“If you’re looking for top-quality printed matter, then we doubt that anything on the PCW will ever beat MicroDesign 3.” – PCW Plus Magazine.
In a previous post, I wrote that the Amstrad PCW was my first serious computer which I bought in the 80s. It was a dedicated word processor which meant that it was designed to function mainly as a word processor and not a general computer. The word processing LocoScript was written specially for the PCW and the keyboard had special LocoScript keys as well.
However, the PCW also came bundled with the CP/M operating system which allowed innovative third parties to write other types of programs for the PCW. These included spreadsheets, databases, graphics programs … and desktop publishing programs. The most successful of these was MicroDesign from Creative Technology which turned the PCW from a humble word processor to a serious DTP machine that could produce professional looking publications.
I started with version two of the program and quickly upgraded to the third when it was released. Instantly, I became a big MicroDesign fan and desktop publishing became my number one hobby. It would be accurate to say that desktop publishing became for me then what the internet has become for me today: my biggest passion. Of course, compared to professional DTP programs such as Pagemaker that were available for the much more powerful Mac machines, MicroDesign was very much the underdog. After all it was running on equipment that was never designed to handle anything more demanding than creating letters and essays. MicroDesign had its limits and yet it was powerful enough to create posters, newsletters, greeting cards, and banners that made my friends and relatives think that I had my own printing press at home.
The more successful MicroDesign became, the more creative and innovative Creative Technology became. True to its name, the company came up with more software to extend MicroDesign’s capabilities: more fonts and clip art libraries, a font designer, a clever program that allowed users to manipulate images with wonderful effects and even a display program for creating simple slideshows. Creative Technology produced hardware too including KeyMouse (a mouse specially for the PCW) and – my absolute favourite – ProSCAN, a hand held scanner which to me back then was a real piece of magic.
When I first had the idea for this “tribute” post for MicroDesign, I was disappointed to discover when I started my research that there was no information online about it. I did not want to just write a short post to say how wonderful MicroDesign was. What I had in mind was a proper nostalgia post with real information on the program. In desperation, I sent an email to Creative Technology, not really expecting a reply since I could see from their website that the company had moved on from the world of the PCW which had been discontinued in the 90s. However, just a few days later, I got this reply from Nik Holmes whom I remember as part of the original Creative Technology team who looked after the public relations side of things. He wrote:
Dear Antonio. Thanks for your message, a most unexpected time-travelling moment! I’m not surprised that there isn’t much information about MicroDesign on the web – the mass move to PCs happened a few years before most people were using the Internet. But you might find some fellow enthusiasts here: https://groups.google.com/forum/#!forum/comp.sys.amstrad.8bit
But you won’t find anything from Creative on there, I’m afraid. I’m the only one left from the original team, and the company now does mostly consultancy and bespoke web-based work management systems. I could put you in touch with Simon Hargreaves, the author of the MicroDesign programs, if you like – he no longer works in the industry but might enjoy contributing to some kind of nostalgia project.
As I’m still based at the old company HQ in Uttoxeter, I’m aware there is some ancient MicroDesign stuff gathering dust on archive shelves here and there – but there’s nothing digital I’m afraid. The best I could come up for you with was photographing the MicroDesign3 brochure, which was a 3x A4 gatefold thing – I’ve attached six photos across two emails.
And below, I am reproducing the text and images from the brochure which gives an overview of the MicroDesign family of software and hardware which got my creative juices flowing ever so happily in the late 80s and early 90s. I apologise for the quality of the images.
What is desktop publishing?
You already know that your Amstrad word processor can create an print text documents. But did you know that you can also use it to mix your text with pictures, print in columns like a newspaper, and use different lettering styles and sizes? Most people think that desktop publishing can only be done on an expensive computer such as a Macintosh, but you can produce high-quality DTP work on your humble Amstrad – all you need is the right software program. That program is called MicroDesign 3.
What would I use it for?
More than fifteen thousand PCW owners use MicroDesign, for all sorts of different jobs. Whether you want to produce club newsletters, church magazines, posters, teaching materials or just your own headed notepaper, MicroDesign 3 can transform your ordinary word processor pages into spectacular eye-catching designs.
How can I include pictures in my document?
There are three ways to use pictures in MD3. Firstly, you can buy them as discs of “Clip Art”. Secondly, you can draw them yourself on the screen – MD3 allows you to draw freehand using a mouse, and also provide lots of drawing tools (like lines, shapes, and fill-patterns) for creating your own pictures from scratch. Thirdly, you can use an image scanner to scan pictures on the screen: see below for more information.
Is it easy to learn?
MicroDesign 3 is controlled using on-screen menus, so it is simple to operate using the keyboard or a mouse. But don’t just take our word for it – in PCW Plus Magazine’s review of MicroDesign 3, they awarded the program five marks out of five for “ease of use”. The MicroDesign 3 package also includes a fully illustrated key-by-key tutorial to help you get started – it guides you through five complete examples of different DTP tasks, ranging from the design of a simple letterhead to the construction of a four-page newsletter.
Does the program work on all PCWs?
MicroDesign 3 is compatible with all Amstrad PCW and PcW coputers, but it does require at least 512k of memory to operate. If you have a PCW8256 or PcW9256 model (which only contain 256k of memory), you can add the extra memory you need using one of our memory expansion packages.
What printers can I use?
MicroDesign 3 is fully compatible with almost all dot-matrix, inkjet and laser printers. The program’s built-in printer drivers can be used with IBM- or Epson-compatible 9-pin and 24-pin printers, inkjet printers like the Bubblejet and Deskjet, and HP Laserjet and Canon laser printers. The only type of printer MD3 cannot use is daisy wheel, but if you have a PCW with a daisy wheel, you can fit a different printer to your computer very simply, or call us directly for advice.
