SYNTEGRATED SOFTWAREby MICHAEL CIRAOLO
Antic Staff Writer
The arrival of Synapse Software’s six-part business applications series
is an important event in Atari computer history. For the first time,
there’s a full lineup of compatible business applications available for
the best eight-bit 64K computer.
Because the series was first supposed to be marketed directly by Atari, Inc., Synapse stopped development on there own word processor and made the other packages compatible with AtariWriter. There’s some possibility Synapse might bring out the new word processor in 1985.
The Synapse series consists of: spreadsheet SynCalc ($79.95), data-base manager SynFile+ ($79.95), graphing/statistics combination SynTrend ($79.95), investment portfolio manager SynStock ($59.95), desktop calendar SynChron ($39.95) and modem software SynComm ($39.95). Each of these applications requires 48K memory and a disk drive.
All the products are exceptionally easy to use. Your [OPTION] and [SELECT] keys call up pop-up menus, so you don’t need to memorize a lot of command codes. The manuals are outstanding, just about the best documentation ever written for Atari software. SynFile+ even comes with a tutorial disk.
NOT TRULY INTEGRATED
Having lavished all this praise on the Synapse series, we now come to
some bad news. It’s not fully integrated, not in the same sense as
non-Atari programs like Lotus 1-2-3 or Appleworks.
For one thing, the same set of commands isn’t consistent throughout all programs.
More importantly, transferring information between programs is fairly laborious. The steps you have to go through are somewhat similar to the process of moving a picture file into a printer dump utility.
DIF-Data interchange format-is the link between SynCalc, SynFile+, SynTrend, SynStock … and AtariWriter. (SynChron and SynComm don’t really need to be file-compatible with anything else.)
DIF formats files for listing to disk so they can then be called up for insertion into another program. Thus, you can create a DIF file for a column of data from SynCalc, save it to disk, and then call up that file for use in SynTrend.
The shortcoming is that to use DIF, you must specify and name each column being moved. You cannot simply lift a block of data from one program and put it into another. Handling data one column at a time is tedious and requires nitpicking attention to detail.
Quality of the different Synapse programs ranges from superb to so what? -we will now examine each package on it’s own.
SynCalc may well be the best spreadsheet available for the Atari.
According to Antic contributing editor Ken Harms (whose day job is Vice
President for Finance and Administration of the American Cancer Society,
California Division), SynCalc is easier and more versatile than VisiCalc.
Its files are even compatible with VisiCalc.
SynCalc provides colorful pop-up menus for entering, editing, and manipulating data. The spreadsheet can be up to 128 columns across and 256 rows down. It automatically recalculates every relevant formula and number whenever you change an entry for a “what if” analysis. You can easily change or copy labels, formula and data in any row or column.
Unlike VisiCalc, this spreadsheet allows you to widen any column that’s too narrow for what you want to put inside it. Rows, columns and ranges of data can be added, averaged, sorted and subjected to trigonometric, logarithmic, financial and statistical calculations. Of course, data can be also saved to disk or printed out.
Synfile+ is a database/filing system featuring pop-up menus, easy template
creation and editing, with excellent utilization of the Atari’s hardware.
The documentation and tutorial disk are good as they come. As a bonus,
the program also accepts files from Synapse’s earlier FileManager 800+.
Synfile+ will support any Atari-compatible disk drive (single, double, or Atari “dual” densities). The program supports a printer, up to four disk drives, the Axlon 128K Ram-power card or up to three Mosaic 64K cards. Adding these cards will expand the flexibility and speed of the program, which is written in Fourth with machine language subroutines.
To create a form for, say, inventory control, you can use a letters-and-numbers field to describe an item. Fields of dollars, dates and running totals will help keep track of prices and orders. SynFile+ also provides computed and conditional fields; this means you can automatically calculate results from data, enter predetermined data or find improper entries.
SynFile+ holds as many as 66 fields per record. Size limit of the template (format) for entering data is 21 lines of 80 characters each. Field names may be up to 31 characters long. You can use up to 16 disks per file.
You can sort or search as many as 16 fields at a time, for a total of 255 characters. SynFile+ allows you to search for wild cards too.
Searches and sorts can take up to one hour to run. The overall amount of data and records you can store depends on the size of the index (field which is being sorted-such as Last Name) and the amount of memory your Atari has available.
