Windows spreadsheet software. (includes glossery and an additional evaluation of Baarns Utilties) (Evaluation)
by Richard O. Mann
The action in today's spreadsheet market is in Windows. This month's Test Lab examines the current crop of Windows spreadsheets, consisting of the three traditional spreadsheets from the biggest players in the software industry, the paradigm-shifting Lotus Improv, and a single low-priced sheet aimed at the home and small-office market. Add to the mix reviews of two fascinating specialized spreadsheet-based programs and a few sidebars on related products, and you have a report on the current state of the Windows spreadsheet market.
The Big Three sheets--Microsoft Excel 5.0, Lotus 1-2-3 Release 4.01 for Windows, and Quattro Pro 5.0 for Windows--are all new versions with so many features that no one will ever use them all in daily work. After years of leapfrogging (the newest release was almost always the best spreadsheet, having copied all the new stuff in the other sheets and upped the ante with innovative new features), these three sheets have achieved near parity.
Recent years brought such clever ideas as notebookstyle tabbed sheets for quick navigation between pages; shortcut menus that pop up next to the current cell at the click of a right mouse button, showing menu items needed for that cell; drag-and-drop moving and copying; automatic filling of series data such as month names; resizable graphs that fit right on the spreadsheet; the ability to size the information to fit a single page automatically; and a button that automatically figures out what you want added and creates the appropriate @SUM formula. That's just a sample; the list goes on, getting more esoteric with each item. None of the Big Three sheets lacks any of these significant features. The importance of the leapfrog effect is waning as innovations in each new generation become less significant. The Big Three clearly stand ahead of the competition, however, so they appear first in the reviews.
Like those who advised closing the Patent Office because everything possible had already been invented, you might feel tempted to think that spreadsheets have reached their limits. They haven't, but the rate of innovation has slowed enough that buying a current spreadsheet no longer feels like investing in instant obsolescence.
Lotus markets Improv 2.1 as a multidimensional dynamic spreadsheet--something new and different, not competing with its flagship 1-2-3 sheets but augmenting them. Check out Improv; it's a refreshingly different business tool that may meet needs you didn't know you had. (Excel and Quattro Pro offer some of Improv's functionality with their pivot-table features, but they don't begin to match all the features of Improv.)
In the accompanying features grid and reviews, I have tended not to focus on the basic set of features that all the programs share but on the things that differentiate them. If a standard feature is missing, I'll mention it.
For home and small-office users, the Big Three, with their burdensome hardware demands, may be overkill. You'll need 4MB of RAM to even consider running these behemoths. For heavy use, you'd better have 8MB or more--or be unusually patient. They consume staggering amounts of hard disk space; 8MB gets you only the stripped-down program (no help files, templates, or tutorials). A full installation runs to 23MB, while an average nonnetworked configuration occupies about 16MB. Data compression, here we come.
If you need the high-powered sheets, consider buying a software suite; each of the Big Three comes in a suite, which includes a market-leading word processor and a database. Microsoft and Lotus suites include a presentation graphics program, and Lotus gives you a personal information manager. For less than the price of two programs, you get from three to five major programs designed to look alike and operate similarly, lessening the learning time. They also share data easily, almost automatically. Only Microsoft Office supports OLE 2.0.
If you don't need the high-powered sheets, consider Lucid 3-D, reviewed here, or a Works program. Works programs--most notably Microsoft Works for Windows, ClarisWorks, WordPerfect Works, and PFS: WindowWorks--provide a simple spreadsheet along with a word processor, a graphics program, and often a few other goodies. While they won't give you all the heavy-duty functions and features of the mainline programs, they're often perfectly adequate for normal demands.
I tested these spreadsheets on a 486DX2-66 desktop computer with 8MB of RAM, which was adequate to run them all without irritating delays, though more RAM would make them zippier. I also ran them on a 486DX-33 Zenith Z-Note 433Lnc+ notebook computer with 4MB RAM. All the programs ran acceptably, but loading, calculating large sheets, and other memory-intensive tasks were noticeably slow.
