Business-like, isn't he?


 

 



Ami Pro 3.0

by Alan Zisman (c) 1992. First published in Our Computer Player, September 18, 1992

Way, way back in the dark ages before the June 1990 release of Windows 3.0, there was a graphical interface for PCs called Windows 2 (or Windows 286 and Windows 386). Everyone seemed to enjoy making fun of it, except Apple, who filed a lawsuit against its originator, Microsoft, over its overlapping windows.

Even though it lacked proportional screen menu fonts and 3-D icons, and was limited to 8 colours on-screen, it did run some powerful applications such as PageMaker, Excel, and Micrografx Designer. While many people used the "run-time" Windows versions that shipped with these products, so that they could pretend to run, say, Excel without having to know that there was such a thing as Windows, some users tried to work in the Windows environment all the time.

That was not easy, however. While Windows version 1.0 was released in 1985, for a long time, there were no Windows-based word processors except Windows Write, the minimalist free sample that Microsoft has included with Windows, and which has remained basically unchanged from 1985 to today.

Finally, it wasn't Windows evangelist Microsoft who released a real Windows word processor, but tiny, Atlanta-based Samna, who put out a product called Ami late in 1988. It had an icon-bar for quick access to many functions, and supported multiple columns and graphics with a true, editable, on-screen appearance.

A year later, Microsoft finally released Word for Windows, and the idea of using Windows as a full-time computing environment began to be taken seriously. By then, Samna had released Ami Pro, it's full-featured product, and had been bought out by giant Lotus Development.

Since that time, Ami Pro and Word for Windows have played features catch up, becoming larger and more powerful with each release. Many users, however, waited to see what DOS favorite, Word Perfect would do in the Windows environment. Word Perfect 5.1 for Windows was finally released, late, this past winter.

There are other contenders for the Windows full-featured word processor market (Word Star for Windows, Legacy, and DeScribe, for example), but they lack the clout of the 'big three'. And ferocious price-cutting and 'competitive upgrades' by the market leaders have kept lower-priced/lower-power products like JustWrite from gaining much of a following.

Users of word processors seem to develop an almost religious attachment to their products, so I'm treading on dangerous ground in trying to briefly describe them. Word Perfect for Windows, however, has been widely viewed as an awkward attempt to move the DOS-product's strengths into a new environment. It seems slow, and doesn't always follow Windows' conventions. A recent 'silent' upgrade has fixed many of the original problems, and added features like 'drag-and'drop'. Its biggest virtue is 100% compatibility with DOS Word Perfect files, macros,  and printer drivers.

Microsoft Word for Windows has tended to be the features leader, with a product that had more power than most users knew what do to with. Microsoft has been touting usability research lately, and W4W has made mail merge and envelope printing simpler, and pioneered drag-and-drop. Here, a user can slect text, and pull it to a new spot in a document, without having to use the cut and paste menu items. Nevertheless, W4W remains a powerful, but staid, and sometimes unfriendly choice of a word processor, especially for users wanting to integrate graphics and text.

From the beginning, Ami and Ami Pro haven't been staid. It's always had the jazziest interface of any word processor. With its row of icons down the side of the screen, the original product could easily be mistaken for a paint program. And from the first, it seemed to be infringing on desktop publishing with its power in mixing images and words. It tended to lack some of the power of W4W, but made up for it with the ease with which users could access its features. Perhaps because it looked more fun, it lagged behind Microsoft's product in sales, even with the help of Lotus's marketing muscle.

While Word Perfect is on its first generation, and Word for Windows is up to ver. 2.0, Ami Pro has just released version 3.0. As the longest running Windows word processor, it has had the most time to smooth out the rough edges. As well, it has caught up to Word for Windows in the features offered, while remaining the easiest of the three to learn and use.

Version 3 looks almost the same as v.2.0 on screen--- same SmartIcons, that can be placed anywhere on screen, same status bar on the bottom, that can be clicked to change font, size, or style sheet. The same ability to change screen view easily, and to edit your work in any screen view.

Despite the similarities, however, many features have been enhanced while a number of new capabilities have been added. Let's start with the SmartIcons. Now you can have multiple icons bars, with different selections of icons for different jobs--- one for long documents, another for leaflets, for example. As well, there's an included icon editor, so you can make your own custom icons for macros.

Improved filters let you import and export most of the common word processing formats (and Lotus has a free "SwitchKit" to ease the transition for Word Perfect users). The Table Editor has been made more powerful; it can almost act as a mini-spreadsheet.

Keeping up with Microsoft, a grammar checker (licensed from Houghton-Mifflin) is built in. It can be set to check for business writing, as well as legal, technical, and even fiction styles. Of course, there's a spell checker (Canadians get a French dictionary as well),and thesaurus. The collapsible outliner can export outlines directly to Lotus Freelance for quick presentation creation. The math-teacher in me loves the equation editor, based on the TeX equation language (but MUCH easier to use!).

As well, there's a draw program that includes Bezier curve editing, and a selection of clip-art, and automatic charting, with 168 chart styles, including those trendy 3-D charts. While these were included in version 2.0, now they're available as OLE servers. This means that they can be opened up from any other OLE-aware Windows application. If you want, for instance, you could use these Ami Pro features in place of the Word for Windows ones, right from the W4W menus ! Or they can be easily integrated into other Windows programs that lack these features.

Ami Pro remains easy to use. As before, dialogue boxes show "what you see BEFORE you get it". Type new margin sizes into the dialogue box, for example, and a picture will show you what your page will look like. To add a header, simply move your cursor into the margin, and type your header in. Format it the way you want it to appear. Insert a page number? Click on Insert/Page Number. As easy as that.

