From the archives: WordStar 2000 Plus review

Wordstar 2000 Plus was the third version of the widely hated word processor. The reaction to the original Wordstar 2000 was similar to the one that greeted New Coke. Well, actually no, it was different…

New Coke and the original Coke were just slight variations on of vile, corrosive sugared water. Wordstar 2000 was actually a very capable piece of software. Its sin was just that it wasn’t Wordstar – the one we all knew and loved and had programmed into our muscle memory.

Below are not one but two reviews from 1988 – for Which PC? and PC Amstrad. I always liked to try to sell reviews to more than one publication – it made the time spend getting to know the software more worthwhile.

I wanted to show some screen grabs for this post, but as you can see from the one I have below, my installation of the software under FreeDOS on VirtualBox did not go well.

Oops. Crash…

Well, at least that’s an authentic experience for the period. BTW, the version I downloaded from the interwebz had 20 disk images, rather than the 19 floppies I mention in the reviews.

Oh, and yes – we really did still refer to hard drives as ‘Winchesters’ back then.

 


 WORDSTAR 2000 PLUS – WHICH PC?

When is Wordstar not really Wordstar? The answer, as followers of Micropro’s products will know, is when it is Wordstar 2000. The real question, however, is whether that really matters. After all, with version 3 of Wordstar 2000 having just arrived, it could be said to have grown up into an adult product in its own right.

There’s certainly nothing underdeveloped about the size of this package. Wordstar 2000 Plus, as it’s known, comes on 19 disks, with well over 1000 pages of documentation. If you buy it by mail order, make sure to enlarge the letter box – it makes an impressive thud as it hits the welcome mat.

Non-Winchester owners are not going to like this, but you really are going to have to buy a hard disk. The only other option is a trip down to the local microsurgery to have another three pairs of arms stitched on. You need two arms to type with, five to hold disks and another to search the disk box for the one you need right now.

Even with a Winchester, the fully installed program takes up 6Mb of space. Once you’ve sorted yourself out, and got rid of the stuff you don’t need, you’ll be able to get this down a tad – but not much.

The reason for this impressive size is that the software is crammed with features. Indeed, not only do you get one of the most sophisticated word processors around, but you also get the truly wonderful PC-Outline, which was previously sold in its own right as a shareware product.

There’s not enough room here to describe all of Wordstar 2000’s features in full, so we’ll concentrate on the most immediately impressive. Indeed, I’m still discovering new things in the package as I plough my way through the documentation. However, first impressions are that this software has nearly everything that someone like me wants in a word processor. Mind you, it’s not really aimed at people like me – it’s a corporate word processor, and will be most at home running across a network.

Editing is a pleasure. Paragraphs automatically reformat as you type, and you have the option of being able to see formatting codes, like carriage returns, centred text, print commands, and so on.

Moving around the edit screen is very fast, which is more than can be said for previous versions of the program. A major criticism of Wordstar 2000’s first incarnation was its general sloth. Now you can go to the other extreme with the inappropriately named ‘Cruise Control’, which gives you control over the cursor speed. At top speed, the phrase ‘faster than a speeding bullet’ springs to mind.

Another notable feature in the edit mode gives you some control over widows and orphans. Micropro uses these terms to describe to odd one or two lines of a paragraph stranded at the top or bottom of a page, while the main part is on another sheet. With this feature selected, should a page break occur part way through a paragraph, leaving less than two or three lines on a page, the whole paragraph is taken over to the next sheet – an intelligent conditional page break, in other words.

Getting in to the edit mode means more than just choosing a filename. When you first set up a document, and having typed in the name, you’re asked for the name of a format file. A range of formats come supplied with the software, and it’s easy to set up your own. A format file specifies parameters like the margins, tabs, line spacing and which printer driver you want to use.

If you want to load an existing document, but can’t remember which file contains the text you want, then you use Wordstar 2000’s excellent File Locator utility. This relies on you being able to remember a few key, and hopefully unique, words contained in the target file. The program will find all the documents containing those words.

There is an alternative to all this messing about with filenames and formats. The Speed Write option drops you straight into the edit mode. When you save the text it automatically uses the filename SPEED.DOC, although you can later rename it. It’s a useful way of writing and printing quick notes.

Those of you looking to do something more ambitious may be glad to hear that Wordstar 2000 now allows you to include graphics in your text. Don’t get too excited – it isn’t exactly desktop publishing. But diagrams and pictures created with other packages can be included at printing. Once it’s been brought into the document, you can re-size the image, rotate it, define margins for it, and decided how you want text to run around it. Indeed, with the support Wordstar 2000 has for laser printers, you might decide you don’t really need DTP.

