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Papyrus X

Thomas Wellicome reviews the latest release of the most advanced word processor yet on the Atari platform

 

British users have had somewhat of a bad draw as far as Papyrus is concerned. After the flagship word processor left the HiSoft stables, English language versions have become more sporadic in occurence. A lot of British users are probably still using Papyrus 5 or earlier, the last release with a UK supplier. The last English language release of Papyrus was version 8, version 9 never making the language crossover from German. While this review will therefore take a somewhat "Anglo Saxon" viewpoint on the latest Papyrus, hopefully it will give our overseas readers a good insight into the program as well. Specifically, this review will deal with the differences between Papyrus 5 and earlier versions and this, possibly the last Atari compatible release. This review is in no way an attempt at a tutorial, more an overview of some of the features of Papyrus Office.

[Screen-shot: Papyrus 5 versus Papyrus X]

Papyrus 5 versus Papyrus X.


Papyrus was first released on the unsuspecting Atari community way back in 1994. The program launched into a polarised ST word processing world, with the simplistic 1st Word Plus at one end and the module-laden Calligrapher at the other. While Calligrapher had gone a long way in providing Atari users with true document processing, it was clunky, didn't support GDOS fully (although in those bleak days this was no bad thing), and had a somewhat unorthodox style. What was needed was a program that bridged the gap between the easy-to-use 1st Word and the overly complicated Calamus. Something that could produce attractive documents quickly and easily. Papyrus filled that gap. Over five versions Papyrus established itself as the cream of ST word processing. As other programs fell by the wayside Papyrus evolved, dragging the Atari community towards the sort of standards expected on other formats. Then HiSoft, which supported the program, left the 16-bit platforms behind and distribution reverted to the developers, ROM Logicware. Understandably by this time they were moving towards the Windows and OS/2 platforms but thankfully they decided that the Atari platform was still worth developing for. Distribution was handled by e-mail, which for some reason is never as reassuring as having bought it from a store. Thankfully this situation has now changed with 16/32 Systems now selling and to a certain extent supporting the program in the UK. The program comes on a CD-ROM, which for an Atari program is slightly unusual, but nonetheless welcome, as for as long as you have a CD drive, installing the program is a lot more simple. The CD-ROM installation is the beginning of a theme that may dissapoint some Atari users. While Papyrus may run on a 4 MB machine, to get the most of it you'll need at least a Mega STE running at 16 MHz. To be fairly comfortable you'll need to be using a Falcon or TT with plenty of memory. Milan, Hades or Falcon users with accelerators will be laughing, however. Therefore, the test machines for this review were a Milan 040 using MagiC and MiNT/N.AES and a 4 MB TT running MagiC and Outside.

The first thing most Papyrus 5 and earlier users will notice upon loading this new version is the improved toolbar interface sporting colour icons. Well you should unless you're running it on a N.AES 1.5 based system, whereupon you will find the icons are bizarrely enough still black and white. This interface first came in with version 6, but as most UK users will have never used it, it's worth mentioning. The toolbar has been re-designed to allow access to more of the most commonly used functions than in earlier releases. Papyrus now also has a comprehensive help and documentation system, which is handy as there are no longer any paper manuals. The help system is fairly thorough and has fortunately survived the translation intact, the bonus being that you can always print it off if you need that hard copy feeling. All help provided in Papyrus is supplied in its own proprietory format, there's no support for ST Guide. This allows the help documents to be prettier, but you lose out on speed. While we're on the subject of unsupported system extensions, BubbleGEM doesn't appear to be supported, which is a bit of a shame as it's a pretty much standard addition to the operating system these days. The largest change to Papyrus since version 5 is the addition of the word "Office" to the title. A small word but nonetheless it adds a whole new range of capabilities to what was once a bog-standard word processor. For a start you get a swanky new database, which in theory integrates effortlessly with the word processor. Secondly, table handling in Papyrus is also improved, now much nearer full spreadsheet capabilties. And you get HTML creation and support for Papyrus documents. These sorts of features probably wouldn't even cause a PC user to bat an eyelid, but on the Atari platform, where the last integrated office suite was Atari Works, launched in the early nineties, this is a welcome series of features. Atari Works was a cracker of a program at the time, but Papyrus X offers a lot more power. The first thing to look at though is the word processor, as this is by far the core of the package. Improvements have been made to text and picture manipulation, although a lot of the features were available in Papyrus 5. These include microspacing (allowing you to literally type in circles), text macros (allowing you to use shortcuts for commonly used words and phrases), text frames and various paragraph and heading styles. Annoyingly, the Bold, Italic and Underline buttons haven't been Anglicized and are represented by F, K and U respectively (no sniggering at the back, please).

