|This piece was originally published in the National Capital Atari Users Group (NCAUG) monthly newsletter. Light editing and URLs added 2002/01/06.|
Protext, one of MichTron’s new products, is a professional quality word processing package that runs on 520ST’s (colour and monochrome) and up. It is, in my opinion, one of the few products in this world that performs almost as advertised: “…the word processor that will satisfy all your needs!” While I’m sure that Mike Riley (NCAUG writer in residence) could find a “need” or two that Protext will not satisfy, it does perform every day-to-day office task I know of. But, don’t take my word for it—read this review and maybe try it out yourself.
To quote from the Protext Manual: “Protext is a fully integrated word processing system, comprising a word processor, spell checker, mail merge, and a file conversion program. …all aspects of word processing and file management can be carried out without the need to load individual programs. … Documents may be created, spell checked, and then printed without leaving Protext.”
I initially attempted to present just the above in my own words—but they’ve already said it so well. Protext is apparently one of the word processors of choice in Europe at the moment, and we’ll see why as the review unfolds.
Protext is not a WYSIWYG Desktop Publishing Package (DTP). Protext does not even attempt to address DTP needs; it doesn’t use the mouse to any great extent, and although it contains many pleasant surprises—none of them has anything to do with graphics.
Protext does not run as a GEM application. GEM is Protext’s weakest point, and it may be best that we deal with it first. When Protext is first run there is no active menu bar. Protext is a character application and it takes over the whole screen, as character applications have want to do. This means that desk accessories are inactive while Protext is running, and that the GEM File Selector is not used for file selection. However, GEM desk accessories can be accessed via the Right Mouse Button (RMB).
When the RMB is single-clicked, a menu bar containing a single menu title appears: Desk. The Desk drop-down menu functions as one would expect, except that in order to remove the menu bar and get back to work you have to select the menu entry called Quit. And, as I pointed out earlier, the desk accessories are only active when the menu bar is selected.
I tried using STalker, STeno, and the Read Only Control Panel (ROCP) with Protext and didn’t have any major difficulties; except that dialling and file transfers cannot be run in the background. However, if I Quit the menu bar before closing a desk accessory, then that accessory’s window was not properly re-drawn when selected again later. This is due to Protext not being a GEM application. If all the accessory windows were closed before Quiting the menu bar, no confusion arose.
Protext makes up for some of its poor GEM integration by allowing almost any program to be called from Protext. In a month’s use of Protext I didn’t encounter a single program which wouldn’t run from within Protext; providing there was enough free memory for the program to run. Calamus, for example, wasn’t happy with the measly 500K that Protext left free (on my 1040ST), but I’m confident it would have run.
The ST’s mouse is put to very limited use in Protext. Single-clicking the Left Mouse Button (LMB) either positions the cursor, or pages up/down, depending upon the mouse cursor’s position on the screen. Double-clicking the LMB sets the Block Markers.
I found that I never had cause to use the mouse in Protext. So, I used the configuration program to turn off the mouse cursor while in Protext. Even with the mouse cursor not displayed, the RMB allowed access to desk accessories (making the cursor active while the menu bar was present).
When Protext is first run you are presented with a command line interface. Via the “LOAD” command a file may be loaded into memory, and then by pressing the ESCape key you enter Edit Mode. Edit Mode is where the actual entry and editing of a document/file is done. Help is available (by pressing [HELP]) in both command and edit modes. While in command mode you may invoke a series of menus from which most Protext commands may be executed.
Unless otherwise noted, Protext performs all the so-called normal word processing (WP) functions. So, if I neglect to mention a basic WP feature (like the ability to edit text) please don’t assume the worst; Protext is quite full featured. For the sake of space I will simply list Protext’s features; a discussion of notable points will follow:
Protext’s manual serves as a good introduction to word processing for the new computer/word processor user. However, it leaves a little to be desired when used as a reference manual. The index is not as complete as it should be. There is no alphabetic listing of Protext’s command line interface commands: The command list is grouped by function and I found this sometimes made commands harder to find.
