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intric8
Seattle, WA, USA
Website

Posted Fri Mar 13, 2020 7:33 pm

A few years ago when I got into the C128 scene for the first time, I began to research word processors that were to be used in native 128/80-column mode.

One in particular stood out to me: The Write Stuff, published by Busy Bee Software out of Arizona.
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The C64 version of The Write Stuff. That character on the quick reference book cover might just give me nightmares.

After searching for nearly a year I acquired the C64 version made in 1987, which is an exceptionally good 40-column program. It comes with an attractive, tidy and very thick manual and was sold in a ziplock baggie. Yep.

They also proudly called the software "USERWARE. Not copy protected." They wanted you to be able to afford it and duplicate it for safe keeping. Imagine that?

More features worth noting:
  • It was written 100% in machine language (ML). Thus it's a very small program (25K), yet very fast a quite deep.
  • It is both Menu and Command driven, and there are a ton of commands.
  • Search and Replace
  • Dvorak/Keyboard toggle
  • User definable screen fonts and colors
  • Supports RAM expanders (1764)
  • Bold, italics, underline, sub-script, super-script, condensed text
  • Dual drives
  • User defined macros
  • BB Menu Maker, to create custom disk menus
And on and on. It's pretty incredible to be honest. But that's just the beginning, my friends.

It also included an extra program called BB Talker, which (drum roll) would use SAM to dictate your documents to you, or even the Menu selections and help screens. Totally incredible to have that built-in.

And get this: in the back of the 58-paged manual, Busy Bee Software even offered a Laser Printing Service where you could ship them your files and they would use a laser printer - starting in January 31, 1988 - to print your documents and mail them back to you. In fact, the manual's proofs were made using that very same service.

Busy Bee outdid themselves later that year and into 1989.

After a few more years of searching, this week I finally acquired an original and complete copy of The Write Stuff for Commodore 128.

Yes, Busy Bee created and published a stand-alone C128 version of The Write Stuff (V1 and V2) that was written specifically for the C128. And Boy Howdy did they go all-in.
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It took me years to find an original copy, and yes - it works just fine. (And I'll be making a duplicate soon since there's zero copy protection.)

This was the version of the program I always wanted in original form. And sadly it is f***king hard to find, folks. But holy smokes now that I finally have it, it was worth the grueling wait.

Naturally, the 128 version will auto-boot into 80-column mode. It supports native C128 40 and 80 column modes, but if you have 80-col capabilities it fires right up in all that bountiful glory. In fact the 80-col program is the front side of the disk, while the back side is 40-col. I love how the 40-col version was sent to the back!

It supports using extra RAM it finds in attached REU's and also includes a large spell-checker called BB Speller. It can spell-check a 1-3 paged document in 3-9 seconds when using a RAM expander; with a 1581 it would take 18-45 seconds; 25-75 seconds with a stock 1541 while using a Fastload cartridge; 80 seconds to 3.5 minutes with a stock 1541. It also has spell correction features, a 78,000 word dictionary and support up to 5 drives. Five!?
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Features? You can't handle the features.

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In case you type in a dark room and can't see the manual, there are ways to easily access some of the keystroke commands via lit pixels, too.

From a feature standpoint, not many Word Processors hold a candle next to The Write Stuff for C128 computers, or any 8-bit machines for that matter. In fact, other than the UI the feature set rivals many early 16-bit word processors, too.

To keep up with the leading 8-bit Commodore tech of the day, Busy Bee supposedly went so far as to create a CMD hard drive installable version, but I've never actually seen that one.

I know it sounds strange to be so excited about a thing like a word processor, but I've a bit of a history with this kind of thing.

One last thing worth noting. The edit view where you do your typing is entirely different than the view where you preview the styling. This might be a little hard for some to wrap their heads around, so I captured a short video where you can see the two modes in action. The black screen is the edit screen (which you can completely customize), and the white screen is the preview screen with formatted text.
Just look at that 80-column glory. And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go easily copy my disks!

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intric8
Seattle, WA, USA
Website

Posted Sat Mar 14, 2020 5:15 pm

And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go easily copy my disks!
This turned out to be a lot more challenging than I expected. I wound up burning an entire evening and afternoon in order to finally figure this out. It shouldn't have been that hard, but it was. On the plus side, I figured out a lot more than I bargained for and it has set me up nicely for the future!

