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Macro coding slated for Techwriter

By Stewart Brookes. Published: 25th Feb 2005, 10:52:20 | Permalink | Printable

App::DocRelease.date("Wakefield show");

Contrary to popular belief, the lifestyle of a beta-tester is not all glamour and glitz. Admittedly, there are the limos and the celebrity parties. But there are the less-publicised downsides too, as Stewart Brookes discusses future plans for Techwriter and Easiwriter.

Imagine, if you will, that a 'killer feature' has been added to one of your favourite applications, and you're just longing to tell everyone about it. Only you can't, because you've been sworn to secrecy. You see the dilemma? Well that's what it's been like for beta-testers of Icon Technology's flagship EasiWriter and TechWriter products these last few weeks. On Wednesday evening, this lip-sealed agony finally came to an end when programmer Martin Wuerthner (of ArtWorks 2 and Gimp-Print fame) decided that the time had come to 'spill the beans' on some of the new features which are under development for the next major release (cunningly code-named 'version 8.5') of the document processing software.

The public announcement on the Icon Technology discussion group was greeted with great applause: "Martin, you're a genius," exclaimed a seasoned TechWriter user. "A long-held wish (and one that many probably believed impossible) will finally come true". But what exactly was announced?

For the record
The first part of the announcement unveiled the abbreviation expand facilities which are due to be introduced. Abbreviation expansion has been high up on the wishlists of Easi/TechWriter users (including myself), and so this came as very welcome news. The system as implemented in Easi/TechWriter works by recording the keystrokes that a user enters, and then playing these back when activated by a 'trigger' (a special keyboard shortcut). Defining abbreviations is simplicity itself: you initiate recording, type some text, end recording, and then the Macro Recording window allows you to designate an abbreviation for the text that you've typed. For example, typing 'LLP', followed by the trigger key, could be set to expand to 'Live Long and Prosper'. In the current development versions, the trigger is Ctrl-Insert or, optionally, a Full Stop. It turns out that, in practice, using a Full Stop as the trigger works remarkably well, and I've found it problem-free. Nonetheless, acknowledging that this might not meet with universal approval, the Full Stop expand can be switched on/off by setting an option in ConfiX (which Easi/TechWriter now use):

Confix-X screenshot

The system has clearly been designed with maximum flexibility in mind, and can do very much more than expand an abbreviation to a simple word or phrase. Due to the fact that all keystrokes are recorded (including the cursor and function keys), you can expand in an emphasis style (such as italic or bold), in a paragraph style, and use expands to insert not just text, but also structures (such as lists and sections, complete with text). You can even have 'nested' expands, which expand other abbreviations.

An example of an abbreviation which automatically expands to fill a pre-defined table:

A calendar table

An example of an equation which is generated simply by typing the shortcut 'EQ1':

Quadratic equation solver

An applet a day
"If you think this is still not enough in terms of automation," teased Martin in the second half of his announcement, "then there will be an even more powerful new feature: A fully-fledged modular programming language that allows you to write your own macro applets." It is this aspect which is causing such a stir. Macro applets offer huge potential: applets could be written to navigate, modify, and manipulate the contents of a document, read external files, and add a host of new features to the software.

A sample macro applet, which adds the item 'Display structure info' to the new 'Macros' menu, offering the user information, in a pop-up window, about the structure, and enclosing structures, in which the cursor is placed:

Example macro code

Get the idea
Ever wanted to strip all the double-spaces from a document? Exchange occurrences of 'p.' and 'pp.' for 'page' and 'pages'? Convert fi and fl into their respective ligatures? Or change all instances of, for example, 'color' to 'colour', 'paleography' to 'palaeography', or 'realize' to 'realise' (or vice versa)? These sort of repetitive tasks could be combined in a single macro applet and then actioned with a menu click. There's far more scope than these search'n'replace examples though. As Martin explained, "A macro applet could be written that makes sure that all words in headings start with an upper case letter. Or, all words except certain words found in an exceptions file. The possibilities are almost endless". This should allow the user-base to contribute directly to the development cycle of the software, either by programming macro applets or by thinking up ideas for innovative macro tasks. Of course, it's early days as yet, but if this feature is to achieve its potential, the software will have to ship with a range of pre-defined macros. If you haven't done so already, then now would be a good time to join the discussion group and add your thoughts as to what these macros should be.

