Top 10 windows tools. (software experts prefer) (includes related article and list of products) (Buyers Guide)
by Kimberly Havlena
COMPUTE and elsewhere about educational computing for ten years. Eiser says Microsoft Word for Windows is her pick as the best word processor. She likes it not only because it's powerful and easy to use, but also because it's helpful in a school environment. It has well-integrated tools, such as a style checker and thesaurus, that make it a great help to teachers. Another advantage is that it's a word processor equally powerful--and popular--in its PC and Macintosh versions. And in comparison to WordPerfect, Word for Windows is much easier to use, Eiser finds.
Tom Campbell owns and operates the South Bay Company, which develops software; he writes the "Programming Power" column for COMPUTE. Campbell uses Word for Windows because it's the best word processor he can find for large documents. He uses it for creating everything from brochures to 800-page manuals.
Desktop publishing expert William Harrel has written five books about publishing and hundreds of articles for COMPUTE and other magazines. When it comes to word processing, Harrel prefers Ami Pro. "As a reviewer, with my extensive knowledge of the three top Windows word processors, Ami Pro is the most sophisticated and the most useful," says Harrel. Ami Pro, a full-featured word processor, excels in its page layout features. While it can be used as a simple word processor for typing and creating documents, it can also handle "relatively sophisticated page layouts, such as newsletters," says Harrel. The advantage of using your word processor for layouts is that you don't have to do any extra work to transfer text between your word processor and your layout program.
George Campbell is a contributing editor for another computer magazine and a shareware author. Campbell is also a fan of Ami Pro; he thinks that it makes the best use of the Windows environment and offers outstanding tools for page design. Campbell feels that Ami Pro is easier to use than its competitors (specifically Word for Windows and WordPerfect for Windows). He uses Ami Pro for everything from basic correspondence to high-end desktop publishing.
Word processing is more than getting words down on paper, though. What kinds of word-processing add-ons do our experts rely on?
Regular COMPUTE contributor Richard Mann is a certified public accountant as well as a writer. Mann recommends Microsoft Bookshelf as an add-on for word processing. This electronic library comes with handy reference tools, including a dictionary and an encyclopedia. Bookshelf is a CD-ROM product. In fact, Microsoft Bookshelf now comes as a premium with Multimedia Word for Windows and Bookshelf. If you find a quotation in the dictionary or encyclopedia that you want to use in your text, you merely highlight it and, with the click of a button, it's inserted into your Word for Windows document. In addition to this, an automatic footnote is inserted to tell which reference book the material came from.
Steven Anzovin spends most of his time writing books, but he's also a freelance writer, an editor, a computer consultant, and a database programmer. Anzovin uses MacLinkPlus as his principal word-processing add-on. MacLinkPlus transfers files between the Macintosh and PC over a modem connection, automatically translating between various PC and Mac file formats.
Tony Roberts operates a desktop publishing business and is a COMPUTE contributing editor. To Roberts, helpfulness means OmniPage Direct. OmniPage Direct allows him to place a typewritten page on the scanner and read it into a word-processing file. With OmniPage Direct, you can do the scanning from within your own applications without having to exit to another program.
It's so easy to lose the cursor on your computer screen. ArrowSmith is a cursor enlargement program that will be sure to catch your eye and add some fun to computer input. Not only does it enlarge the cursor, but it allows you to choose what form you want the cursor to take. You could choose an ordinary arrow or opt for something with a little pizazz such as a syringe, a heart, a flag, or a magnifying glass. ArrowSmith also allows you to modify the wait symbol to a picture of a stop sign, a stoplight, a don't-walk sign, a snowflake, a smiley face, even a computer in jail. "I like ArrowSmith because it's the best cursor enlargement program I could find. Plus, it's lots of fun to use," says Tom Campbell.
Spreadsheets were an early port to Windows. First and foremost was Microsoft Excel. Recently, publishers have been creating and porting spreadsheets to Windows in increasing numbers. Which are the cream of the crop?
Richard Mann says that Excel and Quattro Pro are both excellent spreadsheets for Windows. Because Quattro Pro has the newest version, it currently does a few more things than Excel. But the features race will continue.
Quattro Pro gives you a three-dimensional spreadsheet which allows you to work not only in rows and columns but also in stacks of pages. The 3-D metaphor resembles a three-ring binder with tabs at the bottom of each page that you can click on to move back and forth between all the pages in your spreadsheet. Quattro Pro also has graphic tools for drawing and making slides that give a professional touch. "It's not only a spreadsheet, but it's a little presentation-building package as well," says Mann.
George Campbell thinks that Excel is the best Windows application. With its intuitiveness, it simplifies complications, and the final output is easily made to look presentable.
