The essential home office toolbox. (home office equipment)
by Tony Roberts, George Campbell, Alan R. Bechtold, Tom Campbell
WHAT ARE THE MOST IMPORTANT TOOLS FOR THE HOME OFFICE? THESE ARE THE FAVORITES OF FOUR PROFESSIONALS WORKING AT HOME.
I operate a public relations and desktop publishing business out of my home. I spend most of my energies writing, laying out pages, and compiling databases of contacts at newspapers and radio stations.
Interface. Windows made a run at earning my vote for best interface, but it still falls short. I like Windows 3.0, but it can be slow and cumbersome even with a 386 and many megs of memory. Since I need several Windows-based applications, I use it often, but I keep dropping to DOS, specifically 4DOS, when I need more than a program launcher. 4DOS is a command processor that replaces COMMAND.COM. It adds new power to most DOS commands and soups up the batch processor. 4DOS, which is what DOS ought to have been, is distributed as shareware. Try it.>
Word processor. I doubt that any word-processing program will ever top Xy Write in my mind. Xy Write is fast, versatile, and best of all, text-based. I string together a lot of words in the course of a day; when I write, I want to concentrate on the words, not on how they look in different fonts and sizes. The makers of XyWrite support their product well, constantly updating it to make sure it's not left behind as new equipment, such as laser printers, and new platforms, such as Windows, change the way we work.
Utilities/desk accessories. I'm no fan of pop-up calendars, calculators, or card files. For me, a hand-held calculator works far better than any pop-up, and it never creates a memory conflict no matter what software I'm using. I can get along fine using my traditional desktop calendar and Rolodex. A file finder, though, makes a great utility. There are dozens available, and they go by names like Whereis, Locate, and File Find File finders often come as part of larger packages. A good file finder will save you hours a week tracking down misplaced and forgotten documents and programs.
Disk management. I've relied on PC Tools Deluxe for years for backing up and optimizing hard disks, undeleting files, and sector editing. The software is easy to use and, best of all, effective. I've had no problems restoring backups when necessary, and the disk optimizations are fast and effective. PC Tools includes a DOS shell to help with file-management chores, but I use it rarely. Because I've had such good luck with this program, I've had little reason to look elsewhere for disk-backup software.
Telecommunications. Telix, a shareware program, meets my needs as an easy-to-use telecommunications program that does it all. Telix covers the gamut of file-exchange protocols and can handle nearly any configuration. The software's script-generating language allows you to create extremely sophisticated programs to handle telecommunications chores automatically.
Database/file management. Ashton-Tate's DBASE III Plus is a heck of a program, and it's done great work for thousands of businesses. What I like best about DBASE is its programmability and its flexibility. It may be more than you need to track your videotape library, but if you're dealing with hundreds of inventory items and thousands of customers, it can do the job. Because DBASE is so ubiquitous, most other software-spreadsheets and mail-merge applications, for example-makes some provision for importing DBASE data. So far I've stayed clear of problem-plagued dBASE IV but it may be time to look into it, as the latest release appears to have resolved most of the difficulties.
Personal information manager. Info Select, a recent enhancement of the long-popular Tornado, handles information management on my system. This program is speedy and effective. Answer the phone, and before the small talk has finished, you can locate and display acres of pertinent information having to do with your caller. This program, more than anything else, has helped me organize client lists, project information, deadlines, and siblings' birthdays.
Spreadsheet/financial. Quicken is clearly the best financial program for the general public. For a household and/or a small service-based business, it's all you need to handle the checkbooks, budgeting, accounting, and reporting. For a decade, people have talked about using computers to balance their checkbooks. With Quicken, this notion finally makes sense. Intuit has announced a new version of the program, Quicken 4.0. 1 haven't seen it yet, but I ordered the upgrade right away. In the spreadsheet arena, don't overlook Quattro Pro, soon to be upgraded to Quattro Pro 2.0. This is a major-league spreadsheet with a major-league list price, but Borland's Philippe Kahn has sent me at least 15 letters in the last year offering me a $99 special. If you're on any high-tech mailing list, you've received one, too. If you need a high-end spreadsheet, find a way to qualify for Kahn's offer.
Graphics/DTP. When desktop publishing for clients, I use both Aldus PageMaker and Ventura Publisher, depending on the client and the job. If a client owns one of the programs, I'm usually asked to work in that format. Of the two, I lean toward PageMaker, maybe because I learned it first. Also, I prefer PageMaker's Windows envinment to Ventura's GEM environment.
(Ventura Publisher has a new Windows version, but I haven't tried it yet.)
