Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 5, NO. 2 / JUNE 1986



1st Word

ST users starved for applications software that's designed to use the friendly visual interface of the GEM desktop glimpsed a light at the end of the tunnel last December. With its own GEMwrite package not yet ready for release, Atari Corp. began including 1st-Word with each complete 520ST system sold. 1st-Word, by British software developer GST Holdings Ltd., is a capable word processor with basic editing, formatting, and printing factilities that should satisfy most ST users. And it's Free. At this writing, Atari planned to continue packing 1st-Word with every 520ST.

A GEM application's visual appearance is essential to its convenient and productive use. 1st-Word performs admirably in this category. Its drop-down menus are well thought-out, its windows are well designed and placed, and it works flawlessly with the standard desk accessories. After double-clicking on its icon to run 1st-Word from the desktop, you are presented with the menu bar, a strip of function key icons, a font table, and the standard GEM Item Selector dialog box. Select a file to edit and a window zooms open to display its contents.

1st-Word is a What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get word processor. Each document window displays your text centered, justified, boldfaced, italicized, underlined-you get the idea. Although top and bottom margins and headers and footers are not displayed, print preview screens and test printouts are virtually unnecessary. Unfortunately, underlining gets wiped out when you start typing on the next line, and superscripts and subscripts appear as normal characters.

To speed the editing process, 1st-Word does not reformat and restyle your text as you type. Instead, after modifying a paragraph, you must choose a menu command to force a new display showing your changes. I was annoyed by this at first, but quickly got used to it. The time saved really does make up for a temporary visual mess. You may have up to four document windows open at once, and you can switch back and forth between them by clicking the mouse anywhere on the next document you want to use. Windows implement all the customary GEM operations, including moving, sizing, zooming, horizontal and vertical scrolling, and closing. A ruler line under the title bar displays tab and margin settings. If you change them (with the mouse) the new settings apply to text typed after the changes. Previously entered text remains the same.

1st-Word maintains a single cut-and-paste buffer so that text can easily be transferred between documents. Simply select the text you wish to cut (or make a copy of) by either surrounding it with a rectangle or marking its beginning and end, choose Cut block (or Copy block) from the Block menu, position the cursor wherever you want the text to reappear, and choose "Paste block" from the Block menu. Presto! Additionally, blocks of text can be deleted, moved, written out to disk files, and read directly from disk files into documents (sort of a "Paste file" function).

Search-and-Replace capabilities are standard, allowing forward and backward search and matching of upper and lower case. Strangely, if you keep typing beyond the edge of the dialog box when entering the string to search for, the line cursor moves off into the text but the characters you type don't appear on the screen. If this is intentional, I'm glad the program doesn't crash. There must be a better way to handle this. 1st-Word also has several unusual editing features. Word wrap can be turned on and off. Four separate marks" can be set anywhere in the text so that the cursor can move there via a single menu selection. Using the GEM Item Selector, you can delete files from your disks without returning to the desktop.

The program can also be made to function as an editor for simple ASCII text files, with no style or format information saved to disk. This mode would be useful for telecommunications buffs who compose messages for uploading and must have plain text output. Programmers will find this mode excellent for writing source code.

The current page number is displayed in the left window margin. Each function key (Fl-F10) can be activated by clicking on its icon in a strip that appears at the bottom of the screen. It is possible to enter any printable character in the ST character set by clicking on it in a 16 x 16 table that displays each and every one, including the Fuji symbol and the various GEM icons. Unfortunately, you cannot use the search and replace function on words created with special characters. (Note that these last three visual features only appear in medium and high resolution displays.)

Document formatting is controlled from the Layout dialog box summoned from the File menu. Here you are invited to specify the top and bottom margins, total page length and header/footer text. Although headers and footers can each be only one line long, each can have a left, center and right-justified component plus an embedded page number. Page numbers must appear on every page. Interestingly, verso/recto printing is supported-your pages can be left or right oriented. The user can create conditional and normal page breaks by dragging the mouse in the left window margin.

It is good that all of 1st-Word's formatting features work flawlessly, since there are so few of them. More flexibility is needed because people will find more uses for the program than reports and business letters. I would consider double-spacing, multi-line header and footer text, date and time insertion, and perhaps even footnoting, essential capabilities in the next release of the software.

New users may not need all this, though, and it seems that 1st-Word was designed with them in mind. A long Help menu offers brief reminders on key topics, as well as an Extra Help option that automatically inserts a dialog box reminder between all menu selections and their execution. I'm not sure that even first-time computer users won't outgrow this within five minutes, but its always there if you feel insecure. It's too bad that neither the [HELP] or [UNDO] keys are used, since both have obvious uses in word processing.

As shipped, 1st-Word includes drivers for Epson dot-matrix and Qume Sprint daisywheel printers, as well as a generic ASCII-only driver that ignores all special character styles. Near letter-quality print mode is supported for printers that have it. A special program is used to install the driver of your choice so that 1st-Word will use it when you select the Print command. (For some reason, documents can only be printed after all windows are closed.) Drivers for several other printers have been posted to SIG * Atari on CompuServe, so check there before writing your own.

The documentation for 1st-Word is stored on the program disk. A short note provided clear instructions so that beginners would have no problem printing out a copy. Future versions may include a typeset manual- but this costs money. Printed out, the manual is 42 pages long with no index. It is concise, consistently organized, and very well written for both beginners and experienced users. A tutorial text file is also included on the disk.

