Last week my son came up with an interesting problem.
He's been using an old version of PFS Professional Write for his homework and writing assignments -- software he picked after I offered him a choice of a half-dozen word processors, including some fancy, graphics-based programs.
Ike likes the old PFS warhorse because its standard DOS text screen is easy on the eyes and the software is easy to use. With its logical menu structure and a few simple function keys, it lets him do everything he needs to do without much hassle.
But now that he's getting more sophisticated, he likes the idea of using fancy typefaces to jazz up the finished product. He'd like to write the document in the normal fashion, but put the finishing touches on in graphics mode.
"When I'm writing, I really like the regular screen. It's much easier to see what you're doing," he said. "Is there a program that would let me do both?"
Until last week, I would have had to tell him no. But then a version of PFS Write 2.0 came in the mail. As far as I know, it's the only word processor for IBM-compatibles that lets you switch from a standard text screen to a graphics screen and edit your document in both modes.
Write isn't exactly a heavy hitter for serious scribes and it has more than a few quirks. But it's easy enough to learn and offers a solution for people like Ike who want to keep a foot in both camps.
A word here about screen displays. While WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) word processors are wonderful for people who are serious about publishing because they give you a pretty good approximation of your finished output, they have their disadvantages.
Old-fashioned word processors that work with your computer's standard text screen are generally faster. And while graphical environments try to mimic the desktop, many users find that looking at a computer screen is not the same as staring at a piece of paper.
Using reflected light, it's easier for the eye to pick up dark printing on white paper than vice versa.
But while the metaphor is the same, the white background of a WYSIWYG computer screen is not a piece of paper. It's actually a dim light bulb staring you in the face. Picking out dark characters against it is actually harder than picking up bright characters against the dark background of old-fashioned, standard text screen.
Although I use graphics-based word processors and desktop publishing programs that run under Microsoft Windows for fancy output, I prefer my old text-based Sprint word processor when I'm going to spend a couple of hours at the keyboard. If I need fancy formatting, I import the text into one of the graphics-based programs afterward, which is a pain in the neck but worth it to save wear and tear on these middle-aged eyes.
That was a long digression, but it explains the attraction of the new PFS Write. Although Write bears the same name as its predecessors, whose simplicity made them popular with casual business and home users, it's an entirely different program.
Spinnaker Software, which bought the rights to the PFS line from the Software Publishing Company earlier this year, has built Write 2.0 around the simple word processor it offers in its integrated 8-in-1 package.
The difference is that with a keystroke, you can switch from TC normal text screen to a graphics screen that displays your document as it will appear on paper. Unlike text-based word processors that have a graphic preview mode, Write allows you to create, edit and make changes to text in either mode.
Write comes with a set of three fully-scalable fonts from Atech Software (the equivalent of Times Roman, Helvetica, and Courier). You can mix and match them in a variety of sizes and weights using virtually any dot matrix, ink jet or laser printer.
The program has rudimentary graphics tools that let you draw lines and boxes and import graphic images stored in the standard PCX and TIFF formats, although the graphics features are flaky and hard to use.
Write also includes a simple outliner, a spelling checker, a thesaurus and a copy of Grammatik IV, a popular grammar and style checker, which makes it a nice package for its $100 price tag if you're willing to put up with its quirks.
As low-end word processors go, Write offers most of the standard features, including headers and footers and a variety of indents and paragraph-formatting.
Although it doesn't conform to the Common User Interface standard, its menu structure is easy to navigate. Likewise, you'll find yourself using different keys than you'd expect to define blocks of text and cut, paste or delete them.
While the Atech fonts offer you potentially unlimited typography, Write lets you use only nine different type-style settings in one document. You can pick whatever nine you want, but it's a strange limitation.