A word-processing program helps you write and edit sentences and paragraphs. Whatever youíre writing and editing (such as a business letter, report, magazine article, or book) is called the document.

Remember that a word-processing program is mainly for manipulating sentences and paragraphs. To manipulate pretty drawings, get a graphics program instead; to manipulate a table of numbers, get a spreadsheet program; to manipulate a list of names (such as a list of your customers), get a database program.

To use a word-processing program, put your fingers on the keyboard, then type the paragraphs that make up your document, so they appear on the screen. Edit them by using special keys on the keyboard. Finally, make the computer send the document to the printer, so the document appears on paper. You can also make the computer copy the document onto a disk, which will store the document for many years.

How "word processing" was invented

Back in the 1950ís, 1960ís, and 1970ís, computers were used mainly to manipulate lists of numbers, names, and addresses. Since those manipulations were called data-processing (DP), the typical computing center was called a data-processing center (DP center). It was run by a team of programmers and administrators called the data-processing department (DP department).

Those old computer systems were usually expensive, unreliable, and complex. They needed big staffs to provide continuous repairs, reprogramming, and supervision. They were bureaucratic and technological nightmares. The term "data-processing" got a bad reputation.

Secretaries who wanted to write and edit reports preferred to use simple typewriters, rather than deal with the dreaded "data-processing department".

When easy-to-use word-processing programs were finally invented for computers, secretaries were afraid to try them because computers had developed a scary reputation. The last thing a secretary wanted was a desktop computer, which the secretary figured would mean "desktop trouble".

Thatís why the term "word-processing" was invented. Wang, IBM, and other manufacturers said to the secretaries, "We know you donít like computers and data-processing equipment. But donít worry: the machines we want to put on your desks are not computers; theyíre just souped-up typewriters. You like typewriters, right? Then youíll like these cute little machines also. We call them word processors. Donít worry: theyíre not data-processing equipment; theyíre not computers."

The manufacturers were lying: their desktop machines were computers. To pretend they werenít computers, the manufacturers called them word processors and omitted any software dealing with numbers or lists.

The trick worked: secretaries acquired word processors, especially the Wang Word Processor and the IBM Displaywriter.

Todayís secretaries are less afraid of computers, understand IBM PC clones, and run word-processing programs on them.

3 definitions of "word processor"

Strictly speaking, a "word processor" means "a computer whose main purpose is to do word processing". But some folks use the term "word processor" to mean "a word-processing program" or "a typist doing word processing".

In ads, a "$500 word processor" is a machine; a "$200 word processor" is a program you feed to a computer; a "$12-per-hour word processor" is a typist who understands word processing.

Which program to buy

Which word-processing program should you buy? The answer depends on your personal needs and desires. Here are the major competitors.Ö

Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word is the fanciest word-processing program. Youíll be amazed at all the fancy tricks it can perform!

Itís available for the Mac and the IBM PC.

Nearly all Mac users use Microsoft Word. Itís become the standard in the Mac community. Itís quickly becoming the standard in the IBM community too!

If you have an IBM PC, you can buy either a DOS version or a Windows version of Microsoft Word. The Windows version runs better. The DOS version should be ignored.

Though the Windows version is officially called "Microsoft Word for Windows", itís nicknamed Winword.

The new versions are Winword 6c (for Windows 3.1), Winword 7 (for Windows 95), and Winword 97 (which is the newest and fanciest for Windows 95). They eliminate the errors that occurred in version 6, and theyíre called "the best word-processing program" by nearly all the IBM and Windows magazines. I agree theyíre great. I wrote this 23rd edition by using Winword 7 (since Winword 97 wasnít available yet when I starting writing).

Versions 6c, 7, and 97 run well just if your computer is modern: a 486 or Pentium, with a big hard disk and at least 8 megabytes of RAM. If your computerís just a 386, versions 6c & 7 & 97 run too slowly.

If your computer has just 4 megabytes of RAM instead of 8, those Winword versions try to make 4 megabytes of your hard disk imitate 4 megabytes of extra RAM; then the program spends most of its time waiting for the hard disk to spin. If you want to use all the fancy features the critics rave about, the program consumes 25 megabytes of your hard disk, plus 10 extra megabytes of free space to store temporary files, where the program makes notes to itself about what youíre doing. Since the program consumes too much RAM and hard-disk space, itís called fatware.

Magazine reviewers praise Winword and donít mention its fatware problems, since the reviewers have modern computers.

Some folks still use Winword 2, which isnít as fancy as Winword 6c but has the advantage of running fine on a 386 with just 4M of RAM and a small hard drive.

Like Winword 6c & 7 & 97, Microsoft Wordís new Mac version is fat. Mac lovers who happily used Word for the Mac version 5.1 (which resembles Winword 2) get upset when they upgrade to version 6 of Word for the Mac and discover it wants 8 megabytes of RAM and more hard disk space.

Ami Pro

The French word for "friend" is ami. Itís pronounced, "Ah, me!"

For a word processor thatís friendly and professional, consider Ami Pro for Windows. Hassle-free, it runs fine even if you have just a 386 computer with just 4M of RAM and a small hard disk. Sucking you into the world of desktop publishing, it lets you wiggle your mouse to easily create multiple columns, headlines, drawings, and bar & pie charts. Use it to create eye-popping ads, blaring front pages of newspapers, and whatever else you want to make hot and spicy. After you master it, youíll be saying, "Ah, me: pro!"

Ami Pro was invented by a company called Samna. Since Ami Pro was wonderful, Lotus bought Samna, so Lotus sells Ami Pro. In 1995, IBM bought Lotus, so Lotus is part of IBM.