Programming language. Over the years I've programmed in BASIC, Pascal, and machine language. In the early days of personal computing, programming was often the only way to get software tailored to your needs. Today's systems are much more complex, and my programming abilities haven't kept up. Besides, good software can be found for most applications these days. I still enjoy programming, though, and I find I can be most effective on small projects-writing telecommunications scripts, creating DOS batch files, and inventing useful macros for my word processor and spreadsheet.
As a computer journalist and shareware author, I spend long days at home in front of my computer. Top-quality software is essential to my work. Many times shareware programs fill my needs for a low cost.
Interface. Since I started using IBM-compatible computers in 1983, I've always been a command line fanatic. That's beginning to change now, with the introduction of Microsoft Windows 3.0. While I still prefer the classic DOS prompt for many jobs, the multitasking tools in Windows, along with Windows applications like Ami Pro from Lotus, have begun to lead me astray.
These days, I spend about half my computing time in the Windows environment. Still, for file operations and many of the programs I use, the command line makes the most sense.
Word processor. I make my living with words, so my word processor is very important to me. When I'm working with pure text, I use Microsoft Word 5.0. I like its logical interface, fast editing tools, and powerful macro language. By the time you read this, Word 5.5 will be available. Its new Windows-like interface makes it even easier to use, so I'm planning to switch as soon as I can.
When I need to add graphics, charts, or complicated layouts to my documents, I fire up Windows and run Ami Pro. With its ease of use, WYSIWYG display, desktop publishing features, and powerful graphics tools, it's a great program.
Utilities/desk accessories. I use several utility programs regularly, but two stand out above the others: Vernon Buerg's List and Phil Katz's PKZIP. For reading ASCII text files, there just isn't a better program than List. With its scrolling, searching, and file-selection tools, it makes dealing with text files a breeze.
PKZIP takes care of all my file-archiving needs. It has become everyone's standard file-compression utility. Since I spend a lot of time online, downloading files, I use this program dozens of times each day.
Disk management. To keep my hard disk organized and running smoothly, I use PC Tools Deluxe. However, I only installed parts of the program on my disk. I use its PC Shell to move files around quickly and to maintain the structure of my 80MB hard disk. The Compress program is the only other part of PC Tools I use. This disk-optimizing program quickly takes care of fragmented files and helps keep my busy hard disk clean and efficient.
Telecommunications. Since I spend several hours a day online with my modem, I need a powerful communications program. ProComm Plus is my choice for this job. It offers the power I need along with an easy-touse interface and a powerful script language that automates my online sessions.
I also run a busy BBS. I looked at several BBS programs before choosing Wildcat! from Mustang Software. It's easy for callers to use and needs a minimum of maintenance by the sysop. And, since it can support multiple phone lines, it will let me expand the BBS.
Database/file management. Jim Button's PC-File 6.0 is the database that fills all my needs. I started using PC-File years ago and have upgraded the program with each new version. Its low cost, DBASE compatibility, and powerful features make it perfect for maintaining customer lists, address books, and even a database of my video collection.
Best of all, it's available in a shareware version, which lets you try the program out to make sure it fits your needs. While it probably couldn't handle the database needs of a Fortune 500 company, it sure works for me.
Personal information manager. I've looked at a few personal information management programs but just haven't found any need for them. I keep my address book in a PC-File database, use Microsoft Word for note taking, and write my appointments and deadlines by hand on a wall calendar. Call me old-fashioned.
Spreadsheet/financial. My finances are pretty simple. I use the shoebox method of accounting and manage pretty well. I find that it takes more time to enter my limited financial records in a financial package than it does to add everything up at tax time.
I do use a spreadsheet program, however, to create charts and gridlike comparison sheets of products I review. For this simple chore, I chose a shareware spreadsheet, TurboCalc, from P & M Software. It has all the power I need and can export files in DIF format for use by other spreadsheets. COMPUTE!'s PC included TurboCalc on its January 1990 disk.
Graphics/DTP. Since I switched to Windows for my graphical interface needs, I've found that the Paintbrush program included with Windows 3.0 satisfies the artist in me. The PCX files it creates are compatible with every application I use, and I never have to leave Windows.
I occasionally produce a flier or a small newsletter for a user group. I once used Ventura Publisher for these chores, but now I've switched to Ami Pro. It can easily handle a ten-page newsletter, and it's far easier to use than Ventura Publisher.
Programming language. Like most PC users, I began to learn programming with the GW-BASIC interpreter included with my copy of MSDOS. These days, I produce shareware software, so I need a compiled language. Fortunately, I didn't have to give up BASIC. I use QuickBASIC 4.5.
