Part I: The First Wave -
Strategic Software, Inc.
by David Sands
Since 90% of all computers, including ADAMs, are used for word processing, it's not surprising that the biggest selling computer programs are word processing.
Our ADAM was shipped with its own word processor, the SmartWRITER, we all know and love. This article will survey three replacements for the built-in; Strategic Software's MultiWRITE, MicroWORKS and NewsMAKER.
These are not new programs, but they are still available and if you're growing impatient with SmartWRITER, worth consideration.
The three programs are different in many ways, but share some similarities with each other. All are written in SmartBASIC, will work with the basic ADAM, and tend to be slow in use.
The earliest replacement for SmartWRITER was MultiWRITE. This 1986 program from Strategic Software of Lindenhurst, New Jersey, got generous reviews for it's 64 character-wide screen display and relative speed compared to SmartWRITER.
Early reviewers mentioned it's WORDSTAR-type control code operation which meant much faster operations in formatting and setting margins, faster and easier operation in Insert and Delete, it's formatting controls which allow justified columns, centered text, and line spacing in half-line increments, i.e. .5, 1, 1.5, etc.
MultiWRITE uses most of the ADAM keyboard keys for their jobs, and even found a job for the Wild Card key - it inserts spaces at the cursor position. MultiWRITE uses a single key and Return, for example, to Delete, and never asks you if you're sure. It doesn't use the SmartKEYs and you work from it's screen menu to load files, edit files or print them. And you may miss the Return marker at the end of your paragraphs.
But the thing that attracted the most attention was the 64-column screen. (The ADAM was made to display on TV screens, which have lower resolution than computer monitors. Some monitors can also only display up to 40 characters). This will also continue to be MultiWRITE's big attraction.
When this program appeared, the problems with ADAM's display on the TV screen were well known; the 80-column board had been introduced and was very expensive, and any CP/M word processor, like WordStar, required constant cross-screen scrolling and was awkward to use.
Unfortunately, MultiWRITE creates 64 column display and eyestrain at the same time. As I understand it, the ADAM'S video chip creates each character from eight pixels on the screen; to get more characters, you must use fewer pixels, hence MultiWRITE's characters are simplified to make them smaller. A monitor, rather than a TV, is a good idea with MultiWRITE, or use a resolution enhancer like those available from Radio Shack to get a sharper TV screen image.
Like SmartWRITER, MultiWRITE operates in overtype mode, and like SW, it word-wraps, has a screen buffer if you type ahead of the cursor, and stores on data packs or disks. MultiWRITE must convert SmartWRITER files to its own format to edit them, and SW can't load or edit MW files.
What you notice first about MultiWRITE is the small character size (compared to SmartWRITER) necessary to get 64 letters and spaces on a screen where you've used to about 35, but the biggest benefit of MultiWRITE is its speed, again, compared to SmartWRITER. The cursor moves faster and the actions are quicker. Insert and Delete especially are a joy to use compared to SmartWRITER's clunky multiple SmartKEY routines. Search is only down from the cursor, though, although the HOME key gets you to the top of the file quickly.
On the other hand, the type is small and some characters are strange 's' and 'a' are especially awkward - and you will find printing slower as well. In fact, it's half the speed of SmartWRITER, because MW prints in only one direction. MultiWRlTE must call up another program from its data pack or disk in order to print. And, you must then wait while it calls up the word processor program to get back to your file. Some features, like justified type, don't display on screen, so you only see the result on printouts. If MultiWRITE has justified a line with too few words, they can be stretched across the column.
However, since SmartWRITER can't justify at all, MW is a good choice for any job where a regular, formal look is important. Many ADAM newsletters are now using two justified columns per page and look better for it. The other 'but' with MultiWRITE is it's loading time: you first load SmartBASIC V1.0, then load MultiWRITE via a 'run' command, and wait for it to come up on the screen. Plan on about a 5-minute wait for a data pack. Strategic Software released its products only on data pack, but the programs are now available from some dealers on disk. MultiWRlTE was around $36.95 (US) when new, but it's about $19.95 now.
Knowing your way around SmartBASIC and a good supply of patience is also necessary. MultiWRITE seems prone to " I/O Error" and similar messages, or to freezing if you do something wrong. Sometimes it drops you back into SmartBASIC, sometimes you start again from zero.
