Word Processors for the Atari--
by Jon Loveless
There are currently three true word processors available for the ATARI, and that in itself creates a few problems. Typically, you would run out and buy one the moment one of two things occur:
- 1. you have the money, or
2. you find a store that has one in stock.
If you have not yet done so, or have done so and are still interested in what else is available, then read on. We are going to do an exhaustive comparison of the currently available word processors.
Letter Perfect (TM) Vers. 2.0
LKJ Enterprises, Inc.
P. O Box 10827
St. Louis, MO 63129
Text Wizard (TM)
19519 Business Center Drive
Northridge, CA 91324
Atari Word Processor
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
Note: LKJ has two disk based versions of Letter Perfect and one ROM version. Version 1.0 was released early in 1981, and has been replaced by Version 2.0. Disk based Version 2.0 is the one being compared here and you should be aware of which version you are looking at before you buy.
The most difficult part of any software comparison is the final recommendation, so we are going to present the recommendation first. The bottom line is that all three of these word processors are excellent. If you were to choose one at random with no advance knowledge about its capabilities, you would end up with an excellent product and a purchase of value. All three have a number of commands to get used to, and with practice can be mastered in fairly short order. After several sessions at the keyboard these commands will become second nature and a more detailed evaluation can be made. Here again, none will fail, but regardless of which you purchase you will undoubtedly find something you wish you had.
Having started with relatively equal booking, let's look at the best and worst features of each word processor first, and then fill in the middle ground with a chart of feature comparisons.
LETTER PERFECT (TM)BEST FEATURES:
The database merge capability stands out as truly unique feature of Letter Perfect. This will allow the printing of form letters to a list of people without the need to manually change the name and address. The name and address list can be developed on Letter Perfect and then, using the companion program Mail/Merge (extra-cost option), print out individual letters using the name or other data in the heading and the body of the letter. Coupled with the LKJ Database Management System (to be released soon) this should be a powerful threesome.
The general ease of use is probably next on the list of Letter Perfect best features. If you accept the default values built into the software, you can boot the disk (a menu will appear), press [RETURN], and begin typing. It is really that simple. Pressing the [ESC] key will bring you back to the menu where there are commands to SAVE, LOAD and PRINT, to name a few.
There are also a few other features that should come under the category of "nice touch". For example, pressing the CONTROL key and [A] will move the cursor to the beginning of the line you are on, and CONTROL [Z] will move the cursor to the end of the same line. This may sound insignificant, but with nearly 50 commands, and 15 format representations this kind of simple and logical interaction is appreciated.
Version 1.0 had a number of bugs, and other problems often associated with the first release of new software. Version 2.0 has corrected all of these and added a few other niceties. As a result, we are hard pressed to find what we could call a "worst." LKJ chose to utilize their own Disk Operating System which creates instant compatibility problems. This has been corrected to a large degree with the optional program Mail/Merge. In the absence of the comparison program, however, it does limit you to using Letter Perfect files. Atari's 40 column TV screen limitation is overcome somewhat by a "SCREEN FORMAT" command on the menu, but this is at best only a partial solution.
All in all, Letter Perfect is a well written, well engineered, easy to use program that will satisfy the vast majority of word processing needs.
TEXT WIZARD (TM)BEST FEATURES:
The least expensive of the three word processors being discussed here, Text Wizard has to be labeled as the BEST BUY. It is an extremely powerful yet simple word processor, and has the added ability to write and edit BASIC programs. If you do any software development you will really appreciate the edit capability. For example, you can load a basic program, edit it, and print all or part of it to your printer.
Word processing commands are very logical and. can be given at any time except during print. There is no menu, but every command ties to the keyboard in a fashion that is easy to remember. The console keys START, SELECT, and OPTION, for example, are used a great deal. To print, save, or load a program you would press OPTION and either P. S. or L. Perhaps the nicest feature involves the INSERT mode. If you press the CONTROL key and the INSERT key at the same time, you enter this mode which allows you to insert letters, words, or even paragraphs. Text to the right of the cursor is "pushed" as you type which makes the job of adding text into the middle of a paragraph a simple matter.
Text Wizard makes no attempt to overcome the 40 column TV screen limitation imposed by Atari. This translates to "print it if you want to see how it will look" and wastes a lot of paper. Difficulty may also be experienced when using the header/footer commands on shorter than normal pages, but with some experimenting this can be compensated for. Although you would have to do a lot of typing to feel the pinch, Text Wizard uses more of your memory space than Letter Perfect by about 6000 bytes.