Its use of a structured programming style, along with easy access to BIOS functions, lets me write state-of-the-art software quickly. Best of all, programs written in QuickBASIC are easy to maintain, since BASIC is more like English than most of the widely used programming languages.
Alan R. Bechtold I have enslaved several personal computers to help edit Info-Mat
Magazine, an electronically distributed news weekly published by BBS Press Service. I edit the magazine and write many of the news and feature items. I also freelance, writing and editing newsletters and other publications, including Online Digital Music Review. I can't remember what it was like to type on a typewriter.
Interface. I'm still attached to the DOS command line, probably because I'm always finding something I want to do in DOS that one shell or another won't let me do easily, if at all. The command line always lets me do it. It's this trust in the command line that makes The Norton Commander a favorite. At first, I dressed up my system with Commander's wonderful windowed point-and-shoot menus. It wasn't long, however, before my command line addiction took over and I found myself trying to get back to the basics, aborting out of the menus I'd designed. Without the menu interface, Norton Commander is basically a disk-management system that allows constant access to the DOS command line. I can always live with that.
WordStar 4.0 is my choice, plain and simple. I tried 4.5 and 5.0 and 5.5 and went right back to 4.0. My first word processor was WordStar 2.3 for CP/M and 4.0 on DOS. It's what I'm used to. I've tried others that claim to emulate WordStar. Many do a good job, but they're not good enough to keep me using them.
Wordstar 4.0 maintains the purest feel of the WordStar I know and love and offers advanced features, such as the built-in spelling checker and thesaurus, that make it far more useful than the earlier versions.
Utilities/desk accessories. The utilities I use most often are PKWare's PKZIP and PKUNZIP (both available as one product) and System Enhancement Associate's ARC+ PL US program. These programs let me squeeze one or more files into smaller single files to make the many file transfers I do every day faster and less expensive. Otherwise, I don't even use an onscreen calculator. WordStar 4.0's math function usually serves all my addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division needs.
Disk management. The Norton Commander handles any disk management tasks that I don't care to handie at the DOS level. I use it most often to move files from one nested subdirectory to another and to clean up my hard disk. When your directory tree has many branches, just typing out those long paths is a chore. Norton Commander reduces this to a simple point-and-shoot operation. The program's split-screen layout provides a clear view of two different directories at once. Even an old command line addict like me can see the benefits of vastly reduced keystrokes.
Telecommunications. ProComm Plus is my telecommunications package of choice. There are a lot of good communications programs, and I've tried most, but I always go back to ProComm Plus because it offers a wide variety of file-transfer protocols and the most efficient and persistent utilization of each protocol it offers. This variety and reliability, combined with the program's easy menu-diiven operation, huge automatic dialing directory, and extensive macro language for use when creating your own automated communications sessions, make it a hands-down choice for me. I've also run a bulletin board system, for client and general public access, for over five years, and TBBS is the choice there. The program's ability to handle up to 32 incoming telephone lines on a single AT is simply uncanny.
Database/file management. dBASE is my favorite database management program. As with WordStar, I started out running DBASE II on a CP/M computer, so it's a program I've long been familiar with. I tried DBASE IV and went back to DBASE III Plus. dBASE IV was too bulky, required too much hard disk space, and didn't run with the speed and agility of DBASE III Plus, which handles afl the data-management tasks I throw at it.
Personal information manager. This was a completely new software category barely a year ago. Because I spend almost every working day manipulating information, I immediately fell in love with the category itself. I also fell in love with Lotus Agenda, one of the most flexible, powerful, and imaginative products to come along in years. I like the way Agenda lets me enter my data free-form and then arrange it any way I please after the fact. That's the way information really happens, after all. Agenda 1.0 created this category, and 2.0 is keeping it on the leading edge.
Spreadsheet/financial. Unfortunately, I've never manipulated as much cash as I do information, so I've never had the need for a spreadsheet program. For home use, I run CheX, the shareware checkbook program I got from COMPUTE!'s PC (March 1990).
In my office, I use Quicken, which maintains the checkbook approach that CheX uses but offers the kind of report-generation, billing, and check-printing capabilities that are necessary for running a small business. Graphics/DTP. I draw with PC Paintbrush. It's a full-featured, powerful drawing program that allows me to sketch freehand or draw with all the straightedge, curve, circle, and square drawing aids I need. I love the variety of shading and pen styles. PC Paintbrush drawings can also be easily incorporated into page designs created with my favorite desktop publisher, Time-works' Publish It!. I prefer Publish It! over others because it's reasonably small and will run on a standard 8088-based laptop PC without too much trouble or the need for a hard disk.
