Beyond SmartWRITER
Part IV: The VDE Story
by David Sands


VDE is like the fellow who is the featured speaker at a convention: somebody always stands up to say he needs no introduction, and then proceeds to introduce himself.

You've heard about VDE somewhere; it's Video Display Editor version 2.66. It's the final CP/M - TDOS version of a small, fast word processor, that's been constantly improved since it first began life, in 1884, the same year as ADAM. Better known as VDE266 or more simply as VDE, it has a few talents that haven't been previously discovered in this series. And, it is becoming a big item in the ADAM world, mainly because it is fast. The ADAM isn't usually though of as a fast machine, but VDE will make you think it is.

Speed is definitely one of VDE's virtues - in the ADAM world, VDE is the greyhound, lean and built for speed, SpeedyWRITE is a collie, gorgeous and elegant, quick enough but not really a racer, and SmartWRITER, well, SmartWRITER's an old dog. This overview of VDE will be broad and shallow: broad enough to sketch out the many attractions of this particular program, and yet shallow as well, because both the ADVISA and ANN amongst others are carrying Tom Keene's detailed tutorial series on VDE and I am not about to try to duplicate it, and because that's the kind of guy I am.

If you never use VDE, it will probably be because of the T word. As in T-DOS. Right, VDE is a T-DOS word processor, and that means Trouble right here in River City, folks, and that's trouble with a capital T, capital D, capital O, capital S and that spells to "hellwithit" so far as many ADAM owners are concerned.

Which is too bad, because T-DOS is just an operating system and its only influence on VDE266 is that you first load it, type "VDE" and then work in VDE.

If ten million secretaries can go to work every work day morning, turn on their MS-DOS computers, get Word Perfect on the screen and start typing, you and I can run T-DOS and VDE. The procedure is almost identical, and all they have to look forward to are coffee breaks whereas you and I have the excitement of learning a marvelously fast and versatile word processor. And besides, TDOS gives you access to all the CP/M programs in the world, many of which have no E.O.S. counterparts.

Trust me, it will be worth it. VDE, as I have said, is far faster than anything you can imagine on the ADAM.

What are the downsides; you've give us the good news, now hit us with the bad; level with the people; don't kid the troops; -- I can hear you all muttering out there.

It's an election year in the USA, and Canada's various politicians have written us and themselves a brand new constitution, and you want honest reporting.

Okay. You know that T-DOS (CP/M) VDE is a control code word processor; it has about 74 of them, and a set of options as well. It does not use SmartKEYs, and it has few, and brief, error messages. Depending on the version you have, it may not use the arrow keys (but the ADAM version commonly available does), it doesn't automatically reformat its paragraphs if you insert or delete, and its display is strictly business.

There is no page length marker at the side of your TV screen, no SmartKEY display, no bells, or whistles or little burps like SmartWRITER. Also, when you use VDE with your ADAM printer, unless you "install" them with VINST266.COM, some of the features you may have become accustomed to, such as your backspace key, delete key and underline key are not there. However, if you do use the original ADAM printer, with its limited repertoire, VDE offers you the plain vanilla printing, that you've had from the beginning with ADAM, but with much more formatting flexibility and the faster editing speed we have already mentioned. A good combination.

VDE doesn't offer print justification, but a separate program, VDEJUS, by Guy Cousineau, is available to do it. VDE was originally a CP/M word processor able to be used on any of the many different computers using that system. They all had one thing in common, though, that ADAM somehow missed out on. And that was an 80 column screen. Which means that you work in the equivalent of Moving Window format, and your screen will zip to the right on every Control key press. You use Control-left arrow to zip back. I like Moving Window, and I set up VDE with its horizontal margins set so a text fills my screen without sideways scroll, just like SpeedyWRITE.

Formatting and reformatting for printing is easy to do, and if I haven't mentioned it previously, quick.

Of all of VDE's drawbacks, the control codes are the most relevant. They have to be learned, but it helps that many are mnemonic - their letters relate to the name of the function. ESC-F gets you the directory of Files, Control-OR sets the Right margin, ESC Saves.

Some others you just have to remember... for example, Control-C jumps you one screen ahead in your file.

VDE comes with a large DOC file, VDE266.DOC, which will print out a 21 page manual, as well as a "Cheat Sheet" document file, called VDE266.QRF, which gives almost everything you need on one page.

There are some close similarities between SpeedyWRITE and VDE in terms of operations and features, and VDE is often described as a look-alike for WordStar. However, all word processor programs have so many similarities that someone like me, who's teamed four or five this year, starts to have deja vu all over again every time he hits the keyboard.

VDE was and is used for writing programs: it has "non-document" modes available for that, and ASCII and "W" type WordStar text file formats. VDE's documentation is complete, easy to read and follow.

If you've grown old scrolling through your SmartWRITER documents, if pressing SmartKEY VI to confirm that you do, really - really do, want to Delete, has lost its charm, and if SpeedyWRITE's small file space is cramping your style on your PhD thesis, then VDE has a lot to offer you. In VDE, Control-OR has you at the top of the file right now; Control-QC gets you to the bottom, fast too. Hitting Control-O+up arrow makes the line holding the cursor the top of the screen, Control-OS double spaces your file when you print it.

There are nine separate Control codes for deleting by character, word, by line, backward and forward, and undeleting any of your previously deleted characters and lines, and you do not Hi-Lite anything to Delete: you want it gone, it's history. Similarly, find and replace is swift, quick and fast, fast, fast.

All VDE users rave about its speed, and I'm surely no exception. Speed in word processing is a combination of a program's design, its size, and the convenience of its control system. In VDE you have a bare bones "necessities" design, a small (16K) machine language program, and to enable you to load all of your 40+ K file into memory, it is compressed, by the program, and an all-keyboard, Control + key system, means your fingers do the work without conscious thought, or by reading the SmartKEYs, after you learn the program.

VDE offers most of the bread and butter features you expect in any word processor, but with the additional feature of Macros. Macros are really little programs that you can write into your program to automate many regular functions you may otherwise have to repeat.

I am not a major Macro maven (but simply an annoying alliteration addict), but when you progress to Macros, you can teach your greyhound some tricks Benji never heard of.

VDE's 43K file size limit is occasionally referred to as a drawback, but that's approximately twice the file size of SpeedyWRITE and SmartWRITER.

It has another companion program, enigmatically titled CHOP.COM, that can readily separate the files of your next novel, into bite-sized chunks, anytime you want to work on it in VDE.

VDE266.COM is available in an ADAM-specific version (ADAM266.VDE) that works with the ADAM keyboard and printer.

All of the arrow key functions you're used to, insert and delete keys, are still available and functional, (but no backspace unless you specifically set it up with VINSTALL.)

VDE is in the public domain - i.e. it is a totally free program that's in the VISA P.D. library, available from ADAM's House, or N.I.A.D., for their P.D. prices, and should be in everyone's ADAM disk or data pack collection.

VDE does run from and store to data packs, but with the proviso that it must run under T-DOS or CP/M and those programs don't run well from data pack.

With the money you save on VDE, you can send away for a disk drive!

To wrap up: VDE is easy to be enthusiastic about. It's only real drawback is it's operating system - if you are new to TDOS or CP/M, you'll have to learn two programs. On the other hand, the benefits are real, and the effort is rewarding; you get a very competent, feature filled word processor that expands the usefulness of your ADAM, and at an unbeatable price.

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