Signature+ xpl notes | back to xyWrite resources

Why not
NotaBene for Windows?

Or is the question
Why NoteTab?
Some very subjective notes

new! 4 july 2001

xyWin and nbWin, which is built on SmartWords, the successor to the xyWin engine, are serious apps trying very hard to do a good job, from tiny, well-intentioned developers. The Technology group, which bought XyQuest's assets, managed to keep xyWrite going in one form or another for a decade, but now seems to have tanked. NotaBene has managed against impossible odds to stay alive. With TTG apparently gone, the xyWin comparisons below are fairly pointless, but for the record I'll let them stand. NB and its products deserve to survive and thrive. That said, here--for what they're worth--are reactions to using both apps for the first time intensively for several weeks, after using all three flavors of win9x NoteTab as needed to supplement xyWrite 3 for a few years.

DOS xyWrite brings all its buddies home. I used to shell out from the CMline to the only win3 app I used. Signature's Windows progeny exist in less-than-splendid isolation. Brave but uneasy immigrants from the land of dos, xyWrite for Windows and NotaBene for Windows have joined the club but shun participation in its activities. The contrast between them and the NoteTab text editor, so in tune with the times and its environment, is stark. A comfortable gui native, NoteTab hangs out with other members and recognizes a world owned by the 'net.

Oblivious to their surroundings, as gui text editors xyWin and SW brought all their assets from the old world: xpl, the command line, poise in the presence of null chars; from xyDos4 font icing and the ability to finesse a midfile hex1A eof if you detect it on your own. Not to minimize the value of those features, but xyWin and nbWin offer no special advantage as Windows apps--no innovations like, e.g., NoteTab's "pasteboard file" feature that collects a copy of every clip you make in any win9x app. (If you dedicate a file as a pasteboard, the !xyWiz !PB module treats it as a relay station between xyWrite 3 and NoteTab and the win9x clipboard.)

Equally oblivious to the times, xyWin and nbWin stick doggedly to a narrow '80s word processor model where the office printer is Mecca. Why isn't SmartWords plugged into the 'net? One might as well ask why xyWrite 3 wasn't plugged into PostScript when the office printer was Mecca. SW acknowledges the Web with a humdrum html file filter, xyWin with a banal html kbd. Thinking I might find some advantage in taskswitching my browser with xyWin or nbWin instead of xyWrite 3 while tagging, I ported !xyWWWiz !BetterThanAverageTaggingTool. I found instead a major disadvantage. Although the port works perfectly otherwise, xyWin and nbWin don't let it finish the job as the xyWrite 3 original does. Unlike dos xyWrite as well as NoteTab, both nbWin and xyWin thwart changing newlines to linefeeds. To zap eof eof at save, xyWin can use the !xyWise assistant FIZFIX1A but SW--incredibly--still doesn't have the option built in and impedes "dos/nv /c" commands. NoteTab is keenly aware that your browsers and the Web are a keyclick away; see !xyWWWiz page re NoteTab's ingenuity as html editor.

NoteTab is no xyWrite for this century. It's just close enough to tantalize. While NoteTab has niceties xyWrite users can only dream about, it lacks others like file comparison that we (and Total Commander users) take for granted. Most glaring faults: NoteTab's only kbd option is WordStar mapping. The KR win9x kbd remapper is compatible, but a KR NoteTab map would result in the same activate/deactivate tsouris xyWin and nbWin present. Again unlike Total Commander, which has a CMline and lets you assign shortcuts to keys and toolbar, NoteTab has no CMline and shortcuts can be assigned only to menus that require a pointing device, something NoteTab too often requires, e.g., to get into the path\name box above "quick list" dirs. Those very handy 32bit file lists (no details) adjacent to the text area beg for sort fine-tuning.

But the developer gets Windows and the 'net and is open to suggestions. NoteTab too smudges the line between text editor and word processor. It autoreplaces. Drivewide s&r accepts regular expressions. Max file size is 2gb. You can of course grab massive blocks of text. The internal user language, Clipbook, accommodates win32Perl; a small band of earnest Clipboard programmers enhance the app (sound familiar?). NoteTabPro color codes this era's embedded codes, html tags. (If it instead colored the text they mark up, then masked/unmasked tags--yes, yes, nested tags would present a problem; problem-solving is what developers do--NoteTab would be closer to being a 21st century reincarnation of xyWrite. Your browser renders "graphics view.")

