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PC Magazine Review
The following article appeared in PC Magazine, Vol. 2, No. 1, June 1983, p. 391.
by Stephen Manes
How many programs can make news just by issuing a revision? Somehow I don’t think you’ll ever see the new EatsMan version 2.2 (now with user-selectable power-pill color!) or Dental Records 3.96M (silver fillings may now be distinguished from gold!) getting much ink.
But WordStar is indubitably and deservedly a classic. It’s been a huge success on 8-bit computers, and MicroPro says it’s sold 50,000 copies for the IBM PC alone. So when not one, but two updates come along, that’s news.
Or is it? WordStar users may be pardoned a certain sense of deja vu. Before we tackle WordStar 3.24 (now yesterday’s news) and the jazzy new version 3.3 (with speedy memory-mapped video, user-definable function keys, all-new manuals and installation procedures, and an update policy designed to give current users apoplexy), perhaps a little historical background is in order.
Top of the Keys, Ma!
Hard as it may be for newcomers to believe, there was a time in the dim, distant past (about 365 long days ago) when the only word processing programs available for the PC were EasyWriter 1.0, the original version of Volkswriter, and what ever your friend down the block had slapped together from BASIC. The fact that many PC owners bought Baby Blue cards mainly to run a CP/M version of WordStar speaks volumes about the program’s popularity and power.
Then came WordStar for IBM. It was called version 3.02M, and with hardly any competition on the market, the disks moved off the shelves faster than Charlie Chaplin’s pies. Its manual was a looseleaf nightmare and the tutorial thoughtfully let you enter page upon page of sample text instead of providing even one example on disk. The IBM function keys seemed to have been assigned late one drunken Saturday night. The program supported only the IBMM Parallel Printer, which couldn’t do subscripting or superscripting. Block moves were severely limited on the 64K machines most of us used while waiting for the expansion-card situation to improve. But, we loved it.
Those of us who dutifully sent in our registration cards got a letter from Micro- Pro congratulating us on our sagacity. We also got a bunch of “keytop” stickers for our keyboards in case we weren’t quite sagacious enough to memorize all of WordStar’s one-key Ctrl commands.
Now and then some of us tried to get help-interfacing a nonstandard printer, reporting a bug, or whatever-by writing to MicroPro or calling at our own expense. This was rarely a pleasant experience. MicroPro held to its principles, number one of which seemed to be, “We will give the user absolutely no support.” This philosophy was usually expressed by a simple three-word phrase: “Ask your dealer.” Alas, few IBMM dealers back then had any more experience with WordStar than the users. It was around this time that one began to hear users mutter the most common of the non-obscene epithets used to describe MicroPro: “arrogant.”
Lots of Calls
PC DOS 1.1 came out a few weeks later. WordStar 3.02 did not run from PC DOS 1.1, MicroPro blamed this on Microsoft for changing some of its operating system’s specs without advance warning. Whoever or whatever was to blame, the fact remained that those with double-sided drives had to limp along half-bakedly in PC DOS 1.0 for months while MicroPro delved deep into the mysteries of the new disk operating system.
MicroPro undoubtedly referred a lot of callers to their dealers during this period. But when it released its PC DOS 1.1-compatible WordStar 3.20, did MicroPro use its address lists to send us news of the update as quickly as it got us our keytops?
Nope. MicroPro also left that job to its dealers, few of whom had bothered to keep databases of information on just who had bought just which version of WordStar. News of 3.20’s existence filtered out to the world like gossip about certain film stars’ arcane pharmaceutical habits–the being that WordStar never made the tabloids. After stumbling upon the news in a magazine, club newsletter, or bulletin board, disgruntled citizens across America muttered imprecations, paid handling charges, returned their original 3.02 WordStar and MailMerge disks to their harried dealers, and waited an estimated “4 to 6 weeks” for version 3.20 to return.
