Compute Choice Awards. (25 best 1993 computer hardware and software products) (Cover Story)
by Robert Bixby
Each year, COMPUTE honors the best hardware and software products with the COMPUTER Choice Awards. From the hundreds of products we see annually, we select the finest in 25 categories. Every year, it gets harder to choose the finalists and winners, because the overall quality of hardware and software products is improving. Because of our lead time, each year's awards also cover products released at the very end of the previous year.
What does it take to be a COMPUTE Choice Award finalist? I always know when it's time to start picking them because I start getting phone calls from publicists asking how they're selected. Here's how it's done. We contact a few dozen people whose opinions we value--writers, editors, computer enthusiasts, industry watchers--and ask what they've seen lately that really blew them away. Some respond enthusiastically with only one or two recommendations. Others reply with several recommendations in every category. We look over the lists, make sure the products meet the editors' qualifications, and set about narrowing the list. In other words, every product listed here, whether a finalist of a COMPUTE Choice Award recipient, is a winner.
The changes from other years include a heavier reliance on Windows as the operating system of choice. Less and less outstanding software is originating in DOS. More products, like Claris Works and Lotus Improv, are challenging the existing metaphors and seeking out new ways of visualizing and working with information.
In some areas, the race seems to be tightening considerably among the major contenders. I laptop computers, graphics, and desktop publishing, for example, you will see familiar names and faces from years past. But while the distinctions among products in some areas become clearer, in other areas (operating systems and environments, for example) the waters just seem to be getting muddier.
All of this is great news for software junkies. Instead of one right way of doing things, you will find many divergent ways of getting work done and having fun on your computer.
Microsoft Word for Windows 6.0
Microsoft Word for Windows has always been king of the hill in Windows word processors. With Ami Pro and WordPerfect for Windows, both of which are excellent products, the competition's hot, but for our money, Word for Windows 6.0 is still the one to beat.
WinWord made the toolbar famous, and since the features accessed by its toolbar are at the heart of the program, let's take a quick toolbar tour. Going from left to right, you'll find buttons for opening and saving files; printing; print preview; checking your spelling; cutting, copying, pasting, and format painting; undoing and redoing; autoformatting; inserting tables; setting columns; entering drawing mode; inserting charts; showing special symbols; zooming; and calling help.
WinWord 2.0 fans will recognize several important additions in the toolbar list. The format paint button can copy formats from one paragraph to another. Undo and redo offer multiple levels, unlike the single undo in 2.0. Autoformat takes your data and formats everything from paragraphs to characters based on a style you select. The drawing button actually turns WinWord into a graphics program, which lets you draw right on the page. And the zoom tool is a combo box that lets you specify almost any scaling for your pages.
Below this toolbar you'll find the ribbon, with options for style, font, character styles (bold, italic, and underline), justification, and so on. In addition, you'll find five other toolbars you can use, customize, and display at your option.
You won't see this feature on the toolbar, but WinWord 6.0 has a built-in autocorrection module that automatically changes typos like THe to The and receive to receive. You can edit the correction dictionary to cope with your own idiosyncratic typing errors and turn this feature on or off.
Having thoroughly researched user's wants and needs, Microsoft sets a new standard in word processing with Word for Windows 6.0, a product that's amazingly powerful, intelligent, and well designed.
Microsoft Word for Windows 6.0 (Microsoft)
Claris Works (Claris)
Word Perfect 5.2 for Windows (WordPerfect)
WordPerfect 6.0 for DOS (WordPerfect)
Quattro Pro for Windows 5.0
The spreadsheet war continues to escalate. Each new version of the most popular spreadsheets adds features and ease of use. In a tight race this year, Lotus 1-2-3 for Windows Release 4 ran a close second, earning itself an honorable mention, but Quattro Pro for Windows 5.0 came out on top, the winner both because of its unheard-of introductory price of $49.95 (the product will be regularly priced at $99.95).
We've always liked Quattro's notebook feature and its easy-to-use SpeedBar. This new version has added more SpeedBars (which can be available or hidden). Borland has added a SpeedBar Designer so you can create your own SpeedBars using built-in or custom controls. The new spelling checker (available on the $495 Quattro Pro for Workgroups version) is also a nice feature. The spelling checker suggests words and lets you build custom dictionaries--a feature we've always wanted on our spreadsheets.
Getting help with Quattro has been made more convenient, particularly as the number of items available on the SpeedBar increases. In addition to the instant help that appears when you move the pointer over an icon, Borland has included what it calls Object Help. With Object Help it's easy to get more information about each item by simply pointing and clicking. If the short help isn't enough, just click on the Help button that appears, and you'll receive more in-depth information. It's all very convenient, and it takes us one step closer to not needing the manual.
Quattro Pro for Windows excels as an easy-to-use spreadsheets for beginners, but it's also a powerful, complex tool for those who need a full-featured number-cruncher.
Quattro Pro for Windows 5.0 (Borland International)
Lotus Improv (Lotus Development)
Lotus 1-2-3 for Windows Release 4 (Lotus Development)
Paradox for Windows 1.0
Paradox for Windows is a beautifully designed database program that has something for beginners and pros alike. With its intuitive design tools, tyros can get databases up and running quickly without writing a line of code, and pros have a powerful builtin language at their disposal for demanding tasks.
When you run Paradox for the first time, you'll see what looks like a typical Windows application with a menu bar and a toolbar (Borland calls its toolbar a SpeedBar) with buttons for opening a table, form, query, report, script, or library, as well as ones for opening a folder and adding and deleting folder items.
Forms are the heart of most databases, and designing a form in Paradox for Windows is a pleasure. You can move and resize all of a form's fields, and more important, you can change a field's properties by simply right-clicking on it. When you do, you'll see a pop-up menu with a list of entries, each of which is a cascading menu, so choosing one calls a submenu.
Paradox for Windows' main competition in databaseland is Microsoft Access, and the two have been battling head to head for about a year. Both are superb programs with excellent design tools, both are easy to use, and both were COMPUTE Choice Award finalists. Our decision for the best database came down to a choice between these two tools, and because of its innovative design, Paradox edged out Access, which still rates an honorable mention. In fact, Paradox for Windows is so well built that it's actually fun to use.