With so few choices in high-end Windows spreadsheets and relative parity among them, you can't go wrong with any of them that your hardware can handle. Check out the related products, too; they may meet your specialized needs.
THE BIG THREE
LOTUS 1-2-3 RELEASE 4.01 FOR WINDOWS
Release 4.01 of Lotus 1-2-3 for Windows is a completely redesigned, truly Windows-native spreadsheet with an intuitive, easy-to-use interface that both respects Windows conventions and offers new, common-sense touches that delight the user. With this release, the product finally loses the stigma of its previous versions' lackluster use of the Windows environment. And if you are among the millions of us with the old 1-2-3 slash-key menus permanently burned into our brains, you'll be glad to know that the 1-2-3 Classic function responds to those commands just as you'd expect. In addition, most of your old macros from all previous versions of 1-2-3 will work in the new Windows version.
New to this version are many interface innovations, including incell editing on the face of the spreadsheet (rather than only in the control panel); the ability to store the worksheet in a single file (previous versions had a separate format file); a pull-down listing of the most frequently used @ functions that can be expanded to show all functions, together with brief advice about how to use them; and a series of nine customizable Smartlcon bars that mimic those used in Ami Pro whenever possible.
Little touches can mean a lot: Consider the cursor used to drag and drop cells. Rather than using an uninformative pointer, 1-2-3 makes the cursor an open hand when it lingers over a cell or draggable object. Holding the mouse button down to grab the cell closes the fingers of the hand, letting you know you've got hold of it.
Another gem is the live status bar at the bottom of the screen, which shows the cell format (date, currency, and so forth), the font name and size, and an icon representing the Smartlcon bar. Click on any of these items, and a pop-up list appears, allowing you to change that attribute. You always know where you are and how to change things quickly.
The Navigator is a small icon and panel that shows the current range. Click on the icon to see a listing of all named ranges. Click on a range name to go there on the worksheet. The fill-by-example function (type Jan, highlight a range from there, and the program fills in the rest of the months) covers the normal series and allows you to set up your own frequently used series for instant access. With the new intelligent data entry, you highlight the range into which you'll be putting data. Then, as you fill the cells, hitting the Enter key moves you to the next logical cell. (In other worksheets, you need to specify your direction with an arrow key.)
Lotus likes to promote its "WYSBYGI" function--What You See Before You Get It--that shows examples of formatting choices in the dialog box before you apply them to the worksheet. It's a common function in Windows programs for font selections, but Lotus applies the principle to fonts, colors, and all other visual matters whenever possible.
This version of 1-2-3 provides "designer frames," decorative borders that you can place around cells, ranges, text boxes, or other objects. They include drop shadows, beveled edges, Post-it notes, and other visual delights. And 1-2-3 lets you rotate text within a cell to any degree you wish. Unusual visual effects are easy.
The interface features are important, but the star of the 1-2-3 show has to be the Version Manager. Beside it, the what-if function managers in Excel and Quattro Pro are weak indeed. Spreadsheets are ideal tools for testing the effects of changing variables. Budgets and projections are the easiest to visualize. Let's say that, after creating your budget, you want to see the results if sales were 10 percent higher--or lower. The Version Manager lets you store alternative sets of values in the same cells, then saves each version, noting time, date, creator, short name, and comments. After mixing your various assumptions in many combinations, you can call any of them up for review through the Version Manager or print the contents of certain cells for each version. Once you've used it, nothing else will do.
Querying external databases is also much easier in this release of 1-2-3. Instead of the cumbersome and user-hostile system of old, you get a new dialog-box-based query system that takes the pain out of the process. For database work within the worksheet, it's not in Excel's class, but for external database connections, it's better.
Because Lotus provides masterful multidimensional analysis in its separate Improv program, there has been no effort to add pivot-table features to 1-2-3 to match similar features in the competition. And anything Lotus could put into 1-2-3 would seem inadequate when compared to Improv.