Programming language. I'm still stuck on BASIC for general programming purposes, but I also write some programs in DBASE III Plus. BASIC is just that-basic. It's simple and straightforward. But most important, it's the one I've learned to use-and I haven't had the time it takes to learn another language. DBASE III Plus was simple to learn because so much of it is based on straightforward English. It's a language I can put to work on all my database operations.
I'm a columnist for COMPUTE and chief developer of Builder for Hyperkinetix. My memorable first exposure to programming was using a Commodore VIC-20 and devouring every word of COMPUTE! magazine starting with the September 1983 issue. My writing style was strongly influenced by the writing of Jim Butterfield. I use computers for Writing and programming at home and at work.
Interface. My favorite interface on a PC is the DOS command line. I'd gladly trade it for the Macintosh MultiFinder but never Windows, OS/2 Presentation Manager, or any other replacement currently available on the PC. The command line is lean, logical, and universal. The others only supplement it, and none can replace it completely.
Word processor. Microsoft Word by a mile. Word isn't for everyone, but here's why it's the standard at my company. First of all, its style sheets mean that with a small amount of training anyone can produce attractive, richly formatted documents that all look as if they came from the same company (you'd be surprised at how few organizations of any size can say this). Style sheets also make maintenance a breeze: Change the style sheet for business letters, and everyone's letters will inherit the change with no individual effort. Second, its ability to generate indexes and tables makes Word the only game in town. We routinely produce manuals over 300 pages long, and in this business, you can't do an index by hand every time a manual changes. Programmers here use QEdit. It's flexible, reconfigurable, easy to learn; and it loads quickly.
Utilities/desk accessories. The Norton Utilities' Quick Undelete is worth the price all by itself, and SYSINFO also gets frequent workouts. We bought PC Tools Deluxe for backup, and it became the company's standard database manager and appointment maker as well. Except for Borland's languages, there's no better value on the market.
Disk management. My company's own HYPE utilities are my choice for disk management. They're absolutely free (we don't sell them; we only give them away). HYPE is available on BBSs everywhere. I use the file finder, the disk statistics, and the memory statistics utilities every day.
Telecommunications. I'm not thrilled with any telecommunications program. The ones I use are ProComm Plus (95 percent of the time) and PC Tools Deluxe (the other 5 percent). I have never yet felt comfortable with a telecommunications program or with most BBS software. I'm a regular on CompuServe, but learning to use it was a nightmare, and having to run a telecomm program on top of that was no fun. I look forward to the telecomm program that's so easy even I can like it.
Database/file management. For DBF files, I normally use PC Tools Deluxe. I'm irritated by its 5000record limitation, but otherwise it's a godsend. But nothing beats HyperPad for putting together small or free-form database systems. It has the ideal combination of a language and applications generator for someone like me. I need to create small databases quickly every month or so, then distribute them throughout the company. The new version lets me include the HyperPad Browser ($99.95 to registered HyperPad users) with any application I want to send out.
HyperPadgives me tremendous turnaround time and just the right set of features. It even imports DBF files. >
Personal information manager. I must admit that normally I use QEdit and view or update a to-do list about a dozen times a day. Throughout my company, PC Tools Deluxe is the preferred program. I use it when I absolutely must remember an appointment and need to be beeped. Otherwise QEdit and my Mickey Mouse wall clock make do-a hardware/software combination that cost about $100 total.
Spreadsheet/financial. Qattro Pro is my spreadsheet. I much prefer Wingz, but I don't run Windows enough to justify it, and I need to exchange Lotus-compatible work sheets with my co-workers, who are 1-2-3 jocks. Quattro is quite fast, comes with the font and mouse support that I need, and has the simple graphics I want.
Graphics/DTP. Microsoft Word is my desktop publishing program. I need strong font control and moderately complex formatting. The formatting must be automated because long stretches of the manual must use the same layout, and only Word and Ventura Publisher give me what I need. Since Word is also a word processor, I use it and have completely dropped dedicated desktop publishing packages. It also costs a few hundred dollars less, but I've been upgrading Word since 1985, so that's not of direct concern to me.
Programming language. Programming languages are my livelihood, so my preferences are clear and wide-ranging. For systems utilities on the PC, nothing can match Turbo Pascal Professional 6.0, with the fastest compiler of all time and a great integrated environment. For programs that need to run in non-PC-compatible environments, ANSI C is the only way to go. I prefer the Borland environments, so I use its C+ + Pro system. Both ANSI C and C+ + come with an excellent assembler, good documentation, and one of the best debuggers that ever walked the planet.