[Screen-shot: Microspacing]

Microspacing in action!


Spell-checking is somewhat improved, thankfully not incorporating a distinct lack of two-letter words, which seemed to be a design feature in the Papyrus 5 dictionary. There isn't any grammar checking or so-called intelligent correction of text, which is dissapointing as rudimentary grammar checking appeared in an early-nineties ST word processor.

Papyrus 5 users who were infuriated with the lack of word count will at least be pleased to know that Papyrus X is only too eager to throw statistics at you. This is something German users will have appreciated since version 6. Another thing German users will have been using since version 6 is the ability to import and export files in Microsoft Word format. Although in theory the Rich Text Format (RTF) Papyrus 5 supports is the only officially recognized international format, asking one of your less computer literate PC owning chums to save it as RTF will usually bring you only a blank stare. Papyrus X has support for Word 2000, which although not entirely the latest version, is certainly good enough. Certainly experiments with Word XP in the office suggested that it still saves files in Word 2000 format. So well worth upgrading to Office XP for those extra features then, folks...

Papyrus supports creation of HTML documents to HTML 3.2 standard, with, as the manual states, elements of HTML 4. As with any word processor, production of HMTL usually results in some slightly disappointing results. Splashing multiple test frames and pictures all over the place usually ends with some bland looking output.

[Screen-shot: HTML test page]

The test page...
 

[Screen-shot: Test page displayed in Highwire]

...and the results in Highwire. Boo!


To be fair this isn't really Papyrus' fault, HTML is simplistic in terms of power compared to modern word processing packages, Microsoft Word is no better at producing HTML pages. However, if you keep your documents simple it is quite easy to produce a fairly eye-catching home page. It certainly beats fiddling around with a text editor and CAB anyway.

Papyrus Word boasts most of the usual features you can expect to find on a word processor, including mail merge, indexing, support for all standard paper formats and tables. Bookmarking (or text marking as it is called in Papyrus) could possibly be improved, only six points for a large document could be limiting.

Papyrus excels with its tables, which verge on almost spreadsheet capabilities. A plethora of mathematical functions can be applied to data in the sheet, and building formulae is only a right mouse click away. It's not going to replace Texel just yet, but for basic statistical manipulation you can't fault it. 

Mainly Papyrus Word seems to have had just a facelift. There doesn't appear to be a lot more power under the bonnet, it's just that the accelerator is a bit easier to find.

The main reason to upgrade to Papyrus X though is if you want a modern, flexible and easy-to-use database. Papyrus Base is to be quite honest a real suprise. Seeing that Papyrus has always been seen in many minds as a word processor with some extras bolted on (even with that Office word in the title), hopes weren't particularly high for the database. Annoyingly, Papyrus Base is actually very good. Although it's hardly going to rival Microsoft Access for power, it certainly seems to win hands down on the Atari. Not only is it a joy to use, if a database can be called such, it is also suprisingly powerful, and brings with it a whole host of features together in one package.

Papyrus Base is a fully relational database with many modern features like queries, reports, excellent form and report design courtesy of almost seamless integration with Papyrus Word, SQL, and more.