First of all, there is no "built-in" copy command in Basic 7.0 to copy an entire disk. You can copy files but not a clone of an entire floppy disk. There is a command called BACKUP, but that only works with "dual drives". I foolishly thought, "Oh! That means if I have two disk drives, I ..." No. That's not what it means.

The BACKUP command is specifically for dual-drive hardware, like the Commodore 8050 or 4040. Well that's useless.

So then I took a look over at my ZoomFloppy with a bit of angst in my heart. The ZoomFloppy is an interesting device that lets you hook your original Commodore 64/128 drives to a PC. In theory, you can then drag files or disk images you find on the internet onto real 5.25 floppy disks. Or, you can take your old disks and move files to the PC, or even make entire disk images of your old disks. Pretty cool, right?

In my previous attempt using it, though, I only ever got it to read from a 1541 drive and nothing more. It would crash on both formatting and writing. And god forbid I try a 1571 instead. Heck no that wouldn't work, either.

I was determined I needed to figure out how to write to real floppies so I could get a freaking copy program loaded up on the 128D and get The Write Stuff backed up. It took me years to find the darn thing, so I wasn't about to only have this one single copy. And ideally, I'd rip the disk to a d64 file on my PC, too.

After contacting the biggest C128 guru I know, he shared some of his settings with me and - lo and behold - 2 of his settings were different than mine and it made all of the difference.

For the first time since I've owned a Zoom Floppy, the damn thing WORKS.

It not only reads, but WRITES. I was so happy. I quickly wrote multiple copy program disks, all with a C128/1571 focus.

This is where things got weird.

None of those programs could copy The Write Stuff successfully. The copies I made would bomb when I tried to load them up on the C128.

Why on earth would a program claim to be copy-protection free, and not be copyable? After a lot of experimenting, this disk appeared to have hidden tracks, or half tracks, that normal copiers couldn't handle. I couldn't believe it.

But! With the help of my C128 guru friend (the sysop of Particlesbbs) I managed to get the Zoom working reliably with a stand-alone 1571 drive. And, eventually, I created a disk for Maverick 5.04. That copy program is legendary for a reason - it kicks much ass.

I figured if this didn't work I was going to pack it in and deal with this some other day. So I wrote it to a fresh new disk and fired it up.
IT WORKED. The Maverick nibbler worked!

The Write Stuff disk is definitely weird, though.

Now some of you with ZoomFloppies are probably wondering why I didn't just load up The Write Stuff with a 1571/ZF/PC setup, drag the contents over to the PC (creating a d64) and make a new disk that way.

In fact, that's exactly what I originally tried to do but the extra tracks created errors on the new disks. It would transfer over data, but the resulting file wouldn't write back to a new disk that actually worked. Totally frustrating. For now, The Write Stuff is not protected for the long-term (longer than the 32 years where the ancient disks I'm using have been working just fine).

I've read that there are ways to hook up the Zoom differently and use specialized nibble tools from the PC directly, rather than through original hardware, to generate those d64 files. But with this disk at least, that project will be saved for another day.

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obitus1990
New Orleans, LA, USA

Posted Sat Mar 14, 2020 8:17 pm

Maverick....legendary. I had almost forgotten about that one. Back in the day, one of my neighborhood friend's dad bought that program out of the back of a C= magazine, and wouldn't let anyone copy it from him. If I wanted a copy of some software, I'd have to give it to my friend and his dad would use Maverick to dupe it and then give the original and disk back to me. It wasn't until several years later when I discovered modems and BBSes that I got my own copy.

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rpiguy9907

Posted Sun Mar 15, 2020 8:31 am

Great write up!

***

Hey you and the other guys on this forum should put up a sticky "Wanted" list.

I could have given you this years ago :D

I collect vintage word processors - I will work on cataloging them in case you want to try any of them out. Some I have multiple copies of.

Are you interested in any other platforms aside from Commodore/Amiga? I also collect Apple II and early IBM PC Word Processors.

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Zippy Zapp
CA, USA

Posted Mon Mar 16, 2020 7:16 am

Nice. Maverick has been my go to copier since I bought it in 1989/1990. I always upgraded when a new version came out.

