Integrated packages: a closer look. (evaluation)
PRODUCTS FOR APPLE COMPUTERS III E-Z Pieces/Appleworks/III Z-Z Pieces is an integrated software package for the Apple III; Appleworks is the identical package for the Apple II. It combines an excellent database manager with a good spreadsheet and word processor. Although not as fast, powerful, or full featured as Symphony, this is a strong business package that should meet most people's needs. It is the only integrated software package that I noticed in daily use at Creative Computing. If you own an Apple III, you don't have to wonder which integrated software package to buy. (Apple II owners have a choice.) Haba Systems also sells Graph'n'Calc, an add-on for business graphics and is developing a communications program.
PractiCalc II/PractiCalc II is sold as an integrated package for the Apple II series. It has a good spreadsheet with limited database and extremely limited word processing and graphics functions. I wouldn't dream of using their "word processing" for anything other than putting titles on my spreadsheet reports. The manual is poorly done and hard to use.
Jane/Jane brings the graphic icons and mouse from the Macintosh to the Apple II series. While Jane includes windows, word processing, spreadsheet, and mailing list management in an integrated package, none of the features is strong enough to stand alone. The list manager limits you to ten fields that cannot exceed 25 characters, the word processor can be used for form letters only if you manually cut and past the address data from the mailing list to your letter using windows, and the spreadsheet was too limited to run our benchmark.
I did not have the mouse and was not happy using a joystick. It took me more than two minutes to pick up the scissors icon, move to the Friday in a sample letter, cut (delete) it, pick up the insert icon, move back to my text location, and insert the word Saturday. Fortunately, you can substitute control keys for the icons; Control-E for scissors and Control-W for insert. Jane is definitely not a manager's productivity tool. However, it may be one of the few practical home computer applications. It seems to offer a lot that my 11-year-old son can use in doing his school work. This is the first word processing package that I did not consider too intimidating for him. Although the word processing does not work with my 80-column card, the program uses graphics to provide lowercase, using the Escape key to switch case. The manual is clear and well done, mercifully brief, and well illustrated. The program also has a help disk with animated help messages. PRODUCTS FOR IBM PERSONAL COMPUTERS IBM PC Part I: Best Buys; Full Featured Products
Symphony/lotus is the current king of the integrated software package makers. After all, it was 1-2-3 that dominated the market last year as the best selling software program. Symphony is their attempt to stay on top. There has been some disparagement of Symphony by those who say that all Lotus did was add 4 and 5 (word processing and communications) to 1, 2, and 3 (spreadsheet, database, and graphics). Symphony may have limits, but it is an excellent program. One problem is that it needs a great deal of memory. Our spreadsheet benchmark ran out of memory at 2145 cells in a 384K Compaq. The other problem with Symphony is that it is deeply rooted in the spreadsheet. There are many database functions, but if you need a very powerful database manager, you may need a different program.
Symphony is too powerful to be easy to learn. You must sift through several levels of menus to execute a simple command, and it is not always easy to figure out what sequence of commands to use. Symphony has a powerful macro language that allows the creation of complete applications with automatic, prompted input and switching from one task to another.
Lotus has even provided "hooks" into Symphony so that other software houses can add machine language features that are not already included. We may be seeing dictionaries added to the word processor or 3-D paint routines added to the graphics. The word processor in Symphony is excellent. ONE OF THE MOST important questions to ask about integrated software is "Are the applications good enough to stand alone?"
ITSoftware series/Instead of writing a series of integrated software programs, ITSoftware (a division of Martin Marietta Corp.) seems to have licensed some of the best free standing programs on the market and developed an interface to link them. For example, their spreadsheet, CalcIt, is licensed from DataMension Corp., and their word processor, WritIt, is actually MultiMate. The database manager, KeepIt, was written in-house and is the application used to integrate the rest of the series. CalcIt comes with a disk labeled Interface to KeepIt, and WritIt has a format conversion utility to accept ASCII and DIF files.
