Bored of hearing about Norman’s mother all the time, fed up with having to lend him a cup of Jif every week for the shower and basically getting worried about living so close to the Bates Motel, SIMON N GOODWIN packs his toothbrush and his middle initial and decides to let someone else take his Tech Tips slot...
But he’s not a man to give up easily — first he says he’ll carry on writing for CRASH, and then he announces he’s got lots to say about Spectrum word processing and publishing this month!
TASMAN SOFTWARE’S classic Spectrum word processor Tasword has now appeared on disk for +3 users. And they’ve also brought out a companion package, TasSpell, which is a first for the Spectrum: an automatic spelling-checker.
Tasword started its life running on Sir Clive Sinclair’s humble ZX-81 computer. In 1983 it was converted for the Spectrum and then came Tasword 2, the classic release, with an innovative 64-column display, onscreen formatting and help. Tasword 2 is still available, priced £13.90.
Tasword 3 was faster and more capable, introducing the data-merge facility which lets you produce form letters customised for each recipient. But it is only available for 48K microdrives and Opus disk systems; it costs £16.50 on cartridge or £19.50 on disk.
The next two versions, Tasword 128 and Tasword +2, took advantage of the 128K Spectrum. They let you edit files up to 60K long, and both cost £13.90 (£19.50 for the Opus +2 version).
Now comes Tasword +3 at £19.95, with extra features to make use of the disk drive, and other improvements. You can move directly to any line or page of the document. Onscreen justification has been tidied up, and the search-and-replace facilities let you replace groups of characters as well as complete words.
For £19.95 you get a binder, a 3-inch disk and a clearly-structured 64-page A5 reference manual. There’s an excellent tutorial file on the disk, which teaches you how to use Tasword by getting you to edit the tutorial file itself!
The 3-inch disk holds about 70K of data, and all the files are duplicated on
side B. When you go into +3 BASIC and type
LOAD "RUN" — a relic from the
days of the microdrive! — the screen is divided into three areas, each
using a cramped 64-column display format.
The Spectrum can only display 256 dots across the screen, so Tasman have been forced to squash each character into a grid three or four dots wide in order to get a useful amount of text on the screen.
I found the 64-column display rather hard to read on my telly, but that’s a matter of taste — Tasword Two used the same format, and worked considerably slower, yet many people were happy with it. You can select a 32-column text display if you’d prefer to see large characters panning left and right instead of small stationary characters.
You can change the colours or page layout
Screen-handling in this version is impressively fast. The screen scrolls quickly, and you can pan back and forth over 128 columns of text. It’s not a true ‘what you see is what you get’ display, because features like underlining and bold text are not shown — nonetheless, you can get a good idea of the final appearance of your document.
Paragraphs are blocks of text separated by blank lines. You can set different margins for every paragraph, and arrange text so that it is justified to fill the space between the margins, or pushed against the left or right margin. Individual lines can be centred, and useful keystrokes push text left and right across a line.
Breaks between one page and the next are automatically worked out and can be shown on the screen as dotted lines, but this feature is a bit of a bodge. You can type in a special character to force an unconditional new page, but this doesn’t affect the display of subsequent page breaks — so the display gets out of step with the final result.
The speed of operations like text insertions, centring of lines and rejustification of paragraphs would do credit to any word processor, but it’s still annoying to have to centre lines and rejustify paragraphs manually, one by one, after changes.
Keyboard-handling is also better than I expected, in view of the dreaded performance of +3 BASIC, but it’s difficult to enter the same character twice in quick succession: I ran into problems with double letters and repeated deletions.
Options are accessed by pressing Symbol Shift with another key, or by selecting Extend Mode (both SHIFTs) followed by a letter or digit. The status line flashes while you’re in Extend Mode, and some options leave you in that mode until you press Extend again to swap back. This makes sense, but It means you sometimes end up accidentally at the start or end of your file.
Tasword +3 lets you get around the file quickly, by character, word, line or page. You can replace words, or part of a word, with another word, throughout the document. All through Tasword +3, drastic actions need to be confirmed by pressing Y or cancelled with N.