This version of 1-2-3 is also available in a multimedia edition on CD-ROM for the same price. (But your manuals are all on the CD-ROM; paper books cost an extra $50.) The multimedia edition adds slick and entertaining animated guided tours, QuickMovie animations, a ScreenCam feature that lets you record your own multimedia help movies within 1-2-3, and a new Reader function that reads your spreadsheet back to you aloud for proofreading purposes.
Lotus 1-2-3 Release 4.01 for Windows is a fine spreadsheet, suitable for users at all levels. If your work runs to multiple scenario evaluation, 1-2-3 is clearly the sheet for you. If you're an old 1-2-3 jockey who doesn't want to give up the old slash-key menu commands, you'll enjoy the many new capabilities of the program while still being able to use your old, faithful commands. Lotus is once again in the forefront of spreadsheet technology in the new world of Windows.
MICROSOFT EXCEL 5.0
As the most recently released spreadsheet, Excel 5.0 has the most complete set of new features, matching the competition in almost every respect. It offers a set of truly dazzling ease-of-use enhancements, clever application of Microsoft's "Intelli-Sense" technology to let the computer do as much thinking for you as possible, and a complete reworking of its menus to match those in Microsoft Word for Windows 6.0--eight of its nine menus are the same as Word's. In addition, Excel now shares Word's spelling checker.
But the best news of all is that Excel finally has standard three-dimensional worksheets with notebook-style tabs for each page, correcting the biggest weakness of earlier versions.
All the structural changes (menus, 3-D tabs) mean that faithful Excel 4.0 users will have to unlearn certain behaviors (unless they elect to turn on the Excel 4.0 menus). Macros from version 4.0 will also present problems. The changeover should prove to be worth the temporary disorientation, however, especially if you're also using Word.
You'll enjoy the intelligent functions. AutoSum--a button that reads the sheet to determine what you probably want added--is old hat, but Excel's new version detects subtotals in the range and automatically compensates for them. It also sets up a collapsible outline based on the detected subtotals. Or try the Sort icon: It reads the columns around the active cell, determines what needs to be sorted, and performs the sorting in those cells automatically--a process that used to require a half dozen steps of specifying parameters and ranges. Excel even knows to sort text dates chronologically, not alphabetically. It all seems magical, though it's not uncommon to find that Excel has not quite guessed your intentions accurately, due to unusual items in your data.
To really light up your eyes with wonder, however, try the AutoFilter function on a multicolumned list (which you could accurately call a database). Excel analyzes the database, recognizes the column headings as field names, and creates drop-down lists for each column showing all the values for that field. Click on the value or values you want to see, and Excel filters out all other items. Considering how hard this used to be--involving setting up criteria and output ranges and so forth--this seems a true miracle.
Excel users have enjoyed the Chart Wizard, an automated tutorial function that walks you through the chart creation process. The new version now includes a Function Wizard that helps you create formulas by prompting for and explaining the often complex arguments that go into the formulas. A Text Import Wizard helps with importing data from other formats and parsing it into columnar spreadsheet data. The Pivot Table Wizard walks you through the involved process of setting up multidimensional models that borrow some of the most attractive features of Lotus Improv.
The Tip Wizard is a fascinating idea: It watches what you do with Excel, analyzes it, and pops up tips to help you do the same things more quickly or directly. It supposedly learns your style and doesn't repeat itself too much, but I found only about half of its suggestions to be valuable and turned it off after a week or so. During that first week, however, I learned dozens of new things it would probably have taken months to discover on my own--and I suspect I never would have discovered some of them. It's a good feature to have, especially while you're learning Excel 5.0.
Excel changed its macro language completely, adopting Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), although it still supports the XLM macro language from previous versions. VBA, a subset of Microsoft's Visual Basic programming language, will eventually be the macro language for all Microsoft Windows applications. Excel still records macros as you work, so you won't need to learn this programming language unless you want to do something fancy.
Charting is powerful, with more than a dozen graph types available, including a set of 3-D graphs. The Wizard walks you through the process, but may not be necessary for simple graphs, which Excel creates intelligently. All you need to do is highlight the data range you want graphed and click on a button. A new "drag and plot" feature lets you add to a graph by highlighting a new range and dragging it onto the existing graph.