A whole bunch of useful stuff is hidden behind the Additional Features option on the main menu. Here you’ll find a utility to convert files between Wordstar 2000 format and formats used by other word processors, access to part of the installation process for selecting more printers and such like, a typewriter utility, allowing you to type straight to the printer without bothering about stuff like files, indexing, a spelling checker for saved documents and support for Postscript and Hewlett-Packard laser printers.

In addition to these utilities, there are some rather more important features. For a start, there are the history screens. These are where you can store information about your documents, including dates and distribution lists. You can also find out how many words are in the file, plus a breakdown of the frequency of various word lengths. Incidentally, there is a word count available in edit mode, so you don’t have the rely on running some third party program.

The last two additional features are ShowText and PC-Outline. The first uses graphics to display the whole of the current page, giving a reasonable idea of how the printed document will look. This is an idea which seems to have worked its way up from home micros, where it was a way around limited memories, to business machines.

PC-Outline is rather more sophisticated. It’s a clever text editor, virtually a word processor in itself, which is used to organise text into hierarchical lists. It offers automatic renumbering of sections and sub-sections and a range of display options which mean you can look at the whole text, or hide selected sub-sections. It’s tricky to describe in just a few words – suffice to say that many people rave about this product.

As an alternative to printing the document, you might want to send it over some kind of electronic mail system. Fortunately, you can do this without leaving Wordstar 2000. The software includes a communications program, allowing you to send or receive documents over the phone, across a network or directly from one PC to another.

The software is pretty basic, and configuring it to dial and connect to an online system is unnecessarily awkward. Anyone with experience of comms, and with suitable software, will probably prefer to use another program. But the comms facility may prove useful in a network environment.

Naturally there is a spelling checker and a thesaurus. Oddly, Micropro hasn’t used Word Finder, as found on Wordstar Professional Release 4, but the thesaurus seems to work well enough.

Perhaps the greatest strength of the package is its integration. PC-Outline, the communications software, file conversion, printer installation, even the large README program – a database of the information which was too late to make it into the manuals – are all available from within Wordstar 2000 itself.

In spite of being huge and complex, Wordstar 2000 Plus is simple and reasonably quick to install. The printer section is especially impressive. It lists practically every printer ever made – and then some. There’s no real limit to how many of them you can install, as each driver is given its own filename. If you call one of these files ‘PRINTER’, it will be loaded as the default driver.

The quality of the documentation is generally up to the standard set by the software. There’s a lot of it – the three ring binders contain five manuals covering everything from installation to applications. The sections are logical and well-marked, but if you still get stuck, the software has a good online help facility. And it comes with a stack of tutorial programs and files. However, you’ll probably resort to these only when you come to use the more advanced features. Editing and printing ordinary documents is a doddle, even without any documentation.

The sheer size of this package will deter some people from using it. Even more will be scared off by the high price – no less than £465, although it’s available to existing Wordstar users at £149 (both prices exclude VAT). But it’s an excellent product, which will find a natural home in the corporate marketplace, and with those individual users who need something powerful.

If you listen too long to the pundits, you’d think that Wordstar is dead. This package at least proves that something bearing that name is alive and definitely kicking.

The main criticism which will be levelled at this software concerns the name. Calling it Wordstar is misleading. It’s a completely different product to the conventional Wordstar, right down to the keystrokes. If your fingers are trained to Wordstar’s hallowed commands, you will have trouble adapting to this package. But that’s true of most other word processors. And Wordstar 2000 Plus might be worth the trouble.

[ENDS]


WORDSTAR 2000 PLUS – PC AMSTRAD

One Monday I sat at home, breathless with excitement. I was expecting delivery of two packages, and in those brown-boxed parcels were going to be examples of the latest in technological marvels.

One would contain my first ever washing machine, a shiny new Hotpoint, complete with bells and whistles. It boasted features like economy wash, half-speed spin and … well, you don’t want to hear about that.

The other would contain an equally miraculous product from Micropro – the latest version of the company’s heavyweight word processor, Wordstar 2000 Plus.

Suddenly a white van pulled up outside. Rapid shuffling was followed by a ring at the door. I opened it to find a white- coated man trying to attract my attention from behind a huge cardboard box. ‘Sign here,’ he said and then left me with … With what? From the size of the box I’d have been forgiven for thinking it was a slightly underage Hotpoint. As it turned out, it was the software.

Word processors used to come in nice little boxes. With the software on a 360k disk you still had plenty of space for files. The first release of Wordstar 2000 changed all that, and now, with 2000 Plus, we’re up to release three and things are starting to get out of hand.

It took two of us to open the package, sort the manuals and insert the separately printed chapter dividers. Every so often we’d find another set of disks, and when all the wrapping paper was cleared away we did a final count – this software comes on no fewer than 19 floppies!

