The decision about which word-processing program to select for writing students can have far-reaching consequences. Once teachers have become accustomed to a program, they are usually unwilling to begin learning a new one; for many experienced users, the best word-processing package is the program that they learned first. It is therefore important that the software to be used in a writing program be flexible and advanced enough to remain up to date as long as possible. Good word-processing packages must be easy enough to learn, and at the same time, provide enough features so that the computers function as more than elaborate typewriters. It may seem that first-year college writing students and more sophisticated computer users, such as writing teachers, have such different needs that it would be impossible for any one program to satisfy all their needs. But FINALWORD II, an extraordinarily flexible word-processing program from Mark of the Unicorn, comes close to providing state-of-the-art word
processing. This program will appeal to sophisticated users, such as faculty members doing their own scholarly work, at the same time that it makes word processing easy for inexperienced users, such as first-year college writers. The program runs on any computer that uses a DOS operating system (PC-DOS, MS-DOS, etc.) and will drive virtually any printer that can be connected to those computers, including some that haven't been invented yet. The only drawback is that the installation procedure can be formidable, especially if you are installing it for users with varying needs and experience.
FINALWORD II is a substantially new version of THE FINALWORD, which Mark of the Unicorn originally produced for computers with CP/M operating systems. THE FINALWORD was a microcomputer version of MINCE, which in turn was a scaled-down version of EMACS, a word-processing program for main-frame computers. THE FINALWORD was converted to run with DOS and later went through one substantial revision before it was modified again into FINALWORD II. Although THE FINALWORD contains the basic features of FINALWORD II, the modifications make it much easier for inexperienced users to use.
Most significant was the addition of a powerful programming language that can be used to modify the program into virtually any type of word-processing package. However, this language is quite complex and requires some practice and knowledge of how programming languages work in general. Furthermore, Version 2.0 still has a fair number of bugs. Nevertheless, it is possible to re-assign any key to do virtually any command or set of commands. You can even con-
struct your own pop-up menus and error messages to aid more inexperienced users.
For example, we are using FINALWORD II on DEC Rainbows, which have 29 function keys and a separate number pad. With FINALWORD II, we can isolate the 43 most useful functions and install the program to operate with 43 single-stroke commands; control-key combinations need never be used. For first-year college writers, this is a tempting possibility. But we can also construct pop-up menus to organize certain functions, such as cut-and-paste operations, under a single key. By using the up- or down-arrow keys, students can select a menu item from these pop-up displays and then press the RETURN key to execute the command. It is also possible to construct sub-menus under these menus, although this modification would mean that some commands would require at least three keystrokes. With the IBM PC, one would have the choice of 40 commands, using the 10 function keys in combination with the CONTROL, SHIFT, ALT keys. Of course, many more commands are possible with the number pad keys in combination with the CONTROL key and the character keys in combination with the CONTROL and ALT keys. The program comes with the keyboards fairly well installed, but Mark of the Unicorn assumes that you want to make use of all the program's functions. For inexperienced users, such as first-year writing students, or users with special needs, such as scholars who wish to produce documents in the MLA style, some modifications are necessary.
All modifications to the program are done by editing one of three text files that the program then converts to machine language. Mark of the Unicorn provides many versions of these text
files to aid you in installing various types of hardware as well as different keyboard arrangements. We have learned that it is not necessary to understand the programming language completely in order to customize your own keyboard.
Typically, you may want to assign a function that the program already has to another key. For example, say you wanted to give key 8 on the number pad the function of moving the cursor backward one sentence. From reading the file containing the default values, you can easily learn that the programming language string for carrying out this function is "r to istoken r past istoken." It isn't necessary to understand what this means in order to copy it from one text file and move it to the command for the appropriate key number in another text file.
In spite of the enormous flexibility of the programming language, the greatest strength of FINALWORD II is the ease with which you can write and revise. All word-processing programs have editing and formatting functions, which I will refer to here as the "editor" and the "formatter." In many programs, particularly those designed for business, the editor and the formatter operate simultaneously. This approach to word processing has many advantages, the most obvious one being that you see what you'll get, but the file produced by an on-screen editor must contain control characters that made the on-screen formatting possible. Often these characters are hidden. Perhaps because they didn't have to deal with the problems of on-screen formatting, Mark of the Unicorn had designed an editor that encourages writers to concentrate on the content of their texts, rather than their appearance. Formatting prob-
lems are postponed until just before the text is printed. In this way, the program more closely mirrors the kind of writing process that many good writers already follow.
