Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 4, NO. 12 / APRIL 1986


...doesn't live up to its name

Reviewed by IAN CHADWICK

My first rule of thumb when evaluating a word processing program is- can I use the program itself to write the review? This means: Can I learn the program in a short time, does it resemble anything else I'm used to, is it free from serious programming flaws so it won't crash in mid-write and does it do an adequate job? I'm writing this review with The Final Word, so it satisfies my minimum requirements at least.
   Final Word is actually a grandchild of EMACS, a mainframe text editor created at MIT. ST developers using Micro-EMACS will recognize the style and much of the command interface. Better yet, Final Word is closely patterned after Perfect Writer, another EMACS descendant and a program I've been using on a Kaypro computer for several years.
   Final Word can legitimately be called a document processor. It features many powerful commands to manipulate the format of professional documents such as books, contracts, manuals, theses etc.
   This software can produce multiple section headings (numbered), indexing, table of contents, intricate formatting and display, variable heading and footing commands, multiple indentation levels, form letter creation, appendices, enumeration and itemization, footnotes, multiple print and display environments, and much more. And the price for this wealth of features is an accompanying increase in complexity and learning time.
   As a clone of Perfect Writer, Final Word shares its strengths and weaknesses. First, it's a command driven program. The software is translated almost verbatim from its IBM version The package tries to rationalize the lack of a GEM interface by saying, "The great debate about whether it is more or less efficient to do word processing tasks with a rolling rodent is not yet over.".
   I've done serious writing with both mouse and command styles of word processor and I feel it's a matter of taste. However, the GEM interface uncontestably makes things easier and involves less memorization. Many features of Final Word could have been incorporated into drop-down menus without the slightest loss of efficiency. This would have enhanced the program and overcome the multiple keystrokes required for some commands. If GEM was a deciding factor for buying your 520ST, you won't like Final Word at all.
   Most screen oriented commands are driven by a combination of [CONTROL] key or Function key presses. For example, [CONTROL] [F] and [CONTROL] [R] (or an arrow key) set the direction of movement, or display commands to forward or reverse. Then [CONTROL] [V] moves the display one screen in that direction.
   Although I'm accustomed to using this kind of word processor, many people might consider Final Word to be a dinosaur compared to today's mouse-controlled or menu-controlled word processors. The command structure isn't difficult, but it is not mnemonic and is often awkward.
   For example, although you can get a list of buffers, you have to remember their names in order to delete them rather than pointing to one with a mouse or a cursor. Also, this process-as well as many others- requires two steps when one should suffice. It is not an intuitive system.
   Format commands such as headers, footers, line spacing, and so on must be marked in the text with a"@" sign and enclosing fences such as curly braces or parentheses.
   Marking a word this way: @b(bold) will cause bold to be printed in boldface. @i is for italics, @u is one method of underlining. Chapters, sections, subsections, paragraphs, appendices and appendix sections are numbered at print time, and a table of contents is automatically generated at the end of the document.
   Enclosing a word with @index and fences will put it into an index, also printed at the end. Numbered footnotes can be generated within the text, at the bottom of a page or at the end of a chapter. Although you can center and justify text and set flush right or left margins for any line on-screen, you don't see the effect of most format commands until print time.
   Surprisingly, there is no indication of end-of-page such as provided in WordStar, Word Perfect or even HabaWriter. You can get a line count, but no visible mark to locate page breaks. This little feature is sorely needed. You can force the program to jump a page break over a given space so graphs and charts are divided onto two pages, but it's still nice to be able to recognize the page end by sight.
   There are two printer commands. One prints out the text exactly as seen on the screen without numbering, typefaces or the like. The other is the advanced "format" feature which incorporates all the @ command formatting features. The latter can also format your text for devices other than the configured printer-say for printing to disk.
   One of the strengths of Final Word is its ability to open and maintain multiple buffers-each with a separate document or text. Up to 12 can be opened at once, but the program uses one for disk directories, another for "kill" text (which can be recalled with the [UNDO] key at the cursor location) and one for the Help file.
   You can switch between buffers, moving text between them easily. I always maintain a "notes" buffer when I write, to jot down thoughts for later use or editing. You can also open two windows on screen, each showing a different buffer, and move between them. Not as elegant as the GEM windows, this is nonetheless a major advantage over other non-GEM word processors like ST Writer.