Larvae and Pupae
Version 3.20 retained some old bugs and offered some new ones of its own. Using WordStar’s run command (R) while its menus were suppressed often created a dump of memory onto the screen–a graphics fireworks display that occasionally hung the system. The hyphenation feature sometimes left a useless message on the screen long after it had served its purpose. And if you accidentally inserted an illegal character (such as a I) in a file-name, you got a “Disk Full” error that could do nasty things to your current file and bomb you back to PC DOS. Love began to go sour.
The 3.20’s installation program offered a new menu of printers, but only daisy-wheelers were added. They had to run serially, too; the IBM remained the only parallel printer with support. And SpellStar 1.20 crashed whenever it ran into certain words beginning with re.
But still, with the puzzling new documentation you could always patch the printer area for your machine, as long as you knew enough about DEBUG, hex characters, and control codes. “Disk Full” errors were definitely less of a problem for those using 320K drives. And the best yet: you sent the WordStar 3.20 registration card back in the mail, you got another letter congratulating you on your wisdom–and another set of keytops! If you also happened to be a MailMerge registered user, you received two letters and two sets.
Users all over America stuck keytops to their foreheads in silent protest. A few intrepid souls may even have tried to get through to MicroPro to ask about how to run WordStar with their new “fully IBM-compatible” NEC Spinwriter 3550s. It was around this time that a collective mutter of “arrogant” heard rumbling throughout the land.
One More Time
A couple of months later, new rumors floated through the computer world as MicroPro ignored its registered users yet again. This time there was supposed to be a WordStar 3.24 that would fix “all known bugs.” As usual, you would need upgrades of Mailmerge and SpellStar to run with it. As usual, the upgrade was nominally “free,” but many dealers (unless they were very understanding) exacted some sort of handling charge. As usual, you needed to send in your 3.20 disk and wait 4 to 6 weeks for the upgrade. And you would do all things gladly, because of the clever inducement MicroPro had provided in the past: keytops!
Alas, I’ve never gotten my keytops for duly sending the registration cards in for 3.24. Maybe something was wrong the mails. But I did get my new disks.
3.24–Standard of the Month
Version 3.24 will run from PC DOS 1.1 or 2.0. It catches illegal characters. MicroPro supposedly has rectified the problem in SpellStar 1.24 (untested by me). The R (run) screen dump bug has also been fixed, though a message (visible only when the menus are not suppressed) warns that some programs may not let you back into WordStar when you’re through with them–DISKCOPY being but one of many. The message implies that this problem won’t happen with PC DOS 2.0, but MicroPro now admits that another last minute DOS-surprise from Microsoft has rendered that implication untrue.
The new version’s documentation includes a tantalizing sheaf of material about the non-IBM MS-DOS and CP/M-86 versions. Users with those editions apparently get a much better installation program. It lets them change the starting defaults for such things as margination, justification, hyphenation, and pagination–a whole damn nation of ill-chosen defaults that most of us PC users have to change every time we type those magic letters WS from PC-OOS.
PCers still get second-class treatment with a new version of the old installation program that deals only with printers. It adds precisely one printer to the lin1ited menu: the NEC Spinwriter 3550. Many models of that printer require new PROMs to be installed before they’ll work properly with WordStar. NEC will make the change for free, but there’s no mention of this arrangement in the WordStar documentation. In the immortal words of MicroPro: “Ask your dealer.”
Finally, there’s a problem with the 1.24 version of SpellStar when it’s run from PC DOS 2.0. MicroPro has provided a fix, though. For details, see Figure 1.
To run properly with WordStar 3.2 or 3.24 under PC-DOS 2.0. SpellStar 1.24 must be modified with the overlay file SPELSTAR.OVR. A corresponding patch must also be made to one WordStar file: WSOVLY1.OVR. This patch to WSOVLY1.OVR must also be made to WordStar versions 3.20 or 3.24 when running with SpellStar 3.3. The combination of SpellStar 3.3 and WordStar 3.3 already has the correct patches built in. Use DEBUG to make the following changes (all numbers are in hexadecimal format). WSOVLY1.OVR Address Old New Contents Contents 3707 2e 1e 3714 90 30 3715 90 e4 SPELSTAR.OVR Address Old New Contents Contents 100 58 e9 101 a2 9d 102 d6 00 103 02 90 1a0 20 8f 1a1 20 06 1a2 20 b0 1a3 20 01 1a4 20 8f 1a5 20 06 1a6 20 b2 1a7 20 01 1a8 20 58 1a9 20 a2 1aa 20 d6 1ab 20 02 1ac 20 e9 1ad 20 55 1ae 20 ff 6a7 8b ff 6a8 e3 36 6a9 b1 b2 6aa 00 01 6ab b2 ff 6ac 00 36 6ad e8 b0 6ae 7e 01 6af 36 cb Figure 1: Patches to run WordStar and SpellStar under PC-DOS 2.0.
