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About VDE


     About VDE, the "Video Display Editor"

     The original text editors were "line-oriented", designed to modify one
line of a file at a time.  They were typically used by programmers, who
would first print out their program and write corrections by hand, and then
enter them one at a time at the terminal screen.  (EDLIN, still being
distributed with the CP/M operating system in the 1980s, was of this type.)
Of course the advent of full-screen editors made the process vastly more
convenient, and made word processing possible.  But with the slow, primitive
hardware of that era, designed to send one character at a time to a terminal
screen, the challenge was getting a whole screen of text to respond quickly
enough to a user's typing.  The software answer was to write at least
essential display code in low-level assembler language, with no unnecessary
machine instructions wasting clock cycles.  The hardware answer was "Memory-
Mapped Video", a design that allowed text to appear on screen as fast as a
program could write it to a special area of memory, without having to send
each individual character through an I/O controller.

     The "Video Display Oriented" editor was a programming exercise
published in 1982 by Richard Forbes in BYTE Magazine, to demonstrate the use
of MMV in 8080 assembler.  VDO was a tiny program assembling to a 4k COM
file, with just a rudimentary set of basic editing commands, and it could
edit only files small enough to fit into about 50k of memory remaining on a
CP/M system after it loaded itself -- but it was fast.  It updated the
screen quickly thanks to MMV, and because it kept the entire (small) file in
memory too, it didn't have to read and write a slow floppy disk all the time
in order to move the cursor around the text.  And the source code was right
there, so everyone could modify it for their own computer.  (Standardization
was poor, and each manufacturer implemented access to video RAM
differently.)  Fritz Schneider promptly adapted VDO for the Osborne 1, and
soon George Peace modified that version for the new Osborne Executive, my
own first computer.  It was his VDO-EX that I found online in 1984 and began
to study and improve.  At first I was just learning some new assembler
programming techniques, and fiddling with the commands to make them work
more like those I was used to in Wordstar 3.3.  Then I gradually began to
implement new features myself like wordwrap and reformatting, realizing that
VDO could actually be turned into a light word processor that would be even
handier for everyday use (on files of limited size) than Wordstar itself.

     Other people also produced variations of VDO, although I wasn't aware
of that until long afterward.  My own inspiration was to develop a sort of
hybrid program with as much word-processor functionality as was practical to
combine with the efficiency of a simple text editor, and after I had
rewritten, improved, and expanded the code enough I began to call my program
"VDE".  My approach wasn't merely derivative; I tried to maintain as much
compatibility as possible with Wordstar to avoid confusion, but also created
new features like macros and macro programming (in 1986, before Wordstar had
macros), and unique ones like block zoom and split screen with compare, that
gave VDE even greater potential.  After a while I took a step backward to
add alternative display code for computers that lacked MMV, which of course
wasn't quite as fast, but still usable; I wanted VDE to work on just about
any CP/M computer, despite their differences.  In 1987 I finally switched
from CP/M to MS-DOS, translating VDE into 8086 assembler, and was freed from
previous tight constraints on code by having ten times more memory to work
with.  VDE developed more new features, and the ability to edit multiple
files at once (and eventually, to edit large files in multiple segments).
Once DOS systems became well standardized on IBM-PC compatibility, VDE 1.7
dropped the dual-display approach and returned to its MMV-only roots --
though I continued to make every effort to allow it to take advantage of
proprietary display modes, and to run well on unusual computers like the HP
LX palmtop.  (There was even an LX-specific version called FastWrite for a
few years.)

     VDE started out as freeware; the DOS version switched to shareware
(with licensing required for commercial use) from 1988 to 2002, and has
since returned to freeware status.  Even during its shareware period, VDE
was released in fully functional form without nagging displays, and
individual use was still freely allowed (a spelling-checker module was
offered as an incentive for registration).  VDE has been widely distributed
by software libraries and online, and bundled with outdated computers for
use by the disadvantaged.  It's been my own most-used software for over 20
years, and my wish has always been that it should also be useful to as many
others as possible.
                                         -- Eric Meyer (April 2009)


___________________________________________________________________________


          Program Description  (from the VDE 1.95 Manual)

VDE is a small, fast DOS-based text editor for PC compatibles offering:

     * WordStar-style command keys, or easy menu-driven basic operation
     * multiple file editing with dual windows, copy and paste, compare
     * block copy, move, delete, read, write, zoom, and column mode
     * find and replace (including backward, ignore case, all files, etc)
     * protected mode, multi-level undo, and automatic timed save
     * powerful programmable macros to automate tasks or create new features
     * definable function keys and many other user-configurable options
     * many choices of text, screen, and window sizes
     * full-featured file browser (tag, edit, import, delete, etc)
     * access to DOS utilities, full DOS shell, and Windows Clipboard
     * compatibility with Windows features like Long File Names
     * fast, effective operation even on older PCs, laptops, palmtops

 But VDE is also an effective word processor, with:

