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SimWord

by Tonya Engst <tonya@tidbits.com>

Frankly, I'm bored with the current crop of word processors. They all have more features than my vintage 1985 copy of MacWrite, and in that ten year interim, few of the new features make it easier to figure out what to write. With the exception of a few children's products, none of them have a sense of fun or exploration, although Word 6.0's 3,634 commands sometimes provide an acute sense of disorientation and frustration.

I can no longer sleep properly - my dreams are twisted by my love-hate relationship with Word 5's Outline View, and constantly interrupted with fearful visions of Nisus Writer's Macros menu droppping down out of my monitor to the office floor, through the basement, and burrowing into the earth, never to be seen again. Writers of the world unite! I propose a new breed of word processors, a breed with spirit, soul, and simplicity. Maxis, are you listening? I want SimWord.

SimWord is a new concept in word processing, and it turns writing into a game. When you launch SimWord to start a new document, you choose from options such as Novel, Essay, Humor, Technical, Short Story, and Poetry. The interface features one palette, whose buttons are large, labeled, and have nifty pictures on them, so it's easy to discern one button from the other.

Disasters -- To get started with your document, you first choose what kinds of Disasters you want. Disasters add that random human element to your writing that computers otherwise have such trouble emulating. You can go for a simple Quotation Storm that randomly inserts quotes from George Will in your document. Or, you might choose Flooding, which arbitrarily adjusts your words (using the thesaurus to make sure they still mean the same thing) so that the rivers (vertical white space) in your document become large and unsightly. If you are the sort who likes to occasionally throw out your whole document and start fresh, you might turn on the Volcano disaster - the special sounds and visuals are just wonderful, but the clean-up time afterwards could make you miss your deadline.

Zoning -- After you set up your disasters, you use railroad tracks (much like Word's section breaks or Nisus Writer's and MacWrite's rulers) to separate your document into sections and zone them for different activities. For example, you might have Introduction, Credits, Summary, Basic Text, and so on. SimWord comes with about 50 possible zones, but the architecture of the program is such that third-parties can come out with their own.

Once you zone your document, you must create an environment conducive to words staying in the zone where you type them. This is where the strategy comes in, because if you type text in a zone where it feels uncomfortable, it will migrate to a different zone. The migration animation is terrific, so if you aren't in a rush, it's worth ignoring strategy for a while. To see an example, type "bus" - without the quotes - in a freshly zoned Introduction. Unless the title of your document has something to do with travel or transportation, the three characters in bus morph into a neon green school bus with lots of stuck-on decals, and complete with engine noises, the school bus moves into the Body section, squeals to a halt, lets ten kids of the bus, and morphs back into the word "bus." The names of the kids who got off the bus also appear in the Body section. You can turn off the sounds if you find them too distracting.

If you create a sufficiently conducive environment through well-thought out titles, carefully crafted sentences, and the like, SimWord will generate words and move them into your document. In effect, the program will start writing for you. Once generated words start moving into your zones, you can go have a cup of coffee and find your work nearly done when you return, though if you use a 68000 machine like the SE, you may have to go have a proper meal.

Congestion -- The more trouble you have putting words in the right zones, the more they migrate to other zones, and the more likely you are to have traffic control problems. The problems can be somewhat alleviated by using the Cross-Reference command. It works like a Star Trek-style transporter, and words that are cross-referenced can quickly move between zones outside of the normal flow of traffic. If traffic conditions become untenable, the words request an airport so that phrases that just aren't working out can leave, and replacements can be flown in. I've found that erecting Stadiums in the different zones also helps, because it gives the words a higher quality-of-life and makes them more likely to stick around. If you don't pay sufficient attention to the quality of life, your writing will lean more and more toward the style of Dostoevsky. A unpleasant side effect is that your document will gain an additional 500 pages, mostly composed of turgid conversation interspersed with lots of Russian names.

Corruption -- To prevent your document from becoming corrupted, you must keep the financial situation under control. Each zone can have a Commissioner, and you use the Insert Commissioner command to add a Commissioner. Without a Commissioner, the zone becomes a black market. Black markets encourage informal trading, which can cause real problems because your words will trade characters with each other. Some words will be better traders than others, so you'll end up with lots of two- and three-character words limping along and other words that get so long and powerful that they start making their own zones, called Criminal Zones, where stray words are killed and stripped of their vowels. Norton Utilities sometimes can delete a Criminal Zone, but other times the corruption is so bad that you must copy and paste the good zones into a new document. Commissioners must be paid for, and you must set the salary such that you attract and keep honest Commissioners.

Ratings -- As a replacement to the old-style word processor ratings boxes that tell your word count, passive verb count, grade level count, and white blood cell count, SimWord puts up a ratings box where your words rate you on how much they like your document. Ratings are based on how much corruption your words perceive, how much they like their zones, and so on. You must pay close attention to your ratings at all times so you know where to allocate more money or where to tighten up your prose. SimWord retains the Flesch Reading Ease rating, and if it falls too low, corruption increases, as does government rhetoric.

Filters -- SimWord has import filters for most known word processors, and any feature that a filter doesn't understand gets turned into an Additional Reading zone. Future versions of SimWord will output directly to HTML, although the quality of the HTML code is directly linked to your ratings, once again. If the words aren't happy, your HTML document will be strewn with <BLINK> tags and probably won't display properly in anything but an old alpha of Netscape.

My publisher has already expressed interest in any books I write with SimWord, just so long as I stay away from the Volcano and Earthquake disasters when I'm within a week of deadline.