One of the most important questions to ask about integrated software is "Are the applications good enough to stand alone?" In this case, the answer is an obvious yes. However, the package does exhibit the problems you would expect from integrating separate programs. The programs do not have a common command structure, and the manuals are of uneven quality. For example, the WritIt manual gives a full explanation of setting up your disks, while CalcIt tells you to see the DOS manual for instructions on backing up your disks and makes no mention of putting DOS on your program disk.
Nevertheless, this is one series that I really like. The series is backed by a huge company with a solid background in information processing. The individual applications are outstanding, and interfaces are provided to make them work together. None of the disks is copy protected, but the communications program, LinkIt, contains the best anti-piracy feature I have seen.
The program is designed so that it cannot communicate with a backup of itself. If you look at the spreadsheet benchmark, you will see that CalcIt is one of the fastest spreadsheets. Actually, CalcIt took three seconds to do the calculations and the other five seconds to rewrite the screen! Other packages include MailIt (3270 Electronic Mail using the Irma board), AskIt (a mouse driven front end for KeepIt), ShowIt (graphics), StatIt (statistics), EditIt (program editor), PassIt (file transfer), and SortIt.
InteSoft series/InteCalc is one of the best full featured spreadsheets on the market. It is now serving as the anchor for a series of stand-alone applications that work together. The word processor, InteWord, is also very good, including support for proportional spacing on the printer. About the only feature I didn't like was the inability of the backspace key to wrap to the previous line. InteMate is an integrating shell that can integrate not only the InteSoft applications, but other programs as well, passing data between applications. InteMate also includes customizable menu screens, a calculator, an editor, and a notepad. InteBase, the database manager for this series, has not been released. Each of the packages comes with a huge, heavy, awkward manual with full size pages in a three-ring binder. The presentation of information is good to very good. This series illustrates one of the drawbacks of packages that are not copy protected; it took more than two hours of formatting disks and copying files to set up the program and make backup and working disks. IBM PC Part II: Best Buys; Light duty programs
Electric Desk/Electric Desk, from Alpha Software, is a clear winner. Among the packages tested, it is far easier than average to install, learn, and use. The word processing and spreadsheet functions are as strong as stand-alone packages. The database manager is limited, lacking calculated fields, and there are no graphics functions. The first day I tried it, I taught a co-worker to use the word processor in ten minutes.
The program comes on a single disk, and all applications are available at once. If you have enough memory, you can have nine spreadsheets, nine databases, nine word processing documents, and two communication environments open at the same time. It is easy to shift data between applications.
There is a mistake in the installation instructions, which fail to tell you to copy COMMANDCOM to your master disks. The system will not work until you do. This system worked fine in my single drive Compaq, and a version is even available for the PC jr, using a ROM cartridge to make up for the limited memory of that system. Special abilities include automatic phone dialing (with a Smart Modem) using phone numbers from the database, form letters, and a good communications program. Setting up the program for my printer was also quite simple, using the word processor to change the configuration file.
The database allows up to five index fields, and automatically updates the indexes whenever a record is created or changed. There is a powerful search facility. This is a good system for the user who does not need the heavy duty power of the multi-disk systems. Certainly home users, small business people, and managers who need only limited databases should be happy with the Electric Desk unless they need graphics.
The IBM Assistant Series/IBM's own entry in the integrated software market is a repackaged pfs Series from Software Publishing. These products are best sellers that have been favorably reviewed. Because they are often suggested as good programs for beginners, I recommended PFS: Write to a business associate. She has had a great deal of trouble learning to use it, so they may be overrated for novice use. My own assistant blew her only opportunity to make a backup of the Writing Assistant; her backup doesn't work at all and you only get one try. I personally found the packages easy to learn and use, and the manuals adequate, though poorly indexed. The spreadsheet package, Planning Assistant, is not yet available. I would prefer the Electric Desk for beginners, but these are good packages.
