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WordStar: a writer's word processor
By Thom Holwerda on 2017-03-16 22:42:38

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.

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Read Comments: 1-10 -- 11-18
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RE: Less is more
By BlueofRainbow on 2017-03-17 20:40:28
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.
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Software That Conforms To The User's Workflow
By Pro-Competition on 2017-03-17 21:45:14
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.
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RE[3]: Less is more
By ssokolow on 2017-03-18 02:05:21
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
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RE[3]: Less is more
By ssokolow on 2017-03-18 02:08:59
Before anyone replies, there will be an "Edit" link next to "Reply" for posts you wrote.
Permalink - Score: 2
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RE[4]: Less is more
By BlueofRainbow on 2017-03-18 12:36:04
Is this feature dependent on which browser one uses?

I see only "Reply", Permalink", and "Score" with mine.
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RE: Anyone still use JOE?
By Nth_Man on 2017-03-19 12:39:34
> 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.
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RE[5]: Less is more (Editing his/her own post)
By BlueofRainbow on 2017-03-19 13:41:08
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.
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RE: Fundamentals of an user interface
By BlueofRainbow on 2017-03-19 14:49:32
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.
Permalink - Score: 2

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