Paradox for Windows 1.0 (Borland International)
Approach 2.1 (Lotus Development)
FoxPro for Windows (Microsoft)
Microsoft Access for Windows (Microsoft)
SuperBase 2.0 (Software Publishing)
Q & A for Windows 4.0 (Symantec)
WinFax Pro 3.0
In just a few short years, we've become accustomed to faxing from our computers. It's remarkable that we take it for granted--that working as a fax machine should be just another function of our computers. Much of the credit should go to Delrina for its WinFax Pro.
First released in January 1991, WinFax has remained the most popular PC-based fax program and is still the best overall. The current incarnation, WinFax Pro 3.0, adds annotation and drawing tools (allowing you to mark up faxes with text and graphics), OCR (using Caere's AnyFax pattern recognition technology and a built-in spelling checker), fax document management (letting you categorize, compress, save, sort, and search both incoming and outgoing faxes), an improved phone book (offering a variety of description fields, as well as import from and export to common file formats), a cover-page designer (supporting both the Windows Clipboard and OLE), image processing (featuring antialiasing technology and random noise cleanup), scanner support (including TWAIN compatibility), and Cover-Your-Fax (providing 100 professionally drawn cover pages).
Despite all the features, WinFax Pro 3.0 is still easy to use. After a relatively painless installation, you simply switch to the WinFax printer driver and print your document as though you were sending it to a printer. WinFax intercepts the data and sends it to your fax/data modem. It's that simple.
An honorable mention goes to Crosstalk for Windows 2.0, an already-strong Windows-based communications program with a greatly improved interface. (For a complete review of Crosstalk for Windows 2.0, see the October 1993 COMPUTE.)
WinFax Pro 3.0 (Delrina)
American Online for Windows (America Online)
WinCIM 1.0 (CompuServe)
Crosstalk for Windows 2.0 (DCA)
InterNAV (General Videotex0
Eclipse Fax (Phoenix Technology)
ImagiNation (Sierra On-Line)
Norton PC Anywhere for Windows 1.0 (Symantec) DataFAX for Windows (Trio Information Systems)
Quicken 3.0 for Widows
Quicken for DOs was a big hit, and Quicken for Windows is even better. In fact, Quicken 3.0 for Windows is the best financial management program we've seen.
Quicken is a personal financial manager that, at its heart, is a checkbook program that both manages your checkbook and prints checks. It does these things extremely well, but there's much more to Quicken 3.0. It can track you investments and manage credit card accounts and trusts, to name just a few accounts; and it can print reports that include net worth, budgets, income and expenses, and cash flow. It also keeps track of tax-deductible contributions, and it can serve as an accounting package for most small businesses. Add-on modules like Quick Invoice and Quicken Companion can handle everything from home inventory management to invoice generation, printing, and tracking.
Quicken's MDI sports a colorful toolbar with buttons for commonly used tasks. Each module presents lots of information, but the forms are so well designed that they're easy to grasp and use. And data entry is easy because almost everywhere the program anticipates what you want to do by searching incrementally and intelligently filling in fields.
Quicken 3.0 keeps its predecessors' motto of Safety First, saving your data with each entry. And it encourages you to back up your files. Add to this the ability to remind you of payments due, the best data entry forms in the business, and an interface that improves with each release, and you have an excellent program.
Quicken 3.0 for Windows (Intuit)
Kiplinger's CA-Simply Money 1.0 (Computer Associates)
Microsoft Money (Microsoft)
Peachtree Accounting for Windows 2.0 (Peachtree Software)
PC Tools for Windows
Central Point's PC Tools for Windows is bigger and sleeker (and more expensive) than its DOS version. It contains replacements for the Windows desktop and File Manager, a backup program, data recovery for trashed disks or files, an antivirus utility, a system analyzer, a disk optimizer, and a scripting language similar to BASIC. A scheduling program and some wildly creative but undocumented screen savers are thrown in for good measure.
Multidesk, the program's replacement for the Windows desktop, contains some of the best features to be found in the product. It's arguably easier to learn and use than Program Manager, and it's deminstrably superior. The best features are Quick-Launcher and multiple desktops. QuickLauncher lets you add and program or folder names to the System menu and launch them from there, sort of like desk accessories on the Macintosh.
ScriptTools, the package's macro language, is the best such Windows script language I've seen. PC Tools has a whole range of file recovery programs. The installation process gives file recovery top priority. PC Tools for Windows gives you a really big bang for the buck.
A close contender for the COMPUTE Choice Award for the best utility was Stacker 3.1. An answer for many during the difficult days following the release of DOS 6, Stacker 3.1 served to replace DoubleSpace with a faster, friendlier (and some would say safer) alternative. It's difficult to make a decision between two products so powerful and so different, but since PC Tools for Windows provides a much wider range of ultilities than Stacker 3.1, we felt the Central Point Software product should receive the award and Stacker 3.1 an honorable mention. Both are excellent products, however. (A review of PC Tools for Windows can be found in the November 1993 COMPUTE. Stacker 3.1 was reviewed in the October 1993 COMPUTE and discussed in "Data Under Pressure" in the same issue.)
PC Tools for Windows (Central Point Software)
Pizazz Plus 4.0 (Application Techniques)
NETROOM 3 (Helix)
Dashboard for Windows (Hewlett-Packard)
Collage Complete (Inner Media)
Transom (Metro Software)
DynoPage 1.0 (Portfolio)
QEMM 7.01 (Quarterdeck Office Systems)
Stacker 3.1 (STAC Electronics)
Personal Information Manager
I can't imagine life without Ascend. There are very few programs I can say that about, but Ascend is definitely one. If fact, it's probably my most important tool. Ascend is a Windows-based personal information manager, or PIM. And like most PIMs, it manages diverse types of information, including a prioritized daily task list, an appointment schedule, calenders, a master task list, a telephone and address book, a journal, a database and much more.
Ascend was developed by Franklin Quest, a time management consulting company that has been teaching time management techniques and selling paper-based Franklin Planners for years. The Franklin method is based on a top-down approach to time and task management with the final goal of inner peace, something most of us feel is not only worthy and desirable, but seemingly unattainable.
Ascend's interface is a joy to use. It's a colorful MDI appliction, with windows for each module. To make navigating these modules easy, there's a button bar with one button for each module. You can customize this button bar and determine which button g on the bat and in what order.
