PRINT ME QUICK
Ram Electronics' new printer interface contains a word processing genie - Max Phillips rubs it up the right way...
Smart. That's what you'd call any chunk of hardware that's got enough software inside to think for itself. And there's no denying that Ram Electronics' RamPrint interface is a smart idea. After all, you usually buy a printer interface for two reasons; to chuck out program listings and screen dumps (which it does perfectly well) and to write the odd bit of wonderous prose. So why not build a word processor right into the interface?
Which is exactly what Ram Electronics has done. The RamPrint software sits in ROM inside the interface itself and can be called up instantly with a simple LPRINT "©WORD" whenever you're in the mood. What's more, because the software is on ROM, it doesn't hog the Speccy's RAM, leaving room for larger documents or whatever you happen to be working on. It's really obvious once someone's done it!
The software in this case is a nippy little program entitled Ram Write, a neat set up routine that lets you configure the interface by opening a menu window over the screen and carefully taking it away again when you're done.
There's also a COPY screen dump routine this is much the same as the Speccy's built-in one (small, unshaded dumps) but it does offer the optional ability to dump text-only screens using the printers text characters, producing fast, quality text dumps when necessary.
RamWrite itself isn't in the Tasword 3, The Writer or The Last Word league but it's adequate for letters and suchlike. Though there's no on-screen formatting, headers and footers, mail-merge and so on...
All the same, it's because it's so simple (and fast) that it's nicer to work with - those fancy 64 or 80 column displays are next to useless if you've only got a clapped out old TV anyway.
But besides the lack of features, there are other reasons not to go beserk over Ram Write. For one, it's all too easy to drive the cursor up past the beginning of your document. A bug that'll lose all your lovingly crafted words and can lead to the Speccy resetting! And although Ram doesn't take the trouble to mention it in its scrawny eight-page manual, all the software is designed for use with Epson-compatible printers. Most printers now use Epson codes but if you're using something a bit old or a daisywheel then you might have trouble with special effects like bold and italic and the COPY command.
Ram Write will indeed let you send any sequence of printer codes you like to your printe - so even if your printer isn't an Epson, you can get it to do all of its special effects. Though you cant set up the built-in effects, like bold, underline, double-strike and so on to match your printer. And anyway, typing out all your printers codes in full every time you need them is a pain in the fingertips.
The rest of RamPrint is a bulky but otherwise ordinary Centronics interface that'll let you hook up to most printers. It comes complete with a lead and the added extra of a Kempston-compatible joystick port (saves changing add-ons over all the time - there's no through connector).
The interface works with all Spectrums, though 128 and +2 owners will have to use a couple of commands to get it going. Anyone still marooned with a 16K Spectrum won't be able to use the word processing software at all!
So okay, built-in ROM software is nothing new. And okay, Ram Write ain't quite the bee's ankles. But having instant access to it is brilliant and you'll probably use it more than you would a tape-based program.
Overall, the whole package is a pretty good deal - it's a smart idea that really ought to catch on.
IT'S A SET UP
RamPrint's Set-up window is activated with LPRINT "©SET" and appears over the top of whatever was previously on the screen. When you're finished with it,it vanishes, leaving the original screen intact.There aren't many options because the interface software only deals with Epson compatible printers. If you've got an Epson or Epson-compatible, life is really simple. If you haven't then you wont find COPY and ENLARGED of much use.
The next best thing to on-screen formatting - possibly even better - is a print preview. RamWrite's Display command let's you see how your document will look before its printed. The preview can be in 32 or 64-column mode and the cursor keys can scroll over even wider documents. You even get to see where underlining will appear when printed.
If only the editing screen stayed tidy by word-wrapping, then coupled to this facility, RamWrite would be much more practical for longer documents.
THE WRITING'S ON THE ROM...
The RamWrite word processor can be summoned up anytime you're in Basic. You can even flick between Basic and word processing without losing a program in memory or the text you're writing.The software will respect any RAMTOP setting you've made if it's below address 59999 (above this and there's no room for RamWrite to operate.) If you haven't touched RAMTOP (and let's face it, you don't know where it's been), the RamWrite will automatically move it down to make room for a document.Typing a number while in command mode sets up the number of lines per page. You can also set top and bottom margins though you can't specify a header and footer for each page. (Page numbers, incidentally, are optional and appear plumb-centre at the bottom of the page.)As you'd expect, both INSERT and OVERTYPE modes are provided. Both work quickly, even with long documents.The command area allows you to enter single-letter commands to perform various operations. There's find, find and replace and the usual block delete, move and copy commands. Documents can be saved to tape or microdrive and an Append command lets you merge two or more documents.Formatting codes - single letter commands appearing as inverse in your document, such as b+ for 'bold on' and so on. They're easily learnt and not hard to use.Ooooh... err. What a mess! RamWrite doesn't do onscreen formatting. It doesn't even wrap whole words round at the end of the scree. So you get broken text like this as you're editing. Though it's okay for short documents, with longer ones, you end up doing loads of trial printouts.Text may be edited in a 21-line by 32-column window. You can enter text, move around and backspace. For all other editing commands, press BREAK and go to the command area.