The World of Publishing
Is ease of use your prime consideration when you're looking for a desktop publishing and layout program? William Harrel says that in his opinion, Aldus PageMaker is the easiest desktop publishing software to use. It has a pasteboard metaphor that Harrel likens to working on a layout table. Anybody familiar with laying out pages on a drafting table or a paste-up table would be more comfortable with PageMaker than with some of the frame-based programs. If price is more important than ease of use, Harrel recommends Microsoft Publisher or Express Publisher.
Tony Roberts uses PageMaker in his desktop publishing business to create newsletters, brochures, and books. He prefers it to other desktop publishing software because of its many options. Roberts says that he has never liked Aldus PageMaker's keenest competitor, Ventura Publisher, in any other incarnation (Macintosh and DOS) and that he is going to stay away from it in Windows.
Ever the contrarian, Robert Bixby, features editor of COMPUTE and author of "Art Works," COMPUTE's desktop publishing column, prefers Ventura Publisher because it keeps the text closer to its original condition, easily editable by a DOS or Windows word processor. He finds PageMaker unintuitive and difficult to use.
When it comes to managing data, the options for Windows users have multiplied over the past few months with the introduction of Microsoft Access and Microsoft FoxPro for Windows. How does our panel of experts rate these packages?
George Campbell uses Access to manage his data. In addition to being easy to use and having powerful output, "it uses a subset of the Visual Basic language for development, which . . . makes it easy to work with," Campbell says.
Tom Campbell uses Access for the databases to run his business. One reason he likes it is that it has a programming language similar to ones that he already knew. He warns, however, that Microsoft tries to market Access as a product that is supposedly so easy that even a beginner could start working with it right away. "I think Access is a tremendous program--I'm even writing a book on it--but it is not for beginners," says Campbell. "FileMaker Pro 2.0 from Claris is much better for beginners than Access or FoxPro for Windows. Instant Database from Asymmetrix is another easy and inexpensive alternative. FoxPro is great if you're already familiar with FoxPro for DOS or dBASE, but it doesn't do things in an intuitive way for a seasoned Windows user."
Why isn't Access Campbell's first choice for beginners? "When dBASE II came out, it was a lot easier than anything else available, but it took a lot of work to learn to use it. It's the same in the case of Access. I simply don't think it's as easy to use as FileMaker Pro when you first start using it. If you're willing to work to learn Access, though, your efforts will be richly repaid. If your time is limited, stick to FileMaker Pro or Instant Database."
Windows has always been an excellent environment for telecommunications. In these days of instant faxes and high-speed interchange of data, it makes even more sense to do your communicating in Windows. William Harrel stands by Procomm Plus for Windows because he's found it to be powerful and easy to use. He says that Procomm is the telecommunications product that has something for everybody.
George Campbell joins in the praise for Procomm. He says that it's easy to script for logging on and other functions. It also has a good dialing directory that's easy to set up and works well at high communication speeds.
Robert Bixby recommends WinFax Pro as the foremost product in the field of direct faxing. Sending a fax with Winfax is exactly like printing to a local printer. When you select Winfax as your printing device under Windows, it pauses to get the sending information (recipient, fax number, and cover page), then formats the page as a fax. It dials the remote fax machine and sends the file automatically. Many similar programs are appearing, including programs that receive faxes and convert their graphic information into ASCII text for easy editing and compact storage. Among these is Caere's FaxMaster.
Keith Ferrell, editor of Omni magazine, says, "RapidFAX for Windows [from The Complete PC] handles my fax material more efficiently than anything else I've tried. It certainly beats printing it out, walking to the fax machine, and transmitting it manually. Seriously, the program is almost effortless to use, resides nicely in the background, and is something upon which I have grown quite dependent."
Out in Public
Presentation software is one of the fastest-growing areas in Windows. What do our Windows pros like when it comes to taking information to the people?
For presentations, William Harrel prefers Microsoft PowerPoint because it's both feature rich and easy to use. Harrel says that the approximately 20 Windows presentation programs available right now all work with basically the same idea. You create an outline, and from the outline the program automatically generates slides. PowerPoint, however, imports Word for Windows outlines. Linked to Excel and Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheets, PowerPoint creates graphs and charts. "It's just all-around versatile," says Harrel.
Aldus Persuasion is Tony Robert's choice among presentation programs. His desktop publishing business uses Persuasion extensively to create slides, overheads, and presentation material for speeches.
Every Picture Tells a Story
Creating graphics of all kinds was the earliest use of graphical environments. Windows and the Macintosh operating system made it easy to create a standard interface and a standard set of graphics tools, and the mouse--though not perfect--was still a very good drawing tool. While over the past couple of years Windows software has taken great strides beyond drawing and painting, and now includes virtually every kind of software, graphics remain the heart of the Windows experience and the principal attraction of the graphical user interface for many users. But which graphics programs are the best?