As usual, the figure sounds more impressive than it really is
You can define a single block of text and then move it, delete it, or copy it once or many times. The block is stored in the same 62K area as your text; optionally you can define some of that space as a ‘RAM disk’, but I couldn’t see much point in doing that as it reduces the size of file you can edit.
The 62K limit is genuine: I had no trouble editing a 60K file though some operations — like moving to the start or end of file — took a moment or so to work.
Disk access is a bit sluggish, as seasoned +3 users might expect. A small file, of about 500 words, can be saved or loaded in five seconds, but a 10,000-word 60K file took 28 seconds to save, and 35 to reload. The file options are even slower, although more friendly, if you configure Tasword to show you the disk directory whenever you use the file menus.
Blocks of text can be saved to disk, and you can rename or erase files without leaving Tasword. You can even read through a file on disk, copying it to the screen without loading it: this can save a lot of time saving and reloading documents.
Tasword lets you use all the features of a standard Epson printer — it’s configured to work with modern models, and can also use other printers, but you should contact Tasman before you order a copy of the program if you’ve got an obscure printer.
The GRAPHICS key is used to enter symbols that correspond to a library of printer-control characters — you can select text variations like enlarged, emphasised, underlined, italic, condensed and proportional text. Tasword +3 can cope with up to 32 control sequences, each of up to 32 characters.
There’s an extra character set, containing arrows, accents, and other squiggles which print out using the Epson bit-image mode.
Printed documents can have numbered pages up to 999, starting from any value. Page numbers can appear at the top, bottom or alternate sides of each page. You can also specify ‘headers’ and ‘footers’ — single lines of text to be printed at the top and bottom of each page.
Very large documents can be printed from a sequence of disk files, given a list of the appropriate filenames in another file. Multiple copies are allowed, and you can print any sequence of continuous pages.
About 10K of memory is reserved for a spooler. Characters can be copied from this area to the printer while you edit another file — so you can print a 1,500-word document at the same time as you word-process a different document. You can use the +3’s Centronics or Serial interfaces, but not both at once.
The data-merge option lets you include text from one file in successive printed copies — for instance, Tasword +3 could read a database of names and addresses and insert them into a form letter before printing. Data can come from a Tasword file or from the +3 version of the Masterfile database.
You can also mix file data with entries made from the keyboard during printing. This is an advanced feature compared with most mail-merge systems.
Tasword +3 is directly compatible with 3-inch disk files produced using earlier versions of Tasword for Amstrad’s CPC and PCW computers. Tasman supply a conversion program that transfers Spectrum tape files produced using older versions of Tasword to disk.
The disk clicks and grinds furiously...
You can customise Tasword +3 at any time once it’s loaded, and then save a new copy to disk. You can change the display colours or printed page layout, and generally adjust the program to suit yourself — turning warnings on and off, for instance.
The companion program TasSpell costs the same as Tasword +3, and only runs with it on a Spectrum +3, in conjunction with Tasword +3. The manual is just 12 pages long, but TasSpell is very simple to use.
TasSpell will check single words, or the words in the document you’re editing, to find spelling mistakes. It does this by looking for each word in a 155K dictionary held on disk. Data compression means that the dictionary, supplied by publishers Longmans, holds 70,000 words.
This sounds a vast number, when you consider that most people have a vocabulary between 5,000 and 10,000 words — but as usual the figure sounds more impressive than it really is, because computer systems count singular and plural, and other small variations, as different words. (For instance, ‘computer’, ‘computers’ and ‘computing’ would be treated as three different words.)
You can list, add or delete words in the user dictionary freely, and can have several different dictionaries on one disk, using one at a time — but there’s no way to edit the main dictionary.
You can also search for anagrams — words that reuse a certain group of letters (like ‘orchestra’ and ‘carthorse’) — and words that match a pattern with certain letters missing (for instance, ‘Simon’ and ‘lemon’ fit the pattern ‘**mon’). These features should appeal to crossword puzzlers who need to cheat.
