OS/2 Word Processing: An Overview- by Jon Cochran

Until very recently, if you needed to do any serious word-processing under OS/2, your options were very limited. If you were a die-hard OS/2 user, you could have used AmiPro/2. The other option was an almost mandatory Win-OS2 session for Microsoft Word 6.0, Lotus WordPro, or Corel WordPerfect.

The times are changing, and the OS/2 word-processing arena is becoming a bit more populous. Which is good news, because newer versions of Microsoft Word, and Corel WordPerfect (for Windows) won't run under Win-OS2.

The Contenders

The best news for OS/2 users is that two heavyweight word processors are now officially available for OS/2. The first of these, Lotus WordPro, is from an old OS/2 supporter. WordPro was hailed as revolutionary when it first appeared on the Windows platform over a year ago, and the OS/2 version is nearly as good.

The second heavyweight contender is a newcomer (sort of) from Germany, StarWriter, officially a part of the StarOffice suite, but reviewed here as a separate entity. (However, it's StarWriter's superb integration with the rest of the components in the suite that make it such an attractive choice.) Users familiar with Microsoft Word will feel right at home with StarWriter, as its interface is a near copy of Word's.

Features

Lotus WordPro

Lotus' attempts to achieve parity between the OS/2 and Windows versions of WordPro seem to have almost worked. Both programs have nearly identical feature sets, with the OS/2 version supporting REXX scripting (note: I don't consider long file name support an OS/2 exclusive feature anymore, as Windows 95 supports LFNs). For this article, I examined a late WordPro beta since the final GA version was not yet available. At the time this article was published however, it was finally shipping in the just released SmartSuite for OS/2.

Everything you would expect from WordPro is included, with the exception of a charting module. Lotus says that the charting module is dependent on OLE which is not supported under OS/2, therefore it couldn't be ported.

The number of filters supported for translations from other formats is exceptional. Just about every format is supported (except, notably, DeScribe). Graphics support is also very well handled, with import filters being available for all popular formats.

Another highly touted feature, the Lotus InfoBox, is a very nice break with tradition in word processing. The InfoBox basically places all the important controls for a page/paragraph in an easy to use dialog box where just about everything can be modified. This is a very nice change from the hunting through menus and dialog boxes that you're forced to do with most word processors to change page attributes, etc.

StarWriter

At first glance, StarWriter seems rather underwhemling. If you didn't give it much thought, you'd think it a knockoff of Microsoft Word. But it's the fact that it incorporates so many 'Word'-isms that makes it such a nice word processor.

StarWriter may not have nearly the number of import and export filters that WordPro has, but it seems to handle HTML much better than WordPro. And its HTML features make StarWriter a nifty word processor. Load an HTML file into WordPro, and you just see the file. Try to click on a link, and you get nothing (in fact, I still haven't figured out how to make a link with WordPro). Load the same HTML file with StarWriter, click on a link, and the new page loads. Making a link is as easy as typing a URL and title into a field. StarWriter shines in its ability to make and edit HTML files (some difficulty in placing graphics should, hopefully, be fixed in the GA version).

Feature for feature though, StarWriter can't hold its ground against WordPro. Missing is a grammar check, the format check, the powerful outlining abilities, etc. And while StarWriter does support popular graphics formats, it is limited to only being able to import Text, HTML, and Microsoft Word documents. Where StarWriter shines is its integration with the rest of StarOffice. Need a chart? Just click on the charting icon and StarChart opens (in a very OLE-like manner) into your document. Need to do some imaging work on a picture you just imported? Just click an icon and the StarImage toolbar pops right onto the StarWriter toolbar (again, very OLE-like).

Performance

Neither program is a speed demon. WordPro suffers from the fact that it was ported using Open32 which is a translation library that allows Win32 programs to be compiled for OS/2 and not built for OS/2 from the ground up. WordPro's performance for most tasks was acceptable, but when trying to do something ambitious (such as call up the drawing tools) there is a noticeable pause. WordPro does appear to be nominally multithreaded; I did observe it using 3 threads.

What disturbed me about WordPro was the fact that every time I ran it, a program called RSRV was detached and was never terminated when WordPro was closed. What's worse, the program appeared to be a bit CPU greedy. Hopefully this will be fixed when WordPro GA ships (which is now).

StarWriter, on the other hand, was written with a class library that is supposed to allow code to be ported to any platform with minimal effort (at this time StarOffice is available for Windows, OS/2 and Linux). What is surprising is that StarWriter was decently fast (although neither program is as fast as AmiPro/2). And even more surprisingly, StarWriter achieves all of its speed on a single thread (not once did I observe a second thread). Obviously the folks at StarDivision did some serious tweaking, and it pays off here.

Other Notables

DeScribe and Clearlook are the sole challengers to the "big two". DeScribe has recently retired from the word processing arena and is probably no longer a serious contender since, despite a fair amount of power under the hood, it lacks some "mainstream" features that have kept OS/2 users pining for a Word equivalent. And of course, DeScribe has ceased development.

Clearlook has bounced around a bit, and is now owned by the folks at Sundial Systems Inc. They have plans to release a 2.0 version of Clearlook, but were unable to give me any clear answers as to the feature set. Time will tell if this long time OS/2 contender will rise to the challenge of the new kids on the block.

One other program may be about to make a big splash on the OS/2 scene, as ironic as it may be: Corel WordPerfect for Java. With the release of early betas of Corel Office for Java, one of the first word processors available for OS/2 has finally come home. While still too early for conclusions, WordPerfect (for Java) may become an important player in the OS/2 word processor market once again.

The Final Call

Users looking for the absolute best word processor they can get under OS/2 should go the Lotus route. Pound for pound, WordPro packs more features than any other word processor available for OS/2. It's friendly, innovative, and feature packed. And somewhat more importantly, WordPro 'feels' professional. From the way it handles text selection to the way it guides you through tasks, WordPro is an out-and-out winner.

Users looking for a well rounded office suite should give serious consideration to StarOffice. It is fully native OS/2 (unlike the new SmartSuite for OS/2) and packs most of the vital features.


 * WordPro 96 for OS/2
by Lotus Development Corporation

 * StarWriter v3.0
by Star Division


Jon Cochran is a full time student at Rider University majoring in History/Secondary Education. He hopes (or at least his parents do) to graduate soon.

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