Why Use LocoScript Today?

That is the question many people ask themselves or are asked by others. It does seem astonishing that a program which first saw the light of day in the early 1980s as part of the brilliantly successful Amstrad PCW package should still be in use by 1000s of people throughout the world as their main word processor. Of course, LocoScript has developed over the years into a highly advanced text and data system and yet it remains an MSDOS program in an age of Windows' dominance. So how can LocoScript possibly compare with the latest versions of Microsoft Word for example? The answer is "surprisingly well". Many ex-PCW users have emigrated to Windows and found that they can't abide modern "word processors" partly because such programs behave more like over-bearing desk top publishers and partly because they lack some of the features which make LocoScript possibly the greatest text system  ever produced. Combined with LocoFile, LocoMail, LocoSpell plus a 300,000 word Thesaurus all built-in, the package remains unbeatable even today, well into the 21st century. The phrase invented to sum LocoScript Professional up at its launch was "Everything you need, nothing you don't" and the following article, written by LocoScript legend Howard Fisher for our support scheme newsletter explains this philosophy more eloquently than anybody else could - even if they were using LocoScript!

LocoScript V Word

This is the first in a series of articles from Howard Fisher, ex MD of LocoScript Software. In this article Howard discusses why he still loves LocoScript after all these years.

"Everything you need,  nothing you don't!"

That was the slogan which an advertising agency came up with when we launched LocoScript Professional. It was about the only useful thing the agency actually did, but it did sum up why people like using LocoScript. It is as true today as it was back in 1992. When I'm asked whether to use LocoScript or one of the many Windows word processors, I always come back to that slogan.

It is said that 80% of the people use only 20% of the features of a complex piece of software. With modern Windows word processors, those percentages almost certainly change to over 90% and less than 10%, so obscure are some of the features pushed in to justify ever increasing prices. Yet, why is it that many of the facilities that seemed so useful when we produced LocoScript have failed to find their way in to Word?

Undoubtedly, Windows does bring benefits in some areas, some simply due to its increasing ubiquitousness. So the choice whether to remain with LocoScript or to change to Word is increasingly difficult.

The killer for me, that keeps me with LocoScript for much of my correspondence, is simply inserting the date. I have set Templates for my work and these include my name and address, date and the salutation. When a new document is created, that day's date is inserted, and frozen into the document. So if I come back and look at the document on disc in the future, the document will have its correct date. This is done by ticking the "keep these values" option for time and date in the f8 Options menu in Document set up for the Template. Amazingly, Microsoft Word has no way of doing this  if you want that day's date from your Template, it will be updated every time you edit the document.

I like to use keyboard instructions to set italics or bold, or to align text. With LocoScript, this is easy as all codes start with the [+] key ( [+]I for italic, for example). If I ever forget the keystroke, I just pause after the initial [+] and a menu pops up to remind me. With Word, many users are unaware that these features can be controlled from the keyboard at all, as the only mention is hidden deep in its help system. Whilst some are as easy to remember as LocoScript ([CTRL]I for italic, to take the same example), many need you to hold down two or three non-obvious keys simultaneously.

And with LocoScript, it's easy to lay out a line with some text at the left, some centred, and some right aligned. Word can't do this without setting up tabs specially for that line.

Another LocoScript feature I miss when using Word is cut and paste. Yes, Word uses Windows' cut and paste, but this only allows one item to be stored at once. And, yes, word has a system of short-cuts that provide an equivalent to LocoScript's phrases, but setting these up is a nightmare. Word even has a nice feature allowing a set of cuts to be combined into a single paste, but it's hard to find and difficult to remember. The great thing about LocoScript is that it provides all these in a simple, orthogonal way. And, as it's easy to remember how to use it, people do use it.

Indeed, when the designers at Locomotive originally designed how LocoScript would work, they considered such things as visual cues, making menus work in the same way across the whole program, and above all, attention to detail.

I think the attention to detail really makes the difference when it comes to usability. In general, LocoScript does not try and hide places where you need to think about something before you can use it. Two examples of this are headers and footers and the way Mailmerge works and their comparison with headers and footers and Mailmerge in Microsoft Word.

In LocoScript, to set up headers and footers you first call up headers and footers by f9 and then select what kind of headers and footers you want by the f5 Use menu. For example you can select different headers and footers for odd and even pages or special ones for the first and last pages. Then you can type the text you require.

Word tries to hide this "complexity" from you, by forcing you to set the options and then type into the "actual page". The result of this is that if you want a special header for page 1 and then simple continuation sheets, you have to create a bogus two page document to do so. So producing one of the most common styles of document headers and footers is extremely non-intuitive.

A similar attempt to hide what's going on means that, superficially, Word's mailmerge is better and easier to use than LocoScript's. In LocoScript, you need to ensure that the data you are going to use in your merge is laid out in a well defined and consistent way. This is done by setting up a record pattern, or using a simple "card index" style datafile.

In LocoScript, you'll need to consider how many lines are in your address, or whether the address is an object complete with newline characters; you'll need to consider what constitutes a product code; and so on. Then you'll need to write the "record pattern" or use a datafile that associates names with these items.

In Word, by contrast, you can just write your standard letter etc. and select "by example" from your data. But the moment you try and carry out the merge, it's likely that you'll find that the data doesn't quite fit your implied pattern (ie the first record). Word will simply stop on some records. Correcting this is rather difficult, and requires just as much understanding of a record pattern as LocoScript  only now you've just printed half the letters.

Which really brings me back to the slogan. LocoScript gives me what I need and not what I don't. But I'd extend that to say that it doesn't try to hide the things that matter, and that's why I find it continues to be the word processor I use when I want to concentrate on what I'm writing.

Of course, being so much bigger, there are features of Word that make it the word processor I will use for some tasks. And, as it is a Windows program, it interacts with other Windows programs and the Internet better than LocoScript ever could. But there's always LocoLink for Windows sitting on my PC, so it's a matter of a few moments to convert any LocoScript document (or datafile) to Word.