One of 4.0's best features is drag and drop. You can drag and drop data between most modules, and most modules also support OLE. In addition, Ascend can make beautiful printouts of your task list, appointments, notes and more on Franklin Day Planner paper or regular-size laser paper.
An honorable mention in this category goes to Arabesque's ECCO. It has an innovative design based on outlines and is both powerful and easy to use. But with features galore, power to burn, and its intuitive interface, Ascend wins by a hair. (A full review of Ascend 4.0 can be found in the May 1993 issue of COMPUTE.)
Ascend 4.0 (Franklin Quest)
ECCO Professional (Arabesque Software)
ManagePro 2.0 for Windows (Advantos Performance Systems)
Sharkware 1.0 (CogniTech)
Lotus Organizer 1.1 (Lotus Development)
Info Select for Windows (Micro Logic)
PackRat 5.0 (Polaris)
Microsoft Visual C++
Visual C++ is an elegant development environment that comes with a host of superb programming tools. The heart of the system is visual Workbench, which is the Windows-based integrated environment. It boasts a toolbar for quick access to common commands; a syntax-highlighting editor; and a Tool Menu, to which you can add your own commands.
Another key tool is App Studio, which you can use to edit all your resources, including dialog boxes, icons, cursors, menus, and bitmaps. The next two major Visual C++ tools are specifically for C++ programmers: AppWizard, which is a program generator, and ClassWizard, which handles all the red tape associated with managing classes and message maps. All of these tools are more than just excellent modules; they're very well integrated adn exceptionally easy to use.
Often the key to successful development is a first-rate debugger, and here, Visual C++ shines. There's an integrated debugger, which will suffice for most tasks, plus a special Windows edition of CodeView for heavy-duty jobs.
The thing that really won me over to Visual C++, however, was the small executables it produced. The development environment is important, but code quality is the supreme test of a compiler, and Visual C++ is tops in this category. Visual C++ really is next-generation programming.
Microsoft Visual C++ (Microsoft)
RoboHELP 2.0 (Blue Sky Software)
Borland C++ for OS/2 (Borland International)
Microsoft Developers' Network CD (Microsoft)
Microsoft Visual Basic 3.0 (Microsoft)
WinScope 101 (The Periscope Company)
Professional Desktop Publishing
Aldus PageMaker 5.0
Pagemaker 5.0 reclaims the venerable program's position as king of the desktop publishing hill. The latest release addresses nearly every complaint that users had about earlier versions, as well as adding a host of new features.
Gone are the quirks, such as problems with some high-color modes and a menu that would handle only a limited number of fonts. Added is a powerful suite of new features and an improved interface than can make page layout easier than ever. Whether you're publishing a church bulletin or a national magazine, you'll find this newest PageMaker has the capabilities you need.
The biggest improvement in PageMaker 5.0 is its ability to open multiple publications simulataneously, allowing you to compare documents or drag and drop elements between them. Aldus Additions is a set of macros that add functions such as automatic drop caps, running headers and footers, booklet generation, and page sorting; a new macro language lets you create your own Additions.
A floating control palette changes as you change modes, always keeping the most appropriate tools a mouse click away. You can now rotate and skew text and graphics, giving you new flexibility. And no more boring black-and-white: PageMaker 5.0 has built-in support for creating process color separations and includes a variety of color libraries from PANTONE, Trumatch, and others.
The program now has nore than 40 import filters, and PANOSE font-matching technology makes for trouble-free file exchange with other users of the Windows and Mac versions of the program.
PageMaker was almost knocked out of the ring by QuarkXPress, but version 5.0 brings it back punching. (A review of PageMaker 5.0 can be found in the October 1993 COMPUTE.)
Aldus PageMaker 5.0 (Aldus)
QuarkXPress for Windows 3.1 (Quark)
Harvard Graphics for Windows 2.0 (Software Publishing)
WordPerfect Presentations 2.0 for DOS (WordPerfect)
Personal Desktop Publishing
Microsoft Publisher 2.0
You can pay more money and get more features (PageMaker 5.0) or even pay less money and get more features (PagePlus) but you can't buy a desktop publishing program that's easier to use than Microsoft Publisher 2.0.
Most desktop publishing programs are so hard to use that people spend hours designing a simple newsletter or brochure. Publisher's PageWizards can design your newsletter, brochures, banners, greeting cards, and business forms for you; all you do is choose the appropriate options. For example, to design a brochure, you might choose modern style, side-fold, pictuture on the front, and mailed, and Publisher takes care of the rest.
In addition, Publisher includes a new online adviser, called Cue Cards, which provides step-by-step design help with the click of a mouse, and Quick Demos, which provides onscreen demonstrations of a variety of desktop publishing tasks.
This latest version of Publisher has greatly improved typography (you can now hypernate text and wrap text around graphic objects) and a more powerful Word Art (you can now use this stand-alone special-effects type program with any TrueType font). It's also the first Microsoft application, other than Visual Basic, to support OLE. 2.0.
Microsoft Publisher 2.0 ships with 17 PageWizard design assistants, 35 professionally designed templates, 20 TrueType fonts, 100 border designs, and 125 clip art images. Its power and ease of use make Publisher a great way to get started with desktop publishing.
An honorable mention goes to PagePlus. Although this program's price fits into the Personal Desktop Publishing category, its feature set makes it a real contender in the professsional arena. (See this monthhs "Productivity Choice" for an in-depth lock.)
Microsoft Publisher 2.0 (Microsoft)
Corel has begun an ambitious effort to upgrade its previous version on the market for sake at a discounted price. This is both extremely generous band extremely savvy. Any unsold copies of the previous version can be cleared from the distribution channel while a completely revamped version is introduced. Corel has proven itself generous and savvy throughout the reign of CorelDRAW! as the top-selling Windows illustration and desgin software, and version 4.0 is no exception.
Corel is intent on pulling light years ahead of its competition. Despite the addtion of new fractal fills and powerlines, CorelDRAW! 4.0 does't represent a massive overhaul of last year's 3.0 version, but throughout the programm you can find important improvements. Each of its companion programmers has also gone through an evolutionary change--adding and reorganizing in a general housekeeping effort.
One completely new feature in the package is CorelDRAW!, an animation product that makes creating animated panels for your CorelDRAW! presentations much simpler.