As a supplement to the manual, MichTron provides a set of tutorial files which give an explanation and demonstration of Protext’s basic command set. As an experienced word processor user I worked through the tutorial in about ten minutes, however a new user should allow an hour to read the four files.
The manual sets out to explain what word processing (WP) is, and then to show how Protext accomplishes those WP tasks. In that goal it does a good, but not excellent job. I should state that the manual is one of the best in the ST world that I’ve seen. I would probably have given the manual an excellent rating had I never seen the manual which accompanied my HP-41c calculator, 10 years ago.
I encountered a few minor errors/omissions in the manual due to enhancements/changes which have been made to Protext, but which haven’t yet been noted in the manual. One example of this is use of the RMB to access desk accessories. This feature is not documented anywhere in the manual.
Another error is the list of files which should be on your Protext disks. The Document Conversion program has been enhanced and what was at one time a collection of files is now a single file. This initially confused me a bit because the changes are not fully documented in the “README” file. As well, the CONFIG program has the name “CONFIGS.PRG” and must be renamed to “CONFIG.PRG” before it can be used as per the manual’s instructions.
Protext comes with a printer configuration file for almost every printer I’ve ever heard of: Laser, dot-matrix, and daisy wheel. I only had opportunity to try the Epson driver, and it wasn’t as good as it could have been. For example, it wouldn’t print bold text while the Elite (12 cpi) font was selected. This was due to the way bold was turned on (via Epson “Enhanced Mode”) and I easily corrected it by changing the printer configuration file. MichTron has a bit of work to do here.
The printer configuration files are quite powerful. Printers with character sets different than the ST’s can have their character set defined in the config. file so that the Protext user is unaware of any difference. Because the printer configuration file is really a script (a file of commands) which are executed at print time, default print parameters (page width, margins, etc.) can all be specified for the individual printer. The “script” nature of the config. file also allows characters which are not in the printers character set to be defined via graphics or by overstrikes; in a fashion limited only by the printer’s capabilities.
The spelling checker (with its associated utilities) is far more complete than most other packages seem to be. Using the supplied utilities the User may add and delete from the existing dictionary files. As well, custom dictionaries may be constructed and either used as supplements or replacements for the supplied dictionary.
Pattern matched lookups are supported, and while the spell checker is performing a lookup it displays possible matches as it finds them. The User may interrupt the lookup in order to choose a match which the dictionary has already displayed.
Although I didn’t encounter any problems while using the spell checker, I did notice that while it recognizes its own name, “Protext”, it coughs up the name of its distributor, “MichTron”. Although this package was developed in the U.K., it doesn’t know about “colour”, and other similarly UK/Canadian spellings.
One feature which sets this spell checker ahead of its compatriots is its automatic management of the dictionary. When the User performs a spell check he/she may add words to a supplementary dictionary. This supplementary dictionary is simply a sorted list of words stored in ASCII form. However, periodically Protext takes words from this ASCII file and adds them to the binary stored supplementary dictionary for faster checking.
Protext’s Mail-Merge function is also very powerful. Not only can data for the mail-merge be taken from a file, but the User may also be prompted for values. This feature (prompting) allows the filling in of forms by User. Invoicing, for example, could be done from within Protext: Protext would prompt for the data, store the information in a file, perform any math required (sales tax, subtotalling, etc.) and then print out onto a pre- printed form. All this because Protext allows print-time commands to be embedded into a document.
One feature which sets Protext’s mail-merge apart is its ability to apply selection criteria to the data file. For example, you could ask Protext to send a form letter to every person on the mailing list living in a certain city, or having a certain birth date.
Document conversion is handled much as printer definition is: Via a script- like file. This means that a document conversion file can be set up so as to allow Protext to convert any program’s files from, or to, Protext format. One could even avoid Protext format altogether and convert directly between two other file formats (WordWriter to WordPerfect, for example).
