Reviewed by Les Ellingham



Issue 17

Sep/Oct 85

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Precision Software Ltd.

There are something like a dozen word processors available for the Atari micros, at least there are if you know where to get them, so do Atari users need another one? The answer is yes, provided it is good, easily available and at the right price. Does Precision Software's Superscript fit the bill? Again the answer is yes. In fact for the serious Atari user I would go so far as to say that Superscript is the most important piece of software to have been produced so far by a British company.

Although there are many word processors the only one that has been widely available and the one with which most users are familiar is Atariwriter and Superscript beats Atariwriter hands down. Superscript gives you not only powerful text manipulation, but also a unique facility to define your own printer driver using a simple text document plus a built in spelling checker with a British dictionary. It is a powerful program and comes with a pretty hefty manual which is needed to understand all of its features.


First of all take note that Superscript is written for the 800XL and the 130XE. Read that literally, it will not work on the 400 or 800. The reason is simply that it takes full advantage of the XL and XE facilities and offers full international characters, including that elusive sign on screen. In addition it is the first program that I am aware of to take advantage of the extra 64k in the 130XE by allowing two documents to be worked on in memory at the same time. More about this later. The first thing you need to do with Superscript is to sit down and work through the tutorial which is essential if you want to use the program to the full. It is possible to compose simple documents by just following the screen prompts, but ignore the manual and you will miss out on many powerful features.

So, boot up Superscript and you will be prompted to Insert an Existing Work Disk, Create a Training Disk, Create a New Work Disk or Create a Dictionary Disk. The dictionary disk is easily created, it is just copied from the back of the master disk onto a disk of your own and may as well be created at the same time as your Training Disk. Select Create a Training Disk and several files which give exercises to be used with the tutorials will be copied onto your disk. The Training Disk and the normal Work Disk primarily contain a 'Defaults' file which is booted each time to set up the printer driver and certain program parameters which are completely user defined. You can set screen and text colours, margins, standard printing features, screen width or even assign special features to any key on the keyboard and boot these in as standard every time you use your work disk. More of these later, let's go back to the tutorial.


You start by loading in a letter to use as practice for the standard features of editing and to learn how to view and print documents which is fine for beginners and will get you used to using a word processor. Experienced users could skip this but may miss out a few tips to short cuts in using Superscript by doing so. The tutorial then goes on to 'Cut and Paste' editing which simply means moving blocks of text around from single words to whole paragraphs before introducing one of the really powerful features of Super
script - the ability to do mathematical calculations on tables within the text.
Here also is introduced another fine feature. Atariwriter is limited to a 40 column screen and it is virtually impossible to set out any sort of table without much trial and error. Superscript allows you to define the width of the text screen to a maximum of 240 columns and will scroll across and back as you reach the screen limits. Tables could not be simpler, you just type them exactly as you want them to appear on paper.


Using the mathematical features seems at first quite complex but a sample document is included and once mastered the technique is simple yet powerful. Each column in a table is defined as a numerical tab at the position of the decimal point, which incidentally can be set as desired, and figures are entered by tabbing across and pressing RETURN at the end of the line. Enter as many rows as you wish and finish off with a row of dashes and you are ready to calculate totals. Simply place the cursor at the end of a line, enter a few keystrokes and the line total will be entered in the final column. Calculate each line in this way and then place the cursor at the foot of the table. A few more keystrokes and every column in the table will be totalled automatically. Any figures included in brackets or with a minus sign will be subtracted and the program has facilities for division and multiplication as well In fact all of the commands to calculate a table can be included in a format and can be executed with just two keystrokes. There is an example included in the tutorial Just run it and watch, you'll be amazed!


Next comes Mail Merge which allows you to take a standard letter and 'personalise' it by automatically inserting names and addresses or other information within the standard letter. An example is again provided. The procedure is somewhat lengthy but once set up is easy to use. Your letter is composed as one file and the information you wish to insert, in the example names and addresses, is composed simply as another text file. You then simply insert markers in your letter, which can be conditional, and start printing. This is where the 130XE is used to good advantage for you can have your letter in the upper half of memory with the merge information in lower memory thus eliminating disk access.

The use of conditional markers makes the mail merge another powerful feature. You can for instance set up a file, or multiple files containing a full list of contacts or addresses with as much detail as you wish and then print letters to them according to conditions laid down in your main letter. You could for instance write only to those in London or you could exclude London addresses. You can write only to male or female contacts or, if you keep your contact file up to date, only to people who have expressed an interest in a particular product or service. It is obviously not as powerful as a full database program but for simpler situations is more than adequate.

