The Syn Series For Atari:
SynTrend, And SynFile+
Requirements: Any Atari computer with
at least 48K RAM and a disk drive. Part of SynTrend also requires Atari
It was a year and a half ago that Synapse announced the Syn Series of
software at the June 1983 Summer Consumer Electronics Show (CES). This
very ambitious collection of software was going to include programs for
word processing, data base management, spreadsheets,
telecommunications, stock charting, graphics, and calendar-keeping. All
of the programs were going to use similar file structures so they could
share data. Prototypes of several of the programs were shown, and they
looked easy to use and full of features.
By January 1984, at the Winter CES in Las Vegas,
Synapse had struck a deal with Atari for the three major programs in
the series. SynCalc, SynTrend, and SynFile+ would be produced by
Synapse and marketed exclusively by Atari. The word processor, SynText, was canceled to keep it
from competing with Atari's AtariWriter,
and Synapse was free to market the remainder of the Syn Series on its
After a long wait, the spreadsheet, graphics, and
data base programs are finally available. As promised, SynCalc, SynTrend, and SynFile+ can share the same data
files. Also, the three application programs are compatible with AtariWriter so that data can be
embedded within reports and cosmetically formatted. However, in the
wake of Jack Tramiel's purchase of Atari, Synapse will be distributing
the entire Syn Series after all.
Let's take a closer look at these programs'
strengths and weaknesses.
SynFile+ is an outgrowth of
two previous Synapse data base programs. The original one, FileManager 800, has been around
for several years. It was fairly easy to use but lacked sophisticated
features such as field totaling. This problem was addressed by the
improved program, FileManager+,
which became quite popular.
shares many features with the earlier programs, but has been totally
rewritten in Forth, resulting in faster sorting and record access.
Also, it uses the full 48K of memory to add significant features (the
new XL computers have 64K, but Synapse apparently wanted to keep the
program compatible with older Ataris as well).
totally menu-driven and memory-resident. It is very easy to use and
not require you to swap disks when accessing different functions of the
program. One of the more useful new features is that your data file
disk can be formatted in any of three disk densities: single density,
Atari 1050 enhanced density, and true double density. Choosing enhanced
or double density allows you to store more records on the disk than
allowed by previous versions of the program. You can store your data on
up to 16 disks-a lot of capacity, but also a lot of swapping.
There are other new and useful features in SynFile+. Mailing labels can now be
printed from one to four labels across. When setting up labels or
reports, the screen can be scrolled horizontally up to 232 characters.
The print format line is a template for specifying the horizontal
layout of your report. The location of field names under the print
format line determines how the columns will be placed horizontally. You
can use up to 40 field names.
Another worthwhile feature of SynFile+ is that it can read and
write data files in DIF (data interchange format). This lets you pass
your data base information to such programs as SynCalc, SynTrend, and VisiCalc. Also, you can bring DIF
data into SynFile+. In
addition, when creating a report or mailing list, you can direct the
output to the screen, printer, or a text file on disk. This text file
has a .TXT name extension and can be accessed by AtariWriter.
Versatile Field Types
SynFile+ contains quite a few
new field types. In addition to the usual text, numeric, computed, and
dollar fields, conditional and table lookup fields are allowed.
Conditional fields contain a code that is crossreferenced to a text
entry. Based upon the value of a previously specified relationship, one
of several text entries will be printed in your report. Similarly,
table lookup fields contain a code that is cross-referenced to a list
of previously defined alternatives. At report time, the matching table
entry is printed instead of the particular code.
Other new field types include record numbers
initially assigned and incremented by the computer, counters (similar
to record numbers except you specify the starting value and the
increment), and the date. Once a date has been entered, it will
automatically appear on succeeding records so you don't have to enter
it for each record. A handy feature.
Retrieving a record with Synapse
comes with a program disk, a tutorial disk, and a 121-page attractively
packaged manual. The tutorial disk is a clearly presented, step-by-step
introduction to all aspects of the program. The manual is wellwritten
and contains such useful features as a quick reference card, glossary,
does have some inadequacies, though. First, it cannot read previously
created FileManager 800 and FileManager+ files. If you're
converting to SynFile+, you
have to retype all of the data into the new program. Fortunately,
Synapse is working on a utility that will convert the older format
files into SynFile+ format
and also provide backups. It's expected to be available late this year.
