|★ APPLICATIONS ★ PAO/PRESSE ★ MICRODESIGN II PCW|8000 Plus) ★
|MicroDesign II PCW
Desktop publishing or integrated page processing with the PCW? Tim Smith spots the difference.
MicroDesign II from Creative Technology has been eagerly awaited since its first showing at the Which Computer Show earlier this year. The outstanding feature then was the speed at which the PCW screen was driven. But speed will always tend to be impressive; there has to be much more than that for a package to break new ground.
MicroDesign II is heralded by'its creators as an Integrated Page Processor. At first glance this smacks of computer industry self-indulgence, like calling a bicycle an ‘environmentally friendly transportation module'. Closer examination proves that this title has less to do with marketing than a genuine break with the kind of desktop publishing packages which have set the standards on the PCW.
A page (whether it be in a magazine, leaflet, poster or any of the other applications for which desktop publishing systems are used) has two main elements - graphics and text - that the software allows you to manipulate to produce the required layout. Up until now the text has been very much a poor relation. In an ideal world all of these would be perfectly integrated to produce a legible, professional-looking piece of work. This is what Creative Technology have set out to do with MicroDesign II, hence the title.
Little and large
MicroDesign II stores its pages in the form of bitmaps. These are basically a pattern of dots which on the PCW are either green or black (on or off). Ideally you will need to have a 512k PCW (8512, 9512 or upgraded 8256) in order to get the best from the program. The reason for this is that the program can use 256k of RAM to store a screen or area of screen. Using so much RAM allows MicroDesign II to define images and print them out at much higher resolutions than any previous desktop publishing software. To save disc space these high resolution screens are crunched down before being saved. Depending on how big the section of screen is that you wish to save, the disc-file size can vary from around 6k to 50k.
A PCW 8256 will be able to run MicroDesign II but can't use the program's full potential. The reason for this is that the program allocates memory to pages in progress in a very specific manner. A 512k PCW will be able to use a full 256k for each working page while the 8256 uses just 64k. Within these blocks of memory all the necessary work, including the printing, must be done.
So, without a great deal of fiddling about you will not be able to get the extremely high resolution printouts which set the software apart from its competition. The way around this problem, aside from upgrading your machine, is to make use of the Strip format. MicroDesign comes with three possible page formats: A4 Upright, Sideways and the Strip.
Strips can use either 64k or 256k depending on your machine. The Strip format gives the same amount of memory to a quarter of an A4 page as it would to an entire page using the other methods. To sum up, the possible arrangements are a 64k page, a 64k strip, a 256k page or a 256k strip.
It is possible to construct a single page from four of these strips to give the highest possible resolution page, though the planning involved in all of this must be meticulous (especially if you wish to flow text freely or have pictures of more than a quarter page in height). In fact the Strip format was originally called Letterhead in line with its intended use.
MicroDesign II is made up of a number of screens which are normally accessed from a pull-down menu on the left of the main layout section. The first screen worth a visit is entitled OPTIONS. This allows you to specify a number of preferences which are then saved as a file. The file is looked at by the program every time you boot up. Within it you store details such as whether or not you are using a mouse (Kempston or AMX), the speed of the mouse/cursor and other data relating to movement about the program.
Happily, if you decide not to bother with a mouse, or you can't afford one, the package still handles very well indeed. In fact the only real reason for using such a device might be in the production of ‘freehand' drawings.
This screen will also give you the first sight of the impressive way in which MicroDesign II copes with text. It recognises and will import LocoScript files automatically. Along with this you are also given the choice of Protext, Wordstar or Ascii files.
In our test the only LocoScript control codes which could not be handled by MicroDesign were the Sub and Superscripts; but useful as they are for footnotes in academic work they have few uses in magazine or poster work. Creative Technology haven't left external word processors to take on the work of text entry. Included in the program is a text editor which is no negligeable piece of work.