Charting is so powerful now, however, that it can be overwhelming, even with the Wizard's help. A few of the more exotic graphing features were unintelligible at first, even with the Wizard's usually helpful dialog boxes.
Other notable features include the ability to edit a cell's contents on the spreadsheet rather than up in the control panel and rich cell formatting, which lets you apply formatting to parts of cell contents. Not only does the status line display an explanation for whatever is under thhe cursor, but if you let the cursor linger on an icon, a small label explaining the icon appears near the cursor.
Worksheet outlining analyzes your data's hierarchy and creates an outline structure in the left margin. You can collapse and expand at subtotals and totals, giving you both detailed and summary reports in the same worksheet.
Excel supports Microsoft's new OLE 2.0 specification, which effectively lets you embed not only Excel's data and format in a Word (or other OLE 2.0-compliant application) document, but also the Excel program itself, complete with its own menus and operating characteristics. It's an exciting idea, but unless you have 16MB or more of RAM in an ultrafast machine, it's glacially slow.
Excel abounds with both flashy new features and quiet, almost-unnoticed elegant new ease-of-use touches. Microsoft also has enhanced Excel's powerful number-crunching abilities in every way imaginable, including improved access to outside databases through Microsoft Query. This is a program that's easy to love.
QUATTRO PRO 5.0 FOR WINDOWS, STANDARD EDITION
Borland invented many of the best-loved and most-imitated features of Windows spreadsheets in its groundbreaking first release of Quattro Pro for Windows, including tabbed notebook pages, right-button mouse clicks for shortcut menus, and many graphing features. Although imitated, Quattro Pro retains its lead with its masterfully mature implementation of these features. Notebook tabs, for instance, are more useful in Quattro Pro: You can drag and drop them to change the order of pages, include them in selectable named groups, and even use them in formulas.
Similarly, Quattro Pro's graphing module is superior, with more graph types, intelligent graphing that determines graph type by analyzing the number and nature of data sets, a light table for sorting slides, and slide shows with dazzling transition effects.
Quattro Pro reflects Borland's practice of price cutting (and with a vengeance): The standard version (reviewed here) is priced at $99.95 (after a several-month introductory period at $49.95!). The other major players are priced at $495. Is the competition five times better? No way. Many would argue that the competition is not better at all. There is absolutely no question that Quattro Pro is an outstanding value. (There is a $495 version: Quattro Pro 5.0 for Windows, Workgroup Edition.)
Quattro Pro's features prove its value. You can get help for every object on the screen, including the dozens of cryptic icons, by clicking on them with the right mouse button. A brief explanation window appears with a button to call up the full help screen. Help--the right help, not just the contents screen--is never more than two clicks away. Brief explanations for most onscreen objects also appear on the status line as the cursor passes over the objects.
Because of a court decision, Borland had to remove its direct support for the old Lotus 1-2-3 slash-key menu. Macros from 1-2-3 files now require substantial editing to work in Quattro Pro.
Quattro Pro's tutorials are fully interactive. You work on your own spreadsheet data (although the program supplies samples if you want) while the tutorial program instructs you and makes sure you do the right things. It's excellent as far as it goes, but it covers only elementary matters.
Five interactive Experts (similar to Excel's Wizards) hold your hand through the processes of creating graphs, scenarios, and consolidations as well as determining if compiling your formulas would help (the Performance Expert). The Analysis Expert offers instruction on 19 advanced functions, including miniapplications that create a mortgage amortization table and evaluate possible mortgage refinancing. The noninteractive Parse Expert evaluates and converts imported text strings to spreadsheet data. Quattro Pro's Experts are the most powerful and easy to understand of the help features found in this group of spreadsheets.
There's help with @ functions on the status line, showing the syntax of the function as you enter it. While you're creating formulas in the control panel's input area (Quattro Pro doesn't yet let you work on the face of the work-sheet), it helps keep track of nested parentheses by color-coding them in pairs. Quattro Pro, with 373 @ functions, has more than any other program.
