Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 9, NO. 10 / OCTOBER 1983 / PAGE 79

Businesspak+: getting down to business with the model 100. (evaluation) Glenn A. Hart.

The new Radio Shack Model 100 portable computer is a wonderful tool for the travelling executive. Its full size keyboard, large 8-line by 40-column display, built-in modem and cassette, parallel and serial interfaces make it a flexible and powerful tool that can be used almost anywhere.

This fine hardware is combined with excellent software included with the Model 100. Stored in ROM and always available, an easy-to-use text entry program, Microsoft Basic interpreter and scheduling and note taking programs are quickly learned and quite flexible. Nevertheless, there are enhancements to the Radio Shack software that would provide even greater utility for the executive.

The first third party software for the Model 100 addresses exactly these needs. Designed specifically for the businessman, Businesspak + is a package of six programs from Dallas-based Portable Computer Support Group which adds tremendous flexibility to the Model 100 while retaining the ease of use of Radio Shack's own software.

The programs employ both the Basic built in to the Model 100 and machine language calls to the ROM routines provided by Radio Shack. While PCSG is not related to Radio Shack in any way, the geographic closeness has evidently led to a corporate closeness as well. PCSG claims to have "torn apart" the Model 100 ROMs, and judging from the way the programs operate, they have done their job well.

The six programs in the package include a text formatting program to expand the built-in text entry program into a complete word processor, an excellent expense account maintenance program which includes many aspects of a spreadsheet, a screen-oriented data entry program which allows designing custom entry screens and maintains data in consistent internal formats, a sort utility to arrange such organized data files, a graphics program to generate pie, bar, and line graphs, and a marvelous Telex/ECOM program which provides access to the wide range of telecommunications services through these professional networks from the Model 100! Write + Word Processing

The PCSG "word processor" uses the standard text entry program supplied with the Model 100. As Model 100 owners know, the text entry program is easy to learn and simple to use, yet flexible enough for nearly any reasonable text manipulation.

The PCSG program formats text when printed. Two methods are used to indicate the user's formatting desires. A special text file called W+SPEC.DO stores default values for various standard printing options (see Table 1). This file can be edited to change the default values. The other method is to imbed commands in the text file itself to instruct the formatting program to take special action. As in many other such programs, the traditional "dot command" concept is used. A period in the leftmost column indicates a command, and the letter which follows specifies the exact action desired. The PCSG program uses only a single character; the letter codes chosen are as related to the function called as possible (see Table 2).

The functions provided are quite comprehensive and allow many standard word processing features such as justification (with extra spaces only, no proportional printing), centering, headers and footters, page numbering, and adjustment of indentation and margins. The command syntax is so easy that there is very little learning time required--an important consideration for the executive target audience.

Control characters can also be imbedded anywhere in the text file (not only at the beginning of a line) to control special printer capabilities like underlining, boldface, etc. The method is identical to that used in WordStar, i.e., a CONTROL-P imbeds the next character, which is then sent directly to the printer when the file is printed. The current version of Write+ is designed for parallel printers, which is the normal output port for the Model 100. A serial printer version would not be hard to program, and PCSG will probably add this capability in a future release.

While it certainly lacks many functions, the PCSG program generates printed output which is much more attractive than the simple-minded Radio Shack output routines. All functions worked exactly as described in the excellent documentation. Output on both a daisywheel printer and several dot matrix printers was truly impressive and fully business quality. This is a first-rate program that almost justifies the cost of the entire software package all by itself. Expns+ Expense Report Generator/Spreadsheet

Travelling executives use a wide variety of methods of keeping track of expenses. While scrupulous notes certainly work, a final report must still be prepared, and some of the complex books or electronic alternatives are almost always more trouble than they are worth. Expns+ is different. It is very easy to use, extremely flexible and prepares a well formatted final report.

The program uses text files to store report headings, expense categories, and period designations like the day of the week, date, or whatever. Up to 18 categories and 12 periods can be handled, more than enough for most applications. The user can modify any of the text entries to customize the program for his needs.

