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Adam Engst No comments

Excel Turns Three

Microsoft has always led the Macintosh world by its spreadsheet nose, although other companies have come out with more powerful programs over the years. Wingz and Full Impact both addressed limitations in Excel, but neither made much of a dent in Excel’s market share. Excel for Windows is currently available, and will be released for the Mac when System 7.0 ships, although it runs fine under 6.0.x. Microsoft is waiting for System 7.0 so the Mac version of Excel can have the same IAC capabilities that the Windows version has through Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE).

I saw the two versions of Excel recently and was quite impressed, although it’s not the end-all of spreadsheets. I saw plenty of new features that should motivate many people to upgrade. This release of Excel looks almost identical between Windows, OS/2, and the Mac, can easily retain market share, and now requires less work to update, since over three quarters of the code is shared among the three versions.

I was most impressed by the thought that Microsoft put into the new interface. There is a "best fit" feature which automatically resizes all the columns so that all the data shows, no matter what the size of individual entries. Microsoft added a camera tool that takes a snapshot of an area of the spreadsheet or even another spreadsheet. Once you’ve taken the snapshot, you can move it to where you’re working, and any numerical changes will be updated in the snapshot so you can watch the numbers change as you work. The camera tool is available from the Toolbar, which provides several common commands and actions in iconic form, (similar to Full Impact’s implementation). Unlike Full Impact, Excel’s Toolbar doesn’t change to reflect likely commands for the mode that you’re in. Still, it’s a big help. One icon on the Toolbar is Sum, which you use by selecting a cell and clicking the Sum icon. Excel then guesses at which cells you want to add (usually the horizontal or vertical range that makes sense – it guessed well when I saw it), asks you if it has guessed correctly, and adds the numbers if you agree with it. Not earth-shattering, but helpful nonetheless. Other nice features include easy non-contiguous cell selection within formulas, word processor-like styles for consistent formatting, simple drawing tools for creating graphic objects that sit on top of the spreadsheet, and text samples before you click OK when you’re changing the formatting.

Charting is perhaps the most changed part of Excel. No more nonsense with having to open a separate chart document. Excel can now (like Wingz and Full Impact) position charts anywhere on the worksheet and allow you to move and resize them easily. Many more chart types are included, most notably 3D charts. Excel provides a decent method of changing the rotation and aspect of the 3D graphs so you can find the best viewing angle. Full Impact does this by forcing you to enter the numbers and see what happens, whereas Excel works in the same way DeltaGraph does, with a graphical model to manipulate. For USA Today-style graphics, you can even designate a graphic object from which Excel can build the bars of a bar chart. One of the more impressive charting features worked only with bar charts. You could select a bar of data and drag it up or down, changing the data in the spreadsheet and any other parts of the graph that would be affected by the resulting numeric change. I would have liked such a feature back in high school when I used VisiCalc to fudge experimental data from primitive chemistry labs. I learned so much more by having to numerically model the appropriate equations – just think what I could have done with this solver technology. Scary thought, eh?

The other big addition to Excel is something Bill Gates himself wanted. It is an outlining feature much like that in Word. By creating an outline, you can hide or show different levels of detail, so if you create a spreadsheet of travel expenses for your boss, you have to enter each one, but he only wants to see the category totals. Then, your boss’s boss wishes to only see the bottom line. In each case, using the outlining feature allows you to trade one spreadsheet around, merely collapsing different levels for different people. I think I personally prefer Full Impact’s View feature, which allows you to switch easily to different views of the same spreadsheet, but outlining is certainly powerful and useful.

