|DeScribe 5.0 And Voyager CD
|- by John Spencer Yantiss
DeScribe 4.0 was a surprisingly powerful 32 bit word processor. Until I purchased it, I had used, variously, Multimate Advantage II, WordPerfect 5.1, and Word for Windows, so I was familiar with both DOS and Windows-based word processors, but I didn't expect the richness of functionality I found in DeScribe. In spite of belittling and derisive remarks I had read in some publications, I called DeScribe and requested information about their product, and what I read convinced me to try it. I was not sorry.
When DeScribe 5.0 (gif 17k) was first released, I was not in a financial position to upgrade, but a fellow OS/2er in the area was and did, and I spent some time at her apartment playing, discovering and wishing I was able to get it myself. With the coming of spring, DeScribe, Inc. released the Voyager CD. I saw a SMALL advertisement in OS/2 Magazine, and immediately called DeScribe to get details. The Voyager CD is quite a package. It comes with four different flavours--one for OS/2 (naturally), and one each for Windows 3.1, Windows 95, and Windows NT--and retails for US$ 49.
There is no free live technical assistance for Voyager, and for the price, that's not surprising. But you do get a world of documentation: A 586 page manual in hard copy published by Que, and seemingly endless on-line Help. The Que manual is a vast improvement over the thing that came with 4.0, and thank Heavens for that; personally, I do not have a photographic memory, and can not remember several lines of instructions from on-line Help once I've closed it. With the Que manual and on-line Help, only the most tyronic of users should need to call the technical support line or fax a question or problem report, though if necessary, the response is usually prompt and effective (a toll call however--never a plus).
One thing you don't need documentation for--unless it's your first time touching a computer and you're afraid of getting zapped--is installation or, for that matter, deinstallation, which is also possible. Both install and uninstall are easy to access from a command prompt or WPS folder. The manual states that DeScribe can run on the minimum RAM required by OS/2, but that for best performance 2 to 4MB above that is suggested. Of course, how you calculate that depends on your version of OS/2. If you install only the program files, all you'll need is 7MB of hard disk space. That bounces to 22MB if you want a full-feature install, although the manual misleadingly reports different figures. I've loaded both from diskettes and CD. Of course the CD is snappier, taking about 150 seconds on my system--a DX4-100 with 20MB RAM--but the diskettes (5) won't have you snoring either, accounting for something between 7 and 8 minutes. Blessedly (I had to use it once, when having multiple hardware and hardware-caused software problems) the "Delete DeScribe" operation does exactly what it is supposed to do, no less no more. Provision is also made for a "Phantom Install" which leaves the bulk of the word processor on the CD, but this, of course, hinders overall performance.
When you double click on the big "D" icon it takes maybe a full second for the window to open, and another 3 to 4 seconds for a base document screen to fully open, and you're on your way to creating anything from a short note or fax to your mother; to a complex brochure with any number of text and graphic frames; to a scholarly book with table of contents, footnotes or endnotes, glossary, index, and whatever else you feel like including.
If configuring and customization constitute the butter on your bread, you won't suffer from dry toast with DeScribe. First of all you can view documents in draft, outline, or WYSIWYG, and Zoom to any conceivably usable magnification. The real fun begins, however, when you decide to make the tools and commands work for you, instead of you working for them. If you don't like the arrangement of the menus, the Menu Manager allows you to Create, Change, Delete, or Move menu options--and more.
My favorite customizable feature is the toolbar. Talk about a toolbar! There are six preset toolbars: Default, Drawing, Editing, Layout, Macros, and Tables. If one of these does not fill your needs you can customize your own (gif 10.6k) one to five line toolbar from a stock set of icons with as many or few as you want. There is virtually nothing you cannot do via the tool bar, and each tool is "Bubble Help" active--click the right mouse button and the function of the tool is displayed in a text "bubble". Also you can create your own tool graphics by importing a graphic with the .BMP (bitmap) extension to the \DESCRIBE\TOOLS\ICONS directory. Once again, there are explanations of these features in both the hardcopy and on-line documentation.
Other features that users have come to expect are present too, in many cases with far more flexibility than similar features in other word processors, such as multiple, movable, sizable frames. Most full-featured word processors utilize frames, whatever they may call them, but in DeScribe you can create documents with as many frames as you want, for text or graphics of any kind, anywhere on the page you want them, and they stretch automatically to fit whatever you may decide to add later. Also, if you want to make sure a frame stays with a portion of text in another frame that you are going to have to periodically modify, you can "attach" the one to the other.
Though new to DeScribe in version 5.0, the footnoting component looks and acts like a third or fourth generation feature. Footnotes are added much as they would be if they were created by hand or on a typewriter, albeit with a little silicon help. DeScribe automatically creates a superscript reference number at the cursor location, while at the same time creating a footnote frame at the bottom of the page or text frame.
Another new component is the Revision Marking option. This feature allows you, or those in your workgroup--DeScribe 5.0, but not Voyager, is network ready--to edit a document with the revisions being marked, so that you know where changes are, in case you decide to retain some but not others.
One nifty feature with a subset of its own featurettes is the Glossaries option. Among other things, it includes a configurable Auto lookup... for words you often misspell, and "Smart Quotes" that automatically change ASCII straight quotation marks to the appropriately curved marks. Auto lookup can also be set to change abbreviations to their full form on the fly for super easy macros.
Two other features, though astoundingly simple and basic, are also worth mentioning: The Copy to... and the Shred functions found in the File menu. These are operations that should be baseline components of every application, from word processors to industrial strength databases. If you want to copy a file to a floppy or another directory, Copy to... does so without renaming or modifying the original on your hard drive. Shred allows you to delete a file, without having to go to a command-line, and optionally un-shred it if you have mistakenly deleted it.
Tables, macros, spell checker, dictionary, thesaurus, readability checking, mail merge, style templates, tables of contents, indexes, and more are all available, easy to use and powerful. Instructions in the Que manual are almost grade-school easy to follow, and for immediate assistance on a process, the on-line Help is thorough and plainspoken.
At this point, if you think I've received a marketing fee from DeScribe, don't worry, I haven't. There are three peeves in my docket. Two are related to my professional writing, but I shall dispense with the third first.
DeScribe has an e-mail component. Great. But it only works if you have cc:Mail (I'm speaking here only of the OS/2 flavour, the Windows portings have a somewhat wider choice range). Booooooo! A lot of us don't have cc:Mail, for various reasons, some of which are good. I would like to see DeScribe port the e-mail component to Hilgraeve's HyperACCESS, or to Post Road Mailer--or SOMETHING else.
The other two peeves are these: 1) DeScribe's version of WYSIWYG could stand some refinement to make the spacing and positioning of characters more uniform and consistent, and 2) DeScribe's process for creating a soft key to insert special characters is cumbersome. Other well-known word processors offer much simpler processes.
In closing, I address a complaint that I have heard from more than one source--that Describe is not intuitive, or, put another way, that the menus don't reflect what appear to have become standard arrangement in other popular word processors. There is a simple way to correct this conflict of perception; make extensive use of the Menu Manager. This will probably result in DeScribe being even more intuitive than its competitors. Once you've begun customizing, you will find that the possibilities are virtually endless, making DeScribe almost as much fun to play with as it is to use.
This one, for me, is a two-thumbs-up. Happy DeScribing!
SRP: Voyager - $49, DeScribe 5.0 CX - $159
ISBN (Voyager): 1-56529-885-3
John Spencer Yantiss is a student and staff person at Appalachian State University, studying History and minoring in English. He does some graphics and consulting work on the side to make ends come as close as possible to meeting.
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