Expns+ first asks which data file to access; the user can maintain many different ones if desired. A time period is chosen, e.g., WEdnesday, and then the 18 expense categories appear on the display. Moving the cursor to one and hitting ENTER clears the screen and shows any previous entries in the category for that period, and also allows entering new expenses. Up to 18entries can be made in each category for each period. The bottom of the display shows cumulative expenses for the period and in the expense category.

Each numeric entry can be followed by a one character "note." Each category can accommodate its own set of notes, so a lower case a in the Tips category is distinct from an a note to Breakfast. The meaning of each note is stored in the text file and prints out on the final report as a footnote. During data entry, a function key scrolls all notes which have been entered into the text file in case the user has forgotten the meaning of a note or which one should be used.

Expns+ has a Replication feature which allows a constant expense to be copied into asuccession of cells. A multiplier value can be specified to grow or decrease the amount by a constant. This is very useful to help convert Expns+ into a simple spreadsheet program rather than simply storing expenses. PCSG includes a model for corporate budgeting and provides ample instructions on how to use the program as a spreadsheet. While the program does not contain many of the useful functions found in a SuperCalc-type program, rather sophisticated what-if analysis, forecasting, and other typical spreadsheet applications are easy to implement.

Reports can be generated at any time and look like a spreadsheet created with VisiCalc, SuperCalc, or the like. Expns+ handles reports too large to fit on one page just as these other programs do; multiple pages are created which can easily be spliced together.

Expns+ does a wonderful job of tracking expenses. I used it to store expenses on a ten-day trip starting the day after I received that software, and I have never used a better system. I'm sure I would have forgotten some minor expenses if I were using written notes, and program operation was so intuititve after a few minutes that using the Model 100 to store expenses was actually fun! Graph+ Graphics

Graph+ creates pie, bar, and line graphs from data entered with the Expns+ expense program. Since Expns+ can be used as a spreadsheet as well, the combination can plot any desied data. The main heading entered with Expns+ is centered over the graph; the other headings follow. Labels are used as appropriate and are also obtained from the Expns+ file. Either row or column values can be plotted. Pie charts are fixed toa three-inch diameter, while bar and line charts can be any horizontal or vertical size that will fit the paper in use.

At present, Graph+ works only with Radio Shack's Model DMP 100 matrix printer. While this is a reasonable choice as a companion to the Model 100, many users may have other matrix printers. By the time this article appears, Portable Computer Support Group should be providing eigher customized versions or instructions on how to use other printers.

I don't have a DMP 100, but Graph+ worked perfectly when I tried it at a Radio Shack store. The program is so easy to use that executives should be able to spice up their printed output with graphs even without knowing anything about the sometimes complex and confusing world of computer graphics. Put+ And Sort+

The Put+ program works much like programs like DataStar and other data entry utilities. It is easy to define an entry screen to collect up to 16 data fields. The user can select prompting messages and specify the permissible length of each field, as long as everything fits on one display screen (no multiple screen forms are possible).

When the program is invoked, the user selects which screen file to work with. The Model 100 display fills with prompts and entry fields indicated by solid blocks of the appropriate length. As data are entered, the down arrow key is used to move to the next data field and RETURN stores the datas into memory. This is a bit annoying, since it is more intuitive to hit RETURN after each field. I would prefer a control character to accept the entire screen of dat (Control-W for Write?), but it appears that PCSG tried to stayaway from control characters in general, probably thinking that executives wouldn't feel comfortable with them.

In any event, the entered data are stored to RAM in a fixed position format. While examining the created file is confusing, since the fields don't appear to be lined up due to the Model 100 word wrap, the fixed format allows the companion Sort+ utility to sort the data on any field, either alphanumeric or numeric.

