APPLICATIONS FOR THE SINCLAIR AT HOME AND THE OFFICE
Why not stop playing games and do something interesting with your computer? John Gilbert assesses the software.
BOTH SINCLAIR machines can be used for storing data of any kind, such as names and addresses, telephone numbers and even an ever-changing record of appointments. The ZX-81 needs the 16K RAM pack for any kind of data storage and both information and program have to be SAVEd together. That operation can take up to six minutes and is not very reliable.
The Business and Household cassette was one of the first packages available from Sinclair for the ZX-81. It contains three programs. One will keep a record of names and addresses, the next will keep a diary of events and the final program will handle all your financial transactions.
The first two programs worked well but the Bank Account program on side two took six minutes to load and SAVEing the program back on to tape with the data proved very difficult.
The Business and Household cassette may not be very reliable but it is good value at £3.95.
One of the best data management systems available for the ZX-81 is The Fast One, from Campbell Systems. It allows the user to set up files of information in any way which suits him. The program will sort and search for specific bits of data and if numbers are being used it is possible to total them. The program is a step forward for the ZX-81 and is very flexible. It will do any kind of filing job, given the limitations of the machine. The Fast One costs £15 and has a comprehensive manual.
Spreadsheet programs are an easy way to store numerical data in a format in which it can be used for calculations. The spreadsheet is a matrix, or table, on the screen and any box, or cell, in the table can be addressed by using the letters and numbers which run horizontally and vertically at the sides of the sheet. This type of program can be used to plan the family budget and calculate automatically running totals of family expenditure. That is only one of the many applications for which it can be used in the home.
MiCROL produces a spreadsheet program called Matrix Planner. It is easy to use and has a spreadsheet of eight rows by 30 columns. That configuration can be changed by the user through the program variables. Approximately 300 cells can be created in the matrix before all the 16K of memory is used.
Sinclair Research markets two programs similar to the Matrix Planner. Vu-Calc is a program which uses the spreadsheet. It has limitless possibilities and can be used for financial modelling, keeping track of bank accounts and even setting-up scientific experiments which rely on number-crunching for their outcome.
The second is Vu-file. It is like VuCaic but the user can only store information and not perform calculations on data. Both programs are available for the ZX-81 and Spectrum. ZX-81 versions cost £7.95 and Spectrum versions £8.95.
The arrival of the Spectrum set software houses the task of writing programs which can use data files separate from the programs. It has opened the way to storing large amounts of data on cassette and, when the Microdrive arrives, on floppy tape. There are several good programs for data storage on the Spectrum but most of them can be used only on the 48K version.
The Database from MiCROL is one such program. The files can be split into documents. Those documents are useful in splitting-up topics within the machine. You can give each document a heading, such as tax, income or budget, and you can have several of them in memory at one time.
Documents are split further into records, with one record corresponding to each datum. With that system it is possible to do your tax and budgets at the same time, without having to load the computer twice with information. The program can store up to 999 record lines in memory. The Database costs £9.95 and is complete with handbook.
The Masterfile program from Campbell Systems is the most comprehensive of the databases available. It is the successor to The Fast One for the ZX-81 and provides fast access to large amounts of information. The user can also model the program to meet specific requirements. Data can be sorted and searched and reports can be compiled using the system. Masterfile costs £15 for the 48K version and £12 for 16K.
The spreadsheets which proved so popular with the ZX-81 are starting to creep on to the Spectrum market. The best, so far, are from MiCROL and Microsphere. Both are remarkably similar. The MiCROL version costs £9.95 and provides the basic calculating power of most spreadsheet programs. It is easy to use and can help the business or home user with complicated calculations.
Omnicalc is the spreadsheet from Microsphere. It is ideal for someone who has just found the spreadsheet concept but it is also a very powerful tool for anyone who has used one previously. The program seems to work faster than the MICROL spreadsheet and information can be accessed almost immediately.
The screen format is easily understandable and very clear for the first-time user. The program contains a help option which lists the commands available through the spreadsheet. Omnicalc costs £9.95. It is complete with a user manual.
All-Sort is an interesting utility program for the 48K Spectrum. It enables a user to sort data which has been set up within a home-built program. The data is stored initially in an array and All-Sort can sort up to four of them at once. It can be obtained from Alan Firminger. The program is useful and very fast but at £18 exclusive of VAT it is expensive.
Listfile is a program which does exactly what its name suggests. The program allows a user to store lists of data, such as names and addresses, and to access that information very quickly. Data is entered in blocks which can be up to eight lines of 26 characters long. An extra line, called the info line, can be used to index information but that is not printed-out when the printer is used to list the information.
Listfile is available for the 16K and 48K Spectrum and can be obtained from G and J Bobker. It costs £10 and has full documentation.
Now that the Spectrum has arrived, software manufacturers are beginning to think about software uses other than games on Sinclair machines. The data processing programs could handle many tasks which are centred on the home. Databases, such as the one from MiCROL, are useful for storing textual information, such as a list of favourite records or even knitting patterns.
The Microdrive could expand the data processing capabilities of the Spectrum. Information can be accessed more quickly and as a result bigger programs could be stored in memory and data could be fed in bit by bit.
The capabilities of the Spectrum could be extended in this way but soon we will have to decide whether it is necessary. Most data processing programs can already deal with more information than the ordinary user needs. It may be proved that that type of application for the Microdrive is a waste of time.
Sinclair Research, Camberley, Surrey GU15 3BR.
MiCROL, 31 Burleigh Street, Cambridge CB1 1BR.
Campbell Systems, 15 Rous Road, Buck-hurst Hill, Essex IG9 6BL
Microsphere Computing Services Ltd, 72 Rosebery Road, London N10 2LA.
Alan Firminger, 171 Herne Hell. London SE24 9LR.
G and J Bobker, 29 Chadderton Drive. Unsworth, Bury, Lancs.