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Word Pro 96 for OS/2- by Pete Grubbs


Sign on to any Warped listserv or drop into any OS/2 chat forum and you'll quickly discover that one of the most popular topics of conversation is the lack of big-name apps for our favorite operating system. Since I signed on as an OS/2 user, I've seen a number of major applications orphaned. As a writer, I suppose I'm a bit more sensitive to the loss of word processors, a loss that has been felt on many different platforms. In a world that used to see machines running Word Star, DeScribe, PC Write, WordPerfect, Ami Pro, Word, Windows Write (ugh!), Office Writer, XYWrite and Display Write, we're rapidly finding ourselves shuttled towards increasingly fewer choices.

As OS/2 users, those choices have become even more limited. The folks in Orem, Utah abandoned us long ago and since the Java revolution doesn't appear to extend to a stand-alone version of WordPerfect, Corel style, there's little chance that we'll see anything for the OS/2 world in the near future, if ever. While Indelible Blue is still offering the DeScribe Voyager CD for $59 (as of August 28th, at least) there's no refund, no tech support and no hope that we'll ever see any improvements made to this long-standing member of the OS/2 family.

So, where does that leave the true OS/2 diehard, the user who would rather pull out an IBM Selectric than run a word processor with the Microsoft seal of approval? Well, as this publication noted back in January of '96 Clearlook and Star Writer are certainly still viable, worthy products. And so, too, is an old friend with a new name: Ami Pro, now known as Lotus Word Pro. Word Pro is a feature-rich application with a number of advantages that might make it your word processor of choice.

Test System

The machine used to rate this product is powered by a Cyrix 100 chip with 32M of RAM. The graphics card is a D24 BitBlaster with 1M of RAM hooked into an AcerView 56 15" monitor. The single hard drive is a Fujitsu 1090M and the operating system is OS/2 Warp 4.0 (with FixPak #1 in place). I also have Stardock's Process Commander and NPS WPS installed. I use an Adesso NUForm Win95 keyboard w/Glidepoint in place of a standard keyboard and mouse. I have a Canon BJ 200e printer set up with a 134 byte buffer.

For many reviews, the reader may not gain much by knowing his author's background or habits. After all, file management utilities or disk defraggers have a limited job description and, basically, they're either reliable or they're not. Word processors, on the other hand, have to perform many of the same basic chores from user to user, but are also expected to accomplish specialized tasks as well. These are often as individual as the user.

So, for this article, I believe you should know a bit more about your reviewer. I am working on a PhD in English Literature at a moderate-sized university in Western Pennsylvania. I also teach composition for a branch campus of the Pennsylvania State University. As a writer, I've had my poetry and prose rejected by some of the finest publications in the United States but have been fortunate enough to find an outlet for my work here at OS/2 e-Zine! (Editor's Note: Ouch! <g>). I've also created basic business documents and an employee handbook for a new business in my area.

The kind of functionality that I require from a word processor has a lot to do with the particular project I'm currently working on. I might need to rotate text and import graphics for one job and place special characters, footnotes or end notes in another. And, since I've got just about all my time scheduled for the next 10 years, I need a tool that works right out of the box, with a minimum of set up and as flat a learning curve as possible.

I have also discovered that I'm a much more productive writer if I can keep my hands at the keyboard and not have to chase all over my desk for a mouse. Thus, I'm more likely to favor a product that either relies upon keystrokes for those basic formatting and insertion operations (bolding, italicizing, inserting special characters and footnoting) or that offers keystrokes as well as mouse clicks to get the job done.


After clawing the shrink-wrap off my box of Word Pro, I slotted the CD-ROM and began installing. I didn't get very far. Word Pro requires Warp 3.0 to have FixPak 26 (special edition) installed, or FixPak 1 in place if, like me, you're running Warp 4.0. Since I devoutly believe in the motto, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it," and since I had no problems with OS/2 that were screaming for a FixPak, I had a bit of upgrading to do before I could even install Word Pro.

After downloading and installing FixPak 1 (an experience that increased the time it took to get Word Pro up and running by a factor of 10), I was finally able to install the app. Lotus took some pains with the interface for this part of Word Pro. It's a fine example of a subtle, yet handsome product. Aesthetics aside, the installation gives users three options: a Default (read 'full') installation (which requires 84M of free space); a Minimum installation (which uses 43M) and a Customized installation. Since drive space is at a premium on my machine right now, I chose the third, setting up all the basic components but leaving out the Equation Editor since I've never needed one in the 20 years or so that I've been writing.

