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What to buy in microcomputer software.

What to buy in microcomputer software In Computer Dialog last September and October, I presented purchasing recommendations for microcomputer hardware. This month and next, I will do the same for software, with some emphasis on specific brands. Representative products will be listed in each category of software. These products have usually received good reviews in national magazines. They are often inexpensive or have unusual features.

I recommend purchase of programs that are not copy-protected, if you have a choice. Such programs can be copied into a portion of the microcomputer's random access memory that has been made to simulate a disk, and they will run 5 to 10 times faster than from a disk.

Most programs allow you to keep copies on different microcomputers and use them one at a time (to use them simultaneously would be illegal in most cases). This saves you the trouble of carrying your programs back and forth between home and one or more offices. Some programs allow many users at the same time, legally. A few programs do not allow multiple copies.

Some programs require large chunks of memory. I feel all users should have at least 640K of RAM, an amount that has become quite inexpensive.

Software goes through cycles. The newest version of a program is usually the best until a competitor comes out with its version, often better. I suggest users conduct annual state-of-the-art reviews to determine whether they should replace software--and hardware, for that matter--and take advantage of inexpensive updates.

The prices quoted below are list. Discounts running from 20 per cent to as much as 70 per cent are usually available.

* Word processing. Dedicated word processors are being phased out. For short texts, such as letters, they are reasonably fast, but for texts over 10 pages, microcomputers with word processing programs are much faster. The all-purpose microcomputers also offer a variety of applications.

Each microcomputer should have its own word processing software. Several computers sharing the same software is inconvenient, except for some occasionally used special-purpose programs in mathematics, chemistry, and other technical fields.

For speed of operation, I recommend programs that store the whole text and software in RAM and do not have to move text back and forth between disk and RAM. Some important features to look for: 1) the maximum size of files--the bigger the better; 2) whether a spelling checker is included; 3) ability to assign commonly used words and phrases to keyboard characters; 4) ability to do simple math; 5) ability to transpose material arranged in columns; 6) whether multiple fonts and graphic elements are included; 7) ability to combine text and graphics; 8) ability to drive a laser printer that has multi-font and graphic capabilities; and 9) outline structuring, table of contents, and indexing functions. The last four features are particularly useful for publication of quality manuals and newsletters.

Unless you know what you want, I suggest you start with legally copyable programs like PC-Write, which can be duplicated for multiple users. It can be supplemented with programs to carry out many of the functions listed above. When sold independently, programs to check on spelling, punctuation, and grammar/style, as well as thesauruses and keyboard enhancers, are more expensive but also more advanced than similar features incorporated into word processing software.

Here are some recommended word processing products:

PC-Write. Word processing program; $75; Quicksoft, 219 First N., #244, Seattle, Wash. 98109. Copyable, practical, and can be provided to all users at minimal cost.

Turbo Lightning. Spelling checker/thesaurus; $99; Borland International, 4585 Scotts Valley Dr., Scotts Valley, Calif. 95066. Very fast and comprehensive.

Volkswriter Deluxe 3. Large spelling dictionary, moves columns, does math; $295; Lifetree Software, 411 Pacific St., Monterey, Calif. 93940.

Microsoft Word. Most comprehensive, drives multiple fonts on laser printers, spelling check, outliner, etc.; $495; Microsoft, 16011 Northeast 36 Way, Box 97017, Redmond, Wash. 98073.

Manuscript. Designed for scientists and engineers, similar to Microsoft Word and easier to write equations with; $495; Lotus Development, 55 Cambridge Pkwy., Cambridge, Mass. 02142.

Two disadvantages of complex word processing programs are 1) they may be too slow for an IBM PC and require an AT compatible, and 2) coding for file structure (type faces, outline format, etc.) rarely can be shared by different word processing programs.

* Spreadsheets. These programs let you perform calculations on a numerical table. They are especially useful when calculations must be repeated under alternative assumptions--for example, different rates of growth, projected effects of inflation, or work requirements. Applications include preparation of budgets and projections of staffing requirements.

If you want a spreadsheet, I suggest you buy an integrated program like Symphony or Framework, offering other functions as well, including word processing, graphics, and database management. Such programs will be discussed in next month's column.

If you have unique needs (three-dimensional tables, very large tables, sophisticated models, etc.), chances are there's a spreadsheet program that will do the job. You can program a spreadsheet to manage a project, but if the project is very complex with many subparts, deadlines, and sequential events, PERT (program evaluation and review technique) software is a must.

* Database management. With programs of this kind, you can store information normally placed on index cards. A field or item is the basic information to be stored--a name, say, or a telephone number or a result. A group of fields, perhaps all the data on a particular patient, forms a record. A group of records forms a file--all patients from the blood bank, for example.

Database software stores and retrieves information using any of a variety of key words or the contents of any field--in this manner, a specified blood type and donation date can be used to track down all blood donors of a certain type who donated more than three months ago. Applications include: 1) a personnel file, to maintain employee statistics; 2) a catalog of books or slides; and 3) billing systems.

There are two main types of database management software. Flat or file management systems store records in a file, but you can't relate two different sets of files. Relational systems relate files through a common field.

For simple, personal applications, a flat or file management program will meet your needs, often under $100. For professional applications, I recommend a relational database (from $200 to $500 and more with larger or more complex applications).

In the lab, where the database program should be relational, you might have a provider data file, a patient data file, and a results data file. Every time a test is performed, entry of the patient's name or ID and the provider's name or ID is sufficient; the program supplies the other data about the patient and the provider.

Now let's look at some recommended relational database management programs.

Paradox. Comprehensive multipurpose program, easy to learn; $695; Ansa Software, 1301 Shoreway Rd., Suite 221, Belmont, Calif. 94002.

Ask Sam. Text-oriented, allows storage and retrieval of text with fewer limitations than traditional databases, useful for proposals and writing, complements other programs; $150; Seaside Software, 538 Parade Dr., Corpus Christi, Tex. 78412. Other companies make similar software.

DataEase. Very easy to use; $600; Software Solutions, 12 Cambridge Dr., Trumbull, Conn. 06611. Company also makes a word processor and other complementary software.

dBase III +. Difficult to use but highly versatile, may be programmed to do almost any task; $695; Ashton-Tate, 20101 Hamilton Ave., Torrance, Calif. 90502. Not for amateurs. New users can benefit from and may have to employ a wide variety of complementary or accessory software that facilitates this program's use.

Reflex. Among the least expensive for common applications, produces graphs and tables like a spreadsheet; $150; Borland International, 4585 Scotts Valley Dr., Scotts Valley, Calif. 95066.

R:base Series V. Perhaps the best overall, easy to use and sophisticated; $700; Microrim, 3380 146th Pl. SE, Bellevue, Wash. 98007.

We will conclude our review of software products next month with a look at graphics, communication, and integrated programs, as well as utilities and other special-purpose software.
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Title Annotation:word processing, spreadsheets, and database management programs
Author:Siguel, Edward N.
Publication:Medical Laboratory Observer
Date:Feb 1, 1987
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