All this dragging and dropping of cells that spreadsheet users love can be dangerous, especially to someone with a less-than-sure hand on the mouse. It's easy in 1-2-3, for instance, to accidentally overwrite the contents of a cell by releasing the mouse button in the wrong place. Quattro Pro prevents this by prompting you for permission before it overwrites cell contents.
The Scenario Manager is not as far-reaching as 1-2-3's, but it's considerably easier to use and more flexible. The Data Modeling Desktop is a separate, linked application that provides multidimensional modeling. It's not as powerful as Improv nor as easy to use as the Wizard-assisted pivot table in Excel, but it works well. The Data Desktop is a similar application that provides access to outside database files. You need Quattro Pro's Workgroup Edition to reach beyond your own hard disk into networked files.
Quattro Pro isn't perfect: Its menu structure seems cluttered and somehow different from the style of most Windows applications, for instance. The installation routine warns you to be sure nothing else is running, even asking you to boot with stripped-down configuration files. It also wants Share installed with certain specific parameters. On my system, the change in Share subtly fouled up other Windows applications until l undid the parameter changes. Professional software should not be that persnickety.
But blemishes and all, Quattro Pro is a powerhouse of a spreadsheet that will meet almost anyone's needs for years to come--at one-fifth the price of the competition. It's best buy.
MORE SPREADSHEET OPTIONS
DS LAB PRO 2.0
Called "the visual spreadsheet," DS Lab Pro 2.0 creates spreadsheets without cells, columns, or rows. Instead, you work with symbols, arrows, and text placed on a white free-form background. It's like a computerized cocktail napkin or whiteboard after a productive brainstorming session.
DS Lab's building blocks are elements (represented by symbols) and connecting arrows linked under the surface of the spreadsheet by formulas. Six symbols--variables, inputs, constants, tables, series, and shadows--provide the data points for the model. To understand these terms--variables, constants, tables, series--remember your math and algebra classes. These terms will come back to you. Shadows are elements set up to be exact copies of other elements elsewhere on the worksheet. Change the original element, and the shadow reflects the change automatically.
Drag these elements from the palette onto the drawing canvas, type in a name, and connect them with other symbols. Once the flow of information and logic is defined, go back to define the connections by providing formulas.
A clever dialog box listing all available elements, variables, and functions lets you click formula parts into place, separated by mathematical operators (plus, minus, and so forth). When you activate the model, it asks for the specified inputs and displays the results at each step of the way.
You can print the flow diagrams, move the images to other Windows programs through the Clipboard, and paste the spreadsheet data into Excel for further work, such as the creation of graphs. While DS Lab stands alone, it has a special relationship with Excel, making possible one-step export and DDE links.
Consider a simple model where the gross sales figure equals units sold times unit price. In DS Lab, you'd start with a variable input triangle for units sold and a square for a constant unit price, and you'd draw arrows from each of them to a circle representing the resulting variable, gross sales. Gross sales would have a formula created in a dialog box to record that it results from multiplying the two other factors. When you ran the model, you'd input a figure for units sold, and the gross sales amount would appear on the screen. You don't need a flow diagram for a simple two-element formula like this, but complex relationships are more easily understood from this visual presentation.
DS Lab is a brainstorming tool best suited to answering questions of "How much?" through visual analysis of a process. Use it when the logical flow of data is not apparent in a traditional spreadsheet and when communication of the process itself is part of the objective.
FUZICALC 1.11 FOR WINDOWS
One problem with spreadsheets is that they require precise numbers when many of the situations we use spreadsheets to analyze are anything but precise. Budgets and projections are prime examples--they deal with probability ranges, not clean, crisp predictions. Elaborate tools such as Lotus 1-2-3's Version Manage are the best means spreadsheets have to compensate for this uncertainty. They require you to enter each combination of variables you want to evaluate--a tedious and ultimately impossible project.