You can call up TasSpell to check individual words as you use Tasword +3, but most people will want to use it to check complete documents for spelling and typing mistakes. This it will do, listing unmatched words on the screen or printer with their line and column position in the file — but it’s dreadfully slow.
It takes 17 seconds and two disk swaps to get from Tasword +3 to the main menu of TasSpell, another 13 seconds and one disk to get back. Unfortunately that’s nothing compared with the time you’ll spend waiting for text to be checked.
As a file is checked the disk clicks and grinds furiously, while words appear intermittently, in capitals, on the top line of the display. Only one line — with a few characters of overrun — is used so it’s hard to see the context of mistakes, or to proof-read your file as the spelling is checked. Up to 20 unmatched words — including duplicates — can be listed in the remainder of the screen. Checking pauses whenever the screen is full.
Your document is read from memory, while the dictionary is held entirely on disk. This seems the wrong way around to me; it would be more sensible to put the most commonly-used part of the dictionary in the 62K text buffer, and read the file to be checked from disk — after all, the program only needs to read each word in the file once, whereas it reads the dictionary many times.
As it is, it takes three to four minutes for TasSpell to check one single-spaced A4 page of text — a checking rate of about 70 words a minute. Some people can type faster than TasSpell can read!
In case there was some quirk in my test files (more than likely knowing Simon — Ed), I put a small file generated by Tasman through the checker. I used the README file, 480 words of updates to the printed documentation for Tasman. It took almost seven minutes for the file to be checked. I don’t think people will be able to put up with this extreme sloth, and this time I can’t blame Amstrad’s disk drive — Tasman are just not doing this the best way.
It’s a shame that TasSpell is so slow, because it’s high time the Spectrum had a spelling-checker — there was a simple one supplied as a demonstration with the Mira Pascal compiler, but that only allowed a small dictionary.
In principle TasSpell is workable, but the continuous disk access slows it down to the point where few people will bother to use it. Perhaps this is why there were two typing mistakes on the first page of the word-processed letter Tasman sent me with the review copy...
Tasword +3 is well-designed and carefully written. It’s good value, at £19.95, and if you want to use your +3 as a word processor it will serve you well. Most of the limitations are Amstrad’s — some people will find the 64-column display hard to read, and the keyboard a bit sluggish. Disk access is slow, but not unbearably so.
TasSpell is not so easy to recommend, though it may appeal to crossword buffs.
Both packages are available direct from Tasman Software.
UNFORTUNATELY there’s only been time for a very brief look at Cardex’s Spectrum desktop-publishing system in this month’s Tech Tips. The main program is Word-Master, a very respectable word processor which fits into a 48K Spectrum, leaving 29K for data, and can call up other utilities — including Headliner, which lets you create simple graphics and headlines in six different typefaces. The top of the range add-on is Typeliner which miraculously persuades the 48K Spectrum to work like a desktop-publishing system, with text in columns and graphics mixed on an A4 page. It’s not a particularly friendly program, and — as with all DTP — the results depend, more than anything else, on your own ability to design a page. But it works.
The amazing thing about this system is the quality of the results it produces — some of the best dot-matrix DTP printouts I’ve seen. The typefaces are proportionally-spaced — for instance, the letter ‘M’ takes up for more space than an ‘i’, as in CRASH typesetting — and look quite professional.
All you need is a 48K Spectrum and a printer that can wind the paper forward in units of 1/216 inch, and recognises Epson control sequences like ESC L... plus patience, of course, and some trial and error!
The entire Cardex system is accessed from Word-Master, which has a 64-column display — like Tasword’s, but slower and perhaps a bit harder to read. Letters like ‘M’ and ‘W’ are difficult to make out.
After 20 lines of text there are four lines of prompts at the bottom of the screen. There’s no on-screen help, as that would take up valuable data space.
Word-Master has few cursor movement commands, compared with Tasword, and the cursor keys repeat almost immediately, so it’s easy to move too far.
It shows the rough layout, including underlining and word-wrapping, on the screen. Tabs appear as arrows until you print the file out; the effect of the tab depends on your printer settings.
