BUSINESS software has always tended to be more expensive than games software, partly because fewer copies are sold and partly because the development time is greater. So when someone offers you a complete office automation system with word processor, spreadsheet, database and graphics program for £5.95 you believe in 28 day delivery periods again.
With the release of Mini Office for the 48K Spectrum, Database Publications has done exactly that. What is, perhaps, more surprising is that the package represents excellent value for money. The individual programs are not the best you can buy, nor are they likely to tempt the serious user - indeed, you would not expect that. What they do provide is a good, simple introduction to office automation either for the classroom, or for the new user.
The word processor offers two typefaces and two character sizes - normal and double-sized. One menu, which also acts as a return point for any illegal entry, runs the program.
The usual range of print, save, load, and verify options for text files is also offered. Left and right margins can be set prior to printing, as can the number of characters per line - up to 32 - and the number of lines per page.
Other facilities include tab stops, page end markers and copy. The last facility copies a letter at a time and is slower than a block copy but because of the way it has been implemented - only the starting point for the move is defined - it is nevertheless effective.
Excellent use of colour helps to distinguish between text which has been typed in and information, such as the number of words and the amount of free space for text.
The database is a much scaled down version. The first thing you notice is its limitations; a maximum of 12 fields with up to 21 characters in each. Using all of those would leave room for only 75 records. Fields can be either numeric or string, but numeric fields are really only useful in searches. Those can be performed for any sequence of characters in a string field, or for values equal to, less than, greater than or between two values.
Although a replace function allows all or parts of fields to be replaced, it is limited - at least with part of a field - to replacing the same number of characters. The database can also be sorted on up to four fields.
The spreadsheet contains most of the necessary elements. Formulae can be used to link boxes, and can also be copied from one box to another, updating for the new row or column in the process. Although the first row and column are reserved for labels of up to eight characters, those labels are not used to define rows or columns. One useful function brings back the previous number in the box. A major restriction is the size of the sheet, which can only extend to a maximum of 30 rows by 20 columns.
The graphics program is, perhaps, the most disappointing. Data for the program must first be set up in the spreadsheet and saved, before it can be reloaded into the graphics program. Once the spreadsheet file has been loaded, the row and then the individual columns of data to be used must be specified. An option does exist to change those to any other in the spreadsheet at any time.
Histograms, line graphs and pie charts can all be drawn. The histograms and line charts are both drawn to include negative values and in all cases the columns are referred to by their letters - A, B, C... and so on - rather than their labels. There is no method of altering any piece of data from within the program.
A version of Mini Office is being released on the Opus Discovery disc system. Unfortunately, Database Publications seems to have simply transferred the tape program to disc adding the option of loading from or saving to disc in the appropriate place. That means that to get from one program to another - except from graphics to spreadsheet - the unit has to be switched off and the disc reloaded. Other routines which are usually a standard feature of disc-based software - such as the ability to list the files on a disc from within the programs - have also been omitted.
It is impossible to recommend Mini Office if you are looking for a complete working system unless finance precludes buying the best individual programs - Tasword II the word-processor, Masterfile the database, Omnicalc the spreadsheet and Projector 1 for the business graphics program. However, if you are looking for an inexpensive way of learning how a word processor, database and spreadsheet work then it is to be wholeheartedly recommended.
Database Publications, Europa House, 68 Chester Road, Hazel Grove, Stockport SK7 5NY.
Bar chart produced from spreadsheet figures.
Word processor produces a large typeface.
Pie chart drawn with graphics program.