It acts as a stand alone system and uses the familiar [+] and [-] LocoScript system for bold or underlines. Not only this but you have the ability to merge text files as well as copying and moving chunks around the screen. The speed at which all this occurs might fool you into thinking that you were in fact working on a dedicated word processor and not merely a section of a larger program.
Once you have written and edited the text the next stage is to position it on the main screen. This entails moving into what is really the central section of the program; the Layout screen.
An important feature here is that once you have set up the number of columns you require (from 1 to 8) you can save this information as a Template, again similar to the LocoScript method. The position of picture and text boxes, the scale/point size in which you wish the words to be typeset and whether you wish the text to flow around the picture boxes - all these details are held for use at a later date. This should prove extremely handy for a person writing a regular magazine or journal. You are able to create both right, left, front and back pages which can then be recalled with a click of the mouse or flick of the finger.
Icon see for miles
Once over the initial that someone has finally arrived at a system which treats words with respect you will need to deal with the illustrations.
As you would expect MicroDesign II comes with a sizeable library of icons (representing faces, musical and electronic symbols amongst others). As well as these you have access to thirty different fonts, none of which are too deliberately ‘wacky', no wild west or space age fonts for example. This will not stop you from importing icons, clip art or fonts from other systems, such as Stop Press, or even from designing your own.
Editing all and any of these is a simple enough affair as both the fonts and icons have their own editing areas within the program. These consist of a grid giving a pixel by pixel map of the required image and an editing menu enabling you to manipulate the shapes and create your own.
Creative Technology have also taken a good hard look at the PCW market (the software took four man years to design according to the company). This is illustrated by the fact that clip art, digitised pictures and icons can be imported from the other PCW publishing packages on the market. The only limitation is that you are unable to resize anything to fit. This did indeed become frustrating and will hopefully be dealt with eventually by the company.
Prints of lightness
So what happens when you have your page set up, the immortal prose flowed in around the stunning images? You will need to print them out, the fundamental reason for which desktop publishing packages are bought. Yet again the product shows itself to be a force to contend with. Not only do you have the choice of the built-in 8000 series printer, you can also make use of external 9 pin or 24 pin printers and even a laser printer if you can afford such an article; there are specially written drivers for each of these.
Printing can be carried out in Draft or Quality mode, the former uses more pins to provide a more rapid result while the latter is far more precise and less grainy. You also have a choice of scales; full, half or quarter. These levels will give you a printout of varying size and density. This gives a ready ability to print quarter-scale draft proofs in order to keep an eye on your progress.
As well as the straightforward print-a-page option there are two further forms of print out: Text only and Queue. The former will not recognise any control codes (such as Italics or bolds) but will enable you to take the work away to check for style or spelling mistakes.
The latter, Queue, can be used in conjunction with the Strip facility we looked at earlier to produce high resolution output on an 8256. Queue allows you to print a number of files from disc (the page method will only print the page which is resident in memory). Consequently, when using continuous paper, for example, you can leave the PCW to print an entire publication overnight. To use the print Queue you must create a list of the files you wish to be printed using the built-in text editor. This file can be kept for further use and, combined with the Template facility, should take a great deal of the grind out of regular publications.
It must be said that this all too brief look over MicroDesign II has only scratched the surface of its capabilities. Minor moans relate to such things as the inability to resize clip art, the fact that you cannot create graphs, although you can import them from Mini Office and Stop Press, and the rather diminutive size of the Design screen (the section of the main page which can be worked on). This final gripe can be overcome by scrolling around the full page from within the Design section.
Aside from these moans (and the fact that Flipper refuses to run MicroDesign II at the moment) one point that deserves a special mention is the manual; produced using MicroDesign II with a little help from a laser printer. It begins with a tutorial which can be worked through in conjunction with files on the program disc. It is clear, concise and refrains from using terms which might confuse the first time user. It must be said that it is one of the best examples of technical writing we've seen for a while.
In conclusion, with MicroDesign II the PCW world has gained a very strong publishing package (with a reasonable word processor if you require another one) which will produce printouts of an extremely high quality which after all is the point of the entire exercise..