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Seattle, WA, USA

Posted Fri Apr 01, 2016 8:39 pm


Why would you ever want to write on an Amiga computer? The word processors it offered "back in the day" are light-years behind modern times. They have very few whistles and bells, often lacking key features like spell checkers and thesauruses, among a million other things (see: Word).

Their limitations are real, and I’ll point out a few of the most glaring in a moment. But for some, a distraction-free text editor is exactly what the Amiga can provide. Think this idea is folly?

George R. Martin, author of the wildly popular fantasy series “Game of Thrones,” sees the value in a computer that isn’t connected to the internet, isn’t full of features 99% of the population will ever use, and doesn’t tell him when the fantastical names he creates are “misspelled”. He writes his massive tomes on a DOS-based machine from the 1980s on what was a leading (yet incredibly minimal) Word Processor at the time: WordStar 4.0. Martin stated that, as a writer, it fulfilled all of his needs.
“I don't want any help, you know? I hate some of these modern systems where you type a lowercase letter and it becomes a capital. I don't want a capital. If I wanted a capital I would have typed a capital. I know how to work the shift key!”
WordStar 4.0 doesn’t even have a graphical user interface (GUI), and looks more like a Shell for writing code than a tool for crafting the fantastical soap opera sweeping pop culture by storm in 2016.
WordStar 4.0 Screenshot

"I actually have two computers: I have the computer that I browse the Internet with that I get my email on, that I do my taxes on," he said, trailing off. "And then I have my writing computer, which is a DOS machine not connected to the Internet."
A Major Market with No Major Players

One of the “Achilles heels” of the Amiga computer, at least perceptually, was that it wasn’t viewed by businesses as a serious machine even though its hardware blew all other computers away at the time. With most businesses looking elsewhere, there was a shortage of cross-platform productivity software created for it by the industry leaders at the time. Only one version of Word Perfect was ever released (4.1), and Microsoft never allowed its proprietary Word format (.doc) to be integrated into Amiga software for the importing and exporting of text files. This left the Amiga nearly closed off from the rest of the world when it came to crafting a portable written word.

In addition, font management on classic Amigas was handled usually at the application level, not the system level. So when you bought a Word Processor, it often came with only a handful of fonts and a folder for you to place more. You then needed to load whatever fonts you had into the program.

Amiga supported two main font types at the time: Bitmap and Compugraphic.

Bitmap fonts were pixelated screen fonts. They were fast for the machine to render and use, but awful to print and/or change the native sizes.

Compugraphic fonts were mathematically based (like Vector graphics) but could slow some machines down. They were special fonts that were "constructed" for displaying on the screen or to a dot-matrix printer. It wasn’t until much later that the TrueType fonts (TTF) started to make their way onto the Amiga, but by then the computer wars had taken their toll on Commodore. Most Word Processing developers and publishers had moved on to other platforms, if they hadn’t completely folded by then (e.g. Excellence, Scribble!).

The bitmap fonts were essentially Amiga-only and not cross-platform. Compugraphic fonts, however, and eventually TTF, could be recognized and translated by other systems as actual text.

Most of the page layout properties of the various word processing packages got left behind or garbled when sent to PC or Mac.

How to use the classic Amiga as a Word Processor

First, accept the fact that your Amiga will be the equivalent of a very simple text editor. Got that? OK. If simplicity is good enough for George R. Martin, it might be good enough for you, too.

There are essentially two levels you can pursue.

Level 1: For some Amiga Word Processors, this level exports to the equivalent to Windows Notepad or Apple’s TextEdit (in plain text mode). All you get is text and line breaks. For these you will be saving files as ASCII text files. Your writing environment can be very minimal and pleasant. The export, as well, will be minimal but usable. I call this George Martin Standard.

Level 2: For a few Amiga options, you can export your final documents in Rich Text Format (RTF). This means you can use “text effects” like bolding, italics, underline, bullets and a few others. Page margins, etc. are probably taking things too far and may produce unwanted results (and annoying reformatting later). This type of export I call George Martin Pro.

The following is an example of one way to use your Amiga in George Martin Standard mode.

I used WordWorth 4SE (Ww4SE) by Digita International in 1995, which was boxed and licensed with my A1200 from the same year. Ww4SE was a ‘Special Edition’ as it was created for the 1200/4000, but earlier versions are very similar in terms of features. Virtually any early word processor offered the ability to Save As “ASCII”. So even if you don’t have the software described here your steps should be virtually identical.

After installing, create a new formatted document in any font (the default in Ww4SE is Shannon, which is a bitmap/screen font).