Offix/Offix is an easy to use, lightweight database manager with minimal word processing and a form letter generator. It comes in a small vinyl package shaped like a file folder, for $149. When you start the program, the screen displays two filing cabinets, with three drawers in each. At first, five drawers are labeled Empty Drawer and one Miscellaneous.
At any time, pressing the F1 key gives you a menu of the commands available at the current screen, and the F2 key provides help messages for the current screen. You select a drawer and press O to open it. You then see eight file folders with titles on top. Again, you select a folder, and press T to take it out. You then press O to open the folder. This will give you a menu of reports in that folder. You then select a report and open it. Now you can do word processing, define a form, do data entry, or make a report.
I love the manual for Offix. It is a 16-page, o" by 6" brochure. The system is easy enough to use, and the tutorial lessons and help screens are good enough that nothing else is needed. Although the word processing is minimal, this is a very handy database system, allowing 100 folders in each of the six drawers with an unlimited number of documents in each folder. Each folder can hold up to 1,000,000 characters on a hard disk or one disk full of characters on a floppy disk. Depending on memory, documents can be from 30,000 to 200,000 characters. IBM PC Part III: Special purpose and other products.
The Profit Center/Probably the most ambitious series of integrated software programs is The Profit Center, from Prentice Hall. The Profit Center is a series of 21 modules of accounting and business software programs. The four modules I received included General Accounting, Word Processing, Time and Information Management, and a Master Menu. These packages are available bundled as The Complte Office for $375.
The Master Menu is used to access and manage the system, and each application must be installed, a process that generates reference files on each of the other system disks. Each part of the program includes 50 to 100 files. The spread sheet has not yet been released. The Business word processor has a great deal of power, but is not easy to use and has a confusing menu.
Corporate MBA/Corporate MBA, from Context, may be the most powerful package you can use without having to switch disks while using it. It is superb at presenting information graphically on the screen. You can have dozens of graphs packed into individual cells and expand any of those cells to fill a window or even the scrren (before expansion, they just display the letters GRF to indicate that a graph is stored in that cell.)
You can have four windows at a time. Thus, if you wanted to use pie charts to display the relative sales of your product mix for a series of years, you could easily select years and display 4 charts on the screen at once. Since you can tore a great deal in a single cell, including a letter or a database input form as well as a graph, this is a marvelous tool for a person who thinks graphically.
Corporate MBA supports mainframe communications (with the Irma board) and electronic mail. Unlike its predecessor, Context MBA, Corporate MBA operates under MS-DOS, allowing you to share data created by other programs easily. The data input format for the database is especially easy to use, and MBA's macro command language allows sophisticated turnkey applications to be developed.
I discovered two drawbacks to Corporate MBA. First, it can be terribly slow. It took three minutes and eight seconds to recalculate our 2500-cell spreadsheet benchmark. That is 23 times as long as InteCalc and CalcIt took to perform the exact same operation. Another indication of slow speedwas the 15 minutes that program took to replicate a row of 25 formulas into 99 additional rows.
The other drawback is the editor, which, like the other programs reviewed that are written in Pascal, is a modified version of the UCSD editor. Unlike Jack2 and Encore!, the modifications were extensive enough to make the editor acceptable for word processing, but I do not like the design, complexity, potential for losing data, or methodology of that editor. You enter the editor in a command mode and must enter insert mode to enter text, then press Control-C to keep your text and return to command mode. If you press Escape instead of Control-C, even by mistake, you lose your text. You also waste a lot of time going to and from command mode instead of going directly from one operation to another.
Jack2/Jack2 is a reasonably easy to use, light duty integrated package. It has a decent word processor and a good database manager. While it does not have a spreadsheet, the database manager offers most spreadsheet functions. I could get only 1000 of the 2500 cells for the spreadsheet benchmark into my 256K Seequa Chameleon before I ran out of memory.