The Custom installation also allows the user to select import/export filters for both word processing and graphics files. You can also specify different locations for files and directories, in case you need to chop things up a bit when drive space is tight. After sorting through the various options, I was just a bit startled when a second installation app started. I later realized that the first routine was a .CMD file that set the stage for OS/2's Installation utility. This loaded smoothly and the rest of the procedure went without a hitch. It took just about 22 minutes for the entire process. Then I was ready to crunch some words.

The Basics

The Word Pro installation set up a folder named Lotus Smart Suite on my Desktop with two additional folders nested inside (Lotus Accessories and Lotus User Assistance) as well as a Word Pro object. Loading Word Pro the first time went easily, but I noticed a significant difference in the length of time it takes compared to DeScribe -- more than twice as long (18 seconds for DeScribe and 40 seconds for Word Pro). Double clicking on the Word Pro icon gets you to the main screen (GIF, 17k). Word Pro makes its features available through a combination of pull-down menus, SmartIcons and a Status Bar. While the menus are preset, the SmartIcons and Status Bar are very flexible.

Setting up the SmartIcon bar (GIF, 13.7k) is a simple matter of dragging and dropping icons and/or spacers. There are different SmartIcon bars pre-made for different tasks and Lotus made them context-sensitive (i.e., Text tools appear when you're dealing with text; Graphics tools when you're working with a picture; etc.) so you always have the appropriate bar pop up when you need it. (You can also disable all of the SmartIcon bars if you prefer the cleaner look (GIF, 13.2k) that the old DOS versions of WordPerfect used. This option is mapped to the keyboard and works very nicely. I've included a GIF of the Word Pro screen without SmartIcons or the division/section tabs so you can compare between displays.) In fact, just about everything Word Pro does can be controlled with SmartIcons, which can be a real blessing if you have trouble learning new keystroke commands.

On the other hand, many of the operations I use frequently also have hard-wired keystrokes to invoke them (Cntrl-I toggles italics, Cntrl-B bold, Cntrl-U underlining, and so on) which are identical to WordPerfect 6.0a for Windows (3.1) and DeScribe.

At the bottom of the display is a Status Bar that offers yet another method of accessing Word Pro's tools. The button on the far left not only displays the current font, but can be used to change it. This same functionality is built into the other buttons next to it, so the user can easily see (and change) point size, text color, bolding, italics, underlining and the style used for the current document.

Next to the style button is a nifty spelling checker that will change color when your fingers decide to do the typo tango. If you click on this button when it flags a word, it will display a list of possible replacements for the suspect along with a list of options that will add the word to your user dictionary: skip this instance, skip all instances or replace the suspected word with one from the suggested list. This is in addition to Word Pro's SmartCorrect, a fix-it-as-you-go speller that's great for those typos you habitually repeat ("t-e-h" for "t-h-e", etc.).

Next to the speller is another elongated button which can be set to display the date & time, typing mode (Insert or Type Over), language, editor, version and cursor position. As handy as this button is, I can't help but wonder why Lotus didn't build in the flexibility to display more than just one of these fields at a time. There's certainly lots of room to do so, but users are limited, for example, to seeing the cursor's position or type mode, not both.

At the far right of the Status Bar is one button that has three functions. Click on the down arrow and you page down. Click on the up arrow and you page up. Click between the two on the text that indicates your present page and you'll get a "Go To" dialog that offers tons of different choices for navigating through your document. You can proceed to a page number, a bookmark, a header or footer, a column break, inserted page layout, inserted ruler, and the list goes on. (This same dialog is mapped to Cntrl-G on the keyboard, a much more efficient way to work, if you ask me.)

The difference between a good app and a great app can often be found in the way little, annoying tasks are handled. When I moved from WordPerfect to DeScribe, one of the things I missed was being able to delete a word by using Cntrl-Del or Cntrl-Backspace. I was quite pleased to discover that Word Pro maps this function to these keystrokes. You can also jump from paragraph to paragraph by hitting the up or down cursor key while holding down a Control key. For those who like to drag and drop text, Lotus has done you a huge favor. Word Pro's vertical cursor changes color when you're dragging text so you can see it very clearly. Dragging a blocked section of text moves the cursor so you can position the blocked text exactly where you want it. Dropping a sentence or fragment anywhere is a very easy and precise operation.

Print speed and quality are also very important to most of us who crunch words daily. In this category, Word Pro holds its own, but only if you have OS/2's print spooler enabled. It took 22 seconds to prepare a print job for a letter I wrote using the SmartMaster letterhead (a template which provides a basic format and user-completed fields to create specific documents). Word Pro kept control of my machine while preparing the print job, returning it only after the job spooled. I tried that same print job with spooling disabled and saw a HUGE difference in performance... for the worse.