It’s worth pointing out at this stage that Wordstar 2000 is not Wordstar. Micropro really should have come up with another name when it launched 2000. Not only does it look completely different, there is also no compatibility in commands. That’s an important point – it’s no accident that scores of other text editors have adopted Wordstar commands, such as Ctrl-KD to save the file.

There are millions of Wordstar users out there – it’s the default word processor, and in spite of a discernible trend for knocking the product, it deserves its success. There are many good features in Wordstar, not least its familiarity. So when you sit down at a micro which is running a program calling itself Wordstar, you expect to be able to tap in all the old favourite commands and have them work. That’s an old argument, dating back to the first release of Wordstar 2000, yet it’s worth bringing up again, for the simple reason that it is bound to be applied to the new product – which isn’t necessarily fair.

The first version of 2000 didn’t win universal acclaim – the program was slow and cumbersome, with little to entice the user away from its more conventional namesake. This latest release, 2000 Plus, is a different matter altogether.

To save you jumping to the end of the review, I’ll tell you now that I think Wordstar 2000 Plus is a superb product. It’s vast, complex, expensive and worth every bit of the trouble you’re going to have getting used to it.

Surprisingly, installation is easy and, for such a large program, quite fast. Micropro has done an excellent job of the whole process. It’s easy to under- stand, informative and with very few potential disasters – you can always go back later and change something if you get it wrong. The only problem is that you have to hang around feeding in disks. You can’t even read a good book while you’re doing it, as there are prompts to follow and decisions to be made, like which printers you want to install. The printer menu lists 396 models. As if that wasn’t enough, the Readme file (of which more later) adds another 26. And then the manual covers itself by saying: ‘if your printer is not listed …’. You can install as many printers as you like, giving each driver a separate filename.

The installation program is a fascinating source of information. Once you’ve installed a printer you’re given a whole stack of information about it, such as the fonts and special effects supported. There’s probably more printer information contained here than any other single place on Earth.

The information doesn’t stop there. If you’ve had much experience of installing PC software you’ll know that there’s usually a file called something like README which contains the latest information on the product. Wordstar 2000 Plus is no different, except that this is no plain ASCII or word processor file. It’s a program in its own right – a kind of database of the program’s more esoteric and recent features.

Incidentally, it is allegedly possible to run this software from floppy disks. I wouldn’t recommend it. To get anything like the full benefit of the program and all its attendant utilities, you have to install it on a hard disk – and one with around 6Mb of free space just for the software!

When you’ve finally got the thing safely installed, you’re ready to start using it. You’re first presented with a deceptively simple menu screen – I was almost disappointed after all the effort I’d put in.

If you’re an inveterate Wordstar user, you’ll be tempted to hit ‘D’, rattle in a filename and start typing. That would be a mistake. As I said, Wordstar this isn’t. To start editing you type ‘E’, which at least has the advantage of being more logical – ‘D’ is used to select another drive or directory.

As usual you’re asked for a filename, and at the same time all the files in the current directory are displayed. You either type in a name or select one by moving a highlight bar with the cursor keys and hitting Return. If the name you’ve selected is a subdirectory, rather than a file, you move down into that directory, so there’s no problem moving around the disk. If the filename you’ve typed in doesn’t already exist, a new file is started and you’re prompted for the format you want to use. Format files specify the general layout of the page – margin positions, line spacing, the printer you want to use, and so on. This is extremely useful. It means you can have different formats set up for, say, invoices and letters. And you can have different files depending on whether you want the printout proportionally or mono spaced. If you want to load an existing file, but can’t remember what you called it, the File Locator utility will help you. All you have to do is remember a few keywords which are likely to be found in the text and the utility will tell you which files contain those words.

If all you want to do is make a few quick notes or type a short memo, you can choose the Speedwrite option. This puts you into the edit mode without first asking for a filename, making everything just a little quicker. The editing screen is very clean. The top two lines are displayed as inverse video and contain the status line, with the filename, cursor position and so on, and the current ruler. The rest of the screen is given over to text.

You can have the control characters, such as carriage returns, emboldening, underlining and so on, displayed or turned off. The latter option gives a more realistic impression of how the final page will look, but it’s useful to be able to see where the special characters are hiding. And the characters are displayed in a very sensible way.

For example, most of the text control effects are spelt out – if you centre a piece of text it’s preceded by [CENTRE] on the screen.

Scrolling and general cursor control is very fast indeed – a definite improvement over earlier versions of Wordstar 2000. And it’s possible to set the cursor speed with what Micropro calls ‘Cruise Control’.