Back in 1993, the computer magazines all declared Ami Pro the best word-processing program ó better than Winword 2 in practically every way! When Winword 6 came out, the reviewers said Winword 6 was better than Ami Pro, since Winword 6 included extra-fancy word-processing features, and since the reviewers didnít notice Winword 6 was too fat.

Unfortunately, Lotus decided to imitate Winword 6: it created an "improved" Ami Pro, called Word Pro, which has extra features but is also very fat and runs very slowly. Everybody hates Word Pro! To apologize, Lotus has created Word Pro 97, which runs faster. I wish Lotus would keep selling the original Ami Pro, which so many folks loved; but Ami Pro is no longer sold (except in the used-software market).

Word Perfect

Though Microsoft Word is fancy and Ami Pro was pleasant, many businesses still use an older word-processing program, called Word Perfect. They use a version called Word Perfect 5.1 for DOS. It runs much faster than any Windows program. It runs on any IBM-compatible computer having a hard disk and 512K of RAM. It runs even if the CPU is just an 8088! Itís the word processor I used for writing earlier editions of this book!

Back in 1990, when Microsoft Word and Ami Pro hadnít been fully developed yet, Word Perfect was the only word-processing program that worked well on IBM clones. (Microsoft Word worked well just on the Mac.)

After 1990, Word Perfect faced serious competition from Winword and Ami Pro, which both require Windows. But if your MS-DOS computer does not have Windows, Word Perfect remains your only choice for a good full-featured word processor. For example, if your computerís CPU is an 8088 or 286, or your RAM is less than 4 megabytes, you canít run Windows well ó so buy Word Perfect!

Users have two complaints about Word Perfect 5.1 for DOS:

Since its commands are hard to remember, you need to keep peeking at a cheat sheet (a sheet of paper containing a list of commands).

While youíre typing and editing, the screen doesnít quite show what will appear on paper. For example, if you give a command to make a big, tall headline, the headline wonít look any bigger or taller than the rest of the text while youíre typing; it will look bigger just on paper (or when you tell Word Perfect to show you a print preview, which is an uneditable screen view of what will appear on paper). If you insert graphics into your document, you wonít see them until you print them out on paper (or stare at the print preview).

Despite those complaints, Word Perfect survives. In just a few days, you get used to Word Perfectís commands and donít need to peek at the cheat sheet as often. Though Word Perfect doesnít let you easily create a newspaperís front page (since it doesnít show you the headlines, photos, and captions conveniently), Word Perfect is fine for typical business letters.

To combat the complaints, Corel (which publishes Word Perfect) now sells Word Perfect 6.1 for DOS, Word Perfect 6.1 for Windows, and Word Perfect 7 for Windows 95. Theyíre modern but require more RAM and run slowly.

Word Perfect 6.1 for DOS needs at least a 386 with 2M RAM. Word Perfect 6.1 for Windows needs at least a 486 with 12M of RAM to run well (though you can limp by with a 386 and 6M of RAM if youíre very patient).

Many secretaries enjoy Word Perfect 5.1 for DOS. They throw temper tantrums when their bosses decide to upgrade to Word Perfect 6.1 or 7, which run slower and use totally different keystrokes, which secretaries must relearn.

Though Corel hopes youíll buy version 6.1 or 7, the company still sells version 5.1 for secretaries reluctant to switch. The 5.1 version thatís still sold is called version 5.1+. (The "+" means it includes a few features from version 6.1.)

Word Perfect also has versions for the Mac, Apple 2e, Apple 2GS, Commodore Amiga, Atari ST, Next, OS/2, Unix, Dec Vax, Data General minicomputers, and IBM mainframes.

Little word processors

Microsoft Word is expensive ($299). Word Perfect 7 costs slightly less ($240). Word Pro costs even less ($60). But all those word processors are more than most folks need.

If you wish, use a word processor thatís smaller, cheaper, and easier to learn. For example, in my operating-system chapters I explained that Windows 3.1 comes with a free word-processing program called Windows Write, Windows 95 comes with a free word processor called WordPad, and Macs often come with a free word processor called Teachtext. If you have a Mac, use Teachtext or step up to Write Now, which understands more commands than Teachtext, is as easy as Teachtext, and requires less RAM than Microsoft Word.

The most pleasant database program, Q&A, includes a simple word-processing program called Q&A Write. If you buy Q&A, get its DOS version; the Windows version is disliked by everybody. You can get the DOS version for $149 (plus tax and shipping) from its creator, a company called Symantec (800-441-7234 or 408-253-9600).

Another way to get a simple word processor is to buy an integrated program such as Microsoft Works (for DOS, Windows, or the Mac), Claris Works (for Windows or the Mac), or Appleworks (for the Apple 2). Each of those integrated programs costs about $90. Computers often come with one of those integrated programs at no extra charge.

But if you get one of those cheap programs, youíll soon lust for a fancier one and buy Microsoft Word, Word Perfect, or Word Pro anyway.

Old classics

During the early 1980ís, many folks used Wordstar (the first powerful word-processing program for microcomputers), Multimate (the first program that made the IBM PC imitate a Wang word-processing machine), Displaywrite (which made the IBM PC imitate an IBM Displaywriter word-processing machine), PC-Write (shareware you could try for free before sending a donation to the author), and Xywrite (which ran faster than any other word processor). But by 1990, most of those users had switched to Word Perfect 5.1.

Whatís in this book

This book explains 7 word processors: Teachtext (page 154), Windows Write (page 111), WordPad (page 98), Microsoft Word (page 162), Ami Pro (page 173), Q&A Write (page 178), and Word Perfect (page 183). Have fun!