Screen redraw speed is also acceptable. The document you're reading is approximately 820k (in Word Pro format), including one graphic. Scrolling up and down through it is reasonably smooth with only a little hesitation on the page with the graphic.

Other Goodies

When it comes to extras, Word Pro is packed fairly to the brim. I'll only touch upon the ones that I found particularly useful, so don't take this as an exhaustive listing.

At the top of the list is the collection of mark up tools included in this package. I always liked the way WordPerfect and DeScribe provided for the creation of comments within a document. I quickly learned to use these when I needed to remind myself to add specific information within a text and my proofreader used them to flag passages she thought might have errors. Word Pro takes this one step further and allows the user to block and highlight specific lines and insert comments associated with the highlighting. I've used this feature several times while writing this review and I can see using it constantly in the future.

Take a close look at the first screen shot above directly beneath the SmartIcon bar, and you'll notice something that looks exactly like a little file folder tab with the words, "OS/2 e-Zine! - Word Pro 96 for OS/2" on it.[Word Pro Section Tab Graphic] This is a "section tab", one of the cooler tools that Word Pro has included in this version. Division or section tabs can be set up to separate long documents. Clicking on the tab jumps you straight to the beginning of that section, a very efficient way to get through something lengthy, like a yearend report, a novel, or, in my case, a dissertation. Working with section tabs is fairly straightforward, requiring little more than a mouse click on the Create option from the menu and selecting "Section" from the pull-down. A dialog box takes you the rest of the way.

Like its predecessor, Ami Pro, and DeScribe, Word Pro is frame based. This offers tremendous flexibility in the creation of special effects and insertion of illustrations. In fact, DeScribe users will find it easy to make the transition from DeScribe to Word Pro.

One of the coolest features in Word Pro is the way it handles document views. You'd expect any WYSIWYG word processor to allow the user to set zooms and Word Pro is no different. But Lotus included 4 "Special Views" which make adjusting layouts a snap. The PageWalker setting, my favorite, splits the window into a larger WYSIWYG display on the left while the right side shows the full page in a reduced format. Changes made in the left window are immediately updated in the right. Need to adjust the exact position of a graphic? Use the large window to drag the anchor to another location and drop it in place. The smaller gives you an overall view of the relationship between text and graphic. Other Special Views are variations on this basic theme. These views provide the user with the power to control document layout easily.

Hmm... Is this a bug or a feature?

A week or two after installing Word Pro, while doing some general maintenance on my system, I opened my Start-Up folder and found an icon I'd never seen before. It controls the Lotus Smart Suite Quick Start, which seems to be similar in function to the Windows kernel OS/2 loads whenever you enable "Fast Load" in the WIN-OS/2 properties notebook. The only way you'll ever be aware that Quick Start is running is to bring up a thread or process list with something like Stardock's Process Commander or WatchCat. I haven't noticed any significant lag time on my machine with Quick Start installed but I did discover its effect on loading Word Pro when I closed the app, killed Quick Start and then reloaded Word Pro. Without Quick Start, Word Pro takes nearly twice as long to load. All things considered, I'm glad that Lotus included this applet, but I would've been a lot happier finding out about it from a manual or a readme file instead of bumping into it accidentally.

As I mentioned above, Word Pro's installation was a breeze, so I was quite surprised when I tried to change fonts in a blocked portion of text and found myself looking at a dialog box announcing a 3175 error. After reloading Word Pro, I gave it another try with much better results and came to the conclusion that I must've had a temporary problem that disappeared on its own. I was a bit nonplused when I got the same error message after trying to check the stats for that document. I loaded Word Pro and tried it again, with the same frustrating results. Two more trials convinced me that I'd have to live without this feature.

Fortunately, I picked up a tip from the Best of OS/2 web site and found a patch on the Lotus FTP site which seems to have sorted out the problem. The patch includes a .CFG, an executable and a couple .DLL files. Although I looked for a README or other instructions, I didn't find anything, so I checked for the current location of the files and then rebooted to a command line (using Alt-F1). This allowed me to replace the .DLLs without any open file conflicts. When I couldn't find a home in any of the Word Pro subdirectories for file LWPDCAO.DLL, I dumped it into OS/2's DLL directory and this seems to have worked. At least, I haven't had any more problems with 3175s nor have I noticed any dark blue smoke rolling out of the back of my computer's case.

