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When Amstrad launched the PCW in late 1985. it was a unique machine in many ways. In particular, what was really being sold was not a computer but the wordprocessing software, LocoScript. The PCW itself was pretty much just a vehicle for that.
LocoScript, allied with the PCW's trusty disc drives, printer, screen and keyboard, suddenly brought the technology revolution to a whole band of people who thought that computers were thing that kids played with. Amstrad's advertising campaign, showing a skipload of junked typewriters, is probably pretty close to the mark - there are very few PCW owners who, used to typing and retyping drafts of documents, do not now have an ageing Olivetti gathering dust in a corner, never to see the light of day again.
In the 18 months that LocoScript has been around, the users have made pfenty of suggestions as to what improvements they would like to be made. In general there has been a popular vote that it is ideal for quick letters, but has two major flaws: that it is very slow at moving around documents longer than a couple of pages, and that it can't use high quality printers,
Of course there are many other word processing programs for the PCW - WordStar, Tasword, Protext, Afl these programs work differently, and have features that are not to be found in their competitors. No word processor does everything that you could want, but will LocoScript 2 do well enough, or should you be looking elsewhere?
Jump to it
LocoScript 2 has a key and menu structure based on LocoScript I but rationalised. The basic philosophy is that functions you need to do regularly are on odd-numbered function keys, and the lesser used one on even-numbered keys (you have to use [SHIFT] to get at them.)
One of the most welcome keys while editing will be the [f5]. In LocoScript 1, whenever you want to move to another part of your document you have to watch the screen scrolling through all the intervening text. Even with the [DOC] key, to go to the end of the document you must witness your previous life flashing (well, crawling) before your eyes.
LocoScript 2 has a ‘jump to page' command. Press [f5], and you can now enter the number of the page to jump to. Any number between I and 999 can be entered - use 'I' for jump to start of document, and if you aren't sure how many pages there are, use ‘999' to jump to the end,
A short pause, the disc whirrs, and suddenly you are at the start of the specified page.
The version of LocoScript 2 we reviewed was still a pre-production version, but it would move through 10 or so pages of full text in around 5 seconds. The final release version is promised to work even faster. The [PAGE] and [DOC] keys still work as before, and the text scrolls by as the cursor moves. Even so, the scrolling is two or three times faster than in LocoScript I.
This speed-up (two- or three-fold) goes right across the board. The Find/Exchange command works that much faster too, although it is still slow compared to Protext. When you [EXIT] and ‘Finish Editing'.
LocoScript does not scroll to the end of the document, but finishes straight away. Also, 'Save and Continue' returns you to your current position rather than the top of the document. Unfortunately the ‘Insert Text' command still scrolls through the text as it inserts, so it still seems slow compared to programs like WordStar/NewWord and Protext.
The reason that LocoScript (both versions) scrolls through text so slowly compared to other word processors is that it reads the text as it goes to make sure that it is correctly formatted on the page and on the screen.
With most wordprocessors. when you insert a word in a paragraph, you mess up the right hand margin of the page since you have changed a line length. You then have to give a specific reformat command, otherwise it will print out incorrectly.
LocoScript does all the necessary reformatting automatically as you move down through the text. Of course, if you haven't gone past page two of a five page document. LocoScript should realise that none of the text below page two will need reformatting. LocoScript I ignored this fact, but LocoScript 2 knows it doesn't need to read any of that text (and display it on the screen as it passes it) which is how the 'jump to page' command can work so fast.
When you do a jump, the only delay is to allow LocoScript to copy your disc document into its temporary workspace as it goes through it.
There is one minor side effect of the jump command which you ought to be aware of: the working of Layouts has altered subtly. In LocoScript I, you could define several numbered Layouts, and insert them by their number at different points in the text. If you edited one of them, the changes you made applied to all occurences of that layout throughout the document.
In LocoScript 2, when you edit a Layout, the changes only apply to that particular occurrence. This is so that the 'jump to page' command can skip large chunks of text without having to check to see if any Layouts used in that region have changed because of edits you made elsewhere. It also means that if you copy one document into another, the Layouts that the original used are copied across too, whereas in LocoScript I there were confusing results.
A question of character
Soto the other burning topic of interest - printers. The standard printer that comes bundled with the PCW has attracted some adverse comment, mainly from people who have never used other computers and seen how bad most dot matrix printout is.
For starters, people who don't own anything but the standard printer will still get a lot out of LocoScript 2, The printer font (ie. the actual design of the characters on the paper) has been redesigned to give some characters (the 'W' and 'M' particularly) a more natural look.
There is a whole range of new characters now available. The character set can cope with all European languages, except, as Locomotive shamefacedly admit, some parts of Tartar, Macedonian and Cyrillic Serbo-Croat. All the accents for Polish. Czech, Welsh and so on are available - there are 15 possible accent characters, any of which can be used with any character. Previously, only certain combinations of characters and accents were allowed.
New characters include a full Greek and Russian alphabet (although some of the aspiration accents in classical Greek are not supported), mathematical set notation, playing card suit signs, and many more. The full range is shown in the illustration. There are a few double height mathematical symbols, like integral signs, which will prove popular with students and others.