Five conversion types are pre-programmed for both Import and Export: ASCII, Amiga Protext, CPM Protext, WordStar, and First Word. I tried using both the WordStar and FirstWord conversions. I had no difficulty importing both WordWriter and WordStar documents into Protext. However, exporting documents was not so slick.
Before I comment on the First Word export conversion, let me preface my remarks by stating that I tested the Protext to FirstWord (FW) conversion by importing the FW file into WordWriter, and Calamus. Actually using the FW file with FirstWord might not have resulted in any problems.
All the soft spaces were converted to hard spaces. Since a hard space indicates that the two words either side of the hard space are not to be separated, every line of text is treated as a single word. Neither WordWriter nor Calamus is happy with this situation. It makes formatting the file impossible. In WordWriter the problem was easily solved by using “search and replace”: replacing every space with a space.
Calamus had an additional problem when the document contained multiple rulers. Protext does hanging indents (e.g. numbered lists), and left/right indents with rulers. For some reason, Calamus treated additional rulers as end-of-file markers; refusing to import any text beyond the second ruler.
I avoided all problems with Calamus by taking the converted document and first importing it into WordWriter, and then importing the “massaged” document into Calamus; an unnecessary hassle.
Although Protext is easy to use, there are many details hiding below its surface waiting for the User to find and use. The summary of commands alone is thirty!! pages in length.
I haven’t singled out Installation because it’s so simple. For floppy disk installation, the minimal instructions consist of copying the disks. Hard disk installation is a little more complicated: Copy the disks, then run the CONFIG program to tell Protext where you installed everything.
Protext is supplied with a Public Domain RAM Disk called “MaxiDisk”. This is a RAM disk which compresses files as it stores them and so it reportedly holds more than one might think. The MaxiDisk README file contains detailed instructions for installing the Dictionary on RAM disk. I did not attempt to use “MaxiDisk”.
My negative comments are few, and not very serious in nature. I will try not to repeat too much of what I’ve already said, above.
The [Control][cursor] and [SHIFT][cursor] key roles are reversed. That is, most word processing programs I have used assign [Control][cursor] to shift- by-word, and [SHIFT][cursor] to shift to end of line. Protext does the opposite.
Surprisingly, the [SHIFT][HOME] and [CTRL][SHIFT]HOME] keys do not perform any function. These keys normally have some function (top of page/document) but Michtron has chosen to leave them un-assigned: Unfortunate!
Also unfortunate is the lack of ability to change the key-command layout. That is, there is no way to swap the functions of [Control][cursor] and [SHIFT][cursor], or to assign a function to the [SHIFT][HOME] key. Many other programs do not provide this capability either, but it would have been a nice touch.
As already noted, Protext re-formats paragraphs automatically, whenever a paragraph is altered. However, the resulting cursor position after a paragraph re-format is not always intuitive. After a re-format I was sometimes left fumbling for the cursor keys in order to re-position the cursor to where I had expected it to be. I did get used to this, so it is not the fatal flaw I initially thought it was going to be.
The one thing Protext absolutely doesn’t do is columns. That disappoints me because there are times when one really needs them. Still, it’s not an absolute must for everyone, or every job, and it’s Protext’s second weakness (after not being a GEM application).
Now the rubber hits the road. I think the bottom line is, “Does Protext do the job?” Well, that all depends what you want to do. If you’re looking for a fast, solid, versatile word processing program, and you don’t need integrated graphics, then Protext is for you. Using its embedded commands one is able to do Indices and Tables of Contents; tasks its competitors can’t touch. I do not hesitate to recommend this product for office as well as home use.
I do hope that MichTron will spend a little more time polishing up this product: The disks and manual need to be put back in sync, file conversion could use a little work, and the manual could be made much more usable for reference purposes.