THE PROGILE OF PEAK PERFORMANCE
Mike Wright examines the advantages of the McGraw-Hill small business suite.
This month Sinclair User is offering a special deal on a package of four programs from McGraw-Hill. The package is Spectext, a word processor, Profile 2, a spreadsheet file handling program, Projector 1, a business graphics package, and Electronic Diary.
The most commonly used part of any business type package is the word processor. Consequently it should be powerful while being easy to use. Usually there has to be a trade off between the two otherwise the program would use the whole of memory with no room for the text.
There is no doubt about the power of Spectext. It consists of three parts: Spectext, Specfile, and Specmerge. Specfile is a simple card index database for names and addresses and Specmerge is a program which allows you to insert the names and addresses from Specfile into a standard document produced by Spectext.
It also has all the usual features for entering text, deleting characters, inserting, block delete and block move, and save and load. Text can be printed with page numbers, margins and double spacing from the start or even from a specified line.
The manual is stored as two text files on the other side of the tape and those need to be loaded, read and printed ?- if you want something handy to refer to ?- before you begin. On a ZX printer the first of those uses about eight feet of paper.
The program is run from the main menu which has eight options: enter text, load text, print text, read edit text, save text, reorganise, switch printers and a microdrive catalogue. Unlike most word processors text is entered at the cursor at the bottom of the page and scrolls upward. When entering text you are given no idea of what it will look like at the end. Text is added in one continuous stream with new lines, paragraphs and pages being denoted by a graphics character. Those are inserted into the text by pressing Enter followed by 1, 2 or 3. Entering 'z' takes you back to the main menu and Enter on its own puts you straight into option four of the main menu - "edit text".
If after you have been editing your text and decide to enter some more, selecting Enter text from the main menu gives you a clear screen as if no text had previously been entered. However new text will be added to the end of the old text.
The Edit text option allows you a wide range of functions which will delete text in a block, add text at the cursor or print from the cursor to the end of the text. You can also search for any string and replace it with any other. Blocks of text can be moved around using the move option, although the method used is awkward since it involves deleting the text first. The move option inserts the last piece of text deleted at the cursor.
Selecting Edit text displays the end of the text with a message line showing the page number and the number of characters left which can be used. Text is deleted by positioning the cursor under the first letter to be deleted and pressing D moving the cursor to the last letter and pressing D again. Text can also be added at, or printed from, the cursor by pressing 'a' or 'c'. To use the other options the 'z' key must be pressed. That gives the prompt 'type?' which allows text to be added at the cursor. Pressing Enter changes the prompt. When the required option is displayed enter 'z' again to select it.
Although the text shown on the screen has words straddling lines, no obvious margins or paragraphs and graphics characters dotted throughout, it is formatted when printed. The number of characters per line, lines per page, left margin setting and the number of blank lines between pages are set in the reorganise option prior to printing.
Spectext prints happily on the ZX printer but if you want to use a full size printer you will need to exercise care. The switch printer option and the documentation both lead you to believe you need to use that option for a full size printer. I tried it with my Tasman interface and it hung completely. I then tried printing without it but simply using reorganise to set an 80-column width. It worked perfectly.
The database Specfile lets you set up records with up to 15 different fields, each field a maximum 23 or 25 characters. The number of fields, fieldnames up to 10 characters, and the length of each one must be set up at the start and then cannot be changed.
Once the structure of the database is set the records can be entered. For each record a list of the fields is shown and you are prompted for the entry. Confirmation must be given at the end of a record that is correct. Once entered the records can be sorted on any field except the last. You can search the file for any string of characters and then once a record is on screen edit it, copy it or simply search for the next record with the string in it by entering 'z' when the option is shown.
Specmerge, the third program, is easy to use. The draft letter is set up in Spectext with the variables being rep- resented by a number between two arrows, such as >3<, and saved. The numbers correspond to the field numbers in Specfile. Once Specmerge is loaded the document is read in first followed by the database and the field variables are merged. The results can be printed to the screen or printer.
At £13.95, Spectext offers the most powerful word processor available as a single program for the Spectrum. However, that must be balanced by the fact that it is impossible to see what you are ultimately going to end up with typing in text. In fact it will probably take several tries at printing to the screen and re-editing before you are happy with the results.
Not being able to use the program from microdrive is a major mistake for any word processor that wants to be taken seriously. However, McGraw-Hill do offer an upgrading service for purchases of the cassette, providing a microdrive version for a minimal handling charge.
The idea of combining some of the best features of spreadsheets and databases into one program is clever. Profile 2 simulates a large sheet of paper divided into rows and columns. The columns are given fixed headings corresponding to fieldnames in a database, where the rows are the records.