Users of other programs are probably wondering what more one could want from the editor of a word processor. Here is a sampling of what FINALWORD II's editor does: The cursor can be moved by character, word, beginning or end of line, sentence, paragraph, or entire file. Text can be deleted in these same units as well; deleted text can be restored in the same location, or the cursor can be moved to a new location and the text can be moved there. More significantly, each of these functions can be accomplished with a single keystroke, and this can be any key you choose it to be. By "single keystroke," I don't mean the combination of a control key and a letter--that would be two keystrokes. The ease with which these commands can be executed depends on your keyboard, but because the various commands can be reassigned to different keys, you have the chance to experiment to find out the most efficient arrangement.
In addition, FINALWORD II will reformat paragraphs automatically as new text is added to the beginning or middle of them. For block operations, it is necessary only to mark one end of a block of text (it doesn't matter which one). You then move the cursor in the usual fashion, and the text that is to be deleted or moved is highlighted as you go. If you accidentally delete too much, the deletion command can be undone and the lost text restored.
FINALWORD II can also form up to six horizontal windows on the screen so that you can
examine up to six different files at once or up to six parts of the same file. You can easily move the cursor from window to window to edit any one that you wish. It is also possible to enlarge any window a line at a time at the expense of the others. Although it is seldom necessary to look at as many as six files at the same time, the window feature soon becomes indispensable for experienced writers who wish to hold their place in the middle of a file as they move to someplace else in the same file or to another file to perform a brief editing operation. This feature also makes it easy to work from any outline or from notes on a project in a separate file, a small portion of which remains displayed at the bottom of your screen as you work on the main file. All these functions as well can be performed with a single keystroke, depending on how many function keys one has. At most, they require two keystrokes.
Almost all editing operations are instantaneous, a capability that other word-processing programs achieve by performing all their functions in the RAM of the computer. Unfortunately, as many novice users discover, the hard way, the text simply floats in the RAM during this time; unless it is saved to the disk, it will be lost. All versions of FINALWORD have always been able to recover text that would be lost if users fail to save files. This is managed by a "swap file," so called because it automatically swaps information between the RAM and the disk at periodic intervals.
Consequently, FINALWORD II actually makes it difficult for the novice user to lose text. But both novice users and those accustomed to other word processors can be confused by how the
program uses its swap file. You can edit more than one file at a time by creating buffers in the swap file where the text is temporarily held while it is being edited; the program refers to these buffers as "open files." The program provides a convenient listing of "open files," but it is not obvious to the novice user how this listing differs from the directory of the disk. The swap file will become full long before the disk is full.
The program also can cause some problems in a lab situation in which successive users work on the same computer. When the program is loaded. it remembers the directory of the disk that contains the swap file. If a user leaves the computer running without exiting from the program and another user puts his or her disk in the same drive, the program will cause the directory of the first disk to be written on the second, effectively destroying the data on that second disk. If users always turn the computer off when they're finished using it, this problem does not occur. But we have discovered in our labs, as I am sure is the case in other institutions, that it is more efficient to leave the computers running all the time. Therefore, we have to take special precautions to assure that students exit from the program before quitting for the day.
Still another disadvantage of the program is that the formatter can be hard to use, simply because there are so many choices. One major irritant is that it is not possible to see page breaks on the screen while using the editor. It is possible to run the formatter without printing to check on the appearance of a document, but for long documents, even this can be bother-
some. Nevertheless, the formatter is unsurpassed for certain uses. It is possible, for example, to make the program automatically number sections, subsections, and even paragraphs using a multi-decimal system; if material is added or deleted, the whole document is automatically renumbered on the next printout. The program can also automatically incorporate information into a text as it prints out such as the date and time it was printed, the name of the file, or the number of words in the file.
The program comes with approximately 150 formatting commands already installed; any of these can be modified or new ones created for special purpose. In addition to more unusual commands, the program also has almost every formatting bell and whistle that has almost become standard on more elaborate programs: one can, for instance, create up to five columns of text on a page, create long footnotes that wrap around to the next page, change printer fonts in the middle of a document or even a line, and set the program up to change automatically the margins and spacing for special kinds of blocked-out quotations.
