SEARCHING FOR THE WRITE STUFF
Which word processor? Mike Wright finds some programs too unprofessional for words.
WORD PROCESSOR programs are the most common of the 'business' programs and their use extends beyond the workplace to the home and school. This month four word processing packages are reviewed: Word Processor from Quicksilva; Tasword Two from Tasman Software; Micropen from Contrast Software; and Spectcxt from McGraw-Hill. The prices vary considerably and, as you might expect, so too does the quality and features of the programs.
Word Processor is the first venture by Quicksilva outside the games market. The program takes about a minute to load and is written completely in Basic. The inlay provides one side of loading instructions and two sides of adverts for other Quicksilva products. The instructions, such as they are, for using the program are included as a help option in the program.
Once Word Processor has loaded it displays a menu of seven options. Those are: 0 - Exit; I - Help; 2 - Clear machine for new text: 3 - Edit text; 4 - Print text; 5 - Load text; 6 - Save text. On first loading option 1 must be chosen to discover what features and commands are available. There are three screens of Help information altogether but it is not until the second screen that you find out that a copy of the screens can be produced by pressing CAPS SHIFT and 4. Of course, if you now want a copy of page 1 you must return to the main menu.
There are two types of commands. The first set is for editing from the keyboard. The commands are formed by a combination of CAPS SHIFT and a numeric key. Most of them follow the Spectrum commands, so that 5, 6, 7 and 8 are used to move around the text, 2 and 3 control the CAPS LOCK and 0 deletes the character to the left of the cursor, 1 is used to clear a line of text, marked by the cursor, and 9 is used to create a blank space for inserting a character. CAPS SHIFT 4 is the print command but it will only copy the screen. If you have only two or three lines of text that wastes a lot of paper.
The other commands are used by first going into Extended mode - i.e. by pressing both shift keys together - before selecting the command. The commands allow the user to move the position of the cursor to the top, the bottom or any line of text; to mark and delete a block of text; to open up the text to allow extra text to be inserted and then to close it up again. However, all commands must be given at the start of a line or they are overwritten on the text and are ignored. When characters are deleted they are replaced by spaces.
The usual facilities of a word processor such as a choice of margin settings, type of justification and a search and replace feature are all missing. Although a wordwrap feature is included, so that if a word straddles the end of a line it is automatically transferred to the start of the next line, it is so slow as to be almost pointless.
This is not a program to be recommended even as an introduction to word processing. Better word processor programs have been printed in the listings section of some magazines.
By comparison Tasword Two is probably the most commonly used business program for the Spectrum. It is produced by Tasman Software and is accompanied by a manual. It is, surprisingly, the only package of the four that has such a manual and included in it are two very useful sections, one on adapting Tasword Two to drive almost any printer interface currently on the market, and one on converting it to run from microdrive. Tasword Tutor, an instructional text file designed to help the user learn the commands, is also provided on the cassette.
One of the great drawbacks of word processors for the Spectrum has always been the 32-column screen width. Tasword uses a redefined character set which gives 64 characters per line. An option to display a 32-column window in normal size is available if the characters are too difficult to read on your television.
The program boasts an impressive list of features that are found usually only on much more expensive programs. Those include wordwrap, setting of margins, rejustification of text, block copy and move, replacement of any word by another word, and control of the print type for printers other than daisy wheels.
The first time it is loaded you should establish the control codes for your printer. That is done by pressing SYMBOL SHIFT A to stop the program and display a menu of loading, saving and printing options. Option g is used to redefine the graphics on keys 1-8 as printer control codes. On first loading they are set with codes for the Epson FX-80 typefaces.
That menu is also used to enter Basic while retaining Tasword Two in memory so that it can be modified to run from a microdrive. Full instructions on the necessary changes are given in the manual. Once the changes are made and the program run the same menu is used to save the customised version.
The last two lines on the screen are used to display a status report on the text, including the position of the cursor by line and column, and whether the right justification, insert mode and wordwrap are on and off, as well as a pointer to select EDIT for help. Selecting EDIT produces a list of commands and their functions together with an option for a further list. Those are taken directly from the manual.
At the start the wordwrap is on, the text is justified - in other words it appears as the text does on this page - and is overwritten at the cursor's position. The wordwrap is fast enough for letters not to be lost while it is functioning. Wordwrap can be switched off. The justification can also be turned off allowing text to be justified on the left but ragged on the right. A third option allows lines of text to be centred. Individual lines can also be justified or unjustified. The only automatic justification, however, is on new text. If text is deleted then the spaces remain until the paragraph is reformed.
One very useful feature enables you to mark blocks of text and then to move or copy them to other points in the text.
Another powerful feature is the Replace, or find, command.
At its price Tasword Two is an outstanding program. It has managed to overcome many of the inherent disadvantages of the Spectrum in providing features which one would normally expect on much more expensive programs. One notable feature for commercial use not included is a mail-merge facility. That has now been corrected and a Tasmerge program that will allow data to be taken from a Masterfile file should be available soon.
The third offering is Micropen from Contrast Software. The program is remarkably easy to use. All the text editing commands require only the CAPS SHIFT and a numeric key. The features offered include justification, reformatting of paragraphs after deletions, user-defined graphics and a search facility.
Unlike the other programs there is not even the most basic of status reports. You are left to remember your position within the text. That makes using the option to move to any particular line difficult. Otherwise movement through the text is achieved using the cursor keys.
