This column was written with version 7.0 of MicrosoftWord for Windows 95, which is now the industry standard word processor, and may be on its way to becoming the only word processor.
It has all kinds of bells and whistles, including a spell checker that not only can detect errors, but fix many of them automatically.
It produces lovely looking documents that would make any business user proud. It can incorporate spreadsheets, tables, drawings and all sorts of other things into your documents.
It can be easily integrated with such CD-ROM reference works as Microsoft’s Bookshelf so that you can use Bookshelf from within Word.
It lets you look at a document four different ways, and you can have all sorts of rulers, toolbars and other gadgets and gizmos on the screen while you work. Or you can select full-screen and chase all that stuff away.
Your document will be all you see.
The trouble is that, for all this power, Word is a lousy editor.
A writer used to the editing power of a half-dozen of the old MS-DOS word processors, including such ancient programs as WordStar (which predates DOS), XyWrite, and PC-Write, will wonder how anybody who writes and edits for a living could stand using Word.
A writer typically wants to be able to cut chunks of text quickly and rewrite them. It is common to strike all the words to the end or beginning of a line of text.
Virtually any word processor will let you mark the text by holding down the Shift key and moving the cursor, or holding down the left mouse button and dragging it across the text.
Then you hit the Delete key. But that’s a laborious two-step process. In XyWrite for Windows, for example, you can get rid of the text to the end of a line by simply holding down the Alt key and hitting theDelete key.
Presto, it’s gone.
A writer often wants to cut a lengthy sentence into two parts. This means the word at the start of the second sentence must be capitalized. It’s a nuisance to have to delete it, then re-enter it in caps.
In the old word processors, there was usually a toggle key, often a function key or a combination such as Control-H, to switch any letter’s case from lower to upper, or vice versa.
Many of the older word processors had shortcut key combinations that let you instantly transpose letters, words, sentences or even paragraphs. This is the kind of thing serious writers do. They draft something, then they read it over and the real work begins, cutting a few words here, adding a word there, shortening sentences, or lengthening them, changing the order of things.
Word will let you do all these things by marking the text, then cutting it, then moving the cursor where you want it to go and selecting the paste command.
It’s the most basic form of word processing, also perhaps the most primitive.
The whole idea of working with a computer is to bring the execution of your task up to the speed of your thinking, so you can concentrate on the content of your work, not the mechanics. You think and the computer does the chores. Today’s word processors remind one of the distinction Truman Capote once drew between writing and typing.
Typing, in a bygone era, was the way you made a document look nice. Word processors today, alas, represent an advanced form of typing. They make beautiful-looking documents, but they hardly make for beautiful writing.
Real audio confusion
On another subject, a recent column about free products available from the Internet mentioned Real Audio Player, a sound utility from a company of the same name. The column said you can download the product free from the company’s site on the World Wide Web (www.realaudio.com) and use it to listen to a number of radio stations that broadcast over the Internet. Several readers wrote to say they tried, but found they could not get the product free but were expected to pay $29.95 for it.
The confusion was caused by the fact that Real Audio markets an advancedversion of its sound player called Real Audio Player Plus, which does indeed cost $29.95.
The plain-vanilla version of Real Audio Player 3.0 is still available free. Here, in more detail than before, is how toget it.
Go to the Real Audio Web site. Click on the words “Real Audio Product Family.” That will take you to a product information page,where you should click on the words “Real Audio Player,” which will take you to a page where you can begin the download process.
You have to give your name and e-mail address, but that’s all.
T.R. Reid is Rocky Mountain bureau chief of the Washington Post. Brit Hume is a Capitol Hill correspondent for ABC News. You can reach them in care of the Washington Post Writers Group, 1150 15th St., Washington D.C. 20071-9200, or you can e-mail T.R. Reid at firstname.lastname@example.org, or Brit Hume at email@example.com.