Stepway. (integrated software) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by David Sears
You're a hard sell, you home computer user, and who can blame you? Like so many other not-so-affluent PC owners, you'd rather not spend major bucks on Windows, GeoWorks, or any other fancy task swapper, but you still want a multifeatured package. The kids need to write term papers, you need an address manager to keep up with friends and distant family, and, of course, you all could use a calendar maker to keep one step ahead of schedule. That's what you bought a PC for, right?
Want more? How about a household inventory program, a powerful paint program, a recipe filer, a card shop, and a banner maker? Stepway from Step One packs these modules and then some into a single package. Too good to be true? Perhaps. Like other all-in-one solutions, some Stepway features have room for improvement.
Consider the Art Shop module. Far more advanced than its Windows counterpart, Art Shop considers your every scribble an object. Later, you just click on one of these objects to move, resize, delete, or shuffle images from back to front. Multiple fill types and flexible text-manipulation options make sophisticated effects painless to perform--you can rotate and slant your words at will. Everything you might need for original painting waits right here, but no import-export options exist outside the Stepway program itself. Saved Art Shop files transfer to Word Shop or Card Shop, but not to other paint programs. Nor can you import an image file in PCX or BMP format--troublesome for artists who'd like to mix and match visual data.
Card Shop offers many of the same options you might find in a product such as Broderbund's Print Shop: borders, multiple card layouts, text input, and freehand drawing. Not bad--except for the shortage of quality clip art. Again, an image import option would make this module far more useful. On the other hand, Sign Shop does just fine without any special graphics: The filled polygons and outsized text at your disposal here can generate some effective banners and posters.
The Inventory module tracks your possessions readily with data fields for values, descriptions, and the other pertinent information you'll need should you ever suffer the ravages of fire or theft. The Address Book program offers multiple fields. When you need a hard copy, you choose and arrange which data to print. This allows for customized lists that require very little paper.
For kitchen help, Stepway's Recipe module arrives with a list of common recipe ingredients, ready for you to click them into your own foodstuff formulas. A spacious area for instructions ensures that cooks will know with a glance what steps they must take next. The To Do module renders shopping trips and spring cleaning simple affairs with high and low priorities for each task. And when you desire a vacation, the Calendar program can show you your commitments on a monthly, weekly, or daily basis. No time for an extended break? Try your hand at one of the seven solitaire variations available--everything from Klondike to Demon and Beleaguered Castle, all of them engaging games.
Least impressive of all the Stepway modules, Word Shop feels a bit clumsy to experienced word processor users. Instead of using a flashing cursor, Word Shop indicates your position on the page with a below-line arrow--disconcerting at first. The familiar cut-and-paste options are here, but again, no recourse for importing non-Stepway files, even vanilla ASCII text. Some of the included fonts print well enough for school reports, but without stronger scaling you might hesitate to submit them in a corporate setting. Word Shop will not wrap text around Art Shop art, but it does an acceptable job of printing graphics and text within the same document. Otherwise, this word processor handles the chores and pleasures of correspondence without a grumble. Most domestic uses won't strain its resources.
Ever present in Stepway, the notepad, calculator, and clock allow you to pass notes, numerical data, and alarm settings from one application to another. The one-click approach to computing--Stepway doesn't distinguish between left and right mouse buttons--puts you where you want to be with a minimum of fuss. Perhaps best of all niceties, however, Stepway's exhaustive online help, with its highlighted hypertextual keywords, means you'll never need the manuals. The 11 flimsy leaflets would profit from three-ring binding, though their internal layout proves logical enough.
Step One promises more Stepway modules; hopefully, a file-conversion or import utility and a slicker word processor will be among them. For now, minor failings such as these shouldn't stop anyone in the market for a multipurpose home-computing solution. After all, where else can you get all of the above and screen savers, too?