The Atari Word Processors
Word processing may not be the application of choice for the Atari 800 Home Computer, but there are many times when an Atari user would like to set words on paper in a tidy fashion.
This goal is attainable using any of the five programs described here. Unfortunately none of them offers all the features of the best of the word processors available for the Apple or the TRS80.
Let's have a look at what is available, and perhaps you will discover the one that is best for you.
An Unfriendly Keyboard
The looks of the Atari 800 are deceptive. Superficially, the keyboard resembles that of the IBM Selectric, but the right shift key is one silly little centimeter to the right of where an experienced typist expects to find it.
The quotation mark, used constantly in Basic programs, is over the 2 rather than next to the return key. The clear screen key is where the underline should be and is too close to the end parenthesis ")" for comfort.
Corrections are made with a full-screen editor using the cursor almost as if it were a correcting pencil. But the cursor control keys on the Atari are all in shift mode; you must depress the control key each time you use the cursor.
On the other hand, the Atari does offer upper/lower case capability without hardware assists, and, unlike the Apple, the shift key is fully functional as delivered.
Like the Apple, the Atari 800 offers only a 40-column display. Unlike the Apple, no one has yet marketed an 80-column adapter. And none of the three Atari fullscreen word processors makes use of the Atari high-resolution graphics to generate a 60+ column character set.
Bare-Bones Word Processors
For less than $20, either of two barebones word processors will allow you to use the Atari to create and edit messages for an electronic bulletin board, display them on the monitor or TV screen, store and retrieve text and programs, and produce a hard copy.
With Letter Writer, $19 from CE Software, you use the insert key to insert text, and the delete key to delete text errors. The program provides only two editing features of its own to let you indent paragraphs and skip lines.
The Letter Writer printer formatter allows you to set the line length (though not the left margin), insert new pages as required, and right justify your text. The program will operate with any parallel connected printer. I used Letter Writer, a $30 interface cable from Mactronics Inc., and a C. Itoh printer to prepare some reports recently.
But Letter Writer is still not a best buy. That honor goes to Bob's Mini Word Processor, which costs just $15 from Santa Cruz Educational Software.
The Mini-Processor allows you to create files, save or load them, modify them, and create hard copy. While editing, you have full control over the tab, delete, back space, clear, insert, and cursor control keys. But you can also advance through the text a page at a time or move with a single command to the beginning or end of the text. You may interchange "pages" of text, though you cannot cut and paste any section smaller than a page.
The Mini-Processor works with serial but not parallel printers, using an Atari 850 interface.
Ideally, any software package should include four types of documentation:
- Tutorials to get you started; the more examples and the more demonstration files, the better.
- A quick-reference manual including a detachable command reference card to keep near the keyboard.
- A comprehensive reference manual.
- Application notes for programmers.
Method One: Menus
A block of text can be deleted using the menu tree.
- Repeat steps 1-4 under "Delete Next Character".
- Recall the page that contains the text to be deleted.
- Type E in response to the next menu prompt.
- Press return.
- Type T in response to the next menu prompt.
- Press return.
- Type S in response to the next question.
- Press return.
- Position cursor at the beginning of the block to be deleted.
- Type G and press return. A right parenthesis in inverse video will appear in column one and a blank line will be inserted.
- Position cursor after the last line of text to be deleted.
- Type D in response to the next question.
Atari's Word Processor has all four, but the tutorials and reference manual are completely incomprehensible. The combined manuals are more cumbersome (and bulky) than any of the more than sixty manuals I recently reviewed. Figure 1 shows instructions for deleting a block of text from pages 31-32 of the Atari manual.
See, it's as easy as a,b,c,d,e,f,g,h,i,j,k,l. Don't ask how to move a block of text; that takes 28 steps (Method 1). Whoever wrote this Atari manual (I think it was a committee) also wrote the mainframe manuals that drove us to using personal computers in the first place.
All three word processors--Atari's, Letter Perfect, and Text Wizard--do provide detachable quick-reference cards. Text Wizard has only one example, which you must type in yourself, and no demonstration files. The Text Wizard tutorials also serve as the comprehensive reference section--or is it vice versa? My manual was missing a page--the page that told how to save the file I had just created.
Letter Perfect has no demonstration files and only one example--a form letter. You must buy a second UK product for another $150 to make use of the example.
The Atari Word Processor has the best text-editor of the three full-screen word processors, if you can figure out how to use it. You can display text on the screen as it will appear in print. You can work with files much, much larger than memory. And you will automatically save what you have edited as you move from page to page. (Unfortunately, you will destroy the old text as you do so; back-up is not automatic.)
Text Wizard is the only one of the three which lets you edit programs as well as text, enter insert mode for the rapid insertion of many paragraphs of text, and move or copy entire blocks of text simply and rapidly.
Letter Perfect is the only one of the three to provide a block delete safeguard, and to let the user set tabs with a cursor.
There is an extensive list of simple editing functions that can't be done with any of the three including:
- Print one file while editing another.
- Display a second file.
- Automatically back-up on file-save.
- Insert key phrases with a single keystroke.
- Use wild cards in a search and replace command.
You will probably have to settle for less than letter quality with an Atari. None of the full-screen Atari word processors reviewed here supports the special features of a Qume or a Diablo. Atari owners must content themselves with one of two dot matrix printers--the Atari 825 (the Centronics 737 in disguise) or an Epson MX-80. The Epson is by far the better buy, even though it will not support underlining, superscripts, or subscripts.
You can't alter the number of lines per inch with any of the three full-screen word processors. You are limited to a one-line heading. You can't use soft or phantom hyphens; that means you will need to spend time printing and reformatting until you get it right. You will spend less time with the Atari word processor perhaps, because it lets you view your material on the screen just as it will appear on the printer. But the screen display is so inefficient and time-consuming, you may find it faster to use the print and guess method of Text Wizard or Letter Perfect.
None of the three lets you interrupt and resume printing, whether to answer the telephone or to pause for text entry from the keyboard. None of the three has mailmerge capability. You can get mail-merge capability for Letter Perfect by purchasing UK's Data Manager. A mail merge option for Text Wizard is in the works.
A Lost Cause?
I don't think the Atari is a lost cause. With very little programming effort, one can correct its keyboard deficiencies. The cursor control keys can be reprogrammed for lower case use. This has already been done by Eastern House Software in their Atari Monkey Wrench. The Atari high resolution graphics can be used to create a 60+ column display without hardware assists. Both of the bare-bones word processors already support letter quality printers; there is no reason the more expensive full-screen word processors cannot provide the same support.
Bobs Mini-Word ($15), Santa Cruz Educational Software, 155425 Jigger Dr., Soquel, CA 95073. (408)476-4901.
Letter Writer ($20), CE Software, 238 Exchange St., Chicopee, MA 01013. (413)592-4761.
Letter Perfect ($140), UK Enterprises, P.O. Box 10827, St. Louis, MO 63129.
Text Wizard ($99), DataSoft Inc., 19519 Business Center Dr., Northridge, CA 91324. (800)423-5916.
Word Processor ($150),Atari Inc., 1265 Borregas, Sunnyvale, CA 94086. (800)538-8543.
The tables shown are reproduced from "Choosing a Word Processor," by Phillip Good. Copies of this book may be obtained from Information Research, 10367 Paw Paw Lake Drive, Mattawari, MI 49071. Cost is $14.95 plus $2.00 for shipping and handling.
Philip Good, Information Research, 10367 Paw Paw Lake Dr., Mattawan, MI 49071.