The operating method Sort+ uses is quite similar to Put+, which makes the combination easy to learn. When Sort+ is first invoked, the desired file is chosen adn the same display screen used to enter the data with Put+ appears on the display. The user simply moves the cursor to the field to sort on and its RETURN. The sort proceeds quite quickly. With either utility, the file created can be saved to cassette and/or retained in RAM.

Both programs work as advertised, and can be quite helpful if reasonably large amounts of data are to be manipulated with the Model 100. I tend to think, however, that this is not a primary use for this computer, and with smaller data lists it isn't too hard simply to use the text editor and be sure to maintain consistent formats. Nonetheless, Put+ and Sort+ work well and could be useful to some users. Telex+ Telecommunications

Telex+ provides access to many of the telecommunications services offered by Western Union's Telex service, but without the need for a dedicated Telex line. Even more ramarkable, the same program can be used to send the Postal Service's new ECOM computer mail. An ECOM messages cost much less than MailGrams and have similar impact. Since the program is designed for large volume users, the Post Office requires the user to send at Least 200 ECOMs at a time, which pretty much lets out the small microcomputer user. As we shall see, however, the PCSG program lets you send even one, which is actually cheaper than a stamp, envelope, and paper!

The Telex+ program depends on Action Telex Inc., a special Telex "service bureau" company based in Dallas with offices in 14 major US cities. The PCSG package include a free trial of the Action Telex service. The user calls PCSG and is given a temporary ID number which allows sending three Telex or ECOM messages. Thereafter, he must subscribe to Action Telex, which cost $150 a year with no minimum monthly billing. This may seem like a lot to someone not familiar with Telex, but it is actually a bargain given that a dedicated Telex line alone costs $50 a month.

Sending a message is simplicity itself. When Telex+ is invoked the user is asked to select a text file which has been previously prepared using the normal Model 100 editor. A choice of Telex or ECOM is requested. The program asks for the Telex number (or name and address for an ECOM) of the recipient. A pe-stored default number can be selected if desired. The program then dials the local Action Telex office, sends the message, renames the file by changing the last letter of the filename to X to show it has already been sent, and logs off--all totally automatically. If a printer is connected, the program also generates a hard copy of the message for file purposes.

As if this weren't enough, Action Telex offers a wide range of special services as well. A system called Actiongram can be used to send messages to the UK, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Hong Kong, and part of South America, even if the recipient doesn't have a Telex machine. Much less expensive than an international cable, delivery is usually next day, and replies can be prepaid. International Telexes are also accepted, and the system also allows the same text to be sent to multiple domestic ECOM addresses or Telex machines, using Put+ and Sort+ to prepare the mailing list files if desired.

The Telex network can be quite confusing, even to experienced users. Telex+ and the Action Telex services reduce the difficulties to an absolute minimum. The entire system worked correctly the first time I tried Telex, ECOM, and the other services. PCSG should be commended for this excellent program. Many users will soon wonder how they got along without these services. Summary

To say that I am impressed with the Businesspak+ package is an understatement. "Human engineering" is rapidly becoming an overused and even trite phrase, but I have rarely seen as much of it in any software package, even ones selling for many times the cost of Businesspak+. Not only are all the programs very easy to learn and use, they follow theinnate operating procedures of the Model 100 so closely that it is hard to tell whre the ROM routines stop and the cassette software starts.

Other aspects of the package are also first rate. The use of Model 100 function keys is excellent, documentation is lucid, to the point, and accurate. PCSG suport is friendly and knowledgeable. When I calle to get my Action Telex number, I made several suggestions or minor enhancements; a new cassette incorporating all my ideas arrived a couple of days later!

The package is distributed on six cassettes, each containing several copies of each program to insure accurate loading. The Model 100 is developing a reputation for finicky cassette loading, but I had no trouble loading any of the Businesspak+ programs.

Businesspak+ is one of the few software packages I have ever recommended almost without qualification. Its $89.{k cost is a bargain, and I cannot imagine any Model 100 owner being without it.

Products: Businesspak+ (computer program)