Modern Times, the Coming of 3.3
No sooner was 3.24 in the hands of harried users than rumors of a new WordStar flashed through the world. MicroPro briefly denied it, but the truth is out. Version 3.3 is with us at last–or should be by the time you read this.
What’s new about 3.3? Quite a bit and not much. Screen handling has been greatly improved by using memory-mapping. The ten function keys are now programmable by the user. A new installation program lets you change quite a few of the WordStar defaults and handle a wide range of printers. Finally, and most important for new users, the manuals have been improved by orders of magnitude.
The new version will run on a 64K system from PC DOS 1.1; with PC DOS 2.0, which takes up more space, it will require more. Still more memory–the number appears to be 64K on top of whatever the operating system requires–is needed to take full advantage of all the new features, such as simultaneous printing and editing. The CP/M-86 version of 3.3, which I did not test, requires 80K.
The WordStar Time Trials
Memory-mapping of screens is the most noticeable new feature. This technique, seen on PeachText and other late-model word processors, makes screen rewriting significantly faster. How much faster? I used a stopwatch to find out.
After you hit the PgUp or PgDn keys, the old version would make you wait about 2.5 seconds for the screen to rewrite. Version 3.3 reduces that time to about half a second–a fivefold speed increase.
Some functions register even more impressive gains. Scrolling one line downward in the old version meant a wait of more than 2 seconds for a fully rewritten screen. In the new version, the same command worked so fast my stopwatch finger was really too slow to catch it; the result of 0.2 seconds probably reflected my rotten reaction time. Unlike the old version. 3.3 can keep up with continuous scrolling commands in either direction. The difference can really add up in commands that do a lot of work onscreen. Using the “Ctrl-QQ Ctrl-B” paragraph reforming command to change the margins and line spacing of a 32,000-character test document took a little over 6 minutes with the old version–and about half that time with the new.
An extensive backward search-and-replace in a 16,000-character document took nearly 2 minutes in the old version and about 1 minute in the new. But the speed difference behveen the two versions could be minimized by hitting one of the arrow keys after ordering the search and replace; that prevents screen rewrites during the process. This technique sliced the old version’s running time to just six seconds; the new version beat that time by only one second–the only difference being the time it took to rewrite the screen at the very end. My conclusion (supported by MicroPro): the internal operations of WordStar have not changed at all.
It’s a slightly different aesthetic. Old WordStar seemed to “paint” the screen. Version 3.3 seems to “jump” into action. It can be slightly disconcerting, especially when you insert text above a page break indicator, which sometimes seems to bounce on the screen. I can accept this new quirk: after using the version 3.3 for a week or so, I find waiting around for the lethargic old version’s screen rewrites as tedious as watching fleas grow hair.
Another nice thing about WordStar 3.3 is that MicroPro seems to have tamed the cursor. In earlier versions, the cursor often jumped ahead to the end of a word or line and back to the proper position when you inserted text. It doesn’t do that anymore.
Plus Ça Change …
But virtually nothing else has changed about WordStar. No internal operations have been revised, so in many respects version 3.3 is still not destined to be a speed demon. Much of the WordStar program is not resident in main memory. It’s on overlay files that stay on disk, where they’re called up as needed. Since these files are needed quite often, this system can slow things down significantly. By putting those overlays on a disk emulator in RAM, disk accesses become significantly faster, and unnoticeable visually or aurally. If I hadn’t been able to do that, I’d probably have switched from WordStar long ago.