Detailed format control is through command lines — special lines in the file that aren’t printed but control features like the typeface, justification, margins and page breaks. Commands are in effect until they are cancelled, so you don’t have to describe each paragraph or line individually, as you do in Tasword. The disadvantage is that it takes experience to guess what a document will look like in print.
Command lines also let you call up user-defined printer characters, and send control characters directly to the printer. You can print selected pages of a document, but Word-Master can’t automatically chain between files as Tasword can.
Block-handling is much like Tasword, but search-and-replace options are better. You can search for any string of up to 64 characters — not just a word or part of a word — and you can tell the program to replace all instances without asking you about each one. There’s also an option to make ‘intelligent’ use of capital letters — for instance, so that a single command replaces ‘now’ with ‘then’ and ‘Now’ with ‘Then’.
Headers and footers are also handled rather better than in Tasword — they can be several lines deep, and can be different for left-hand and right-hand pages (as, for instance, CRASH page numbers are always on the outside of the page).
The biggest advantage of Word-Master over Tasword is the way that it lets you mix text and graphics in a file. You can load SCREEN$ files — like those produced by Spectrum art packages — snip sections out and mix them into your text. Beware: the program gets confused it you load normal CODE files when it’s expecting a screen dump.
You can’t print text both sides of a graphic, or two graphics side by side, unless you use Typeliner as well as Word-Master. The Typeliner documentation contains some excellent diagrams, explaining the intricacies of dot-matrix print-out.
The 29K of free memory can be split into any number of RAM files. You can link files, but for some unexplained reason you can’t split them. Graphics are compressed in memory, so you don’t need a full 6K to store a screen — the amount of space a picture needs depends on its complexity.
Word-Master is not as friendly as Tasword, but it’s very powerful. In conjunction with Headliner and Typeliner it can produce better results than the expensive DTP packages for much bigger computers.
Word-Master sells for £11.90, with Headliner at £8.95 and the latest version of Typeliner — considerably improved on the original — at £16.95. Disk versions are available for the +3 or Plus D (3.5-inch only), and cost an extra £2.50 or £1.50 respectively. The programs run on any Spectrum with at least 48K of RAM. The extra memory on a 128 is ignored, though you can use the RAM disk on a +3. The suite works with an impressive variety of storage systems: cassette, microdrives, Plus D, +3, Disciple, Opus Discovery, TR-Beta disk and Swift Disk.
The manuals are double-cassette sized: 47 pages for Word-Master, 40 for Typeliner and 20 for Headliner.
Last issue’s cry for help had some results — I can proudly announce that Tech Tipster Keiran Wood’s Spectrum cassette mag The Spectrum Programmer is available for £1. So now you know.
AFTER THREE YEARS on Tech Tips, I’ve reluctantly decided to stop writing regular columns from this month, although I still intend to write for CRASH every so often.
The fortunes of CRASH and the Spectrum have fluctuated since I started to write for Newsfield, at the peak of the micro consumer ‘boom’. What was once a hobby has become a market.
The market has fragmented, and it has become impossible for a freelance contributor to summarise the whole range of Spectrum computing in two to four monthly pages, covering everything except games. It just takes too long to sift through all the material.
I’m a programmer, as well as a writer, and I need to keep programming in order to stay in touch with the hobby. Sadly, Tech Tips now takes more time than I can afford, month after month, and I don’t want to carry on doing something when I can’t do it to the best of my ability.
I’d like to thank all those of you who have sent in tips and encouragement over the years — whether your letters were published or not. I will be sad not to hear from you any more, even though you’ve often worn me out with your questions and demands.
Thanks for reading, and responding, and sharing my interest. I’m proud of CRASH readers, and try not to lose touch.
I’ll be wearing my CRASH sweatshirt at the PC Show in September, analysing the new developments. I’ll make a point of visiting Miles Gordon Technology before Christmas, to check out the progress of SAM. And I hope to be back, every few months, to highlight trends and hopes for the future.
Bye for now
Simon N Goodwin