CorelDRAW! added pages, allowing you to create a publication of up to 999 pages. This makes CorelDRAW! the most graphically intensive desktop publishing package ever. Among its many other attibutes, the package has a graphical database and text editor (inside CorelDRAW!, including thesaurus and spelling checker) and a spreadsheet (within CorelCHART!). These enhancements put CorelDRAW! in competition in virtually every other software arena.
CorelDRAW! 4.0 (Corel)
Fractal Design Painter 2.0 (Fractal Design)
Morph for Windows (Gryphon Software)
Ist Design (GST Software)
Graphics Works (Micrografx)
Micrografx Designer 4.0 (Micrografx)m
Pixar One Twenty eight (Pixar)
Typestry for Windows (Pixar)
ImagePals (U-Lead Systems)
Nobody won. Put yourself in our place. Considering all of the problems people had with DOS 6 and th fact that there were only a few improvements over DOS 5 (and most of those in the form of utilities), we felt that we couldn't in good conscience give it the COMPUTE Choice Award. A new version of DOS 6 looms in the near future, but it's too late to give it the thoroughgong testing we'd require tio make sure it didn't have problems as bad as (or worse than) the current version.
To be fair, the problems DOS 6 experienced were generally as a result of improper use of perfectly functional utilities and commands. However, a modern operating system shouldn't lead a user into a quagmire.
GeoWorks Ensemble 2.0 is a huge improvement in features and power over its predecessor, but it has been an insular environment with applications lacking the kind of innovation third-pary developers would bring. It was designed for trailing-edge machines, and its makers no longer seem interested in competing head to head with windows.
Windows NT and NetWare 4.0 are network operating systems of limited interest at most to a majority of our readers.
OS/2 2.1 has proven itself to be a favorite of techies, at last living up to its claim of being a better Windows than Windows and a better DOS than DOS (see "Personal Productivity" in this issue for a user-oriented review of this operating system), but there's a dark cloud on the horizon. Microsoft is now free to make alternations in DOS and Windows that will make future applications incompatible with OS/2. So, while version 2.1 is fairly cmpatible with DOS 6 and windows 3.1, it looks like a long game of catch-game for OS/2 and its users in the future.
Though we decline to choose an operating system or environment for the COMPUTE Choice Award, you shouldn't hesitate to employ any of these products for your personal use, as appropriate to your equipment and your work.
GEOWorks Ensemble 2.0 (GEOWorks)
OS/2 2.1 (IBM)
DOS 6 (Microsoft)
Windows NT (Microsoft)
NetWare 4.0 (Novell)
Our winner in this category is the Dell 466/M. But as often happens in the computer industry, that model was superseded after less than a year on the market. However, its replacement, the Dell OptiPlex 466/MX, embodies all the qualities that made the 466/M a COMPUTE Choice Award winner--and packs some new innovations as well.
The blazing 486DX2/66 system was the fastest that we tested in our recent 486 Test Lab, and its local-bus video turned in one of the fastest 3D-Bench results we've ever seen. We chose the Dell 466/M because it sported a top-of-the-line feature set at a midrange price. Along with its fast processor, it also has an easily updatable Flash-ROM BIOS; automatic port sensing (if you plug in a modern card at COM2, for instance, it will remap the second motherboard port to be COM3); a case which can be opened without a screwdiver; five open slots and five drive bays, allowing for plenty of expansions; and sockets for 72-pin SIMMs, which greatly simplify RAM expansions. Dell will install adn configure any software and peripherals you purchase with the system, making it a great plug-and-play solution for the novice PC user.
The 466/MX has lightining-fast motherboard-based local-bus video, just like the 466/M. However, it also has two VL slots for upgrading video or for installing VL-Bus peripherals. It also sports an upgradable case, so you can purchase the slimline, three-slot model and upgrade it the full-size five-slot setup. Although it's not the least expensive system you'll find, you'll have a hard time finding one better built or better supported.
Dell 466/M (Dell Computer)
Evolution IV (ALR)
Quadra 840AV (Apple)
Gateway 2000 4DX2/66V (Gateway 2000)
OmniBook 300 and Gateway 2000 Handbook 486
The OmniBook 300 sounds almost too good to be true: a notebook computer that runs Windows, Word for Windows, and Excel from a ROM card; weighs only 2.9 pounds; and gets an incredible nine hours of battery life with continuous use. It even includes a built-in mouse that pops out when needd and slides back for traveling. It's the closest thing yet to a road warrior's dream machine.
The trade-off is a non-backlit screen. Fortunately, it's one of the best reflective LCD screens around. In bright to moderately bright light, you shouldn't have any trouble reading it, but in extremely dim light, you'll have to refrain from computing altogether or seek out the nearest light.
The OmniBook comes in two models: one with a 40MB hard drive and one with a 10Mb Flash-RAM card. Both storage devices are automatically compressed by the built-in DoubleSpace compression (essentially doubling the capacity of either card), and both are PCMCIA cards (making them easy to upgrade later on). The hard drive model gives you more storage (80MB versus 20MB) for less money ($1,950 versus $2,375), but the Flash-RAM model can run as long as nine hours on the OmniBook's rechargeable battery, as well as run from ordinary alkaline AA batteries. The hard disk model can run as long as five hours on the rechargeable battery or use four lithium AA batteries.
The OmniBook is nothing short of a technical marvel, with its light weight, compact size, all-PCMCIA storage, and small hideaway mouse. If you cann live with the nonbacklit screen, the OmniBook is the state of the art for high-tech traveling. (A review of the OmniBook can be found in the October 1993 COMPUTE.)
Last year, Gateway introduced the Handbook, packing a C & T PC-CHIP processor, a 40MB hard drive, and a backlit screen in a 2.9-pound package. Its portability made it an instant hit, but is CGA screen and 286-compatible processor were underwhelming in a market that had standardized on VGA and was already giving up on the 386.
Gateway responded with the Handbook 486, which maintains the original Handbook's 2.9-pound weight and compact 9.75- x 5.9- x 1.6-inch size, but gives you the computing power you expect on a desktop. This subnotebook is available in two models, one with a 25-MHz Sl-enhanced 486SX and an 80MB hard drive fo $1,495 and a portable powerhouse with a 40-MHz SL-enhanced 486DX2 chip and a 130MB drive for $1,995.
