TextMaker: Not Your Father’s Pocket Word

by Reads (12,673)

SoftMaker’s word processor for handheld computers, TextMaker, has caused quite a stir, thanks in part to the shortcomings of Microsoft’s Pocket Word. Unfortunately, it’s only been available for the Handheld PC platform…that is, until now.

Germany-based SoftMaker has just released a public beta version of TextMaker for Pocket PC and I was fortunate enough to get a sneak peek, and found a lot to like.

Finally, a full-featured word processor

What strikes you first when browsing through TextMaker’s menus is how enormously feature-rich it is. Unlike Microsoft’s Pocket Word, which it aims to replace, it’s not crippled in terms of functionality. In fact, it’s basically comparable in capabilities to Word 95 for the desktop PC. That’s mighty impressive for a program that only takes up 7.5 MB of Storage space.

Although it would be a daunting task to list all the program’s capabilities here, let’s take a look at some of its features in a bit more depth.

SoftMaker has done an effective job of converting TextMaker from the Handheld PC version, making efficient usage of the Pocket PC’s smaller screen. A single toolbar is all that’s necessary to access all of the program’s features, although the option is there to have several ‘control strips’ onscreen at one time, as well as a ruler. This is a great solution for those using a program such as Nyditot, possibly outputting to a larger screen. The same forethought applies in the implementation of zooming: TextMaker can fit the text to the screen at any zoom level, but also display in page layout view, with scrollbars to pan around the text. All the zoom functions can be accessed with a single tap, and it really becomes very intuitive to adapt the zoom to current needs.

As one would expect, there are a comprehensive array of formatting options for text, borders, paragraphs, pages and so on. The most common functions have user-customizable shortcut keys without the need for a separate utility (WordCommands), as Pocket Word does. TextMaker was designed from the ground up for keyboard-equipped devices, so it’s best experienced with a Stowaway or equivalent. And, of course, you can use any of the soft input methods as well.

Included is an extremely comprehensive help file, which despite the vast array of features is largely unnecessary to anyone familiar with any of the popular desktop word processors. Speaking of which, TextMaker can be purchased with its own fully-featured desktop counterpart, which can natively handle TextMaker’s own file format, TMD. Don’t worry though – TextMaker can also save to Pocket Word files, as well as rich-text format (RTF), plain text and others. It also claims seamless conversion from Word files – an alluring declaration for those who have ever had a file mangled by Pocket Word. Needless to say, this means it can open Word files right up to Word 2000, but also has the power to recover text from any file type as an emergency measure.

Just as in desktop Microsoft Word, you find real-time spell-checking (the red underlining has finally made it to Pocket PC); thesaurus; document statistics, including title, description and so on; full table support; bookmarking; a proper search tool; full image support; ClearType; HTML saving; multi-level undo; headers, footers, symbols, page numbers (and indeed the existence of pages at all), borders, chapters and other such document paraphernalia – the list of features is certainly impressive (and this is but a sample), especially compared to the anemic Pocket Word.

Even in the beta version that I am testing and composing this review on, TextMaker remained totally stable and, even with spell-checking activated and a lot of text on screen, it worked fairly speedily throughout. The only bug I noticed, in fact, was that the Backspace key didn’t work on my Foldable Keyboard. I trust this shall be remedied by the final version!

TextMaker doesn’t just feel like a ‘proper’ word processor – it is a proper word processor, which seems a little odd to a PPC user used to cut-down programs for a cut-down platform. My main test of its real-world capability is whether I would trust it to write my entire university thesis on, complete with all the academic paraphernalia its formatting requires. If TextMaker were combined with a program like PrintPocket CE, I would not have to touch my desktop PC from start to finish – and, even more tellingly, I would be fairly comfortable doing so. What makes TextMaker a really special program, however, is not just its phenomenal feature set, but its efficiency: in space, in speed and in ease of use.

We’ve been waiting for a long time for a program like this. At last it has arrived, and it looks like SoftMaker have got it right.

The public beta of TextMaker for Pocket PC is available at www.softmaker.de.

About the author
Anthony Newman is a third-year English student at Oxford University in the United Kingdom. He is also a Pocket PC enthusiast with an interest in wireless technologies.



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