Bar and line graphs can be produced within the database, but that is the extent of the graphics functions. While I found the word processor tolerable, it is a modified UCSD editor and some simple commands can take several keystrokes. When you type fast, the keystrokes are stored in a buffer until the screen can catch up with the display.
Jack2 is a fairly sophisticated, yet easy to use database manager. You design a form with your layout, titles, data formats, calculation rules, and even graphs specified. Then you access a record and fill in the data. You can even have processed text and information merged from other records in a form. Because Jack2 uses the UCSD p-system, has no communications built in, and is not set up for external data, it is not a good choice if you want to use data created by other programs.
Encore!/Encore is an extremely powerful financial modeling system with several flaws. The "word processing" is simply the UCSD Pascal line oriented editor with the prompts translated into plain English. That is an improvement over the original, but it is unsatisfactory for any document larger than a crude memo. The spreadsheet is rule oriented (you enter a calculation rule for a row or column instead of putting a formula in a cell and replicating it).
There was not enough memory in the 256K Seequa to run the spreadsheet benchmark. After calculating 2000 cells in 21 seconds, the program ran out of memory and locked up. I had to use Ctrl-Alt-Del to restart the program. Since the UCSD p-system makes it hard to import data, the editor is unsatisfactory, and the spreadsheet crashes, I would avoid this system.
However, since the package includes built-in functions for ACRS, straight line and accelerated depreciation, internal rate of return, loan amortization, net present value, tax loss carry-forward, and U.S. Tax schedules for individuals, married couples, corporations, estates and trusts, people who have financial applications will want to consider this program further.
Graphics functions include five types of bar charts, including floating bar charts, point graphs, line and shaded line graphs, pie charts, scatter charts, and Gantt charts. Charts can be sent to a plotter. This is very definitely a financial modeling system rather than a general purpose database manager.
Window Master/Window Master, from Structured Software group, seems to be a powerful program, but the documentation is so poor that it is extremely difficult to learn. This program allows you to run concurrently up to seven programs, and you can even mix MS-DOS and CP/M-86 programs. Window master alone is $295, but there is a package deal that includes Window Master, the Magic Window spreadsheet, Word Right word processor, NAD name and address system, and Analyst data entry and report writing system for $495.
One of the most attractive features of this package is its macro programming language, Script, which allows you to develop applications that run automatically with pauses for appropriate user input. You can use the window manager with other programs, including 1-2-3, and you can transfer data between applications.
After a half day of trying to run this package, I succeeded in running the spreadsheet benchmark only by crashing the demo disk. I never succeeded in installing the word processor or the database manager. The installation instructions in the MS-DOS package were for the CP/M version. While the Analyst database manager allows up to 50 fields per record, each record is limited to a maximum of 255 characters. Window Master is really an operating environment that competes with Microsoft Windows, VisiOn, and Desq. In general, these windowing packages require accomplished programmers to install them.
Aladin/Aladin is a powerful database manager. While it does not have a word processor, it has an interface that allows you to use documents created on word processors to produce form letters and reports with Aladin data. Although the documentation describes the Aladin calculator as a spreadsheet, it is really a report generator for the information in the database. Its modified B-tree index is said to be capable of accessing any one of a million records in less than one second. This product is better positioned as a competitor for dBase III than Framework or Symphony. I would consider Aladin for a serious information management application.
The Ultimate/The Ultimate was really designed as a form letter processor for use with the U.S. Post Office's now discontinued ECOM service. The communications are so specific for that system that they are essentially useless now. The word processor is good for "quick and dirty" jobs like memos or class notes, but it is primarily line oriented and offers little power. The spelling checker is very slow and the database manager is a simple name and address system. Although this system had an original price of $495, our local software store is selling it for $99--mainly to people who ask for a mailing list program.
