Alt, BI's Thunder, or even the Reversi accessory included on your START disk.

TextPro is a German word processor reworked for English and sold in the U.S. by Abacus Software for $49.95. Just available at presstime, information from the company describes it as a "professional quality word processor." It is GEM-based, with optional keyboard commands for menu items. Users can define the function keys-make their own macros-and use TextPro as a text editor for the C language. Eight printer drivers come with it, including one that prints sideways on Epson printers.


On the horizon are several products expected by Christmas or early spring. Hippo Word (est. $90 from Hippopotamus Software) will support a laser printer, allowing ST users to enter the desktop publishing arena. Two new GEM word processors-1ST Word Plus (from Atari), and PaperClip Elite (est. $100 from Batteries Included)-will read graphic files into text and print them out within your document. HomeText, from Batteries Included, will permit the writer to reduce complex procedures into a single keystroke (macros) and will have menus that pop-up from the bottom of the screen as well as pull-down from the top menu bar.

The two most talked-about programs under development are Microsoft Write, and Word Perfect. Microsoft Write, an implementation of Microsoft's successful Macintosh program, Word, will be sold under license by Atari for approximately $200. Word Perfect, from Word Perfect, Inc., will be similar to one of the best-selling and arguably the most powerful word-processing programs in the IBM environment. Word Perfect, Inc. says it will cost around $500.


Spelling checkers are becoming essential for any serious writer who uses a word processor. Human proofing is still needed to find errors the checker will miss, e.g. "there" for "their," but even good spellers use these programs as proofreaders, to find typos and other errors.

At this writing there are three standalone spelling checkers available for the ST: Hippo Spell (Hippopotamus Software, $39.95), Regent Spell (Regent Software, $49.95), and Thunder (Batteries Included, $39.95). The first two are programs that work on a document after it has been written and saved. Thunder can also work while you type. This is a new feature, successful in the IBM PC world and appearing also on expensive electronic typewriters. Time will tell if it is a real advantage or only a gimmicky annoyance.

A basic spelling checker compares each word in your document to the words in its own "dictionary," and alerts you to exceptions. These exceptions may be correct words that you can accept, or errors you can change. Regent Spell and Hippo Spell are basic spellers with 30,000 word dictionaries. Both of these programs allow you to add your own words to the dictionaries.

Word was recently
combined with Regent
Spell into a package
called Regent

Thunder is more advanced. In realtime mode, it alerts you as you type an unrecognized word, and suggests alternative words you may have meant. It will "learn" your most common errors (e.g. receive for recieve) and automatically correct them when encountered. It has global correction, handy for making a systematic change in a document, and can expand your favorite abbreviations. Thunder also analyzes your document statistically, counting everything from characters to paragraphs, and renders several indexes of readability.


The Word Processor Comparison Chart (on page 36) lists many features that are available on word processors. Each feature can be useful in some situations, but not others; you must decide for yourself, based on your probable use.


If you think you need or want a word processor, you have several options available now, or if you want to wait, several important new products are expected within six months. Two major types exist: GEM and nonGEM. If you like working on the Desktop with icons and the mouse, stick with GEM. Non-GEM programs will require learning commands and procedures that can be very complicated but may be worthwhile if you need special powers or features. If you already know a word processor such as EMACS or Perfect Writer, you might shorten your learning curve by getting a lookalike program. Some word processors have their own spelling checker, a value and convenience you should consider. Beginners should start with a program that is easy to use, because complicated and poorly documented word processors can easily become a nightmare. Professional writers need to learn about word processing by experimentation and inquiry in order to evaluate the suitability of programs for themselves; however, they should consider the most capable products available.


  • Abacus Software
    2201 Kalamazoo S.F.
    P.O. Box 7211
    Grand Rapids, MI 49510
    (616) 241-5510

  • Batteries Included
    30 Mural Street, Unit 9
    Richmond Hill
    Ontario L4B lB5 Canada
    (416) 881-9941

  • CompuServe Information Services
    P.O. Box 20212
    5000 Arlington Center Blvd.
    Columbus, OH 43220
    (800) 848-8199

  • Haba Systems
    6711 Valjean Ave.
    Van Nuys, CA 91406
    (818) 989-5822

  • Hippopotamus Software
    985 University Avenue, Suite 12
    Los Gatos, CA 95030
    (408) 395-3190

  • Mark of the Unicorn
    222 Third Street
    Cambridge, MA 02142
    (617) 576-2760

  • Mark Williams Company
    1430 W. Wrightwood Ave.
    Chicago, IL 60614
    (312) 472-6659

  • Microsoft Corp.
    16011 NE 36th Way
    Box 97017
    Redmond, WA 98073-9717
    (206) 882-8080

  • Regent Software
    7131 Owensmouth-Suite 45A
    Canoga Park, CA 91303
    (818) 882-2800

  • Word Perfect Corp.
    (was Satellite Software, Inc.)
    288 West Center
    Orem, Utah, 84057
    (801) 227-4299