Another problem with WordStar is that it never addresses more than 64K of RAM-grand total, program and data–no matter how much memory you have in your machine. In practice, this means that no more than about ten pages of your document can be in RAM at one time. Larger documents are handled by swapping portions back and forth from disk.
This slows things down, too. With WordStar, files are loaded into memory a hunk at a time until the workspace is full. As you move forward through an existing document, hitting PgDn can produce a short delay while WordStar goes out to get the next hunk. Once the file is fully loaded into memory, moving from page to page or even from front to back takes about a second. But if the document is too big to fit in the RAM, the same command can take ten seconds or more. And because WordStar creates special files for backward moves in long documents, such moves take even longer. Given all the memory available in many user’s PCs, this is a shame.
MicroPro tells me ninety-odd percent of all documents created with WordStar are three pages or shorter, which is its excuse for not expanding available memory. Still, since WordStar is one of the most transparent editors available for handling long documents (in fact, there is no official maximum document size) this strikes me as a copout for wasting potential. By adding even 64K to the workspace, MicroPro could solve the problem for all but the very longest chunks of text. But, this hasn’t happened.
The all-new installation procedure should save many headaches–and create a few more. The good part is that you can change a wide range of defaults to suit your needs (see Figure 2). Now you can dash off a quick letter without having to remember to type an .op command to avoid getting a neatly centered page number–that’s enough to make the long suffering WordStar user’s eyes fill with tears of joy. Being able to bring up the program with automatic justification and hyphenation turned off truly maketh the cup run over. But changes to the default values for such things as top margin, bottom margin, and page offset are not reflected in the online Help screens available from the J menu. Better write your new defaults down to avoid later puzzlement.
A Initial help level B Decimal point character C Non-document mode D Initial directory display E Initial insertion toggle F Justification toggle G Hyphen help toggle H Omit-page-numbering toggle I Top page margin J Bottom page margin K Left margin L Right margin M Number of lines per page N Page offset 0 Form feeds P Data field separator Q Variable name symbol R System disk drive S Function keys Figure 2: Lettercode for modifiable WordStar defaults.
Funk and Function
MicroPro has a philosophy about function keys. The company contends that control characters are easier to use because you don’t have to move your fingers from the keyboard’s home position.
Now I don’t entirely disagree. When entering text, I find myself using the control key versions of the simpler commands more often than not. Though MicroPro has taken a lot of guff for making them non-mnemonic, I like them that way. All the basic cursor-movement commands are positioned on the keyboard to be reached by the left hand. Once you’re used to them, your muscular memory will guide you to the correct keys. The method of moving the fingers left or right to move the cursor correspondingly may not provide you with mnemonic initials (A for Left, F for Right?), but it’s logical and fast.
When you’re editing text, function keys make a lot more sense. You’re often doing fancy footwork with block moves and the like, and you want those editing commands ready to go at a single touch. Ever since the first IBM version of WordStar, MicroPro has implemented the PC’s ten function keys-but only in their unshifted modes. In version 3.3, they’ve retained the same functions as before–except for relocating the “go to beginning” and “end of file” commands. Contrary to all sense, the beginning of file command had been on F10, and the end-of-file command on F9. In the new version, sensibly, they’re swapped.
In case you prefer the old way, you can switch back. The new installation program lets you decide what the ten unshifted function keys will do. Each key may be assigned a maximum of six characters.
Liberating Line 25!
You can also put a custom six-character description of each function key you set up on the bottom line of the screen; this will appear in a format similar to the one IBM’s BASIC uses. As far as I’m concerned, that’s an utter waste of precious screen space. Since the PC’s function keys don’t run beneath the screen across the top of the keyboard, their position isn’t consistent with the labels on the screen. Besides, with only ten keys to play with, you’re going to assign them to functions you’ll use frequently. The minute you memorize them, you’re going to want to turn off the damned labels that keep staring back at you just two lines below where you’re usually entering your text, stealing a precious line of your screen.
