Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 8, NO. 7 / DECEMBER 1989


AtariWriter 80

Ultimate 80-column word processing for 8-bit

Review by Matthew Ratcliff

At long last AtariWriter 80 is here. Users of the original AtariWriter or AtariWriter Plus will be instantly familiar with AtariWriter 80. This is the first 80-column word processor direct from Atari for their 8-bit home computers.

AtariWriter 80 costs only $49.95, but that's just the beginning of your start-up investment. You need Atari's $79.95 XEP80 box and a good 80-column composite video monitor -- monochrome is preferred and costs about $100. Therefore, adding 80-column word processing to your Atari computer can easily cost more than $200.


The AtariWriter 80 program disk is a flippy. The 48K version is on Side 1, and the 130XE (128K) version is on Side 2. The 130XE version of AtariWriter 80 provides three memory banks of 15872 bytes each, for a total edit buffer size of about 47K. You manage these banks by entering text into one buffer until it is full, or nearly so, and then pressing [START][B] to select the next bank.

When loading a very large document, AtariWriter 80 splits it evenly among the three banks, leaving room in each buffer for the document to grow. The [OPTION][F] command tells AtariWriter 80 to activate its free memory clean-up sequence, which redistributes the file evenly among the 3 buffers. This isn't as elegant as it could be, but is quite workable. Unfortunately, AtariWriter 80 does not use the extra memory of popular third-party 800XL expansions such as the 256K RAMbo XL.

The 98-page manual is well-written and has a complete index. AtariWriter 80 also includes a glossy quick-reference card that is very helpful. It's all the most AtariWriter veterans will need to navigate AtariWriter 80 comfortably.

The usual create, edit, print, and other file support functions are available from AtariWriter 80's main menu. You can also start the spell checker or mail merge utility from this menu. The program disk cannot be write-protected because it is required for temporary storage in loading Proofreader or Mail Merge programs.

When editing, the [BREAK] key forces a screen redraw, at which time AtariWriter 80 reformats the screen nicely. But while inserting text, the display is not always updated correctly.


After creating a file, you can verify spelling by selecting the proofreader option from the AtariWriter 80 menu. You are prompted to insert the program disk into drive 1. AtariWriter 80 first writes the document to a temporary file on the program disk, and then loads the Proofreader.

Generally, it is unwise to write to your main program disk. However, AtariWriter 80 is not copy-protected, And with a sector copy utility, I had no problems making a backup copy of the master program and dictionary disks. The manual does not mention this, however.

From the Proofreader menu you can chose to correct errors interactively, highlight errors while reviewing the file, or send a list of spelling errors to the printer. Proofreader is capable of adding and saving a user defined personal dictionary. The menu provides options for listing the directory of drive 1 or 2, as well as loading or saving AtariWriter 80 documents for additional spell checking work. When all corrections have been made, control returns to AtariWriter 80 for continued editing of the original document, with spelling changes in place.


Mail Merge is a nice database facility, geared toward the creation and management of "address books," but easily modified to your individual tastes. Mail Merge presents a menu from which you can choose to create, edit, and manage mailing lists. Multiple mailing list files are simple to define, each with different field names and sizes.

This miniature database supports a maximum of 15 fields. The field names can have as many as 12 characters, with data fields of 20 characters or less. A total of 255 records fit in one address file.

Mail Merge presents a default record format, quite suitable for almost any address book. Address files are easily updated, cataloged, and printed. After creating a satisfactory template, you enter data to fill the records. Save the address book to disk, and it can be merged with AtariWriter 80 documents later.

A Mail Merge file is easily tied into an AtariWriter 80 document to create form letters, or generate customer billing. While you edit, pressing [OPTION][M] tells AtariWriter 80 to insert one of the fields from an address file. This keypress is immediately followed by the desired field number to print in the document.

When printing, AtariWriter 80 prompts for the name of the Mail Merge file from which to import the fields. If the Mail Merge file contains six records the document will be printed six times, using the proper fields from each record for each copy.


AtariWriter 80 prints documents through the XEP80's printer interface or through a standard Atari printer adapter, such as Atari's 850 interface of ICD's P:R: Connection. When the print command is selected, you specify whether to use the XEP80 or other printer port. No print problems were experienced while printing through the XEP80's interface port. It also works fine with the printer interface of ICD's MIO board.

AtariWriter 80 supports all Atari printers, as well as the Epson FX-80, IDS Microprism 480, and Juki 6100. Pressing [SELECT] while booting AtariWriter 80 brings up the Custom Printer Editor, which lets you create a custom printer driver if your printer has a readable manual.

Out of the box, AtariWriter 80 supports condensed, proportional, and elite type fonts. Up to nine fonts are supported. Some of the additional font selection commands can be used to enable different color printing on an NX1000 Rainbow printer. The Custom Printer Editor does not allow you to load and modify a predefined driver. So, creating an Epson printer driver with the addition of NLQ, italics, and other fonts requires building everything from the ground up. AtariWriter 80 is capable of loading AtariWriter and AtariWriter Plus files with no problems. AtariWriter 80 employs a separate global format menu, just like AtariWriter Plus. After loading an AtariWriter file, the top line of control codes used for global formatting needs to be deleted. No other compatibility problems should occur.

AtariWriter 80 provides an elegant set of block operations. After marking the top of a block of text, the writer moves to the end of the block and selects an option. Commands supported are alphabetize, count words, delete, duplicate, move, or save the block of memory to a file. A block of memory cannot cross a memory bank boundary in the 130XE version. However, AtariWriter 80 will copy or move blocks between different banks of memory.


AtariWriter 80's print preview is very nearly a true "what you see is what you get" (WYSIWYG) display. If the document has a second set of margins defined, XEP80's preview screen indeed shows dual columns simultaneously. If the total page width is 80 columns or less, the document preview will be displayed completely on the XEP80's screen. For wider documents, you must scroll horizontally to view complete lines, as in older versions of AtariWriter.


AtariWriter 80 seems to be a pretty solid product. The only noticeable glitch of AtariWriter 80 is that often, while pressing [CONTROL][DOWN ARRAY] to scroll the display down one line at a time, the display jumps to the end of the document, as if [SELECT][B] were pressed. This is best avoided by employing the [OPTION][DOWN ARROW] to move down a page at a time, a reliable function.

While composing this article, I began deleting some characters with [CONTROL][DELETE]. Garbage started appearing at the bottom of the display, and soon the lower half of my screen was a mess. However, all my display problems cleared up when I shut off the 1040ST system nearby. I suspect the ST was creating some interference with communications between the 800XL and XEP80.

Maybe because I don't do much word processing on the 8-bit any more, it seemed to me that AtariWriter 80 misses keys occasionally. When typing rapidly, a blank space may show up instead of the letter pressed, or letters are missing entirely. The keys on my 800XL are much stiffer than on my PC AT compatible, so the cause could be my lack of regular practice on the 800XL. I also experienced similar problems with Turboword from Micromiser.

AtariWriter 80 is the best 80 column word processor for the 8-bit Atari. Turboword is good, but AtariWriter 80 comes from a rich tradition of superb word processors. It just feels like a solid, tightly integrated product. If you have an XEP80 languishing in the linen closet, get it out, purchase AtariWriter 80, and put it to work. Once you start word processing in 80 columns you will never want to work with 40 columns again.

ATARIWRITER 80, $49.95.
Atari Corp.
1196 Borregas Avenue
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
(408) 745-2000