Home Computer: Power of the Word: Richard North finds a program to tempt him from his usual software

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The Independent Online
LIKING Microsoft's Works integrated software package - inclusive word processor, spreadsheet, database and communications programs - as much as I do, it might seem odd that I was keen to try the latest version of Word for Dos - working directly from the PC-compatible's basic operating system rather than the graphical Windows operating environment.

My reasoning was simple: I write books, which, I assumed, is a fairly tough word processing task: best to see whether powerful Word was really any better than handy Works. Getting started on the experiment took longer than I expected because I forgot to ask for the version which comes on 720 kilobyte floppy-disks: a small but frustrating delay.

My primitive Amstrad, a PC2086 with only 640 kilobytes of main memory, and newly loaded Dos 6 - the latest version of the operating system, which compresses files and crams more on to hard or floppy discs - seemed to love the new program. It seems to accommodate big files without clogging, though as a compromise between convenience and cowardice, I have divided my book into four 30,000 word sections. I let the hard disk calm down after especially arduous jobs: for as long as that little green light - indicating the hard disk is in use - is flashing I take it that we are in dangerous territory.

I know that Word is more powerful than Works, not least because its manual is simply immense. Even someone who has used three or four different word processors should take at least a day off from proper work to master the elementaries of this thing, let alone explore its mass of clever options.

Word has several facilities which are valuable to someone producing book- length material. One is the ability to print footnotes at the end of each section or chapter, if that is how you have organised the material, rather than merely at either the end of the page or the end of the entire document - as would be the only options in Works.

Similarly, you can make the page numbering start over at one at the beginning of each new section within a document, or number the document as a whole. I love its ability to search whole directories for files containing selected words. I hope one day to master indexing, cross-referencing and all the rest: for now I simply marvel that they are there.

There are neat arrangements for moving, cutting and storing 'selected' material - highlighted on the screen - in the text you are working on, including mouse 'drag-and-drop' operations. But be careful: you may need to make a simple keyboard customising move to make the delete button behave as you want.

The sophistication of the printing options is all but incredible: left and right pages can be formatted, headered-and- footered and printed separately in sequences which allow double-sided printing, with or without sophisticated printers. (Talking of which: Word promises to allow me to make my own printer driver to support my neanderthal, but adored daisy wheel printer. I fear the Microsoft helpline will take a caning that day.)

I wish that the 'style sheets' - which set up pages or documents with standard type sizes, line spacings and so on - were easier to master. But you cannot, for instance, write a document in a style sheet which ordains single-spaced printing and then simply add to it a new one which allows double-space printing. Well, you can, but you lose the indented paragraphs you have painstakingly made.

Another issue which I wish word processor writers would handle: I would like to to be able to take several document files - suppose each is a chapter or part of a book - put them up on the screen as one, work on them, and then 'close' them back into their old chapter files. I know the multiple 'pane' operation of word processors - allowing different sections of a document to be displayed in separate windows on the screen at the same time - is brilliant and gets close to this, but why not go the whole hog?

While I am at it, I do not quite understand why there is no in-built communications package in Word for Dos. I will have to buy one, or keep the whole of Works hanging around on my hard drive just for that function.

Word is clever and that is evident even to someone who merely uses it for straight text manipulation and printing - I have not touched its graphics and business applications. It has, for instance, a maths facility: but since I do not, I expect it will go unexplored.

It would be exciting to see this software at work on a modern computer: but even on the old Amstrad it is quick enough for all normal purposes. Indeed, it is high time to remember that it is what you write that matters. As Mrs North never tires of saying: Shakespeare did just fine without all this kit and commotion.

Vital statistics

System: PC-compatible/Dos.

Requirements:

Hardware: 512 kilobytes main memory; 3 megabytes of hard disk space.

Software: Ms-Dos version 3.3 or later.

Publisher: Microsoft.

Availability: Direct from the publisher, high street retailers, dealers, mail order.

Price:

Street: pounds 220 (inclusive of VAT).

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