While I don't find the 64 column display too thrilling on my monitor (an antique Apple II green screen job) and the cursor acts like it's on street drugs - Insert, Delete, Move and Copy are quick! The Control codes require a simultaneous hit on both Control and the letter code keys. These are mnemonic, i.e. Control-u for underlining, so they are quick to learn, and the speed of use is noticeable.
On the minus side, are loading time, printing time, strange changes in screen format after inserts and deletes, and occasional problems with the cursor overshooting.
I have dealt with MultiWRITE at length because it's the most likely to be considered as a SmartWRITER replacement of the three Strategic Software offerings. MicroWORKS and NewsMAKER are more specialized in their applications.
MicroWORKS is an integrated system, and is, I believe, the only one available for the ADAM. An "integrated" application combines software like database, spreadsheet and word processor and allows easy transfer between them, indeed, that's the rationale. Non-ADAM examples such as Apple Works, Microsoft Works, etc. share, beside the common suffix, the same idea: do everything in one program.
MicroWORKS offers a text editor, spreadsheet, database, business graphics and picture editor. Unfortunately, it does this at the cost of requiring small file sizes: 9.4K maximum. MicroWRITE, which Strategic describes as a text editor, is the word processor part of the program. 'Text editor" normally describes a simple word processor in which you work on a single line at a time, inserting a return at the end of each line. Somewhat similar to SmartWRITER in its Standard Mode, and to using a typewriter.
Unlike MultiWRITE, MicroWRITE uses a command line menu system at the bottom of the screen, and uses some SmartKEYs. Alone among the three programs it offers a choice between type over and insert modes. Another unique feature is it's form letter or merge documents feature. MicroWRITE will produce form letters using addresses stored in the MicroFILE database.
The command line system is used to enter the text editor from the opening screen, then to select functions within the text editor module. As in MicroWRITE, there's a wait between functions, a wait to print, to return to the text editor, etc. In addition, MicroWRITE displays only 32 characters across the screen (like SmartWRITER).
Unless you'd like the benefit of the other programs contained within MicroWORKS, it doesn't seem worthwhile to adopt MicroWRITE as your word processor.
NewsMAKER shares some of the features and problems of the other two Strategic programs, and adds a few new ones of its own. NewsMAKER calls itself "The Complete and Fully Integrated Electronic Publishing System for the ADAM Family Computer." The reality is a little more modest. I have used NewsMAKER extensively, and since it shares its brothers' slow loading, SmartBASIC glitches and tape drive origin, I have spent a lot of time with it. NewsMAKER uses a 'command line' system of controls; two menu lines display one word prompts - Edit, Contents, New, Output, etc. Selecting New in Edit mode lets you create columns in an on-screen outline. Another prompt, Contents, gets you into text creation. Why NewsMAKER doesn't use the quicker features of MultiWRITE, I don't know.
NewsMAKER uses the standard ADAM 32 column display, and its necessary to switch between its typing and View modes to see how full your column or page is. You can do only a single page at a time. The word processor mode uses two SmartKEYs, and the command lines. Commands can be selected by the spacebar, or more quickly, by typing the first letter of each. 'E' for Edit, for example. NewsMAKER uses the same printing system as the other two; Store, and call up the printing from the menu, and wait. Same to return to typing or layout after printing. Printing is slow, one way, and can only be done one page at a time.
NewsMAKER can be used to create pages with multiple widths of typing like indented quotations, in a single file. NewsMAKER files can be read and printed out by SmartWRITER, a real boon when you despair of ever finishing within NewsMAKER. However, NewsMAKER can print justified columns, has a picture editor, a selection of graphics and two sizes of headline type within the program. I have not had any success in using these, and in any case, the ADAM printer has serious limitations in printing out graphics. (I understand a dot matrix printer patch is available for NewsMAKER). While NewsMAKER is claimed to be able to import SignSHOP graphics, it cant import text; everything has to be typed within the program.
In conclusion, Strategic Software's programs have probably been overtaken by progress in the form of SpeedyWRITE, VDE266, and TDOS in it's 40 column mode which allows decent display of CP/M word processors. In addition, there have been recent concerns about Strategic's commitment to producing programs and supporting them.
Disk drive users will find these programs faster than data pack owners, and every user will have to make allowances for their bugs and idiosyncracies. It's a shame that there haven't been newer versions, or changes to let the programs use memory expanders with SmartBASIC V2.0, or to make them all self-booting (only NewsMAKER is) but those decisions aren't ours to make.
The next two installments of this serious, "Beyond SmartWRITER", will deal with SpeedyWRITE. Future installments will deal with CP/M and TDOS word processors.