Another weakness is that SynFile+ has no report-writer
function to let you generate multiple sublevels in a report, each with
its own subtotal. Again, Synapse promises a utility/enhancement disk by
the end of the year with a sophisticated report generator.
These few complaints aside, SynFile+ is an excellent data base
program for the Atari computer. Its compatibility with the other Syn
series software, ease of use, and number of new features make it
definitely worthy of consideration for Atari users seeking a quality
data base manager. SynFile+
also works automatically with the Axlon 128K Rampower and Mosaic 64K
Of the three Syn Series programs reviewed here, SynCalc is clearly the best,
offering excellent features and the best value. Compared to the
existing spreadsheet programs for the Atari computer, SynCalc simply cannot be matched.
you create various worksheets of text and data for such applications as
income taxes, budgets, checkbook balancing, forecasting, and preparing
The spreadsheet itself is a grid of 255 rows and 128
columns, forming over 32,000 cells for entering data. Each cell can
contain text, numbers, or a formula. As numbers are entered, results
are recalculated and displayed instantly.
Text and data can be easily manipulated throughout
the grid. Formulas, numbers, and labels can be copied from one
position to other positions. Two parts of the spreadsheet can be viewed
simultaneously by using the vertical and horizontal splitscreen feature.
What makes SynCalc
especially attractive is its ease of use. Pop-up menus display
the current mode and available functions. With experience, you can
eventually issue direct commands without referring to the menus.
When using the menus, the commands are always
displayed at the top of the screen. For example, to copy cells A1
through A5 to locations B1 through B5, you'd have to select a total of
six menu entries. Alternatively, you can type /C A1:A5 B1:B5. You can
type cell addresses directly or move the cursor to a cell and press
There are several features unique to this spreadsheet program for the
Atari computer. Variable-width columns let you format and display your
worksheet more flexibly. If a particular cell's contents exceed the
width of the column, you can still display the entire entry. This text
overflow feature may be turned off if desired. Cells can be justified
left, right, or centered. If you change column widths, the
justifications are automatically readjusted.
Numeric cells can be displayed in a variety of
formats: Fixed-point, floating-point, engineering, and scientific
notation, each with up to ten decimal places displayed. A leading
dollar sign can be added and commas inserted to make large numbers more
readable. There are just too many format options to describe here.
A very powerful feature of SynCalc is the ability to sort
data entries in alphabetic or numeric order. Sorts can be either
ascending or descending. Once you define the block of cells to be
sorted, you specify a column for sorting and the upper-left cell of the
destination block. Although SynCalc can
sort on only one column, you can perform multiple sorts by repeating
lets you use one- or two-drive systems; select menus and filenames by
pressing just the cursor key (without the CONTROL key); and perform
table lookups, conditional tests, and statistical functions. Also, you
can format disks from the main menu and save worksheets in either DIF
format (for use with SynFile+
and SynTrend) or text format
(for use with AtariWriter).
I've used the AtariWriter output
feature many times and think it is one of the best features of SynCalc.
The 148-page manual is divided into introductory,
tutorial, reference, and index sections. Screen shots help clarify
examples, and a quick-reference card is included.
an excellent product. It has many more features than VisiCalc and is
much easier to use. The ability to access VisiCalc files and to
integrate with the other Syn products and AtariWriter makes SynCalc a
"must-have" program for nearly everybody. Once you start using the
program, you'll find more uses for it than you expected.
Setting up a home budget spreadsheet
SynTrend is actually composed
of two separate programs, SynGraph and SynStat. SynGraph is a
high-resolution, color-graphing program, and SynStat is a statistical
program for analyzing trends in your data. The package comes with two
program disks and a two-section manual.
SynGraph can be used to create four different types
of graphs: line plot, bar chart, scatter plot, and pie chart. It will
accept data in SynStat, SynFile+,
SynCalc, and VisiCalc file formats. Once
generated, graphs can be saved to a disk and printed.
SynGraph requires BASIC and works with either one or
two disk drives. Working with the program is essentially a two-step
process. First, you compile the data files that will be used to create
the graphs. Second, you choose the type of graph to make.