It takes a few keystrokes to use SynFile+. Between the menu and the screen-top status line, you always know where you are in the program. Use various menus to create files, edit formats, create templates, and sort.
WANTED NOW: SYNREPORT
Unfortunately, SynFile+ has only limited report writing capabilities.
This is a major shortcoming that limits the product’s overall usefulness
If you use the database without a printer-exclusively for displaying information on the screen-you’ll have no problem using SynFile+. However, SynFile+ is unable to print page headers or footers. Even more significantly, you cannot edit data for reports.
In contrast, LJK’s Data Perfect offers extensive options for creating printed reports, although it takes grim persistence and detailwork to actually produce these reports, because Data Perfect’s documentation is among the worst on the planet.
Synapse claims there was not sufficient memory space available to overcome these SynFile+ constraints. But there are currently no concrete plans to produce a SynReport program which would make SynFile+ far more useful in professional applications.
The SynTrend package actually includes two program disks. SynGraph
produces color graphs, while SynStat handles statistical calculations.
A SynGraph chart can display up to three factors. You have your choice of line and bar graphs, scatter plots and pie charts. Graphs are easily rescaled and labeled, allowing you to view data in multiple ways before saving or using a display.
Creating graphs is easy. Each menu screen used to produce a graph is clear and concise, and the instruction manual is well written and designed.
SynStat, like SynGraph, can accept data from direct entry or from any other software in this series. Once you enter a field of data you can choose to analyze it in either descriptive or regression format. Yes, prior knowledge of statistics is recommended.
In the descriptive form, you can get the average, standard deviation, variance, standard error, range, minimum and maximum for a set of data. You can also print out the results.
If you are examining the relationship between two sets of data-such as Antic sales and Atari prices-you will find the regression analysis feature a powerful tool. It allows you to measure the correlation between different data sets using multiple regression, residual analysis, and analysis of variance. The main regression screen displays the standard error and R-squared value for a regression run.
SynStock is for people who trade, analyze, or just follow stocks.
The program requires a BASIC cartridge and combines spreadsheet, graphics
and statistical functions.
SynStock follows as many as 50 stocks through 300 days of quotes (more than a year of actual trading days). If you have a modem, use the program to access CompuServe and download stock quotes. Or you can enter data from the newspaper. You can then display updated files in graphs, and perform moving average and oscillator analyses on the quotes.
You can print your portfolio and any of the graphs you've' generated if you have a C.Itoh 8510A, NEC 8023, Star Gemini, or any Epson with Graph-Trak. (Other printers may also work, but these are specifically supported. SynGraph also supports these printers.)
SynChron is an excellent desktop calendar program. You start by
choosing two years for entries. One screen shows the year with months.
Select the month and a new screen shows the month by days. A final
selection allows you to enter up to 3,000 characters in each day's log.
You can designate words for future searches; for instance, you can tag deadlines, holidays, or birthdays and see a list of those dates and entries. The list can then be printed out.
SynChron is used by some as a diary because you can enter so much text in each date, and because there is a password protection scheme.
SynChron has excellent ease of use and plenty of bells and whistles. But how many people really need a $39.95 program that very elegantly does something which can also be done by a $10 appointment calendar or diary?
SynComm is a telecommunications program for 300 or 1200 baud modems,
allowing transmission of blocks of text, receipt and saving of incoming
text, and standard modem dialing commands. This means SynComm is
well-suited for use with bulletin board systems where you upload or download
SynComm's fancy extra is the fine scrolling display of incoming text. Unlike most programs on the market, SynComm moves up lines onscreen so smoothly that your eyes easily read without interruption.
As you'd expect from any modem software, you can configure SynComm to suit your communication and terminal needs, such as setting full/half duplex and x-modem protocol, parameters for the 850 interface, parity and linefeeds.
Commands are simple yet do not require memorizing the elaborate mnemonic schemes used by some modem software.
This new Synapse compatible applications software makes your Atari a more serious and versatile business computer than ever before. If you choose to buy a set, there are special prices available for user groups and members of the CompuServe Atari special interest group. SynCalc, SynFile and SynTrend can be purchased for $59 each or all three for $150. The other three programs may be obtained for $34 apiece or all three for $90. Synapse will provide back-up disks for $20 with valid registration.
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