FullWrite 2.0 Review
Will Porter, University of Houston
FullWrite 2 is the reincarnation of a program that was a marvelous flop a long time ago. When version 1 appeared (it was then called FullWrite Professional), it boasted a number of page-layout features that were lacking in Word and MacWrite, and it won critical acclaim. Unfortunately, the program's RAM requirements were extraordinarily steep for the times. You had, for example, to have at least 1.5Mb of RAM in your machine to be able to run the thing capable. Outrageous! Now however FW 2's RAM demands (1.5Mb for the program itself) seem pretty economical. (WordPerfect wants 2Mb, Nisus Writer 4 isn't happy with less than 3!) FullWrite 2 (no longer called "Professional," apparently in a laudable effort to stand out from the crowd) has some good features, most notably, a real bang-up outliner. But it also has some glaring weaknesses.
I have tried in this review not to repeat much of what Marc Bizer wrote in his earlier review for H-MAC, but instead to concentrate on the strengths and weaknesses of particular features.
FW 2's "look and feel" (a.k.a. interface) is a bit confusing. There are five different ways to view a document, although the differences between them are somewhat hard to grasp, perhaps because they are sort of soft.
In "icon bar view", elements in the document are marked in the left margin of every column. Elements include such things as new rulers, footnotes and endnotes, table of contents entries, sidebars, tables, and column and page breaks. I must confess that I find this aspect of the program completely baffling. Many of these elements are so obvious you do not need an icon in an artificially-created "icon bar" at the left of the page to tell you they are there. Footnotes, headers, page breaks and the like are all completely obvious without these icons. In most other cases, the icons simply confuse things. They are so small you can't see them very well anyway, and there is nothing intuitive about them. These icons, however are not just there for informational value. To edit a note, for example, or a header, you click on the icon that marks it. But as a user of MacWrite Pro who is able to simply edit notes and headers directly in the document, I don't see the big advantage in having to click on an icon to the LEFT of what I'm interested in, in order to open a mini-window that lets me edit it.
In "change bar" view, you get a fairly WYSIWYG look at your document, with bars along the left edge of paragraphs, to indicate where changes have been made since the last version--actually, it will track changes in several different ways. There must be somebody who really wants this feature, because FW makes a lot of it.
Outline view allows you to see little icons, rather like the diamonds that appear when you view the contents of a folder in the Finder using "Name view". What is peculiar about this view, however, is that all that it adds are these diamonds. You can work on an outline in any of the other views, as it turns out. There is actually ANOTHER view called "outline overview", which is not represented by one of the icons at the bottom of the window.
Then there are two editable "page views", one that shows a single page, and another that shows two pages side by side. These are simple WYSIWYG editing environments. I spent most of my time in the one-page view.
I am afraid that this part of the interface gives you the appearance that you are getting many more options than you really are. I would have gladly given up all these options in exchange for something I really miss in FW 2: the ability to view and edit the document in different magnifications. (MacWrite Pro and WordPerfect are the only two Mac word processors that offer this feature.)
THE FEATURE SET
I would say that FW is weak in my most essential feature (style sheets), while it is extraordinarily strong in one desirable but (for me) non-essential feature (outlining). In another area of common concern among users, table generation, FW does a decent but uninspiring job. (It's tables can span more than one page, unlike those in MacWrite Pro and Nisus Writer, but they are rather harder to set up and edit than MW Pro's.) FW lacks macros (here it clearly is inferior to Word, Wordperfect and Nisus) and it is not even AppleScript scriptable (so it is inferior to MacWrite Pro). FW does have a number of important long-document features, including indexing, table of contents and bibliography generation, citations, and bookmarks (so you can jump quickly to various parts of the document). I did not give these features a thorough test, but they seem to be fairly well implemented. Like Word and MacWrite Pro, and unlike Wordperfect and NisusWriter 4, FW 2 does support sections. (It calls them "chapters," somewhat confusingly.) This is in my opinion a very distinct plus for longer documents. For one thing it makes it possible in a multi-chapter document to print endnotes immediately after each chapter, something that Nisus Writer, for example, cannot do. Headers & footers are more flexible than in any other word processor except for WordPerfect: You can create a new one for each new page, even within a single section; and you can suppress the footer on the last page of a section.