The Mac and PC versions of Excel are similar, with only a few exceptions. The Mac version can print a spreadsheet, no matter how large, on a single sheet of paper. Irate users who always try to fit just a little more on the page will appreciate this feature, though if they print a large spreadsheet on a single page, it won’t be remarkably readable. The PC version doesn’t have that feature, probably because printing is more difficult in Windows and PostScript is less prevalent, but the PC version does have a well done 1-2-3 help feature for people switching to Excel. Just type the 1-2-3 command and Excel displays and demonstrate the proper Excel command. Alternately, if you are in a hurry, Excel performs the 1-2-3 command for you. Overall, I was impressed even though I seldom use spreadsheets, in part because when I do use them, I’m always irritated by a lot of the things that Microsoft has changed. Additionally, I highly approve of code-sharing between different platforms since rewriting code wastes time.

Microsoft — 800/426-9400 — 206/882-8080

Information from:
Microsoft propaganda

Related articles:
MacWEEK — 08-Jan-91, Vol. 5, #1, pg. 1
InfoWorld — 14-Jan-91, Vol. 13, #2, pg. 5
MacUser — Mar-91, pg. 40
Macworld — Mar-91, pg. 101

Adam Engst No comments

Guerilla Marketing

No, I don’t mean putting simians in your booth at Macworld Expo! I’m talking about the cut-rate offers that many software firms are using now that the economy is feeling blue. In view of the public interest, here’s a few of the more interesting deals out there.

Canvas soon turns 3.0, and to celebrate, MacDraw owners wishing to secede can purchase Canvas for a mere $149, which is a lot less than the list price of $399. Of course you wouldn’t pay list (I hope), but Deneba’s deal still comes in at $40 or so less than the current discount price for Canvas 2.1, which comes with a free upgrade to 3.0 if you buy it before May 31st, 1991. The MacDraw trade-in ends August 1st, 1991 and there isn’t a toll-free number, but hey, it’s still a good deal. The number is 305/594-6965.

Sitka (what a strange name! – if I remember correctly, it originally comes from a small Alaskan village) is worried now that System 7.0 will include many features that TOPS alone once held. DataClub from International Business Software, isn’t helping either, challenging the fading TOPS on financial and feature fronts. For $124.76 for a DataClub 3-pack (IBS calculates that out to $42 per user somehow, rather than the correct $41.59) TOPS owners can upgrade to DataClub. There is a limit of two per customer, so if you have more than six people on your network, you’ll have to buy more at normal prices, which are a bit higher. To order, call 800/735-1776 with your TOPS serial number and your credit card number.

Finally, T/Maker generously offers WriteNow 2.2, Grammatik Mac 2.0, and MacTools Deluxe 1.1 for a bargain at $94.45 (that includes shipping). All you must do is prove that you own another word processor. T/Maker is obviously targeting the biggies, Word, Write, and MacWrite II, but I’m sure they won’t be upset if WordPerfect or FullWrite users took them up on it either. Of course, no Nisus user would ever switch to WriteNow :-). It’s a good deal, and I especially like the fact that T/Maker included MacTools, because then buyers will have a backup program, a utility no one should be without. This offer is short-lived, ending on March 31st, 1991. To order, call 800/522-5939 and be prepared to send proof of ownership of another program.

Deneba — 305/594-6965
International Business Software — 800/735-1776
T/Maker — 800/522-5939 — 415/962-0195

Information from:
Deneba propaganda
International Business Software propaganda
T/Maker propaganda

Related articles:
MacWEEK — 19-Feb-91, Vol. 5, #7, pg. 12, 20

Adam Engst No comments

Snazzier Graphics

I’ve put this article off for a little while because every time I think about it, something new happens. I’m talking about the epidemic of upgrades for major graphics programs that have swept the Macintosh world. Canvas and FreeHand have followed Illustrator to 3.0 and MacDraw has turned Pro. Add to that a couple of new programs and graphic designers should be confused and delighted for some time.

