Microsoft Word Brings PC-Style Word Processing to Unix

Ben Smith

December 1, 1990

If you are a seasoned Unix user, you might wince at the thought of a PC program cluttering up your ''serious'' Unix computer. The Unix vi or emacs editor (with a little nroff or troff formatting code) is all you think you will ever need (or want). If this is your attitude, classify yourself a bigot. Open your eyes, and widen your view. Microsoft Word is a word processing (and nearly a desktop publishing) program, not a text editor. There's a world of difference.

I'm not saying that there aren't some tried-and-true Unix word processing programs around, but I assure you that you wouldn't want to compare them to Microsoft Word, arguably the most popular multiplatform word processing program. On the other hand, there are some real gotchas in having a personal computer program on Unix--a multiuser, multitasking operating system with a rich history and set of traditions.

Full-Featured Word Processing

Shrink-wrapped Unix applications are a goal of The Santa Cruz Operation. It is its packaging of Microsoft Word 5.0 that makes this a reality. As with any SCO-supported package, installation requires little more expertise than being able to find the floppy disk drive and knowing which way to insert the four disks. You do need to know what kind of printer you have.

Microsoft Word's massive functionality is delivered in an easy-to-use style. Users at all levels will find it appropriate for writing the most complex as well as the simplest text files, memos, and even programs. If you wish, you can save your files as plain text files without any embedded formatting information. You can read and write to PC Microsoft Word files, allowing seamless interchange of files among the Unix, Macintosh, Windows, and DOS versions.

Word provides you with on-line help, multicolumn page layout, style sheets, graphics importing, printer-font loading, mail merge, redlining, optional postponement of editing changes, hidden text, and sorting. (Take a breath here. ...) There's also index generation, outline generation and expansion, spreadsheet links, an interactive spelling checker and thesaurus, a built-in calculator that you can apply to columns of numbers in your text, a macro-language processor that you can prime with captured keystrokes, document management across multiple directories, and multiple windows on the same file or across separate files.

Simple Escape-key sequences invoke most commands, but all are mapped to function keys and Alt keys for people who like to let their fingers jump all around the keyboard. But any Microsoft Word user is used to all these features.

What is different is that this is a Unix application. Unix is very different from the MS-DOS, Microsoft Windows, and Macintosh environments. First, Unix is a multiuser operating system, meaning that there has to be a way to prevent more than one person from editing the same file at the same time; Word has file locking. Each user must be able to have his or her own Word options environment; there is an mw.ini configuration file in each user's home directory, and a master file in Word's library directory.

Unix application programs can make no assumptions about the user's display and keyboard. Unlike MS-DOS, the display isn't limited to one of a predictable set. With Unix, there are as many different displays as there are different printers.

SCO has this problem pegged. If you are working at the console, the fit is flawless. Every function key, cursor motion, and Alt-key combination is identical to what you find on the PC version of Microsoft Word. Where there is a conflict (e.g., SCO Unix uses an Alt/function-key combination to switch between virtual terminals), standard Word key combinations are given precedence, but an alternate is given to the conflicting combination (in this case Control-Alt-function key).

More amazingly, Word works as well on terminals as on the console; even the function keys and Alt keys are consistent. Word's method of selecting text (without a mouse) is Shift-arrow key. Although far from a common combination on character terminals, even this is implemented.

With SCO's Microsoft Word for Unix you also get manuals, installation notes, and other goodies (e.g., keyboard templates) that are as good as what you get with the MS-DOS version of Word. You also have excellent (though not always timely) support from SCO where the technicians not only know Word, but are also experienced with Unix.

What You Don't Get

DOS users may be disappointed to find that the Learning Word program is missing. Similarly, the preview function, which lets you see your page layout before printing, isn't there. You also don't get mouse support or on-screen fonts.

On the Unix side, there isn't much integration with the Unix shell and utilities (a feature of emacs-type editors). Word doesn't follow many of the Unix traditions, such as naming the initialization file something like .mswrc so it doesn't clutter up your home directory listing. You can get around this by changing an environment variable.

You may also need to edit the termcap file (a description of terminals' attributes) to get Word to use color and different text modes (e.g., italic, bold, and underline). All these deficiencies are really minor when you put them up against what you do get. What is surprising is that this is not implemented as an Open Desktop application. Open Desktop is SCO's shrink-wrap Unix workstation software. It is basically an X Window System/Motif environment with bundled applications: networking, virtual MS-DOS machine, and DBMS.

What is lacking in Open Desktop is the rest of the office-automation software, primarily a word processor. What is lacking in Microsoft Word for Unix is a way to use the mouse and to display fonts, features that Open Desktop offers through Motif and X Window.

Who Is It For?

Microsoft Word for Unix is for those 386 Unix users who want an easy-to-learn and feature-loaded word processor.

I should add ''easy to use'' to the list. For instance, to save a file and quit with WordPerfect, you need to press F7 (better have your keyboard template or a good memory) and then a Y (for yes) to save the document. If the document already exists, you need to confirm that you want to replace the existing file: another yes. This has only gotten you to the point of saving and closing that file. You still have to tell WordPerfect to go away: another yes.

But with Microsoft Word, you press Escape (for the command menu) and Q (for quit). If you have unsaved changes, Word will ask if you want to save them (Y for yes), but that is the only step that may come between you and returning to the Unix shell. Much simpler, and there is no magic key to remember.

Now, compare Microsoft Word with the Unix vi editor. To cut and paste a block of text with vi, you must move to the top of the block and place a mark with a command like mt. You then move to the bottom of the block and yank the block to the unnamed buffer; the command is y't. Now move to the new position and ''put'' the buffer in with the command p. This amounts to six key presses for vi (not counting moving the cursor to the new point and problems with working with blocks that are only lines).

With Microsoft Word, you position yourself at the beginning of the block and then hold the Shift key while you move to the end of the block. Having marked the block, you press either Escape and then C (for the command menu method for Copy--a two-key-press operation) or the Alt-F3 combination (1 1/2 keystrokes). Now you move to the new location and press the Insert key (one keystroke). Microsoft Word wins with 3 1/2 keystrokes; plus, you can see the block as you mark it.

I prefer an emacs-style editor for my work at BYTE (I won't go into the rigamarole for copying blocks with emacs). My book publisher's editors, however, do all their editing with (you guessed it) Microsoft Word. So, for the sake of convenience, I now use Word when I am writing for them. I don't have any complaints. In fact, I found Word much easier to learn and use than WordPerfect (Word's biggest competitor).

If you are already well established using Unix editors and formatting programs, you probably won't be drawn to Word until it has better support for the Unix and/or X environment. But if you are running Unix on a 386 or 486 computer and want a real word processor, Microsoft Word is an excellent choice. Company Microsoft Word 5.0 for Unix The Santa Cruz Operation, Inc. 400 Encinal St. P.O. Box 1900 Santa Cruz, CA 95061 (408) 425-7222 Hardware Needed Computer running AT&T Unix 386 release 3.2 or higher (including SCO, Interactive, and other AT&T derivatives) and 3.8 MB of disk space, assuming one printer, 1.5 MB of memory for first user, and 500K bytes for each additional user. Versions also available for many AT&T computers. Price Unlimited number of users: $995

-- Ben Smith is a BYTE technical editor and author of Unix Step By Step (Howard Sams, 1990). He can be reached on BIX as ''bensmith.''

Photograph: Microsoft Word for Unix looks and acts just like Word for DOS.


Copyright 1990 McGraw-Hill, Inc.