There are many nifty little features of FullWrite which are now either standard in all programs or too trivial to be a big factor in anyone's choice of a word processor: kerning; sound annotations; drag and drop; the ability to call menu-commands from the keyboard; an equation editor that seems to do a good job. On the other hand, there is one little feature missing in FW 2 that I use seldom, but want badly when I want it: line numbering. And there are some other weaknesses that, while minor, annoy the heck out of me, such as the extremely limited date and time-entry options. (Here MacWrite Pro continues to reign supreme.) And I miss some of the keyboard shortcuts that I am used to in other programs for moving around. It is not possible to jump to the end or beginning of a line (Cmd-right or left arrow in MacWrite Pro). There is not even a decently implemented way to jump around by paragraphs from the keyboard. This annoys me practically every minute that I use the program.
On the plus side, FW 2 supports footnotes AND endnotes in the same document--a strength it shares only with WordPerfect. However, FW has the same weakness that WordPerfect has here, namely, that you cannot view and edit more than one note at a time.
FW's spelling checker is mediocre. It flagged the words "footer" and "Microsoft" and did not flag "supercede" (a non-word that gives many spelling checkers problems). In itself, this is not a fatal flaw, since you can easily add Thunder 7, the world's best spelling checker, and remove FW's dictionary completely. The Thesaurus on the other hand is not bad, if you haven't got the American Heritage Electronic Dictionary on your computer yet. My main complaint here, as someone who works with languages a great deal, is that "language" is not an assignable text attribute. MacWrite Pro, WordPerfect and Nisus all do a superior job in this department.
The outliner is the best thing about FW. If your approach to writing relies more heavily on making outlines than anything else, then FW might be the program for you. An outline in FW is a piece of connected text that has certain outline characteristics: automatic formatting, numbering, the ability to collapse subordinate paragraphs under their superiors, and so on. Unlike in Word and ClarisWorks, you can place an outline within a document that is not otherwise an outline. A corollary of this is that you can place more than one outline in the same document. WordPerfect can do this too, but WordPerfect's approach to outlining is rather different and does not permit you to hide the outline headings.
Outline formatting in FW 2 is flexible. There are six predefined outline formats or styles (including Harvard, Chicago, Legal, Bullet). But you can define other formats of your own very easily. You can, for example, automatically assign the title "Question" to level 1 of an outline, and assign the label "Answer" to level 2.
In my opinion, style sheets are probably the single most important advantage that a word processor can offer over a basic text editor. Why is WriteNow a far better writing environment than the word processing module in ClarisWorks, you ask--even though in ClarisWorks you have macros, a drawing environment, and the ability to insert part of a spreadsheet into your word processing documents? Because WriteNow has style sheets and ClarisWorks doesn't! If your writing ever involves formatting challenges that go beyond the basic one-page business letter, you need style sheets, whether you know it or not. Perhaps the main reason that I think MacWrite Pro is superior to Nisus Writer 4 for most word processing tasks that don't require NW's advanced features is that MacWrite Pro has a very fine implementation of style sheets, while Nisus Writer's use of them is confused and confusing. I'm afraid that FW's use of style sheets is much worse even than Nisus Writer. This is the fatal flaw in the program, that is, more than anything else it is FullWrite's miserable implementation of style sheets that will keep me from using this program. What is wrong with FW's style sheets? Pretty much everything.
