Linked by Thom Holwerda on Thu 16th Mar 2017 22:42 UTC
Features, Office

Many science fiction writers - including myself, Roger MacBride Allen, Gerald Brandt, Jeffrey A. Carver, Arthur C. Clarke, David Gerrold, Terence M. Green, James Gunn, Matthew Hughes, Donald Kingsbury, Eric Kotani, Paul Levinson, George R. R. Martin, Vonda McIntyre, Kit Reed, Jennifer Roberson, and Edo van Belkom - continue to use WordStar for DOS as our writing tool of choice.

Still, most of us have endured years of mindless criticism of our decision, usually from WordPerfect users, and especially from WordPerfect users who have never tried anything but that program. I've used WordStar, WordPerfect, Word, MultiMate, Sprint, XyWrite, and just about every other MS-DOS and Windows word-processing package, and WordStar is by far my favorite choice for creative composition at the keyboard.

That's the key point: aiding creative composition. To understand how WordStar does that better than other programs, let me start with a little history.

An old article from 1990 and updated in 1996, reprinted, but still a good read.

Order by: Score:
Wordperfect vs wordstar
by Alfman on Thu 16th Mar 2017 23:14 UTC
Member since:

An old article from 1990 and updated in 1996, reprinted, but still a good read.

Historically interesting, but the DOS software is not exactly relevant anymore. 80x25 monospace characters, no unicode, no copy/paste between apps.

Funny thing about reading this is that it reminded me about the age old unix debate between vim and emacs. Everyone should just use what they like!

Reply Score: 1

RE: Wordperfect vs wordstar
by Anachronda on Thu 16th Mar 2017 23:54 UTC in reply to "Wordperfect vs wordstar"
Anachronda Member since:

80x25 monospace characters

The 80x25 thing is hardly WordStar's fault. CP/M WordStar (as well as generic MS-DOS WordStar; you know, the version for machines that aren't PCs) can be configured for a variety of terminal sizes. It'll warn you if the screen gets too big, but it'll give it a go.

The Otrona Attache, an early portable CP/M machine, could handle a whole bunch of video attributes, including italics. Using WordStar on that machine was sweet. I suspect they built the video hardware around the desires of WordStar.

Reply Score: 4

RE: Wordperfect vs wordstar
by Rugxulo on Fri 17th Mar 2017 18:04 UTC in reply to "Wordperfect vs wordstar"
Rugxulo Member since:

(I know this isn't earth-shattering info, and I'll admit I'm old-fashioned with simplistic tastes.)

Historically interesting, but the DOS software is not exactly relevant anymore.

I wouldn't (normally) suggest writing DOS-only apps these days, but that applies to any other OS, too. Portable code is harder but lives longer. (Although as a FreeDOS aficionado, I still also want a DOS port, but that rarely happens.)

80x25 monospace characters

IIRC, you can get up to 130x60 with VESA. Fonts are a different matter, but that can be alleviated with various graphics modes.

no unicode

There are at least three popular programs that have (partial) direct Unicode support. (I have to disclaim that by saying "partial" since I know someone will still complain that it doesn't do xyz. Hey, you can't have everything.)

no copy/paste between apps

There's a third-party TSR for that, but also you could (obviously) instead just use a supported DOS-compatible OS that allows that as well. In fact, I think the TSR just mimics the Win 3.x API.

Funny thing about reading this is that it reminded me about the age old unix debate between vim and emacs. Everyone should just use what they like!

Vim is extremely popular, but there are still dozens of other editors. It's a bit mind-boggling trying to understand all the various different features. I don't think there is truly one-size-fits-all. It seems a common itch to scratch for programmers.

Reply Score: 1

Fundamentals of an user interface
by BlueofRainbow on Fri 17th Mar 2017 04:26 UTC
Member since:

Interesting read.

Having myself used Wordperfect, Wordstar, and XYWrite, I appreciate the argumentation presented. The (keyboard driven) user interface of Wordstar appears to have been designed from the viewpoint of a touch typist with a finger automatism arising months/years of writing using a typewriter.

