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Word 6.0 - NOT!

by Tom Standage <thomas@primrose.demon.co.uk>

Feel like throwing out your word processor? I do. I yearn to liberate the untold megabytes of disk space occupied by my groaning, feature-heavy word processing software. The appearance of Word 6.0 has called into question not only my support for Microsoft's flagship product, but for huge word processors in general. There has to be a better alternative - a small product with minimal features that boots quickly and doesn't mess around with palettes, toolbars, or tips of the day. So, turning my back on Word 6.0, I opened my drawer of floppies to look for something leaner and meaner - something outside the current crop of word processors altogether.

The first contender I unearthed was a set of Word 4.0 disks. Even if you have a relatively old Mac, an even more antediluvian version of Word can make it feel surprisingly peppy. Old versions of Word are refreshingly fat-free, too. Many readers will remember the fuss that ensued when Word 4.0 failed to run correctly or at all on the first Quadras. Word 5.0 appeared soon afterwards, but in the interim Microsoft did produce a version of Word - version 4.0e - which ran on the Quadra. [Too bad that in Microsoft's excitement over shipping Word 6 they discontinued it. -Tonya]

A little archeology in a friendly consultant's filing cabinet (thanks, Kannan) unearthed some real gems, including Word 3.01 and, eventually, Word 1.05 (carbon dated to 1985). Throwing caution to the wind, we copied them to a Power Mac 8100, double-clicked and discovered that neither would launch. However, Word 1.05 did run on an SE/30, and it opened documents faster than any word processor I've ever seen on any Mac. It may be primitive, but Word 1.05 does have the advantage of a hard disk footprint of - wait for it - 124K. It was tailor-made for 400K MFS disks.

Of course, it's possible to edit text without any fancy features at all. Scriptable Text Editor, the basic text editor that ships with AppleScript, was written as an example of something scriptable, but it's a perfectly good text editor, and if you've bought a Mac recently the program is probably already on your hard disk. The features are basic - styled text. And, well, that's it. But since it's totally recordable and scriptable, with a little scripting you could build your own find/replace and word count features. If you're feeling adventurous, you could script some other big application that has a spelling checker - and, let's face it, that's most of them nowadays - to add spell checking too. If you're script-obsessed, this could be the right choice for you. Of course, the truly script-obsessed may already have a copy of Working Software's scriptable Spellswell 7.

However, I'm not convinced support for styled text is all that important. Let's get back to basics here - being able to mix fonts and styles won't make that sonnet easier to write or make the troublesome first line of your novel read better. And I regard the use of italics for emphasis as a cop-out. The widespread use of programs like QuarkXPress to lay out text prepared in another application also casts doubt on the need for a word processor that does anything more than produce raw text. "As soon as I need style sheets and pagination, I switch straight to QuarkXPress anyway - it's so fast" said one of my friends, whose Power Mac 6100 crawls along when running Word 6.0, but speeds past the sound barrier with the native version of QuarkXPress. So, in theory, almost anything with a basic editable text box can be used to compose text once you dispense with Font and Style menus.

Okay then - how about QuickDEX? I started using it as a word processor in the days of my PowerBook 100. QuickDEX, for those of you who manage to live without it, is a Rolodex-style, free-form database with a full text search that's incredibly fast because all the data is held in RAM. And that's the key - no hard disk spin-ups on PowerBooks, so you can scroll up and down in that dinky little text editing box for hours on end. The size gets to you eventually, though, although you can set the whole window to a small, readable font like Geneva 9. If you're battery-conscious and a little insane, QuickDEX could be your ideal word processor.

If you don't have a handy copy of QuickDEX, Notepad and Stickies also support primitive text editing. Yes, they're tiny, but for fine-tuning a single sentence or a small piece of text such as a photo caption, they're fine - they even offer proper clipboard support. I've used both of them to jot down notes from telephone conversations. When someone calls you up and you have to note something in the conversation, you don't want to wait half a minute - or six minutes - for your word processor to boot. Of course, the ultimate in word processing simplicity, enforcing the elegance of haiku on your prose, is the Finder. Create a new folder and compose away to your 31-character heart's content.

But this leaves just one real contender. It's small, it's fast, and it's free with every Mac. It has the questionable capability of supporting the Speech Manager, and I used it to write this essay. I have a feeling Mac users everywhere are turning to it in droves. On my Mac, it's permanently open in the background. It's the choice of a new generation. My word processor for the time being is SimpleText.

Working Software -- 800/229-9675 -- 408/423-5696
<workingsw@aol.com>