The MicroDesign 3 Library
Fonts: there are many examples of different typefaces and lettering styles used in the MicroDesign 3 illustrations in this brochure. Over 50 fonts are supplied free in the MD3 package, but there is also an extensive library of Extra Fonts Discs available. The library incorporates a huge range of typefaces, many of them created by professional typographers especially for MD3 – they range from standard body-text typefaces like those used in books and newspapers to ornamental designs for poster and display work, and they all come in a wide range of different sizes and styles.
Graphics: the main purpose of a DTP program such as MicroDesign 3 is to mix text with pictures. You type the text ont the keyboard as usual, but where do the pictures come from and how do you use them? The easiest answer is to use clip art. Clip art images have been prepared and saved on disc, so that all you need to do is to load them onto your page and lay the text out around them. A vast range of clip-art libraries are available for MicroDesign 3, both from Creative Technology and from other suppliers.
Tweak is an image-processing program – it takes pictures of text from MicroDesign 3 pages, and transforms them using special graphics commands ot produce eye-catching effects like those shown in the photograph. The commands themselves work by complex mathematical and geometric processes, but the program is very simple to operate. Tweaked images are stored as clip-art files, which can be loaded back onto the MicroDesign 3 page and used like any other image file.
Tweak can process bit-image files containing both text and pictures. It can rotate them through any angle, bend and twist them along any axis, distort them to simulate three-dimensional perspective, produce circled lettering and automatic outlines, and much, much more. The program is supplied with a comprehensive manual which describes and illustrates each command, and uses worked examples to explain some of the many different ways in which Tweak effects can be combined – using several Tweak effects on the same image can produce even more spectacular results.
MicroDesign 3 gives you top-quality printed pages from your PCW, but what if you want to use the PCW screen to display information, for example in a shop window or a lecture theatre? Micro-Display is a program which takes files created using MD3, and displays them on the PCW’s screen in a controllable sequence. These files can contain a mixture of text and pictures, and the program has lots of options for moving and combining images at different speeds, fading from one image to another, and other spectacular visual effects: you can even create simple animation sequences, all on your PCW screen!
MicroDisplay also fulfils the functions of a file-manager program for your PCW discs. It allows you to search quickly and simply through them, and shows you the contents of any text or image files including LocoScript and Protext documents. It lets you flick quickly though all the files on a disc to find the one you want, and provides commands to delete, rename or copy the files as you go.
The Font & Shade Designer
Fonts: although MicroDesign is supplied with a wide range of type sizes and styles, you may also need to include your own special characters in an MD3 font, or to design a new font which is not available in the Extra Fonts library. The Font Designer allows you to alter or swap characters in an existing font, or to design your own complete typeface from scratch.
Shades are the dot-patterns which MicroDesign 3 uses to create “fills” and “floods”: some Shades are designed to give a “grey-scale” effect, while others use repeated patterns (such as tiles or bricks) to produce textures.
As well as specific sections for designing Fonts and Shades, the program also includes a MicroDesign 3-style Page. You can use the Page to import graphics and scanned images from MD3, and use them to make new fonts and shades – you could even scan your own handwriting, and make into a font, which you can then use for typesetting personalised letters in MD3!
MicroDesign 3, like most Desktop Publishing programs, can be controlled using a mouse. A computer mouse is a pointing device: as you move it around on its mouse mat, an arrow on the screen follows the movements you make. you can select commands from the on-screen menus by pointing at the command you want and clicking the mouse buttons. You can even craw directly onto the computer’s screen, using the mouse pointer like a pen.
KeyMouse is a high-quality precision mouse designed specifically for use with MicroDesign 3, and is the only mouse which works with all versions of the program. Because MicroDesign 3 commands and options are always displayed on the screen, they can all be selected and controlled using the mouse, making the program much easier to learn and to use. KeyMouse attaches to the computer via the keyboard connector: it is supplied complete with its own smart mouse-mat, and includes full instructions for using it both in MD3 and other programs.
A hand-held scanner is a real computer magic – just roll it over a picture or a diagram, and the image appears on the PCW’s screen! The MicroDesign 3 scanner is a professional-quality unit: it can scan images up to four inches (105mm) wide via an interface which attaches to the back of the computer: simple installation instructions are provided in the MicroDesign 3 manual.
The system allows you to scan directly onto the MD3 page, and images can be scanned from printed books, hand-sketches, line-drawings, maps, photographs, or any flat surface. As you move the scanning head, the picture appears immediately on the screen, and you can adjust the image brightness as you go along wo ensure perfect results every time. You can even scan colour pictures, because the scanner has special dot-patterns (called “dithers”) which it uses to simulate colours and shades.
The MicroDesign 3 Package
The package consists of the program itself, a comprehensive reference manual, and a typeface library containing over fifty fonts. It also includes a complete Beginner’s Tutorial with a separate manual and disc.
The instructions are simple to follow, and a special installation program guides you through the process of making working copies of the MD3 program and library discs.
User Support and Service
All Creative Technology programs are backed up by our acclaimed Technical Support service, which is provided completely free of charge to all our users. If you have difficulties with any of our programs, you can telephone our Technical Support hotline between 4pm and 7pm Monday to Friday, and talk to one of our expert support team, or we can deal with your problems by letter if you prefer. We pride ourselves on the friendliness and efficiency of our support: here are some of our user’s comments:
“I cannot express how impressed I am with the service I have received from Creative Technology”
“Full marks for excellent customer service!”
“I trust that Crative Technology will continue to thrive and that end-users can continue to look forward to exceptionally high quality supported by friendly telephone help.”
Thanks to Nick Holmes and Creative Technology for the information used in this post.