The Atari Word Processors

Philip Good

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.

Inadequate Documentation

Ideally, any software package should include four types of documentation:

Figure 1.

Method One: Menus

A block of text can be deleted using the menu tree.

  1. Repeat steps 1-4 under "Delete Next Character".
  2. Recall the page that contains the text to be deleted.
  3. Type E in response to the next menu prompt.
  4. Press return.
  5. Type T in response to the next menu prompt.
  6. Press return.
  7. Type S in response to the next question.
  8. Press return.
  9. Position cursor at the beginning of the block to be deleted.
  10. Type G and press return. A right parenthesis in inverse video will appear in column one and a blank line will be inserted.
  11. Position cursor after the last line of text to be deleted.
  12. 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:


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.

Vendor's List


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.

Table 1. Atari Text Editor



years on market 1/2 1/2 1/2
back-up no $20 by mail $5 by mail
uses Hi-Res graphics no no no
menu driven yes yes no
can display multiple files no no no
displays text on screen as it will appear in print yes no no
can print one file while editing another no no no
handles files larger than memory yes no no
can edit programs as well as text no no yes
control characters can be customized no no no
getting started slow slow easy
tutorials hopeless no no
examples yes none one
help menues cumbersome no no
reference material
cumbersome yes good
separate reference card yes yes yes
File Control
continuous back-up by page no no
save file and continue editing yes yes yes
automatic back-up on file save no no no
file protect safeguard yes yes no
insert a second file with one command yes yes yes
insert a portion of a second file no no no
display a second file no no no
display file directory no yes yes
kill file (and create space) no yes yes
can prepare files for transmission no no yes
Scrolling (or cursor movement)
by word no no no
by line yes yes yes
by sentence no no no
by screen yes no yes
to beginning or end of workspace yes yes yes
to beginning or end of document yes no no
horizontal scroll yes no no
by word yes no no
by line yes yes yes
by sentence no no no
delete recover yes no no
by screen yes no no
by block yes yes yes
block delete safeguard no yes no
continuous delete no yes no
keyphrases no no no
typeover (fast) yes yes yes
insert mode (for many words) no no yes
push ahead (for one or two letters) yes yes yes
split and glue a line at a time no no no
intermediate buffer yes yes no
block whole sections complex no copy yes
delete and restore yes yes no
find phrase anywhere in document yes * *
find with user option to replace yes yes yes
find and replace n times no no no
find and replace all in document yes no no
find and replace all in memory yes no no
use wild cards no no no
ignore upper/lower case in matching no no no
Screen Format
format entire text yes no no
format different parts differently no no no
set line length yes no no
set tabs with cursor no yes no
set tabs by command yes no no
* Not applicable

Table 2. Atari Text Formatter. Atari
display on screen as it will print yes no no
print one file while editing another no no no
mail-merge or file-merge no extra $ extra $
letter quality printers supported no no no
set from a menu yes no no
menu may be skipped no -- --
under user control while printing no no no
characters per inch yes yes yes
lines per inch no no no
width limitation 80 80 80
Page Control
one line heading yes yes yes
multi-line heading no no no
heading and footing no yes yes
page numbering yes yes yes
odd/even page distinction yes no no
conditional new page yes no no
Text Control
justify yes yes yes
center yes yes yes
phantom hyphen no no no
conditional formats no no no
multiple columns yes no yes
reverse line feed no no no
Printer Control
underline yes yes yes
bold face yes yes yes
vary bold face intensity no no no
super- and sub-script yes yes yes
change ribbon colors no no no
kerning no no yes
change control characters no no no
proportional spacing yes yes yes
Output Control
interrupt/resume no no no
pause for text entry from keyboard no no no
pause for variable entry no no no
start/stop at designated page/record yes yes yes
print multiple documents no no yes
print multiple copies no yes no

    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.

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