Whenever I get an upgrade notice for a program I use regularly, I shiver a bit.
On one hand, I'm eager to get my hands on all the new bells and whistles the upgrade promises. On the other hand, given the complexity and bugginess of major new releases, I know I could be in for days or weeks of struggling just to get the new version to do what the old one did -- before I can even think about using all the new goodies.
I was pleasantly surprised with Version 3 of Ami Professional, a high-end word processor from Lotus Development Corp. that runs under Microsoft Windows.
The last time a new version of AmiPro came out, I went through a couple of days of hell trying to figure out why none of my old documents would print. AmiPro 3 is faster and slicker than its predecessor and -- more importantly -- worked right out of the box with only minor tweaking.
Calling AmiPro a word processor is like calling a Rolls-Royce a car. It has incredibly rich and complex features -- including drawing, charting and outlining -- that make it an excellent tool for all but the most complex desktop publishing chores.
Like most word processors running under the Microsoft Windows environment, AmiPro gives you a representation of what you'll see on your printed page. As you type your document and change typefaces, point size, spacing, indentations and other elements, you'll see exactly what you get (or pretty close to it).
You can operate on a whole page at once, or create multiple frames to hold different blocks of text or graphics. Text can flow around frames, which makes it easy to create newsletter-style documents with headlines and integrated pictures (AmiPro even allows you to manipulate scanned photos). AmiPro's power depends largely on two elements -- page style sheets and "SmartIcons."
A style sheet is a collection of information about your page layout and the formatting of various types of paragraphs in your document. An individual paragraph style allows you to set the typeface, point size, line and character spacing, tabbing, indentations, underlining, text color and the presence of typesetting elements such as lines and bullets.
A typical style sheet would contain page layout information (margins, borders, headers, footers, number of columns, etc.), plus a selection of paragraph styles for body text, numbered lists, headlines, sub-heads, and so on.
You can type a paragraph and instantaneously apply all these elements to it by selecting a style from a menu or by using a single function key. AmiPro makes it particularly easy to create and modify styles by filling out a simple form. If you change a paragraph style, the changes are immediately applied to all paragraphs using that style.
AmiPro comes with an impressive collection of pre-defined style sheets for letters, faxes, reports, newsletters, invoices, phone lists and other documents. You can modify any of them and save them for application in other documents.
SmartIcons are little pictures at the top of your screen (or down the side, or floating in space -- the choice is yours) that allow you to perform repetitive tasks by pointing and clicking your mouse button without going through a series of menus.
A simple SmartIcon might save your work in progress, print the current document, center a line of text or call up the spell checker. More complex SmartIcons will let you create a chart, build a data base or create a table of authorities.
AmiPro comes with dozens of SmartIcons (in eight groups), but you can decide what SmartIcons to display and where you want them. You can even create your own.
The latest version of AmiPro contains dozens of features that make the program easier and faster to use.
One of the nicest is "drag-and-drop" text, which seems to be showing up everywhere. If you wanted to move a paragraph from the top of your document to the middle, earlier versions of AmiPro required you to define the paragraph with your mouse or cursor keys, copy it to the Windows clipboard and paste it somewhere else. Now you can define the text with your mouse and drag the whole block wherever you want.
AmiPro 3 also takes advantage of the right mouse button -- long ignored by programmers. If you put your cursor anywhere in a paragraph and click the right mouse button, the style sheet form for that paragraph pops up, allowing you to make immediate changes instead of going through two different menus.
The greatest blessing may be instant envelope printing. Printing envelopes under Windows with a laser printer has always been a chore that required you to create a new document for the envelope and change your printer setup, because the text on an envelope going through the printer runs at right angles to the normal text on a page of paper.
AmiPro takes care of all that. Just click on the Print Envelope function and a form pops up for your address and optional return address. Or you can use your cursor to highlight the addressee in your letter and AmiPro will use that. You can select from a variety of envelope sizes and click on the OK button. AmiPro does the rest.
Similar touches abound. There's a grammar checker in addition to the spell checker and thesaurus, a "smartmerge" feature that makes it much easier to create mail merge documents, templates for Avery label products and document and style sheet viewers that allow you to browse through existing items without opening the documents.
I found a few minor printing bugs. I also wish that Lotus -- and Microsoft Word and WordPerfect -- would include a feature that allows you to jump a stream of text from one frame to another -- which is very important if you're creating newsletters.
But otherwise, I was impressed by the fit and finish of Version 3.
The retail price of the program is $495, but nobody pays list. Upgrades for current owners and deals for people switching from other word processors are available at prices ranging from $49 to $129. For information, contact Lotus Word Processing Division, 1000 Abernathy Road, Building 400, Suite 1700, Atlanta, Ga. 30328.