T/Maker Integrated Software/T/Maker was one of the earliest database programs. It is organized around the concept of data tables (Table/Maker) and offers its own approach to database management. The new integrated package includes word processing, database, spreadsheet, list processing, graphics, data transfer, file management, and spelling checker. Actually, that list promises more than T/Maker delivers. For example, the "graphics" is limited to bar charts, the word processor is a line editor without word wrap, and files are limited to about 800 records, though you can link more than one file in a database.
The center of activity in T/Maker is the editor. T/Maker is command driven, with cryptic commands and minimal use of prompts and menus. Much of the time, the screen just asks WHAT NEXT? and you must answer with the correct command, though the PC version allows you to enter C for a command menu. T/Maker is not up to the competition in the MS-DOS market, but their CP/M 80 products are worth considering.
Aura/Aura comes on ten disks with word processing, spread sheet, database management, and business graphics. There are two large manuals, a tutorial manual and a reference manual. The system is designed for a hard disk, and although it will work on a floppy based system, it is too clumsy to be usable; it takes five disks just to start using a spreadsheet. Because the system makes direct calls to hardware, it is not recommended for compatibles oter than the Compaq; it gave my seequa indigestion. The system is slow; it took 15 minutes to copy one row of calculations to 99 more rows for our spreadsheet benchmark, then another 15 minutes to delete those rows for the iteration test.
We tested it on a 448K IBM PC, and 63% of memory was still available after entering our benchmark. The system makes good use of color, and has exceptional graphics, including a free draw routine. It is organized around the database and offers a good level of integration, allowing you to put individual fields from the database into spreadsheet cells, drop portions of the spreadsheets and graphs into word processing documents, and draw graphs without leaving the spreadsheet. It does not, however, fail gracefully; when I anticipated changing a disk and put it in early, the system just locked up.
The Silicon Office/The Silicon Office claims to be the European leader in integrated software. Instead of copy protecting the software, they provide a circuit board and an encoded ROM cartridge. You can copy the software as much as you want, but unless the right ROM is attached to the circuit board, it won't run. Instead of a three-ring binder, they provide three overisae perfect bound booklets that refuse to lie flat and take up too much space for most work stations.
Silicon Office is really a database system with a text editor. There is no spreadsheet, graphics, or communications. I found the response time in the text editor too slow; I would always overshoot when I tried to delete characters or move to a position in the text. Yhe database is powerful, but you have to learn their query language before using it. At the suggested retail price of $795, it offers much less than the competition.
Executes Series One Plus/Sometimes you must read between the lines to discover a flaw in a package. With this package, the minimum memory requirement of 192K was also listed as the optimum amount of memory. Later in the manual, the reference to out of memory errors referred to text files approaching 64K, and the spreadsheet benchmark ran out of memory after 1450 cells.
I suspect that this package was designed to limit data to 64,000 characters. This is a serious shortcoming in a spreadsheet or word processor, though it is perfectly reasonable in a database manager, where most information is stored on disk and only the current record is available in memory.
The word processor has problems with overshooting. Since the spreadsheet is also slow, and the command structure is clumsy and inconvenient, this package should be thought of as a database manager with extra functions, not as a competitor to Symphony. The report generator, ExecuReporter, is capable of combining data from six files to produce a report with a data format up to 300 characters by 1000 lines. Execulink provides communication to a mainframe. Additional programs include financial analysis for banking and finance institutions.
Products: III E-Z-Appleworks (computer program)
PractiCalc II (computer program)
Jane (computer program)
Lotus Symphony (computer program)
ITSoftware Series (computer program)
InteSoft Series (computer program)
IBM Assistant Series (computer program)
Offix (computer program)
Corporate MBA (computer program)
Jack 2 (computer program)
Window Master (computer program)
Aladin (computer program)
T-Maker Integrated Software (computer program)
Aura (computer program)
The Silicon Office (computer program)
Executec Series One Pluse (computer program)
Encore (Computer program)
The Profit Center (Computer program)
The Ultimate (Computer program)
Electric Desk (Computer program)