Lotus Symphony; a full-blown big brother for 1-2-3. (evaluation) Thomas Badgett.
A software "sequel," such as Symphony from Lotus Developemtn Corporation, producer of 1-2-3, begs comparison. So much of the personality of 1-2-3 is evident in Symphony that it is impossible to ignore the similarities. The differences, too, are notable.
Symphony is an "integrated" package that includes a spreadsheet, word processor, data manager, graphics generator, and communications services. It is marketed for the IBM PC and Compaq, though it will run on many PC compatible machines, and there is a plethora of custom versions. Symphony runs well, though at somewhat reduced speed, on the IBM PCjr with additional memory.
Before you purchase Symphony, check with Lotus or your dealer to make sure it will run satifactorily on your machine. The function key template that comes with the package won't fit the Compaq keyboard, but Lotus will supply one that will, when they receive your registration card.
Like its predecessor, Symphony is loaded once into memory. Then, unless you need to print graphs or use some of the other arcane functions, no further program loading is necessary. The differences is that 1-2-3 requires about 128K of system RAM for program instructions while Symphony uses twice as much. Lotus recommends a minimum of 320K of memory to use Symphony, but a more practical configuration would include 512K. With the minimum RAM you can load the program and use all of teh software features, but the amount of data you can manipulate is reduced.
Indeed, with any system, this is a hungry package. A 512K PC AT or Compaq will allow you to fill about 13 thousand cells (more than 116,000 characters). This is a lot of space. You could write a document of about 45 single-spaced pages or construct a typical name and address file with around 1000 records. Still, this falls far short of what Lotus advertises for Symphony: 2,097,152 cells or about 18.8 million characters. In theory the software provides a workspace of 8192 rows by 256 columns. The reality--given present hardware limitations--is much less. Careful memory management and space allocation are necessary with this package. Overview
Lotus calls each major program function an "environment," a way of handling the information stored in any Symphony file in different ways. To change environments, press the TYPE key (alt/F10) and select one from the environment menu. While different envirnments display information in slightly different ways, Symphony is always basically a spreadsheet. The Row/Column structure is there, to one degree or another, regardless of which environment you are using.
Symphony supports virtually unlimited windows. The word processor has a few cumbersome features, but it is all the word processor many people will ever need. There are data communications upload/download/capture capabilities. The graphy and spreadsheet functions have been expanded over 1-2-3. Data management is really possible to use, and the macro programming language is greatly enhanced.
The Symphony menu tree is extensive. This software is more powerful than 1-2-3 and therefore has more commands. To help, Symphony uses function keys extensively.
The F9, or SERVICES, key displays choices such as Print, Window, and File in all environments.
The F10, or menu, key displays different choices with each environment. You can still access the Sheet menu with the slash, but in other environments you must use F10.
Lotus designed Symphony for access by other programmers. Hooks inside the software help developers write applications for the Symphony environment. Add-in applications directly from Lotus also are expected. Obviously, Lotus wants Symphony to be your only program. Whether this idea is valid depends on several factors, not the least of which is how well the package works with the expanded RAM of such computers as the IBM PC AT. With up to three megabytes possible, Symphony memory problems could become a thing of the past. Applications
Symphony is a relatively new package, but already users are designing predictable as well as unusual applications around it: stock quotations and proposals, earthquake studies, technical models, budgets and company financials, word processing, data communications--Symphony does them all, with varying levels of success.
A New York financial consulting firm, Kidder, Peabody and Company, Inc., is sold on the Symphony package. They have set up 15 IBM PCs in a local area network, with each workstation running Symphony. The system is used primarily to prepare client proposals based on information downloaded from the Dow Jones network and other data providers. Financial data are organized with the Symphony Sheet environment to produce statistical information and projections. Supporting documentation and recommendations are written in the Doc environment.
Kidder's specialist Wayne Blackstone estimates the Symphony arrangement is saving each user two hours daily. "We're still learning about the system," Blackstone observes, "but so far we haven't encountered any major problems."
"It's a great program, but still something of a letdown," observes Eugene Cundiff, data processing manager for Flat Top Insurance, a major West Virginia-based insurance broker. "The spreadsheet is fantastic and all of the improvements over 1-2-3 are everything I expected, but the database and word processing environments aren't as powerful as I had hoped they would be."
But Symphony is still one of the best choices for his company's micro software, because by training personnel on one package, he has given them many applications. He'll probably add more Symphony workstations in the near future, primarily for budget analysis and financial reporting.
Ted Habermann is using Symphony "fairly heavily" for earthquake prediction research in California. He was already using 1-2-3 when Symphony was released, so the transition to the new software was a logical step.
New York's Learning Annex, an adult continuing education organization, uses Symphony to track data for Securities and Exchange Commission reports dealing with the firm's recent public stock offering.
AT&T Information System offices in New Jersey use it for technical modeling and database functions.