As usual, page breaks are shown on screen, but there’s an extra feature which I particularly like. The software can be set to take an entire paragraph over to the next page if it would otherwise be broken with just a couple of lines at the bottom of one page or the top of the next. Journalists will love this feature, as it’s generally considered bad practice to have small parts of paragraphs floating around. And journalists will also like the fact that a word count is available within the program – you don’t have to run a third party DOS utility as you do with Wordstar.

If you forget any of the commands, online help is available, and it’s context sensitive – it tries to guess what you want to know, and presents that first. If you want help on another subject, let’s say printing, typing ‘PR’ will take you to the correct part of the help menu.

More help comes in the form of a spelling checker and a thesaurus – which are only to be expected these days. They work well and are worth having, in spite of the disk space they take up.

The package has its own communications program which allows you to send or receive text via an electronic mail service, such as Microlink, a network-based mail system or directly between PCs. The program is fairly basic, and isn’t really up to competing with full-blown comms software, but it does the job simply and quickly. The fact that it’s built into the word processing package means that you don’t have to do a lot of messing around, moving files, changing programs, and so on. For example, with Wordstar 2000 I could have written this review, run a spelling check, logged on to Telecom Gold and sent the copy to PC Amstrad, all without leaving the safety of the one program. I didn’t, but I could have.

One seemingly innocent option in the main menu is Additional features. As it turns out, this is stacked with invaluable extras, one of which has been around for a while as a highly respected product in its own right!

That product is PC-Outline. It’s a text editor which allows you to organise notes in a hierarchical structure, with automatic numbering or headings and sub-headings. It’s a highly sophisticated piece of software which has been around for the past few years as shareware.

The Typewriter option is just as it sounds. Having selected which printer you want to use, from a list of those installed, you then start typing – straight to the paper. You have the option of buffering the output, so that you can go back and correct, or trust your fingers to get it right first time. It seems strange spending hundreds of pounds on a word processor only to have it emulate your dear old Smith Corona, but I’ve often wanted a feature like this for typing addresses on envelopes.

Another additional feature is History, which is a database of your text files. Each file has a history screen allotted to it, which contains details about when the file was created, a word count, an analysis of how many words of various lengths are used, and so on. There are also spaces for you to enter further details, including distribution lists. The main application for this utility is in a corporate environment, but individual users may also find it useful.

Other options under the ‘additional features’ heading are indexing, support for laser printers, and an invaluable utility to convert files between Wordstar 2000 format and formats used by several other word processors. And there’s Showtext, which gives a graphical representation of the whole page. You can’t actually read the text, but it gives a reasonable impression of the page’s appearance.

The Readme file, mentioned earlier, is available from within the program, as one of the additional features. That probably wouldn’t be worth mentioning if it wasn’t so indicative of the degree of thoughtfulness that has gone into this software.

As you’d expect with a package this complex, the documentation is vast. The are three main, ring-bound volumes – in addition to the 750-page main reference manual, there’s another 94-page manual for Showtext and PC-Outline, and a 90-page ‘Starting and Learning’ section.

As if that wasn’t enough, there are two bound books – a 25-page volume telling you what’s new about this version of Wordstar, and an 85-page book on applications.

The standard of the manuals is very high. In spite of their encyclopaedic dimensions, I found it very easy to find what I needed. Worked examples are given throughout, along with some sound advice – the section on using laser printers, for example, warns against going mad with the fonts.

The Applications booklet will probably be ignored by experienced word processor users, which is a shame as it contains some useful pointers to making the most of Wordstar’s features. The applications covered are meeting minutes, newsletters, phone directories, contracts, invoices, presentations, video scripts and long documents. Whatever you’re using the word processor for, it’s bound to be close to something in that list, and this manual could save you a lot of time when you’re getting acquainted with the software.

These are only the main points of the software. It would take the entire magazine to fully evaluate its more advanced features – such as the facility to insert graphics, multi-column text, support for extended memory cards, macros 300 new features and enhancements in this version, compared with release two.

You may have gathered by now that I like this package. I’m not saying that it’s free of vices – just that they’re well-buried and I haven’t had time to find them yet. I now have to decide whether it’s worth switching from traditional Wordstar, my default word processor, to this one. It means retraining my instincts, which is going to slow me down. And it also means parting with large amounts of money.

Micropro invariably asks for review software to be returned. That gives me the choice of becoming a pirate – which, of course, I wouldn’t even consider – or shelling out the asking price of … wait for it … £465 plus VAT. Gulp!

I think I would be prepared to make the necessary effort, but not the unnecessary expenditure. Although I love the idea of all those features, they tend to lose their appeal at the thought of shelling out well over £500. For companies, however, the cost will be easier to justify, and Wordstar 2000 Plus is an ideal corporate word processor.

[ENDS]

 

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