Laptop computers have revolutionized the way many people work, especially when they are on the road. Laptops may also have added a few wrinkles to the brows of those who have squinted to see the small, often dimly lighted text on their little screens.
Now there is a word-processing program to ease working on a laptop computer.
The name, Eye Relief for Laptops, says it all. This $130 software package lets you control the size and spacing of the type on your computer's screen. If your portable runs the IBM-compatible DOS operating system, Eye Relief will produce easily readable text on your screen no matter how bad your screen is.
I knew it worked when I put away my bifocals and typed quite comfortably without them, the laptop propped on my knees, as my wife drove us along the San Diego Freeway.
There are four choices of text size. The smallest, which is larger than the normal type on my portable, measured slightly less than a quarter-inch high on my screen. The larger sizes were each about an eighth of an inch taller than the previous size, with the largest measuring a half-inch. (Size will vary according to the size of your computer's screen.)
In addition to character size, you can vary the character spacing. Once the appropriate command has been given, merely pressing the left or right arrow key will space characters out horizontally or squeeze them together. Eye Relief works the same way to adjust the amount of space between lines, using the up and down arrow keys.
Just adding an extra bit of space to the smallest type size makes it substantially easier to read. The advantage of using a smaller type size is that you can see more of your text on the screen. With the largest size, my lines were only three or four words across and there were only five of them.
No matter what type size or spacing you use, this word processor always rewraps your text so that it fits within the confines of the screen. Therefore it takes a few seconds when you move from one type size to another for the program to do its reformatting.
The word processor is simple to use. It doesn't have many commands, so there is not much to learn. Yet it does most everything I want to do when writing on a laptop. You can insert text, cut blocks of text and paste them elsewhere, or copy a block of text from one place to another in a document. There is a find-and-replace routine, allowing you to search for words and replace them with others.
One thing you won't have any trouble finding with Eye Relief is the cursor, that pesky little blinking mark that has a habit of disappearing on most laptop screens. The one in Eye Relief is a large block, and you can choose seven different blink rates or no blink.
A word count command tells you how much you've written. And another command allows you to create "macros," which are computer-memorized sequences of keystrokes, commands or text that can be replayed any time you need to repeat them.
There is even provision for "headers" and "footers" to place fixed material to be printed at the top and bottom of every page, such as the name of the file and the page number.
Printing is equally simple. Press the appropriate command keys and a small menu appears, allowing you to define margins left and right, top and bottom, and define the page number to begin the numbering.
All the commands are available from five pull-down menus across the top of the screen or by pressing the Control key and a letter key such as P for print, F for find and Q for quit.
You do give up a lot of features that you may have grown used to with the powerful word processors running on desktop computers. You can't move text between files. There is no spelling checker or thesaurus. You cannot amplify your words with boldfacing.
But Ken Skier, proprietor of SkiSoft Publishing Corp. in Lexington, Mass. (617-863-1876), and author of Eye Relief, designed it so that its files are easily transferred into other word processing programs for further enhancement. The 87-page manual explains just how it works.
There is another great advantage to Eye Relief for Laptops. It consumes very little disk storage space, less than 100 kilobytes. Thus any old laptop with a single 3.5-inch diskette with 720-kilobyte capacity gives you room to store the program files and the equivalent of 300 pages of double-spaced text.
Not only is Skier a master at writing small programs, Eye Relief also runs quite fast. Even though it works in graphics mode, which is usually slower, to create the various type sizes it easily keeps up with your typing.
Richard O'Reilly designs microcomputer applications for the Los Angeles Times. Readers' comments are welcomed. Write to Richard O'Reilly, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053.