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Help, Tips & FAQ's 

for the Amstrad PCW :

Part 2 - LocoScript 





2.1 - Introduction

LocoScript is the name of the word processing program that was bundled in the UK & Europe with the Amstrad PCW, but in the USA it was called LocaScript. A great many PCW users rarely if ever ventured beyond this program and now, over 20 years since its debut, it still has a faithful band of devotees, some of whom have recently gone back to it having failed to get to grips with the complexity of PC's or do are not physically able to master the use of a mouse.

2.1.1 - Loco Versions

LocoScript version 1.0 (the version number appears on the screen during booting) was bundled with the very first 8256's but, like most brand new software, it suffered from errors so was very quickly replaced by 1.1 and 1.2. Owners of at least 1.0 were offered a free upgrade to 1.2 but far from everyone took up the offer. Version 1.2 became the norm for subsequent 8256's and all the 8512's. Upgrades incorporating further refinements could be purchased, that to 1.4 to include LocoSpell being the most notable. 

Development was then switched to Loco 2 with its more refined use of the Disc Manager function keys and more comprehensive Layout features. Equally important was a new f2 Disc menu which offered disc copying, formatting and verifying from within Loco - previously it was necessary to re-boot into CP/M to perform these tasks then re-start into Loco again. Loco 1 users could purchase upgrades to 2 but the 9512, with it's noisy 'divorce material' daisy wheel printer, was bundled with Loco 2 from the outset (usually 2.12 or 2.16).

Version 2.28 witnessed a change in version numbering to even numbers for 8000 users and odd for 9512. More importantly, 2.28 saw the introduction for 8000 users of support for 'external' printers (driven via a CPS8256 serial/parallel interface) whilst version 2.29 also added support for the daisy wheel's auto sheet feeder ("ASF unit"), the least said about which the better. A 'Printer Support Pack' upgrade was also introduced at this time which, amongst other goodies, included drivers for a wide variety of dot matrix, inkjet and laser printers, some of which are still relevant to today's laser printers. Last known releases of Loco2 were 2.32 and 2.33, the 3.5" 9512+ optionally available with a Canon BJ10 bubble jet printer generally being shipped with a special derivative called 2.31b which included the necessary Canon printer driver. 

To maintain a presence at the budget end of the market, Amstrad introduced the 9256 with regurgitated 8000 series dot matrix printer. However, because it only had 256k memory, it was not best suited to the memory hungry Loco2, so was bundled with an adaptation of 1.4 from several years earlier which was called 1.5. The final genuine PCW, the 'all new' PCW10 was anything but this, being effectively a 9256 with 512k memory and, despite this additional memory, it was still bundled with 1.5

Meanwhile Locomotive Software, and their successors after they went into liquidation, continued development of the product with LocoScript 3 and then 4. Both of these used the same principal function keys as Loco2 but they offered significantly better font choice and quality; both ran to many versions and both were only ever available as paid-for upgrades as they were never bundled with any Amstrad product. It is interesting to note that 95% of all the 3" discs received for conversion to PC format were produced on the original 1.2 (8000 series) or 2.16 (9512). 

2.1.2 - Mixing LocoScript Versions 1, 2, 3 & 4

  • As with PC programs like Word, later (= higher numbered) versions of Loco can Edit (= Open) files from earlier versions but not vice versa (as the later format obviously wasn't thought of when the earlier was produced !).

  • Editing a doc from an earlier version automatically produces a file in the later format. You will probably be invited at the start of the edit to amend the doc set-up to utilise the more advanced features of the later version.

  • If you try to Print (rather than Edit) a file from an older version than the one you are currently using, you'll get "Not a Suitable Document".  You must first Edit it to produce a file in the current (later) version format.

  • If you try to open a doc from a later version than the current, you'll get a "Not a LocoScript Document" error. Converting to a later format is therefore effectively a one-way street, except in the case of Loco 4, which can back-convert to 3.

2.1.3 - LocoScript Manuals 

Apart from not having a 'what you see is what you get' screen display, one of the perceived failings of LocoScript was its manuals. The original version shipped with Loco 1 - intended to be a work of reference rather than a book to read at bedtime - wasn't at all bad but, very unfortunately, it was mercilessly hammered by the press. Having resorted to employing an expensive consultant, Locomotive's manuals for Loco 2 and subsequent upgrades went the opposite way - weighty tomes which were verbose & so repetitive that it was very easy to miss the important bits.