ATARI (TM) WORD PROCESSORBEST FEATURES:
Make no mistake, this is the most sophisticated and powerful of the three programs being compared. At the top of most lists would have to be the superior text formatting/viewing capabilities of the ATARI word processor. Of the three programs we are reviewing, this is the only one which does an excellent job of compensating for the 40 column screen limitation. By pressing the [SELECT] key, you are transferred to a special graphics mode which shows you what your document will look like when printed. Although you can't read it in this form (words have been replaced by lines) the image is very clear. It is from this mode that all of the form controls are indicated as well, and you can see the effect of your margin changes instantly. All other changes require that your text be re-formatted under program control. The reformatting, incidentally, is fascinating to watch the first few times, but on a long document can be time consuming. The trade off of reformatting versus printing to see what the results will be softens the wait considerably.
The Atari Word Processor has a number of very sophisticated features that aren't found in many others in its price range ($150). It makes liberal use of the Atari scrolling and screen editing features which provides substantial freedom to view your text. It intentionally makes a backup copy of the last page that you "re-save" after editing. This allows you to reclaim it in the event you have a change of heart. It allows you to change capital letters to lower case, and vice-versa with a simple keystroke. You would have to see this one in action to belive its usefulness.
After using both Letter Perfect and Text Wizard for some time the Atari Word Processor seems very complicated even though great pains have been taken in the Atari tradition of human engineering. The documentation, which seems intimidating at first, is not designed for the person with no computing experience and is demeaning in its simplicity for anyone other than the rank beginner. Time is the best teacher, though, and Atari has really done a commendable job of preparing the user to reap full benefits from their program. After the dust has settled, the one remaining shortcoming seems to be the numerous keystrokes needed to accomplish certain tasks. The Atari Word Processor is completely menu driven, with at least 5 levels of menu to contend with in certain cases. To format a document, for example takes five individual keystrokes if you want to include pagination. Printing can take four and so-on. Much of this results from the added features and functions that Atari has provided, so it is possible that there isn't a better/faster way. It just seems that there is so much "protect the user" philosophy built in to it that is sometimes gets in the way of efficient operation.
CONCLUSIONSThe best way to finish this off is to refer you to the chart of features that accompany this article, and to encourage you to try each of them at a local dealer. All three word processors are good, if not great. All have their strengths, and in fact I use all three depending on my purpose or goal. All three are good value for the money. If I had to choose one above the others, however, I would give the nod to LJK. They seem to be on the right track, and are tying their software together into a nice, albeit expensive, package. The database (Data Perfect) is now available as well as the ROM version of Letter Perfect. The latter, incidentally, sells for $250, which seems a bit high. It is an enhanced version of Version 2.0 and will be given a thorough review in the next issue, so be sure to check it out.
WORD PROCESSOR FEATURE COMPARISON CHART
LETTER TEXT ATARI FEATURE PERFECT WIZARD WP ----------------------------------------------------------------- Printing Printer-825 yes yes yes Printer-MX80 yes yes limited multiple copy print yes no no single sheet print yes yes yes 5 cpi yes yes yes 10 cpi yes yes yes 16 cpi yes yes yes proportional yes-825 yes-825 yes-825 center text yes yes yes right margin text yes yes yes headers/page numbers yes yes yes footers/page numbers yes yes yes underline text yes-825(1) yes-825 only yes-825 pause print no yes no double column print no yes-825 only yes Editing Atari screen editor yes yes yes text parsing yes yes yes tab spacing yes yes yes adjustable tab yes yes yes line spacing yes-CR yes-CR yes(2) search text yes yes yes replace text yes yes yes selective srch/repl no(3) yes yes delete text wide variety wide variety wide variety move text yes yes yes go to end of text yes yes yes go to top of text yes yes yes on screen formatting yes(4) no yes text review (scroll) yes yes yes File Handling DOS used LKJ(5) Atari Atari disk formatting yes no yes lock/unlock yes no yes delete files yes yes yes save file-compacted yes yes yes merge files yes yes yes access database yes(6) no(7) no General memory limits 36714 30505 N/A(8) memory left message yes-update yes-keystroke yes-symbol menu usage one none 5-plus disk directory yes yes yes(1) also with MX80 if Graftrax equipped.
(2) Atari WP offers 3 methods of line insert.
(3) does not support serch and replace/no-replace choice.
(4) screen formatting intersperses lines to simulate a page.
(5) with Mail/Merge Atari DOS compatibility is available.
(6) LKJ database system to be released soon.
(7) compatibility with Filemanager 800 to be supported.
(8) Atari WP is page oriented--saved on a single page basis.