When new text is added the existing text is automatically reformatted. However, when text is deleted the paragraph needs to be reformatted manually. The justification can be turned on and off. The search option can be used to search for any string in the text. If you search for a non-existent string the program will continue looking forever and to escape you must break into the program. Numerical key 9 asks for the text to be entered and permits the entry of graphics characters - including user-defined.
The options to load, save, create, edit and print a file form a separate menu.
Once again the manual is supplied as a text file already held in memory and to use Micropen the manual has to be cleared from memory and a new file created. Another, more important, drawback is the program speed. The wordwrap is only slightly faster than that of Word Processor and even a two-fingered typist will soon overtake the program. Against that must be balanced its case of use. It would, possibly, make a good introductory program to demonstrate some of the facilities available on 'grown up' word processors. As a business program it compares favourably with the Quicksilva Word Processor.
Spectext from McGraw-Hill promises a great deal including all the features of a full word processor, a filing system and a Mailmerge facility as well as being microdrive compatible. In fact Spectext consists of four programs - Spectext, Specfile, Specmerge and print mod on one side of the cassette.
On opening the case, however, you are likely to be disappointed. There is no printed manual. Instead a leaflet is provided explaining how to load the program followed by the first of two text files that comprise the manual. That can be printed on a full-size printer, although it seems that only the Kempston, Hilderbay and Interface 1 interfaces are supported by the software. I was unable to get it to work with my Tasman interface and had to resort to the ZX printer. That resulted in a manual eight feet long.
On loading the program displays a menu which offers eight options: 1 - Enter text; 2 - Load text; 3 - Print text; 4 - Read/Edit text; 5 - Save text; 6 - Reorganize; 7 - Switch printers; 8 - Catalogue. You select the first option to start typing in text.
A special keyboard-scanning routine is used to speed the Spectrum response. It works so well that even the fastest typist is unlikely to outstrip it. New lines, paragraphs and pages are inserted by pressing ENTER and 1, 2 or 3 respectively or z - to return to the main menu - followed by ENTER again. That slows down the input and somewhat defeats the purpose of the keyboard-scanning routine.
The biggest disadvantage lies in the way it displays text on the screen. It is unformatted and is effectively treated as one continuous line of characters interspersed with graphics characters to show where paragraphs and pages start. The text is formatted as it is printed but cannot be justified.
To edit text option 4 is used. That allows commands to be used at two levels. At the first level text can be added, deleted or printed from the cursor position to the end. Those functions are accessed by a, d or c respectively. Pressing z leads to the next level. An indicator is used to show the current option, ENTER is used to toggle between the search and replace options and a block move facility. Before text can be moved it must be deleted. For some reason the move option moves the last piece of deleted text.
Options 2 and 5 are used to load and save text. Both microdrive and cassette can be used. Using the microdrive facility to store text still leaves the program to be loaded from tape.
The text is printed using option 3 and option 6 allows the user to change some of the parameters such as the number of characters per line, the left margin and number of lines per page as well as offering automatic page numbering and double spacing.
Specific is used to set up a simple database for subsequent use with Specmerge. Like Spectext it is run from a main menu which allows the database to be designed, to add, sort or search and edit the file, as well as the usual save and load facilities. The design option is used to establish the number of fields in the database and their names. Once designed the data is entered via the add option. That prompts for the fields one at a time and also shows the available space; to finish adding data the STOP Function key is used. The records can be searched for any string or any field edited using the search/edit option. That permits unwanted records to be deleted. Sort allows the database to be sorted into alphanumeric order on any one field.
Specmerge allows a specially prepared text file to be merged with fields from Specfile. An up arrow followed by a series of numbers, corresponding to the fields in Specfile, and a second up arrow marks the places in the text where the contents of those fields will be inserted. The feature makes the reproduction of personalised letters very easy.
Of the four programs only Tasword and Spectext can be said to approach the standard necessary for business use. Spectext itself is a useful but limited word processor but the addition of Specmerge improves it. Unfortunately it is not improved sufficiently to challenge Tasword, unless mailing-list facilities are the main requirement.
Quicksilva Ltd, 13 Palmerston Road, Southampton, SO1 1LL.
Tasman Software, 17 Hartley Crescent, Leeds, LS6 2LL.
Contrast Software, Farnham Road, West Liss, Hampshire GU33 6JU.
McGraw-Hill Book Co Ltd, Maidenhead, Berks SL6 2QL.
Gilbert Factor: 7
On screen formatting: YSupport full-size printer: NControl typefaces: n.a.Wordwrap: YSet margins: NJustification/centre: NBlock: Copy: YBlock: Delete: YSearch/Replace: YMailmerge: NMicrodrive: NPrinted manual: NTASWORD TWOOn screen formatting: YSupport full-size printer: YControl typefaces: YWordwrap: YSet margins: YJustification/centre: YBlock: Copy: YBlock: Delete: YSearch/Replace: YMailmerge: NMicrodrive: YPrinted manual: YMICROPENOn screen formatting: YSupport full-size printer: NControl typefaces: n.a.Wordwrap: YSet margins: NJustification/centre: left and rightBlock: Copy: NBlock: Delete: NSearch/Replace: NMailmerge: NMicrodrive: NPrinted manual: NSPECTEXTOn screen formatting: NSupport full-size printer: YControl typefaces: NWordwrap: NSet margins: left onlyJustification/centre: NBlock: Copy: YBlock: Delete: YSearch/Replace: YMailmerge: YMicrodrive: text onlyPrinted manual: N