For fun, it's a tie between QuickBASIC and Turbo PascaL QuickBASIC lacks dynamic memory allocation and strong type checking, but its integrated environment is a joy. It also has extensible online help and a no-wait compiler for the integrated environment, both of which are features that ought to be mandatory in all compilers. While I generally lean toward Turbo Pascal for short utilities, QuickBASIC steps into the fray as often as not.
When a program has to be in assembly language, I edit with QEdit and assemble using Borland's TASM, which is part of Turbo Debugger and Tools, but Quick Assembler's online help is slowly becoming a permanent and welcome part of my life.
Aldus PageMaker 4.0, $795.00
411 First Ave. S
Seattle, WA 98104
Ami Pro, $495.00
Lotus Agenda 2.0,$395.00
5600 Glenridge Dr.
Atlanta, GA 30342
55 Cambridge Pkwy.
Cambridge, MA 02142
925 Clifton Ave.
Clifton, NJ 07013
$20.00 (shareware registration)
6060 Ashley Pl.
Goletta, CA 93117-1773
dRASE IV 1.1
$175.00 (upgrade from
dSASE ill Plus)
dBASE M Plus 1.1. $695.00
20101 Hamilton Ave.
Torrance, CA 90509
$35.00 (disk only)
$50.00 (disk and manual)
J. P. Software
P.O. Box 1470
E. Arlington, MA 02174
HyperPad 2.0, $149.95
$99.95 (registered users)
Brightbill-Roberts and Co.
120 E. Washington St., Ste. 421
Syracuse, NY 13202
HYPE Utilities, Free
666 W. Baker St., Ste. 405
Coss Mesa, CA 92626
info Select 1.12
$49.95 (upgrade from Tornado)
P.O. Box 70
Hackensack, NJ 07602
$20.00 sharaware registration)
139 White Oak Cir.
Petaluma, CA 94952
Mickey Mouse Clock, $40.00
The Disney Store
3333 Bristol St., #1849
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Microsoft QuickBASIC 4.5
Microsoft Windows 3.0
Microsoft Word 5.6
One Microsoft Way
Redmond, WA 98052-6399
The Norton Commandar 3.0
The Norton Utilities 5.0
10201 Torre Ate.
Cupertino, CA 95014-2132
P.O. Box 96058
Bellevue, WA 98009
PC Paintbrush IV 1.0, $99.95
PC Paintbrush IV Plus 1.0
450 Franklin Rd., Ste. 100
Marietta, GA 30067
PC Tools Deluxe 6.0,$149.00
Central Point Software
15220 NW Greenbrier Pkwy.
Beaverton, OR 97006
$25.00 (shareware registration)
$50.50 (registration and
9025 N. Dearwood Dr.
Brown Doer, WI 53223
ProComm Plus 2.0, $119.00
P.O. Box 1471
Columbia, MO 652D5
Publish it! 1.2,$249.95
444 Lake Cook Rd.
Deerfield, IL 60015-4919
QEdit Advanced 2.1,$54.95'
4343 Shallowford Rd., Ste. C-3
Marietta, GA 30062-MM
Qattro Pro 2.0,$495.00
Turbo C + + Professional 1.0
Turba Debugger and Tools 2. 0
Turbo Pascal Professional 6.0
1800 Green Hills Rd.
P.O. Box 660001
Scotts Valley, CA 95067-0001
Quicken 4.0, 59.95
P.O. Box 3014
Menlo Park, CA 94026
TBBS 2.1S (single line)
TBBS 2.1M (16-line multiline)
TSM 2.1M (32-line multilline)
15200 E. Girard Ave., Ste. 2550
Aurora, 00 80014
$40.00 (5 1/4-inch disks)
$41.00 (3 1/2-inch disks)
P.O. Box 130
West Hill, ON
Canada Ml E 4R4
$40.00 (sharware registration)
P & M Software
3104 E. Camelback Rd., #503
Phoenix, AZ 85016
Ventura Publisher 3.0, $896.00
15175 innovation Dr.
San Diego, CA 92128
Wildcat! 2.55, $129,00
P.0 Box 2264
Bakersfield, CA 93303
Wingz 1.1a, $499.00
4100 Bohannon Dr.
Manlo Park, CA UM
WordStar 6.0, $495.00
201 Alameda del Prado
P.O. Box 6113
Novato, CA 94948-9802
44 Manning Rd.
Billerica, MA 01821