     * fully automatic, permanent paragraph formatting (manual optional)
     * wordwrap, adjustable margins, center, flush right, variable tabs,
          autoindent, double space, right justify
     * writer's tools including word count, list numbering, sorting
     * print preview to check format and pagebreaks before printing
     * customizable printer drivers for special effects (bold, underline,
          italic, super/subscript, overstrike, fonts, etc)
     * many printing options (headers, pagination, selective print, single
          sheet feed, address envelopes, print to file, etc)
     * multiple file formats for text exchange/translation, including DOS,
          Windows, and Unix text, WordStar, WordPerfect, Microsoft Word

     VDE (Video Display Editor) is a unique, versatile integration of the
 efficient simplicity of a text editor with an essential core of word-
 processing features.  An effective tool for a wide variety of tasks, VDE is
 an excellent general-purpose editor; a quick viewer for document files in
 various formats; a practical editor to run within a shell from telecom,
 database, programming, or other DOS applications; and a good partner with
 Windows software.  Yet its wide range of formatting and printing features
 (available even when working with plain text files) also make VDE a word
 processor in its own right, one that handles essential writing tasks faster
 and more simply than vastly more complex desktop-publishing programs.

     After all, typesetting is a process quite unrelated to writing, and often
 there's no good reason to be distracted by it.  The fundamental advance of
 word-processing over a typewriter is in speed and ease of writing and
 revision, so VDE allows you to keep your fingers on the keyboard, concen-
 trate, and work quickly, whether you have the latest, fastest computer or
 not.  You can find a phrase or make a global change instantly, and more work
 can be done right on screen, eliminating unnecessary printouts.  If you truly
 need more sophisticated page design than VDE offers, you can easily import
 what you've written into a full-blown desktop publisher.  But simple text
 files can easily be viewed, searched, printed, or otherwise processed with an
 enormous variety of utilities dating back to the earliest years of personal
 computers.  They remain an ideal medium for long-term storage, retrieval, and
 exchange of information, and programs like VDE that work with or translate
 into plain text still serve all sorts of purposes very well.

     With its permanent local formatting, otherwise found only in full-fledged
 word processors, VDE is the culmination of a long quest to discover how
 closely a simple text editor can approximate the features of such products.  
 VDE runs well on newer Windows systems, which are still compatible with DOS
 software (and in fact can serve quite nicely as a multitasking DOS environ-
 ment); yet it remains small and efficient enough to work well on older or
 more limited PCs long abandoned by major software vendors, even tiny
 palmtops.  Although small, VDE can accomplish even more than a glance at its
 list of built-in features might suggest: its macro programming ability allows
 you to design useful additional features of your own, like filtering,
 sorting, or mail-merge, if you find a need for them.


                         REVIEWS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

        "VDE is a word-processing program for people who like their
     programs lean, mean and simple... executes all the standard
     operations necessary for writing articles, books or screenplays...
     blazingly fast... Even the loading and storing of files is speedy."
              - Paul Ciotti, Los Angeles Times Magazine (18 Mar 1990)

        "This may be the finest piece of word processing code ever
     written.  I have never been as impressed with anything as I have
     with VDE 1.5... writing software in 100 percent assembly language
     still pays off in performance and reduced code size.  It's an
     astonishing product, believe me.  It's more than the perfect laptop
     word processor...  I cannot give a higher recommendation for any
     product that I have seen in ten years...  Top recommendation."
              - John Dvorak, PC Magazine (24 Apr 1990)

        "What fascinated Dvorak was not just the astonishing functionality
     achieved with very little programming code, but also the attitude --
     and implications -- of the author who circulated it freely asking
     only for a modest sum...  VDE is an amazing word-processor, offering
     almost everything except the layout and document processing features
     found in far fatter programs... it supports the old WordStar command
     set... ergonomically the most efficient I've ever learned."
              - Colin Brace, Language Technology/Electric Word (Jul/Aug 1990)

        "I've used various versions of WordStar, WordPerfect, and Wang
     IWP.  I wouldn't trade my copy of VDE for shrink-wrapped sets of the
     latest versions of all of these.  I congratulate you both on the
     quality of your program and on your policy in making it available..."
              - K.N., VDE user (Aug 1991)

        "You've recognized a truth about writing, which every commercial
     word-processor vendor has forgotten.  Writing is about words -- not
     fonts or bit-maps or graphical layout.  Writers need the computer
     equivalent of a typewriter -- not a print-shop."
              - J.W., VDE user (Aug 1995)

     VDE has appeared in stores in "Dvorak's Top 30", a boxed software
 collection published by Interplay Productions; it was also included with the
 book and disk "Dvorak's Inside Track to DOS and PC Performance" by John
 Dvorak and Nick Anis, published by Osborne/McGraw-Hill.  VDE has received
 many good reviews, including a four-star "****" rating for many years on
 ZDnet from Ziff-Davis, publishers of PC Magazine.

     The author, Eric Meyer, has programmed in languages from APL to Z80; his
 other software for IBM PC compatibles includes the ZIP File Transfer program
 and numerous smaller utilities.  He firmly believes that simple, effective
 software should remain easily available to users of all kinds of personal
 computers.


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