Personal Computers

For Many Writers, a Mac Is Ideal

By Peter H. Lewis
The New York Times

July 11, 1989

WRITERS and Their Computers, Episode Three, in Which the Virtues of the Macintosh as a Writing Machine Are Revealed.

Our story so far: Writers, particularly playwrights and screenwriters, think in terms of full pages. Many of them also think in terms of big, screaming headlines and text flecked with bold and italicized type.

The typical PC can display only a half page at a time in one boring typeface. The writer usually does not know what the page will look like until it curls out of the printer.

In Episodes One and Two last month, we suggested customizing the PC by adding a full-page monitor, a not-so-simple process. We also warned that it may be some time before PC owners get true wysiwyg (pronounced wizzy-wig, for what you see is what you get) software and screen capabilities. While some programs allow the writer to ''preview'' a page to see how things will look on paper, control over type styles and sizes is limited.

Several Macintosh enthusiasts have written to suggest that we overlooked an obvious solution.

''Sell the PC and use the money to buy a Macintosh,'' one anonymous writer advised, summing up the argument offered by many other fans of the Apple Computer Inc. product.

But, we whined, we already have a PC and have gone to great trouble to learn its nonsensical commands.

''If you got a Mac and some good word processing software, you wouldn't have to devote even one megabyte of your brain to mastering a miserable user interface,'' wrote Michael Trigoboff of Portland, Ore. ''Instead, you could devote your brain to writing.''

Many writers still hold a grudge against the early 128-kilobyte Macintosh. The system was slow, lacked a hard disk, had a small screen and came with only one word processing program, MacWrite.

The ''modern'' Mac is a different story. If we were shopping for the ideal writing machine today, we would probably choose a Macintosh IIcx with 1 megabyte of memory, a 40-megabyte hard disk drive, and a 3.5-inch Floppy Disk High Density disk drive, which can actually read all those text files we created on a PC. The list price: $5,369. Then we would add a full-page monochrome monitor and video card, $1,099 and $599 respectively. We would top it with a 101-Mac keyboard ($194.95) from Datadesk International Inc. of Van Nuys, Calif..

Total list price: more than $7,000. Street price: about $5,000. Now comes the hard part. There are now at least a half-dozen major word processing programs for the Mac. Where does one start? The best way is to decide whether you are a ''power'' user who demands features, a mid-range user for whom ease of learning and ease of use are important, or a memo and letter writer.

Word 4.0 ($349) from the Microsoft Corporation of Redmond, Wash., has more features than most and is the standard for ''power writers.'' Most commands can be invoked from the keyboard, unlike other programs that require a mouse. Critics say it can be clumsy, especially on a Mac Plus, and that it suffers from being too much like the PC version.

Wordperfect for the Macintosh ($395) from the Wordperfect Corporation of Orem, Utah, makes sense if you are shifting from the PC version.

Nisus, from Paragon Concepts Inc. of Solana Beach, Calif., ($395), is a newcomer that could challenge Word for the affection of professionals. Its many features are hidden behind an uncluttered appearance, and its text search capabilities are unsurpassed.

Fullwrite Professional from the Ashton-Tate Corporation ($349) is a power program, but it is muscle-bound and lumbers along.

In the mid-range category, two programs stand out. MacWrite II from the Claris Corporation ($249) has a fresh look and some new features, and it is one of the easiest to learn and use. WriteNow II from the T/Maker Company ($195) is quick, especially for handling long documents, and it will run on Macintoshes with less than a megabyte of memory.

For casual writers of letters and memos, the choice is QuickLetter ($124.95) from Working Software Inc. of Santa Cruz, Calif. It is a small and elegant program that pops up out of other applications when needed.

Copyright 1989 The New York Times Company