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Desktop Publishing for the 8-bit Arari Computer!
A Review by Penny Ormston
Originally printed in the PSAN (Puget Sound Atari News)
October 1988 issue, pages 22-23


    Well, everyone has already reviewed The Newsroom and voiced its virtues and/or shortcomings to some extent, but I thought I'd give it a shot anyway, mainly because I don't necessarily agree with the other reviews I have read about this new offering from Springboard Software. For anyone who may have been in Siberia for the past few months, The Newsroom was finally released for the 8-bit Atari after months of waiting. With the Newsroom, you can print out newsletters with or without banners (like a title spread at the top of the page), on 8 1/2 x 11 inch letter size or 8 1/2 x 14 inch legal size paper. The legal size allows two extra 'panels' per page.

    I have read that there were some problems with The Newsroom and the 850 interface. Well, that didn't concern me much since I don't have an 850 interface. I have an ATR-8000, which one would expect would be even more difficult to interface as it is so rarely used. But the outside of the box clearly indicates that if you are not satisfied with the product, you may return it to the place of purchase and your money will be refunded. Fortunately for me, the product worked perfectly with my ATR and I did not have to return it.

There are two disks in the package, one a single sided program disk, and the other is a double sided clip art disk. Everything is written on enhanced (DOS 2.5) disks, so you MUST use a 1050 or XF551 drive to use The Newsroom. It also requires 64k of memory, which means it works only on the 800XL, 65XE, and 130XE unless you have a comparable upgrade. All of this is clearly stated on the outside of the box. The program also comes with a nice 100 page manual to tell you exactly how to do everything in making your newsletters. However, the program is so very easy to use, you really don't need to read the manual to get started. I just sat down and started working and when I ran into a problem, I looked in the manual and sure enough the step I should have taken was spelled out clearly in black and white. In fact, the main use I had for the manual was in looking up the pictures from the clip art. All the clip art pictures are printed at the back of the book for easy reference, so you know exactly what you will be getting without having to guess. Since there are over 600 pieces of clip art included with The Newsroom, it could be difficult to remember them all.

    Some of the comments that others have made in reviews of The Newsroom include the fact that the artwork is 'cute'. Well, that is true enough. Only a handful of the included artwork looks 'serious', but that's all right with me. From the Springboard ads for their additional clip art disks, the business clip art is much more serious. But even it is not the super-hard edged serious that a business exec would want to use. Of course, a big, stuffy executive wouldn't buy this product for an 8-bit Atari either! He/she would probably use an IBM for business, and might possibly have an ST or 8-bit for closet use. Personally, I see nothing at all wrong with 'cute' because it adds charm and humor. I'll bet even Peter Jennings smiles once in a while!

    I don't know what uses others might have for a newsletter program. Can there be that many applications for it? For clubs, sports, small business, schools, or even family news, I think the Newsroom is an excellent tool.

    So far, I have only taken the 'family news' route. I started out by designing a simple family newsletter that could be mailed to relatives. It would really be a godsend, because I am one of the world's worst letter writers, and my kids are no better. But creating things with The Newsroom is fun, and allows a great deal of imagination. The newsletter that we wrote had 'news' written or dictated by everyone, including my 2 year old. Many of the things in the newsletter were hardly newsworthy, but it did allow a little glimpse of all of us that would have been missing in normal correspondence.

    I have included a portion of our first newsletter, not because it is outstanding or anything, but because it was our first effort. And that is certainly the important thing here. This first effort turned out looking rather nice. And I didn't even have to waste half a ream of paper to get it right. I did waste one sheet of paper, but that was because I used the 'default' settings for the printer as the manual suggested. I immediately realized that I would require linefeeds, and that was easily changed. Once you make your printer type selections, it is written to the disk as a permanent record (much as The Print Shop) so you never have to worry about 'setting up' again.

    The entire program is menu driven. All you have to do is use the keyboard arrows or the joystick to move your selection. It was annoying to have to hold the control key when using the arrows, so I usually just used a joystick. Pressing the fire button made the selection. There are several stages required to create a newsletter. Each section of the newsletter, whether it is a banner or a panel, is made up of picture(s) and/or text. It's as simple as that. There are only five text modes availible in varying sizes, but the text can easily be mixed in both banners and panels. You can select any of the pictures from the clip art disk to include as well. Actually you can select up to 30 images for a single banner or panel, so you really have a lot of freedom here. You can edit any picture with built-in editing tools. These tools include circles, boxes, lines, freehand drawing, and several various fills. There are several different 'pens' to draw with. The fill patterns are limited... there are 10 availible and you cannot define your own, but since the printout is limited to black and white the limit doesn't seem so severe. Pictures can also be flipped (reversed) but this will only work on the actual clip art, not on any editing you may have done to the picture, so you need to place the picture carefully before you begin making changes to it. In creating a banner, you design directly on the banner screen. When you are designing a panel, you must set up your picture in the 'photo lab', Get the picture you want from the clip art and set it up the way you want it, including all modifications. The editing here is the same as it is in the banner, with circles, fills, fonts, etc. when you have the picture the way you want it, then take a picture of it (a little camera icon does this) and then save it to disk. You cannot save a picture until after you have photographed it. In taking the picture, you draw a square around the portion of the picture you want to photograph, then save that portion to disk. You can even save the same picture more than once, perhaps the entire picture as one file, and just a portion of it as another. These pictures are not the same as the clip art, and you must go through the step of 'taking a picture' even if you are using an unmodified piece of clip art in a panel. This sounds much more complicated than it is.

    Once you have your pictures saved, you are ready to go to the 'copy desk'. You can combine pictures and text at the copy desk, or you might want a panel just of text or just pictures. Once again you have five text fonts to choose from, and you can mix text easily in the display. The copy desk allows wrap-around formatting and can even move itself for any photo you might add after inserting the text. You can easily insert or delete portions of the text. Other than that, I found the text editor to be extremely limiting. For one thing, some of the fonts allow caps only. For another, it is very slow. I am not a super-fast typist, but I usually go along about 55-60 words per minute. The copy buffer seems small, because it would only buffer about 2 or 3 keystrokes before skipping one. It was particularly annoying to have to type very slowly in order to have all the letters show up as they had been typed. (Going back and editing every other word would have been even slower!) Luckily the panels are not large, and even using the smallest type did not take too terribly long. But it is difficult holding your speed down to 25 when you are used to the freeway! And that, by the way, is my only real complaint about the program.

    If you have a picture that you want to use as a complete panel, you must still go to the copy desk and load in the picture, then save it as a panel. Only panels and banners can be used in the layout process, which is where we are headed next.

    The layout area is where you actually design how the entire newsletter page will look. You select whether you want a banner or not, and the size of your paper. Then all you have to do is put the panels or banners on the page. This is all done very easily by menu, with a diagram of the newsletter on the screen. You select a section of the newsletter, then press the fire button. It shows you the saved panels or banners and all you have to do is move the joystick up or down to make your selection for what you want to appear in that section. You do the same thing until the page is full, then you can save this layout to disk, It is suggested in the manual that you have all your page data on a single disk, and the layout area has an option to do just that. If you don't, it will just mean a bit of disk swapping in the printing process. One disk side can hold enough photos, banners, panels and layouts for 4 to 5 pages on 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper, depending on the number of photos used in each panel.

    I had some help in making the newsletter, namely my four children, but I can honestly say that it took approximately 1 hour for each printed page, from idea to printed product. And that includes the time it took for them to make up wacky things to print! It is fun, creative, and the results are very nice. Would people without children really like it? I don't really know. You don't have to have children to have fun and be creative, do you?