OS/2 eZine

16 May 2000

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Papyrus 8 for OS/2

Sun has decided: OS/2 users will NOT be getting Staroffice 5.2. According to a Sun announcement at this year's CeBIT, this is due to low demand for the existing version. While version 5.1 is still relatively up-to-date (at this point in time), we'll have to look for alternative native suites in the future.

The choices, at present, are slim. There is Lotus SmartSuite for Warp 4, now at version 1.5, and there are the office applications from Sundial, which haven't been updated in quite some time: Clearlook, Mesa, and DBExpert. And now there's one more: PapyrusOFFICE.

For some years now, Germany has had the word processor Papyrus, published by R.O.M. logicware. Last autumn they released the german version of PapyrusOFFICE, a very small office suite consisting of a word processor and a small relational database. Now, the developers have released an English version of Papyrus Office (which is currently at version 8.17 -- ed.)

But why should you spend another $ 149 for a program that comes on three discs (including spell-checker) and the main exe-file, which contains the word processor and the database, has just 1.4 MB? In my opinion the only answers to this question are power, speed and reliability. As a user of Papyrus since 1996 I will try to tell you how this little program has reached these high demands.

You know the old saying: 95% of the people who use a program only use 10% of the features. Well, I'm one of the people who actually use 95% of the features. I'm doing a lot of Desktop Publishing (DTP) work. I'm publishing a quarterly printed magazine, and from time to time, a real printed book. For the magazine, which is printed partly in color, I have to use Ventura Publisher 5.0 for WinOS/2, but for the books, which are printed in grayscale, I prefer Papyrus. For all the daily purposes like letters, mailing labels and short papers I take also Papyrus. For very complicated scientific articles with a lot of endnotes and references, the very fine VTex/Free implementation for OS/2, which produces a great looking PDF-Output, seems to be the best solution.


A review of Papyrus must also be a review of a little software company called R.O.M. logicware in Berlin, Germany (http://www.rom-logicware.com). Their philosophy can be summed up in the phrase "less is more." At the same time, they believe in keeping the user at the center of software development. In all my years using papyrus, R.O.M. logicware was almost always accessible when I reported problems or requested a new function. In our present times, when support for a program is a moving target and new versions are always bringing more bugs than new functions, such an attitude is very unusual.

Papyrus was first developed for the Atari ST system, and the fact that R.O.M. logicware now sells the latest version even for this outdated system can tell you something about their attachment to non-Microsoft operating systems. The first version for OS/2 was version 4 in 1996 and they released a Windows version in 1997. Since version 8 it became an "office suite" because it has an integrated database and, according to R.O.M., an integrated spreadsheet (but this is exaggerated.)

It has a very good table function within the word processor, better than all that I've seen in other word processors including WordPerfect, but it is not a standalone spreadsheet. The chief of R.O.M Logicware, Ulli Ramps, says that he doesn't see the necessity of a standalone application, because a page in Papyrus can have a maximum size of 9 to 9 meters and this should be enough for a table.


I have already said that Papyrus is small. It has no macro language and it has no configurable icon bars (the windows version takes a tiny step in this direction). But it was the first word processor that had the red underlined spelling correction feature that is so prevalent in word processors today!

Papyrus starts as fast as the onboard EPM-Editor, and it is the fastest of all known word processors under OS/2 when it comes to handling graphics. I have here an 11 MB TIF-Bitmap-File (2106 x 1361 Deep Color), and importing this file into the Starwriter module of Staroffice 5.1a and waiting until it is completely on the screen takes 17 seconds. Papyrus takes 6 seconds to perform the same task. I compared this result with PMView 2000, and this naturally fast program needs 4.5 seconds. You could almost use Papyrus as a bitmap viewer, if you want. :) You can import the following bitmap-files, even with drag and drop from the WPS: Tif, bmp, gif, pcx, img, iff, jpg and png, (which is used as the internal bitmap format of papyrus). Bitmaps are either saved as png within the papyrus-file or externally connected as reference.

Vector formats, however, are the weak side of Papyrus. It can handle OS/2 Metafiles only, but it handles them very well. I was able to import an OS/2 MET File from Xact (http://www.scilab.de/), another very fine OS/2 vector-graphics and charting program, which English-speaking OS/2 users probably don't know about (although it recently released an English version). Many times I've begged R.O.M. Logicware to support encapsulated postscript (EPS) files, but to my knowledge, no decision has been made on this yet.

Importing text-files does not offer so many choices. You can import ASCII, RTF, HTML and Word 6 and 97 files (but only without the quick saving options). In this case Staroffice has far more options, even the Word filter from Staroffice is better. Export is possible in the same formats. On the other hand, you will never have codepage problems in Papyrus! It seamlessly handles Unix, Mac, Windows and foreign language codepages. This is a problem mainly for non-English speaking people.

When it comes to creating HTML, Papyrus follows a different concept than other word processors. In Papyrus you can define character styles, paragraph styles and page layout styles. To produce HTML-output, you have to associate a Papyrus style to freely definable HTML-tag or style. That means you won't get a WYSIWYG web layout, but you will have a highly degree of control over your HTML output. This concept can be used in principle for all other markup languages, like SGML, Tex, XML and even programs which have their own tag languages, like QuarkExpress or Ventura Publisher. This concept is interesting, but development in this direction has stagnated a bit at this time.

Papyrus has all the common word processing functions that you need for business and scientific writing. It even has an equation editor, which produces the equation as MET-File. Personally, the only feature I miss is endnotes. It also has direct Voice Type support, the killer feature of version 5... but nowadays, it seems, nobody talks about Voice Type anymore.