The printing of capital letters with accents has been changed so that the letter itself is not squashed down. With LocoScript I, the E in E would be smaller than an ordinary E, because the accent had to take up some of the character space. Now the accent is printed higher up, and the letter itself is unchanged.
Finally, should this not prove enough, there is scope for you to define up to 10 characters of your own design. Character definition is difficult, and you will need to get special help from Locomotive in the form of an extra utility program to do this.
This bewildering range of characters can mean you have to use some weird combinations of [SHIFT], [ALT] and [EXTRA] to get them, but that is a small price to pay.
For those who have tired of the standard printer's efforts, you can now hook up a daisywheel printer (or another dot matrix printer) to your PCW when using LocoScript 2. You will need to buy an Amstrad CPS8256 serial/parallel interface before you can to this, which will set you back £65 or so.
Broadly speaking, any common printer will work with LocoScript 2. Specifically, any printer which is Epson compatible (dot matrix printers usually are) or 630 compatible (daisywheel printers usually are) will work. Check with your dealer before you buy. You may be interested to know that the range of suitable printers includes a few laser printers - the Canon LBP-8. Centronics PP-8 and Daisy M700I - although these also have interesting prices!
In fact, any printer can be used with LocoScript 2, If it is not Epson or 630 compatible, you will have to write your own printer driver with a separate piece of Locomotive software.
The full range of LocoScript 2 characters is only available on the standard PCW printer. In particular, with a daisywheel printer you can't print anything not actually defined on the print wheel itself. However, LocoScript 2 automatically does some cunning overprinting tricks to produce accented characters such as the ones shown in the sample.
Tests showed that LocoScript 2 can usually print out to a Juki 6100 daisywheel printer at roughly the printer's maximum capacity. However, when you switch to ‘high quality' mode, the Juki can drop to only 50% of its top speed of 18 characters per second when doing proportional spaced text.
Even daisywheel printers have a high quality and a draft mode: in high quality, the printer runs more slowly to allow the print head a longer settling time as it moves into position. For really accurate character positioning, which LocoScript 2 tries to do, this gives you surer character registration, but is slower. You can still use the standard printer (which you have free of charge anyway) for quick drafts, and then print a final version out on the daisywheel.
Speed and print are the two main new features, but LocoScript 2 is packed with other surprises.
The good news is that you may never have to use CP/M again, and your days of running DISCKIT to format and copy discs are over. You can do all necessary disc housekeeping and preparation entirely from the LocoScript disc management menu in LocoScript 2.
The Find and Exchange functions have been changed a little. In the old version, you could type in a phrase or word to look for. but the search only worked if the case (capitals or lower case) of the text was right. If you looked for 'wombats' you would not find ‘Wombats', for instance.
Now the case is unimportant, unless you specifically say, Further, you can include 'wildcards' in the search string. For example, if you look for '?a?ter' you will find either master' or ‘barter', whichever comes first.
When you do an Exchange, you can match the case of the new text to the old text. So, if you want to change 'five' to 'six' throughout a document, and you specified that the letter cases should be matched, the occurences of 'five' will be changed to ‘six', ‘Five' to 'Six' and ‘FIVE' to ‘SIX', all with the command.
There are a coupie of little extras, like you can now print multiple copies of the same document from the Printer menu. Also, if you store long documents as sets of shorter ones (as you should) you can link their page numbers and layouts together so that when printed out they follow on from each other consistently. You can set up the [RETURN] key to produce any line spacing from to 3, so that you can leave half-line spaces between paragraphs if you want.
The working of Blocks and Phrases has been changed too. You can now list out all the phrases you have available, to jog your memory, and the first few words of your blocks too. In the old LocoScript, whenever you left a document all the blocks you had set up were lost, but now they are all retained until you reset the machine.
This means that, to copy a large chunk of text form one document to another you can COPY it into a Block, leave the current document, open the new one and PASTE the Block in.
The method of setting up your page layout has changed. You still have basically the same range of options in terms of where die headers and footers go, but the order in which menus appear has been rationalised. In LocoScript I, headers and footers were a nightmare. You had to define a zone and a position for the header and footer, which allowed the header text to start on any line you liked within the zone.
The concept of header and footer positions has been abolished - if you want the text to start on a specific line, you just type blank lines into the header (or footer). You can also define two independent gaps at the top and bottom of the page to make printing on continuous stationery neater - these two replace the old single 'gap length' of a page, which was confusing since it wasn't totally clear whether the gap came at the top or bottom of the page.
You can give each new layout a specific name, like 'AS', or 'Labels' to remind you what it is for. When you come to print a document, LocoScript will check that the printer is set up to match what the document expects. If it doesn't, you have three choices: (a) use the printer's settings, (b) use the document's settings, or (c) none of the above.
Finally, one omission that is bound to cause an outcry (or shouts of glee from magazines who publish program listings, mentioning no names) is that there is still no word counter in LocoScript 2!!! Come on guys, a lot of LocoScript users write material which they get paid for by the word. We know that LocoSpell does this for you, but that costs £40 extra.