Beating Lotus to the punch; improving your chess, and an integrated package for the II. (Apple cart) (column) Joseph Desposito.
Beating Lotus to the punch, improving your chess, and an integrated package for the II
As a square is to a cube and a circle to a sphere, so is the Apple IIe to the Mac. I'm not picking on the IIe here. You can substitute any other microcomputer in its place--even the IBM PC. The Mac might not be the greatest business machine on the market, but it can take you into another dimension.
I felt the full power of the Mac recently when who paths coincidentally crossed. I was given a book called The Queen's Gambit by Walter Tevis (author of The Hustler) and a copy of Hayden's Sargon III for the Mac (I already had a copy for the Apple II).
The book tells the story of a young girl, Beth Harmon, who is a chess prodigy. One of her talents is an ability to visualize the chessboard in her head. The book describes her as an 8-year old after she had played only a few games of chess: "That night she lay on her back in bed. She blinked and looked at the dark ceiling overhead and forced herself to see the chessboard with its green and white squares. Then she put the pieces on her home squares: rook, knight, bishop, queen, king, and the row of pawns in front of them. Then she moved white's king pawn up to the fourth row. She pushed black's up. She could do this! It was simple. She went on, beginning to play the game she had lost.'
I began to play chess somewhat seriously in my early twenties and made a strong effort to learn the intricacies of the game. I bought many books on the subject including Modern Chess Openings. This book is the size of a calculus textbook and lists and the important openings that are used in chess competitions. I tried my best to get something out of it, but I just couldn't. I eventually became a fair player, achieving a United States Chess Federation rating of 1420. But I knew that I hadn't come close to mastering the game, hadn't penetrated chess to its core.
Now I was reading about Beth Harmon who "held Modern Chess Openings under her desk (in class) . . . and went through variations one at a time, playing them out in her head.' Although Beth is a fictional character, I knew there had to be some truth in the story of her chess talents. And I knew that I had missed something important 15 or so years ago when I tried to learn the game.
Then along came Sargon III for the Macintosh with its superb graphics, and I thought to myself: I might not have the "talent' to visualize chess moves in my head, but here is a machine that can do it for me. It can compensate for my weakness. Let me explain.
One of the features of Sargon III is its "replay' mode. You can play a game or a sequence of moves, save the game or moves to disk, and then replay them on the screen as many times as you want. The board is reset to the beginning, and the moves continue automatically. A game can be replayed as many times as is needed for it to sink in.
The only problem now is that it will take a great deal of time for me to input MCO into the computer. But that is really not a long term problem. I'm sure that someone will eventually sell MCO on disk so that you can do some serious visualizing without the drudgery of manually inputting thousands of moves into the Mac.
One question: Has Sargon III on the Mac improved my game? It's too early to tell. But I am determined to penetrate a little deeper into the game of chess this time around with the help of the Mac. And I didn't even mention that I now have an opponent who is always willing to beat the pants off me any time that I have the urge to play. It seems that the lowest level on the Mac version of Sargon is about five times as powerful as the lowest level on the Apple II version due to the increased speed of the 68000 chip in the Mac. I beat the Apple II version a few times but haven't come close with the Mac.
If you'd like to try entering a new dimension, Sargon III is available for a suggested retail price of $49.95 and runs on a 128K, one drive Mac.
Integrated Software for the Macintosh
With the bombshell announcement by the Lotus Development Corporation that its Jazz integrated software product would be delayed for another two months, a couple of companies may have gained an opportunity to establish their own integrated products. First to come to the market was Hayden's Ensemble followed closely by Haba Systems Quartet.
The Ensemble approach to integration is through a database environment. The database is set up in vintage Macintosh fashion. You begin by creating a form in which you "drag' the mouse to open rectangular areas for fields and field names. The form can even include an area for a graphics entry, although graphics are created through MacPaint.
Lest I give you the wrong idea, Ensemble can create graphs from the data that you input into the database. The graphics that I'm speaking about are pictures that are saved along with the text and numbers that you input into a form (record). So with Ensemble, MacPaint, and a digitizer, the U.S. Post Office could conceivably keep a database of the hundred or thousand "Most Wanted' criminals complete with their digitized photos.
Ensemble does let you create small spreadsheets of about 30 columns. These can be used to create an incredible selection for 2-D and 3-D graphs quickly and easily. And it also will let you write text so that you can have a complete arsenal of weapons at your command when it's time to hand in the monthly report.
