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Tuesday, June 25, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Quicksoft Is Updating Shareware Pioneer Pc-Write

Seattle-based Quicksoft, whose PC-Write word processor helped pioneer the concept of "shareware" in the early 1980s, is showing a dramatic update of its flagship product at the PC Expo trade show in New York City this week.

PC-Write was one of the first truly powerful, customizable and f-a-s-t word processors. Its menu structure and dot commands weren't the easiest to master, but as a shareware product it was readily available to any user to "try before you buy" and converted many a first-timer to the joys of computer-based writing.

Shareware is a concept that allows users to copy and try out programs before deciding whether to use a piece of software on a regular basis. If they do, they pay a registration fee, usually in the $15 to $75 range.

Some of the industry's leading programs - including the ProComm communications software, Bellevue-based ButtonWare's PC-File database program, Seattle-based WilsonWare's Windows programs - got their start as shareware programs. A number have evolved into successful, commercial products as well.

Shareware continues to thrive, however. A leading catalog from Public Brand Software (1-800-426-3475) lists hundreds of programs, from utilities to math/engineering and games. Most major commercial programs have shareware counterparts that cost hundreds of dollars less (although they also may lack the richness of features of the commercial programs).

Shareware has been good to Quicksoft, founded by ex-Microsoft programmer Bob Wallace in 1983. But PC-Write has been in need of updating for almost two years.

Wallace, who found that the demands of running Quicksoft left him essentially with weekends to do his first love, programming, sold the company earlier this year to another ex-Microsoftie, Leo Nikora. Since then it's been full throttle to update PC-Write.

What Quicksoft has come up with - called PC-Write Standard Level - is a character-based word processor to rival the features of WordPerfect and Microsoft Word 5.5. It has all the right stuff - pull-down menus, page preview (a page with type blocked out to give you an idea of how your document will look when printed), full customization (including menu colors) and sophisticated use of function keys.

What distinguishes Standard Level from the field, however, is a feature Quicksoft calls "adaptability" - a term it hopes will become a user buzzword similar to "full-featured," "powerful" and the ever-popular "easy to use."

Adaptability allows the user to vary the number of features and commands in the program from core (simple) to advanced levels. This means that the power user in the household can configure the program to do as many things as he or she likes, while the beginner or computerphobic user can tamp down the feature set to only a few commands per menu.

For example: Under the "file" menu in the simplest configuration, there are only three choices: Exit and save, Save and Undo changes. Under the higher "standard level" configuration, however, eight main choices come up, including exiting temporarily to DOS or converting files to or from another file format, such as WordPerfect or ASCII (generic text).

Macintosh and Windows users are familiar with the difference between "short" and "long" menus. PC-Write has made the short quite a bit shorter, the long longer and added a number of gradations in-between.

Although PC-Write is still a character-based system (it can't do pictures and layout like the graphics-based Windows and Mac applications), the seeds of a Windows version are apparent in its new incarnation.

Standard Level is still in the test phase and won't be available until fall. Pricing has not yet been set, but Quicksoft intends to market the program as both shareware and commercial software available in standard retail outlets. This strategy has worked well for ButtonWare's PC-File, which found rejuvenation through retail channels including Egghead Discount Software.

Is there room for yet another flavor of word processor in the PC world, today dominated by WordPerfect and Word? The new PC-Write aims to appeal to beginners, students and laptop users (the latter primarily because it takes only 220 kilobytes of memory).

Wallace recalls with a laugh being told back when he introduced PC-Write that the word-processing market was closed because one program was so dominant: WordStar.

NEWS BYTES

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and former IBM director Sam Albert will be among industry luminaries at the 14th annual national conference of the Independent Computer Consultants Association Thursday through Saturday at the Westin Hotel. Eleven leading vendors will be represented, the new computer-based billing system Timeslips Professional will be introduced and a wide assortment of topics discussed. You can register ($345 for the full session, but cheaper options are available) at the door or by calling 467-0663 or 1-800-438-4222. . . . The intriguing relationship between programming and musical talent will be in full force at the Washington Software Association-sponsored Battle of the Software Bands at 6 p.m. July 18 at Parker's.

TIP OF THE WEEK

Looking for a couple of good books on system upgrades? Try Van Wolverton's "Running MS-DOS" covering DOS 5 ($24.95, Microsoft Press) or Craig Danuloff's The System 7 Book for the Mac ($22.95, Ventana Press). Contact this column in care of The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle 98111. Paul Andrews can be reached at CompuServe 76050,161 or via fax at 382-8879.

User Friendly appears Tuesdays in The Seattle Times. Paul Andrews is a member of The Times staff.

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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