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Writing

STEWART BRAND: Said to account for more than 60% of personal computer use, word processing programs are doing to writing what pocket calculators did to figuring. Cue the testimonials:

JUSTIN KAPLAN (biographer): It's sexy, exhilarating, and addictive, as different from a typewriter as flying is from dog paddling. (From Boston Review)

CHARLES SPEZZANO: A good word processing program can change your whole attitude toward writing, while pens and paper keep you stuck in your old compulsive habits.

ANONYMOUS: Though not the first priority when businesses buy a computer, word processing becomes the justification for the whole system. (From Boardroom Reports and Hillel Segal's Executive Computing Newsletter)

MARGE PIERCY (novelist and poet): If I had to give up writing on my computer, I would feel I had returned to scraping letters in cuneiform on clay tablets .... The writing itself is far more serious than on the typewriter There is no punishment for revising and revising again .... Writing on the screen has a fluidity that makes compromise with what you envision silly. (From Boston Review)

RICHARD WANDERMAN: Word processing is wonderful, period. It's hard to separate out the wonders of word processing in general from the wonders of a good program.

STEWART BRAND: That last one is our function here. General wonders first, specifics in a minute. There's a hidden greater advantage with writing on computers: you don't just write more fluidly, you comecf more fluidly With telecommunications (p. 138), text can flow into and out of your computer in torrents if you let it. The fact that you always have a copy of what you've written lurking on disk leads to all sorts of broadcast behavior, like sending mildly adapted copies of the same letter or article to many audiences instead of just one - either "personalized" informally by hand or in automated profusion with one of the "Merge" features.

Spellers are a blessing. The typos you can't see because you made them and the misspellings you can't see because you think they're right are fish in a barrel for the implacable software dictionaries. One of my favorites, WORD PROOF (p. 62), will offer synonyms when you're stuck for a better word - and even insert it for you. More subtle are the style checkers like PUNCTUATION + STYLE (p. 62) that will flag your awkwardnesses and cliches and suggest an improved usage. Outline programs, like THINKTANK (p. 92) and FRAMEWORK (p. 110), can accelerate the organization of your thoughts.

If there is a problem with writing programs, it is that we become too absorbed . . .

ALFRED LEE: I really do believe I go into something like a trance. When my wife intrudes to ask my opinion about buying a lamp, I just can't handle the weight of her other world unless I get up and turn my back on the screen.

ROBERT COWAN: I would not have been able to finish my 750-page book in 5.5 months without my word processing hardware, but the quality "seems" lower I just can't put my finger on it. I know with my word processing I'm working "smarter, not harder" But what is it i have lost? What is It I have gained? The answer is right at the tip of my fingers ... Did I almost state it earlier? I can't remember... The words have scrolled off the top of the screen and are being held deep within the crystal memory of a device I cannot understand.

STEWART BRAND: Writing is so extremely personal that people become identified with their word processing program and will brook no objectivity about it. Most people are still using the first writing program they learned. It's the native language of their fingers and all their files have sworn allegiance to its format.

STEVEN LEVY: I compare using a word processor to living with somebody. You go into it with all kinds of enthusiasms, and things are wonderful. Then, you see other word processors promising more. More features, friendlier style. The question is, is it worth tossing over a relationship in which you've invested months for a word-transpose toggle, an indexing4unction you'll use maybe twice, and a split-screen capability? A choice of a word processor is a major life-decision, and no one can afford (in terms of time, money, or emotional capital) to play the field.

STEWART BRAND: The bad news is, there's some 300 word processing programs out there; the good news is, with that many competing ferociously the best are pretty good. We've been winnowing for a year As usual, winnowing is done in part with biases. We're biased against programs that make writing and editing take place in different "modes," because it's too easy to lose track of what mode you're in, do the wrong thing, and then have to backtrack - that eliminated SELECT and moved BANK STREET WRITER (p. 184) to Learning. We're biased against programs that make formatting (preparing for printing) be a big, separate deal - that eliminated EDIX/WORDIX and hurt PERFECT WRITER (p. 55) and PC-WRITE (p. 59). We're biased toward "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" programs, where bold is bold on the screen, justified is justified, there's not a lot of command or format clutter, and page breaks are shown dramatically

We're biased against slowness in all its forms - that eliminated VALDOCS and THE LEADING EDGE (if you can destructively backspace or overtype faster than the machine, you're bound to lose stuff and have to replace it) as well as SAMNA III (stops and goes to disk for even petty errands) and IBM's PC WRITER and DISPLAYWRITE2 (laborious menu sequences for everything). All of the programs recommended here are fast.

Our major criterion is that a program ivearwell. Tliat the constant stuff goes easy - starting up, going in and out of files, printing, moving bloclks of text, deleting words and sentences, knowing where you are in the document, being reminded of a rarely used command. Popular programs like MULTIMATE and EASYWRITER It lost out by being just a bit less smooth or reliable or potent than the competition we're recommending. 

Hardware. All the best word processors are on the IBM famify Macintosh may challenge that by Spring '85. The Kaypro and Morrow are great bargains, but the top CP/M-80 programs are pretty clumsy though powerful. Word processors on the Apple lie & lie are newer and more adroit. On any of these a hard disk is heaven for a writer If you're on the move, get a portable such as the TRS-80 MODEL 100 or Hewlett-Packard 110 or possibly Apple IIc.