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FullWrite, Part II of II

This review continues from last week’s issue, TidBITS-284. Last week I looked at how a high school student (my youngest sister) and how a graduate student (my other sister) might use FullWrite. This week I wrap up the review by looking at how my Mom and myself might use FullWrite.

Home User — I’d like my Mom to use a Mac, but my parents use Windows machines because my Dad uses Windows at his job. If Mom were to get a Mac and use FullWrite, she’d use it for desktop publishing, editing jobs, and for creating signs and information sheets relating to the upcoming exhibit of her paper collages.

Mom would probably start with the Base Styles dialog box, where she would set the font, size, space before a paragraph, indents, and tabs for the default document style and other common document elements, such as headers. When she set tabs for the default document style, she could take advantage of a nice feature – say she set a tab stop at .66 inches and wanted the stop to repeat every .66 inches after that. She could set the stop to "Repeat Every" .66 inches.

After setting the default indents and tab stops, if Mom needed to change them for a particular paragraph, she’d insert a Paragraph Ruler and change the indents or tabs on that Ruler. The new settings would apply to all text until they ran into a different Paragraph Ruler. If Mom selected a block of text before inserting a new Paragraph Ruler, FullWrite would insert two Rulers: one at the beginning for Mom to adjust, and one at the end so the original formatting stays applied to text after the selection. Paragraph Rulers can be copied, pasted, and deleted.

In addition to the simpler default styles set in the Base Styles dialog box, Mom will want to use the Edit Custom Style dialog box to define custom styles for headings, quotes, and other special elements. She’ll manage fine, although the box needs to be simplified. There are no quick ways to create styles using quirky keyboard shortcuts or clicking techniques. On the plus side, it’s easy to delete a batch of styles for a document.

If you change the tabs or indents in a custom style, the changes override formats dictated by the default document style or by a Paragraph Ruler. This makes sense, but because FullWrite shows no visual cue as to what style a paragraph is in, users may become confused when text beneath a particular Ruler ignores the Ruler’s settings. By a visual cue, I mean a symbol or word might show left of a custom-styled paragraph in Icon Bar View, or the style name might appear somewhere onscreen when the styled paragraph is selected. To verify that a style is applied to a paragraph, you must click in the paragraph and look at the Style menu.

If Mom gets more involved with the styles she may become frustrated – there’s no hierarchical styling where you can set things up so that – for example – changing the font in one "base" style changes the font in a series of styles based on that style. She may miss options for controlling widows and orphans and miss formats that make one paragraph always stay on the same page as the next one or that make the text in a particular paragraph always stay together on one page. She may also wish she could set a border as part of a style.

Mom is likely to use columns. Snaking columns must be of the same width, but the controls for their width, separating space, and position on the page are easy. Thumbnail-like objects (called proxies) in the Chapter Layout dialog box make it easy to see what you’re doing. You also get several options for setting column rules (vertical lines that separate columns) though they do not show well in the proxies and only show in the One- and Two-Page Views. The rules can be quickly changed in the One- or Two-Page View by double clicking them to display a box of options. The rules come in 16 flavors (2 single and 14 double).

The table controls are easy to use and quick to respond, and she’ll be pleased that scrolling past a table goes quickly. You can stack separate tables one on top of the other to create complex tables with different numbers of cells in different rows. Looking more deeply at the table feature set, I’d like to see features added. There’s no quick way to select an entire column or entire table, and a row cannot be taller than a page. Applying borders to tables is a-learn-as-you-go process, and there are no shortcuts for applying typical bordering patterns.

Sidebars, documents within a document that can be positioned at will on a page, will come in handy for Mom’s more complex layouts. Sidebars help with placing graphics such that text wraps around them (including some wrap-to-shape capabilities, not just wrapping to the rectangular size of the note), setting different numbers of columns within the same chapter, and placing topic headings or comments in a side margin. You can position sidebars relative to the text they go with or in a fixed position on the page containing the text they go with. You can reposition sidebars through a dialog box or by dragging them. Sidebars are not FullWrite’s easiest feature, nor are they the hardest. From a Microsoft Word perspective, though, they are frames done right.

The kerning function is surprisingly capable. The feature enables you to kern individual letter pairs from the keyboard in increments of .05 em (an em is the length of an em-dash, the longer dash you get by pressing Shift-Option-Hyphen in most fonts). You can get even more precise kerning in the Kern dialog box (your printer may not print in as fine increments as FullWrite can kern). You can use the Replace function to kern all letter pairs in a document alike.

Mom would appreciate Change Bar View, which shows gray or black change bars and (optionally) displays changed text in a variety of formats. You can accumulate changes forever or start them fresh at any time. You can also start fresh every time you save, which means that you always know what has changed since the last save, in case you want to revert to the last saved version of the document.

FullWrite has a number of printing features that Mom would appreciate. FullWrite helps you print two-sided documents – it prints the odd pages and an instruction sheet for how to re-insert the paper and print the even pages. The directions were wrong for my LaserWriter Select 360, or – more charitably – they were ambiguous. Another feature helps you print two-up booklets with the pages correctly reordered so you can fold them in half and create a two-sided booklet. I expect it works nicely once you play with it; I failed on my first attempt. Other printing features print change bars, two-up, with collation, in reverse order, registration marks, and more. You can use any MacPaint, PICT, or EPS graphic (or raw PostScript code) as a watermark, and FullWrite comes with several watermark graphics.

