|★ APPLICATIONS ★ BUREAUTIQUE ★ ARNOR - PROTEXT PCW|8000PLus) ★|
|Arnor - Protext PCW||Applications Bureautique|
Word processing, like typewriting, can be a very subjective thing. There are writers who claim they can't do anything unless they're sitting in front of their trusty Remingtons, others who favour Underwoods. I've known those who could only ever write with a stubby 6B pencil, and more recently those who don't believe in any word processor which uses pull-down menus.
In most cases, these prejudices stem from the first pen, keyboard or computer the writer used, so it's not surprising there are many fanatical LocoScript users who know of nothing else. Well. Arnor would have you think again and consider the virtues of their latest version of PROTEXT.
PROTEXT first appeared on the Amstrad CPC range and achieved notable success as being the only word processor which worked fast and efficiently and without recourse to CP/M. For the PCW version, though, Arnor have had to add many more features to make the transition from LocoScript worthwhile. To this end they've added a spelling checker, mail merger, a useful set of utilities and the ability to work on two text files at once.
Protext is supplied as a single 3" disc, with a thick loose leaf manual, all housed in a robust black slip case. The manual is well written, is sub-divided into four main sections, and includes a quick-reference guide, a glossary and an index. The style of writing is informative without being patronising, and there is commendably little jargon in the text. There is a tutorial section to each chapter as well as reference lists of the commands. It would be nice to have seen a quick reference card listing the commands, as this is still easier than referring to the manual, but the on-screen help facility goes some way to offset this shortcoming.
Setting up PROTEXT is a very straightforward process, nicely automated by use of the program's own EXEC file utility, which is a more sophisticated version of CP/M's SUBMIT program. It allows the EXEC file to pause in mid flow and display prompts for disc swaps and the like. Once you've transferred the files from the master disc to two of your own (one for PROTEXT and its utilities, the other for the spelling checker), you can change the file which holds the initial set up to make use of the RAM disc on a PCW. This speeds the operation of the word processor.
Having set up your discs, you start PROTEXT by 'booting' your PCW with the copy of the master disc. The initial screen is divided in two, with a two line banner at the top of the screen and a command line strip about half way down. When you move into edit mode, the strip disappears and all but the top three lines of the screen are available for text.
You can do many things from command mode: copy files, format discs, rename your text, count the words, clear the edit screen and print a document, to name but a few. PROTEXT forms a kind of operating 'shell' around the word processor, and most of the jobs you need to do while word processing can be achieved without returning to CP/M.
There are over 60 commands available from command mode. Most have abbreviations to speed typing and many which have variations for slightly different functions. For instance, PRINT will print the current file in draft mode on the printer. You can add a filename to print a file directly from disc, type PRINT Q to print in NLQ, PRINTS to print to the screen (saves a lot of paper) or P R I N T F to print to a disc file. All the commands are memorable which makes them much easier to learn than WordStar's.
Printing can be done in the 'background', meaning that you can print out one document while working on another. This is a very handy facility, particularly if you produce a lot of short correspondence on your PCW.
Getting at the editor
You press [STOP] to move from command mode to edit mode, and the command strip disappears from the screen leaving a two line banner and a single default ruler.
This banner shows several useful pieces of information: current document name and length; justification, insert/overwrite and word-wrap status; page, line and column number and number of markers set. The top line of the banner sometimes changes when particular commands are executed.
A PROTEXT ruler is much like a LocoScript layout, except that you can have any number in a document and each one is individual. This means that when you alter one ruler to change the format of the text below it, it doesn't affect any other ruler in the document.
The editing cursor is controlled with the arrow keys, and movements are amplified with [SHIFT] and [ A L T ] , You can also move in blocks of paragraphs or screens, and to the beginning or end of the text. Scrolling the text with the cursor keys alone is quite slow, but when you move through it by the page, PROTEXT redraws the screen very quickly. You can also use the GOTO command from command mode to move directly to a given page number.
You can delete left and right, and to the start and end of a line. Any deletion is transferred into a delete buffer which can be recalled at any other point in the document. This is useful for moving lines of text, but you can also define a block of any size and move, copy, delete and save it to disc. When text is changed in this way, you have to reformat it with the [ A L T ] F command, which works fast.
PROTEXT can search your document quickly for any string of characters and replace it with another, using a variety of different options. There are also useful 'extras', such as transposing case, swapping two characters in one operation and redefining any character on the screen. Hard returns and spaces can also be displayed, in much the same way as with LocoScript.
Most of the functions within the editor are controlled using [ A L T ] plus one alphabetic character, but occasionally [ S H I F T ] and [ A L T ] are used together. Many commands are mnemonic, but you still have to be prepared to spend some time learning them before you can get the most out of PROTEXT. If you forget any of the commands you can call up four lines of help at the bottom of the screen, and page through a dozen of these mini-screens to find the command you want.
As well as the [ A L T ] controls you use while editing, you can also insert commands into the text which are executed when the document is printed. These are known as embedded commands, and cover such things as margins, headers and footers (only single line ones), printer control codes and page numbers. They are also used to create control files for mail-merging.
Both embedded commands and short text phrases can be built into 'phrase' files. These can be loaded from and saved to disc separately from the rest of the text. Up to 26 phrases can be used in one document.
As an example, the screen shot of a solicitor's letter shows the >PL , >HE , >FO and >OC commands. ‘>PL 70' defines the page length as 70 lines, ‘>HE Grabham ...' defines the header, ‘> FO Page %' puts the page number into the footer and ‘>OC 27 "I"' sends a code to the PCW printer which changes the line pitch to 10 lines per inch.
The ruler is set up to ease the drawing of the table, which uses the techniques shown in last month's LocoScript article.
A better spell
Once you've written your epic, you'd better check the spelling, and PROTEXT comes complete with an adapted version of PROSPELL, which was covered in an earlier review. The PROTEXT spelling checker can only check a complete document, and you have to return to command mode to call it in. It's a shame Arnor couldn't have taken the opportunity to integrate the checker into the editor, so you could check individual words against its dictionary.
The spelling checker is fast (with a claimed speed of around 1800 words a minute) and the dictionary contains about 33,000 words. You can add your own words to it. but remember that the dictionary isn't intelligent. If you add 'import', it won't know 'imports', ‘importation' or ‘important'. This, of course, is true of most spell checker dictionaries.
Take a letter
The other major part of PROTEXT is the inbuilt mailmerger. This can take data from a database file or another PROTEXT file and combine it with a text document to produce a form letter, set of labels or other repetitive document. All it requires is that each piece of information in the database record (each 'field') is separated by a comma or a [ RETURN ] code.
You can prepare the repeated part of the document exactly as you would any other text file under PROTEXT, and then call in the items in the datafile and combine or 'merge' them with it to produce a set of letters, labels or whatever.
You can arrange to print certain records only, certain fields from each record, or even parts of each field. The print control is created with embedded commands, as is the page formatting. The screen shot of a form letter shows how these commands are used.
The mail-merge commands within PROTEXT is very powerful. You can create variables to hold values from your datafile, and choose to manipulate them in certain ways depending on the value of an 'IF' statement, in much the same way you would do in BASIC. The statements in the control document work as follows:
PROTEXT is fast and well equipped. It provides spell checking and mail-merging normally only available with extra packages for other word processors. It does take a while to learn all the extra codes, but Arnor have gone out of their way to try and make this as easy as possible.
Once you've got to grips with the rather different approach to word processing, PROTEXT provides an efficient alternative to the likes of LocoScript and Wordstar. It remains to be seen whether it can hold its head up against the long awaited Locoscript 2. Time will tell.