But you can’t shut them off! Considering that WordStar has toggles for everything else but the status line–you can take off page breaks, control characters, the ruler line–this is a real stupidity. Fortunately, I’ve prevailed upon MicroPro to let us in on the secret of freeing line 25 from the labels. See Figure 3 for details.
1. Make a spare copy of your disk with the WS.COM file (just in case). 2. Place a PC-DOS disk with the DEBUG.COM file in drive A. 3. Place the disk with the WS.COM file in drive B. 4. At the A> prompt, type and enter "debug b:ws.com". 5. A hyphen will be displayed. That's the DEBUG prompt. Type and enter "e 0248". 6. Be sure "18" is displayed. Type and enter "19". 7. Type and enter "e 5041". 8. Be sure "8d" is displayed. Type and enter "c3". 9. Type and enter "w". 10. You will get a message about the material being written to disk. At the hyphen prompt. type and enter q to exit to PC-DOS. 11. The patch has been made. If at any point above, you fail to see what has been specified, do not attempt to make the patch by typing "w". Instead. at the hyphen prompt. simply type "q". This will allow you to exit to PC-DOS without saving your changes to disk. Figure 3: Instructions for making a patch to get rid of the function key display in WordStar 3.3
MicroPro’s philosophy–or something–keeps it from doing anything sensible about the PC’s 30 shifted function keys or the control-shifted versions of its numeric keypad. Other programs (including my ProKey-enhanced version of WordStar) logically make Ctrl-left-arrow and Ctrl-right-arrow move the cursor left or right a word at a time. But not WordStar. This is all the more annoying when you consider that MicroPro has implemented that sort of arrangement on versions for the Apple IIe and III. It even assigned 20 additional functions to the “Open Apple” and “Closed Apple” keys used in conjunction with the ten numerals. Didn’t IBM users deserve as much?
Aside from the function keys, no key assignments are easily changeable from MicroPro’s choice of defaults. The deletion key still behaves like a destructive backspace, deleting the character to the left of the cursor instead of the one above it. Considering that Ctrl-Backspace does the same thing in the same way, this has always been nonsensically redundant. We’ve got a fix for it in Figure 4.
1. Follow steps 1 through 4 in Figure 3. 2. A hyphen will be displayed. That's the DEBUG prompt. Type and enter "e 71C". 3. Be sure "7F is displayed. Then type and enter "07". 4. Follow steps 9 through 11 in Figure 3. Figure 4: Instructions for making a patch to make the Del key delete the character above the cursor. This method works with WordStar 3.20, 3.24 or 3.3.
But let’s face it: WordStar 3.3 is not going to take many sales away from the inventors of ProKey and similar keyboard enhancers. WordStar’s ten function keys just aren’t enough to go around, and each key’s six-character limit means you can barely use one to set a margin. Serious WordStar users and authors with special formatting needs (screenwriters come immediately to mind) will find that a keyboard enhancer is an absolute must to keep WordStar from producing nothing but frustration.
Install or Stall?
Micropro claims its new install program is user-friendly, but the manufacturer has a definition of friendliness that’s different from mine. To use its program to reassign the function keys and onscreen labels, you have to loop through forty prompts and responses. Apparently memory-mapping wasn’t used in the installation program: some of the repeating prompt screens take as long as twenty seconds to write. In addition, some of the instructions are less than clear. Fortunately, you won’t have to use the program often–you wouldn’t want to.
You also use this program to install WordStar for the type of printer you have. This is easy enough if your printer is one of the ones the program supports. (These are listed in Figure 5.) If not–and some prominent models are omitted–you have to go through a long session of setting control codes. This task must be done in hexadecimal format. Unless you are reasonably expert, you may reasonably expect to become confused.
