Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 5, NO. 1 / MAY 1986


1-2-3 for the ST?

Reviewed by GIL MERCIEZ

My mouth had been watering ever since the first ads for VIP Professional, a Lotus 1-2-3 clone with the GEM interface, began appearing last July. Finally, after months of missed shipping dates (all too common in the computer industry), VIP Professional arrived on dealer shelves in mid-December. The price had now jumped from the introductory $99 to $179.

The impressive, shrink-wrapped package featured screen shots of drop-down menus and windows on a desktop spreadsheet. Only after opening the package and scanning the "Read Me First" pamphlet did I discover that the VIP I had just purchased was a "text version" minus the GEM interface.

The GEM version, explained the pamphlet, was too large to fit into the memory of the ST with TOS still disk-based. As soon as TOS ROMs were available, I would be able to get the GEM version I assumed I had already bought-for an additional $19.95.

To add insult to injury, the initial release of Professional was so full of bugs as to be totally unusable. And the customer service representatives refused to talk to customers until VIP received their registration cards. I was shuttled from VIP Technologies to Shanner International--the firm marketing VIP Professional. Both claimed the other had responsibility for the product.

Rarely have I seen such a debacle with a new software release.

After VIP received my registration card, however, things slowly began to change. The mute customer service at VIP changed to curt exchanges and finally to helpful responses. Updated versions of Professional, which fixed many of the early bugs, were sent to dealers to be distributed to previous purchasers. An even more solid text version was finished in mid-January. The $19.95 GEM upgrade charge was eliminated with the promise that all registered owners would be sent the GEM version as soon as it was available.

At last I could smile about my purchase.

(As ST Resource goes to press, VIP Professional and Shanner International are embroiled in litigation over control of this product. VIP claims Shanner no longer has a right to sell it, and Shanner claims it still does. However both companies agree that VIP is responsible for customer support and that registered owners will get a free upgrade to the GEM version. But Shanner still has some VIP software programs in stock and VIP seems uncertain whether or not it will provide customer support for owners of VIP Professinal packages sold by Shanner after litigation began. These questionable packages are identified by serial number. ST Resource recommends that anyone purchasing this product first call and give the the serial number to VIP for the latest status.--ST RESOURCE)

VIP Professional is an integrated package that combines the functions of spreadsheet, database, and presentation graphics into one program. Designed as a Iotus 1-2-3 Release 2 clone, VIP Professional represents the first serious business application available for the ST.

Those with a working knowledge of Lotus will feel right at home with Professional. The command structure is identical. Spreadsheets and templates can be transported from Lotus to Professional and vice versa. A virtually unlimited number of applications are available.

One note of caution. Lotus 1-2-3 Release 2, which appeared last September, has a few compatibility problems with the more established Release 1A--particularly in the way labels are treated in formulas. You may also run into these same problems with Professional.

Professional is first and foremost a spreadsheet. A spreadsheet is nothing more than a grid arranged from columns and rows of cells in which labels, formulas, and values can be entered and manipulated. The idea is rather simple, but applications can range from very basic to extremely complex. Professional provides 8192 rows by 256 columns. More than 2 million cells!

The database section of Professional uses the same cell format and functions in combination with several powerful data commands. Combining spreadsheeting and database functions allows for powerful applications ranging from complicated home budgeting and tax preparation to inventory control in large corporations. Financial planning and forecasting can be handled with ease.

The graphics portion of Professional allows you to construct color displays of bar graphs, stacked bar graphs, pie charts, line graphs and xy graphs. The speed of display is impressive as are the results. Graphs can be saved to disk and printed with a utility program provided on the master disk. Further enhancements such as font styles and borders will be added with this utility.

Novices to spreadsheeting will find the multitude of commands and functions bewildering. You will not master Professional overnight.

The 250 page spiral-bound manual does an excellent job of explaining the essentials of spreadsheet manipulation and lays a foundation for more advanced concepts. The manual is divided into a tutorial and a reference section. While not all commands are covered in the depth that I would have liked, a bibliography is provided for further reference. Any of the many Lotus books crowding bookstore shelves will apply to Professional.

Also included is a handy fold-out reference card with a summary of commands. An online help feature can be called at anytime from within Professional, provided that the help files are on your disk. Page references to the manual are provided from the help screens.

In my job, I am constantly filling out financial statements in computer- coded forms, adding and manipulating them, and calculating various Financial ratios from them. With Professional, I was able to design a spreadsheet that took all the drudgery out of this chore.

I had tried this project a couple of years ago using VisiCalc and my 8-bit Atari, but abandoned it after a few weeks. It took more time than calculating the figures manually, VisiCalc had too many limitations, and disk access was too slow.

With Professional I can vary individual column widths, use labels that spill over to the next cell, and incorporate macro commands into my spreadsheet.

Macro commands take much of the tedium out of entering data onto a spreadsheet. Using the /0 macro, which autoruns as soon as a file is loaded, I virtually eliminated manual cursoring. I was able to construct customized menus in which one keystroke eliminated more than 25 strokes for printing a portion of the spreadsheet. Ranges of cells can be named allowing the macro to address the name rather than having to remember its specific range. It's a mini language in itself and one of my favorite features.

Currently, Professional only supports Epson-compatible printers but will support more as device drivers for TOS become available. The text version of Professional is huge, taking up more than 280,000 bytes of a disk. The master disk contains an AUTO folder which will allow Professional to autorun when you have the TOS ROMs. If a template or spreadsheet is renamed to AUTOVIP it will automatically load on bootup if that file is in one of the online drives.

Hard disk support, essential to business applications, is mentioned in the package. But I was unable to verify this at this time. Hopefully, hard disks should be available for the ST by the time you read this.

After a rocky start, VIP Technologies appears to have gotten back on track. My only complaint on the latest text version is the somewhat slow screen scrolling which is attributed to having to update 32K of screen memory as opposed to 2K on an IBM PC. Tom Nelson, marketing director for VIP, said that code optimization on the GEM version is underway which should solve that particular annoyance. He also emphasized the importance of sending in the registration card in order to be eligible for the GEM upgrade.

I am anxiously awaiting the GEM version of Professional which should be available by the time you read this. VIP is an important product in establishing the ST line as a credible productivity tool both at home and in business applications.

(Gil Merciez will follow up this review with a look at the GEM version of VIP Professional as soon as it becomes available. Watch for it soon as in the ST Resourse.--ST RESOURCE)

VIP Technologies Corp.
132 Aero Camino
Santa Barbara, CA 93117
(805) 968-4045