Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 7, NO. 2 / JUNE 1988

More* Secrets of Atariwriter Plus

Mail merge, RAMdisks, macros, wildcards and more...

Atariwriter Plus

I was one of first Atari 130XE owners using Atariwriter Plus, the word processing software featuring mail merge, a built-in spelling checker and support of the 130XE's extra 64K memory. My copy of Atariwriter Plus was so early that it came in a manila envelope with photocopied instructions.

After using this fine word processor extensively, I've learned a number of tricks that make Atariwriter Plus more powerful-such as using it with a RAMdisk, creating pseudo-macros, editing mail merge entries from within the text editor, avoiding bugs that can ruin your printouts, using wildcard disk operations, plus other techniques that give you the most from features already built in.


If you ever used the Atariwriter mail merge function, odds are you've been frustrated by it. Data entry is awkward, the field size is too small, and printing a file with mail merge entries literally takes hours if you have several records. Here are a few steps to help ease the pain.

First, the lengths of the fields are normally limited to 20 characters, but don't let that stop you. If you place multiple mail merge entries in a text file, one after another, in effect you can expand a data field to as many as 300 characters.

However, this is tricky to pull off. The mail merge commands in the text file must be separated by a space and you can't split a word between fields. Otherwise, combine as you wish. I've used this trick to create form letters that print address lines longer than 20 characters.

Suppose you want to print out more than one space between different parts of your data fields-such as two spaces before a zip code. Place the extra spaces at the beginning of the second field, because Atariwriter Plus removes all trailing spaces in mail merge fields when printing.

Another thing that the Atariwriter Plus mail merge program removes is all dashes in a line. This makes it difficult to enter hyphenated names, street numbers and post office boxes. To get around this, when entering a line requiring a dash, simply enter your text, including dashes, and space over the default dashes already in the line.

When the line looks right, leave it by pressing [CONTROL] [DOWN ARROW] to move to the line below. The dashes will stay where you typed them. The only place this trick doesn't work is in the last line of the record. Here you must press [RETURN] to enter the record into memory.

Another convenient trick is editing mail merge entries from within the text editor. You can change data and add or delete records without waiting for the mail merge program to load. (However, you must create a new mail merge file with the mail merge program.)

After creating a record, load it into Atariwriter Plus and [E]dit the file. You can change anything in the records, but make sure all the entries have the proper number of spaces, and all records have the proper number of entries. To add a record, precede it with a [CONTROL]-[ESC] [CONTROL]-[INSERT] character sequence. Also make sure that the entire file ends with a [CONTROL]-[ESC], [CONTROL]-[DELETE]. When you save the file, use the Save ASCII ([CONTROL] [S]) option from the main menu.

Perhaps the most irritating feature about mail merge is its snail-like speed. A form letter with 30 records can keep the disk drive running continuously for an hour or two. A RAMdisk will cure this problem-if you place the mail merge file in it before trying to print.

To use a RAMdisk with a 130XE, load DOS 2.5 with RAMDISK.COM present on the disk. Then use the Binary Load option (L) to load AUTORUN.SYS off the non-XE side of the Atariwriter disk. When the program finishes loading, D8: will be at your disposal. If you forgot to recopy your data file before booting the word processor, just load the file into Atariwriter Plus, then save it to D8: as an ASCII file. The computer will keep sending forms to the printer as fast as it can print.


Every program has its glitches-and they tend to surface at the least opportune moment. Some traps to watch out for:

1. If you use the Block Center Right option-[CONTROL]-[C] [CONTROL]-[C]-with a series of lines padded to the same lengths, make sure every line has at least one blank at the end. Otherwise, they will not align correctly.

2. The extended XE version doesn't always divide long files correctly between the memory banks. Make sure you check the file after it loads-sometimes words will be duplicated, broken in half, or just missing.

3. If you have a header in your file, and set the top margin in the global format screen to 0, the computer becomes confused and formats blank page after blank page. If you specify a footer and set the bottom margin to 0, the program will try and print it below your page length boundary, usually meaning your footer will end up on the top of the next page.

4. I've had problems with the computer sending a linefeed to the printer when accessing either the spell checker or mail merge sections of Atariwriter Plus. This may skew your next printout, so beware.

5. Other users seem to have found small errors in the default printer drivers. However, the only error I encountered in the Epson FX-80 driver is lack of support for reverse line feeds, which the printer is capable of.


MACROS: Use the block save command to save useful sections of a file-such as unusual printer codes, a template for a title page, or a description you plan to put in several letters. If you save each of these under a one-or-two letter filename, such as I for Italics, or T for title page, you can load them in with three or four keystrokes using the [CONTROL] [L] option. If you set up a RAMdisk, they will load instantly.

WILDCARDS: Since Atariwriter Plus comes with DOS 2.5 built in, several DOS features are available from within the program. The most important is wildcard disk operations. Using the asterisk (*) and question mark (?) wild-card characters, you can delete entire groups of files. Hint: If you want to use a wildeard to perform a global operation like deleting all files ending with a certain extender, say .TXT, use a question mark first, then an asterisk, then the extender: ?*.TXT. Otherwise, the program will reject the wildeard operation.

BANK SEPARATION: With the three banks of memory in the l30XE, you can store extremely long files. But what if you want to use them as separate buffers? The easiest way is simply to end banks one and two with a [CONTROL] [E]. This way the banks won't overlap on a page when printing out. Each bank will begin on a fresh page. One catch: The file won't separate the same way next time you load it. So you may need to cut-and-paste the file sections back into their respective banks.

FORMAT TEMPLATE: Setting and resetting the global format commands for each new file can be tedious. Why not just save the format commands in template form? Set up the format commands the way you want, enter one space in the text editor, and save this one-space file under a name such as TEMPLATE. It will be ready to load every time you want to start a new writing project.

(* Secrets of Atariwriter Plus by Carolyn Hoglin is a different collection of advanced tips which appeared in the July 1987 issue-ANTIC ED)

Kevin Steele of Pittburgh, Pennsylvania just graduated from Grove City College as a computer systems major