No apologies, then, for regurgitating some stuff that is probably in the manuals somewhere (if you can find it) ... and some things they don't want you to know about .....    


  • 2.2 - Using newly formatted discs

When you first insert a freshly formatted disc into LocoScript, the Disc Manager screen will report the disc as having 173k or 706k free, but there are NO columns for it in the lower (files) part of the screen. For brevity, the file columns only appear where there are some files in a Group so with no files in any Group of a new disc, no columns appear for the disc at all. With the ordinary cursor left & right keys thus unable to reach over to the disc, there seems to be no way of creating a file on or moving files to said empty disc. As it has probably been a long time since the last new disc was used, panic sets in.

Don't panic! Remember the Shift key !

The upper part of the Disc Manager's tabular screen shows a summary of the discs in the drive(s) and usage of the 8 "Groups" that are available within each. A cursor in the form of a reverse video block highlight shows the currently selected Group and it is moved with Shift+the cursor keys  

The lower part shows the files within the selected (highlighted) disc & Group and, if there's room, also in adjacent Groups. The cursor, again in the form of a reverse video highlight, shows the currently selected file and is moved with just the plain cursor keys.  

The two cursors move in tandem so, if you move the lower cursor left or right over a Group's bounding vertical line into the files for another Group, the upper cursor moves to the new current Group (which may be a fair distance if the intermediate Groups have no files in them). Similarly, if you use Shift+cursor keys to move the upper cursor, the lower file cursor scrolls across the screen to be positioned on a file in the newly selected Group. However, if there are no files in that Group, the file cursor transforms itself into two short vertical lines, one either side of the column boundary dividing the nearest used Groups. As such, it has often been accused of disappearing!    

The trick therefore is to use the SHIFT+Cursor keys to move the upper Group cursor to reach the Groups of the new disc. Once there, you can hit C to create a new file and, once it has been named and created, a column will magically open up for this Group and the new file be highlighted. Alternatively, when copying a file from another drive to the new disc, use Shift+Cursor keys when selecting the 'destination' of the new file. Once it has been copied, a new column will be created and the file cursor make a welcome return to its usual form.

2.2.1 - Tips

  • A good way of initialising a new disc is to select the Template.Std in Group 0 (System Group) of drive M, select Copy file (just f3 in Loco1 or f3 then Copy in Loco2/3/4) then hit SHIFT+Cursor Left until the highlight reaches Group 0 of the new disc then hit Enter twice. Once the file has been copied, the disc manager screen will refresh and a column for this group will magically appear!

Note: A 2k Template file copied from drive M to a standard 3" drive A of an 8256/8512 may report that it is now only 1k. Don't worry! Space on these drives is allocated in units of 1k whereas on M and all high density drives, the unit is 2k. Hence the reverse can happen when copying from A to M (or A to B) as file sizes here are rounded up to an even number. 

  • Use this Shift+Cursor key method to create files in or copy files to a previously unused Group on a disc. To name a Group, it's f5 then Rename Group in Loco1 or just f4 in Loco2/3/4.


  • 2.3 - Group Philosophy .... and Templates

Modern computers allow discs to be divided into an almost limitless number of directories (or 'folders' in Bill Gates' Speak) and for there to be sub-directories (sub-folders) within these so as to simulate the drawers and dividers of a manual filing cabinet. LocoScript calls it's disc divisions 'Groups' and there is a fixed maximum of 8 for active files (plus another 8 for Limbos - see below) but there are no facilities for sub-groups. On a new blank data disc, the Groups will be called Group.0 through to Group.7 but they can be given names like Letters or Fred so that their contents can be more easily recognised. 

Like Baldrick, Locomotive Software had a cunning plan. This was to keep all files of one particular type of document layout  - eg letters, manuscripts or mailing labels - together in one place (= in one Group). By having a 'master' layout file (called Template.std) in each Group which is automatically opened in response to the 'Create' new document command, creating documents to a uniform layout is very easy. Moreover, because the Template.Std is merely an ordinary Loco document, it can contain fixed text such as one's address and phone number to save entering it each time. Automatically copying the template and simply asking for a name for the result is thus a much better way for new users to 'get going' than the alternatives of starting with a totally blank page or having to select a particular template file from somewhere then copy it, give it a new name and then edit the result. 

Hence the Groups on the Loco program disc which contain sample templates are named to reflect their layout type eg Letters, Labels etc. All Group names and Template.Std files are copied to drive M (the Memory drive) during the start-up ('booting') process so that they are available for use during the session after the Start of Day disc has been replaced in the drive by a data disc.

