Every once in a while, an innovative new product comes along that doesn't fit into established software categories. IBM's Link Way is such a product—a blend of database, programming tool, desktop organizer, and a dash of hypermedia.
The manual refers to the program as a multimedia productivity tool. Link Way is a computer environment within which nonprogrammers can develop their own tutorials and other applications, customize those of others, and move among their collection of Link Way programs (called folders) with surprising case.
If you're familiar with HyperCard you'll understand the general concept of Link Way. Larry Kheriaty, Link Way's programmer, prefers to avoid the comparison, but acknowledges that the products have several features in common: Both provide a menu-based, mouse-controlled authoring environment; both employ similar metaphors (stacks of screen-sized cards on the one hand, and folders of screen-sized pages on the other); both allow graphics and text to intermingle on a single screen; and both support the freefrom linking of cards and stacks or of pages and folders.
Teachers can use Link Way to design self-paced tutorials, complete with branching for students who need more detailed explanations or additional practice. Businesses can create autorunning slide shows to demonstrate new products or to enhance presentations. Home users can produce folders to organize addresses, store financial records, or maintain budget data. Any information that can be imagined as a folder of interrelated pages is a good candidate for the Link Way treatment.
The Link Way disk includes several example folders to get you started. To Do List, for example, is a daily notepad folder for writing reminders. Mail List Manager prints mailing labels and even dials phone numbers using your modern. A ballot-counting utility and a compound-interest program show how a folder designer can use script buttons to incorporate calculations into a page.
Because Link Way is part of IBM's Education Family of computer software, the disk contains numerous folders designed for teachers. Lesson Planner allows teachers to set term goals and refine them into monthly, weekly, and daily objectives, Flash Card includes arithmetic, spelling, and foreign language tutorials; and it can be modified to accommodate other subjects. Grade-book, the weakest utility in the group, presents onscreen gradebook pages for names and grades. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to perform any calculations, but an enterprising teacher could enhance it to include that capability.
Link Way's strength, however, doesn't come from its built-in folders but from its potential as an environment for creating, linking, and running folders of your own.
The Calendar sample folder illustrates that potential well. Upon starting the folder you'll see a monthly calendar. On the right side of the screen are several action buttons. To move from September to October, click on the right arrow. A left-pointing arrow will move backward. Below the arrows, an AddRem button permits you to write short notes keyed to specific days. SeeRem lets you view reminders and DelRem deletes selected entries. Pointing and clicking on any date brings up a weekly memo page along with its notations. Click on Help and a dialog box pops up, complete with scroll buttons for lengthy explanations. When you've finished the Main button returns you to the main menu.
The Link Way text editor, a paint utility, and a selection of cut-and-paste action buttons simplify folder creation. Each page is designed separately and linked to other pages later. Once the folder is finished, you can run pages in order, search for specific pages using the Find option, or jump around among pages and folders.
The Link Way package includes both 3½-and 5¼-inch disks. The manual claims support for CGA, EGA, MCGA and VGA. However, the larger disks contain only CGA-mode files, while the smaller disks have files that support MCGA,EGA, and VGA modes, but not CGA graphics.
While this shouldn't affect anyone with an original IBM machine, it may cause trouble for owners of MS-DOS equipment from other manufacturers—users with CGA monitors and 3½-inch drives, for example. Those with access to both size drives can solve the problem by converting disk formats or manually copying necessary files. Others will still be able to design and run their own folders, but they may encounter error messages when attempting to access the program's tutorial and other folders written for unsupported graphics modes.
Overall, Link Way is a quality product with the power to revolutionize the nature of MS-DOS computing. Whether it achieves that potential will depend upon user support. If it can develop even a fraction of HyperCard's following, Link Way will be a guaranteed hit.
IBM PC and compatibles with 384K, DOS 2.1 or higher, IBM PS/2 or Microsoft compatible mouse, and graphics display; hard disk drive recommended—$110
900 King St.
Rye Brook, NY 10573
(Contact your local authorized IBM dealer)
Lab packs and a network version are available.