Classic Computer Magazine Archive START VOL. 2 NO. 3 / WINTER 1987


A dramatic upgrade of the original

by Heidi Brumbaugh
START Junior Editor

1st Word Plus, from GST Software, is a new and powerful contender in the word processing market. A dramatic upgrade of 1st Word, one of the first word processors for the ST. 1st Word Plus is characterized by its versatility and flexibility, it has two modes of operation: word processing and non-word processing. Non-word processing mode, which generates ASCII files, turns off options such as word wrap, reformat and hyphenation and turns 1st Word Plus into a powerful text editor for writing programs or entering data for 1st Word Plus's mail merge utility.

1st Word Plus is fully GEM-based, and allows you to edit up to four documents at once. Its "What you see is what you get" display shows whether text will be printed in Roman, bold, underline, italic, light or a combination of these. It has text justification and flexible, easy-to-use hyphenation as well as block operation support and search and replace options that have become standard. A special statistics option gives you information on file length (in words, pages, lines and bytes) as well as current memory availability in the computer and on disk.

1st Word Plus, which comes with two disks, has a folder containing standard printer configuration files. If your printer is not supported, it has a thoroughly documented program with which you can create your own configuration file. A font table on the screen displays which characters out of the Atari's 256 character set your printer supports and shows which printer is currently installed. Modem users can switch between parallel and serial ports with a mouse click.

1st Word Plus's real strength lies in the power it gives you to format your documents. Headers and footers are fully supported, and you can control exactly the way the page is laid out on the paper. Three different kind of page breaks are available so you never have to split up tables or paragraphs. Footnotes are remarkably easy to generate: use the default settings for size or set your own, type the footnote in its own window and then let the computer do the rest. 1st Word Plus keeps track of numbering footnotes, adding superscript numbers and keeping the footnote on the same page as the reference wherever possible.

Text is formatted as it is typed in; however, you must reformat text after making changes. The manual contains many tips on how to manipulate reformatting to create indented paragraphs, right-aligned text and even hanging indents (paragraphs which are indented except for the first line).

Margins, tab stops, justification, line spacing and character pitch are all controlled with a ruler at the top of the screen. The ruler can be edited either with the mouse or by calling up a dialog box. In addition to normal tab stops, you can add "decimal" tabs which align characters on a decimal point or space. Once you're through editing the ruler, it can be hidden from view or replaced with a message telling your current column, line and page number in the document. If you want to change formats in the middle of the document, simply add a new ruler. If you find yourself using the same margin settings in much of your work, you can save rulers to disk for future reference, or read a ruler directly out of another document.

1st Word Plus
is a powerful
contender in the
word processing

1st Word Plus takes this idea of saving formats to disk one step further by having a special feature which actually allows you to store skeleton files in a folder on disk called Format. Every time you open a new file, 1st Word Plus checks the disk for a file in the format folder with the same extension; if it finds one, it copies the margin settings, headers and footers, as well as any text, to the new file before you begin editing.

Up until now, the ability to combine graphics and text belonged in the realm of desktop publishing. 1st Word Plus has broken that barrier by allowing you to read specially formatted picture files from most popular drawing programs. An accessory program called Snapshot is included with the package and is used to store pictures in a form 1st Word Plus can understand. To load a picture into a file, simply switch on graphics mode and click on Read Picture. Once a picture is in the document it can be moved, deleted, or manipulated with any of 1st Word Plus's block commands. Although pictures taken in another resolution will not show up on screen, they will be printed out with the text.

1st Word Plus has a 40,000 word dictionary that you can load into memory for convenient spell checking. You can also create your own supplemental spelling dictionaries which can be either merged or used in conjunction with the main dictionary. You select whether you want 1st Word Plus to check your spelling as you type or else all at once after you finish the document. A browse option in the spell menu lets you look through the dictionary alphabetically or ask 1st Word Plus to "guess" at the correct spelling of a word. Although spell checking can be a real timesaver, I would strongly urge 520 ST users to save their files before attempting to load the dictionary into memory. The first time I tried it the program bombed; I could only get spelling to work by removing one of my existing desk accessories.

1st Mail is a utility included with 1st Word Plus that lets you print out form letters. It comes with sample files and a tutorial to get you started, but also has an impressive command list for sophisticated users who want to optimize their time spent on mass mailings. You can create mailing lists using either 1st Word Plus or one of the many databases available for the ST; an appendix gives detailed information on how to format data from four of the most common. Completed forms can be sent to either disk or the printer, and features include a multi-column (up to nine) output option.

The 1st Word Plus manual patiently takes you through the features of the software; although it recommends that beginners refer to their Atari owners manual for some things, it does cover such basics as sizing windows and using an alert box. Experienced word processor users, however, may find the manual not very conducive to skimming for information. Also, it doesn't have an index so it isn't handy for quick reference. Online help gives brief descriptions of features; click on Extra Help and 1st Word Plus will display an alert box with a brief description of each menu bar option you select.

For all its features and extras, I still have a few gripes with the program. First, it doesn't check to see if there is enough memory available before loading in the dictionary. Crashing for this reason is unprofessional. Also, 1st Word Plus doesn't check to see if your file has been edited since you last saved it; you must confirm abandoning a current edit even if you haven't made any changes. Another complaint is that it asks you if you're sure you want to create a new file if you type in a new filename; since the whole point of word processing is putting information in files, why should the program want to make sure we really want to start a new file?

1st Word Plus is geared toward typing with the keyboard and editing with the mouse, so hardly any commands have corresponding Control or Alternate keys. It's even impossible to move through your file past the current screen more than a line at a rime unless you access the scroll bar with the mouse. This forces you to switch from keyboard to mouse every time you do a block operation or jump around in the file. Another gripe is that you must save a file to disk before you print it, so every time you want a hard copy you must save the file, print it out and then reopen the file. 1st Word Plus is a little slow compared to ST Writer, but then so, unfortunately, are most GEM-based ST word processors.

By the time you read this, 1st Word Plus should have one (or more) North American distributors, so you should be able to purchase it with ease. Despite 1st Word Plus's relatively high price tag, I would recommend it as an ideal word processor for students because of its spell checker, footnote ability and flexible margins for indented quotations and bibliographies. It also has all the strengths of a business word processor with its ability to keep 'skeleton" formats on disk and its accompanying 1st Merge utility. Because of the thorough documentation and intuitive command structure beginners will find a low learning curve; seasoned computer users will find all the features they've come to expect and a surprising selection of "and then some."

1st Word Plus. GST Software, distributed by Electric Distribution, 8 Green Street, Willingham, Cambridgeshire, CB4 5JA, England. 011-44-954-61258. $99.50