The Handbook 486 has a 7.9-inch backlit VGA display; a PCMCIA Type II slot; parallel, serial, and PS/2 ports; and a small stick-type pointing device next to the keyboard. The keyboard is almost full-size, only an inch smaller than a typical AT keyboard, and has a quiet touch that lets you takes notes almost anywhere.
Both models ship with 4MB of RAM, expandable to 20MB. No floppy drive is included, but a transfer cable is included for use with Interink and your desktop PC.
The Handbook 486 and HP OmniBook 300 are both award-deserving portables. The Handbook has 486 power, a backlit screen, and more storage; the OmniBook has incredible battery life and the innovative pop-out mouse. With choices like these, the real winner is you.
OmniBook 300 (Hewlett-Packard)
Gateway 200 Handbook 486 (Gateway 2000)
Canon NoteJet (Canon)
Compaq Contura (Compaq)
Gateway 2000 Colorbhook (Gateway 2000)
Thinkpad 720C (IBM)
WinBook (Micro Electronics)
NCR 3150 (NCR)
UltraLite Versa 2.5C (NEC Technologies)
Satellite T 1900C (Toshiba)
Sound Blaster DigitalEdge CD and Fusion DoubleCD-16
Less than a month after the Multimdedia PC Marketing Council announced the new Level 2 MPC specifications, both Media Vision and Creative Labs introduced inexpensive Level 2 upgrade kits. In keeping with the Level 2 specs, both include a 16-bit sound card capable of recording and playing back CD-quality sound, as well as a double-speed CD-ROM drive that can play Kodak Photo CDs. Both upgrade kits are terrific buys, so we decided to let them share the award for the best multimedia hardware.
Creative Labs' Sound Blaster DigitalEdge CD includes a Sound Blaster 16 ASP, a double-speed multisession CD-ROM drive, The Software Toolworks Multimedia Encyclopedia, Microsoft Bookshelf, Macromedia Action!, a microphone, and speakers. Media Vision's Fusion DoubleCD-16 includes a Pro AudioSpectrum 16 sound card, a double-speed NEC CD-ROM drive (model 55J). Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia for Windows, Battle Chess Enhanced, Arthur's Teacher Trouble, and The 7th Guest.
How do you choose between them? It depends on what you need in an upgrade kit. If price is important, you're more likely to get a better deal with the Fusion DoubleCD-16, which lists for $699.00 (internal) and $799.00 (external), as compared to the DigitalEdge kit, which lists for $999.95 (internal). On the other hand, if you prefer a CD-ROM drive that doesn't need a caddy, need the microphone and speakers, and would like the option of upgrading your sound card to General MIDI, you might want to choose the Creative Labs package. The selection of CD-ROM titles might also sway your vote one way or the other.
Either way you'll be ready for the more powerful Level 2 multimedia applications that will be appearing in 1994.
Sound Blaster DitigalEdge CD (Creative Labs) Fusion DoubleCD-16 (Media Vision)
UltraSound (Advanced Gravis)
Pro 16 Multimedia System (Media Vision)
MultiSpin 74-1 CD-ROM (NEC Technologies)
Pioneer 4x Speed Multiple CD Changer (Pioneer)
Hello! Music (Yamaha)
YST-M10 Speakers (Yamaha)
Video Toaster 4000
NewTek's original Video Toaster helped bring professional desktop video to the masses. The new Video Toaster 4000 literally brings Hollywood special-effects capabilities to the desktop.
The Video Toaster 400 is a large expansion card that fits in a Commodore Amiga 4000 computer. The system can be run as a stand-alone or interfaced with your Windows or Mac system using NewTek's ToasterLink software. The board sports a 35-ns character generator, two broadcast-quality high-resolution 24-bit frame buffers, a four-input production video switcher, and a still store/frame grabber.
The Toaster's toolkit offers everything you'll need to create impressive--or, if you're not careful, garish--videos. The Digital Video Effects (DVE) generator can wrap video on objects, and flip, spin, tumble, or warp live video. Most impressive are the animated wipes, which lets you use, for example, an animated golfer's swing to transition between two video sources.
But the biggest selling point of the Video Toaster 4000 is LightWave 3D 3.0, the incredible 3-D rendering program that's available only with the Toaster. Rather than trying to describe all its capabilities--such as haze, underwater effects, detailed texture mapping, and even lens-flares--I'll instead suggest you watch the TV programs "SeaQuest DSV" and "Babylon 5." Both shows use LightWave-generated special effects instead of traditional models.
For under $6,000 ($2,395 if you already have an Amiga system), you can own a special-effect system that's good enough for prime time. If the COMPUTE Choice Award isn't enough to convince you that this is the desktop video system of choice, consider this: In 1993 the Video Toaster won an Emmy Award for technical excellence.
Video Toaster 4000 (NewTek)
MGA (Matrox Electronic Systems)
Hewlett-Packard LaserJet 4
Hewlett-Packard consistently offers great printers at incredible prices, and the LaserJet 4 is no exception. It's the best LaserJet ever, and it's the best value Hewlett-Packard has offered so far. With a suggested retail price of $1,759 (if you look around, you can find one for around $1,400), the LaserJet 4 weighs in at $200 less than the LaserJet III. For that price, the LaserJet 4 gives you four times the resolution, 37 more fonts, much improved print quality, and over twice the speed. If you need PostScript, you can have it for the $499 price of the PostScript Level II upgrade.
Just when you thought printers couldn't get any faster, Hewlett-Packard comes through again. The company's Printer Command Language 5 (PCL 5), the language used in LaserJet IIIs and 4s, is already faster than most other languages--especially the popular PostScript. But the addition of the TrueType font rasterizer and Windows TrueType fonts mean that you don't have to wait for your computer to download fonts.
The LaserJet 4 comes with one of the fastest processors in the business: Intel's 20-MHz 80960 RISC processor It also has increased data compression so less data has to be channeled. Hewlett-Packard's new BiTronic bidirectional port transfers data at up to 156 Kilobytes per second. The only thing that will hold back the LaserJet 4 is the speed of your computer. (A complete review of the Hewlett-Packard LaserJet 4 can be found in the August 1993 COMPUTE.)
