Many people who make their living with words need industrial-strength word-processing software. They need a program that can handle everything from memos to book-length documents. It has to be fast, it has to be easy to use and it has to be flexible. Writers often have their own way of doing things and they want their software to adjust to them -- not the other way around. Microsoft's new Word for Windows 2.0 delivers the goods.
In enhancing an already powerful program, Microsoft focused on making the software easier to use. Among the improvements:
* Frequently used commands can be issued by using the mouse to press a little icon, or button, located on a "tool bar" near the top of the screen. Word is extremely flexible. You can replace the commands assigned to the tool bar. Furthermore, users can create "macros" that allow one to modify the behavior of virtually any menu item or button. Macros can also be assigned to keystrokes, making it faster for touch typists to issue commands.
* One nice touch is an envelope-printing command. Printing envelopes in most word processors is a major hassle. With Word, you simply issue the command and let the software find the name and address from your letter and generate the envelope.
* The program now has "drag and drop" text movement. Instead of copying and pasting text, you can highlight it with the mouse and drag it to a new location.
* The spell checker has been improved. When it finds an error, it is now very good at suggesting the correct spelling. Microsoft has added a grammar checker that scans your documents for common problems such as wordiness and stylistic errors. It also displays a "readability index" that, among other things, shows the average grade level required to understand your document, based on average number of words per sentence and average number of syllables per word. This column, for example, is suited to people with a 9th grade education, according to the grammar checker.
* There are several desktop publishing tools. It's now easier to divide your document into multiple columns. Text can flow around graphics inserted anywhere in the document. Word comes with its own drawing program as well as a chart and equation editor. You can also insert pictures from most drawing and painting programs. Another feature, called "WordArt," allows you to create interesting text effects, such as curved, rotated or upside down text. You can add borders and shading to any part of the document.
* There is now a zoom feature that allows you to reduce or enlarge your view of the document to any size from 25 to 200 percent. It doesn't affect what will be printed. This feature is very important if you need to print in very tiny text but want to be able to see it clearly on the screen. It's also a boon for the visually handicapped to be able to enlarge text. Zooming out, or reducing, can be helpful when you want to see the impact of a change on your entire page.
Like most good word-processing programs, Word has a table feature that allows you to set up rows and columns of text. Word's new table editor is easy to use -- a big improvement over the previous version.
Creating and printing form letters has always been difficult. Word now has a "print merge helper" which takes you through the process, step by step. It's still tedious, but it's easier to learn.
The program has enhanced its list creation feature. You can now easily add bullets to any list. You can select from a palette of available bullets.
Word for Windows requires Microsoft Windows and a machine with a 286 or higher CPU and 2 megabytes of RAM. It takes between 5 and 15 megabytes of hard disk space, depending on the options installed. For best results, I recommend a 386SX or higher CPU with 4 megabytes of RAM for running sophisticated Windows software.