These printers may be installed in either serial or parallel mode if applicable. Other printers may be installed with a "custom printer installation" option. A C. Itoh/TEC Starwriter F-10 B Centronics 353 C Centronics 739 D Diablo 630 E Diablo/Xerox 1610/1620 F Diablo/Xerox 1640/1650 G Epson MXB0/100-no Graftrax H Half line feed printer I IBM Parallel Printer J MPI 88G/99G K NEC 8023A Matrix Printer L NEC Spinwriter 3550 M NEC Spinwriter specialty N Okidata ML84A O Olympia ESW-102 P Qume Sprint 5-9/45-11+ Q TI 810/820 R Backspacing standard S Standard printer Figure 5: Letter codes for standard printer types supported by the WordStar installation program.
The installation manual, unfortunately, only adds to the confusion. It offers page upon page of incomprehensible material on protocols and printer drivers without ever mentioning that none of that information is the least bit relevant to installing printers that run from a parallel port. Although its documentation doesn’t mention this, MicroPro recommended that a printer running from the IBM be configured with no protocol and treated as an “operating system primary list device.” If this is done for a serial printer, two PC DOS commands will be required:
MODE COM1:9600,N,8,1,P MODE LPT1:=COM1
These commands assume that the printer will be running at 9600 baud and that a cable lets the printer and the PC exchange status information.
If you’re an old WordStar hand, you’ll probably find it speedier to use DEBUG to make all your patches at once rather than endure a seemingly endless and occasionally ambiguous series of prompts. All the patch points documented in Appendix C of the WordStar 3.20 and 3.24 manuals remain the same in version 3.3. A new patch area is included for the NEC 3550’s “VMI Trailer String’’; it begins at 0881h, so addresses above that will not match the old version.
Specific documentation on those points will no longer be supplied to users of WordStar 3.3. MicroPro has decided to limit access to those documents to distributors and dealers. If you’re contemplating an upgrade, save your old manuals. Although the new installation program can be used to patch many areas, some (like the underscore character, needed by the Okidata 92 and other printers) are accessible only through DEBUG.
A special installation program for PC’s operating in color was not available at press time. This program will allow a user to try out various combinations of foreground and background colors–one for text, and one for menus and highlighting–before selecting the most suitable one. Once again, this program makes no changes in previously available features; it simply makes some already existing features more accessible to users without technical expertise.
A few minor changes have been made in the program itself. The traditional WordStar menus have been cleaned up a little. The Opening Menu is now called by that name rather than “No-File Menu.” When working with it, you now get the message “not editing” on the status line instead of “editing nofile.”
The layout of toggles has changed, too. The oxymoronic message “justification on (OFF)” is now simply “justification now OFF.” Heretofore, the menu has falsely claimed that typing Ctrl-Q-Del would delete the line to the left of the cursor; now it really does. (Typing Ctrl-Q-Ctrl-Backspace always has accomplished the same thing and it still does.) All of these clarifications should make things less confusing for new users.
New users should also fare significantly better with MicroPro’s entirely rewritten manuals. Presented in slightly-bigger than IBM-size ring binders and typeset with excellent graphics, they are the best thing in the new package.
The WordStar manual is one of the best I’ve seen. Organized by menus and functions, it’s clear, readable, and informative. To eliminate possible points of confusion, it offers simple, pithy examples and illustrations. It also provides a wealth of handy tips that many seasoned users had gone months before discovering. I even learned a few things myself.
About all I missed from the old manual were the essay on “Where the Cursor Won’t Go,” explanations of certain useful technical items (the current manual seems to take great pains to avoid these points), and the more detailed explanation and hortatory material about the necessity of saving text to disk.
The MailMerge manual is vastly improved, too. The old one was a marvel of incomprehensibility. The new one, with its copious examples and clean graphics, helps make a complicated process understandable. There are, however, some omissions: the explanation of how to use a command file to link multiple files (for example, chapters of a novel) at print-time was more comprehensive in the old manual. Neither is informative enough about all the useful things that can be done with the best-kept secret in the WordStar world: MailMerge’s powerful “print-time line former.” This lets you change such things as margination and line spacing at print time without making any changes in your document.
