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The Icon Bar: News and features: Moving from Impression to Textease
 

Moving from Impression to Textease

Posted by Andrew Harmsworth on 22:33, 2/12/2002 | , , , , ,
 
In 1996, I started teaching Physics and IT at a Midlands Independent School. Like most schools of its type, it was equipped with RISC OS machines, from trusty A310s, through to RiscPCs.

My IT teaching was a sideline to Physics, and I had never trained to teach IT. However, four year 7 and 8 groups were passed my way, and I had to learn with them how to use Impression as one of the IT sessions.

I had seen Impression used once before at University. A friend had helped me to design some fliers, and MS Word was utterly incapable of achieving what I wanted. Starting teaching with Impression, I found it logical in its approach, yet already dated in layout, and lacking a few useful features. Nevertheless, it could get the job done with little fuss, and total accuracy.

A year later, textease was being flaunted with a new HTML feature, whereas Computer Concepts had given up on Impression after the profitable StrongARM upgrade. I persuaded the department to buy a trial copy of textease. I tried it, liked its style, but missed the point entirely about its ease of use. Yes, it was easy to start typing anywhere on the page, but having learned to use Impression, with its logical, methodical manner, I wanted to retain full control over layout. It didn't seem to offer as much as Impression. So I left it at that.

Time passed. I installed Jason Tribbeck's excellent Longfiles. Saving Impression documents with over 10 characters was noted as being impossible. This was annoying.

Time passed. RISC OS 4 arrived, as well as a fatal HDD crash. A new one installed, and I felt the need for some new software. Fireworkz was comprehensive, and was still being "developed" (slowly). BETT 2000 offered a rumour of a new spreadsheet for textease... but I didn't make it to their stand.

Time passed. My first visit to the Wakefield show gave me the chance to see it in action, as well as a ridiculous price for the suite. I had to buy it, but they had sold all RISC OS copies!

A week passed. Textease arrived! A quick play (especially with the spreadsheet), and I was happy. The question then arose - how am I going to transfer my headed paper from Impression into textease? The answer? Print from Impression as a PDF file (thank you RISCOS Ltd!), convert to Drawfile, and import chunks directly into textease. Wonderful!

Time passed. I bought a barbecue, and needed to write some invitations to hand around my colleagues. The question then arose - do I use Impression, which I know how to control fully, or take a stab with textease? Diving in to the latter, I found a lovely "card" template on the CD, all laid out and ready to fold. Substituted a few graphics, changing text, adding a bit here, and there.

How do I line up all these frames of text? What's that icon? WOW!

I had discovered the "multiple frame align" feature. Nice! Impression can't do that!

Graphics import? Oh, I can't use that, can I? Hey wow - it loads JPEGs without having to buy an import filter1! What are all these WMF files on the CD? Probably for the PC version. No, Softease2 said all three versions were the same. That's neat - no need to try converting with only occasional success (and you could export the WMF files as Draw if you really wanted to, or OLE edit them in Draw!)

So, What Else Can It Do That Impression Can't?

I won't say "everything", since Impression Publisher is still a powerful valuable tool for RISC OS users. However, it is almost certainly something that I will now use perhaps once in a blue moon3. So what extra does it offer?

  1. Multi-platform support (Mac, PC, RISC OS) - with the additional bonus of textease 'viewing' applications for all three. So, even if someone doesn't own textease, you can still send them textease documents - which they can print, and even export as Draw files!
  2. Unlimited undo/redo. Although I don't ever make mistakes (you can't afford to in Impression!), I liked the fact that with this you can now 'experiment', and if you don't like it, reverse it. Worth buying just for this :-)
  3. It talks!
  4. Its borders are sensible, Impression's are not.
  5. Shadows on text.
  6. HUGE page sizes (yes, I have already had the need for an A0 page!) which can be printed as posters on overlapped A4 sheets.
  7. Configurable toolbar - with multiple settings depending on what you're doing.
  8. The ability to mark spellings when printed :-)
  9. Multimedia (I've not tried or used this).
  10. HTML import/export. Which seems to work rather well, if you're not too worried about exporting some text as GIFs.
  11. Drawing tools. Yes, you can use !Draw with Impression, but "everyone" uses MSWord these days, and expects drawing tools built in.
  12. Wonderful layout control, simplicity itself.
  13. Unlucky for some, but textease is still being developed.
  14. Swiftness of use for most tasks perhaps 25% or more improved on Impression.
  15. Moving text, graphics etc. around happens in real time: i.e. they remain visible, and don't turn into an outline.
  16. Comes with stacks of clipart, movies, etc.
  17. LOTS more.

