Apple cart; software for the new Apple. (evaluation) Abigail Reifsnyder.
Software for the New Apples
Question of the month: Does anyone really like spreadsheets? I used to think spreadsheets were like running--no one really likes it, but you can get used to it if you keep at it and believe it's doing you some good. (People who say they love either running or spreadsheets should be watched very carefully.) But I've made a great discovery. Spreadsheets were designed to be used on machines like the Mac. (Was the Mac designed for spreadsheets?) The hi-res graphics, the mouse, the pull-down menus, the computing power--all these can work together to make even a spreadsheetophobe like me learn how useful (almost fun) a spreadsheet can be. The really good news is that Microsoft has actually taken advantage of these features in its Mac version of Multiplan.
The first thing you notice when you open Multiplan is how easy it is to read the screen, and when you are working with lots of tiny cells filled with numbers, how easy it is to read becomes vitally important. As for the mouse, this seems to be the most natural way to find your way around a spreadsheet. It gives you back the one advantage paper spreadsheets had over electronic spreadsheets. You can move around easily, selecting an individual cell or a group of cells.
As is the case with all the Mac software I have looked at so far, the pull-down menus make it almost unnecessary to read the manual (for which we should all be thankful--the Multiplan manual is pretty boring), since all the commands are right there for the pulling.
So, how does it actually work? The screen is divided into three areas: the menu bar across the top, the formula bar, and the spreadsheet itself. To begin entering information, you select a cell or group of cells. When entering information into a group of cells, each cell becomes current in the order in which you selected it. Also, you can select adjacent cells using keyboard commands. In other words, you don't have to go back and forth constantly between the mouse and the keyboard when entering data.
The most useful features of the program when creating formulas are the Paste Function, the Define Name, and the Paste Name functions. The Define Name feature allows you to give names to several blocks of cells. Then, using the Paste Function feature, you can select the operation you want to perform on those blocks. Then you paste into the formula the names of the blocks of cells.
If you create a formula that is too big for the cell, you simply enlarge the cell by clicking the mouse on the edge of the column and dragging it out. Similarly, if you want to see different parts of the worksheet simultaneously, you click on the Split bars (at the end of the scroll bars) and drag to create panes in the window.
Another useful feature of Macintosh Multiplan is the ability to protect a worksheet, then "unprotect' individual cells. This allows you to protect all your formulas, for example, while allowing certain data to be changed. (By the way, if you are changing many numbers in a large and complex spreadsheet, you will want to put it on manual calculation so it doesn't try to recalculate each time you enter a new number.)
Linking and interfacing are the two other magic words that come up when talking about Multiplan. As with the PC version of Multiplan, you can link worksheets. Even better you can interface Multiplan with Microsoft's Chart program, taking the data from your spreadsheet to create series to be plotted in Chart. And, if you want, you can link the chart to the worksheet, using the Chart Paste and Link function.
Which brings us to Chart. Chart is another application that seems perfectly suited to the Macintosh. The hi-res graphics make for charts and graphs as sharp as you'll ever see in a newspaper or magazine. And while it isn't necessary to use it with Multiplan, the ease with which the two interface makes them a terrific duo.
The Chart screen is divided into three areas: the menu bar, the display window (where the charts are drawn) and the series window (actually, there are as many series windows as there are series of data). Data can be entered from the keyboard or pulled in from Multiplan. (Important note: don't try to Paste and Link a worksheet from Multiplan and a chart unless you have two drives. If you do, you'll go nuts switching disks back and forth.)
Chart allows you to manipulate the data in several ways once it is entered. First, you can sort a series by category or value, in ascending or descending order. More important, though, you can use the Analyze feature to calculate the average, cumulative sum, difference, percent, trend or other statistics of the series data. The Analyze feature creates a new series using the new data.
Before you actually plot a series, you should select the type of chart you want by pulling down the Gallery menu. The options are bar, column, pie, scatter, line, area, and combination, and within each type of chart, there are several styles. (The combination chart allows you to combine a column chart with a line chart--especially convenient when you are plotting an average or trend over the actual data.) You may also overlay a second chart on the main chart. When you do this, you may make the two charts of any type of style. (Of course, not all charts work right together. I tried to overlay a line chart on a bar chart--bad idea. The bar chart reversed the x and y axes, but my overlay line chart was still using the original axes, leaving me with a meaningless, though pretty, chart.)
