Final Writer v5 Review

by Adam Hough

Final Writer 5 is the latest in Softwood's wordprocessing software updates. So what's new and interesting in it?

The primary areas of improvement over version 4 include the new table support, an HTML page designer, auto correct, Rich Text Format (RTF support), and Datatypes.

The tables are perhaps the most significant addition to Final Writer's functionality and it's great to finally have them implemented into the software. For those who're wondering what the heck a table is, it's a matrix that's used to format data into a form that's easilly readable -- very much like the presentation you'd find in a spreadsheet. In a word processor in addition to a Spreadsheet's numbers, you can also add in text. This allows you to create fairly sophisticated layouts such as invoices without having to draw them with Final Writer's drawing tools. The size and number of cells (the individual blocks within the table) can be altered using the mouse although you are limited to changing entire rows or columns at one time. The colour in the background of the table can also be changed, and Final Writer allows the first and last rows and columns to be of different colours than the principal section of the table. The size of the border lines can also be set in the same way. For example say you wanted to create a calendar with the months (on the Y axis) outlined with a heavy black border with a light grey background and the individual days with a lighter blue border and a pink background with the body of the calendar with no lines and a yellow background, you could do it.

Tab support is built into the tables so unlike in other wordprocessors which skip onto the next cell, in Final Writer a tab is simply added. This does unfortunately mean that you have to manually start using the mouse tomove between cells which in turn means removing your hand from the keyboard, something you don't really want to do.

On the flip side, the table support missed many features I've become used to from the PC world's AmiPro, WordPerfect and Microsoft Write. Specifically there's no way to use the tables as mini-spread sheets with math built in. It seems minor, but it's very handy. The type of line or border is also limited to the thickness of a single line so you can't have double lined borders. The table is treated as a graphic object which unfortunately means that if the text around it changes, you are obliged to move it manually rather than have it shift with the text automatically. I also dislike being unable to set the properties of every cell individually -- while the FW system of setting first and last rows and columns works, it's cumbersome and restricting.

But enough of tables. There's more in Final Writer 5 than that. The datatype support is greatly welcome. While this feature benefits only those with Workbench 3 or higher, it's great. Datatypes are a program independent method of supporting various data formats -- in this case, graphics. Final Writer does not have JPEG support, only IFF. Without datatypes, if you wished to use a JPEG image, you'd have to convert it to a standard Amiga IFF-ILBM format first which is a bit of a waste of time. However with the datatype support, you get to use JPEGs in their native form through one of the freely distributable JPEG datatypes on the board. You also get to use every other picture format that there's a datatype for (and there're a lot). A limitation of the datatype support is that it only handles up to 256 colours in any one graphic, but there's a new version of the main datatype library in the OS that works around that.

The HTML designer is another new and significant addition to the program. My problem is that it's essentially useless. The concept is nice -- create a document in Final Writer, and then save it out as a Web page. The reality is not so good. First of all, a document has to be designed from the ground up as an HTML document -- Final Writer uses style sheets which determine which codes are used in the document, and unless you start of with that, your page won't come out correctly. Next you cannot load in HTML pages; you can only save out ones that are still in the Final Writer pseudo-HTML format. It doesn't support much (if not all) of the HTML 3 specification (nor indeed the Netscape or Internet Explorer extentions.) This means no tables. Tables are one of the few areas of HTML code that are awkward to create while using a text editor and Final Writer's table support would have been close to perfect for it. But it's not there. So, in summary, cute idea, but it's easier to create pages with a text editor, maintain them with a text editor and do anything else you want with them. This is not an area of Final Writer I'll be using much.

Auto-correct is a nice addition. The concept is that as you type, Final Writer will make changes. For example "hte" will automatically be replaced with "the". It can also be used to expand abbreviations so typing time is saved. I (rather boastfully) tend to type accurately so I've not had need of this feature, but I can see its value to others.

Rich Text Format is a solution to the age old problem of being unable to exchange documents with people using other wordprocessors without having a custom load module for the foreign format. RTF was set up as a halfway house where much of the formatting is retained in a portable file format. It's supported by all the PC wordprocessors I've come across as well as Wordsworth, PageStream and no doubt most Mac software. In terms of overall value, the ability to read and write this format is an excellent addition to Final Writer.

The AREXX port has also been dramatically improved so people with a hankering to produce their own macros and extentions to the program are accomodated. It's too much effort for me .

Other improvements and additions to the program include document templates for standard document styles; enhanced style support so you can set up defaults for your commonly used 'house style' -- such as having headings in one font and size, while using bosy in another without having to set each and every facet of that font. It's quite useful. More commonly used fonts can now be loaded automatically so you don't have to add them to the default sanserif font.

I'm disappointed to see that footnotes are still absent. Perhaps endnotes are considered equivalent these days, but I really don't feel they serve the same purpose. There's still no text insert option either. I don't want to have to open up a new document, then cut and paste just to add some text into another document I'm working on. You cannot add your own icons to custom scripts and are dependent on their builtin icons; "1" just doesn't tell me about what function it's connected to.

Oh, and it works with the Cybergraphics RTG software very well. I'm running on a 1024 by 768 screen for Final Writer at the moment. Sharp! Wouldn't like to do it on an old 640 by 200 screen though, but you can turn off the majority of the Final Writer toolbars.

So, is it worth upgrading to? Depends on your requirements. Frankly I feel the tables, datatypes and RTF support are worth it. But there's also a further dimension: in a note attached to the upgrade, the president of Softwood acknowledges that the bulk of the money that allows his company to survive and develop comes from upgrades; if you like the Amiga and use the software, Softwood is definitely a good resource to keep around. The upgrade doesn't cost much.

Also out finally is Final Writer for Windows 95. It's very similar to v4 of the Amiga Final Writer. I can't really go into it here for obvious reasons, but it works nicely, and looks quite sharp. It's not Word, but then nothing else really is. As to be expected it supports all the standard Windows functionality, imports and exports a lot of file formats, and seems to avoid hitting any DLL faults or GPFs. Take a look -- there's a trial version on the net which merely lacks the thesaurus and spelling checker (as far as I can tell.)

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