Ensemble is a relational database that will let you link up to three files. You can do calculations on the data, but Ensemble lacks its own language. Some of its other features are mail merge and labels.
Like most Mac software, Ensemble is slow and protected and supports only the Imagewriter. However, I did get it to work with an Epson FX-80 by modifying it with Epstart. But I couldn't make a backup copy that didn't need the "key' --the Ensemble Master disk.
Ensemble comes with three disks, the Master disk, an Examples disk, and a Guided Tour disk (there is no audio accompaniment). It runs on a 128K or 512K Mac with one or two drives or a hard disk. Suggested retail price of Ensemble is $299.95.
Quartet from Haba Systems is in the tradition of the integrated products some people have come to worship. It uses the spreadsheet as its source of strength and delivers a product with some punch. When I first saw an integrated product from Haba Systems I was immediately suspicious of its quality. Not that Haba doesn't produce fine products, it is just that I suspected they had bitten off more than they could chew, trying to beat Lotus to market with an integrated product. But Haba did not write this software--they are just marketing it. The software development team goes by the name MBA Software.
The product is an interesting one. It doesn't offer the vast spreadsheet of Lotus 1-2-3, but it does have a cell matrix of 62 X 999. And it appears to be lightning fast. (Please, this is not a full review since I had the product for only a day before I wrote this.) Compared to Multiplan on the Mac, it does some things better and some worse. It has a GOTO cell feature for those times when you don't want to guess with the scroll bar, but it also requires you to type and apostrophe whenever you type a label. But Multiplan is not integrated, and that's where Quartet has a big edge.
Quartet can draw pie, bar, and line graphs of up to four sets of data. However, this graphing function is not nearly as sophisticated nor as simple to use as the one from Ensemble. It has a text capability, too. Whenever you want to insert text into the spreadsheet, you just designate an area for it. With the built-in editing capabilities of the Mac, you wind up with a fair word processor. The final integrated feature is a database capability, which allows you to set up records in rows, and fields in columns. Then you can manipulate the data through creative sorting.
Quartet supports Apple's Imagewriter and LaserWriter, and can be used with the Mac numeric keypad. I was able to modify the disk for use with an Epson printer. The disk is copy protected, so I couldn't make a backup copy that didn't need the "key.'
Quartet comes with one disk-- the master disk, which does contain some sample files. The program runs on either a 128K or 512K Mac with one or two drives or a hard disk. Suggested retail price is $199.
Of the two products, it appears that Ensemble has more power, but Quartet has the features that everyone is looking for.
SuperCalc 3a for the Apple II
Although the Apple II was the first microcomputer to have a spreadsheet, it was ignored by companies such as Lotus, which produced more powerful integrated spreadsheets for the IBM PC. Well, it may be too late but it's certainly not too little--SuperCalc 3a from Sorcim is now available for the Apple IIe and IIc computers. It is a dandy package with all the trimmings.
Now Apple II users can purchase a powerful ProDOS-based spreadsheet that integrates graphs and database management functions. The spreadsheet offers a matrix of 254 rows and 63 columns. There are numerous formatting commands, built-in functions, and pointing capability.
Eight graph types are available: pie and exploded pie, bar and stacked bar, area, line, hi-lo-open-close, and x-y. Graphics can be viewed on the screen in up to 16 colors, printed, or plotted.
The database has a capacity similar to the spreadsheet. It has space for up to 253 records with 65 fields per record. You can sort the database using primary and secondary keys.
Unlike the products for the Macintosh, SuperCalc 3a supports 15 printers and six plotters. Additionally, SuperCalc 3a includes Sideways, a program that allows you to print wide reports sideways on your printer.
You know that Sorcim has been in the game for a long time, because they have also included a send/receive utility that lets you transfer SuperCalc files to and from an IRM PC. The program also reads VisiCalc and AppleWorks data and logic files, and reads and writes DIF files.
SuperCalc 3a comes with three disks, Program, Graph, and Tools, which are not copy protected. It requires 128K RAM and one disk drive, and runs in either 40- or 80-column mode. The program has a suggested retail price of $195.
This program could have been a blockbuster a few years ago. It will be interesting to see how well an exceptional program like this does in today's market.
Photo: Sargon III displays a crucial position from the 5th game of the 1972 World Championship between Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky.
Photo: A typical Ensemble record includes a MacPaint drawing.
Photo: In the Quartet database, records are rows and fields are columns.