There were also some dumb mapping of the typewriter interface to the emerging keyboard-screen-storage. I spent the first five years of my graduate studies using exclusively a Philips program called TDT (Traitement de Texte).

The most annoying feature of this word processor was that it replicated the concept of a letter/legal sized page too closely. Any text "going beyond" the bottom of the page due to an insertion of additional text had to be "moved" onto the next page. This led to a cascading suite of similar moves until a page for which there was no excess text was encountered or a blank page had to be created. By the way, deletion of text led to a similar cascade of moves - backwards.

I wonder if any of the Wordstar design briefs still exists somewhere. It would be quite interesting to compare the design intent with the reverse engineering presented in the article.

Reply Score: 2

BlueofRainbow Member since:

Complementing my initial post as well as correcting my poor spelling of WordPerfect, WordStar, and XyWrite.

WordPerfect was the standard in my work place until the transition from DOS to Windows. I then had to get accustomed to Word. Whether I liked it or not, I had to use what was the standard at work.

There were plenty of bootleg copies of MultiMate and WordStar circulating around when I was an university student. When I purchased my first personal computer, I had the choice between MultiMate (English) and tdt (French). Being francophone, I picked the later as it was easier to write English and French texts in tdt than in MultiMate.

I really liked XyWrite though. The files were in plain text and the control codes could easily be extracted to export the content to another word processor when necessary. Also, the user could customize its keyboard and printer definition files.

Of all the DOS era word processor programs I used in those days, XyWrite was the closest to my work flow for creative and technical writing.

Reply Score: 2

In the Beginning... Was the Command Line
by haakin on Fri 17th Mar 2017 10:07 UTC
Member since:

If you like this article, most probably you'll enjoy Neal Stephenson's In the Beginning.. Was the Command Line (1999):

Neal Stephenson is a well known sf writer. (I think that Snowcrash is by far his best novel.)

In this assay, he defends the superiority of the command line over GUIs. The book is rather old and Neal Stephenson said in 2004 that he liked and used Mac OS X. Anyway, it is available online for free and is an interesting reading.

Reply Score: 2

Less is more
by Odisej on Fri 17th Mar 2017 10:22 UTC
Member since:

All good points. But I would dare to say that the popularity of Wordstar among writers does not only come from familiar keyboard shortcuts but also from the fact that writing in such environments as DOS or terminal in Linux makes you more productive. When writing you have to sit down, literally mentally teleport into another world of creativity and stay there. And for many writers Wordstar is such a teleportation device.

Being a professional journalist I find it that the combination of Terminal, tmux, emacs, Links with an old VGA or DOS font (in green or yellow letters and black background naturally) and of course a big cup of coffee makes me several times more productive than using full DE, Office and whatever browser. There is just too much clutter. And yes, typewriter sounds help as well. Funny, right?

Wordstar would be a wonderful alternative but due to codepage issues it is almost useless for any non-Western European language.

I wish more developers would have a professional writer in mind when creating/updating a text editor. Soft wordwrap is usually quite an issue.

Reply Score: 3

RE: Less is more
by ssokolow on Fri 17th Mar 2017 11:45 UTC in reply to "Less is more"
ssokolow Member since:

Take a look at FocusWriter.

Not only is it a distraction-free writing tool that doesn't suffer from WriteRoom's "bad design disguised as a virtue" flaws, it's GPLv3 software, cross-platform, and the Windows version is available in portable form. (The "Tip with download" selector can be set to $0)

(And, yes, it does support typewriter sounds, though I've always found that sort of thing irritating... ironic given that I migrated from a membrane keyboard to Cherry MX Blue switches to a Unicomp buckling-spring keyboard. IBM-design buckling-spring switches are just about the noisiest thing you can get.)

In case anyone's curious, this blog post covers how FocusWriter gets right what WriteRoom got wrong:

The gist is that FocusWriter is packed full of well-designed features... they just auto-hide until you actually need them.