Enter FuziCalc for Windows. Using the principles of "fuzzy" logic and "fuzzy" mathematics, this wondrous spreadsheet lets you quantify your expectations in rough ("fuzzy") ways, then calculates the most likely outcome. You can elect to treat each data item on the spreadsheet as a crisp or a fuzzy number. If you "fuzzify" it, you'll specify minimum and maximum likely values and either a single most likely value or a small range of most likely values. FuziCalc displays this information as a "belief graph" and uses it in the calculations that follow. Belief graphs are simple, easily learned representations of your best guesses of potential outcomes. You may think, for example, "Sales could be as high as $1.8 million next year, but certainly no lower than $1.2 million. The most likely value is $1.6 to $1.7 million." A single fuzzified cell accepts all this information.
Fuzzify as many numbers as appropriate for your model--they can all be fuzzy, if you want. Build the model just as you would any other spreadsheet, perhaps multiplying sales by a fuzzy percentage to estimate cost of sales, and so forth. At the end of the sheet, the calculated figures will be the "centroid" values resulting from all the fuzzy calculations--in essence, your best guess as to the most likely outcome. You can also examine the belief graph for the outcome, which shows you the range from lowest likely to highest likely values with the most likely range highlighted.
As a spreadsheet, FuziCalc is pretty graceless, lacking most of the interface niceties discussed in the other reviews. It's best to create the models using another spreadsheet program, then write the sheet out to a SYLK-format file. Read that into FuziCalc, fuzzify the appropriate numbers, and the job is done.
FuziCalc's robust calculus evaluates all this data in ways that would take hours and days with pencil and paper, even if we knew how to attack fuzzy math. It's a powerful tool for dealing with the numbers of reality, not the imaginary precise numbers found in ordinary spreadsheets. People who deal with forecasts, budgets, and other models involving guesses and ranges of uncertainty will find FuziCalc to be a godsend.
LOTUS IMPROV 2.1
Lotus's remarkable Improv 2.1 is mightily different from other spreadsheet programs. As you peruse the features grid in this Test Lab, be aware that Improv is not meant to be stacked up feature for feature against the Big Three.
Improv is a multidimensional data-modeling tool. To understand that mouthful of technospeak, you need to see how Improv works. First, the data isn't kept on a spreadsheet in row and column cells. Instead, Improv stores the data out of sight in a central database. Data points are not row and column references but rather bear a name built from the row and column headings. A number in the October row and the Sales column would be "Sales:October" throughout the model. No matter how you move the rows and columns through Improv's multidimensional workspace, that number will be wherever Sales and October meet. If you add a 3-D page for years, it might become "1994: Sales:October."
The power of this method becomes obvious when you start playing with the data. If you laid out monthly rows and budget category columns stacked in neat pages by year, you'd have a fairly common spreadsheet file. With Improv, however, you can grab any category's label and drag it elsewhere. Swap the row and column tags, and all the data moves to the right places. Pull the year label down from the next page and put it next to the months, and the sheet will show a list of months that continues through the years down the page. The ways you can slice and dice the data are endless, especially considering that Improv handles up to 12 dimensions.
As you move the data around your virtual Rubik's cube of spreadsheet faces, you may find new and revealing relationships.
Of course, there's more to Improv than supermalleable data presentation. Working with formulas is a new adventure as well. You don't write formulas with cell references; you write them in English, using the row, column, and page names to define the data points. Formulas don't appear on the face of the sheet; they're in a separate pane below the main sheet. It doesn't matter how you twist and rearrange the data presentation; the formulas remain valid and without change.
Improv creates collapsible outlines. If your expense for utilities includes the costs of water, sewer, and electricity, you can show the collapsed total for utilities on one line or expand it to show all three components. A sheet can hold an incredible amount of data without overwhelming you if you collapse it into subtotals.
The interface is generally consistent with that of other new Lotus Windows products, including its use of the live status bar, which both informs you of fonts, cell format, and so forth and allows you to change these elements quickly. A tiny icon at the end of the status bar pulls up a small dialog box that controls every aspect of cell formatting in one simple place. Improv has all the latest spreadsheet ease-of-use features--indeed, Lotus proudly points out that the original version of Improv written for NeXT computers invented right-button clicking for speed menus and Smart-Fill for intelligent filling of ranges.
