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In praise of older software.

This month's column was to be a review of WordPerfect 6.0. It is and it isn't.

My first impression of WordPerfect 6.0 was one of disappointment. I saw all this happen once before when I upgraded my original WordPerfect 4.2 to 5.0, but in spite of its early problems, version 5.1 became the most used wordprocessor in the world and with its millions of users became the standard.

As a consultant, I am often asked to submit documents on disk in WordPerfect 5.1 format; Chemputing is submitted in WordPerfect 5.1 format. Version 5.1 is a great package, but as with all such packages, I have a little list of methods to improve it. The problem likely came from the fact that with more than 10 million users, a lot of people had little lists. Add these together and you find something like 649 new features in version 6.0.

In return for all these features, the program becomes much more complex and there are a whole set of new bugs to find and eradicate.

The new 6.0 WYSIWYG display is fantastic, but the old key stroke sequences are all expanded with another two or three levels, i.e., there is a whole (or more precisely half a) new learning experience ahead.

I tried bringing in version 5.1 documents and found a lot of incompatibility with respect to headers, footers, macros and equations just to name a few. There were errors in the printer drivers that resulted in improperly spaced underlining and a lack of kerning.

With all due respect to WordPerfect Corp., I know version 6.1 will be great, as may an interim release that is likely to be issued before this appears in print ... but I just gave up and removed 6.0 from my hard disk as I was getting very frustrated and wasting a lot of time going back to try one idea after another to see if I could make something work. As I can make a far better looking document with WordPerfect 5.1, there is no way I can recommend this newer product to anyone at this time ... and this is a WordPerfect supporter speaking.

I have sent a copy of this review to WordPerfect and hope that, rather than sending their lawyers after me, they will send the updates when they are available. I have no hesitation about changing my mind in writing if and when the product meets my standards.

Can't be all things to all people

Rather than single out WordPerfect 6.0, what I am about to say is that the entire software industry is making a major mistake by trying to produce a single package that can satisfy all people all the time. What is the major feature a wordprocessor must have? It must be transparent and enable you to write without being bothered by the mechanics of the system. You don't need all the bells and whistles.

A few years ago, we looked at an interesting application in an English class at the University of Delaware (ACCN, May 1991). This compared the work produced by students using Macs vs. IBMs and found superior written work by those with the IBMs. The simple type of wordprocessor used by that class did not tax either computer system; both were coasting.

Perhaps, the difference was derived from the way the two systems operate. The IBM operated in text mode and the screen was incapable of showing the end result; the writer could get on with the job without any interruptions. On the other side, the Mac had a WYSIWYG display and the appearance was clearly seen on screen throughout the writing exercise; here the writer could manipulate the appearance at any time throughout the exercise.

I have one simple rule for deciding if the various bells and whistles are important. Can the person reading the final document see the benefits resulting from that feature? The person who receives a letter or report cannot see if the screen is monochrome, color or WYSIWYG, but they can see how the printer handles kerning, indents or italics.

What I am saying, is not restricted to wordprocessors. Look at today's spreadsheets. The capabilities are almost endless. You can almost make a multi-colored 3-D bar chart with each bar matching a clan tartan, but try to make graphs for a paper in a reputable technical journal. Where are the logarithmic, probability or dual axes that we need?

The spreadsheet that has the best wherewithal to handle technical graphing appears almost unwilling to admit what a great product it has, possibly because it occasionally has to rely on someone else to complete the job. Today, Lotus 1-2-3 version 2.x or 3.x has become just another set of DOS-based spreadsheets. Couple it with one or more of the hundreds of add-in programs and you have a super Lotus that the competitors can't match; yet, Lotus doesn't seem able to admit that the combination exists.

Chemputing has reviewed several add-ins that add a variety of graphing and statistical functions. We looked at only one add-in for WordPerfect. Perhaps the software developers should be looking at this approach for their next generation if we must really be inflicted with one.

Too many click clicks

A number of people have commented that most simple keystroke commands in DOS have expanded to become two or three mouse movements and clicks in the newest and latest packages.

Another faithful DOS user recently moved up from an old XT with DOS to an 80486 with both DOS and Windows. With DOS on the XT, a certain program took about five seconds to load and be on the screen, ready to go. The new Windows version takes eight seconds to get rolling with the 80486 as you take the mouse and give it a click click here, a click click there, everywhere a click click ... an hourglass here, an hourglass there, everywhere an hourglass ...

WordPerfect 4.2, Lotus 1-2-3 version 2.01 and early versions of Norton Utilities were great products for their time. As would be expected, each newer version gets better and packs in more and more features. There is a penalty that accompanies this expansion. You need a bigger hard disk, more RAM and things get slower. All of these early programs could operate from a single 362k floppy disk. Removing WordPerfect 6.0 freed up 16 Meg of hard disk space. Are we going into endless circles of software to use the new hardware and hardware to support the new software?

In 1990, I gave a talk to the Ottawa Section about Chemputing in the 90s. I said that the term that most frightened me was user friendly. Have we destroyed the ease and effectiveness of our software by trying to make it do all things for all people, most of whom won't take the little bit of time needed to develop the few skills it takes to use the software effectively?
COPYRIGHT 1993 Chemical Institute of Canada
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Chemputing; WordPerfect 6.0; older software versions more effective and easy to use
Author:Silbert, Marvin D.
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Article Type:Column
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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