The line graph, scatter plot, and bar chart can each
display up to three different factors (sets of data). Each factor must
exist in a separate data file. The pie chart is created from a single
data file, and compares the data points against others within the same
file. You can choose labels for titles, X-Y axes, factor names, and pie
chart slices. X-Y coordinates may be displayed in either whole numbers
Specific scales can be entered for all but the pie
charts. When displaying line and scatter plots, autoscaling results in
numbers in integer format and divisions of 5 and 10 for X and Y,
respectively. Autoscaled bar graphs yield decimal format numbers, Y
divisions of 10, and a cluster pattern. A cluster pattern places the
factors (a maximum of three) next to each other along the X axis,
whereas a stacked pattern places the factors atop each other. Any of
the graphs can be rescaled at any time.
Labeled Pie Charts
Pie charts may contain up to 12 slices and are used for graphing one
factor. Each slice is labeled (up to seven characters) with its
percentage of the whole. If you don't name the slices, the program
defaults to labeling them A, B, C, etc.
The strengths of SynGraph are the ease of entering
and editing the data and creating the graphs, and the straightforward
documentation. Also, the ability to save graphs for future use and a
slide-show program that can recall the saved graphs in sequence are
Unfortunately, SynGraph has a few weaknesses. Files
cannot be deleted, renamed, or catalogued without exiting to DOS. The
only printers it supports are those from Epson, NEC, and C. Itoh. There
is no support for Okidata printers, and problems have been reported
using the C. Itoh 8510 Prowriter. Synapse is aware of these problems
and is working on a fix. And finally, the program requires the BASIC
cartridge but does not alert users of the older 800 and upgraded 400
computers if they forget to plug it in.
Overall, SynGraph is a usable program for graphing
data, assuming you have a compatible printer. Its ability to access SynCalc, SynFile+, and VisiCalc data make it more than
just another graphics program.
SynStat is a completely menu-driven program for manipulating and
analyzing data. You have a choice of descriptive analysis, or simple or
multiple regression analysis. Up to four disk drives may be used.
Since SynStat can read or write DIF format files,
you can analyze VisiCalc data
and use VisiCalc to read
files created with the SynStat data editor. Also, you can format disks
directly from the main menu without going to DOS.
The data editor contains several useful commands for
transforming columns. Data in one column may be added to data in a
second column, with the results appearing in a third column. Likewise,
columns of data may be subtracted, multiplied, or divided and the
results placed in a third column. You can add or multiply columns by a
constant, with the results replacing the original numbers. The natural
logarithm of a column of data can also be obtained.
SynStat's descriptive analysis displays eight pieces
of information: The number of observations, minimum and maximum values,
the range of values, the average, standard deviation, variance, and the
Regression analysis is a common statistical
technique to confirm or deny a hypothesis concerning the relationship
between two or more variables. A separate file is used for the
independent and dependent variables, and they must contain exactly the
same number of observations. SynStat first displays a summary of the
data. The coefficient and standard error of the estimate are given for
each of the variables. It also displays an overall r-squared
(coefficient of determination), adjusted rsquared, and standard error.
A proportioned pie chart created with
If you use two independent variables, SynStat
displays a screen of partial correlation co efficients. This
information is used to determine how closely the two independent
variables are related to each other. The final screen is called the
residual analysis screen. Here the actual, predicted, and residual
values are shown for the data being analyzed.
The documentation contains some tutorial information
on regression analysis, but you should already be familiar with the
topic before using the program. Any introductory statistics textbook
The SynStat manual contains a glossary and index in
addition to its tutorial and reference section. Since SynStat is part
of the SynTrend package,
careful thought should be given to its usefulness in meeting your needs.
Syn Series Quality
As a whole, SynFile+, SynCalc, and SynTrend represent quality
software for the Atari computer. Each has useful features, such as
rapid cursor movement and straightforward menu screens, and is easy to
use. Their ability to share data with each other and to work with AtariWriter are valuable assets.
The only feature one might wish for is 80-column capability with the
Bit-3 and Austin-Franklin 80-column boards. According to Synapse, there
will be new versions of the programs that will work with Atari's
80-column board in the 1090XL expansion box, when or if the box is
released. These programs have taken a long time to finally arrive, but
the wait has been worth it.
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