Improv includes Lotus Chart, a graphing utility similar to that in 1-2-3, as well as Lotus Script, a macro language that is also used in other Lotus Windows products.
Improv is a whole new breed of program. Excel's pivot tables and Quattro Pro's Data Modeling Desktop mimic the ability to rearrange your data, but neither feature comes close to providing the power and flexibility of Improv's similar feature. You'll probably want to hang on to your regular spreadsheet for straightforward work with rows and columns, but get Improv to really explore the relationships in your larger models.
Until this spring, Improv was a $495 stand-alone spreadsheet-plus program. Now that the competition is including Improv-like features in their basic spreadsheetsk Lotus has decided to treat Improv more like an add-on to its basic Windows spreadsheet. The price has dropped to $129. At this price, Improv is a remarkable bargain.
LUCID 3-D 1.15 FOR WINDOWS
Aimed at homes and small offices, Lucid 3-D for Windows is a full three-dimensional spreadsheet that leaves out the more exotic features of the Big Three megaspreadsheets. While it's a robust Windows spreadsheet in its own right, it does not attempt to compete with the Big Three. Though many of us wouldn't be caught dead without the latest version of a high-tech spreadsheet on our hard disk, a surprising number of us never need anything Lucid 3-D doesn't provide. Newly priced at $39.95, it's a good fit for its intended market.
Lucid 3-D has the standard 256 tabbed pages, formatting options galore, multiple icon bars, a healthy graphing function, drag-and-drop capabilities, intelligent autofill functions, 160 @ functions, right-click shortcut menus, and built-in links to palmtop computers such as the Casio B.O.S.S. and Sharp Wizard. It imports files from Excel 4.0 and the DOS versions of Lotus 1-2-3, but it doesn't export in those file formats.
With an eye to the home user, Lucid 3-D includes 50 FastForms--spreadsheet templates of commonly used forms, such as expense reports, purchase orders, and a home inventory, Forms to compute baseball batting averages and keep a video inventory add a personal flavor. While these forms save time, they're just bare templates with little intelligence (an elegant telephone area code lookup table is the exception here). Compared to the applications you can develop with the Big Three sheets, these are minor-league.
Lucid 3-D takes only 3.8MB of hard disk space. Its documentation is, well, lucid. The only function I missed during limited testing was a fit-to-the-page printing option. Some will miss the DDE and OLE support that won't be in Lucid 3-D until the next version, due in the fall of 1994. The next upgrade will also import and export more file formats.
Unfortunately, I had trouble importing simple Lotus 1-2-3 Release 2.2 files with Allways formatting. Files often came in with some data garbled enough to crash the system when I tried to save the file.
Lucid 3-D is a surprisingly capable spreadsheet--unless its bugs are acting up--for home and small-office users with limited needs It comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can find out without risk if it's going to work with your particular computer.
TEST LAB PICKS
The Test Lab.pick as the finest Windows spreadsheet that money can buy is clearly Microsoft Excel 5.0, though not by a large margin. As the most recently released of the Big Three, it's had time to match the competition's latest innovations and add a few of its own. It's a superb spreadsheet, suitable for anyone with hardware powerful enough to run it.
The best buy is Quattro Pro 5.0 for Windows, hands down. At one-fifth the price of the other megasheets, with a rich feature set that's only slightly out-belled and -whistled by Excel, and with several unusual strengths of its own, Quattro Pro has to be the sheet of choice for anyone wanting to conserve precious financial resources.
Lotus 1-2-3 Release 4.01 for Windows doesn't lag far behind. For those who can run the old slash-key menus of the DOS versions of 1-2-3 in their sleep, the Classic menu feature here may tip the scales in favor of 1-2-3 for Windows. Its unusually versatile Scenario Manager makes it the sheet of choice for those who frequently perform involved what-if analysis.