Hewlett-Packard LaserJet 4 (Hewlett-Packard)
Primera (Fargo Electronics)
Hewlett-Packard DeskJet 1200C (Hewlett-Packard)
Hewlett-Packard LaserJet 4L (Hewlett-Packard)
Smart One 1442FX
Best Data Products' Smart One 1442FX fax/data modem earns its COMPUTE Choice Award by packing superior performance at a bargain price. Based on the popular Rockwell modem chip set, the 1442FX provides 14,400-bps transfers in both fax and data modes. It supports all of the popular error correction and data compression modes, such as V.32bis and CCITT V.17 fax protocol. Connected to a similar modem, the 1442FX can manage transfers of up to 57,600 bps when transferring raw text with compression active. That's 192 times faster than a 300-bps modem.
The sturdy white plastic case is of the "sit under the phone" variety; it sports eight status lights on the front. At just under two pounds with power connector. It's light enough to pack along with your laptop (and it's much less expensive than battery-powered pocket modems of similar capability).
Although the modem retails for $319, it can be found for well under $200 at discount retailers. At that price, can you afford not to upgrade to 14,400-bps speed?
Smart One 1442FX (Best Data Products)
PCMCIA Modem with X Jack (Megahertz)
MD-5024 CD-ROM Drive (Texel)
Star Control II
Some games are like Tetris. In just a few minutes, you can learn the rules and know 80 percent of what you need to know in order to play. The rest is refining the rules are gaining the physical dexterity to carry them out.
Star Control II is an altogether different kind of game. With over 500 star systems and 3000 planets to explore and 18 alien races to converse with, this is no challenge-you-to-a-game-or-two-over-the-lunch-break kind of game. If you like intricately involved plots with rich details that have to be plotted on paper, this is the game for you.
It also helps if you enjoy science fiction. Star Control II is the best attempt, so far, at putting an epic science-fiction novel onto disk. No other program conveys as well with complexity of space travel and the variety of life forms we're likely to encounter when we begin to venture beyond the confines of our own neighborhood.
How does it play as a game? Despite the complexity--or perhaps because of it--you're drawn into the narrative. The graphics and sound are greatly improved over those in the original 1990 version. The arcade elements are well integrated and very playable. The bonus game, Super Melee, adds to the combat side of the scenario of aliens as either friends or foes.
This year, an honorable mention goes to Novalogic's Comanche Maximum Overkill, which features some of the most realistic ploygon graphics this side of Hollywood. (Comanche Maximum Overkill is discussed in "Going Vertical" in COMPUTE, June 1993.)
Star Control II (Accolade)
Prince of Persia 2 (Broderbund Software)
The Lost Vikings (Interplay Productions)
Microsoft Arcade Pack (Microsoft)
Comanche Maximum Overkill (Novalogic)
Lemmings 2: The Tribes (Psygnosis)
Flashback (Strategic Simulations)
Microsoft Flight Simulator 5.0
Chances are that you've seen or played Microsoft Flight Simulator. It has long been one of the most popular entertainment programs for the PC. but this is a new dawn for flight simulators. Version 5.0 takes the realistic flight characteristics of earlier releases and adds photorealist Super VGA scenery.
The game now runs in either 320 x 400 or 640 x 480, 256-color modes. The graphics are nothing short or spectacular--glancing at the instrument panel, you's swear that you were looking at live video from inside a Cessna. Things look much better outside the plane as well, with smooth, Gouraud-shaded aircraft and incredibly detailed scenery. This version actually wraps digitized pictures onto the scenery--taking off from Chicago's Meigs field is one of the most realistic experiences you'll encounter on today's PCs.
Sound has been improved as well, with digitized sound support for popular 8- and 16-bit sound cards. Even the skies have been upgraded, with beautiful organe gradient sunsets and clouds that gradually sunsets and clouds that gradually flicker into existence as you fly into them.
This isn't a shoot-'em-up game--most of the fun here is really learning how to fly a plane and in simply flying around and looking at the pretty scenery. And there's plenty to choose from, with New York and Paris scenery disks from Microsoft and many others coming soon from Mallard. So take off, eh?
Microsoft Flight Simulator 5.0 (Microsoft)
Aces Over Europe (Dynamix)
Car and Driver (Electronic Arts)
Buzz Aldrin's Race into Space (Interplay Productions)
X-Wing (LucasArts Games)
El Fish (Maxis Software)
SimCity 2000 (Maxis Software)
Empire Deluxe (New World Computing)
Rules of Engagement 2 (Omnitrend)
Strike Commander (Origin)
Fantasy Roleplaying Adventure Game
Betrayal at Krondor
A captivating story line, fantastic graphics, and special effects make Betrayal at Krondor, Dynamix's first attempt at fantasy role-playing, tower above the genre. Based on Raymond E. Feist's Riftware series, the game picks up where Feist's latest book, Darkness at Sethanon, ends. It uses many of the recurring characters and locations from the series, so those familiar with the series will immediately fall into the action.
This complex, character-rich story unfolds as a series of nine individual chapters, the plot advancing only upon completion of specific goals in each one. These miniquests vary in size, difficulty, and clarity of mission. Segmenting the story this way gives great range to the gameplay--it's as if you're getting nine adventures in one.
Unlike in traditional role-playing games, you inherit full-bodied characters with unique personalities, rich pasts, and hopefully, prosperous futures. Rather than control every fiber of their beings, you merely make decisions--their overall strength of character determines whether the results of their actions will be positive.
Those acquainted with Feist's complex fantasy world will have trouble following the flood of characters, race names, and locations. The manual helps, but Feist's prose is so thick with atmosphere and imagination that jumping headfirst into the fray can be overwhelming. Once you understand the background, you can really appreciate this game. Fired by literary passion and uncommon intelligence, Betrayal at Krondor approaches a new level of realism and enjoyment for computer fantasy role-playing games. (See this month's "Entertainment Choice" for a full review of Betrayal at Krondor.)
LucasArts' magnificient Day of the Tentacle, a B-movie science-fiction parody that skirts the lunatic fringe of comedy adventure, received an honorable mention in this category. (Look for a full review of Day of the Tentacle in this issue of COMPUTE.)
Betrayal at Krondor (Dynamix)
Syndicate (Electronic Arts)
Alone in the Dark (Interplay Productions)
Eric the Unready (Legend Entertainment)
Day on the Tentacle (LucasArts Games)
Might and Magic: Darkside of Xeen (New World Computing)
Inca (Sierra On-Line)
King's Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow (Sierra On-Line) Fables & Friends: Legend of Kyrandia, Book I (Virgin Games)
The 7th Guest (Virgin Games)
The smell of tires burning--that's all that's missing from IndyCar Racing. The texture-mapped graphics in this driving game are incredibly realistic, down to the decals on the cars and the skid marks on the curves.
