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For The MathWriter In You

The wonderful world of word processing has been becoming even more golden in the recent past. I do a great deal of writing (at least 15K each week for TidBITS alone) so I’m sensitive to new features and new programs that will make the writing process easier and smoother yet. I thought that Nisus 2.03 was pretty cool and a lot of fun and version 3.0 seems to be even better yet. However, looming on the October horizon is WordPerfect 2.0. I’ve used the older versions of WordPerfect and thought they were vaguely mediocre, though not as obnoxious as Word 4.0. The demos I’ve seen of WordPerfect 2.0 look good, though not quite as good as Nisus for the sort of writing I do.

More interesting because of the local slant and the demo I just saw is MathWriter 2.0. "MathWriter," you say, trying to think of what it does. "Isn’t that one of those equation programs?" Well, yes, it used to be. Professor Robert Cooke and Ted Sobel, who did almost all the programming over the last three years, have come out with a word processor that rivals the other high-end ones in raw power. I can’t even attempt a review of the program, which will hopefully finish beta testing in October and start shipping from Brooks/Cole. However, I’ll try to touch on some of the high points for those of you who like word processors and those who do a lot of equation editing.

First of all, everything in MathWriter, be it normal text, footnotes, equations, or sidebars, can be edited in the main window. The equation editing looks like it is about as streamlined as possible, considering the immense number of possible symbols and equation types and multiple sub/superscripts you can use. I personally haven’t had reason to write any equations since high school calculus, but there were a number of other great features. MathWriter has a full revision control feature, which when activated keeps track of all the changes and deletions you make in a document. Rather than just show where there were changes, MathWriter actually displays them in strikeout style. You can of course get rid of all the things you deleted before or decide to use the original words in place of the new ones. MathWriter doesn’t have a glossary because it has libraries instead, in which you can store text, graphics, or equations for later use, which is especially handy with complicated equations. Like FullWrite I guess (which is one of the few word processors I’ve never really used), MathWriter can attach Post-It-like notes to various bits of text for editorial notes and their ilk. The final neat feature blows the socks off most page previews. MathWriter will display resizable thumbnails – as many as it can fit on the screen at one time at whatever size you choose.

Like many other programs these days, MathWriter is big. It barely fits on a floppy disk. Cooke and Sobel had to stop adding features somewhere so they could get the program out the door, so they decided to stop with a Module feature. Any appropriately-written module can be dropped into the same folder as MathWriter and have its code automatically loaded and available seamlessly within MathWriter. Currently the only module being worked on is something called ExamBuilder, which stores test questions in a database format so you can easily make a test by asking for five questions on subject A and 7 questions on subject B arranged in a random order. Those questions will be then dropped into the MathWriter document for final formatting and printing. The Module feature is something other companies would do well to emulate so as to allow users to pick and choose what features they want. MathWriter probably won’t induce me to switch from Nisus, but if you do any equation editing at all, nothing that I’ve ever seen is even in the same league as MathWriter 2.0.

Cooke Publications — 607/255-2480

Information from:
Ted Sobel — MathWriter programmer
Robert Cooke — MathWriter designer
Adam C. Engst — TidBITS Editor

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