FreeHand is Illustrator 3.0’s closest competitor and while it hasn’t changed much outwardly, Aldus (or Altsys, it’s unclear who’s responsible for the upgrade since Altsys was the developer) added a number of features that allow electronic artists to use FreeHand in a more structured way. Helping with the structure are a new Layers palette, which helps you create and manage layers of the picture, a Colors palette, which lets you create and name process and spot colors including Pantone colors, and finally a new Styles palette, from which you can save various pieces of information about how an object should look (stroke, fill, etc.) and then apply that style to other objects for a consistent look. Improved text abilities include the ability to convert PostScript Type 1 fonts into editable outlines. Unlike Illustrator 3.0, FreeHand will not need ATM active for text handling features such as wrapping text around an ellipse or creating vertical text.

Deneba’s Canvas somehow avoids comparisons with FreeHand and Illustrator, but may creep into that market with the myriads of new features in version 3.0. Canvas offers a Smart Mouse feature that helps illustrators draw and align objects without having to position the mouse exactly right, an incredibly frustrating task with a dirty mouse. Other functions that bring Canvas into direct competition with FreeHand and Illustrator include converting any PostScript Type 1 font to an editable outline, binding text to objects and curves, fractional leading and kerning, character by character font-scaling, object blending (the program figures out the intermediate steps between pictures of Geraldine Ferraro and a Ferrari), support for Pantone colors, and editing multiple Bezier-curve anchor points. Two handy new features are a bundled four-color separation utility and the ability to search for graphic objects (I’d kill for that one on occasion!). Whew! Canvas has always had a few quirks, but it sounds like Deneba isn’t letting up in the slightest in the feature wars.

Canvas’s main competition, MacDraw, will have a pile of added features when it becomes MacDraw Pro. MacDraw Pro will include impressive word processing capabilities (presumably borrowed from MacWrite II), easy creation and editing of objects using Bezier curves (which, though undeniably powerful, have always escaped me), support for Pantone colors (I’m starting to sound repetitive on that one), 24-bit color support, custom dithering that simulates almost 2000 colors on a standard 8-bit (256 color) monitor, color naming (Joe, Susan, Margie…), and multiple open color palettes. Finally, although Canvas understands a lot of graphic file formats, MacDraw Pro includes Claris’s XTND technology (which Claris ought to be better about licensing along with the necessary filters to third parties), which allow MacDraw Pro to read and write various graphic file formats supported by Claris and third party translators.

If you’ve always thought that electronic art doesn’t quite match up to traditionally created art, a new paint program from the guys who wrote Letraset’s ImageStudio, ColorStudio, and Shapes may change your mind. Tom Hedges and Mark Zimmer of Fractal Software are working on Painter, which will simulate traditional tools such as charcoal, pastels, chalk, and watercolors through the use of pressure-sensitive brushes (and yes, you would need one of Wacom’s pressure-sensitive graphics tablets to take full advantage of the program). As a final perk for graphic designers, Painter comes with several simulated paper grains, and you can create new ones of your own.

Alternately, if you like computer art, Pixar’s new ShowPlace program allows you to create in three dimensions. Somewhat less powerful than Pixar’s MacRenderMan, ShowPlace still sounds impressive. Basically, you take 3D clip art, import it into ShowPlace, add texture and a light source, and the program creates the proper 3D image for you. Bundled with ShowPlace is a clip art library called ClipObjects and a surface library called First Looks, which has textures for wood, metal, stone, and various other patterns. It doesn’t sound as though you can create 3D objects in ShowPlace, but you can export the 3D images in TIFF and PICT format. ShowPlace lists for $695 and should be out right about now.

As well as Illustrator 3.0, which was the first of the version 3.0’s to hit the market, Adobe is working on a new version of Streamline, its tracing software. Streamline can now convert continuous tone images (the sort where there aren’t distinct objects) into line art, and then Streamline can modify that line art with the same sort of effects that Painter has, including charcoal, pastels, woodcut, pen and ink, and woodcut. Other new abilities include creating a MacPaint template for the line art image, selecting only part of an image for conversion, and saving line art images so that selected pieces can be edited independently in a draw program.