Here is an example of a document I created (isn’t the UI fun?):
WordWorth 4SE Screenshot

The fonts are a little unusual, to be sure. The kerning (space between letters) often feels too tight, but this could also be a design choice to pack as much text in a single line on screen at a readable size. It might be rectified easily by installing TrueType Fonts (TTF) which are available today for various classic Amiga models.
  • After you are done writing, Select All text and switch to a Computational Font (in Ww4SE they put “CF” next to the 2 you get)
  • Finally, save as ASCII file and add the “.txt” suffix to filename so other platforms will recognize the file.
Now transfer the file to your PC in a manner of your choosing. I prefer the null-modem cable option these days, and text files transfer quickly.

After transferring, if you open this text file on a PC with a pure text editor (ex: NotePad) you’ll get all of the text on a single line with busted characters in places where line breaks should be. Kind of a drag.
Notepad doesn't get it

But if you use WordPad and open the TXT file:
MS WordPad, as seen in Windows XP

George R. Martin Standard is in the house!

I also emailed this txt file to myself to open on my MacBook Pro (El Capitan) and used TextEdit to open the file. Just like WordPad, it came through brilliantly!

In the coming weeks I will use Final Copy II to create a rich text document, and bring that over to compare the results in addition to installing some TTFs.

So the question, “Why would I want to write on the Amiga?” has been answered. Because you can actually focus on writing, and keep the distractions at bay.

UPDATE: Part 2 of 2 here, with a full-fledged solution and ADF downloads created from original disks from 1990.

User avatar
Detroit, MI, USA

Posted Sat Apr 02, 2016 4:57 am

There are many other reasons to delve into Amiga word processing. I have written tons of helpful guides or lists that I keep on my Amiga for quick reference. Strange hard to remember command lines? Write them down in a word processor and give a description of what they do. Given that Workbench 1.3 did not allow a "show all files" option there are many command line only games that can not be found unless you go DOS on the Amiga's ass. A handy list of those games and where they are at is a wonderful thing. Don't always like to play fair? Write down some cheat codes and keep them right there on the Amiga.

I loved the "I know how to work the shift key!" quote! I too have written longer articles on the Amiga and transfered them over to PC. There's a strong nostalgia for me attached to that. I wrote many elementary school reports on the Amiga, I remember my sister writing many reports on it and my dad doing all sorts of things... He did his taxes on the Amiga... Connected to that fabulous unforgettably loud and slow dot-matrix printer. My God... I really wish I kept that thing... Our Amiga (and most American Amiga's) was most certainly not just for games. When a big report had been written the printer would be at work for an hour.

Multitasking came into play! Print that thing up and play some SimCity! I often use a .mod player and rock out to some kick ass Amiga music while writing. Some of the more advanced word processors for the Amiga (like Final Copy II, Pro Write, Excellence!) had features that were every bit as good and BETTER than the word processors of their day. Fonts/colors/pictures/spelling and grammar checkers... Let me be the first to say word processors of the 80's and early 90's sucked! People did not want Word Perfect or Lotus 1-2-3 because of their amazing features... They wanted them because that was what was at work. Even the very first Amiga word processors blew those others out of the water! There were only a couple of DOS word processors that ever had the now universal white page view. Microsoft Word never had a DOS version with the white page view. It was not until Windows 3.1 that the now familiar MS Word look came into play.

I think anyone using Excellence! or Final Copy II will feel right at home. Even if you don't feel the need to "go back to basics" there is no excuse not to have at least one Amiga word processor. There are countless things you can write and keep on the Amiga that will come in handy.

Nice write up and looking forward to Final Copy II

Here I am finding some use for Amiga word processors:

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Posted Mon Apr 04, 2016 1:04 am

Very informative post about one of Amigas strong points - thank you!
In the coming weeks I will use Final Copy II to create a rich text document, and bring that over to compare the results in addition to installing some TTFs.
I'm looking forward to this! <3 :P <3

User avatar
Gentleman Octopus

Posted Wed May 25, 2016 2:57 pm

Just took a short trip down memory lane in my head. I remember using Textcraft and Superbase back when I was a kid. Only the coolest of kids created a database of their games in Superbase!

User avatar
Seattle, WA, USA

Posted Wed May 25, 2016 3:14 pm

Textcraft wasn't on my radar - I will have to check that out. The main issue so many of the Amiga word processors have are the screen fonts are just terrible. Very hard on the eyes and just plain crappy. I checked out the TextCraft owner's manual and they seem to actually use some native screen fonts that you can actually read quite easily. That's been something of a holy grail issue for me. Final Copy is brilliant, but the fonts suck pretty bad. I would totally settle for a "DOS-like" screen font just for typing.

