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WriteNow 3.0 Review

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Looking for a useful word processor weighing in at 287K on the hard disk and consuming 490K of RAM? Take a hard look at WriteNow 3.0 from T/Maker. Looking for a word processor that sorts, computes, charts, slices and dices? Look elsewhere. WriteNow's features fall short in a few important areas, but what it does do, it does with a rare attention to detail.

First, a little background. I know Word cold. I use Nisus casually, and frequently listen to Adam's opinions about it. I used WriteNow 2.0 several years ago as my primary word processor. So if I don't mention MacWrite or WordPerfect, it's due to lack of information. In addition, another WriteNow user, Tad Davis, contributed some information. Let's look at WriteNow's especially good features first.

A manual to die for -- The manual's authors avoided corporate-speak and used a clear, conversational tone. The manual includes word processing basics that most TidBITS readers can skip and an excellent conceptual discussion of how WriteNow ticks. Details show up in a reference guide to the menu commands, an extensive trouble-shooting chapter, and a useful appendix. The appendix offers specific information about file conversion, label templates, and a bundled Date Control Panel that allows you to change the Macintosh system date to virtually any format.

Stylish styles -- It's becoming fashionable for word processors to offer character styles, and T/Maker has implemented character styling wonderfully. T/Maker's programmers carefully considered the interaction between character and paragraph formatting, and paid attention to creating an easy interface. For example, assigning keyboard shortcuts to a style is trivial - in the Style dialog box, you simply pick from a pop-down menu of the available keyboard shortcuts. WriteNow indicates current style usage via unobtrusive pop-up menus in the bar at the bottom of the document window.

WriteNow's styles outclass those in Word (which lacks character styles) and Nisus (which does have them, although without such a nice interface). WriteNow's implementation is the easiest to figure out without looking at the manual, its manual explains the details, and it has many nice touches with only a few odd quirks.

I'd like to see an Apply button for viewing a changed style while still in WriteNow's Style dialog box. Tad Davis objected to WriteNow's lack of Space Before and Space After options for styling paragraphs, which let you define consistent amounts of white space between styled paragraphs, without typing additional hard returns.

Peter Shank of T/Maker responded to Tad's objection, saying he hopes Space Before and Space After styling show up in future versions, but for now, users can work around this difficulty by, for example, setting up a BodyText style always followed by a SpaceBetween style with the SpaceBetween style always followed by BodyText.

Functional print merge -- The print merge works much like it does in Word, sans the Word 5.0 print merge helper, OR and AND conditionals, and tables. Without tables, WriteNow compares poorly to Word since tables simplify creating, error-checking, and sorting a data document (and WriteNow has no Sort function). Also, tables simplify designing custom labels.

WriteNow has two print merge features that I'd like to see in Word. First, an OMIT command, which allows you to specify a condition for a record to be omitted from a merge (i.e. omit people under age 25). Second, in WriteNow, you need not specify the data file. You simply type <<DATA ?Human, what data file shall I use today?>>. When you merge, WriteNow prompts for a file with that question.

Miscellaneous Nice Touches -- WriteNow abounds with unexpected features. To create a horizontal line, simply choose Insert Horizontal Line from the Format menu and select from the many variations.

The Clean Up Windows command offers five different multiple-window displays. Nisus has similar features, but Word offers almost nothing here. Nisus can split a window horizontally or vertically and scroll the two halves independently, a feature that WriteNow lacks and that Word offers only on the horizontal.

Print Preview, though slow to redraw, provides a one-, two-, or many-page view; a magnifying glass; a scrolling hand; and the ability to click anywhere and flip back to that spot in regular view. I especially like the icons in the Preview since they look like the tasks they represent.

If you change printers and then try to print, many programs remind you to choose Page Setup before printing. WriteNow reminds you and then pops you into Page Setup automatically. In the Print dialog box, WriteNow offers the ability to print only odd or only even pages, something that Nisus does and Microsoft has finally added to Word 5.1. On to the good-and-bad features.

Ruler details -- The ruler, which gives audible feedback when you move the tab and margin markers, would be great, except that it has its own window. You have to first click in the ruler, then do your formatting, and then click out of it.

Conveniently, WriteNow's side margins go by paragraph. In Word, the margin applies to the entire document, and the ruler triangles adjust the indents for individual paragraphs. WriteNow's ruler shows literally how far from the edge things will print, unlike in Word where you must calculate to figure out what's going on.

WriteNow has no specific top or bottom margin. These margins are just the amount of space that the headers, footers, and footnotes take up. This method works nicely, but I find it a bit convoluted without the manual's explanation.

Although you can set up multiple headers and footers, and even vary them on even and odd pages, you can't automatically suppress them on a given page. If you want your footer to start on Page 2, you have to wait until you know where Page 2 starts, and then insert the footer there.

The Spell Checker -- WriteNow's button-happy spell checker window consists of rows of buttons. The top row has the usual commands, and the remaining buttons offer suggested spellings for incorrect words, so you can't use keyboard shortcuts to select suggestions.

The spell checker has an Ignore option, which ignores a particular word for the life of its existence in that document. WriteNow will still flag the word in other documents. This is better than Word's ignoring a word for only that Word session. I'm not sure if I like it as much as Nisus's more-flexible ignoring, which provides a character style for ignoring text.

In an approach that others would do well to emulate, you can add many words to a user dictionary simply by selecting them in a WriteNow document, opening the dictionary, and clicking the Learn button.

Grammar Checking -- WriteNow doesn't have a grammar checker built in, but ships with Grammatik Mac. It's good that WriteNow comes with Grammatik Mac, but grammar checkers in general aren't so hot. They need to come a long way before they will be useful tools for most people.

Not so good and downright missing: -- In my experience, if you give users an inch, they'll want a mile. Give them underlining, and they will want overline too. Give them colors and they will want to print color separations. Give them search and replace and they will want to search for every paragraph having the style USER and add the word "goat," in bold italic, to the start of the second line in those paragraphs. Users will insist that this feature is vital and that they cannot imagine what possessed the propeller-head programmers to fail to put in this option. Anyhow, here's a laundry list of some features you won't find in WriteNow.

WriteNow does columns, but cannot vary the number of columns in a document; you can start a document's page numbers at any number, but that's all you can do; no indexing or table of contents, no text wrap around graphics, multiple undos, non-contiguous selection, mathematical equations, glossary, customizable menus, GREP-style search and replace, or tables.

A printing problem found in most, if not all, printer drivers relates to the suggestion in the WriteNow manual for "title pages" - it suggests that you start with a "zero" page number or "negative" page number, depending on how many unnumbered pages of front matter you have. The problem comes when you try to print those pages. The Print dialog does not recognize negative page numbers. You have to Print All and cancel after printing the pages you want.

Conclusion -- If you believe that the word processor that dies with the most features wins, then you won't see WriteNow as a winner. If you believe that the word processor that dies with the most grace wins then you'll view WriteNow as a champion. As Tad Davis said, "I have more powerful programs, but I keep coming back to this one. It's the best electronic pencil going."

How about a WriteNow Deluxe? WriteNow 3.0 is great for new users, people needing a PowerBook word processor, and users with simple to medium needs. These people will enjoy the elegant working environment that WriteNow provides. But for people who must do indexes or slightly fancier page layout or slightly more sophisticated search and replace, WriteNow is so disappointing. But, if you don't need the high-end stuff, you might well dub it the word processor for the rest of us.

T/Maker -- 415/962-0195 -- 415/962-0201 (fax)

Information from:
Tad Davis
Peter Shank, T/Maker Tech Support --


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