FullWrite would be a poor choice for someone intending to do much indexing or print merging – both features are present, but they are extremely basic. With only a few exceptions (such as the kerning), FullWrite is also a poor choice for someone who likes to have lots of design options and is picky about implementing them just so.

Professional Writer — Now that I’ve covered features Mom might care most about, I’m going to talk about myself. My work ultimately ends up dropped into PageMaker or converted into setext or HTML for online consumption, so I don’t much care about layout or printing features.

I’m concerned about Word 6. I know how to use Word 5 very well, but I’ve tried Word 6, and I don’t much like it. If you are currently looking to switch from Word, and you know Word fairly well, you’ll find it much easier to switch from Word to FullWrite than to switch from Word to Nisus Writer. (I haven’t spent much time with WordPerfect or other word processors.)

FullWrite doesn’t have a Word converter, and it’s a shame because many writers must submit their work in Word format. FullWrite does support XTND; unfortunately, it doesn’t do the trick. Akimbo is aware of this problem and may have a solution in the future.

Writers will appreciate FullWrite’s Get Info command, which lists tidbits about a document including: number of sessions, time overall and time for current session, characters, words, and readability. On my Duo, it took three seconds to pull up Get Info statistics on a fifteen page document, five seconds for a thirty page document.

The Find feature helpfully gives you three choices for what happens when a search string is found: the string can be highlighted, or the insertion point can be positioned directly before or after the string. The Find feature uses intelligent keyboard shortcuts and can search and replace based on font, size, style, and so on, but does not feature the more sophisticated GREP (global regular expression parser) searches present in Nisus Writer. The simple wildcard feature gives you the ability to search on a single wildcard character or to search on a wildcard group. If you search on a group, you can "replace with found" to a certain extent. For example, if I search for any instance of "TidBITS" followed by a number, I can replace each instance with "TidBITS Magazine" and then that same "found" number. You cannot search across multiple documents simultaneously.

FullWrite supports some Apple events, but does not include an AppleScript dictionary. Also, FullWrite has no built-in macro facilities, making it unrealistic to implement a find and replace macro that does a series of searches for common errors in a document.

I’m addicted to the functionality of Word’s outliner. FullWrite offers that same basic functionality, and for that I give it a hearty thumbs-up. I could happily use FullWrite’s outliner, though I would first review the outline instructions in the manual, make a cheat sheet, and post it near my Macintosh until the techniques became second nature. Unfortunately, the manual incorrectly documents several of the menu commands. Outline items can be numbered using a variety of common outline styles (Harvard, Chicago Manual of Style, etc.). I encourage Akimbo to add outline levels to the Base Styles dialog box, such that different styles can be set and automatically applied to headings created in a FullWrite outline.

You can have FullWrite pull a table of contents from outline entries or from special contents notes.

FullWrite’s glossaries lets you store commonly typed blocks of text (such as your address) and then quickly insert them. You can set FullWrite to insert a glossary entry in response to your typing a code. For example, you could set FullWrite to type: "World Wide Web" in response to your typing "www". A glossary can be used to make FullWrite correct typographical errors, and FullWrite comes with a glossary of common errors.

FullWrite’s Variable feature enables you to insert pre-defined variables such as the date or page number (or end-of document page number or end-of-chapter page number), or you can make your own variables, such as a price that might change.

Wrap-Up — FullWrite users should plan to read the short manual. Why? Because you need to get oriented to FullWrite in order to use it efficiently. This holds true for most word processors, but I’ve received a number of comments from people who didn’t like the FullWrite demo, and – in most cases – they started on the wrong foot and made incorrect assumptions about how the program works.

FullWrite lists for $295, though academic/non-profit pricing is at $99 and competitive upgrades from other word processors cost $120. Akimbo is committed to FullWrite, and plans to release a PowerPC-native version soon. Akimbo is also hard at work on version 3.0, and they face the difficult task of improving the program without overloading it. FullWrite doesn’t offer every possible feature, and I don’t think it should. All word processors cannot be all things to all people, and we need programs like FullWrite so that there will be lots of choices. If FullWrite sounds like your cup of tea, I urge you to purchase it, read the manual, and use it as it was intended – as a mid-level word processor for Macintosh users.

FullWrite-related documents and software, as well as a demo are available at:

For information on Math Type and Cambridge Scientific’s engineering and chemistry programs (mentioned in Part I of this review), check out:

Akimbo Systems — 800/684-9888 — 617/776-5500
510/843-6888 (international sales) — 617/776-5512 (fax)
<[email protected]>
Cambridge Scientific Computing — 617/491-2200 — <[email protected]>
Design Science — 800/827-0685 — 310/433-0685
310/433-6969 (fax) — <[email protected]>
Niles and Associates — 510/649-8176 — <[email protected]>

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