Put It In Writing!
Part I: Another Word Processing
Option for ADAM
by Thomas J. Keene

"Modern computers are used to perform a myriad of tasks. They are renowned for their engineering and mathematical applications. No modern business could possibly function without the computer to prepare payrolls and process all sorts of records regarding employee's vacations, benefits, performance ratings etc... Inventories would be unmanageable were it not for the ubiquitous computer. Planning would be virtually impossible today without the splendid spreadsheet programs that manipulate enormous amounts of data. But, of all the ways that a computer is used, there can be little dispute that the preparation of correspondence and general writing of text is the most extensive. The all-time greatest software seller is said to be LOTUS 1 2 3. But that is probably because it is the best spreadsheet program on the market. But consider the dozens of word processors that are in use around the world. Here, there are half a dozen heavy contenders for first place. Or look at it in another way; millions of people use one word processor or another, in homes and offices across the land. That is not true of spreadsheets or engineering programs like FORTRAN, PASCAL or BASIC. The word processor is indispensable in today's world."

Graham Greens died in Geneva, Switzerland, on Wednesday, the third of April. This unprecedented master of English literature was unique in many ways. In today's world he is incredible in that he wrote all of his novels in longhand. He used neither a typewriter nor a word processor. Either the man was a fabulous speller or he relied on an editorial staff at his publishers. Very few of us could survive without a modern spell checker, nor could we create any sort of text without a word processor.

When Coleco introduced the ADAM, the major selling point was the integral word processor that was offered. At that time, this was unheard of. Even the Commodore (UGH!) had to use a separate software program to write text. And the SmartWRITER of the ADAM was a very good word processor indeed!. There are many ADAM owners that I know personally who use no other system. But a program that merely prepares text is, to my way of thinking, sadly incomplete. Formatting and spell checking are an integral part of the writing process. I am not too bad at spelling, but I am a miserable typist. And, as many people will attest, an author is a poor proofreader of his own material. The problem is that an author knows in his mind what he intended to write and when he proofreads his own material, he sees what he intended to write, whether it is there or not. Another person will catch things an author misses even though he may have read it over several times. This is especially true of mistakes in typing.

It is amazing how text will appear to be correct to the one who wrote it, but another person will spot errors and inconsistencies immediately. But how many of us have an editor to help us with our personal correspondence or other writing endeavors? A good spelling checker will go a long way toward minimizing this problem. Remember that the original ADAM had a very limited internal memory and even a moderately comprehensive spell checker may require upwards of 600K of workspace. So Coleco had to forget a spell checker. In fact, they didn't have a separate piece of software for that purpose, either. I recall that the first spell checker available for the ADAM was filled with so many mis-spelled words that it was completely useless. Nothing could be more treacherous than a spelling checker filled with spelling errors.

But SmartWRITER wasn't bad in it's time. Many of it's shortcomings were shared by dozens of other computer's word processors. Take formatting, for example. Virtually none of the home personal computers circa 1985 could justify text. At that time the dot matrix printer was just getting off the ground. Daisy wheel printers were by far, the major printers in use and they weren't too shabby either! No matter if you had a Brother daisy wheel or an ADAM, they both produced superb copy which was superior to any dot matrix printer regardless of cost. However, daisy wheel printers had a rigid spacing problem. So did most typewriters of that period. Only the extremely expensive IBM Executive had anything remotely resembling a variable spacing capability, and that was extremely limited. So it was natural that some enterprising hacker came out with a program that enabled the rigid daisy wheel printer to sit up and do tricks.

Some of this formatting software was commercial, but one of the best was a public domain program by Ted Chapin called RUN80. It was amazing what this program could do for text writers. Not the least of which was it's ability to justify text using an algorithm that spread the text in such a way that it became almost unnoticeable. It would check the last word on a line for fit, and, if it had room, it would reach down for the first word of the next line and put that word at the end of the line. Or, if the last word on a line was simply too long, it would drop that word down to the next line and then go back and space the other words on the line in a non-rhythmic pattern. Now, with these enhancements, the ADAM writer could produce some very professional looking text with that old SmartWRITER.

We soon began to notice that a lot of other home computers were showing up with some swanky word processors that featured some very professional improvements. At the time there was absolutely nothing of that kind for the ADAM. But as soon as Coleco released CP/M 2.2, there was a fluid tide of great programs, both commercial and public domain, that could be adapted to the ADAM. Coleco itself entered into an agreement with Westico to provide a vast array of CP/M commercial software specialty configured for the ADAM. These programs varied from business management (which included, the then top-drawer, dBASE II) through telecommunications, science & engineering, planning & analysis, language processing, development tools and word processing.