   To gain memory for the multiple-document buffers, Final Word uses a virtual memory technique. It keeps a "swap" file on disk and frequently goes to it, swapping onscreen text with the disk file to keep in memory only the current buffer and to update the disk file with changes and additions.
   A RAMdisk is almost essential to keep this frequent swapping from being annoying. The maximum size of the swap file is limited by disk space and must be created in eight-page increments (a 96 "page" file is roughly 100K which translates to about half that in single-spaced, printed pages).
   The maximum document size I was able to load before getting told that my 96-page swap file was full was only about 48K. The program also fails to recognize my additional 512K upgrade, a serious drawback for the writer who may want a larger file in memory at once. The 512K upgrade ought to preclude a swap file altogether but it doesn't. Final Word holds less text than ST Writer in a single file. Also, the disk with the swap file MUST be kept in the drive and not removed, or the program crashes and you lose your text not currently saved. A recover program usually repairs your swap file, but it's a pain.
   When you load the program, the previous contents of the swap file are brought into memory and shown on screen. Not always a desired occurence. If you were working with multiple buffers, you have to delete them now, or remember to do so at the end of a writing session. Otherwise, they're all recalled. This is sloppy programming. The swap file should appear empty when the program is loaded and avoid this nonsense.
   Also, I found you can't delete the kill buffer or the directory buffer once you call for a disk directory! In order to get a directory of a new disk in the same drive, you must do a directory of the other drive first, then the second drive. Otherwise it retains the directory in a buffer and can't be coerced into forgetting it!
   The translation from IBM PC to Atari ST was less than perfect, despite the company's claim to have created "crash-proof" software. For example, any attempt at highlighting will generate the alternate character set onto the screen-a jumble of mathematical symbols, Greek and international letters.
   Final Word's Documentation is impressive-but not particularly good. You get a big, IBM-style box, three-ring binder and new-smelling, glossy paper. A large tutorial and a larger reference guide provide the answers to almost any questions you can imagine, with only a few oversights. Unfortunately you often have to dig deeper than you should to get an answer to a simple question.
   Because this word processor demands more effort than most, care should be given to reading the manual before trying out more advanced options such as output device configuration and altering the default installation mode. But since the documentation was originally designed for the PC, it is less than complete when dealing with the ST. What files are required on your disks and what parameters must be entered when loading are just two of the items missing. Much of the manual is barely adequate for ST users and sometimes requires experimentation to discover what's required.
   Considerable wordage describes numerous IBM PC keys which aren't available on the ST, then neglects others which the ST sports. Also, several features don't seem to work- such as the menu item "capitalization." And the Help feature is given no commentary at all. Worse, there is not enough room in the command line to include all the characters of disk ID, folder (path) name and filename, so wild cards are a necessary though not always viable, solution.
   Final Word uses separate format and print programs which can be run from the desktop (as TOS-takes-parameters files-poorly documented but understood with a little tinkering) or from within the editor. This is unlike most other all-in-one programs. But it allows greater flexibility for output, although there is not a subsequent gain in memory as would be expected.
   The program is protected, with which I have no disagreement, but one of the original disks is needed to validate and run a copied file. No mention is made of purchasing extra "originals" from the company. This would be better than carrying around an original in case of an accident.
   Also, if there's a problem with the swap file, you must load the program, exchange the backup disk with an original, then insert the program disk again only to be told there is a problem and be deposited back at the desktop. It would have been friendlier if it checked the swap file before it bothered checking for the protection scheme!
   Final Word is a lot of work but will ultimately prove an excellent (if currently flawed) tool for the serious writer. However, the name is overly pretentious for the quality you get. And, once again, Mark of the Unicorn has pasted a hefty price-tag on their software. As it stands, Final Word (version 1.17) needs to be more thoroughly debugged. The documentation should be re-written for the ST, and the buffer management re-programmed. When all this is done, I will recommend Final Word to anyone who wishes to write in a "document" environment or to any professional writer. Until then, I'd continue to use ST Writer if I were you.

Mark of the Unicorn
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Cambridge, MA 02142
(617) 576-2760