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


START upgrades the classic word processor

by Bruce D. Noonan, M.D.

Last issue, Dr. Noonan presented his newest version of the Atari freeware word processor, ST Writer 1.75. But just as we went to press, we got a message from him-the GEM-based version of ST Writer was finished! Here, then, is Bruce Noonan's story-going where no mouse cursor has gone before. You 'll find the program on your START disk as file STWRITE2.ARC.

File STWRITE2.ARC on your START disk

The story thus far: When the ST first appeared, Atari decided to bundle a free word processor with it. It had to be done quickly, so in just two weeks, programmers Dan Oliver and John Feagans converted the 8-bit Atari Writer program to the ST, calling it ST Writer. However, ST Writer still had a few bugs, and Seattle ophthalmologist Bruce Noonan received permission from Atari to take the ST Writer source code and improve the program -which he's been doing ever since. You can read more about Dr. Noonan's work in "ST Writer Secrets" and "ST Writer Returns!" in the Winter 1986 and Fall 1987 issues of START.

About a year ago I was speaking to John Feagans of Atari about the progress he was making with ST Writer.

John said that if he had had his druthers, ST Writer would have been GEM-based, and Atari never would have had to resort to using 1ST Word. We began to talk about converting ST Writer to GEM. and agreed that if we could do it, we wouldn't want the program to slow down. We spoke of dialog boxes, windows, file selector boxes and access to desk accessories. But it was not to come to pass at that time, and I (and many other ST Writer users) had long been accustomed to using a non-mouse-based word processor.

Months passed, and I had nearly forgotten the conversation until one day I received a call from John. Barely concealing his exuberance, he described having a mouse cursor on the ST Writes screen!

Apparently, John had linked a set of sample GEM object files with the ST Writer object files, done some work on a makeshift resource file, and created something of a GEM/TOS hybrid. I asked him to send me the code, and I began to try to make my own GEM version of ST Writer.

Well, after a year, here it is-ST Writer version 2.0. You will notice that there are only very subtle differences between it and version 1.75-that is, until you click a mouse button! What's that-a dialog box? Click on OK, and you'll get a blank window with a menu bar at the top. The Desk, Files, Edit and Options menus contain all the selections from the old main menu, with a couple of additions.

For example, there are two Save choices: Save and Save as. . . You use Save for saving your file under the same name it was Loaded under, and Save as. . . when you want to save a file under a new name. Under Edit, you will notice the addition of Global Format. Clicking on this menu item will produce a dialog box allowing you to enter formatting data prior to creating a file. It will not change formatting data in an existing file, but only in a new file to be created using the Create selection. The last difference is under Options: You can switch out of GEM mode by clicking on Mouse, and you will be returned to the old familiar ST Writer menu.

When you're typing or editing text, there is no menu bar or menu items. However, at the bottom right of the command box are two arrows. If you are in GEM mode, clicking the mouse will hide the flashing "Alpha" cursor, and the mouse cursor will appear. Clicking on the up or down arrows has the same effect as Shift-[up arrow] or Shift-[down arrow]-that is, scrolling the screen up or down.

Clicking the mouse on ESC is the same as pressing the Escape key, and returns you to the menu. You can also place the Alpha cursor anywhere in the text on the screen with the mouse by clicking to show the mouse cursor, moving it to the appropriate position and clicking again. At one point, we had both the mouse cursor and the alpha cursor on the screen at the same time. Unfortunately if both cursors overlapped, the character under the alpha cursor sometimes got mangled, so I elected to allow only one cursor or the other to be on at a time.

ST Writer retains its speed by not using the conventional GEM approach to mouse and window management. The price of that speed: There is no text on the menu screen, and no menus on the edit screen. We wanted some way of allowing those who actually wanted to pet their mice to be able to choose to do so without changing the basic operation of ST Writer. By avoiding those GEM conventions, ST Writer does not slow down as do other (truly) GEM-based word processors.

I have tested the Free Memory counter with the Atari's new Mega 4. and it works fine. I also checked the disk Formatting selection, and it does indeed use the twisted sector skewing just as with the format option from the desktop (but only with the new TOS ROMs). I am using version 2.0 in my office and have not found any problems.

I hoped to use ST Writer 2.0 in conjunction with Kumas K-Switch on a Mega, so I could keep ST Writer in one part of memory and a spelling checker in another, write my file to a RAMdisk and spell-check it before printing or saving on floppy disk. Unfortunately. K-Switch does not switch from one half of memory to the other on the new Megas because of their new ROMs. Atari says Kuma did not follow its guidelines when writing K-Switch, and it's not the fault of the new ROMs.

Nevertheless, ST Writer still works in all resolutions-and don't forget the option in high-res monochrome of selecting 37 versus 25 lines of text.

After more than a year, I hope you'll agree that ST Writer 2.0 is well worth the wait- especially for its price!