If only the nibbler worked and not the fast data copier, that is strange if it isn't copy protected.

If you get a chance, open Maverick and choose sector map editor. Change the end track to 40 and run it on that disk. It will scan the disk for errors and other types of copy protection/formats. Take a picture of the results and post it. I bet there is something strange in there.

These days I still use Maverick but I also use the ZoomFloppy a 1571 and nibtools. Creating a d64 actually doesn't store every bit of the disk. Some things like Sector header IDs and a couple other minor things are not stored in the D64. Hence when you use a program to write a disk back it has to recreate these missing bits but many don't. I have found that nibwrite and easyflash3 D64 writing do though. It's not a huge deal for most disks but there are some that won't work because of it.

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intric8
Seattle, WA, USA
Website

Posted Tue Mar 17, 2020 9:35 am

This article is getting hit by Hacker News. Hi, Hackers! <3

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kentsu

Posted Wed Mar 18, 2020 5:26 pm

Great article! And I am so happy to know there are other "retro-computing word processor" nerds out there! I have been collecting Commodore 128 80-column word processors for more than a decade. One of the reasons I am so enamored with this very-specific niche is that I think it represents, in some ways, the pinnacle of 8-bit programming in the VIC-20 / C-64 / C-128 family. (No offense intended to amazing game development work and demoscene creations -- that's why I said "in some ways... ;)

Another reason is that most of the packages I have been trying to collect came out when I was (a) in college, (b) poor, (c) a tech writing major, and (d) able to read Twin Cities 128 for free at the computer store where I worked part-time. Loren Lovhaug and staff did a fantastic job of reviewing that sort of software and made it sound so very exciting! I also liked the underdog nature of C-128-specific applications, especially ones that showed off the C-128's unique capabilities.

I'd absolutely LOVE to find an original FontMaster 128 v2.0 package... One can dream! :D

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rpiguy9907

Posted Thu Mar 19, 2020 4:45 pm

kentsu wrote:
Wed Mar 18, 2020 5:26 pm
Great article! And I am so happy to know there are other "retro-computing word processor" nerds out there! I have been collecting Commodore 128 80-column word processors for more than a decade. One of the reasons I am so enamored with this very-specific niche is that I think it represents, in some ways, the pinnacle of 8-bit programming in the VIC-20 / C-64 / C-128 family. (No offense intended to amazing game development work and demoscene creations -- that's why I said "in some ways... ;)

Another reason is that most of the packages I have been trying to collect came out when I was (a) in college, (b) poor, (c) a tech writing major, and (d) able to read Twin Cities 128 for free at the computer store where I worked part-time. Loren Lovhaug and staff did a fantastic job of reviewing that sort of software and made it sound so very exciting! I also liked the underdog nature of C-128-specific applications, especially ones that showed off the C-128's unique capabilities.

I'd absolutely LOVE to find an original FontMaster 128 v2.0 package... One can dream! :D
Well now you have my curiosity piqued! I never even knew there was a 128 specific version of Font Master...

Damn, I will have to add it to my list now.

The regular Font Master II is impressive enough, the output was as good or better than Geos without having a GUI.

See some examples below from a crappy 9-pin dot matrix printer as well as the relatively nice Font Master II box.
IMG_0501.jpg
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Zippy Zapp
CA, USA

Posted Fri Mar 20, 2020 6:28 pm

Here is my copy of WS 128:
WS128Disk-800.jpg
Write Stuff 128 Yellow Disk

My copy doesnt seem to be copy protected or use half tracks. My copy does seem to have a couple of errors though as you can see from the error scan below. The number 3 denotes an error 23 Read Error. I scanned the disk to 40 tracks and the 1s at 36-40 are indicative of it not being formatted there. The + means data is on that sector and - means no data as does an empty space.
WS128ErrorMap-800.jpg
Write Stuff 128 Disk Error Map

My disk is super noisy so I need to make a copy of it and see if it even works anymore.

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intric8
Seattle, WA, USA
Website

Posted Fri Mar 20, 2020 7:18 pm

My copy does seem to have a couple of errors though as you can see from the error scan below
Interestingly, my copies will report back zero errors. Maybe mine is different than yours; the SN at the top of mine is quite a bit earlier than yours.





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