Teaching hardware old tricks HD: MIKE HIMOWITZ

November 09, 1998

There's an old joke in the software business that the best word processor is the one you know how to use.

Unfortunately, knowing how to use a 10-year-old word processor may not do you much good when you get around to upgrading your computer system and find that everybody else has forgotten about it.

That's what happened to a reader who used a program called Eight-in-One on the faithful 286 machine he bought in the '80s. This was a little suite from the now-defunct Spinnaker Software that combined word processing, a spreadsheet, database, communications and other useful applications in one package.

The problem arose when my correspondent bought a new Pentium computer running Windows 98. He figured out how to transfer Eight-in-One from his old computer to the new machine, along with all his old files. When he ran Eight-in-One in a DOS window, it worked just fine - with one exception.

Whenever he printed an Eight-In-One letter using his new ink jet printer, garbage came out. Nothing he did seemed to help, and he wrote asking for advice.

I told him it's hard to make a new printer work with an old, DOS-based word processor, and it may not be possible. His best bet, I said, is to retire his old software, convert his files and switch to Microsoft Word, which was installed on his computer.

Why is this necessary? Well, in the bad old days of DOS, the publishers of every program had to write little pieces of software called drivers to control different types of printers. This turned out to be a logistical nightmare for software publishers and users alike. For example, if you regularly used WordPerfect, Lotus 1-2-3, and Print Shop, buying a new printer meant contacting each software publisher and ask for a new driver. Or you could contact the printer manufacturer and hope the company had developed drivers for your favorite software.

Windows changed all that. Technically, it turned the responsibility for driving the printer over to the operating system itself, instead of individual programs. Printer manufacturers can now write a single driver for Windows and every Windows program can work with it.

Eight-in-One supported a handful of printers in its heyday and has no idea how to drive that new ink jet. And many new printers expect to be driven by Windows, not by old DOS-based programs. Some ship with software that allows them to emulate older printers from the DOS era, but they're just as likely to require Windows in order to print anything at all.

In most cases, it's not worth the hassle involved with trying to make them work, particularly if you have an up-to-date word processor available.

There are a couple of options for converting your old files. Today's word processors (Word, WordPerfect, Lotus WordPro, Microsoft Works and ClarisWorks) can automatically convert files created by other many other programs. In Word, for example, the Open File dialog box contains a pull-down list of file types that can be translated. If you don't see your old word processor on that list, you may be able to download a converter from Microsoft. Check out http://support.microsoft.com/support/ for information about supplemental converters and instructions for downloading them.

Unfortunately, these options will not work with Eight-in-One, which never had a large following and isn't on most conversion lists. But there's one conversion trick that will work with virtually all programs. Open your document and save it as plain text file. This will remove any formatting, including typeface and layout information, but it will allow almost any other program to read the information. You may have to do some touching up, but you haven't lost the contents of the file.

Most word processors have a "Save As" function buried somewhere in their File menus, which lets you save a document under a different name or convert it to another format. The nomenclature for text files varies. Some programs call it "Text," while others refer to a text file as an "ASCII" file. WordPerfect refers to it as a "DOS" file, or "DOS Text" file.

In any case, save the file with an extension of ".txt" (the standard for text files under Windows). For example, if the document is called "Plan," call it "Plan.txt" when you save it. That way, your new word processor can find it easily when you ask it to search for text files.

Oops Department: In last week's column I wrote that Microsoft NetMeeting and Netscape Conference couldn't be used with America Online. A number of people told me I must be wrong, since they were using the software.

As I found out after several phone calls, you can use either program if you're have a 32-bit release of AOL software. To find out whether you have a 32-bit version, click on Help/About AOL from your main AOL screen.

You caget the 32-bit AOL (designed for Windows 95/98) by downloading it directly from AOL or calling 1-888-265-8002. For instructions on using Netscape with AOL, surf to http://help.netscape.com/kb/client/970331-2.html.

Pub Date: 11/09/98

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