Hans Michna, a German computer consultant, has a number of clients who use the word processing and other functions of Symphony with success.
All of these users report some problems with the program and they wish for improvements or new features, but generally they are pleased with Symphony.
The ability of Symphony to create windows for different applications is a versatile and useful addition. Custom window structures make parts of a worksheet appear in different windows. Each window can hold a different environment, so you can move from a document, to a spreadsheet, to a database, all within the same workspace, simply by changing windows.
Each window may be sized to fill the screen, or occupy only a small portion of it. You can view several parts of the worksheet at once, in effect running multiple applications simultaneously. The obvious limitations are screen size and memory size.
"In theory you can have as many windows as you want--dozens of them," says AT&T Information Systems consultant Ben, Moskovits. "But as a practical matter, it's crazy once you go beyond two screens. There is just so much room on the screen. The difficulty of manipulating so many different screens makes any more impractical."
But a two-way split, so you can look at a spreadsheet, say, in one window and write about it in another, works well. A special pane option lets you quickly divide the screen into four quadrants to look at related parts of a worksheet, but the visible space for each pane is so small it probably isn't practical to do much work in this configuration. You can name each window and call it from a window menu. But regardless of how many windows you create, you still can see only portions of one worksheet. Symphony can't load more than one application into memory at a time. Macros
One of the strongest, though least used, features of 1-2-3 is its macro capability. This command language lets a skilled user preprogram a virtually unlimited sequence of keystrokes and assign the group of commands a macro name. Then with just two keystrokes you can invoke the entire sequence. But this macro language is difficult to learn and, once learned, isn't easy to implement. If you don't use it, however, you are limiting the usefulness of the software.
With Symphony there is a "learn" mode which, in effect, tells the software to program itself. You enter the keystrokes you want for the macro, and the software writes the program steps. The Symphony command language is expanded, so the potential for sophisticated macro programming is impressive. The Sheet Environment
The Sheet environment is very like that of 1-2-3, with some enhancements. The range functions and menu features are expanded, for example, but the Symphony spreadsheet remains compatible with 1-2-3. You'll find, however, that numerical data entered in the Sheet environment can't be edited in the word processor. Also labels (text) not left justified (anything with leading spaces, such as cells entered with "or formatting symbols) can't be edited in the Doc environment.
While 1-2-3 uses file extensions of .WKS, Symphony uses .WRK, so you may want to rename all 1-2-3 files before using them with Symphony. Macros designed for 1-2-3 may not work without modifications because of different menu structures and some command differences. A Save macro in
1-2-3, for example, might look something like: fs r. In Symphony, it is (SERVICES) fs y. The Doc
The Doc or word processing environment works much like any fullscreen editor. But if you switch to the Sheet environment, you'll find that each line of text actually is a long data label with its origin in the left-most cells of each row. While you are using the Doc environment, however, this data arrangement, however, this data arrangement is transparent.
many of the commands--move, delete, copy, etc.--are accessed with the Menu key just as you do in the other environments. You can display two or more windows simultaneously, or switch between windows with one keystroke to make writing documentation about spreadsheet or graphics information a breeze. You can print with underline, bold face, and justification, and perform other word processing functions, but these special text attributes don't show on the screen.
If you are looking for a highly sophisticated word processor with footnoting, index preparation, proportional spacing, and other specialty features, this isn't it. For average word processing chores, however, including merging a letter with a database, Symphony will do very nicely.
If you are used to dedicated word processing software, you will probably find Symphony a little slow. The speed differences aren't too noticeable on a PC AT, but with the PC and Compaq machines, the screen update is noticeably slower than with other software. You won't lose any information, but characters don't always appear on the screen just as they are typed. Sometimes there is a delay of a word or more, and suddenly the program catches up, only to fall behind again.
After you move or delete a block of information, the paragraph is automatically reformed. But if you use the backspace key to remove several words, you must reformat the text manually from the Menu. This process seems a little slower than most word processors, and there is an occasional anomaly, connected, perhaps, to the roots of the Doc environment in the Symphony spreadsheet. If you format a paragraph, then press TAB to indent the first line, everything after the first couple of words will break off to the next line, leaving a chopped up paragraph that must be reformed from the Menu again.
Page breaks aren't obvious in the Doc environment. You can use the WHERE? Function, which will tell you which page and line the cursor is on, but you can't scroll through the text to find out if the printed document will fall on logical page boundaries.
You can load text from just about any word processor, but be prepared for some heavy editing. ASCII text files loaded from DOS include hard carriage returns at the end of every line, and with Symphony there is no way to edit them. There may be a way to get the software to print a double-spaced text from a "foreign" ASCII document, but it isn't obvious from the documentation. Text entered into Symphony from the keyboard can be printed in single-, double-, or triple-space, but only single-spacing appears on the screen. The Form Environment
The Form environment is another way of looking at the data entered on the spreadsheet. Form manipulates "database" type information: mailing lists, product or inventory information, sales statistics. All information in Symphony is stored in spreadsheet cells, but by specifying different environments you can view the data in different ways. A sales statistics file, for example, might have field labels such as Sales Person Name, Current Sales, YTD Sales, High Month, Low Month, Average, Office, Telephone.