You race on the streets of the Long Beach Gran Prix, the oval of Michigan International Speedway, and a number of other tracks, against wellknown race drivers. Rain, wind, and air temperature all affect car handling. If you want to get your hands greasy, you can custom-tune your own car in the dyno-equipped garage. Beginner features such the best line through curves will get you started; then you can switch to full realism for a serious challenge. Once you perfect your skills, you can play a human opponent over a modem connection.
After the race is over (or after a spectacular crash complete with wisps of smoke), you can watch a video replay. This game has more replay options than "Wide World of Sports"--there are views from an overhead blimp, cameras around the track, the car's cockpit, and even the front wheel of the car.
With smooth gameplay, realistic graphics, great sound, and incredible attention to detail, IndyCar Racing captures the checkered flag with ease.
IndyCar Racing (Papyrus Publishing)
Links Banff Springs Course (Access Software)
Front Page Sports Football Deluxe (Dynamix)
Jordan in Flight (Electronic Arts)
World Circuit (MicroProse
Microsoft Golf--Multimedia Version (Microsoft)
Tony La Russa Baseball II (Strategic Simulations)
Arthur's Teacher Trouble
Arthur's Teacher Trouble brings Marc Brown's children's book to the computer screen with musical accompaniment, interesting animated effects, and a voice to tell the story.
Although the product is aimed at readers aged 6 to 10, you can have the story read. In that case you see the text from Brown's story highlighted onscreen as it's read in Arthur's voice. Children can read along, recognize the words, and follow the animated action as Arthur and his friends struggle through Mr. Ratburn's third-grade class and prepare for the school's big September Spell-a-thon.
All this happens when you choose to play inside the story. Doing so takes you to an interactive mode which brings the elements onscreen to life when you click on them. Each screen is a page out of Brown's book, and the animated illustrations fairly duplicate those in the small bound copy included with the software.
At every turn, the reader gets introduced to subtle humor and imaginative activities that will delight children and charm adults. Arthur teaches as it entertains and lets children become players in the storybooks they read.
The innovation and kid-oriented fun of Snap Dragon from MECC earned it an honorable mention in this category.
Arthur's Teacher Trouble (Broderbund Software)
Just Grandma and Me (Broderbund Software)
Kid Pix (Broderbund Software)
Bailey's Book House (Edmark)
Millie's Math House (Edmark)
Scooter Magic Castle (Electronic Arts)
Fatty Bear's Birthday Surprise (Humongous Entertainment)
Putt Putt Joins the Parade (Humongous Entertainment)
Snap Dragon (MECC)
Follow the Reader (Walt Disney Computer Software)
Few programs captured the editors' imaginations more immediately than Kid CAD. When Davidson representatives came to demonstrate it for us shortly before its release, we all enthusiastically anticipated playing with it. Kid CAD is basically a computer-aided design program for creating houses and other structures using predesigned building materials. If features three environments: the city, the town, and the farm. You can build with various materials and use many different kinds of roofs. The program includes furniture for inside the home (yes, even bathroom fixtures). Have a ball creating a house that looks just like yours or put your creativity to work to design a house shaped like a swan or the number 2. You can also turn your imagination loose on the environment with landscaping tools that allow you to place shrubs and trees. Pets and people complete the scene.
The best part of Kid Cad (and the thing that makes it so immediately engaging) is that it represents your structures in three dimensions. You can move your perspective on your project, so you can see it from all sides.
And, after you've built your structure, what could be more fun that blasting it to smithereens? You can destroy your meticulously created edifice with bombs, laser beams, a lawn mower, or a bulldozer (save it to disk first, though, so you can blow it up again later).
We couldn't let The Animals! go by without an honorable mention. It's like a multimedia encyclopedia of the living world.
Kid CAD (Davidson and Associates)
Rock & Bach Studio (Binary Zoo)
Wild Science Arcade (Binary Zoo)
Island of Dr. Brain (Bright Star Technology)
Lost Secret of the Rainforest (Bright Star Technology)
Pepper's Adventures in Time (Bright Star Technology)
Turbo Science (Bright Star Technology)
Where in Space Is Carmen Sandiego? (Broderbund Software)
The Incredible Machine (Dynamix)
Eagle Eye Mysteries (Electronic Arts)
Science Adventure II (Knowledge Adventure)
Time Riders in American History (The Learning Company)
Treasure Cove (The Learning Company)
My Own Stories (MECC)
Storybook Weaver (MECC)
European Racers 1.0 (Revell-Monogram)
The Animals! (The Software Toolworks)
Stunt Island (Walt Disney Computer Software)
Microsoft Encarta Multimedia Encyclopedia
Quite simply, Microsoft Encarta Multimedia Encyclopedia is one of the best multimedia applications we've seen. While the 25,000 articles that Microsoft has taken from Funk & Wagnalls Encyclopedia may not be as strong as the 33,000 articles contained in The New Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, Microsoft has added so much additional information and organized the material so well that Encarta is easily the most browsable and usable of all the multimedia encyclopedias. Fully half the CD-ROM is made up of images and audio, with another 10 percent devoted to animations and videos.
Encarta improves on the multiple-path approach found in the other CD-ROM encyclopedias by offering a more logical structure. The overriding structure for Encarta is its 93 categories and 84 subcategories. Once in a subcategory, it's easy to view a full list of all the entries in that subcategory, browse each entry in alphabetical order, or switch to a new category or subcategory. By stressing a categorical organization, Microsoft has recognized how we learn best: by exploring a group of associated ideas and then jumping to a related group of associated ideas.
We could go on and on about the gems of wisdom you'll discover as you explore the recesses of Encarta. Suffice it to say that if you're the type of person who can spend hours in a library moving from one reference book to another, this is the one product that will make it worth your while to buy a CD-ROM drive and sound card. It's that good. (See the September 1993 issue off COMPUTE for a full review of Encarta.)