(a) Styles are not based on one another, which goes a long way to defeating their usefulness. FW distinguishes between "base styles" and "custom styles." Base styles are default styles for the various editing environments in FW: default (used in the main text-entry window), header, footer, posted note, footnote, endnote, bibliography, contents and index. The problem with these distinctions is that they are absolute. If you change the font for the "base style" called "default," the base styles called "header" and "footer" are not affected at all, because they are completely independent. This is an incredible pain in the rear, and I cannot see any advantage to this approach over the approach taken by Word and MacWrite Pro, where a single Default style underlies everything else. (In Word and MacWrite Pro there are default styles for such things as headers & footers and footnotes which only kick in when you make use of them. And since they are still based on the single default style, you can change the font of every element in a document from Helvetica to Garamond in one step rather than six.)
Even more surprisingly, custom paragraph styles are not related to one another, either. Say you have defined a handful of useful custom styles, e.g. Body, Heading, Hanging Indent and Block Quotation. There is no way to base one style on another, so that a change to an aspect of the root style (say, a change in the line spacing) automatically affects all the other styles that were patterned after it.
(b) Perhaps even more annoyingly, there is no "next style" command, which means that every time you wish to change styles, you have to apply the custom style manually. And this cannot be easily done from the keyboard, as it can in most of the other Mac word processors.
(c) I cannot see any way to import a style sheet from an old document into a new one. You can of course create stationery documents that contain predefined style sheets, but what do you do if you have a ten-page document going already when you realize that you want to import the style sheet from another document? Well, you can copy a part of a paragraph in a defined style from your source document into the target document. But if you want to move twenty defined styles from one document to another, something that I frequently do and which is easy in MacWrite Pro or WordPerfect, you'll have to cancel your coffee break to do it in FullWrite.
(d) Although you can include line spacing, justification, and tabs as part of a custom style definition, amazingly, you cannot include the paragraph indents or first-line indents as part of a paragraph style. These things must be separately controlled by the use of rulers. To make things worse, there is no copy rulers command. (See below.) If your writing involves, as mine does, frequent shifts between body paragraphs (with quarter-inch first line indents), block quotations, and hanging indents, FW is going to frustrate the heck out of you.
(e) Finally, perhaps the most unforgivable weakness of FW's implementation of styles--a weakness it shares with Nisus Writer--is that you cannot define a style by example. In Word, MacWrite Pro, and WordPerfect, this is actually the preferred method of creating a new style. You format an actual paragraph the way you want it, then use a simple command to store this formatting in a style sheet under a new name.
I won't suggest that FW 2's style sheets are worthless, although they are exasperating if you have ever used Word, WriteNow, MacWrite Pro or WordPerfect. I use ClarisWorks' word processing module quite a bit for taking notes and outlining, and I live without style sheets at all there. If you don't do much with style sheets now--and many people don't--then you will probably find that you can ignore them in FW or use them for what their worth.
RULERS AND THEIR PROBLEMS
I showed Marc Bizer a draft of this review, and in response to my statement (above) that there is no "copy rulers" command, he pointed out that you can click on the ruler icon (in icon-bar view), copy it, and then paste it. This is true, but I have not withdrawn my claim. The problem of copying & pasting paragraph formatting points up well the kind of problem that you will encounter using FW if your document requires many types of paragraph formats.
(a) The command-click thing is a trick and a fairly tricky one at that. If the user can't remember it, he's out of luck, because the menus won't prompt him. Compare MacWrite Pro, where you can either use the menu commands OR type Shift-Cmd-C and Shift-Cmd-V for "copy ruler" and "apply ruler" respectively. The keyboard shortcut is easy to remember, since it's a variation of the standard Cmd-C and Cmd-V for copy and paste, but if you forget it, you have the menu command to fall back on--and the menu command even reminds you about the shortcut, so you can use it next time.
(b) If you want to reformat paragraph B's rulers on the model of paragraph A, you can't simply do a paste after copying A's ruler, you have to remember to select B's ruler AND click on the top half of the ruler to highlight it, and only then do the paste, so that A's ruler replaces B's. I'm sorry, but there is no way in the world I will be able to get my wife's legal secretary to remember this and she would think me cruel if I tried. I would note further that this little requirement seems to be explained only in the "troubleshooting" chapter, when, in my opinion at least, this is such a fundamental thing that it should be somewhere in the main part of the manual. By the way, there does not seem to be an entry in the index for "copy ruler", either under "Ruler(s)" or under "Copy".
