Quattro Pro 4.0. (spreadsheet) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by Stephen Levy
This state-of-the-art DOS spreadsheet provides some of the latest features pioneered by Windows products.
Once, you couldn't think about spreadsheets without thinking about Lotus. Then Borland introduced Quattro Pro with an aggressive pricing and upgrade strategy. But pricing and upgrades do not, by themselves, make a spreadsheet popular. To compete with the likes of Lotus, a spreadsheet must give current Lotus users a reason to switch and new users a reason to forgo buying the product long considered the industry standard. Quattro Pro 4.0 succeeds here by taking an already powerful and easy-to-use application to new heights. Pull-down menus, a mouse option, a WYS/WYG display, and powerful graphing capabilities combine with other special features to make Quattro stand as tall as--or taller than--the competition.
Borland followed the lead of the Windows spreadsheets: Quattro now sports SpeedBar, an enhanced point-and-click selection bar for frequently used commands. So if you have a mouse, you can use the SpeedBar to avoid having to move through the menus to complete common tasks. All the most often used spreadsheet tasks appear on the SpeedBar, but you can customize the bar if you need to change or add a command.
Quattro actually comes with two SpeedBars. The general-purpose SpeedBar, available in Ready mode, allows you to copy, erase, move, or format a cell and to do a number of other tasks such as deleting or inserting a row or column. The inclusion of the @SUM function on the SpeedBar is quite handy. To add a column of numbers, all you need to do is place the cursor in the cell where you want the @SUM function and then click on the SUM button. Quattro adds all the numbers immediately above the cell you've selected--and it works the same way if you want to add a row of numbers.
The second SpeedBar is available only in Edit mode and is designed to assist in editing formulas. Although it's not as useful as the SpeedBar found in Ready mode, many users will find the Edit mode SpeedBar a welcome addition.
Essentially, each SpeedBar sports a series of 15 macros. You can define 2 macros in Ready mode and 3 in Edit mode; the remaining macros in each mode are predefined. However, if you'd like, you can rewrite any of the predefined macros. Making modifications to the SpeedBars is easy, as long as you're familiar with Quattro's macro language. Fortunately, the package includes a manual that exclusively deals with function and macro commands.
If you're unfamiliar with spreadsheet macros, you'll find the whole macro process a bit intimidating. But if you're willing to take some time to review the commands of the predefined macros and make use of the tables included in the manual, you'll overcome your apprehension and begin to appreciate the convenience of creating your own. Remember to use the Update menu option to save your changes whenever you customize something within Quattro, for Quattro doesn't remind you to save changes to your default setting.
In addition to its SpeedBars, Quattro now has pull-down menus and all their conveniences. Just as in Lotus 1-2-3, you simply press the slash key to activate Quattro's menus. Many of the most frequently used tasks are intuitive if you're familiar with basic spreadsheet operations. Most experienced users will opt, though, for keyboard control of the menus.
Quattro has no trouble sensing the presence of a mouse. If no mouse is present, the SpeedBar is absent. If you connect a mouse, you can use the keyboard or the mouse to make selections. All users, though--with or without a mouse--will have to wade through multiple menus and submenus to complete many important tasks not included on the SpeedBar. For example, although the options are easy to understand, you must make a minimum of four selections to define a single cell as currency.
If your system includes EGA or VGA, you'll be able to take advantage of Quattro's nicely styled WYS/WYG display. This option lets you see exactly what will print--even the fonts, boxes, lines, graphs, and other features you may have added to your spreadsheet. While it's a valuable feature, the WYS/WYG display slows the spreadsheet screen updates and the movement of the cursor; it also is hard to read on VGA gray-scale notebook computer. Borland realized these inconveniences and made the WYS/WYG display an option, not a standard feature. Most users will find it best to do their spreadsheet work in a standard text mode and move to WYS/WYG only when needed.
Creating attractive spreadsheets is easy, since Quattro comes with eight type styles predefined. Equally important, though, is the ability to define your most-used styles. Two heading styles come predefined in the program, but you'll probably want to define your own--another task that's easily accomplished.
One of the reasons so many spreadsheet users chose Lotus 1-2-3 in the past was to be assured of compatibility with other spreadsheet users. Borland long ago addressed that concern. As with all its predecessors, Quattro Pro 4.0 can easily load files from a variety of other programs. You simply retrieve or open a file, and Quattro translates it for you. Saving files in another format is as easy as using the appropriate file extension.
Quattro's graphing capabilities have always been competitive, but now they are outstanding. Quattro now boasts what Borland calls intelligent graphs. Essentially, these graphs give you the ability to perform specific statistical analysis on a series of data and then graph the results.
Plus, Borland has replaced some Quattro menus with dialog boxes to make it easier for you to set multiple options. If solving complex what-ifs is your bag, you'll find the new Optimizer menu useful. The Optimizer lets you preselect the results of a formula; Quattro then will change the appropriate cell values to achieve the desired results. Other new features include special copy, custom @ functions, formula protection, and improved network support.
If you've never used or been exposed to a spreadsheet, you'll need to take some time to learn to use the power of any spreadsheet you choose. First-time users will find there's more here than seems imaginable and will be discovering new ways to access Quattro's power to do more all the time.
Experienced users will find that Borland has included many features they'd only expect to find in a Windows product. If you've been considering moving to Windows just so you can move up to the next generation of spreadsheets, you'll be pleasantly surprised with Quattro Pro 4.0.
The original Quattro Pro was well worth its $495 price. This new DOS version is much more robust and feature rich, yet it will still run with just 512K RAM and a hard drive. It has all the options and abilities we've come to expect from a spreadsheet. While Lotus 1-2-3 is no slouch, given a choice, I'd choose Quattro Pro as my DOS spreadsheet.
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