FinalSoft Executive. (personal information management systems software) (evaluation)
by Tom Campbell
Hard to categorize, FinalSoft Executive operates under Windows as a groupware/hypertext/scheduling/E-mail application and, though designed mainly for group work, proves quite effective for personal use. Executive might be what you need to tie your office together.
Installation is well explained, with each of its dozen or so directories and its two environment variables detailed. Two configuration files, similar in format to WIN.INI, are not explained at all. This could pose a problem to a system administrator who found one of these files damaged.
The hypertext editor is less powerful than Write, the word processor bundled free with Windows; it doesn't even let you change fonts, but then it's not really meant to produce hardcopy. A simple but very useful hypertext scheme lets you create links to PCX graphics files, other text files, and Windows or DOS programs. And there's more to the hypertext editor than meets the initial, skeptical eye. It supports the import and export of files in ASCII, WordPerfect, and Microsoft Word for Windows formats, and files can be any size. With this modest feature set anyone can create online documentation for anyone else on the network, with both text and images, without reinventing the wheel. Paperless manuals might actually become practical using Executive.
Though flat-file oriented and possessing a very limited report writer, the database manager does create dBASE III data files with all the trimmings: memo fields (free-form text of arbitrary length), index files, and forms. Each file may also include a single graphics field. That means, for example, that a real estate office could use scanned-in images of properties in PCX format, tie them directly into a database manager and scheduler, and allow all the realtors in the office to view them from their personal machines. And while FinalSoft Executive won't knock Superbase out of the Windows market, its graphic interface makes creation and maintenance of databases an order of magnitude easier than in the bad old DOS days.
FinalSoft Executive's personal scheduler, group scheduler, and to-do list make good use of the program's other modules and of Windows itself. For example, when you schedule a group meeting, you set priority levels for the people involved. If someone of only peripheral importance to the meeting has a conflicting appointment, the meeting will be scheduled without him or her. A graphic Find Best Time chart scans the participants' schedules and displays them all in bar charts, so that you can see who's busy, who has a tentative appointment, and so forth--far simpler than trying to check with everyne and settle on a mutually agreeable time.
Is FinalSoft Executive for you? The answer is a qualified Yes; you must know exactly what you want from a program like this. Without a programming language, FinalSoft Executive may not let you work around its limits. Unlike, say, dBASE or Lotus 1-2-3, this program is less likely to offer a work-around if its built-in features don't do the trick. And while not one of its modules is a powerhouse, the integration is everything it should be. Just run it on a fast machine; a slow net server could render FinalSoft Executive useless.