By: Peter McWilliams
Popular Computing, March 1982
A word-processing program is only as good as the hardware that runs it. The successful interconnection of keyboard, video display, printer, and storage device plays a major role in determining the productivity of your word-processing system. I’ll suggest what you should look for in an ideal word-processing system.
The keyboard and video screen are the most important parts of your word-processing system. Together they are known as the terminal, at which you’ll spend most of your time. You must feel totally comfortable with both.
The screen should display characters that are crisp, sharp, and clear. A character is formed on the video screen by little dots, and the more dots there are, the sharper the character. The dot pattern is usually called the dot matrix. Specifications should list how many dots running horizontally and how many running vertically make up a letter; 6 by 8, 7 by 10, or 14 by 10 are common, with higher numbers indicating better resolution. Then there are the questions of how many characters fit on a line and how many lines are displayed on the screen. Lower-priced screens offer 64 characters and 16 lines or fewer. Better terminals will display 80 characters and 24 lines. Twenty-four lines equal about half a type-written page, and that’s plenty of room to see what has gone before. Also, if you need to review, scrolling to another part of the text is fast and easy. Video screens that display full pages of text (55 lines or so) can be hindrances. Studies have shown that the operator spends a great deal of time actually touching the screen to hold a place because too much information is displayed at once.
Green-phosphor screens are supposed to be easier on the eyes. I really don’t know. My suggestion is to try both a black -and-white and a green-phosphor video screen to see which you prefer. If you do decide to get a green screen, make sure the actual phosphor is green; don’t get a black-and-white screen with a green plastic covering. Amber-phosphor screens might also merit a trial run.
The keyboard should be a standard typewriter keyboard with large letters and slightly curved keys. If you work with numbers frequently, a numeric keyboard (keys for the numbers 0 through 9 placed to the right of the regular keyboard) is a must.
As you hit a letter, you shouldn’t hear a plastic “ping” echoing through the keyboard. A keyboard that sounds cheap requires more effort to use. Most of all, you must enjoy typing on it. A great many keyboards are out there. Try them all until you find the one that feels best to you.
From personal experience, I recommend a detachable keyboard instead of one fixed to the computer screen. With a detachable unit, I can lean back in my chair, put the keyboard in my lap, and relax. When editing, I move the keyboard closer to the screen so I can see the text more clearly.
Our next consideration is the printer. There are basically two kinds: dot-matrix and letter-quality. Dot-matrix printers cost less and print faster, yet the quality of the printed text, while readable, leaves much to be desired.