QuattroPro 3.0. (spreadsheet software) (evaluation)
by Keith Ferrell
Less than a year after the release of Quattro Pro 2.0, Borland has introduced an even more ambitious revision of what has been from the beginning the most compact and elegant spreadsheet on the market. Not only does Quattro Pro 3.0 offer outstanding WYSIWYG and presentation features, but its bells and whistles can also make real music. A sound and visual effects package comes with the program. Whether or not the world is ready for an audible spreadsheet, it's here.
Sound is, of course, pure lagniappe; what matters in a spreadsheet is its number-crunching ability, and here Quattro more than excels. For operations ranging from simple row and column math to complex linked spreadsheets, Quattro Pro provides the user with a great deal of automation and a number of sensible shortcuts. Thorough mouse and macro support leaves you free to focus on your data. Menus and push-button commands are logically arrayed around an easy-to-read screen.
Screen display is one of the high points of the new version. This is WYSIWYG program, offering graphical features that are carefully and thoughtfully incorporated into the program's overall performance. I particularly like the ability to preview my spreadsheet output on the fly, as it were, taking an advance look at how my work will appear in print. The program's zoom feature lets you reduce the screen image, making more data available at a high-speed glance.
Quattro's graphing capabilities are the equal of graphing capabilities in any spreadsheet. Graphs can be defined and displayed with a few clicks of the mouse. The type of graph--pie, bar, and so on--can be changed with equal ease. Labeling and incorporating text within these graphs cause only slight complications.
Elegance of code remains a Borlad hallmark, amazingly so in Quattro Pro 3.0. In fact, the aspect of Quattro that I find most impressive is its size. Borland has stuck to its determination to deliver a product that runs effectively in the smallest possible memory area. In this case that's 512K. This is one full-featured business product that can still run on the XTs of the world. Naturally, the program runs better on a 386 machine, but that's beside the point. What's important here is that a company that has grown with users has not neglected those early Quattro Pro fans still content with less powerful equipment.
Microsoft Windows users should be aware that this remains primarily a DOS-based program; a fully optimized Windows version is in the works. Quattro does, however, run well enough as a DOS application under Windows.
Quattro Pro 3.0 takes advantage of expanded memory for large spreadsheets. You can also simultaneously display a large number of spreadsheets. Borland's documentation reports the capability of a whopping 32 concurrent spreadsheet windows, but I've not needed more than a third of that at a time. Individual windows can be stacked, tiled, or arranged to your particular tastes. Use either the mouse or keyboard to transfer data among different windows simply by defining source blocks and targeting their destination.
You can also link spreadsheets easily, drawing upon the contents of one sheet for calculations in another. Again, either keyboard or mouse commands can be used, but linkage really flies under mouse control. It's a matter of a few clicks to bind diversely located information into a formula on your central spreadsheet. This powerful feature--one that seemed ferociously complex a couple of years ago--has now become routine and almost transparent.
Through its macros, visual orientation, and superb mouse support, Quattro effectively offers you a self-contained, object-oriented programming environment. Because spreadsheets are in some ways an adjunct to my work, rather than its primary focus, I've tended in the past to go only deep enough into their operation to get my work done. Quattro Pro 3.0's object orientation--everything that can be made visual has been made visual--made it simple and appealing for me to go farther. In a short time I learned to build more sophisticated linkages and formulas, leaning on the mouse as much as the keyboard. A particularly nice feature is the Transcript function, which records your scripts as you create them.
I've even gotten to the point where I'm willing to show my onscreen work to professional bean counters. Part of that willingness rests upon the first-rate--and increasingly essential--presentation tools that come with Quattro. Not everyone's a born showman, but this spreadsheet wants to bring out the entertainer and financial wizard in us all.
Special effects may not be something you customarily associate with spreadsheets, but the ProView PowerPack included with Quattro Pro 3.0 comes equipped with a variety of visual and sound effects aimed at enhancing presentations. Text and graphics can be scaled and shaded, lending 3-D effects to the display. "Slide shows" based on your work can be livened up with any of two dozen transitional effects such as dissolves, wipes, and redraws. A library of useful presentation macros is included in the PowerPack.
Then there's sound. Incorporating digitized sounds into a presentation has at least one initial advantage; you can startle unexpected onlookers (on-listeners?). Although they could be louder, the sounds work surprisingly well on a standard PC speaker; I haven't tried the program with a sound board. Many of the sounds are self-congratulatory: applause, trumpet fanfares, and the like. These are fun, but there's a part of me that would like to have "Spike Jones" capability--wilder groans, shrieks of agony, and so on.
Paper presentations remain my most frequent output, and again Quattro Pro 3.0 delivers more features that I need. Printer support meets Borland's high standards, providing shading, sideways printing, and the especially noteworthy print-to-fit feature.
The print-to-fit option will bring a smile to the face of harried spreadsheet users. When you need to fit a spreadsheet on a single sheet of paper and you don't want to spend time fussing with font size, Quattro Pro 3.0 will reduce your work automatically. For single print blocks, Quattro will choose an optimum size; your work will never shrink beyond all readability. Yet aaother significant addition to the print options menu, banner printing allows you to print very large spreadsheets across multiple sheets of fanfold paper. Unlike the landscape printing option (still available in this version of Quattro), the text output isn't interrupted from page to page, resulting in one impressively long table of information.
Quattro Pro 3.0 installs as easily as it works. Documentation is divided among three volumes, the slimmest of which is called Getting Started and warrants a glance from even experienced users. Existing spreadsheets can be imported and automatically translated from Lotus 1-2-3 but not from Excel. Raw data can be brought into Quattro is ASCII or delimited formats.
I have no serious qualms about Quattro Pro 3.0, but to be honest, the program is so powerful and feature-laden that I am still nibbling at its upper levels. At the same time, I don't doubt that as I incorporate more sophisticated features and functions into my work, Quattro Pro 3.0 will continue to delight and deliver.