You best can learn about outline options and scads of others by downloading the Standard-based no-nag freeware and exploring configuration panels and keyboard Help. The purportedly "lite" freeware is so powerful I bought both shareware versions solely to express gratitude for the freeware. NoteTab Standard handles any typeface but won't mix fonts and has fewer features than (and at us$9.95 costs half as much as) NoteTabPro, which accepts only fixed-width type. With NoteTab's lack of both keyboard flexibility and CMline and frequent interruptions of work flow when it forces you to reach for a pointing device, I can't use it for routine writing and editing. It serves well, however, as the missing link between xyWrite and the 'net and brings to mind the word promising the way xyWrite used to.

Most [choose-your-adjective] fragment from that chronicle (circa '99) of Kenny Frank's statements regarding SmartWords: The TTG CEO `said that a native 32 bit editor is under development.'
Since, aside from nbWin dialog boxes' ability to read lfn, xyWin and nbWin perform no Windows services unavailable to the dos xyWrite user, the question then is simply and subjectively How do you feel about old-fashioned word processing in a graphical environment? Even after reducing xyWin or nbWin to little more than a dos interface, stripped of icons so reaching for a pointing device would occur no sooner than in dos, some will find this kind of screen too distracting for quotidian writing and editing.

Although the motivation for my belated dive into the Windows releases and the payoff at the moment is the xyWin/nbWin port of the !xyWWWiz tagging module, I can't even think about coding xpl or any other language in Signature+ (notes on using xyW3 to code Sig+ U2s are on a page that explains how I regained one xyWrite xpl instrument that Signature withdrew). Signature 2 a/k/a xyWrite 4 for dos, its Windows near-clone, and xyWin's stepchild nbWin are first and foremost about formatting for office printers. With the release of v4, the developers succeeded in turning the classic text processor into an app that's primarily a word processor.

While Signature column rendering bugs are well known, I wonder how much of what users thought were other display bugs when xyWin was released were really the app being temperamental about graphics hardware. My 110mhz Pentium laptop has no trouble with big, purely graphical apps but, native screen or on an external flat-screen TFT, xyWin and nbWin in graphics view show only a random, unscrollable section of a file (Cirrus CL-GD7548 Graphics Controller, Video Controller ROM Revision 1.26 [Cirrus]). My 330mhz Pentium notebook renders everything nicely. While I had it installed, xyDos4 gave me severe display headaches in my last desktop, a 386. One is unaccustomed to thinking of xyWrite and hardware compatibility in the same breath. Signature seems to have changed that too.

Both Windows releases conflict with the KR win9x keyboard remapper, thus require sacrificing kbd independence across the rest of Windows while they're loaded--no surprise and nobody's fault, but KR lacks the CMline on/off toggle it should have that would make the incompatibility less nuisancesome.

The most important thing TTG CEO Kenny Frank never told us about it is that SmartWords trades in the IBM extended char set for ANSI. Yet again unlike NoteTab, SW doesn't toggle the sets; file filters convert some chars. SW VB 32bit dialog boxes generate lfn dir lists. An old chronicle of statements Frank made to the xyWrite mailing list about a vaporware SW beta CD makes the case for SW over xyWin. dosNB users who've longed for a Windows version and others who need the add-ons surely will find nbWin valuable. I don't pretend to be a representative winNB owner. Since I was solicited as a xyWrite user, I had certain expectations I think were not unreasonable. Scholar's WorkStation utilities were just something I had to pay for too. I've never sought help for the early-release "nbWin for xyWrite users" I use (or for xyWin). I bought nbWin hoping for an improved xyWin, wishing for more. Or less.

An app for the apprehensive, nbWin even more than xyWrite 4 tends to be nannyware. It goes so far as to load an undocumented tracking file that can wreak havoc (default.lib, be gone!). With backup forcefully turned off, nbWin persists in making *.BAK, then obstructs efficient file management, refusing to erase or rename a displayed file. Visual Basic--thus SmartWords, thus nbWin--hard-codes several keys beyond the Alt keys xyWin grabs. To NB's credit, in response to xyWrite user gripes the current nbWin update unlocks all possible keys. I did manage to peel off nbWin's extravagant &ldpm overlay and rebuild it in a more conservative construct with little effort and no loss of functionality. The insert state is a mystery; the status line doesn't report it, hardly a trivial omission in a word processor (if it's obvious on CRTs, it's not on LED screens). Help doesn't know the word overstrike. xpl that in midrun shells out to other software chokes SW. So much for 32bit cha-cha-cha.