Papyrus has one real big disadvantage: it cannot administrate master documents and subdocuments as other Desktop Publishing programs and word processors can. You have to order the page numbers, footnote numbers and outline levels manually, if you work with different files in a large project. On the plus side, you can handle extremely large files in Papyrus, and you can automatically create a table of contents and an index. Papyrus has an autonumbering function too, for enumerations or for caption numbering. This works via freely definable paragraph styles.

Another feature of Papyrus is uncommon, but if you are used to it, you never want to live without it: all Papyrus-Files are opened in separate, full featured Papyrus-windows with the menus, icon bars and status bar.

The DTP features are well-implemented. It uses the concept of helplines, also found in QuarkExpress. These helplines are magnetic, can be set vertically and horizontally, and for pasteboard layouts this can be a great help. Also, the zoom controls in Papyrus are fast and flexible. You can zoom with the mouse over a certain region, or by number. The biggest factor depends on your graphics card, my Matrox Millenium II reaches 4688%. You can even see -- and edit -- 32 pages on the screen. Fine-tuning adjustments are easy: you can use pair kerning, and with the microspacing function you can move frames, words and even single characters on the level of printer pixels. Imagine using this feature with the 2540 dpi of a linotronic typesetter.

The printing function is sophisticated like in no other program under OS/2. You can print posters on a normal desktop printer via cut markers and booklets in the right page order. Predefined page layout for labels lets you do very fast and well-formatted mass-mailing jobs.

A really unique feature of Papyrus are the block marking functions. You can not only blockmark a word or a paragraph, you can mark disjointed block in several different mode. That means, that you can search a definite word with the search and replace function in your whole text and than you can mark all the appearance of this word in your text and change this word to "italic." Or you search all words and sentences which are formatted in italic, mark them and change them to "bold." If you want, you can limited these disjointed block marks to a certain part of your text. Some people in Usenet claim that the reveal codes from WordPerfect are the best thing for changing and rearranging text formatting, especially from imported text. In my opinion the Papyrus block marking functions are an adequate substitute for this.

Papyrus BASE

Papyrus is no longer simply a word processor: it also comes with a relational database management system. Its greatest advantage is its very close connection to Papyrus WORD, which acts as the report generator of BASE and lets you use all of its sophisticated DTP-options for your database needs. The second advantage is its speed, the third is its full text search capabilities. Its a very fine and relatively mighty database, but when you work with it, you will discover very quickly that PapyrusBASE is a young program which needs time to mature. That doesn't mean that it isn't stable -- on the contrary, so far I haven't produced a single crash with it.

The data itself is saved in an XML-Format, therefore you can view and edit your data even with a simple ASCII-Editor. PapyrusBASE supports a small number of column types: these are "standard (text or number)", "text", "number (with 6 digits after the decimal point maximum)", "image", "date", "time", "time-point (date with time)", "duration of time (more then 24 hours)". The "text"-column type holds 64KB, which is too small in my opinion. The "image"-column type is saved externally, the database itself holds only a file-reference. And from version 8.11 on, there is a "extern-file" column type, which lets you connect a sound-file or a video-file to your database-table.

As in many other enduser database management system, in PapyrusBASE you have a table view and a form view. The form view is nothing other than a normal Papyrus text file and therefore you have all the possibilities to design a sophisticated layout for your forms. However, the form is limited to one page. If you have a database with a lot of text data, your fields will be filled quickly... and you don't have a the ability to scroll inside the text box.

In Papyrus BASE you can define complicated queries visually. It doesn't directly follow the SQL-language standard, but it was developed with SQL in mind. You can search and replace information over the whole database, and you can calculate within tables and between different tables in a database. A rather unique function is called the "HyperOFFICE Link" between a Papyrus text-file and a PayprusBASE table. With this function it is possible to set a link in your text which can jump to a certain row in the database table. This is a great feature... but it only makes sense if everyone in the world uses Papyrus. If this feature could be translated into a HTML or PDF-File it would be a lot more useful, but at this time time it is not possible to do this.

PapyrusBASE has some drawbacks. The major one is the missing connectivity: it has no ODBC or JDBC-drivers. This is a shame, because PapyrusBASE could be a great front end for the free MySQL for OS/2 with its web-capabilities and its Apache and PHP modules. It's ability to import other database formats is very limited, it has only the old Atari 1stBASE format, DBASE and ASCII-CSV import. ASCII-CSV import works very well, however... you can even preview the import if it will work correct, without importing the entire database.

The near and far future:

In future releases -- perhaps even this summer -- we shall see ODBC and even JDBC connectivity, which is a long awaited feature. When these are working well we will be able to use PapyrusBASE as a frontend for DB/2 (with ODBC an JDBC) and the free MySQL/2 (at this time only with JDBC). Starbase from Staroffice 5.1a has been able to do this for a year now, but it is very slooow and can't translate the "Longtext" Column type, what is very important for me.

This means that the database is evolving quickly -- on the other hand, the word processor is getting less attention from the programmers. Ulli Ramps said that they are expanding the HTML-functionality of the application... but in my opinion, the greatest lack of feature is the missing EPS-Format, because this is a global standard format, which can be used cross platform.

R.O.M. Logicware is planning to release Linux and Mac versions of Papyrus as well.

Final thoughts:

Papyrus seems to be software from the "good old days" in the late eighties. You get a printed handbook, written for computer novices, you have a very intensive online help system... but no wizards and assistants. The program is very stable, and I have never seen a corrupted text file in Papyrus. The feature set is limited, but still evolving. The support is fast and good. It is not up-to-date in connectivity, the web functionality could be better, but for OS/2 we have no alternative for such a stable and fast office program. For serious work it is worth every single dollar (or euro).

This article was written by Thomas Gunzelmann