(c) Even worse, this process apparently uses the main clipboard. If you were in the process of moving a block of text from one place to another when you did this ruler reformatting, the copying of paragraph A's ruler will apparently push the text off the clipboard irretrievably. This is NOT the case in any of the other word processors I have mentioned and I think this is a very serious flaw in the program.
(d) Finally, copying the ruler does not actually change a few things that in other Mac applications the ruler is usually expected to govern, e.g. alignment. It could easily happen that to reformat paragraph B to look like paragraph A, you would have to do several steps: (i) apply to B whatever custom style A has; (ii) copy A's ruler and replace B's with A's [hoping you don't have anything else important on the clipboard]; and if A had a paragraph border of some sort, you would now basically have to reformat B the same way, manually.
By the way, I'm not sure how you CAN tell if you have anything important on the clipboard, since there does not seem to be a "show clipboard" command.
In both FullWrite Pro and Nisus Writer, rulers are a major formatting device, distinct from style sheets. This distinction is insupportable: there is no reason not to give to styles alone the jobs that FW and NW separate. But if you are going to separate rulers and paragraph styles, it makes sense to do as NW does and allow the user to define rulers by name and apply them from a list.
SOME ADVANCED FEATURES
FullWrite 2 has a number of "advanced" features also found in WordPerfect and NisusWriter but lacking in WriteNow and MacWrite Pro. FW 2 has a nice glossary tool, which allows you to store boilerplate, graphics that you use frequently and so on, then insert them into your documents quickly. (Nisus Writer has this too, as Word has for years. MW Pro and WordPerfect draw upon their easy-to-use "insert document" commands to compensate for the lack of glossaries.) There are various ways to link pieces of text together in "citations", which can be gathered later and reviewed. You can also create a simple bibliography, with "author (date)" references in your body text. I don't care for this feature, however, because it's not very flexible.
Most of these features can be found in Nisus Writer and WordPerfect as well. One feature, however, that to my knowledge is peculiar to FullWrite is the ability to create hypertext links. One of the Read Me files that comes with FW has a table of contents at the front, with items in bold print. When you double-click on an item, you jump directly to the place later in the document where that topic is treated. If you distribute lots of documents in electronic form, you might find this feature handy.
I should perhaps mention at the end an aspect of the program's "philosophy" that I very much approve of, even if it hasn't yet been implemented terribly well, and that is its reliance upon extensions to enhance the program. Akimbo Systems apparently believes that it is better to provide users with a basic program, then let them add or remove features as they like, by putting extensions into the FW extensions folder or removing them. The program comes with a large number of such extensions, although most of them are extremely trivial in nature: a large number of them simply allow you to create different color paragraph borders, for example. If I learn in six months that some of the deficiencies in FW that I identify below have been remedied by extensions, I will be duly impressed and will take another serious look at the program.
In my opinion, FullWrite 2 would be a good choice if you fit the following profile.
- Your Mac has limited RAM, say, under 4Mb.
- Paragraph formatting in your documents is usually fairly simple and you don't mind doing much of your formatting manually.
- You desperately need one or more of the following features that FW 2 offers: outlining, glossaries, footnotes and endnotes in the same document, the ability to mark citations and other automatic references in your documents, hypertext links and/or and a very strong system for marking revisions.
But overall, I'm afraid that for most uses--both general and specialized --I have to rank FullWrite 2 behind Wordperfect 3.1, Nisus Writer 4 and MacWrite Pro 1.5. The good news is that Akimbo Systems does seem pretty committed and very responsive. I expect that some of the problems I perceive in the current version may be remedied in future releases.
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Last Update: 9 April 95