Adobe — 415/961-4400
Aldus — 206/628-2320
Claris — 800/544-8554 — 408/727-8227
Deneba Software — 305/594-6965
Fractal Software — 408/688-2496
Pixar — 415/236-4000

Information from:
Lots of propaganda

Related articles:
MacWEEK — 12-Feb-91, Vol. 5, #6, pg. 36
MacWEEK — 22-Jan-91, Vol. 5, #3, pg. 8
MacWEEK — 08-Jan-91, Vol. 5, #1, pg. 33
InfoWorld — 07-Jan-91, Vol. 13, #1, pg. 30
PC WEEK — 14-Jan-91, Vol. 8, #2, pg. 34
PC WEEK — 07-Jan-91, Vol. 8, #1, pg. 13, 29
MacUser — Mar-91, pg. 41

Adam Engst No comments

Lotus Tries Harder

I’ll give Lotus a lot of credit, it takes a beating and keep coming back for more. Unfortunately, like baseball’s New York Yankees, Lotus insists on trying to buy success, which works neither in baseball nor the computer industry. The latest free agent purchased by Lotus (remember Lotus buying Samna just a little while ago? And before that Lotus bought Sybase, a database company, and tried to merge with Novell) is cc:Mail, a company that makes the email package of the same name for Macs and PC clones. Ideally, Lotus wants to integrate cc:Mail and Notes, its mega-expensive groupware software. Lotus is modifying Notes so that it will integrate Macs as well, though I can’t imagine how popular it will be, considering that Notes runs about $60,000 dollars.

Here’s the first sporadic TidBITS quiz. How many Lotus products can you name? Well, there’s 1-2-3 of course and Improv for the NeXT machines. I just mentioned Notes and there’s a graphics program called FreeLance Plus and a word processor whose name I can’t remember, and then we have the products Lotus just bought, Ami, Ami Professional, and cc:Mail. I think Lotus also has a CD-search program called Bluefish, which it bought at some point and there’s a well-reviewed DOS shell and file viewer called Magellan. MarketPlace is dead, but Lotus has another (if not a whole line) CD-ROM containing banking information, but that’s about it. All of those products are strictly for PC clones, with the exception of a few versions of 1-2-3 for other platforms. Each time Lotus has tested the waters of the Mac market it has sunk miserably. A version of 1-2-3 for the Mac along with Macintosh support for Notes might last a little while, though I don’t give either much of a chance. Other than 1-2-3 (which most people simply call "Lotus" anyway), we’re not exactly talking about electronic household names here, nor are these products part of a coherent scheme.

I mention Lotus’s product line because it’s becoming more and more apparent that Lotus is trying to leverage itself into a position to compete with Microsoft. In comparison to Lotus’s hodgepodge of DOS products, compare Microsoft’s relatively well-integrated line for both the Mac and PC clones. Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Works, Mail, DOS, Windows 3.0, OS/2, LAN Manager, a whole slew of programming languages, and possibly a new low-end desktop publishing program as well. Especially now that Microsoft is designing its programs to share code (Excel 3.0 for the PC and the Mac share about 80% of the code), Lotus doesn’t stand a chance at competing unless it quickly whips all the acquisitions into shape. Lotus only has an advantage on the NeXT workstation, and despite its abilities, I doubt NeXT will become a major force for some time yet, if ever.

I think Lotus should stick with its current products and devote its money and attention to new niches and getting everything into a coherent framework. Lotus has lived and will die on 1-2-3 alone, unless it learns how to repeat 1-2-3’s success. Improv is certainly a good start, and its joint project with HP might help as well. HP and Lotus are developing a palmtop computer that will be an excuse to carry 1-2-3 around with you all the time, since the software will be coded into the firmware. It’s not my idea of an incredibly cool machine, but I’m sure some people are getting sweaty palms over the concept even as I write.

Related articles:
MacWEEK — 19-Feb-91, Vol. 5, #7, pg. 1, 93
InfoWorld — 18-Jan-91, Vol. 13, #7, pg. 1
COMMUNICATIONS WEEK — 18-Jan-91, pg. 2