To set up a Form environment, first enter these field labels in separate cells horizontally across the top of the spreadsheet or across the top of a spreadsheet range. Then select the Form environment from the Type menu and "generate" from the Form menu. Symphony then creates the database, complete with a data entry form, a "criteria" record used in searches, and other information. The range of this data sheet expands as you enter new records; or, you can change the range manually to reserve space for your database.
Now, as you work with the data records--enter, search, sort, edit, or print--you use an input form designed by Symphony instead of the horizontal spreadsheet memory cells. Each complete record can be displayed on the screen--if it isn't too large to fit. If you need to look at more than one record at a time, you can view the database from the Sheet environment in the usual way. The Comm Environment The Communications environment supports only two modems, the Hayes SmartModem and The Popcom. You can capture online information to the worksheet or disk, and originate or answer calls. A fairly wide range of communications settings is possible. You can set many of the operating characteristics of your favorite terminal into a Comm window. By presetting a telephone number, log-on sequence, and terminal settings in separate windows, you can automate the initial calling procedure. You can't switch modem types from within the worksheet, however. And you may find that some "Hayes compatible" modems won't work properly with Symphony. The Graph Environment
The graph features of Symphony are the same as those of 1-2-3 with the addition of a special High-Low-Close graph for stock data. The Symphony printgraph program will print 1-2-3 graphs. You can use the Doc environment to add text to a graph, but won't be able to print this composite graph. Only Graph environment labels will print with Printgraph. Problems
Symphony is a powerful software package, but it is not without problems. Some users have complained about the large number of commands, but Lotus has made the Symphony learning curve relatively steep. They have kept the spreadsheet portion of Symphony compatible with 1-2-3, for one thing. Anyone with 1-2-3 experience can do useful work with Symphony almost immediately. Symphony has some expanded features, but the old, familiar 1-2-3 sheet commands are right there.
Even if you aren't familiar with 1-2-3, learning Symphony really isn't too difficult. If you can remember that F9 is the SERVICES key and that F10 invokes a menu tree, you can get along reasonably well. Moreover, most users are strong on one or two features but probably don't use the rest of the software to full capacity, so the learning task is further diluted.
Symphony is quite cavalier in its treatment of the host. It stumps into your computer, blindly initializing keyboard and display ssettings. If you normally use routines to preset screen attributes, or a keyboard programmer such as ProKey, you will be disappointed to learn that Symphony won't have any of that. The display comes up in different ways, depending on how you have installed the software, but you have no control over it while Symphony is running. Prokey, Sidekick, and other memory resident routines probably will be wiped clean when Symphony loads.
Some users report problems with the printer handling of Symphony. During installtion you may specify one of 31 printers, but you can't select one of 31 printers from within the program. The only way to use different printers is to exit and reload a version that was installed for the new printer. Since many users who need the integrated functions of a package like Symphony have one high speed printer for draft and data, and a high quality printer for word processing applications, this inconvenience seems to evidence a lack of practical planning by Symphony designers.
A less common but potentially more serious and frustrating problem is that Symphony resets the active printer as if it were a reboot from DOS. There are some sensible arguments for doing this, but the user who configures his printer for special features from a .BAT file before loading Symphony won't like it.
"If you want to think for the user, do it right or don't do it," writes Hans G. Michna in a lengthy and spirited letter to Lotus about the printer problem. Michna also believes the program could be more generally useful if Lotus would tie the printe layout to the active window, rather than the window in which it was designed. He also believes the Doc environment should be enhanced. But overall he likes the program and calls it, "a revolutionary and far more efficient approach to programming and problem solving with computers," than earlier methods.
You can still load a new worksheet on top of an unsaved sheet, just as in 1-2-3. The key is to develop a simple Save macro that makes it easy to store your current work frequently. Conclusion
Symphony may not be for everybody. Even though registered 1-2-3 users can upgrade to the new software for $200, think carefully about your needs and goals before you spend even this much. Symphony is memory hungry. Because it requires, practically, a 512K computer system, you may have to add more hardware to your system just to make the new software run. If you are getting along well with 1-2-3 and don't actively need the added features of Symphony, it doesn't make sense to upgrade. If you are pushing 1-2-3, and your patience, to the limit, the change may be a good move.
You will probably like Symphony. It is noticeably more powerful than 1-2-3 but not too difficult to learn. You may experience a certain amount of frustration at times--especially if you are used to comprehensive, dedicated packages for some or all of the symphony environments, but with a little adjustment, it may be all the software many users ever need.
Products: Lotus Symphony (computer program)