While ANSI and VB supplements make SW prettier, with graphics mode AWOL both Signature+ Windows apps look dismal; I'm no fonder of Courier than of xyWin's system font. SW dialog box lfn dir lists notwithstanding, neither release could come close to serving as my Windows home base. My pure-dos autoexec of course landed me in xyWrite 3. My win95 startup loads the KR kbd remapper, Total Commander, and my browser. But if I didn't have both post-Signature Windows apps I wouldn't rest easy till I did. And after all, how many Windows word processors emulate xyWrite?

I admit to having a soft spot for NB, and the announcement that Dave Erickson now is directly involved certainly is cause for hope. But as things stand, I regret that I also have to admit that nbWin's petty annoyances and fatal meddling, kbd rigidity, and xpl defects kept me scurrying to xyWin to document the nbWin/xyWin ports of !BetterThanAverageTaggingTool and the !OutBack deleted char cache, much as xyDos4, when I was trying to learn to love it, kept me scurrying to xyW3. If I ever need to build a text database I'll be glad to have Orbis, but I could imagine developing a real taste for the underrated xyWin. The more I use it, the better I like it. It leaves your kbd alone except for the main Alt menu keys and uneventfully runs U2 code that trips SmartWords. The license xyWin gives you to hang yourself also is license to make the most of the app. With graphics hardware that can handle either release, xyWin is fine for print preview purposes and unless you need nbWin Scholar's Workstation add-ons is far more cost-effective. xyWin got a bum rap. Too bad people with an ax to grind on behalf of the developer that buried XyQuest succeeded in drowning out the milder voices of folks who actual use xyWin. Oh, well, that's another story. But somebody's got to say this: xyWin's endearingly buoyant logo and splash screen are almost unendurably poignant.

... xyDos 4:
real dumb

Windows being what it is, I'm willing to cut xyWin and nbWin some slack I won't for other dos versions of xyWrite. I once had fantasies that xyWrite 2 was a compact form of xyW3 I could use occasionally. Then I tried it. How wrong I'd been! Allusions surface here and there at this site to my distaste for Signature 2--a/k/a xyWrite 4 for dos. Routine need to juggle gigantic files or blocks of text is a valid reason to put up with xyDos4. Search options are significantly better than xyWrite 3's, but when you need them it's easy enough to load xyWin to do the operation. I know of no other indisputable advantages over !xyWise xyWrite 3. I was hardly alone in concluding that the xyDos4 feel is just all wrong. Even with TTG palliatives, too little XyQuest, too much IBM. Tim Baehr wrote in the insider's perspective on XyQuest's decline and fall he sent to the xyWrite mailing list:
"IBM had become very much involved in product specification and review[. ...] The original XyWrite IV was to be a very limited update in its interface, with WYSIWYG viewing and editing in only a few type sizes."
I studied it so intently I still remember what the page looked like where PCMag reported that XyQuest had exhibited dos graphical xyWrite 4 at a trade show. A screen shot that involved a palm tree comes to mind. Ah, joy. At last! Then, shortly, the announcement that xyWrite 4 was IBM's choice to replace DisplayWrite. My editor had occasion just then to call XyQuest. Utter euphoria. Company's worries over forever, a Xyquestrian told him. Then ... long, troubling silence. Then Signature, whose lone known defender is a zealous admirer of IBM. When I read the reviews, I actually called Billerica to inquire whether I could buy a copy of the xyWrite 4 I'd seen mentioned in PCMag. It had to be done. If I hadn't asked, I'd still wonder.

Primitive though it may have been then from Tim's description, imagine an evolved all-XyQuest-no-IBM dos xyWrite 4. Imagine a native 32 bit all-XyQuest xyWin. In an imperfect world, !xyWise xyWrite 3 plus a PostScript or--if you have the right hardware--xyWin or nbWin print preview, with win9x supplementary software like Total Commander, NoteTab, and KR will just have to do.


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adpFisher nyc 21 january 2003