I have very few criticisms of 1st-Word. Like all other ST word processors I have seen, it does not offer Macintosh-style multiple type fonts. It also has idiosyncracies and minor bugs. But as an entry-level GEM word processor it is much more than I expected when I got it. Its best feature is an outstanding robustness-it has yet to crash and dump me into a desktop full of bombs. I only wish 1st-Word had been available last summer!
Atari Corp.
1196 Borregas Avenue Sunnyvale, CA 94086 (408) 745-2000

DB Master One

The long-awaited ST version of Stoneware's DB Master One, a popular database manager for the Apple II and Macintosh, finally arrived in December. I assumed that since Atari was giving it away with each complete 520ST system purchased before Christmas, it couldn't be worth selling. I was wrong. DB Master One is an excellent GEM-based program that should be able to handle most users file-management needs.

The DB Master One package includes a disk containing the two programs MAKEONE and USEONE, a 43-page indexed manual and a product registration reply card addressed to Stoneware. Apparently, Atari is handling the distribution and marketing of DB Master One while Stoneware develops and supports it. Indeed, shortly after registering the program, I received from Stoneware an "order form" for technical support. For $25, users can purchase 30 minutes of telephone consultation. This is a policy that I strongly oppose. Why should users of a low-end productivity package have to pay extra for the support they deserve and receive free of charge from companies like Optimized Systems Software?

(We asked Stoneware about this. They told us that customer support has become the single most expensive area of software marketing. In order to keep the cost of a product like DR Master One down, they believed they had to establish a support service charge. Stoneware also felt most users would have little need for customer support on DR Master one. But if they had tacked the customer support charge onto the product's price tag, people who didn't need the support would be paying for those who did.-ST RESOURCE)

DB Master One is extremely intuitive. This is primarily an entry-level database, but a very flexible one. Even new users should be able to start using this program productively right away. Making extensive use of the GEM user interface and help menus, DB Master One is easy to use in itself. But the concise, well-written, and helpfully illustrated user's manual is always there if you run into trouble. It includes complete descriptions of each drop-down menu and dialog box used by the programs. An unusual but welcome feature is "Understanding File Management," an introductory chapter for new users.

Several features are common to both modules of DB Master One. All desk accessories are available from within the programs, many menu selections have keyboard equivalents, and help requests at the bottom of each menu call up dialog boxes that explain the commands.

To create a new file, run the MAKEONE program, which presents an empty window where you can place fields and labels. Simply click the mouse where you want a field to begin and drag to where you want it to end. Each field is a rectangle that you fill with information. A field can be either label-only (a title, for example), data-only, or most commonly, labelled data. As you play around with a field's shape, its size in characters is displayed in a corner. Various colors and styles can be combined to create more pleasing visual effects.

If you have already designed a form and created a file with it, you can use MAKEONE to edit the design by adding, removing, re-sizing, and rearranging the fields. When you are done, simply click on SAVE to record the changes.

You will run MAKEONE relatively rarely compared to USEONE, which performs all the file management functions aside from creating and modifying forms. You can add, delete and edit records easily by just clicking on the desired fields and typing in some text. In USEONE you can also find and examine selected records, sort files and print reports.

To get a better idea of just how easy it is to use DB Master One, let's walk through a sample session. Suppose we want to create a simple mailing list.

First, as advised by the manual, we'll think out our planned database and record a few notes on paper before even turning on the computer. I found it just as easy to do this within the program since DB Master One makes it so simple to play with form layouts. It's easy to place name, street address, city and other fields in the desired location on the screen.

But it is even easier to take advantage of the "Splat" menu. This is another unique feature that provides several predesigned field layouts (not complete forms) for common filing applications such as checkbooks and mailing lists. Just click and the proper fields are splattered onto the form all at once. If we want, we can now alter the color, size, and style of labels and fields.

We're done creating the form, so we save it to disk and quit to the desktop. Now we run USEONE and begin entering data.

Each record is filled by typing information into the fields. You can either fill them in order, pressing [RETURN] to move to the next, or randomly by clicking on fields as their contents come to mind. After each form is completed, selecting Add Record from the menu bar, or pressing [Control] [A], adds the information to the file and presents a clean form for the next record. When we've thought of all the people we want to put on our mailing list for now, we can save the file to disk for later use.

Now we could modify the form by using MAKEONE again, or run USEONE to print out address lists, mailing labels, and other reports. DB Master One uses icons to facilitate the creation of up to 10 reports from four basic formats. Reports can also be saved to disk for later use and can be output to either the screen, the printer, or a disk file.

For experienced database users, the statistics on DB Master One are: maximum file size-320000 characters; maximum number of fields-l00 per form; maximum field size-3000 characters; maximum record size- 3000 characters. It seems that the entire file is kept in RAM when running USEONE. Consequently, sorting operations are fast. A 1,000-record mailing list sorted on the last-name field can be re-indexed on the ZIP code field in just a few seconds! Sorts and searches operate on as many as three fields.

DB Master One is without a doubt the easiest and most enjoyable file management program I have ever used. The manual cover even calls it the "easy filing system for the Atari ST," implying plans for more powerful versions in the future. (Stoneware has indeed told us of plans for upgrade modules; some of which may be available by the time you read this.-ST RESOURCE)

There are a few drawbacks to the program. The manual, while excellent in explaining data management and the operation of the program, contains no technical information. I would have liked to see a description of the program's file formats. The program itself could use customizable printer drivers, capability to work on more than one file at once, and a way to import data stored in other common formats. But DB Master One's RAM-based nature and lack of such tools as a programming language and natural-language query system do not hurt the program and its purpose, since they really belong in a higher-end product aimed at more experienced users.

In sum, DB Master One should help Atari sell the ST. Prospective users should not be deterred by Stoneware's support policies, because the program is truly easy to use. DB Master One is a real winner for individuals and businesses that need an easy but powerful file manager.

Atari Corp.
1196 Borregas Avenue
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
(408) 745-2000