In the latter category, they offered WordStar, MailMerge and Star Index which was a reference aid for WordStar. These were anything but cheap, WordStar selling for $349. With the advent of some good CP/M telecommunications software, the ADAM community soon discovered a wealth of public domain programs on various bulletin boards, most notably CompuServe and Genie. The first major word processing program in the public domain was a great program called VDO25. It was vastly superior to SmartWRITER and much easier to use. Most of VDO25's features were readily adapted to the ADAM, though not all. A companion spelling checker made it's appearance in the public domain named SPELLM20. This was, and is, a terrific program that is completely ADAM compatible.

Not long after VD025 was making the rounds of the ADAM users, Eric Meyer of Bloomington, Indiana (University of Indiana) brought out his first edition of VDE. This was not configured for any particular computer and especially not the ADAM. I spent a lot of time trying to configure it and finally, after some help from Eric Meyer, I got it to work on an ADAM. There was no doubt at all that VDE was a lot more sophisticated than VDO25. I had also obtained a version of WordStar for the ADAM. I liked it but I thought that VDE was much easier to use. Unfortunately the command structure of these two programs was quite different, even though they both did about the same things. When WordStar IV was released, MicroPro made a CP/M version which was immediately adapted to the ADAM. I bought a copy of this program and found it was improved quite a bit over the earlier version I had been using but it was extremely large, requiring several disks to hold the complete program. Without a 3.5" or hard drive, WordStar IV is unthinkable. But even at it's best, WordStar is extremely awkward and slow, slow, slow. It jumps back and forth to the disks much too frequently to get something or another that it needs. This is where the public domain program VDE has it over WordStar. One thing VDE is, - it's fast!!

VDE has one notable drawback and that is the memory provision for the text you are writing: it can only hold about 45K in internal memory at any one time. It should be noted that Eric Meyer incorporated a compression technique in VDE that enables the program to handle an equivalent text of about 25% more than the actual amount in memory. This is transparent to the user and you are not conscious of this aspect, but it substantially mitigates the shortage of memory.

I should point out that very few people will ever find this lack of memory to be a handicap. On those rare occasions when you might have a large body of text and it is necessary to modify parts of it, there is an ancillary program that makes this very easy to do. The advantage of limiting the text volume is so overwhelming that I wouldn't want it changed for all the tea in China

Because every bit of the text you are working on is in resident memory, all of the word processor functions are lightning fast. You can go from the top of the text to the bottom in the blink of an eye. And you can go from the bottom of the text to the top with equal facility. By contrast WordStar 4.0 takes nearly 30 seconds to go from the top to the bottom of a 45K file. If you are searching for a particular word, it takes more time to speak the word than it does for VDE to locate it! VDE has been vastly improved over the years with a large number of versions replacing earlier versions with some improvement or other. The last revision was 2.66 (VDE266) which was only slightly different from version 2.65. The change was to correct an internal error that rarely occurred. But previous revisions were usually significant.

Perhaps the most notable change was made when Eric Meyer changed the operating commands to agree with those of WordStar. He retained his original command structure for those who had become so accustomed to them that they didn't want to change. So both systems are in the current version. A major improvement in VDE was in the documentation. The current documentation is outstanding!

Even though VDE has been copyrighted and has been made public domain with no strings of any kind attached, it has been unmercifully hacked by well intentioned people. There was a version adapted to ZCPR (written by Carl Wilson) and another for TDOS. These are mostly adaptations to make it work on these hybrid CP/M systems. For the most part there is little reason to recommend any of these adaptations. The reason Eric Meyer ended the revisions of VDE was that there were no further major improvements that he could think of that it lacked. There is one illustrious version of CP/M that was made with Eric Meyer's blessing and that is the screen writers version created by Fred Haines. Almost every version of VDE that came out, was immediately followed by a screen writers version. As I have pointed out in the past, this screen writers version is regarded as the most outstanding piece of software of it's kind. And it is in some pretty expensive company. It is almost unbelievable that this fantastic program is available for the ADAM. I have mentioned before, our good friend, Richard Newton, has used VDE266SP with great success in his screen writing.