And there's more
A host of bug fixes, enhancements, more ConfiX options, and the lure of further compatibility with Word, look set to add to the significance of this upgrade. When will it be available? The launch is set for the Wakefield Show. In the meanwhile, Mike Glover will be at this weekend's South West Show, and might just be persuaded to provide a glimpse of some of these developments. It's worth noting that there's no advantage in waiting until Wakefield to upgrade, as all users of 8.31 (the most recent version) will get a full credit of the £25.00 cost of the upgrade off the price of the next major release.

Icon Technology
Join the Icon Technology discussion group
Forthcoming EAUG meeting, 8th March 2005 - Stewart's Easi/TechWriter extravaganza and newly-released WIBLI add-on buttonbars for Easi/TechWriter

Previous: South West show warm up
Next: RiscCAD treated to website, upgrade pack


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Wow, Easi/TechWriter are progressing quite nicely. Guess I might finally get around to upgrade my 7.11.

 is a RISC OS Usersa110 on 25/2/05 11:01AM
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I hate to think what the RiscOS market would be like without Martins amazing efforts.

Such a shame that the Mac version of TW was never finished though.

 is a RISC OS UserEddie on 25/2/05 12:49PM
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"Slated"?.. Whose been slating it? Looks brilliant to me!

 is a RISC OS Usermrtd on 25/2/05 1:02PM
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mrtd: by slated the title means scheduled. (see dictionary.com for full definitions)

 is a RISC OS Userbenc on 25/2/05 1:12PM
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I think it was a joke...

 is a RISC OS Useradamr on 25/2/05 1:25PM
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Slated doesn't mean scheduled in English, only in American. For reliable information see [link] not dictionary.com!

 is a RISC OS Userjbyrne on 25/2/05 1:34PM
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Excellent development, this is a shining RO app quite worthy of inclusion in the Hall of Fame :) Especially the abbreviation expansion feature is very advanced and should dramatically increase productivity, as well as the macro applet programming ability which should cater for specific needs.

It's not hard to explain why this app knows no competition (or equal) in our market.

 is a RISC OS UserhEgelia on 25/2/05 2:03PM
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Or any other market I would venture to suggest. To start with I had qualms about the abbreviation expansion facility. I have had to do battle with the equivalent in MS Wierd, which sometimes expanded things when I didn't want it too, eg half way though typing a word if you put a space after it. But the Easi/TechWriter implementation gives the user control over when it is used. I think this will be much better.

 is a RISC OS Usermrtd on 25/2/05 4:19PM
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jbyrne: Thankyou for the link. It seems to suggest the word is being used in its American form. I don't see what you are objecting to?

Which is all irrelevant anyway - the important point is that this is a very welcome development. Well done to Martin and Icon Technology!

 is a RISC OS Userbenc on 25/2/05 4:47PM
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This is excellent! I read somewhere that not to expect any more updates to EW/TW, and then this! Easiwriter is such a nice WP program, such a pleasure to use!

And I was confused by the title... I read it a couple of times to try to work out what was wrong with having macros in TW! I think americans do the same thing with "tabled", they say tabled for what we'd say "shelved"

 is a RISC OS Userjohn on 25/2/05 5:08PM
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Just for the record, I meant 'slated' as in 'to schedule' :)


 is a RISC OS Userdiomus on 25/2/05 7:04PM
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john: "I read somewhere... not to expect any more updates to EW/TW, and then this!"

Martin taking over development was actually mentioned on csa.announce on 13th January, but yes, it is a big turnaround and very welcome progress.


 is a RISC OS Userdgs on 25/2/05 8:27PM
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6 weeks for all that progress! Amazing, well done :)

 is a RISC OS Userjohn on 26/2/05 1:30AM
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john: There is usually a big gap between starting work on any project, and any announcement that a product is imminent. You can probably think of good examples in the RISC OS market as to why this is a good idea, these days.