Once you have plotted a chart, you can do all kinds of fun things to it, adding arrows and legends, changing patterns, and so on. (Each time you make even the smallest change, though, the entire chart is redrawn.) While Chart does make pretty nice charts, you can make you charts look even better by copying and pasting them into MacPaint. There you can change typefaces and styles, and little pictures, or do whatever your little heart desires.
While neither Multiplan nor Chart is for the casual user (the price tags make that clear), for someone who is going to do a lot of number analyzing and graphing, the two programs together make a spiffy package. And the two used in conjunction with MacPaint is even better.
Opinion seems pretty well split on whether or not the Macintosh is good for game playing. The first test: Transylvania from Penguin Software. This combination text and graphics adventure divides the screen into three sections (three seems to be a magic number for the Mac): the graphics area (where you see where you are), the text portion (where you are told what is going on and give commands), and a compass (where you can use the mouse to click north, south, east, or west). While it at first seems cute to use the mouse, it is, in fact, a waste of space (both on the screen and in the program). Since you have to use the keyboard for all other commands, there is not much point in using the mouse at all.
That aside, this version of Transylvania is pretty good. The graphics are sharp, and it is not too easy. The object of the adventure is to find "a damsel in distress' who has been kidnapped and hidden somewhere in a forest infested with bats, werewolves, vampires, etc. You wander around the forest collecting such goodies as garlic as you search for the damsel. If you don't remember your supernatural lore well, you will have a tough time of it. (It isn't my specialty, so I kept showing my cross to the werewolf. This gets you nothing but eaten.)
Still, with all this power in the computer, it would have been better had the program been expanded to allow more than two-word commands or, at least, the ability to piggy-back commands to save time. Unfortunately, the translation seems to have been mainly in the graphics with little attention paid to enhancing the adventure itself.
Fact and Fiction Toolkit
Can an Apple column be complete without mention of the IIc? While software for the regular IIs runs on the IIc, there is very little so far that has been designed specifically for the IIc. Fact and Fiction Toolkit from Scholastic is one of the first programs to take full advantage of the hi-res graphics of the IIc. The package consists of two separate programs: Secret Filer, a filing system taken from Microzine, and Story Maker, a story writing and illustrating program.
Story Maker has a menu of icons (a typewriter, a picture, a pencil and an eraser) along the bottom of the screen to help a child make up a story. Using the mouse, you choose the typewriter to write your story. Text may be placed anywhere on the screen since it is really just another graphic. The picture icon takes you to the picture gallery where you can choose one of several predrawn shapes and objects. The pencil allows you to draw freehand (you choose the width and color of the line), while the eraser allows you to erase anything on the screen. An open book icon allows you to turn pages, and the exit sign takes you out of the program.
Story Maker is lots of fun to play with because it has just enough structure to help a child create a story without actually forcing him into specific patterns or ways of thinking. The child can move back and forth between pictures and text so that as more ideas come to him, he can use them right away. The picture gallery contains a variety of objects that act as a springboard for your own ideas. If you select a picture from the gallery, you can flip it, change its size, and stamp it repeatedly over the screen.
One of the best features of the program is that not only is the program itself simple to use, but the instructions for booting a disk, saving a story and so on are also straightforward, so that a child playing with the program would need only minimal, if any, supervision.
Secret Filer is a simple filing program that allows you to keep lists of names and addresses and similar types of information on electronic 3X5 cards. You can then sort the cards according to any file heading used when entering them. Similarly, you can search through the cards using a key word. This is no sophisticated database, but it is all most eight-year-olds are likely to need or use.
Firms Mentioned in This Column
Microsoft 10700 Northrup Way Bellevue, WA 98004 (206) 828-8088
Penguin Software 830 4th Ave. P.O. Box 311 Geneva, IL 60134 (312) 232-1984
Scholastic, Inc. 730 Broadway New York, NY 10003 (212) 505-3000
Table: Sample Multiplan spreadsheet.
Table: Spreadsheet data plotted by Chart.
Table: Chart graphically enhanced by MacPaint.
Photo: Transylvania player meets werewolf.
Photo: Fact and Fiction Toolkit uses hi-res graphics of IIe and a menu of icons.
Products: Multiplan (Spreadsheet software)
Transylvania (computer program)
Fact and Fiction Toolkit (computer program)