Just how does VDE operate and specifically what are it's features?. To begin with, VDE is written on Z80 assembly language. This is one of the reasons that it is so fast. Unfortunately, it will not work on a computer that uses the 8085 microprocessor nor with the Intel 8080. It can be disassembled (if you have a mind to) with DDTZ but not with the standard ADAM CP/M disassembler. It can write directly to the video RAM but this feature of VDE is not implemented in the ADAM. All editing is done entirely in memory. Although not generally known in the CP/M world, VDE does have an MS-DOS version. I think that the best way to describe VDE is by going through a summary of the commands and explain what each of them does. I mentioned that a complete writing system should have a spell checker and formatting capabilities. There is a supporting program that I highly recommend for use with VDE and that is the QUIKKEYS program. I use this program for many other programs, such as a modem program and PrintMASTER etc... It is so extremely useful with a word processor that I urge you to get a copy (it is CP/M public domain) and configure it to be a companion for VDE. I will discuss this use a bit later.

There is a program that comes with VDE called VINSTALL.COM. This is the program used to install the generic VDE to one that is configured for your ADAM. Unless you are intent upon experimentation, my recommendation is that you obtain a preconfigured copy of VDE266 and save yourself the needless pain of doing it yourself. You can get a copy from the IEAUG public domain library. I have posted a version on several bulletin boards including CompuServe and Genie and I am aware that other ADAM configurations have also been widely posted. Nevertheless the VINSTALL program may be useful to you in the future when you want to change some of the settings such as User Options. Let's consider those User Options.

One user option is the creation of a backup file. Whenever you edit a file (that is, you bring an existing file into memory to make changes in it), do you want the original file to be retained as a backup when you save the edited file? If you do, then you will have two files of the same document, one with the new changes and one that is just like it was before you edited it. The backup file will have the same filename but it's file extension will be ".BAK". You may prefer not to have this option so this is something you can change with VINSTALL.

There is a status of files that you may create with VDE which is an option at the time you first create the file. It can be designated as a WordStar type document, an ASCII document or a "non-document". If you don't specify the mode, it defaults to an ASCII document. But for those who prefer that it default to the WordStar mode, that can be set in the User Option section. You can also set the file mode to a couple of other modes. For example, if you are writing an assembly language document and it should have the file extension ".ASM", you may designate it as the default setting. You are allowed to make another such file mode designation according to your preference. This is mostly a convenience for those who are doing a lot of specialized writing. Once you have finished with this need, you can easily change the default backup to something else with the VINSTALL User Option section.

There is a procedure in word processors called "insert" which enables you to insert a character, word, phrase or paragraph anywhere in an existing text. Most word processors have this capability and it is most useful. However, it is a matter of preference as to whether you want it "ON" all the time, or only "ON" when you so direct. The insert command is Control-V (^ V). You place your cursor at the character where you want to insert the word(s) and then hit Control-V again and resume normal typing. You may, if you wish, "invert" the use of the Control-V. In this case the insert mode is "ON" unless you hit Control-V to stop inserting. In the default operation, normal typing prevails until you hit Control-V, at which time inserting starts. This default setting is one of the User Options.

One optional feature of VDE is the layout at the top of the screen which is called a "ruler". This is a series of dots, each of which represents a character of text. The purpose is to guide you in laying out your text. It also displays the letter "T" at each of the preset tab locations. The option may be selected with Control-O followed by the letter T (^O T) and is a toggled option -- that is, it can be toggled "on" or "off" with the same command. The default setting is "off" but this is another of the User Options that you can set with VINST266.

The header at the top of the screen tells you the filename and drive, the line number and the column number, as well as other data. The header will be discussed in more detail a bit later. The "ruler" does not obliterate the header, but is a separate line just below the header.

When you start to create a text file you open a file with this command:


The items in curly brackets { } are optional.

If the drive is not designated, the file you are creating will be located on the A: drive. As shown above, the new file will be placed on the B: drive. You may use any drive (including the M: drive) that is available.

The other optional item on the command line is the filename and extension of the new file. It isn't required that you have a filename and type to open a file; later when you close it, you will be required (by VDE) to name the file. This procedure works well enough, but I advise against opening a new file without naming it on the command line. It is possible to make mistakes when naming the file and it is possible to get hopelessly hung up in the process! For example, when you exit a file (or even save a file and continue editing) you will be prompted for a filename at the top of the screen thus the correct procedure is to enter a normal filename (and filetype, if appropriate). But if you hit just about any key except a regular letter, you will be hopelessly fouled up. For example, if you hit the Escape key or any control character the screen will blink and prompt you for a name. Only from here on, nothing will be accepted! The only way out is a COLD BOOT! And I have encountered a time or two when even that won't resolve the problem. It may require that you completely power down. Naturally, anything you may have written will be lost. There is nothing wrong with waiting until you are ready to exit to name the file, but, on the other hand, I can't think of any good reason for not naming the file on the command line. You can always rename it later, or for that matter, rename it while under the control of VDE.

Back to Top