Steven Anzovin considers Adobe illustrator the standard in the field of graphics: "It may not have every tool that you want, but it has the great advantage of being a standard that many other artists are familiar with and use." Adobe illustrator is geared to the professional artist, and so is Fractal Design Painter, which Anzovin says is an excellent paint program. It gives you tools that don't exist in other programs, such as watercolor, oil paint, and charcoal. For the best effects in painting, Anzovin says Painter is the only choice. Anzovin also admires the program Arts & Letters Graphic Editor for its extensive typeface and clip art libraries.
When asked for his choice of the best graphics program, William Harrel comes out strongly in favor of CorelDRAW!. "The reason I use it is [that] I'm not a graphics artist, and it has a lot of features that make me look like one," says Harrel. CorelDRAW! is a vector drawing program that excels for nonillustrators because it has a lot of automatic features for creating 3-D objects, for mirroring objects, and for wrapping text along a path; it can also give an object perspective to make it look more three-dimensional. CorelDRAW! comes with about 250 type-faces and 14,000 pieces of clip art, along with a charting application, a bitmap application, a slide-show application, and other utilities. "So it's not only powerful--it's a great value," says Harrel.
Tom Campbell joins in the praise for CorelDRAW!, mostly for technical illustration. "I have to admit [that] it's kind of fun to play with, too," says Campbell. His reason for choosing CorelDRAW! is that it has the best combination of features and price.
Tony Roberts uses Aldus FreeHand and PhotoStyler in conjunction with PageMaker when he draws maps or diagrams or scans in photographs. The programs work hand in hand in production of Robert's books and brochures.
You may have noticed that the programs Roberts uses are generally Aldus products. He says that that has something to do with why he has chosen to use these applications. PageMaker was the first Aldus application he owned, and he felt so comfortable with it that when he began to add drawing tools and tools for scanning and photo manipulation, he decided to go with the Aldus products as they came out. The programs are designed to work together. Roberts says, "I felt confident that if I was working in one program, I would be able to use the output of it in the other without too much trouble. And that's been fairly true."
"CorelDRAW! and Arts & Letters Graphic Editor are fine products," Robert Bixby says, "but if you're looking for a complete professional vector graphics package with a robust tracing program, Micrografx Designer is second to none. It has most of the tools of the other programs, plus that incredibly powerful trace that no one else can match. It suffers slightly from having an outdated interface, but those who use it swear by it."
COMPUTE was built on programming. When there were few commercial programs available, COMPUTE printed listings that would enable readers to create their own word processors, spreadsheets, databases, and graphics programs. Now that programming is largely the province of professionals, what tools do the pros like to use?
George Campbell chooses Visual Basic 2.0 for programming. According to Campbell, it's easy to use, powerful, and by far the best way to create Windows applications.
Tom Campbell uses Borland C++ to write programs. The reasoning behind his programming choice is that Borland C++ happens to be the only C compiler that currently has a Windows-integrated environment, which makes it easier and more pleasant to use. And when it comes time to test one of his Windows programs, he's already in Windows, so he doesn't have to take the time to start up the environment.
Windows Productivity Suite
Windows has come a long way. The environment that once utilized only applications designed for graphics and spreadsheets now supports software of virtually every variety. In fact, there are so many applications available today that it's sometimes difficult to decide which one to buy. That's why experts were called in to help narrow the selection.
The programs most recommended include Microsoft Word for Windows, Ami Pro, Microsoft Excel, Quattro Pro, Aldus PageMaker, Microsoft Access, Procomm Plus for Windows, Microsoft PowerPoint, Aldus Persuasion, and CorelDRAW!, with minority support for Microsoft Bookshelf, MacLinkPlus, OmniPage Direct, ArrowSmith, Ventura Publisher, Instant Database, FileMaker Pro, Microsoft FoxPro for Windows, Aldus FreeHand, Aldus PhotoStyler, FaxMaster, WinFax Pro, RapidFAX, Adobe Illustrator, Fractal Design Painter, Arts & Letters Graphic Editor, and Micrografx Designer. When it comes to programming languages, our experts like Visual Basic and Borland C++.
How can you choose between such powerful programs as Word for Windows and Ami Pro or between Excel and Quattro Pro? If you have some specific application in mind, look for the program with the feature set that most closely matches your needs. Word for Windows is better for writing, while Ami Pro is better suited to publishing (though it's also very good for general writing). If you choose any one of the best products in a category, you can't go wrong.