It may appear that these features would make FINALWORD II suitable only for experienced users. Yet, in using the program with first-year students in our introductory composition program, we find that even individuals with no computer experience find the program easy to learn and use. One reason for this is that the screen display is simple: all lines on the screen except for the bottom one are used to display text. The bottom line displays the file name, the current column number, the current line number and the total number of lines, as
well as the current time (taken from the operating system). Text on the screen is single-spaced, even when it will be double-spaced on the printout; this enables the students to see more of it in each screen-full. Although the program does not show page breaks, indentations and blank lines on the screen are reproduced on the printout as they appear on the screen. Furthermore, writing students seldom need to use formatting commands in order to produce straightforward, double-spaced text. They simply need to be able to underline and center text and set up long quotations, and a short bibliography. FINALWORD II can do all of this with four formatting commands.
The program also has a built-in spelling checker with a lexicon of 70,000 words. Although license agreements prevent Mark of the Unicorn from saying so, the spelling checker is a special version of MICROSPELL from TriGram Systems, an extremely fast spelling checker that loads its entire lexicon into memory and checks a file in the order that it encounters the word, not alphabetical order, so you proceed through your text in the order that you wrote it. Its best feature is that it makes three extremely accurate guesses as to the correct spelling of a suspect word; in one or two keystrokes, you can replace the suspect word with one of the three guesses, lessening the possibility of error. If none of the guesses is correct, you can type in the correction. When the spelling checker is finished, you are returned instantly to the editing mode. The spelling checker requires at least 256K of memory; with this minimum amount, the lexicon is loaded in four parts and the program makes four passes through your document.
With 512K of memory, the entire lexicon can load, and the spelling correction is faster. (With this much memory, it is supposedly possible to set the program to "auto-correct," meaning that misspelled words are identified instantly as they are typed in; in Version 2.0 this causes the keyboard to lock up.)
Like WORDSTAR, FINALWORD II makes a distinction between hard and soft carriage returns. Unlike many programs that format on-screen, though, this is the only feature that prevents a FINALWORD II file from being a standard ASCII file. It is a simple matter to adjust the program so that the files really are ASCII. This is important for a writing program, for it assures that FINALWORD will be compatible with any third-party software, such as a style-analysis program. FINALWORD II also allows users to give system commands from the editing mode. It is even possible to design a macro that could be assigned to a function key that would carry out a series of system commands and return users to the editor. In this way, the program is well suited for enabling students to use other types of software to analyze their texts without requiring them to learn the operating system commands. Word-processing programs that allow system commands from inside the program still require students to know some commands. FINALWORD II's macros would allow these choices to be made from a menu inside the editor that contains choices that are less cryptic than the DOS commands. The future possibilities of the program for writing instruction are enormous.
Mark of the Unicorn provides educational discounts for the program, which normally
retails for $395. If more than three copies are purchased on a university purchase order, the cost is $145 a copy. With each registered copy of the program, you get technical support from Mark of the Unicorn, a 500-page manual, and two distribution disks, one for the program, the other for the spelling checker and utilities. Mark of the Unicorn is not willing to grant site licenses for the program. Although they do offer greater discounts for orders in quantity, their idea of a quantity order is 500 copies or more. The program is not copy protected. The first half of the manual explains in reasonably clear language how to perform most conceivable tasks. However, one drawback of the manual is that the large number of commands may prove intimidating to all but the most seasoned user. The second half of the manual describes much less clearly how to install the program and use the programming language. Only an expert user can take full advantage of this section. In general the whole manual is too detailed for novice users. A further drawback is that it is designed to be used with all types of computers, so it suggests that all commands be given using a series of menus that work with either the CONTROL key or the ESCAPE key. Properly installed for a particular kind of hardware, the program functions assigned to these unwieldy control key sequences can be re-assigned to a function key and reduced to one or two keystrokes. For a large number of users, then, it would be most efficient to write a personal manual and set of instructions. If users take advantage of the programming language, it will be necessary to document what they have done so that others can use the program.
The task of installing FINALWORD II is formidable and would not be worthwhile to the individual user who wanted to begin word processing as soon as the program arrived. But in a writing program or any institutional use where documents are fairly lengthy (such as tech writing)--in situations where a "super-user" is able to design and install the program to meet the needs of specific hardware and varied types of writing--the program is a good choice.
In our university, students in the writing program use DEC Rainbows for a semester but are then encouraged to use IBM PCs in several of the multi-purpose labs on campus. Because finalword ii operates so well on such a wide range of microcomputers, it is particularly well suited for our purposes. The program is hard--perhaps impossible--to learn completely. But it provides virtually every function an experienced user would want. At the same time. its built-in programming language makes it relatively easy for writing teachers to design a word processor for our students that does exactly what we would like it to do.