|★ APPLICATIONS ★ BUREAUTIQUE ★ Scratchpad Plus ★|
|Scratchpad Plus|Amstrad Action)||Applications Bureautique|
It's not easy to get excited about spreadsheets. While they are enormously useful things, they rarely involve dazzling new ideas. Now, however, Caxton have brought out ScratchPad Plus, a powerful program with many original features. It may not quite be exciting, but it's probably as close as you're going to get.
If you want to create a big spreadsheet, Scratchpad can cope. In fact, it can give you a larger spreadsheet than any other package on the market. If you want to look at several parts of the sheet at once -and you probably will - ScratchPad lets you. If you're after powerful, versatile functions, ScratchPad gives them to you.
ScratchPad Plus is big - the main program SP.COM takes up 49K of disc. The sheer size of it means it's CP/M Plus only. Even then, you're only left with 12K of RAM for the spreadsheet data. How then, you might well ask, can ScratchPad give you a larger spreadsheet than any other program?
It's all done with virtual memory. This involves using disc space to store data while the program is running. In this way, the spreadsheet is notlimited by the amount of free RAM. Once all this is used, ScratchPad starts expanding into the free space on your disc. This does have to be space on your working copy of ScratchPad, but that's not an enormous restriction in theory, you could still create spreadsheets weighing in at over 120K.
Of course, there is a price to be paid for all this - and I don't just mean £70. The trade-off is one of size against speed. Retrieving data is much slower from disc than it is from RAM. With auto-calculation running, the change in speed is quite noticeable and potentially rather annoying. The answer here is to switch auto-calc off, and simply force recalculation when needed. This is, after all, what you have to do anyway with most spreadsheet packages. A more satisfactory solution would be ramdisc.
The idea of ramdisc is explained rather more thoroughly in the Silicon Disc review in this month's Plug-Ins, but here's the gist of it. You take a piece of RAM, make it pretend it's a disc and run virtual-memory programs on it. That way you get extra memory and extra speed - which can't be bad. Unfortunately for 6128 users, the DK'tronics Silicon Disk won't do the job -though the Vortex boards might be able to, at a price. Those lucky 8256 users have a built-in 112K RAM disk which really gets ScratchPad running at a cracking pace. The 8512 will be able to offer all this plus even greater capacity - 368K on ramdisc.
With all this talk of 120K spreadsheets, it may come as a surprise to you that each sheet can have a maximum of only 5000-odd cells. Before you start making unfavourable comparisons, however, bear in mind a couple of points.
Putting these two factors together, the maximum number of cells is, unlike with so many packages, a practical limitation but only if you need a sheet with an enormous number of columns and rows. Oddly enough, the package nearest to Scratchpad in memory terms - Campbell's Mastercalc 128 - is also the only one of its major competitors to offer the same sort of flexibility over spreadsheet shape.
One of the most important features of Scratchpad Plus is its multiple windowing. The major drawback of a computer spreadsheet compared to its paper equivalent is the display size - you can only see a very small portion of the total display at any one time. Often, the critical areas you need to look at are small - typically just one cell each - but a long way apart. To make the most of the display size, you need to be able to divide it between these areas. On most spreadsheets your display can only look at one continuous area of screen. A few allow you to divide the screen into two windows - two sections of the screen which show separate parts of the spreadsheet.
In contrast to this, Scratchpad Plus gives you unlimited windowing. You can split the screen into two separate windows either horizontally or vertically. These windows can then be subdivided, and so on for as long as you like. There is a limit to the number of windows you can have on screen, but only the purely practical one of screen space. Each new window needs column and row markers, and these take up space otherwise used for cells. Eventually, the screen will become too cluttered for further subdivision. By this time there will already be too many windows for you to keep track of them all, so the limit isn't much of a restriction in practice.
Each window behaves like a screen in miniature. It can be scrolled and the entries edited quite independently of the other windows except, of course, for the effect any editing may have on the spreadsheet. This, coupled with the ability to jump from window to window, gives you more direct access to the spreadsheet than any other program on the market.
FORMULAE AND FUNCTIONS
When it comes to calculation. Scratchpad really starts to show its worth - the range of commands available to you is simply phenomenal. From simple arithmetic you can move on to trig, and scientific functions, table lookups, and an if-then structure that brings in a strong flavour of programming.
Other useful features available include the ability to sum over a range of cells in the same row or column, without having to write formulae of the "A3 + A4 + A5 + ...” variety. Also worth a mention are the average, maximum and minimum functions which add considerably to the package's flexibility.
This program packs a real punch - it can create and manipulate huge spreadsheets, give you powerful tools for structuring them and easy access to the results they yield. All of this clearly needs some pretty strong documentation, and Caxton have given it just that.
There being disconcertingly little to find fault with, the only question mark remaining is over value for money. At £20 more than Supercalc 2 and almost twice the price of Mastercalc 128, you'll have some hard thinking to do justifying the expense. Above all, you'll have to really need that extra power and capacity.