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.
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.“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!”
A Major Market with No Major Players"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."
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?): 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.
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. But if you use WordPad and open the TXT file: SUCCESS!!
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.