The tutorials finish here but the majority of the manual is unread! There is more that you can do with Superscript! Let's take a look now at the editing features as controlled by the keyboard. At first sight any action seems unnecessarily complex requiring the SELECT key to be pressed followed by selection of the feature required and then selection from a sub-menu. In some cases a further menu is presented. If you don't study the manual you could waste a lot of time performing almost any function but once you have executed a particular action, no matter how complex, it can be repeated by simply pressing CONTROL R. In fact most of the commonly used editing features can be accessed by using CONTROL with an appropriate character. There are several really neat features here such as changing words between upper and lower case. CONTROL -F will change a word from upper to lower case but on first press will leave the initial letter as a capital in case it is the start of a sentence. Press again and this turns to lower case. If you prefer to use the cursor movement keys without holding CONTROL simply change them so that the cursor movement is standard and the arithmetical signs are accessed with CONTROL!


What if you need to repeatedly use a series of commands? Easy, just assign these commands to any key on the keyboard in either upper or lower case. Press ESC followed by the key and the program will perform the action you have assigned. Almost anything can be assigned to a key from passages of text to single commands or series of commands. Your name and address for instance can be inserted in a document with two or three keystrokes. It can even be automatically centred or ranged right. Often used words can be inserted at a stroke or the cursor can be moved as desired. Several examples are given in the manual but the applications are limited only by your imagination. Suppose for example you often transpose two characters. Simply assign a key to reverse them, place the cursor on the first character and change them about. You can change disk drives, obtain a directory, initiate a search, exchange dates and much more. All that seems quite powerful, but the real beauty lies in the fact that every key stroke you define can be made permanent so that the keyboard is configured to your specification each time you boot up a work disk. If you wish you can have different configurations for different tasks and change midway through a session. You may not appreciate the power until you have used it, but what it basically means is that Superscript is not a program to which you need to adapt but a program which adapts to you. Your working version of Superscript will be exactly that, your own personalised program.


Before I go on to the search and replace functions and spelling checker, a brief word about the layout capabilities as regards the printed document. All the expected facilities such as setting margins and page lengths, centering and justifying text, including headers and footers are there as well as page numbering but a few more features are included. Margins as well as page numbers can be offset alternately so that if you are producing a bound document the wider margin will always be in the centre of the pages. To produce a double-sided document you can print odd numbered pages first, turn the paper and then print even numbered pages. Four levels of indent can be set and released as desired allowing hanging indents, such as you see in numbered paragraphs, to be easily produced. A nice report is included on the training disk to illustrate many of these features.


One of the useful features of a word processor is the ability to find words quickly throughout the document and replace or amend them and Superscript naturally has this feature. You may change all occurrences of a word or verify each change or simply find a particular word to position the cursor for editing. It was here that I found one of the few limitations of Superscript as it cannot search for spaces. I often used Atariwriter to check for and replace inadvertent double spaces in a document. A useful feature of the Search facility is to search forward or backward so you do not need to go to the start of the document for multiple searches.


So now let's assume that you have typed your document. Before you print it you will want to make sure that the spelling is correct so a few keystrokes (or assigning these to a particular key) brings the spelling checker into action. If you have two drives insert the spelling checker into drive 2 and the program will look for it first in drive 1 and then in drive 2. If it is not in either you will be prompted to insert it. The first action is to analyse your document. You will be told how many words have been used, how many sentences there are and how many paragraphs as well as the average word length. Then the spelling will be checked in alphabetical order throughout the document. This method is slow but it works well and incorrect or unrecognised words will be highlighted for action as they are reached. You may either accept the word in which case all further occurrences will be ignored, ignore the word so that it will be flagged again if found or have the program learn the word and insert it in the dictionary for future use. Words which you use often can thus be added to the dictionary automatically so that each time you use the spelling checker, its vocabulary expands. If a word is incorrect you simply edit it and resume the check. When it is finished you can replace the original document on disk with one keystroke - One point to bear in mind is that, being a British program it checks for English and not American spellings!

The spelling checker has other uses. You can use the disk as a straight dictionary. If you don't know how to spell a word just look it up by typing the first few characters and you will be shown all of the words that begin with those characters. Whilst the program cannot check grammar, you can display all of the words used with their frequency so that you can see if for example you have used 'nice' or 'great' too many times.


Superscript's manual is several times the size of this magazine so you can see that it is possible only to scratch the surface in a review. The program was originally written for the Commodore but the Atari version is no straight 'dump' to another computer. In fact Precision Software have produced a remarkable program especially since the first time they touched an Atari was only four months before producing this version of Superscript. In that short time they have discovered and used more of the facilities of the XL and XE computers than many of the well established companies in the States that have been writing for Atari for years. I will finish by repeating that for the serious user this is the most important program to appear this side of the Atlantic. It heralds the final recognition of the Atari as a serious computer, something we have known all along.

Superscript is scheduled to retail at 69.95 - the same price as the Commodore version. If you think that is expensive compare it with Atariwriter at 39 plus a printer driver at 20 and a spelling checker at 30. You will save 20 and believe me you will get much more for your money.