Relational databases give you more power over your data by allowing you to link certain tables of data, which are stored in different files, together. So what? Well it allows you to modify the database's design more easily and also cuts down on redundant or duplicated data. Say you have two databases, one with your staff's wages in one and another with names and addresses. Now say you want to combine a few elements of the two. On an old-fashioned database this would mean creating a new database, but with a relational database you can simple pick and chose fields from separate tables, cutting down on duplicate entries and hard disk space! If I was to quibble I'd say that it isn't immediately obvious on how you're meant to achieve this, as it's hidden away in a pop-up in a sub-menu. To make matters worse, the relationships' dialog also contains what appears to be the only untranslated piece of text in the entire program. Also a graphical representation of table relationships would be nice, although perhaps more of a luxury than a necessity.

Now of course Twist 2 was relational and this isn't exactly a breakthrough on the Atari, but Papyrus Base wins hands down in other areas. First there's report creation and form display. Papyrus Base allows almost unlimited control over the look of your database, you can adjust the font and positioning of the fields. You can add pictures in a number of the standard formats, which is an often overlooked, but extremely useful feature.

[Screen-shot: Papyrus Base]

Papyrus Base in action.


Papyrus offers full querying of your database, though it would be nice if you could save different queries, as with Microsoft Access, so you could quickly activate common sorts on your data. Papyrus also supports most Structured Query Language (SQL) commands within the database which allows a huge amount of control over the way data are manipulated. All the mathematical functions available in Papyrus Word's tables are also included for use in the database, which means database boffins out there can calculate to their hearts' content.

Most editing of data happens in the form view (each record is displayed individually), which is a blessing and a curse. Form view editing is excellent if you want to add individual entries one at a time on sequence, but becomes highly problematic if you try to shift large groups of records about at once. Try as I might I found no way of editing data in table mode (where all the records are displayed in a spreadsheet format) and it seems this mode is only useful for viewing the results of queries and sorts.

Import and export options are fairly average, with support for the usual dBase (how old?), comma seperated (CSV) and 1st Base. Shame that the export functions couldn't have had more options for exporting and importing to PC programs, however.

Papyrus Base feels very natural to use and sports a pretty, easy on the eye interface. The majority of functions that are needed to set up a basic database are easily accessible, and anyone with experience using a database before will probably feel right at home. Some of its more powerful features are a little tucked away, but as with all computer programs these days, spending the time learning to use it properly is well worthwhile.

So final thoughts on Papyrus Office X then. There's no doubt it's one of the most powerful programs on the Atari platform, this along with Calamus SL can still pack a professional punch at the PC platform, and the fact that it is still supported and updated is a godsend (thank you, ROM). Papyrus Word and Base are almost a joy to use now, and I'm hard pushed to think of too many ways to improve them.

One problem I did find while using Papyrus was that it crashed quite a bit. The crashes seemed to have little logic to them and may be that I also had several other programs open at the same time (Imagecopy, Everest and CAB which should in theory be fairly stable). It would be interesting to find out whether other users encountered these "random" crashes.

Well if you're still plodding along with Papyrus 5 I would heartily recommend an upgrade, the inclusion of Papyrus Base and the improvements in the interface and some of the features within Papyrus Word make it well worth the money. If you own a later version of Papyrus particularly 8 or 9, then the results are less clear cut. On the other hand it's a good deal cheaper to upgrade from these versions and you get a good deal more value for money than you would from upgrading from version 2.7 to 2.8 with CAB, for example.

thomas@myatari.net

Verdict

Name:

Papyrus X (Office)

Publisher:

ROM Logicware

Supplier:

16/32 Systems (UK), ROM Logicware (rest of world)

Price:

69

Upgrades

  • 34 from Papyrus 9 Office
  • 41 from Papyrus 8 Office
  • 48 from Papyrus 8 Word
  • 55 from Papyrus 7 office
  • 62 from older versions
  • 62 upgrade from version 5  

Pros:

  • Still the daddy of ST compatible word processing
  • Powerful and easy to use
  • Database is a touch of class

Cons:

  • Hasn't evolved that much from Papyrus 8/9
  • There appear to be a few bugs in there
  • Need a powerful machine (by Atari standards)

Rating:

4/5


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MyAtari magazine - Review #1, February 2004

 
Copyright 2004 MyAtari magazine