So far so good, but not everyone wants to keep their documents organised in that way. Authors and suppliers of professional services may want to keep all documents relating to a particular novel, project or customer in one place, irrespective of whether they are letters, invoices, notes, minutes or threats of legal action. A common solution here is to f3 copy a suitable previous document (possibly from another Group or even Disc), give it a new name and delete any unwanted text, but this can be a bit slow going each time if there are several pages to delete.

A refinement of this technique is to delete this unwanted text just once and call the result by a meaningful name eg Template.Let, .A5, .Inv etc so that there are several  different layouts available within the Group. To then create (say) a new invoice, f3 copy Template.Inv as Invoice.B07 then edit in the new text. 

The same technique can be used to update an ordinary Template.Std if you move house or have honed a particular document's format to perfection with multiple layouts, tabs and other fancy page settings. Rather than then trying to re-enact all these changes again on the Template.Std so that all newly created documents will inherit these refinements, delete the existing Template.Std, f3 copy the honed document as Template.Std then edit it to remove all unwanted text so as to leave just the bare bones. 

NOTE - Making alterations to a Template.Std does NOT affect any existing documents that were created using it. As described above, new documents are created by making a copy of the then existing template so will reflect its contents at that time and there is no mechanism for 'retro applying' subsequent changes to it. This can be a pain if you only discover a better layout when you have reached chapter 30 of a book, but it does mean that old letters written before you moved house don't suddenly change to your new address ! 


  • 2.4 - "Limbo" Files & Disc Manager's "Free Space" Display

When you erase a file, it is not completely removed from the disc as you might imagine. Instead it simply has 8 added to its Group number in its disc Directory entry to put it into the Limbo range of Group numbers - 8 to 15. In other words, the Limbo system is a mid 1980's forerunner of the "Recycle Bin" that was only introduced on PC's in Windows 95. Similarly, when you finish editing a file and write the new version to the disc, the previous version (the one you selected to Edit ie the 'input' to the edit) is retained as a back-up by having 8 added to its Group number to put it into the corresponding Limbo group.  

Limbo is thus a valuable 'safety valve' when problems arise - it enables you to retrieve accidentally deleted files or go back to the previous version if a problem arises with the latest edit. However, whereas CP/M treats all 16 Groups (or Users as it calls them) equally, LocoScript only recognises the first 8 (Groups 0 to 7) as containing 'active' files. This means that the Disc Manager Screen's display of space used on a disc only shows that taken by 'active' files so the odd situation can arise whereby Loco reports a disc as half full but CP/M will say it's full if you try to copy anything to it !

More importantly, when Loco is looking around to find space on the disc to save a file upon completion of an edit, it will randomly delete Limbos if there's insufficient free space available until enough is. Hence, other than by limiting your use of discs for 'active' files to less than half of the nominal capacity of the disc, you cannot control the deletion of Limbo files ... and Murphy's Law dictates that, when a problem does arise, the one you want will have gone!

LocoScript v2.28 Disc Management Screen with the option (f8) selected to Show Limbos

2.4.1 - Tips

  • The Disc Manager Screen at start-up shows the number of Limbo files in each Group but not what they are. To show Limbo files, hit f8 Options and put a tick (with the Option Set [+] key) against Show Limbo Files - see pic above.

  • To "recover" a Limbo file to make it active again, show Limbo files as above, select the file with your cursor, hit f4 (Loco1) or f3 File (Loco 2/3/4) and select Recover from Limbo. If an active file of the same name already exists in this Group, you must amend the name to make it unique.

  • Recovering a file from Limbo does not take up any more actual disc space even though Loco will afterwards report that more is then used. In fact the file is left untouched because all that happens is that 8 is subtracted from the Group number in the file's directory entry so that Loco now recognises it as an Active file (and therefore now takes into account the space it occupies).

  • The only actions allowed on Limbo files are Recover and Delete. If you need to copy a Limbo without first 'recovering' it, use PIP in CP/M.


  • 2.5 - Finish Edit versus Abandon Edit

When you Finish an Edit of an existing file, before your masterpiece is written to the disc, firstly any existing Limbo version of the file on the disc is erased and the input to the current edit is re-named to become the new Limbo file. Next, if there's insufficient free space on the disc for the new file, other Limbo files are erased then, finally, the new file is written.

If you haven't actually made any alterations to the file eg you just hit Edit to have a look at its contents, this causes unnecessary disc activity, particularly in the disc directory, as well as possible loss of Limbo versions of other files on the disc .... so choose Abandon Edit instead to leave the disc as was. Obviously, if you have made alterations which you want to retain, don't hit Abandon ! 


  • 2.6 - LocoScript Bug which can cause extensive data loss

As described above, a considerable amount of disc activity occurs every time you Finish an edit. Unfortunately, there's a bug in all versions of LocoScript which can cause significant loss of data during this process. Primarily it occurs on 720k discs containing lots of files (100+) and/or which are very full - so multiple Limbos have to be erased to make way for the new file - but it can also occur on 8256/8512 180k discs with files that are large. 

Somehow Loco forgets where it's at during the process and it either re-writes an updated directory block (= 16 file entries) in the wrong place in the directory or completely fills a whole directory block with zeros. Apart from suddenly losing a number of files from the file list, common symptoms are "Unexpected End of File" errors when moving through a file during editing, the Disc Manager Screen showing files twice or showing one or more 'files' with no name and occupying 0k.

2.6.1 - Advice:

  • If a disc behaves as described as above, do NOT write any more files to it as you may only worsen the situation. Copy all the files you can to a new disc. Although CP/M's PIP is a much quicker way of bulk copying files, it will collapse in a heap if it encounters an all-zero directory block whereas LocoScript has been trained to plough on over the duff bit and access those entries beyond.

  • Remember that the Disc Manager Screen's figure of used disc space excludes Limbo files so once you have edited each chapter of your masterpiece at least once, the actual space used will be around double that indicated. Discs are cheap and still readily available whereas it could take a very long time to re-enter lost data ... and that's assuming you have a hard copy to fall back upon (!) .... so stop using a disc once it has reached just under the half-full mark. In this way you should have a Limbo of each file to fall back on should the worst happen and a Data Error or Missing Address Mark afflict any file.

  • The Disc Manager Screen can show you Limbos as well as Active files - hit f8 Options, cursor as necessary to Show Limbo Files then hit the Option Set Key [+] to put a tick beside it then Enter.


  • 2.7 Using copies of system 'Start of Day' discs v blank discs for data

Although the majority of discs received for conversion to PC are pure data discs, a significant number transpire to be copies of the supplied Loco Program disc or the 'Start of Day' copy made of it. With the 180k format of the 8256 and 8512, the Loco program components take up most of the disc so there's precious little available for saving ones own work even after deleting the supplied samples and irrelevant templates. And, as discussed above, there are all the attendant dangers of working with very full discs. Even on the 720k species, the later versions of Loco take a brave chunk of space so why is that when users need to use a new disc they copy the program disc rather than using a blank data disc ?? 

Suggestions that have been put forward include ...

  • Users are unaware that discs can be changed during a session so switch off and re-start each time they want to access a different disc. To tell Loco that you have changed discs, hit the f1 key in Loco 1 or f7 in later versions. (f1/f7 are listed as 'Disc Change' at the top of the Disc Manager Screen).

  • The program disc must be in the machine at all times during a session. No ! All programs and system files (eg templates, dictionaries and printer drivers) needed for a session are copied at start-up to drive M - this is why it takes so long to boot ! (and why it's better to use Disckit for copying discs than Loco2/3/4)

  • "I've tried to use a blank disc but just can't get my cursor over to it to use it" - see "Using newly formatted discs" above !!

  • "I have saved all my Template.Std's on my Start of Day (SoD) Disc so it's a good way of copying them all to a new disc". Yes, but all such templates are automatically copied to Drive M at start up and when you create a new document, if there is no Template.Std in the current Group, Loco looks for one in the corresponding Group on drive M (Note though that when there are discs are in both drives of a twin drive PCW, the search for a suitable template is more complex so it is best to start each newly used Group on a disc with a copy of the relevant template).

  • "I have saved several useful files on my SoD, including some templates which are not called Template.Std, so copying the whole disc is quicker than laboriously copying all these to a new blank disc." Agreed but, especially on an 8256 or 8512, why not then delete all the program files? Hit f8 Options and tick (with the [+] option set key) both the Show Limbo and Show Hidden files options. With the program files now visible, delete them and once all in Limbo, delete those too. Ditto any LocoSpell dictionaries and unnecessary sample files.

  • "I'm a bit disorganised so at least I know that I can start the PCW from any old disc I come across". There's no answer to that!    


    Back to part 1, Introduction   -  Carry on to part 3, CP/M 

    On to part 4 - How to Run Disckit


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