APPLICATIONSBUREAUTIQUE ★ MINI OFFICE 2 ★

MINI OFFICE II (CPC Magazine)MINI OFFICE II (Amstrad Computer User)Mini Office II (Hebdogiciel)Mini Office II (c) Database Software (CPC Magazine)MINI OFFICE II (c) DATABASE (Cahier de l'Amstrad)
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John Silver takes a look at Mini Office II for the Amstrad CPC range and discusses the advantages of the all-in-one software concept.

Packages such as Lotus Symphony and the like are all very well for PC owners who can afford the several hundred pounds asking price for site licences for such software. But what of those home and small business users with Amstrad 464, 664 and 6128 machines and relatively small budgets for their software needs?

The price of good software for most popular computers has taken a tumble in the past few years, thanks to entrepreneurs like Alan Sugar with his amazing value-for-money range of computers that have brought computing power to the masses at budget prices.

Whereas a couple of years ago a typical word processing package for, say, the BBC Micro would have set you back £30 or so, we're now seeing that price fall to as low as £10.

But what happens if you want a card index or database program to keep your names and address files on - or a label printing program to print out those addresses for your Christmas cards?

Maybe you want to plug in a modem to your Amstrad and log-on to the exciting world of computer communications?

It all mounts up - at £10 a throw for a word processor, database, spreadsheet, business graphics, communications and label printer set of programs you're looking at a potential dent in your pocket to the tune of £50. And that's even if you shop carefully with the excellent budget range of software around today.

Add to this the problem of porting data from one program to another. For example, you may want some addresses from your database integrating into a letter that you just composed on your word processor. This is not possible on several popular business packages for the CPC series since the way in which they store their data-files is inconsistent.

In the early days of the IBM PC this was a problem, and the solution was to sell integrated software. This could be loaded in off a disc system, paging in the various functions - word processor, database, label printer and so on - as required.

Mini Office II, available in both tape and disc configurations for all types of CPC machines, is just such a package.

Mini Office IPs six modules - word processor, database, spreadsheet, graphics system, communications and label printer - each fulfil a role in their own right. Yet they also maintain continuity between modules in the shape of common command keys and data transfer (porting) between programs.

Menu driven

In common with several other programs of its genre, Mini Office II is menu driven. It allows you to step though a series of prompts using the cursor keys and to select a menu choice with Copy/Enter.

In true Chinese puzzle style, each menu choice leads to more until, as with any good maze, your goal is reached. Unlike a maze, however, Mini Office li s menu choices are clear and logical and offer a return path if the wrong choice is selected.

The word processor

Producing correspondence, memos and letters is by far the most common reason for the purchase of a computer in businesses today. Mini Office II's word processor fulfils the basic functions more than adequately but, and this is a most important point, it does so at a fraction of the cost.
A word processor, in common with many other business programs is only a tool in the hands of a user. It cannot create quality letters but I'm happy to report that Mini Office II has all the functions needed (and a few more) to make life a lot easier for the beleaguered journalist, pressured by ever-advancing copy deadlines.

A good word processor should free the mind of the user to let him concentrate on the task in hand - writing. This more than fulfils that function.
True insert and delete, on a character, word, and block basis, along with the often expected - but sometimes not supplied - printer control commands, combine to make word processing the easy task it should be.

Unlike many word processors available today, however, it allows you to choose how to have your text displayed on screen - 20, 40 or 80 columns.
20 columns is suitable for very young children and the visually handicapped, although I find it a bit of a pain to be presented with an almost cinemascope version of the text to type in.

40 column, on the other hand, is clear, legible and easily displayed on the CPC's colour monitor screens.

80 columns is a little more subjective. For green screen CPC users it functions admirably, but for colour users there is a slight stippling effect that can cause a slight headache after a while. I would stress, however, that this is due to the display limitations of the CPC colour monitor screen - it's just something that colour CPC owners have to put up with. The alternative - a green screen monitor - may be too much to swallow for the sake of a clear 80 column display, particularly if the kids want to play games on the Arnold.

For most users the 40 column display is a good choice and allows easy text viewing.

Printing the text is of course totally under your control. You set the page width and length, as well as text formatting. In this way it's possible to enter and view text in 40 column mode and print out in 80 columns - a nice touch.

All the text is held in ram, which has the advantage of making the program quite fast but limits the amount of text you can deal with at one time to about 4,000 words.

Another nice touch is the on-screen clock and word counter which appear whenever text editing mode is entered - very handy for journalists asked to produce 1,200 words by 9 o'clock.