New ease-of-use features abound, as well. There's a Help button in every dialogue box. A new paintbrush icon lets you do fast formatting. Select some text, click on the paintbrush, and your cursor changes to a brush. With it, you can 'brush' to copy and apply the formatting from your selected text to new areas. You can now drag and drop in text and tables, just like the competition.

If you want, when opening a file, you can preview it first--- browsing it and even printing it direct from the Open dialogue box. Similarly, you can preview a style sheet before applying it.

The under-used right mouse button comes into its own. Right click on a frame, and the Modify Frame dialogue box opens for fast changes. There's similar right click access to the Modify Style and Modify Paragraph commands.

Mail merges have been made simple--- and in the process, the user gets to collect addresses on 'Rolodex cards', providing a simple database that may be all some of us need. Like Word for Windows, the software can automatically find the sender's and recipient's addresses from a document, and use them to format envelope printing.

Finally, if you just want to work without all those icons, buttons, and bars, you can clean the screen. Even your menus disappear, although they can still be accessed using ALT+letter (whew !).

You still get 55 style sheets, now including some that automate text entry, using the (often overlooked) Power Fields feature. Frames make it easy to add headlines or graphics, though you still can't automatically flow text from frame to frame, a la Ventura Publisher. Image enhancement controls let you adjust contrast, sharpness, and brightness of imported grey-scale images.

The Basic-like macro language is the most powerful of its type, and used together with Power Fields lets you create sophisticated, automated documents. Finally, a new, on-line tutorial adds to the enhanced, context-sensitive help.

As before, Ami Pro ships with the latest version of Adobe Type Manager (v.2.02), and a nicely varied set of 13 real Adobe fonts (not just Helevetica, Times, and Courier clones).

In many ways, this product, and its competition, has become an 'integrated software package' in all but name. A powerful word processor, with built in draw capability, charting, table-editing/spreadsheet, and now a simple database for mail merges. Inevitably, all these features have a price. A full install now takes 15 megs of your hard drive; as much as Word for Windows. Luckily, you can slect what features to install. There's a more limited 'laptop' option that will let you get away with a "mere" 4 meg or so.

Even with the added capabilities, Ami Pro has sped up; it outpaces the Microsoft product, and zooms past Word Perfect. Draft mode is even respectable next to some DOS, text-based word processors. As well, it has finally gotten rid of the sometimes annoying flicker that happened on earlier versions when starting a new line.

For speed, features, and ease of use, this is the current Windows word processor to beat. It's easily the best of the bunch if you want to add light-weight desktop publishing power at the same time that you work with text. There is a low-cost 'competitive upgrade' policy for users of most other DOS or Windows word processor, and a free working model available for a 1-800 phone call. If you're looking to switch from DOS to Windows, or just interested in trying something new, you owe it to yourself to give Ami Pro version 3 some of your time.

Ami Pro ver.3.0
available from
Lotus Development Canada
10 Bay Street
Toronto, Ont. M5J 2R8
1-800-GO-LOTUS

requires Windows 3.x, minimum 2 meg RAM, 4-15 meg hard drive space, depending on options installed.


The above article was originally published in 1992, as a review. A decade and more later, I've gotten a series of emails from AmiPro fans hoping that I could sell them a copy of this software or direct them to a place where it is still available. While I have reviewed software since 1991, I am not a vendor of r any products. I suggest to everyone looking for copies of older software to check at eBay or at OldSoftware.com.If you check on my Files webpages, you'll find links to a number of (mostly freeware) downloadable software, some of which may be good replacements for older programs. Ami Pro fans may be especially interested in copies of Lotus WordPro or IBM/Lotus SmartSuite. WordPro (included in SmartSuite) is essentially an updated version of Ami Pro.
-- AZ (September 15, 2003)

Reader Arni Highfield comments:
"I still use this programme having originally bought a licensed version of Ami Pro II back when. I had a hiatus with Ami Pro, because Windows 98 handled it poorly, causing many crashes, and Windows Millennium Edition was worse. However, Windows XP is very stable with Ami Pro. For example, the multiple document feature would not work under 98.

To update your 2003 comments, although I agree that WordPro was essentially an upgraded version of Ami Pro, it was, in reality, a worse programme in many ways, being much clumsier at handling graphics, and having the most extraordinarily clumsy way of automating style sheets, compared with Ami Pro’s still unbeatable method. All my colleagues use the ubiquitous MS Word, and they are amazed what I can do with Ami, especially when it comes to the ease of adding or changing paragraph formatting in a document, and especially, the ease of creating automated documents. In a Government department, there are obviously numerous forms used for all sorts of purposes. I have created all of them as style sheets which prompt me for the vacant fields and are set up with all the various paragraph styles that each form requires. This is so easy in Ami pro, its trivial. Some of this stuff cannot be done in MS Word without reverting to programming For goodness sake!

However, a copy of Word pro is essential. The latest version (I think 9.8) is the only way of getting modern MS Word documents in and out of Ami Pro. I use it only as a document converter.

So there it is, pity it died, somehow along the way Lotus appeared not to want to compete, and their marketing was woeful. Shame some brilliant programmer doesn’t buy the code and relaunch it, it is still, after all this time, a superior product." (December 10, 2004)

Reader Chris Newton was having problems printing from AmiPro 3.1 to his Canon i990 printer under Windows XP; he solved the problem by  gojng " to Tools > user setup > options then disable "print in background". (March 16 2005).



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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan