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Putting the accent on multilingual versatility

ACCENT. Multilingual word processor for PC. Minimum requirements: PC with 80386 processor, Microsoft Windows 3.1 (any language version), 6 megabytes of free disc space, 4 megabytes of RAM, a VGA screen. Pounds 299 for single-user version, also available in network version European Software Distribution, Laser House, 132-140 Goswell Road, London EC1V 7DP.

Imagine you're in the middle of your letter in English and you want to insert a quote in German as long as your quote doesn't contain a character peculiar to German, there are no real problems, and anyway most word-processing packages cope with accents one way or another.

But if your quote is in Russian, you would have difficulties. This is the problem that Accent sets out to solve, and in a most ambitious way.

It is a multilingual word processor for Word for Windows, providing advanced word processing in 30 languages - including Croatian, Russian, Belorussian, Bulgarian, and all the common European languages one would expect, and two varieties of English.

That is to say, it gives multi- lingual options of three types: the ability to produce text in 30 languages; to use a spell-check and a thesaurus in five languages (English, French, Spanish, Italian and German); and to have user interfaces in those five languages plus Portuguese, Finnish and Russian. In addition, extra menu languages and typefaces can be added, and vertical and left-right scripts can be incorporated when available.

In the business sphere, there are clear advantages in having a single program that can be used by workers across a number of countries.

The installation of Accent is easy, though initially time-consuming (12 floppies plus one for the Berlitz Interpreter disc, which provides the translation facility), and beginning to produce documents is as easy as Windows itself.

The language of the whole user interface can be changed at will make a choice from the Menu Language in Utilities, and replace File, Edit, Insert with Datei, Bearbeiten and Einfuegen, or File, Modifica and Inserisci. The dialogue and help boxes change accordingly.

The problem has always been the question of the keyboard, especially where a new alphabet is required. How can you make the characters of one language symbolise and produce those of another? The solution adopted here is to produce "keyboard mappings" for all available languages.

If you click on KeyMaps, you get (though rather slowly) a keyboard map for the language you have selected to work in. Thus the French map gives an image of a standard IBM layout for a French keyboard, and it can be kept on the screen or closed as necessary. You may not be familiar with this layout which has a comma, for example, where we would have an "m" key. So if you press the "m" on your keyboard, a comma will appear on the screen.

There are two possible routes. Either you can use your English keyboard and click on the map for the accented characters, which proved a time-consuming way to produce a French text. Or you can convert completely to the target-language layout and use the map to guide your fingers on the keyboard. This will prove much more efficient for proficient typists who can internalise the layout, but more difficult for those who need to look at their fingers.

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