To negate the problem of the colour 80 column display, the software author has included a series of control functions that allows both the foreground (text) and background to be stepped through the several colours available on the software. This feature is not to be found in the word processing module on other versions of Mini Office II -most notably for the BBC Micro range.

The database module

Like the famous PC program Cardbox, Mini Office II Database program requires you to define and save the shape and format of data records - in essence design a data template to be called up whenever relevant data is required to be viewed and or amended.

Unlike Cardbox and several other database programs available, once a data template has been created it can be modified. And subject to certain constraints such as field length, existing data can be freely displayed within the modified template. This is particularly useful if, for example, you expand your listings to include birthdays - rather than having to rely on that tatty old diary on the sideboard.

Those Amstrad CPC users who own an AMX mouse will be glad to know that an AMX-compatible option is open to them on the database module's copious menu options. However, the system is not icon driven in the usual mousey way.

As with the word processing module, the database option throws up an onscreen status display on the top line. As you step through the control and shifted commands on the CPC's keyboard, the status line and various other message flags pop up to inform you of their progress or status.
The database also offers a data field calculation option by which the contents of one data field may be interacted with another to produce a tabular total/result column.

Beloved of accountants, this function is rarely seen and used in database programs, but when it's required it's worth its weight in gold. Top marks to the author for including this option.

The spreadsheet module

According to the manual there are five stages involved in the production of a spreadsheet. They are:

  • Planning the layout
  • Creating the layout
  • Entering the formulae
  • Entering the data
  • Producing the output

Planning does not necessarily involve the computer. In most jobs today, planning is the key to effective management of that rare commodity - time.
It perhaps says something about the planning of the Mini Office suite as a whole that disc users can use the word processor to effectively outline the requirements of their spreadsheet format. And this before embarking on the seemingly simple, but in reality difficult, function of format planning.
The spreadsheet function is peppered with menu prompts, plus full on-screen flags to keep you informed of what you did last.

The graphics module

One little used function of integrated business software is that of the graphical presentation - good graphics are the key to an effective presentation.

They say a picture paints a thousand words and no where is this more true than with business presentations and reports.

Mini Office II offers several data formats for presentation of statistics -bar chart, line chart and pie chart.

For simple - that is, no more than three data sets - applications, pie charts will suffice. With several sets of representative data, bar and line
graphs are the most effective means of data presentation.

As with several of the Mini Office II modules, an AMX mouse cursor control option is included.
Individual screens of graphs and/or pie charts may be saved as datafiles to either tape or disc for inclusion in other programs as a sort of slide show - a nice touch.

The communications module

My personal favourite is the comms module of Mini Office II, but my one major criticism is that it does not include Prestel viewdata graphics. This absence is not a serious problem, however, since there are several simple terminal programs available for this one function, even if it does seem-a little out of line with the "all included in the price" principle of the package.

That said, the communications module has obviously been programmed by someone who knew what he was doing. The package has more bells and whistles on it than I have seen on many so-called communications programs.

Via the omnipresent menu selections, even the novice Amstrad comms user is guided through the intricacies of data, start, stop and parity bits. Perhaps as a gesture of goodwill on the part of the programmer, the default settings for the myriad communication protocols available is that used by MicroLink and Telecom Gold, British Telecom's electronic mail system.

This makes logging on to most popular scrolling Ascii services a snip for newcomers to the program, even if they are not fully familiar with the CPC range itself. All controls both on and off-line are easily selected and unlike some packages the program doesn't cause the modem to drop the line when the menus are flipped back in.

A variety of buffer and display options are offered via the menu commands and as with the word processing module, a choice of 20, 40 and 80 column display is offered.

The label printer module

Last but not least is the label printer module. This function, often neglected, is fully supported and allows you to format the parameters of the labels required, right down to individual character positions.
As with the other modules, this option offers full merging of data created to and from the other application programs.

Conclusions

Mini Office II for the Amstrad CPC range attempts the seemingly impossible - to emulate combination packages which even today cost many times the price on other computers. In many ways each individual module would be very saleable in its own right.
My one gripe with the package is the absence of a Prestel display option with the communications module, but this is easily solved by using another program - several are available with the variety of serial interfaces which are sold for the CPC range.
I cannot fault the price or specifications of the package since it offers so much for so little. All I can say is that if any CPC owner requires two or more of the six functions offered then they should buy this program.

ACU #8701

★ PUBLISHER: DATABASE SOFTWARE , MicroByte (SPAIN)
★ YEAR: 1986
★ CONFIG: 64K + AMSDOS
★ LANGUAGE:
★ LICENCE: COMMERCIALE
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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.