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COMPUTER FILE / Richard O'Reilly

Snappy Word 4.0 Requires Patience

February 18, 1988|RICHARD O'REILLY | Richard O'Reilly designs microcomputer applications for The Times

Microsoft Word always has been a powerful and ambitious word processing program. Now, in version 4.0, it is faster and even more robust.

One of Word's principal strengths has been the sophistication of its print formatting, which determines how the printed page looks. That also has been one of its weaknesses because it displayed that formatting on screen much the way it would appear on the printed page, and the complex screen images slowed scrolling through files.

Performance is usually quite snappy now. But if you are using an XT class computer, in long documents you will sometimes find yourself waiting several seconds for the cursor to move when inserting text near the top of the file. A command that transposes two letters in a word also gets painfully slow in long documents, taking up to 13 seconds to complete. Using Word 4.0 with faster computers will speed things considerably.

Word 4.0, which has a list price of $450, runs on IBM and compatible personal computers. (There is a separate version for Macintosh computers.) You can run it with two floppy drives if you're willing to do a fair amount of disk swapping, but you really ought to have a hard disk. The program comes on nine disks. It's nicer if you have a color monitor, and it's easier to do some tasks if you also have a mouse.

This is a program that you'll appreciate most if you have a laser printer to take advantage of the fancy formatting features. Microsoft and Hewlett-Packardcreated a special font cartridge for H-P's laser printersthat offers users a variety of sizes of two of the most popular publishing typefaces, Times Roman and Helvetica. You can buy it as an accessory for H-P's laser printers.

There are a number of major enhancements to Word 4.0 other than speed. A couple of them are aimed at moving Word into law offices.

One, document retrieval, makes it easier to find files by allowing you to create a summary sheet for each document containing a title up to 40 characters long, several key words and a couple lines of comments, among other things.

When you search for documents, the program lets you pick just those files with specified entries in their summary sheets. For instance, you could retrieve all files that contained certain key words and were written six months ago or earlier.

Easy revision of text was the goal of another new feature, which is commonly referred to as redlining. When you invoke it, the program marks all of the text you insert with an underline or a different color, and the text you delete is marked with a strike-through or another color. Both the inserts and cuts remain on the screen. The next editor of the document can then easily choose which of the proposed inserts and cuts to accept in the final version.

Other new features include macros and "style by example," both of which significantly expand the power of Word 4.0. A macro is a series of program instructions that can be programmed by the user and executed with a keystroke or two. Those who have the necessary patience and interest can create very complex macros.

Microsoft Word already had style sheets to guide the formatting of complex documents. Style sheets are sets of instructions that control how pages and the text on them will look. Word 4.0 makes it easier to create or modify style sheets by allowing you to simply type a paragraph on the screen the way you want it to look. Then you identify that paragraph with a two-letter code. You can then make any other paragraph take on the same look by attaching that same style code to it.

The creation of tables of data is something that Word 4.0 does especially well. It is a complex process to get the columns of words and numbers in a table to line up properly, but Word 4.0 makes it about as easy as possible. You'll appreciate that if you need to insert or delete columns of data in a table.

The new software also allows tables to be linked to spreadsheets. You can easily updated a Word 4.0 document after the underlying spreadsheet changes, although it is not automatic.

Other good features are the spelling checker and thesaurus. There also is a glossary where you can store text cut from documents or even keep huge amounts of boilerplate text used in contracts or other documents containing standardized text.

Word 4.0 is especially adept at working with form letters. For instance, if you wanted to send out a sales promotion letter offering varying discounts depending on how much merchandise each customer had previously ordered, Word 4.0 can handle the task.

As you might imagine, you don't get this kind of power painlessly. Word 4.0 is not an easy program to learn even though Microsoft made a tremendous effort to help you. It comes with one of the most sophisticated tutorial programs I've seen, and the lessons are available as you write documents.

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