VisiCalc Home And Office Companion
Camas Valley, OR
The paragraph began, "If your computer can run the VisiCalc program, you can enter and use any of these 50 models immediately."
I thought: "All I need is another book of useless, simplistic cookbook routines that have no application to real life!"
My past experiences with books of "popular routines in ABC BASIC" were far from satisfying. Their dusty covers are a constant reminder to me of how not to spend my money. I soon discovered, however, that the VisiCalc Home and Office Companion (henceforth VHOC) was not quite what I had expected, both in the type of applications addressed and in their usefulness to my business.
For each of the 50 applications a VisiCalc spread sheet is shown, along with a listing of the VisiCalc instructions which will produce it. For instance, in the "Grade Book" model, a spread sheet is shown formatted to resemble a typical grade book. Along the left column are the students' names, and to the right are columns titled "SCORE FOR TEST 1, SCORE FOR TEST 2," etc. On the far right is a column which reports each student's test average. The last row of the page displays the class average for each of the tests. If you boot VisiCalc and type in the listing, the blank worksheet will be formatted to resemble this grade book. Once you have typed the listing in, you just change the names and scores to your class data, save the file, and the grade book is ready to use. Each time you want to look at it you boot VisiCalc, enter the storage command: /SL GRADE BOOK, and the book is displayed on the screen. Since the book is a VisiCalc file, any time you enter a new name or change a score or put in a new column, you do it through VisiCalc.
The listing for each model is easy to follow. VisiCalc commands and data are entered by column; therefore, column A is entered first, then column B, etc. The commands are mixed with the data, so care must be taken to follow the listing exactly. For instance, portions of the listing for the D column in "Sales Commission Register" look like this:
>D1 : "MISSIONS >D4 : " (SALES >D6 : /FL " TO >D7 : 1 >D8 : 3001 . . . . . . . . >D29 : @SUM (D23…D27)
The VHOC contains a number of useful models which enable the user to quickly set up meaningful, attractive VisiCalc files. The models are organized into seven categories: loans and investments, general business, inventory control, advertising and sales, personnel and departments, personal finance, and household aids. I was pleasantly surprised to find the majority of the models devoted to business and finance. It's hard for me to get excited about recipe conversion programs, tire rotation reminders and other so-called household computer applications. There are certainly home applications for computers, but they're a bit more substantive than these, I hope. Of the three models presented in the household aids section, "Events Scheduling" is trivial. "Paint a Room" is too complicated for a simple room painting job.
Out of the 50 models presented, about 20 of them are generally helpful. These make effective use of VisiCalc's features. The others either tend to be directed to a small audience or are more trouble to set up than they are worth in terms of the jobs they perform. "Business Startup Worksheet" might be helpful to someone who regularly starts businesses, but if and when I ever start another business I won't spend an hour typing in a model when I can jot down the same expense categories and total them in 15 minutes. Similarly, I'm not interested in "Travel Log." My little auto record book in the glove compartment keeps sufficient records of my trips without my having to type in all that information again at the computer just to get it neatly categorized on a printout.
I will probably use several of the better models in my own business. "Professional Service Fee Analysis" is very helpful for setting reasonable fee rates for your own consulting business. The "Sales Commission Register" elegantly calculates sales commissions on a sliding scale and keeps a running year-to-date tally on both commissions and draws. If you've been wondering what your net worth is, "Net Worth Statement" will remind you of the important assets and liabilities to consider and then assemble them into a convenient report. There are stock and bond portfolios, a rental property evaluator, a cash flow analyzer and various financial schedules for retail and manufacturing businesses. Basic accounts receivable and payroll and inventory control models are presented as well as several project schedules.
A word of caution is appropriate here, I think. If I were in the market for a bookkeeping system, I would look for one with as little damage potential as possible. All of these models fail in this regard since the systems themselves can be easily modified by the same VisiCalc commands that are being used to update data. In conventional computer bookkeeping systems, the only way the operator can mess the results up is by entering erroneous numbers. In a VisiCalc based system, a few simple one-button commands can wipe out entire columns of data and programmed commands. Not only that, but a few more one-button commands will wipe out the original file! These are serious limitations. Office environment pressures are often intense, and, if careful concentration must be maintained to operate a system, there will come a day when it's not maintained and the results can be disastrous. If you plan to use any of these models for bookkeeping, train the operator carefully, make periodic file printouts, hide a backup disk for your own peace of mind and provide the operator with a library atmosphere to work in.
The documentation supplied with each application, in general, is sufficient to explain ambiguous data titles and operation procedures; however, the VHOC is not a business or investment primer. The "Mini Accounts Receivable" model is a workable ledger, but don't expect to learn bookkeeping procedures for accounts receivable from the half-page of documentation given with it.
The majority of the models presented in the VHOC are useful and practical helps for investment analysis and business planning. Every VisiCalc user could probably apply at least two or three of these. The models themselves are excellent examples of how to format the VisiCalc worksheet to print professional looking expense reports and balance sheets. With careful consideration of the limitations inherent in the VisiCalc "operating system," several of these models can be used effectively for book-keeping. The authors have effectively shown how to use VisiCalc in applications for which I never would have considered VisiCalc. If none of the models had been useful to me, the book would still have been a valuable purchase for that education alone.
Home and Office Companion