Edited 2017-03-17 11:46 UTC

Reply Score: 3

RE[2]: Less is more
by darknexus on Fri 17th Mar 2017 18:24 UTC in reply to "RE: Less is more"
darknexus Member since:

The gist is that FocusWriter is packed full of well-designed features... they just auto-hide until you actually need them.

Isn't that part of Microsoft's logic behind the ribbon? I hate that thing, especially the version in Windows Explorer now. There's no logic behind some of the ways options will or won't appear when I really need them. Computers should not try to guess what I want to do.

Reply Score: 2

RE[3]: Less is more
by ssokolow on Sat 18th Mar 2017 02:05 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Less is more"
ssokolow Member since:

The Ribbon makes it more difficult to reliably learn and internalize the paths to a given feature if Microsoft doesn't correctly guess how your mind works.

It's basically similar to the flaw that was present in the "personalized menus" nonsense they tried and backed out of around the Windows 2000/ME era.

FocusWriter is a traditional WIMP application with menus (including a complete set of keyboard shortcut hints) and toolbars that don't change their structure in response to user action traditional menus... they just auto-hide until you mouse over them.

Think of it as Wordpad with the following additions:

1. As with Firefox's fullscreen mode or your OS's taskbar's auto-hide option, all GUI elements except the main document view are along the edge of the screen and auto-hide until the mouse cursor touches them.

(Which means that there's only one mechanic and four hot regions to discover and the UI never changes structure)

It even uses a two-phase "hover for button, click to expand" design for the sidebar so it won't frustrate if your mouse moves too far into the left margin while trying to select some text or move the cursor.

2a. The document view (the only part which doesn't auto-hide) provides a user-friendly GUI for selecting, importing/exporting, and building themes. (And, while not defined in the themes, it does support typewriter sounds)

2b. It's written in Qt, so the auto-hiding parts are themable, even on OSes which don't otherwise allow theming GUI widgets.

3. It's fullscreen by default but that can be toggled

4. It supports ODT in addition to RTF and TXT for documents.

5. It's got support for setting and tracking daily goals (in words or time), streak tracking (with a configurable threshold for success), and support for timers so you can put "I only have X amount of time before I have to leave" out of mind.

6. It's got a tab-based multi-document interface and support for session saving with multiple saved sessions. (The tabs are in the footer along with the "word count", "progress toward daily goal" counters and the clock.)

7. It's got a document outline sidebar with a filter field, configurable support for textual scene boundary markers, HTML-like support for 6 levels of explicit heading markup, and a "Select Scene" command in the Edit menu with keyboard shortcut.

8. It's got a built-in Unicode character picker which allows you to assign custom keyboard shortcuts to characters.

9. If it helps you focus, it has the option to fade out all but the line, three-line block, or paragraph containing the cursor and to run FocusWriter's UI in a language other than the system default... which can itself be distinct from the language the spell-checker considers the document to be in.

10. It supports toggling between Left-to-Right and Right-to-Left text within the same document.

11. It has an option to normalize smart quotes to your chosen setting within either the whole document or the selected text.

12. Shortcuts like "click the circle next to the clock to configure timers" and "click the daily goal readout to display the streak-tracking calendar" are well thought out.

13. The preferences window allows you to...

A. selectively disable auto-hide
B. reconfigure any keyboard shortcut
C. customize the toolbars
D. customize what counts as a "word" or "page" for counting purposes and whether the footer should count any combination of words, pages, paragraphs, and/or characters
E. Customize spell-checking (add/remove dictionaries, edit the user dictionary, and toggle whether UPPERCASE words or words containing numbers should be ignored by spellcheck).
F. Configure the daily goal system
G. Choose whether to write a BOM in UTF-8 TXT output
H. Choose whether to auto-save and whether to remember the cursor position
I. Choose whether to auto-scroll so the cursor always remains in the center row of the screen
J. Enable/disable smart quotes and choose how to style them
K. A few things which should probably be part of the themes, to be honest. (Use block rather than underline for cursor, smooth fonts, typewriter sounds)

Seriously, OSes and office packages could learn from FocusWriter. (eg. Allowing users to customize keyboard shortcuts in the unicode character picker)