So What's Bad About It?

I immediately noticed that my RC54 client made it clunky in use, which Impression isn't. Still, I don't own a StrongARM RiscPC just to chew cudd, and this can be paused whilst I'm doing actual work. :-)

What's bad about textease? Compared to Impression? Nothing. I can find nothing about textease that I would not be able to do in Impression. Textease doesn't have a Mail Merge facility (at least, I can't find one), but I don't use Impression's. One feature I like in Impression is "swap case" (ctrl S). This is present in textease, but it won't let you capitalise initial letters, like that used in sub-headings. Textease also stupidly doesn't appear to recognise a text file, unless it has a /txt ending. Instead it reports "File type not known. Import as textfile?" This is silly, and I would hope to see it changed.

The textease manual is written with Windows users in mind, as presumably that's their largest market now. This shouldn't really annoy you. Instead you can laugh at how poor the screen grabs look compared to RISC OS - the non-anti-aliased text being only just about readable - reminding you why you continue to use your RISC OS machine above all else!

So What's the Spreadsheet Like?

I don't use spreadsheets as much as I used to any more, but it's nice. One of my discoveries with it has been rotating text in boxes. No other RISC OS spreadsheet can do this, yet I find it essential for drawing up timetables, etc. Even TableMate can only rotate in 90 degree increments...

It can import/export a few useful file types (CSV, Draw, HTML - although GIF, not JPEG) - but not Lotus123 and Excel. Still, maybe this will come in a future version?)

It lacks a number of features that annoy me, like making one cell taller than cells in the same row. But this product is new, and still being developed. Like Oregano, this is a product that can only get better - it isn't going to grow old gracefully.

So What's the Database Like?

I don't know, it's not due out for a few more weeks!

Conclusion

Textease2000 (the Multimedia-DTP-Web-Wordprocessor) is simply the most productive program of its kind. Use it on RISC OS, and you have a Killer App that just doesn't look like a killer app!

Textease Studio (the Multimedia-DTP-Web-Wordprocessor-Spreadsheet-Database) is the most exciting mainstream RISC OS software development at this time. If you have the need for a spreadsheet on its own, buy the spreadsheet on its own! If you have the need for DTP, buy Textease2000. Both? Buy the Studio!

What of the Future?

The staff at Softease were very enthusiastic about launching textease Studio at Wakefield, and will be appearing at the RISC OS 2000 Show5 this autumn. All the development work on textease is cross-platform, and they use RiscPCs in their offices. Expect updates, and expect it to get even better.

Softease have also been promoting textease with their "textease @ Home" scheme, whereby parents can buy textease at the reduced price of 39.99 inc. VAT through their school, who then receive a discount on Softease products. This competes well with the powerful Microsoft's teacher/pupil programme. Except that textease Studio is much, much more useful.

Expect support, too, and free resources, courtesy of ROSES6. ;-)

Andrew Harmsworth

Footnotes

  1. Yes, I did consider importing a Drawfile that has an embedded JPEG, but that's just silly. Besides, Impression uses its own Drawfile renderer, and it doesn't work!
  2. Softease gave me a personal demonstration. http://www.textease.com/about.htm
  3. For information on blue moons, please see my support site for Spacetech's Orrery, at http://www.harmsy.freeuk.com/moon.html
  4. For information on RC5, and to join the RISC OS effort, go to: http://stats.distributed.net/rc5-64/tmsummary.php3?team=4266
  5. For information on RISC OS 2000, the successor to Acorn World, go to: http://www.armclub.org.uk/riscos2000/
  6. ROSES: http://rougol.jellybaby.net/roses.html - RISC OS Educational Resources

 
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The Icon Bar: News and features: Moving from Impression to Textease