HPLX.NET REVIEWS DisplayWrite 4 Version 2
by ian Butler

Vital Statistics

DisplayWrite was an underrated word processor from IBM. It does not contain built-in fonts but is capable of controlling typestyle and color for a variety of printers. Can read and write standard ASCII files and several proprietary IBM formatted text files.

Manufacturer: IBM
Availability: Discontinued
Introduction: Version 2, November 1988
Footprint: 2.2MB installed, needs 380K or 275K available RAM (depending upon configuration)

About the Product

To be blunt, DisplayWrite 4 Version 2 is not the most powerful wordprocessor I've ever used. But it is, without a doubt, the most powerful wordprocessor I've seen in its weight division, and probably the most powerful application you'll keep on your 200LX. More importantly, Version 2 runs properly on the palmtop, as well as on other non-IBM systems.

Before I continue, I need to note that DW4 is a "classic" wordprocessor. As such, it seems very idiosyncratic and underpowered by today's standards. Typestyle support is fantastic next to other programs of this type, supporting varied sized and shapes of text on many printers. However, it's not suited for any serious amount of layout work. That's far better done on any newer breed of wordprocessor that combines typesetting and publishing features, such as WordPerfect. On the other hand, a "classic" wordprocessor has a definite simplicity and is better oriented for onscreen work. You can't make a flyer for your lost dog in DW4, but you can write and edit a novel, and for that, it's superb. Still with me? Let's go on.

To start out with, you have to consider the fact that DW4 feels solid. This is a Big Iron program - an ultraprofessional, crash-proof, mean, form-over-function chunk of software that brings to mind Thomas J. Watson Sr. himself in a three-piece suit sitting at his huge oak desk, perusing source decks under the watchful eye of that enormous THINK sign. And believe me, that's exactly the kind of program you want to trust your documents to. From the instant you start the program, it becomes clear that this program is not going to give you protection faults as you type the last sentence in your 600-page great American novel.

Even though the only line of this program's credits reads "The Man", DW4 is surprisingly advanced. Palmtop users will be pleased to note that DW4 supports EMS -- which reduces the conventional memory footprint to a phenomenal 275K. DW4 also has a built-in print spooler (Print and work at the same time? Are we really in DOS?) and myriad prebuilt printer drivers, as well as the capability to build your own. DW4 can run in either graphics or text mode (either color or mono) with excellent results on the palmtop. Codes are automatically revealed and hidden, and code viewing can also be forced on or off.

A slight downside to a big iron program like this is that it's rather idiosyncratic in some places. When it comes right down to it, it's just a wordprocessor, and there's not too much that CAN be weird. A couple of highlights, though:

Beyond that, there's really only good things to say about this program. It takes a while to open large files for editing, but it's because it scans the file as a sanity check before it lets you edit (and if the file does turn out to be corrupt, there's a menu option elsewhere that you can use to recover the file.) Search-and-replace seems to be reasonably fast, and has a feature I've never seen before - the ability to search for and replace multiple things (up to three) at once. Moreover, header and footer options seem quite advanced, including page numbering and all the various standard formatting commands you can use in the regular text area.

An interesting feature that has crept into WordPerfect 8 is also available. IBM doesn't have a name, so we'll call it by Corel's. A shadow cursor is a cursor you can place anywhere on the page and begin typing from that point, and the program will add all necessary spaces and formatting commands to make it work. This is very handy in WP8; it's not quite as useful in DW4 but it's still convenient.

When you're done editing and hit F2, Enter, it saves and closes your file at warp speed, sitting smugly at the main menu with "> File "REVIEW.DOC" is saved." flashing on the message line within two or three seconds -- even if you're working on a 1.5MB document. When you go back to revise that document, DW4 can also be set up to automatically return to the cursor position you were at when you last edited the document - a handy feature I've never seen on other wordprocessors.

Other features of note are the spell-checker (with thesaurus), capability to do tables and multiple columns, footnotes, and an intriguing variant of a clipboard, Notepad. In addition, online help graces every nook and cranny of this program - wherever you are, you can hit F1 and get instant, well-written context sensitive help. The help system is surprisingly good for its time, and the way it's built allows you to flip through the pages for material related to whatever dialog or menu you're getting help on.

As for speed, DisplayWrite 4 ranges from average to warp. Opening files and performing searches seem to be about average; I think this is because these tasks are limited by the speed of the processor and not the efficiency of the program. In other realms, such as typing and editing, DW4 flies. I'm a fast typist (80wpm or so on the palmtop) and DisplayWrite shows no indications of hesitation whatsoever. It's quite capable of keeping up with anything you might have to say. Moreover, this speed reaches to the far realms of big files -- editing your freshly pirated etext of Ringworld is as fast on page 300 as it is in the first paragraph. Very convenient indeed.

The Verdict

All in all, DisplayWrite 4 Version 2 seems to be a highly advanced "classic" wordprocessor. If you're wishing for something as silky-smooth and fast as WordStar, DisplayWrite is for you. If you need more modern layout processing features, I gather WordPerfect 5.1 is about the same size. As it is, I've been tremendously pleased with DW4 so far, and if you find a copy at a library booksale or so, don't pass it up. Note that, from my experience, DisplayWrite 4 Version 1 doesn't run on the palmtop at all, and in fact hates pretty much all non-IBM systems, so watch the version number (it's clearly marked) if you do find a copy.

Copyright 2000, Palmtop Information Central.
Last Updated 10-Apr-2000