TextCraft was apparently the first WP on Amiga (!!) and, "was a mix between a real word processor and an advanced text editor." That sounds ideal!

The real holy grail would be a text editor like TextCraft that can export to rtf. But you can't have it all. I've always wanted to find an original Word Perfect - an extremely rare animal not seen by many human eyes.

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Posted Thu Jun 16, 2016 7:57 pm

I am using Wordsworth (7??) on my A1200.
I liked Final Writer that came with ClassicWB, but I do print from my Amiga over my home network from time to time.
I use my PC with Ghostscript to translate the postscript from the Amiga to whatever printer driver my PC has for whichever printer.

But for some reason Ghostscript chokes on the postscript output from FinalWriter.
So I tried Wordworth, and that prints fine...

Don't do a lot of editing/printing, but it's nice to do that from time to time..

On a side note, when I bought my wife a laser printer, I should have made sure it supported Postscript natively. Wouldn't have needed Ghostscript, at least for that printer...


User avatar
Seattle, WA, USA

Posted Thu Jun 16, 2016 8:21 pm

Hi desiv! Welcome - thanks so much for joining. Nice to see someone else from the PNW! :)

Here's what I wish I could find:

A word processor - or text editor - that basically uses screen fonts that are easy on the eyes (heck, like the shell) but can save files in rich text, which could then be transferred to other platforms. Something like Wordstar 4.0 would be epic - but I am left doubting that something like that ever existed. Some of the later WP's allowed for customizing the UI and tried to get really fancy, but the fonts themselves always stink and interlaced modes seem hard for me to believe anyone could ever tolerate them without going into a seizure. Devs seem to worry too much about trying to make the fonts on-screen look like what you later print (probably under pressure from Apple's early dabbles in PostScript fonts and the Imagewriter printer).

I've been preoccupied with games lately, but I'm still on the hunt for TextCraft to see if that might be the ticket.

User avatar
Detroit, MI, USA

Posted Thu Jun 16, 2016 11:21 pm

Welcome desiv! Great to see new people/comments!

Intric8 - Not sure Textcraft is going to be the answer you're hoping for... That's one I had back in the day, and as stated, very first word processor... I don't believe that one stuck around long enough to give you the rich text exporting you're hoping for. I guess the fonts never bothered me back in the day, or now for that matter... As a kid I mostly used Excellence or ProWrite, I do remember using Textcraft, my sister used that one more... But of course we were dealing with Dot-Matrix printers at the time, a fancy font was not going to help you much with those printers...

I know what you mean about interlace, though I never considered it something terrible about the Amiga with Word Processors... I mean I've yet to come across a single word processor that defaulted into interlace mode... They usually default into medium res, 640x200, a very nice space/memory compromise that was the default workbench resolution... The pages are a bit zoomed in, but I never had issues with it. I prefer the Amiga's modern word processor look and medium res over any DOS processor combined with monochrome high resolutions... I can vividly remember the black/white Macintosh and that super small screen... I didn't care if it higher resolutions, looked like crap to me... But anyway, interlace is just one mode and in fact several Amiga processors didn't even support it, and if it did you had to select it. Some of the later processors again took that out of the equation by using high res of 640x400, a non interlaced mode perfect for documents. Still not as much info as interlace (640x512) but certainly it can be lived with. I'd recommend looking into a scan doubler, you can get them for the real Commodore monitors, and I don't think you'll regret it. And of course the reason Amiga interlace mode was so hard on the eyes was because it was the only computer designed to sync up with NTSC video at 60hz... Made it something special in that area, but of course, not so much with other apps... But again, why would anyone torment themselves in that mode anyway? I only have very vague memories of interlace mode... Dad trying it a few times, me accidentally switching Workbench into it... Yeah, I saw that flickering and I jumped for the power button! I doubt anyone subjected themselves to interlace with word processors... My Amiga 500 does just fine in 640x400 hi res, no complaints from this guy. But for anyone debating the use of interlace... Scan doubler or bring the resolution up or down.