The new manuals are ruthlessly honest. They even point out some of WordStar’s limitations–like the find command’s frustrating inability to catch multiple-word strings when they break across lines–and give suggestions about what to do about them. (In this example, not much can be done, I’m afraid.) The manuals are so honest, in fact, that they point out problems that don’t exist. According to the manual, trying to change the logged disk drive to one that doesn’t exist will force you to reboot the system. When I tried it, the worst that happened was that WordStar just ignored the command. Certain warnings about file length don’t seem terribly relevant to the IBM world.
This points up the biggest problem with the documentation. The only information specifically for the IBM PC appears in a section ingenuously named “Addendum of Special Considerations: WordStar for IBM PC, Apple, and Other 16-bit Computers.” (In case you’re wondering, it doesn’t really apply to the Lisa.) This is the only place users can read that the PC’s arrow keys do work and that the function keys may be designated by the user. This section could well be over-looked.
The folks at MicroPro still don’t understand points about the PC. They seem to believe that the numeric keypad will function as a cursor pad when the NUM LOCK shift is ON: The rest of the world does not agree.
MicroPro has chosen, unfortunately, to retain its truly awful WordStar Training Guide. In the palmy days of 8-bit CP/M, when nothing else was around, some people called this now-ancient document state-of-the-art. Today it can only be termed dismal.
The training guide forces you to type long documents–and type them with errors intact! This goes contrary to habit; the required errors in the text aren’t even highlighted in any way. If you manage to repress your instinct for rectitude, you’ll get to cleaning up your text later on. But if you’ve typed the “errors” erroneously, you’ll run into problems.
If the sample texts were offered on disk (as with just about every other program these days) and the lessons were more carefully thought out, the WordStar Training Guide might be worthwhile. I remember trying to learn WordStar from it in my novice days and giving up in disgust. My solution was to read through the manual and key in summaries of its various sections. That method or studying one of the many non-MicroPro WordStar books, cassettes, or disks still seems better than confronting the training guide. Its CP/M-oriented treatment of machine-specific items can cause massive confusion.
Room for Improvement
WordStar 3.3 is a definite improvement, but it does retain some old frustrations. It’s now almost impossible to out-type the screen, but you still have to reform paragraphs yourself if you don’t want to find text hanging around in bad places. Using Ctrl-B to reform longish paragraphs still tends to stick the cursor at the center of the screen, forcing you to scroll upward to see your starting point.
Despite the added speed, lots of things are still slow. Saving long documents can seem to take forever (to be precise, 20 to 40 or more seconds). The length of your wait depends on where the cursor is at the time of the save: the closer it is to the end, the faster.
It’s still annoying to work in the “outer space’’ area reached by horizontal scrolling. Even with memory-mapping, after correcting a line of text sticking out to the right, you might have an annoying wait before the rest of the text comes back again; sometimes you get halfway back to where you want to be. Holding down a left or right arrow key when the cursor is out past column 80 can give bizarre results. The cursor seems to bump the edge of the screen when it’s actually moved a long way; how far is revealed only when you lift your finger from the key.
The most irritating glitch occurs when you’re paging through long files. Sometimes when you hit the PgDn key, WordStar skips a few pages–jumping, for example, from page 5 to page 12. This seems to happen only rarely, and no text is actually lost, but it’s terribly unsettling. The problem has been around since version 3.02; while I was editing this article, it cropped up again.
By now, WordStar ought to be smart enough to show underlining and boldfacing onscreen instead of displaying embedded control characters. It still isn’t. And surely its “Fatal Error” message, a scarifying holdover from the olden times of computerdom, could be rewritten. The manual softens this blow not at all by cheerfully calling the message “a colorful way of saying that you’re going to lose the work done in your current editing session.”
MailMerge doesn’t seem to have been upgraded at all this time around. A new “conditional print” feature (allowing, for example, mailing to selected zip codes) was added, but only to 8-bit versions, not the one for the PC. This is another example of how MicroPro treats PC users as second-class citizens. But, even if you already possess MailMerge, you’ll need a 3.3 version of this program to run with the new WordStar.