Microsoft Encarta Multimedia Encyclopedia (Microsoft)
Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia (Compton's NewMedia)
Global Explorer 1.0 (DeLorme Mapping)
EZCosmos for Windows (Future Trends Software)
The New Groiler Multimedia Encyclopedia (Grolier Electronic Publishing)
Information U.S.A. (INFOBUSINESS)
Undersea Adventure (Knowledge-Adventure)
Microsoft Dinosaurs for Windows (Microsoft)
Musical Instruments for Windows (Microsoft)
COMPUTERWORKS (Software Marketing)
Body Illustrated: The Anatomical Guide (Spirit of Discovery)
Distant Suns 2.0 for Windows (Virtual Reality Laboratories)
VistaPro 3.0 (Virtual Reality Laboratories)
Special Technology Award
Dual-Scan Passive Matrix Displays
If you've felt torn between stunning-but-expensive active matrix notebook displays on the one hand and less-expensive-but-harder-to-look-at monochrome or passive matrix displays on the other hand, take heart. Now you have another option--dual-scan passive matrix displays. With greater contrast and superior brightness, dual-scan displays look much better than conventional passive matrix displays, yet they use less power and cost considerably less than active matrix displays.
Part of the dual-scan performance boost comes from the screen itself. While active matrix displays use a transistor for each pixel and conventional passive matrix displays use a transistor for every eight pixels, dual-scan displays use a transistor for every three pixels. Dual-scan performance depends also on the video chip. In the Gateway Colorbrook, a Cirrus Logic 6235 16-bit local-bus chip can take credit for impressive dual-scan performance.
Viewed from angle, a dual-scan color screen still isn't as clear and easy to look at as an active matrix screen, but if you viewed a dual-scan screen straight on, you might like it even better than some active matrix screens.
In addition to Gateway, Toshiba is already using dual-scan screens, in its Satellite T 1950CS. And as other companies inevitably adopt this impressive, cost-effective technology, who knows? Monochrome notebook displays may . . . fade away entirely.
>From the standpoints of both cost and performance, dual-scan passive matrix technology is bound to appeal to COMPUTE's readers. Hence, we have selected it as the best technological advance of the year.
Cyrix [Cx486DRX.sup.2] EPA Energy Standard IBM Continuous Speech Server Microsoft at Work Multimedia PC Level 2 Specification Newton OLE 2.0 PC1 Pentium PowerPC Zoomer
Star Control 11--$59.95 ACCOLADE 5300 Stevens Creek Blvd. San Jose, CA 95129 (800) 245-7744 (408) 296-8400
Aldus PageMaker 5.0--$639.00 ALDUS 411 First Ave. S Seattle, WA 98104 (206) 628-4515
Smart One 1442FX--$319.00 BEST DATA PRODUCTS 21800 Nordhofff Chatsworth, CA 91311 (800) 632-2378 (818) 773-9600
Paradox for Windows 1.0--$795.95 Quattro Pro for Windows 5.0--$99.95 BORLAND INTERNATIONAL 100 Borland Way Scotts Valley, CA 95066 (800) 331-0877 (408) 431-1000
Arthur's Teacher Trouble--$49.95 BRODERBUND SOFTWARE P.O. Box 6125 Novato, CA 94948-6125 (800) 521-6263 (415) 382-4400
PC Tools for Windows 1.0--$179.00 CENTRAL POINT SOFTWARE 15220 NW Greenbrier Pkwy. Beaverton, OR 97006 (503) 690-8090
CorelDRAW! 4.0--$595.00 COREL 1600 Carling Ave. Ottawa, ON Canada K 1Z 8R7 (800) 772-6735 (613) 728-3733
Sound Blaster DigitalEdge CD (Internal)--$999.95 CREATIVE LABS 1901 McCarthy Blvd. Milpitas, CA 95035 (800) 998-5227 (408) 428-6600
Kid CAD--$49.95 DAVIDSON AND ASSOCIATES 19840 Pioneer Ave. Torrance, CA 90503 (800) 556-6141 (310) 793-0600
Dell 466/M Superseded by the Dell OptiPlex 466/MX (with 8MB, dual floppy, CD-ROM drive, and a 230MB hard disk)--$2,834.00 DELL COMPUTER 9505 Aboretum Blvd. Austin, TX 78759 (800) 274-1410 (512) 338-4400
WinFax Pro 3.0--$129.00 DELRINA 6830 Via del Oro, Ste. 240 San Jose, CA 95119-1353 (800) 268-6082
Betrayal at Krondor--$69.95 DYNAMIX/SIERRA ON-LINE 40033 Sierra Way Oakhurst, CA 93644 (800) 326-6654 (209) 683-4468
Ascend 4.0--$199.00 FRANKLIN QUEST 2550 S. Decker Lake Blvd., Ste 26 Salt Lake City, UT 84119 (800) 877-1814 (801) 975-9992
Gateway 2000 Handbook 486DX2-40--$1,995.00 Gateway 2000 Handbook 486SX-25--$1,495.00 GATEWAY 2000 610 Gateway Dr. N. Sioux City, SD 57049 (800) 486-2000 (605) 232-2000
Hewlett-Packard Laser Jet 4--$1,759.00 OmniBook 300 with 10MB hard drive--$.590.00 OmniBook 300 with 10MB Flash-RAM drive--$2,375.00 HEWLETT-PACKARD 3000 Hanover St. Palo Alto, CA 94304 (800) 752-0900
Quicken 3.0 for Windows--$69.95 INTUIT 540 University Ave. Palo Alto, CA 94301 (800) 624-8742
Fusion DoubleCD-16 (external)--$799.00 Fusion DoubleCD-16 (internal)--$699.00 MEDIA VISION 3185 Laurelview Ct. Fremont, CA 94538 (800) 845-5870 (510) 770-8600
Microsoft Encarta Multimedia Encyclopedia--$395.00 Microsoft Flight Simulator 5.0--$64.95 Microsoft Publisher 2.0--$199.00 Microsoft Visual C++--$499.00 Microsoft Word for Windows 6.0--no price available at press time MICROSOFT One Microsoft Way Redmond, WA 98052-6399 (800) 426-9400 (800) 227-4679
Video Toaster 4000--$2,395.00 NEWTEK 215 SE Eighth St. Topeka, KS 66603 (800) 847-6111 (913) 231-0100
IndyCar Racing--$74.99 PAPYRUS PUBLISHING 35 Medford St. Somerville, MA 02143 (617) 868-5440