I think I'll do a little research for you, since I"m not making any videos at the moment... Delve into some later issues of Amiga World and see if we can't track down that elusive rich text mode. I guess that's another area where I've never been bothered with it. I have no issues with transferring ASCII text from Amiga to PC and vice versa. Any font styling can be altered once on the intended machine. As stated in a previous post, I find a lot of use for having multiple Amiga word processors. Though I do see where you're coming from in preserving the intended format a little better... I'll take a look... I'm remembering some other ones... Pen Pal was another one my dad had... Damn he had so many word processors... Can't recall if PenPal was fully featured or simple.... I don't recall the fonts of one vs another, would be strange if Textcraft was not only the earliest but best looking in terms of fonts... Anyway, good luck on the continued quest... Honestly I always felt the Amiga was light years ahead of all the other word processors, but I guess I was just thinking in terms of graphical representation, how in the late 80's you had the modern page view. But I guess I was not taking into account fonts and other file modes that might preserve formating from computer to computer. Speaking as someone that still uses Microsoft Word 5.5 for DOS for certain things, completely text based, I really don't care about how many characters can fit on the screen, it looks awful from my perspective when compared to almost all of the Amiga word processors. And if those DOS programs did have nice and fancy fonts, wouldn't you have to print them just to see what you were dealing with? It always felt ahead of the competition to me, but I guess we're thinking more of using it today. It should be possible a rich text amiga editor is out there, the times line up... BUT... I think everyone was just aware if they wanted to transfer stuff ASCII would be the best method, so, perhaps nobody ever tried.

I was never a fan of Word Perfect, did not take advantage of the Amiga, couldn't understand how someone could stare at the blue background all day (for all computers) and not go crazy. Maybe it's because my first word processors had page views... Obviously page views did win out in the end, though. Not sure if they ever upgraded the Amiga version of Word Perfect, but I know Microsoft Word supported WP format for a very long time. That could be the answer for you...and... Don't be afraid to steal it right quick just to see if it gives you what you want... Hell do a mass download of Amiga word processors and make it a day. If you find what you're wanting, then go out and look for it.

User avatar
Detroit, MI, USA

Posted Sat Jun 18, 2016 2:06 am

Flipping through some Amiga World when I thought of a couple things... One; you know how many ads there were for various DOS emulations? Indeed, when they first showed off the Amiga one of the things they did was show how it could do "regular, slow, boring old DOS..." and they loaded up Lotus 1-2-3 at the show. - I wonder how big that market was... Would there have been many people who loved their Amiga's but would emulate DOS in order to use its famous word processors? - I mean it doesn't help you out wanting to use the Amiga itself... But just an interesting thought... To anyone that was unhappy with Amiga Word Processors (not me) or simply loved the Amiga but needed the compatibility with their work machines - They had that option..


Secondly; What about a font disk? Here we have the December 1990 issue of Amiga World where they're covering several font collections. In this case they're highlighting its use for video software, but some of the collections they mention are noted to be for printing purposes. Suddenly I had a "DUH!" moment... I see no reason you would be limited to your word processors built in fonts... Much like today in Windows, fonts were stored in a certain folder on disks and the system drive... Not something I've ever thought to try, but I wanted to toss it out to you... If you can get your hands on one of these font collections, online or physical, this could be exactly what you're looking for in terms of fonts... What do you think?

-The rich text format search continues however...

User avatar
Seattle, WA, USA

Posted Sat Jun 18, 2016 10:55 am

I tried the font path once and failed. Probably due to my ignorance of the font management system, but Final Writer allows you to load external fonts. I grabbed some from some place that sounded pretty good (They were actually, unbelievably, TTFs someone had made just for the Amiga and had released to the wild for free, which I mentioned in the OP) but I couldn't get it to work.

The more research I did, the more I became convinced that what I personally wanted had nothing to do with print at all as long as I could export the files to a PC or Mac.

Print is dead, baby, Print is dead. But if I can move the files externally, my only real goals are:
1) beautiful chunky screen fonts, like the shell uses
2) ability to have very basic formatting - especially paragraph breaks - at a minimum.

The abilty to bold/italics/underline would be a bonus, but not necessary IMO. Just fat chunky fonts that are easy to read on-screen, and exporting. Really, that's all I'm after at this point.

I think I may be experimenting with Excellence 2 and TextCraft by early July based on my current schedule. I do know that WordPerfect 4 was created for the Amiga, but finding it (on original disks) seems virtually impossible. That software probably does some of what I'm talking about, but finding it is like finding the holy grail, seems like. I only ever found one site that claimed to have a legal copy, and when I contacted them they apologized and said, "Oops, no."

I do know the ADFs are floating around out there somewhere, but I'd really like to see the originals, with the manual, to see what it claimed it could do. But again - it might be "too good" to do what I'm after.

So, realistically, maybe the best option for me is to hunt down text editors instead of a WP. That would wipe bold/etc. off the table entirely, but would probably allow for paragraph breaks and be the type of screen font I'm after. . . assuming the screenfonts can be exported (they are bitmap fonts, and don't always convert nicely, from what I've read).

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