Like Specfile the fieldnames (up to four characters), their width (between four and 28 characters), type (character or numeric) and number of decimal places (up to four) must all be set at the start and cannot then be changed. That is done in a short program which is loaded before the main one.
When the main program is loaded a clean sheet of paper stretches before you waiting for your entries. The field names are shown on the top line of the screen and the bottom line is used to show the first 31 characters of the row. Movement around the spreadsheet is done using the cursor keys as normal. Faster movement is achieved by moving a field at a time using the odd combination of Caps Shift with 2 (left), 3 (down), 4 (up) and 9 (right).
Once your records have been entered you can begin processing using a 12 option menu. The menu is reached by pressing Caps Shift and 1 and lets you insert and delete records, which can also be protected by 'locking' them against overwriting. Numeric fields can be checked to see that they contain sensible information and can also be totalled. The totalling can also be done for a conditional selection of records. Another option is used to indicate the number of records already used and the maximum left in the database.
The most powerful features of Profile 2 are held in the three options print, find and replace. The find option searches for records that are specified by a conditional statement. The conditions are similar to those used in Basic - equal, greater than, less than, AND, OR, NOT, and so on. When a record is found it is displayed on screen in the same format as used by the view option.
The print option allows you to print all or some records. A conditional statement of the type 'fld1 = McGraw' is used to select the records. After you have decided which records to print you are given the opportunity to design the layout of the printed report by stringing together a series of fieldnames, text in quotes and N$ for newlines with + signs. String slicing can also be used to print part of a field.
The replace command allows you to replace the data in all or some of the records with new data which is determined by specifying it as a function of the fields. For example, if you keep a price list on it and prices from a supplier increase by ten percent, then prices can be updated by supp="McG" followed by pric=pric*1.1. Strings can also be sliced and concatenated as part of the function.
Profile provides a nice compromise between the spreadsheet and database and is surprisingly easy to use, despite not being very user friendly. No indication is given on screen as to how the commands can be reached and the menu lists a string of letters without a description of their function. Because of the format there has inevitably been a trade off in power but the more I used it the more I liked it.
Profile 2 is compatible with microdrive storage in that the cassette is only required with designing the file. Once you have set the file format, successive generations of file and data can be stored on cartridge.
The most exciting and probably the most powerful program of the three is Projector 1 - the Business Graphics system - but it is not without its problems. It gives you the facility to enter data in six different ways, either as ordinary numbers, as pairs of numbers or in a calendar format (daily, monthly, quarterly, years).
Once entered the data can be displayed as a line graph, pie chart, or histogram. However its features and facilities do not end there. Graphs can be plotted as points or line graphs, with or without a background grid. More power features allow you to fit a line or curve to the data and even to obtain possible projections.
A further feature allows you to build up a presentation of graphs and charts. These can be interspersed with text slides which consist of up to six lines of enlarged text with as many as 21 characters per line.
Before the main program is loaded a short program lets you prepare to use one of five preset interfaces, the ZX printer or to load your own printer software. You might encounter difficulties with Tasman option.
The program is run from a main menu offering the following: new data, modify/view data, histogram, pie chart, key points, project, graphic image, build/modify presentation, play presentation, save data, load data, directory and stop.
The best place to start is the directory option which allows you to view what has been created and to debate some or all of the items. It also shows how much free space is left. If you have opted for one of the printer ports you could have a problem here as you are warned to leave at least 300 characters free otherwise the data will overwrite the printer software. That means regular checks on the directory when working on a presentation.
Selecting view displays the items which have been created giving each a reference number made up of a letter and a number ? for instance, g3 is the third graph created and klO is the tenth key point screen - the type and its name. The references are used to build up the presentations.
Histogram, pie chart and graph are used to draw the corresponding chart. In each case you are allowed to specify various formatting variables such as colours and titles.
Projections of the data values along a straight line or a quadratic curve can also be done using the project option.
Building a presentation consists of creating a series of slices made up of graph, chart and key point references, giving it a name and specifying whether each slide will be automatically displayed after a set time or changed manually. The number of times the demonstration will be run can also be set. After that the presentation can be run by the play presentation option after specifying the name and whether it can be stopped in mid-stream.
Projector 1 has tremendous potential for business use and is relatively straightforward to use. Using STOP - Symbol shift and A - to move from entering data, or setting up the charts, to drawing them is inconvenient and if a large amount of data is used it seems slow when preparing items although there is no delay when a presentation is done. At times it also seemed sluggish in responding to entries at the keyboard when typing in titles. Those do not detract greatly from its usability.
McGraw-Hill will be providing an upgrade service similar to that for Spectext when the company is confident of supplying reliable microdrive versions.
Spectext letter on screen.
Spectext letter after printing.
Profile 2 bar chart