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An economical word processor for technical text.

The ubiquitous personal computer in combination with powerful word processing software has provided a boon to the business world's "automated offices'. However, for many an engineer, scientist or educator faced with the task of preparing technical text and having the urge to present a polished manuscript, free of hand drawn or template-made formulas, the popular pricey word processors provide little comfort when it comes to constructing mathematical and chemical formulas beyond the simplest structures. Following a suggestion offered in the June 1990 issue of this column (see P. 6), I decided to upgrade my home computer system and purchased from a local vendor a kit to build a 386-SX, MS-DOS compatible PC along with a high resolution colour monitor. The machine was up and running after a day of building pleasure. To break in my new toy I took a crack at using an interesting scientific text processor called ChiWriter.

In recent years specialized technical text processors have proliferated, but many still have limitations in their word processing functions, as well as being difficult to master. Often they require hieroglyphic-like control codes for the printer which interprets and forms the desired structure, without the benefit of a screen image of the product. The advantages of such programs lie in being able to generate specialized 'alternate character keyboards' with a variety of fonts, and to handle multiple levels of subscripts and superscripts. ChiWriter, a what you see is what you get'(WYSIWYG) type of scientific/multi-font text processor goes a long way toward overcoming the limitations of both the nontechnical and existing scientific text processors all at a decent price.

ChiWriter has the usual complement of WP operations: dynamic pagination, word wrap and formatting, search and replace, cutting and pasting, footers and headers, etc. Its strong points are the numerous screen and printer font sets available from RAM at a keystroke and the ability to handle super and subscripts to unlimited levels. The word processing operations are accessed at a command line having a cursor-selective menu with a tree structure that allows options to be brought through several depths. For the initiated, the various options are more quickly accessed with two. keystroke commands. On-line help is available for each command. A tutorial file introduces the beginner to the operating essentials and a well-prepared, easily understood 210-page manual covering installation, word processing, font designing, technical aspects of the program, and trouble shooting give an excellent training package.

ChiWriter generates from the basic font sets which accompany the program, almost 1000 characters for both the screen and printer (12-point size) from 14 alternate keyboards accessed through the function keys.

The Russian Cyrillic) characters, a conographic font set for printing 10, 12, and 18 point characters, as well as symbols for computer programming flowcharts and electronic circuits are available on optional disks. For generating molecular formulas, five font sets capable of generating several dozen characters and geometrical constructs are available on the optional Chemical Fonts Disk. To build molecular structures using ChiWriter requires the optional Chemistry Fonts Disk with its set of specially centered alphabetic characters to form the symbols of atoms within molecules and chemical equations. Other files on this disk are used to form inter-atomic bonds, various polygons denoting ring structures, and a variety of characters representing assorted angular junctures useful for forming structures of complex species like steroids and coordination compounds. It takes considerable practice (several hours worth!) to become adept at building structures using individual character keystrokes from the many alternate chemical 'keyboards'. The documentation accompanying the Chemical Fonts Disk is difficult to follow and could be improved with additional examples and exercises. Fortunately, an extensive library of preformed structures, mainly of pharmacological interest, are supplied in sample files ready for "cutting and pasting', as illustrated in Figure 1.

In addition, a collection of 60 primitive structures become installed in RAM as macros, retrievable on entering a short, identifying key sequence.

The primitive macro-based structures can be retrieved, replicated in any desired location (but not rotated nor expanded), dismembered into useful fragments and then selected pieces assembled to form the desired structure as shown by an example in Figure 2.

ChiWriter allows an unlimited number of levels of super- and subscripts to augment any line, unlike most processors that allow only one or two levels of each kind. This approach to formula building permits elaborate constructs as illustrated in Figure 3.

ChiWriter features an easily activated, integral spelling checker, MicroSpell, that in addition to its own excellent dictionary, allows the user to prepare supplementary dictionaries for specialized terms. One such supplement, MATH.AUX, containing words frequently used in mathematics is supplied with ChiWriter. To help reduce the chance of losing entered material through power failure, etc., an adjustable automatic backup feature may be invoked. The status line at the top of the screen always indicates the percentage of RAM consumed by the active document. Also included with the program disk is a font designer allowing users to make their own specialized characters that may be saved in an empty font set or exchanged for an existing character. A note pad using a split-screen window facilitates block transfers to or from other files using the cut and paste technique without leaving the active document. Merging of files is readily done with a few keystrokes. Since Chi Writer files are saved in ASCII code with embedded control sequences there is limited compatibility with files prepared by other word processors. Conversion programs are available on an optional disk for handling WordStar and WordPerfect files. Saving ChiWriter files as purely ASCII files removes the control sequences with the consequent loss of spacing values, the different font styles, and the super/subscripts.

Several irritations were experienced when learning to use ChiWriter. This program does not have the number of sophisticated cursor and screen editing operations one gets accustomed to with the popular office WP programs. Also, if one is not completely familiar with a desired alternate font keyboard, it's a real pain having to leave your work screen to search alternate keyboard displays for a particular character or angular piece to fill in a bond. The beginner would wish for two monitors (a window on the active work screen would not be satisfactory), one displaying the work document, the other, a continuing display of the current selected keyboard. There should also be a greater selection of standard fonts like Times Roman, Helvetica and particularly, Greek in small font size.

As the designers of ChiWriter point out, this program is not typesetting software for producing perfectly set type, nor is it a drafting program. Rather, ChiWriter is a basic, easy-to-use, processor for preparing publication quality text. Chi Horstman and his associates have done an admirable job in producing ChiWriter. The writer knows of no other WSIWYG technical word processor available with similar functionality and quality at a comparable price.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Chemical Institute of Canada
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:ChiWriter 3.0 computer software
Author:Walker, Leonard G.
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Article Type:Product/Service Evaluation
Date:Sep 1, 1990
Words:1143
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