THE BAARNS UTILITIES 5.0 FOR MICROSOFT EXCEL
The Baarns Utilities provides 23 helpful utility functions Microsoft somehow forgot to include in Excel's more than 20 megabytes of program. There's some pretty handy stuff here, including a beefed-up autosave function that saves up to nine incremental copies, an express math function that allows you to apply a math operation to every item in a row or column, and a save-as-icon feature that sets up an icon with both Excel and the open files in place next time you run the program.
A template Wizard called Baarns New creates a library of spreadsheet templates to which you can assign longer, 31-character names. Baarns Zoom pops up a slider control to allow you to display your worksheet quickly at any level of magnification you choose.
The Baarns Utilities will paste various formats of data and time into spreadsheets, warn you of up to 12 timed reminders, cleanse a worksheet of all print parameters, dial any phone number in the worksheet, and fix Excel so that it naturally opens files in full-screen windows. And there are a dozen or more additional functions.
As powerful and packed with features as Excel is, there's still room for improvement. The Baarns Utilities provides features that, once seen, you won't want to be without.
The Baarns Utilities 5.0 for Microsoft Excel--$89.95 Minimum requirements: any system that runs Excel 4.0 or 5.0
BAARNS CONSULTING GROUP 12807 Borden Ave. Sylmar, CA 91342 (800) 377-9235 (818) 364-6148
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO SUPERCALC AND CA-COMPETE?
Computer Associates' main spreadsheet, SuperCalc, has always been a superb but little-known DOS product. Its CA-Compete is a Windows-based multidimensional spreadsheet, somewhat like Lotus Improv. CA declined to have CA-Compete reviewed here because it and SuperCalc are undergoing a major redesign.
The new product, due later this year, will be CA-SuperCalc for Windows. CA promises that this will be a blending of a special Improv-like approach (including multidimensional modeling, a central database, and natural language formulas) with a full-featured Windows spreadsheet comparable to one of the Big Three.
The price has not yet been set for this ambitious product. CA can be reached in Islandia, New York, at (516) DIAL-CAI.
add-in. A special subprogram that can be brought into the main program to perform a particular operation. The Baarns Utilities, for example, is an add-in to Excel.
@ functions. Formulas in spreadsheet cells that compute various items such as sums, interest rates, payments, dates, and so forth. In spreadsheet parlance, these always start with an "@" sign to signal the program that these are special functions. Example: @SUM(A1..A20) would add the contents of cells A1 through A20 and put the result in the cell where the formula is written.
data pivoting. Moving rows and columns of data around the sheet, converting them between rows and columns at will.
DDE. A Windows term, short for Dynamic Data Exchange. A method for automatically passing information between programs so that when a change is made in one application's file, it's reflected in the other application's file automatically.
in-cell editing. Editing and working with cell contents in the spreadsheet grid rather than in the control panel at the top of the screen.
macro. A series of keystrokes recorded within a spreadsheet that can be replayed at any time by the user. Usually keyed to Alt-key or Ctrlkey combinations.
OLE. Short for Object Linking and Embedding. Another Windows term, OLE refers to taking a piece of one application's information and "embedding" it in another application's file. With OLE, if you embed an Excel spreadsheet in a Word document, you can work on the spreadsheet using Excel menus and commands while in the Word document.
rich cell formatting. Most spreadsheets allow assigning formatting options such as fonts and colors only to whole cells. With rich cell formatting, you can assign these characteristics to individual characters within a cell.
scenarios. A spreadsheet can be a model--a series of relationships between data elements. If you change a basic input, the rest of the sheet changes as a result. Scenarios are these multiple iterations of the sheet with different input values. Working with these scenarios is called what-if analysis.
slash-key menu. The original Lotus 1-2-3 menu was brought up by hitting the forward-slash key. Even the latest Windows version of 1-2-3 still responds to the original slash-key menu commands because so many millions of users know them by heart.
what-if analysis. See scenarios.
Wizard. An automation feature that uses artificial intelligence to lead you through a complex process. Also called Expert.