FIRST CALC|Amstrad Action)FIRST CALC|8000Plus)
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Minerva Systems is best known for its software on the Amstrad PCW (and more recently the PC) - namely First Base and LemLoco. First Calc is its only program that works on both the CPC 6128 and the PCW machines. It runs under CPM Plus: if you don't have a disk drive, 128k memory and access to a CPM Plus system disk then forget it.

Spreadsheets are essentially tools for planning and reporting finances. With little effort on your part they make ideal personal organizers, cost estimators and simple accounts packages. First Calc is of the same genre as Cracker, Scratchpad Plus and Supercalc 2. It is very much the baby of the bunch: it offers less in terms of power, but promises a low-cost and gentle introduction.

Spreading the word

Boot up your CPM Plus system disk, insert the First Calc disk into the drive and run the startup file. This is the natural reaction when a product falls on my desk. Once the program's up and running, a blank expression usually crosses my face. I say "usually" because on the odd occasion programs are so simple they need no reference guide. First Calc is one of these rare examples: the command structure is obvious and moving round the sheet is painless.
The manual accompanying First Calc has a pretty cover, but little else is ait. The typeface is scarcely better than that produced from a Sinclair thermal printer highly off-putting. Still, it's the quality of the written word we're interested in, not its appearances.

First Calds manual concentrates much on what a spreadsheet is and how it can be used. Many more pages are taken up describing simple computer terms. On the whole it provides an excellent front-end for the computer novice and non-technojunkie.

Calculating spread

First Calc resides in memory: it doesn't rely on overlays. This speeds up operation considerably. The only time you'll hear the drive whir is when loading or saving.

Spreadsheets are divided into many boxes called cells -identified by row number and column letter. Numerals, text and formulae can be entered into cells. Text performs no task in a spreadsheet, but is used merely for labels or headings. For example, it can be used to identify sections of data: "Monday, Tuesday, ..." You need formulae to perform calculations on cells. These can be simple things that could be keyed in on a calculator or complex equations involving groups of cells.

Entering data into First Calds cells couldn't be easier: move the cursor using the arrow keys until you reach the required cell, then type.

First Calc lets you use a maximum of 52 columns by 99 rows (just over 5,000 cells) - quite enough for home or small-business use. Once you've outgrown First Calc, you can port the data to a more powerful sheet: data is saved in straightforward Ascii form. Formulae can use standard operators - add (+), subtract (-) and the like. And of course there are built-in functions: SUM (total), AVG (mean) and MAX (maximum value). And that is the sum-total: no provision is made fbr logic, trignometric or even logarithmic operations - this is quite limiting, considering that numbers up to 1038 can be entered, and calculations are carried out to 14 significant figures.

Seen to spread

If you are ever stuck, you can call up a help screen showing all the control commands.

With the 15-odd commands available you can erase a range of cells, delete certain rows and columns, edit formulae, select automatic calculation of the sheet and of course load, save and print data. It is unfortunate that Minerva hasn't incorporated a "sideways print" option - it is much neater to have the complete sheet across several pages rather than having to cut and paste bits together.

First Calc performs admirably, the price is unbeatable and it is simple to use - I wouldn't go as far as saying it's child's play. In fact Supercalc 2 is as easy if not easier to use.

As only basic formulae are accepted and the sheet just tops the 5,000-cell mark, you'll eventually want to move to a more sophisticated package. As a first spreadsheet, or even a tool for the small business or home, it's the best at the price. But for the likes of Coca-Cola International it wouldn't be the real thing!

What is it?

First Calc is a spreadsheet. This is simply computerized pen. paper and calculator. Rather than keeping the year's cashflow or stock records on bits of paper, you can keep the lot on computer. In fact most numeric tasks performed on paper can be transferred to a spreadsheet. The obvious advantage is speed. Less obvious is the ability to project: to forecast what you can and can't spend in future months.


★ PUBLISHER: Minerva Systems
★ YEAR: 1987
★ CONFIG: 128K + CP/M+ (CPM Plus only)
★ PRICE: £29.95


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L'Amstrad CPC est une machine 8 bits à base d'un Z80 à 4MHz. Le premier de la gamme fut le CPC 464 en 1984, équipé d'un lecteur de cassettes intégré il se plaçait en concurrent  du Commodore C64 beaucoup plus compliqué à utiliser et plus cher. Ce fut un réel succès et sorti cette même années le CPC 664 équipé d'un lecteur de disquettes trois pouces intégré. Sa vie fut de courte durée puisqu'en 1985 il fut remplacé par le CPC 6128 qui était plus compact, plus soigné et surtout qui avait 128Ko de RAM au lieu de 64Ko.