Ami Pro 2.0. (word processing software) (Evaluation)
by Kathy Yakal
With the second generation of Windows word processors, we're seeing a handful of packages create a new minicategory of software. Products like Word for Windows and Ami Pro for Windows are much more than traditional word processors, yet they're still less than full-blown desktop publishers. They're document-preparation packages.
The recently released Ami Pro 2.0 offers significant enhancements on three levels. Power users will likely be pleased with some new sophisticated features like the improved macro language and the addition of power fields. Connectivity needs are better met with this version, too.
If you prepare documents in conjunction with other people, require sophisticated document-merging and revision-making tools, or need integration with other Lotus products like 1-2-3, Notes, and cc:Mail, version 2.0 offers you new capabilities. If you simply want better, faster access to information about a document in progress, tools for dressing it up and making its information more understandable through charts and tables, and customization features that make the program's most often-used functions quickly available, this upgrade offers significantly more power to you.
The cosmetic changes are visible the first time you run Ami Pro. Lotus had added Smartlcons, a row of icons that can be placed in different sections of the screen. The default group that comes up includes standards like the spelling checker and thesaurus, the open-and save-file commands, and some font and alignment features (bold, italic, centered). You can change this default set, even replacing the default icons with your own.
Furthermore, the Style box that once popped out in the upper right corner of the screen whenever you started the program has been reduced to a button found on the new status bar that runs along the botton of the screen. To change body styles, you pop up the menu. Your current font style and point size appear in two other small buttons along the bar. Clicking on them pops up those menus for a quick change, and, by clicking on another button on the status bar, you can see the current date and time or a running report on where you are in your document (line number, column, and position).
A frustrating omission in the first version of Ami Pro was easy access to that last bit of information. A quick word-count function was also omitted. Version 2.0 offers some improvements, including a menu item called Document Information which gives you an instant picture of the file size and word, page, and character count. (In the previous version, you had to run a spelling check to get a word count.) Unfortunately, when you enter text it still twitches and responds slowly to the cursor, though not as noticeably as in the earlier Ami Pro.
As you dig deeper into version 2.0's improvements, you'll find that its increased ease of use and customization abilities, while significantly impressive and substantial, are joined by a spate of new and powerful functional capabilities. Using Outline mode, you can look at a document and see how it's broken down into the nine provided paragraph styles. These designations can be set prior to creating the document or edited after the fact. By specifying power fields (sets of instructions to be carried out at particular points in a file), you can further customize document production and request automatic prompts when information needs to be added or updated, wherever it occurs in the document.
While Ami Pro's graphic capabilities don't compare to those of the best desktop publishing packages today, some of the features offered in earlier versions have been enhanced. You have more power to design and add frames, tables, drawings, and charts to your documents. Learning to use the program's tools for these graphics takes some time, but even a novice can start pulling art in quickly. One of the default Smartlcons pops up a list of predesigned pictures that you can easily pull into your document, or you can import a picture file of your own.
The program also provides some new tools and enhanced features for users who must manage and merge multiple documents, and for those who must mark changes made to a piece. The Master Document feature lets you combine several documents and automates the merge process by, for example, creating one index or one table of contents that covers all of the documents together. Extensive revision-making capabilities allow changes made to a document after a certain point to be indicated in a variety of ways. The Document Compare feature can blend and highlight changes made by more than one person.
Version 2.0 of Ami Pro contains improvements that utilize the real power of Windows at the functional level, well beyond the easier user interface. You can open up to nine documents at once within the program and display them in either a cascade or tile sequence, expanding each as you need to make comparisons. An using two Windows technologies, Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE) and Object Linking and Embedding (OLE), you can transfer data from Windows applications that support those technologies into Ami Pro (for example, incorporating spreadsheet data into a report). Ami Pro 2.0 also ships with Adobe Type Manager, a fine font-scaling package.
All these sophisticated functions come at a price: You have to read. You must carefully follow the steps outlined in the documentation or use the help screens. If you're a novice computer user or even a seasoned one who has never used document-formatting and design functions, don't expect to be able to click on a few buttons and experiments your way through these features.
If your word processing needs and software budget are absolutely minimal, then Ami Pro 2.0 is too much bang for too many bucks. But if you're using an earlier version, or if you need a program that can produce professional-quality documents you design, this upgrade is worth serious consideration.
Minimalists who balk at the idea of experimenting with fonts and graphics should take a look around, but the kinds of documents you can produce with Ami Pro are state of the art. If your work is seen by other people in a professional setting or if you mass-produce documents for personal use, your finished products are being help up for comparison with documents that were created using products like this one. You might be surprised at how significantly you can improve the quality of your own work with this program.