Between any such announcement and actual product availability, there's another gap.

No-one would imagine that Martin achieved all this in six weeks. If you need to know about such things sooner, become a beta-tester or attend some user groups!


 is a RISC OS Userdgs on 26/2/05 1:41AM
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My biggest annoyance with TechWriter is probably the lack of an undo buffer (like the one ArtWorks has). These days, a simple one level undo and redo in a word processor just aren't adequate!

 is a RISC OS Userjonix on 26/2/05 3:48PM
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dgs: "If you need to know about such things sooner, become a beta-tester or attend some user groups"

I hear that EAUG on the 8th March 2005 is the happenin' place to be ;-)

I'd also recommend joining the Easi/TechWriter discussion group (link above), as that's the best place to not only hear about developments, but also to request/influence them. A number of new features have been introduced into the current version in direct response to someone asking for them, e.g. insert 'leaf name' (as opposed to the full path name) in a footer.

John: Martin *has* achieved an amazing amount but it's been longer than six weeks. There was a drobe article about this in March 2004:


 is a RISC OS UserStewy on 27/2/05 1:10AM
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I have been using Impression Publisher for many years now, but have not paid much attention to the Easi/TechWriter programme on my RO4.

Has anyone used Impression Pub before but now uses E/TechWriter?

How did you find the change adapting to E/TechWriter.

I think I just need to spend more time with E/Techwriter learning how to use it? It appears to have most worthy features.

I like Ovation Pro (Demo) that I see will import Impression Pub, does E/TechWriter do this?

How good does the E/TechWriter perform with import/exports of Window DOCs?

 is a RISC OS UserSawadee on 27/2/05 9:43PM
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Sawadee: EasiWriter and TechWriter server a rather different purpose than Impression/OvationPro. Therefore, it would be pointless to try and import their documents and it does not make any sense to compare them. For things that require complex layouts, which you can do with Impression or OvationPro, EW/TW would be useless because EasiWriter is a word processor, so there are no frames. On the other hand, they can do lots of things that Impression/OP cannot do (e.g., proper tables including cells that span several columns, footnotes, creation of a proper index, having the title of the current chapter or section automatically at the top or bottom of each page and much more). Word import is not perfect but it is pretty good as long as the Word doc does not use features that are not supported by EW/TW, e.g., graphics that do not flow with the text but are anchored at a fixed position relative to the page or the column.

 is a RISC OS Userwuerthne on 27/2/05 10:50PM
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"Has anyone used Impression Pub before but now uses E/TechWriter?"

Lots of people, including myself.

"How did you find the change adapting to E/TechWriter."

Well, for preparing simple letters, etc., it's not dissimilar to any other word-processor, and I got going straight away.

Once I decided that I wanted to use it more effectively, then there was a bit of a learning curve. After reading bits of the Manual and working through the tutorials (all well-written), the structured approach gradually began to make sense. The EasiWriter discussion group is full of helpful souls too, which is a great resource to have when making the transition.

Nowadays, when going back to Impression (as I very occasionally do when I need a frame-based approach), I really miss EasiWriter's structured approach to documents.

"I think I just need to spend more time with E/Techwriter learning how to use it?"

Even if you don't have the time for that, it's well worth getting an up-to-date copy as Word import/export has received a lot of enhancement.

"It appears to have most worthy features."

Indeed! One of my personal favourites is "Save as Draw". Equation-editing is, arguably, second to none.

 is a RISC OS UserStewy on 28/2/05 12:22AM
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"I like Ovation Pro (Demo) that I see will import Impression Pub, does E/TechWriter do this?"

You can import the textual content, with effects, etc. from Impression documents, using the 'Save with Styles' option in Impression. This retains most of the textual formatting, and you can then export any images manually. It's not quite as easy as dragging in an Impression file, but it works well. I recently did this with quite a large document, and was pleased with the result: once the document was 'converted' into EasiWriter format, I was then able to 'Save as HTML' (which works impressively). And it's useful to have support for DDF for a host of other reasons too.

Hope that's of help!

 is a RISC OS UserStewy on 28/2/05 12:24AM
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