Judging it as a word processor for writers, rather than merely a "distraction-free writing tool", the only things that come to mind that it could improve on are:

1. Allow the user to customize the sounds when "Typewriter sounds" is selected. (ie. support "sound themes")
2. Allow the daily goal to be defined in pages, since the statistics system is as fancy with page-counting as it is with word-counting.
3. Support inserting proper horizontal rulings as scene dividers, rather than just a user-configurable string like ##
4. Support loading/saving a subset of HTML
5. Support integrating the LanguageTool grammar checker to complement the as-you-type spell checking
6. Support inserting illustrations
7. A Print Preview dialog wouldn't be unwelcome
8. It could be useful to allow the user to specify one font for on-screen editing and a different font for use with File > Print.

...and I got so carried away with this that I think I'm going to make it into a blog post.

Edited 2017-03-18 02:07 UTC

Reply Score: 3

RE[2]: Less is more
by BlueofRainbow on Fri 17th Mar 2017 20:35 UTC in reply to "RE: Less is more"
BlueofRainbow Member since:

I am noticing the "Edited 2017-03-17 11:46 UTC".

I am curious about how one can edit his/her own post.

Reply Score: 2

RE[3]: Less is more
by ssokolow on Sat 18th Mar 2017 02:08 UTC in reply to "RE[2]: Less is more"
ssokolow Member since:

Before anyone replies, there will be an "Edit" link next to "Reply" for posts you wrote.

Reply Score: 2

RE[4]: Less is more
by BlueofRainbow on Sat 18th Mar 2017 12:36 UTC in reply to "RE[3]: Less is more"
BlueofRainbow Member since:

Is this feature dependent on which browser one uses?

I see only "Reply", Permalink", and "Score" with mine.

Reply Score: 2

BlueofRainbow Member since:

One can edit only the posts published during the current session. The feature is not available in subsequent sessions.

This makes senses. After all, the easiest way to ensure that only the writer of a post can edit it after initial publication is to allow this capability only during the current session.

This forces one to write comments which are accurate as much as possible. Also, this forces a language not leading to remorse a few hours after it was published.

Reply Score: 2

RE: Less is more
by BlueofRainbow on Fri 17th Mar 2017 20:40 UTC in reply to "Less is more"
BlueofRainbow Member since:

I believe that there is some similarity between writing and playing music in that automatism of finger motions allows to convey emotions/thoughts with greater focus than the multiple of gestures involved with current user interfaces.

Reply Score: 2

Anyone still use JOE?
by IndigoJo on Fri 17th Mar 2017 19:56 UTC
Member since:

WordStar was my main WP back when I used a DOS-based PC. Lots of people had pirated copies of it back then, but it was really easy to use although when we moved over from the Ability WP, some people didn't like the fact you couldn't just use the cursor keys to move beyond the *end* of the document (i.e. to add more text further down) -- Ability presented you with a sort of neverending document and if you wanted to start a new page, you just hit Pg Down.

Years later, when I started using Linux, I used the JOE editor to edit basic text files and it had a WordStar-like mode which borrowed some of the keystrokes from the old editor (which had a "Nondocument" mode for editing plain text files). I found it much simpler than Vi or Emacs for small files.

Reply Score: 2

RE: Anyone still use JOE?
by Nth_Man on Sun 19th Mar 2017 12:39 UTC in reply to "Anyone still use JOE?"
Nth_Man Member since:

> Anyone still use JOE?
Yes :-)

One of the things that I liked at the beginning: If someone presses Ctrl+KH then he sees help constantly while he works, so he can see shortcuts, etc.

Reply Score: 2

Member since:

I think the larger (more general) issue here is software that conforms to the user's workflow, instead of forcing the user to contort their workflow around the software.

The keyboard commands are a boon to touch typists (which is why I still prefer a TrackPoint to a touchpad). Bookmarks and the block management commands help with non-linear creative processes. In most apps, the single "copy buffer" is a problem that has plagued text editors for decades.

Regardless of the specifics of any particular app, the idea of removing obstacles to the user's natural work style is a valuable goal.

Reply Score: 2