I gave Lotus Tech Support a call to check on a few questions that I couldn't find answers to in any of the documentation as well as to check on a bug that vanished mysteriously as soon as I talked to Susan, the tech rep. The bad news about Lotus Tech Support is this: it's limited to 60 days from the date of your first toll phone call. (Oh, for the days of lifetime, toll-free support!) I don't know about you, but this is far from the worst news I've had all year.

The good news is really good. First there's an OS/2-specific help desk. This means, simply, that you won't find yourself cursing wildly when you hear some ditzy tech say, "Uh, this product won't work with OS/2." The wait time when I called was minimal and the procedure to set up my help account was simple. (One word of caution: keep every piece of printed matter that comes with your package until you find your 9-digit ID number.) Susan was not only very knowledgeable but quite pleasant to talk with.

The Wish List

There's a lot to like about Word Pro, but I can think of a few improvements I'd make if I could. At the top of my list is an honest-to-god manual. The documentation that ships with this application is as close to useless as you can get. In fact, the book (if you can legitimately call something this brief a book) says that it, "is not a user's guide." Rather, this is a, "book of ideas about how to use SmartSuite products efficiently." Well, in spite of the warm-fuzzy tone, the documentation isn't worth the paper it's printed on. While I have no need for another 800 page book to trip over, I'd rather have something substantial to work with than nothing at all.

Lotus does include a hefty Help file and its "Ask the Expert" feature, but neither of these make up for the total lack of a decent user guide and tutorial.

Word Pro would also benefit from a more flexible keyboard mapping system. For example, I'd like to be able to insert a foot note (or end note) by hitting Cntrl-F instead of clicking on Create in the Menu and then clicking on Footnote/Endnote. The user should be able to set a preference for either kind of note (along with its formatting options) and then get on with the business of writing. (Yes, you can hold down the Alt key and access the menu and, yes, that is a keyboard-centric method of performing the job, but it's twice as kludgy as it should be and disrupts the writer's flow of thought as well as his typing.)

I'd also like to see Lotus make it easier to insert special characters into text. The best work-around I've been able to find requires changing from my base type font to the Lotus WP Type set, inserting the required character and switching back again. This makes spell checking a real thrill because the checker identifies the inserted dash as a letter and flags every word that has a dash attached to it.

Another weakness that has caused me some extra work is a total lack of support for DeScribe files. In order to work with older documents I originally created in DeScribe, I was forced to save them in Ami Pro format and then reopen them in Word Pro. I won't hazard any guesses, but I can't help wondering what Lotus was thinking when they didn't directly support file formats for one of the most popular OS/2 word processors.

I'd like to be able to look at the status bar and see if I've modified the current document. Surprisingly, this doesn't appear to be an option. The user should also be able to select multitasking priority when it comes down to automatic file saves. I have Word Pro set to back up all open documents every 15 minutes, and every quarter of an hour I have to wait to use my keyboard for about 20 seconds while a backup is made.

Finally, it would also be nice to have some control over the color used to separate pages. A yucky olive color is hard-coded, so you can either learn to ignore it or disable any separation between pages. Maybe this is a bit picky, but with all of the other neat stuff that's included, it kind of amazes me that something this obvious slipped through the cracks.

To Buy or Not to Buy

Lotus uses the phrase, "team word processor," to describe their product and that definitely fits. Word Pro has extensive tools to support collaborative work. It will track various versions of a given document and will display the name or initials of the last person who edited it. In fact, there are a lot of nifty bells and whistles that I haven't had a chance to play with yet, even though I've devoted the better part of my free time for a month to working on this review. I found it difficult to end this review with so much left unsaid, but there's just too much stuff here beyond the basics to try to get everything in.

This focus on group work doesn't make Word Pro inappropriate for those of us who don't work in group situations, but it does add to the application's overhead, both in initial cost and memory usage. There are many features included in the purchase price that I'm unlikely to ever look at, even if they are sitting right there on my hard drive. If you've got hard drive and memory to spare and you don't mind devoting some of those to features you're not going to use, this isn't really an issue. Conversely, if you're not bashful about digging into subdirectories in search of unnecessary files, you may be able to trim the fat a bit.

If you don't need all the functionality and don't want to trim, you might want to look elsewhere. Personally, I've already become accustomed to Word Pro's features and performance and I'm looking at other writing jobs with just a bit more ease than I did in August. I think Word Pro will be my tool of choice for quite some time to come.

* * *

Lotus Word Pro 96 for OS/2

by Lotus Development Corp.
MSRP: US$109

Pete Grubbs is a self-described OS/2 wonk, a doctoral candidate in English literature at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, a part-time faculty member at Penn State and is currently developing a copy editing/creation service, The Document Doctor, which tailors documents for small businesses.

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