The same holds true for SpellStar. It still has a small dictionary (20,000 words), it’s still slow, and it still lacks features, like dictionary lookup, now standard in similar programs. Its major advantage is the convenience of being able to run it from within WordStar. But because it has to run with WordStar, working on a system with single-sided drives can be difficult. Although the new documentation claimed that SpellStar will work from either drive A or the logged disk drive, the version sent to me worked properly only from drive A.
Now Comes the Bite
If you are currently a WordStar registered user, please sit down a moment. Take a deep breath.
Ready? MicroPro wants $85 each for the 3.3 versions of WordStar, MailMerge, and SpellStar. We are talking about a total of $255 here. Is that clear?
Was that the word “arrogant” you just screamed? Or was it something worse? Remember, with the new versions of SpellStar and MailMerge, we are talking about two programs that are substantially unchanged. The only reason you need them is that their old versions won’t run with the new version of WordStar. Aside from the improved manual, WordStar itself has only one major modification.
Besides, although it will run from PC DOS 2.0, the new WordStar isn’t really designed for it. Running MicroPro’s programs with the PC DOS R command can still hang up the system. When run from hard disk, WordStar won’t find its overlays or files in subdirectories, forcing you to clutter up the disk with multiple copies of the overlays. Clearly MicroPro will have to address this problem sometime: we can undoubtedly look for yet another version of WordStar down the road.
For your $85 you will get, as MicroPro is quick to point out, all the new documentation and binders along with the disks. But, if you’ve already mastered the programs, surely you can get along without expensive new manuals. And if you’re thinking that your dealer will give you a discount on the update, think again. This update will be handled directly through MicroPro. Somehow I think this $85 figure, unlike the firm’s other wildly inflated and widely discounted list prices, is graven in stone.
If this is the case, I expect “unauthorized copies” will be produced on a massive scale since WordStar, to MicroPro’s continued credit, is still not copy-protected. If you get your update from a pirate, though, MicroPro needn’t deign to deal with you next time there’s an update. Maybe the manufacturer planned it that way all along.
MicroPro is trying to turn its software family into an integrated environment. A forthcoming product, called StarBurst, will serve as a “shell” of menus that will let you run various “Star” family programs, and possibly others, without ever having to look at a PC DOS prompt. More enhancements for WordStar will be available, too. A program called StarIndex should be available for the IBM PC in July. Only the manual was available to me at press time, but it reveals that Starlndex will generate indexes, tables of contents, and lists of figures and tables by picking out dot commands embedded in the proper pages in the text. It definitely will not do footnotes. Cost: $195, but it’s included free if you buy WordStar, MailMerge, and SpellStar 3.3 as a package.
That’s dandy, but, given MicroPro’s attitude toward its customers, I’m certainly in no hurry to add another of its products to my shelf–especially if it may represent another $85 when the next “major” WordStar update comes along. I suspect a lot of WordStar users will agree.
MicroPro is keeping the 3.24 versions of SpellStar and MailMerge on the market as a “service” to those WordStar 3.20 users who aren’t in the mood to spring for the big enchiladas. Certainly anyone with earlier versions should demand the 3.24 upgrade pronto–before it’s too late.
The Quality that Remains
WordStar still has a lot going for it. I’ve put at least a thousand pages of text through it in the past year with few problems. Using a disk emulator and keyboard enhancer has improved its convenience significantly. I’m still attracted to its “What you see is (pretty much) what you get” approach, and its screens are still among the cleanest around. I do a lot of block moves; despite the Ctrl-B nuisance, WordStar handles these in a way more to my liking than any other program I’ve seen. Its nondocument mode (N) is probably all I’ll ever need in a program editor.
I admit it. Even in spite of Ctrl-B and its stupid approach to double-spaced text, WordStar has become a trusty friend. But I would drop it like a bad habit if someone came up with a similar screen-oriented program that did a few things WordStar can’t. I’d be won over by instant reformatting and manipulating text from two files at once, generating footnotes and indexes simply and easily, and producing standard ASCII files without special characters that can drive a typesetter crazy.
See, I really do like WordStar. I just can’t stand its parents. They always seem to treat me and my friends like the new kids on the block.