|★ APPLICATIONS ★ BUREAUTIQUE ★ THE MICRO COLLECTION|8000 Plus) ★|
|The Micro Collection||Applications Bureautique|
A software suite for under £50. What value?
Do you fancy much of the software described in these pages? A database, perhaps, or a spreadsheet. How about a good labelling program? Nice in theory, but there are always so many other uses for each hard-earned pound. We think we may have discovered the solution...
Back in the early days of Amstrad's invasion of the computer market, their software arm marketed a number of business programs for the CPC range, written for them by Saxon Computing. Saxon have now collected a word processor, database, spreadsheet, labeller and password program together in versions tailored to the PCW and are marketing the lot for under £50.
Called the Micro Collection, it comes bound together in a loose leaf file with two discs tucked in a wallet in the front. The documentation is a fairly low-budget affair, photocopied from a daisywheel print out. It does, however include a key-by-key tutorial and reference section for each of the main programs, with the exception of Flexicalc, the spreadsheet. This is supplied with a text file on disc, and it's up to you to print it out yourself. One of the penalties of keeping the overall price low.
The programs all use a similar format of menu selection and function key commands which is quite straightforward to use, although looking a little dated in comparison with Locoscript's pull-down menus and the like. Perhaps this isn't surprising as the programs are about two years old.
This is the database, and it's really quite a sophisticated program. It's a 'flat file' database, which means it mimics the kind of file most commonly found in a card index system. It can't tie together information from more than one file at a time, but this is a rather specialised requirement, and the things Micro File can do will suit the majority of users.
You can define up to 20 fields on any record and can have up to 65536 records in a file (though in practice you'll run out of disc space long before this). Each file can have up to four screen layouts and 8 report layouts attached to it (similar to templates in Locoscript) and up to four key fields may be defined.
A key field is a field for which Micro File maintains a separate index. This allows very quick searches to be made when using information in the key fields. One of the main advantages of a computer database over a manual card index is the speed with which you can extract cards which fulfil a pre-set selection 'rule'. The key field system speeds this up considerably.
The other unusual feature of Micro File is its ability to calculate values held in numeric fields in each record. This means, for instance, that you could define a series of sales records for all the products in your small business and get Micro File to calculate the retail price automatically from wholesale price, mark up and VAT rate.
This is probably the best program in the suite, as it is an almost exact clone of WordStar. When considered at about one fifth of the price of Pocket WordStar, it must represent very good value. It duplicates all the control code sequences used by ‘the real thing', and allows you to enter dot commands to control the printing of your document.
The only restriction, and it may prove a problem if you produce a lot of large documents, is that Micro Word can only handle a document in memory. It has no way of moving text to and from disc while your editing, as WordStar and NewWord have. This effectively means you're limited to about 1000 lines of text when using this word processor.
Although it's a good program, it may well be of least use to a PCW owner, because of Locoscript. However, at the price Saxon are asking, you could even use it as a ‘trial run' to see if it's worth your while changing to WordStar or NewWord as your main word processor.
The spreadsheet is supplied ‘as is', and is not as useful as some of the other programs in the Collection. The fixed sheet size is 20 columns by 85 rows, although you can only view this through an 8 by 15 window. The dimensions of this window are probably chosen because the program redraws the screen rather slowly. An 'interesting' feature of the higher numbered rows of the sheet is that you can use them to view sections of the CP/M operating system. I don't think this is intentional, and even though Saxon don't intend to support FlexiCalc,
I think they ought to correctit.
FlexiCalc provides many of the features you'd expea from a spreadsheet, including copying of the formulas (known as replication). The mathematical operators include Mean, % and trigonometrical functions, as well as the more ‘mundane' arithmetic operators: + , - , * and /.
This is a useful labelling program which controls printer output across up to five labels in a row and allows you to print a set of mailing labels or a bulk print all with the same message. You can use any of the available fonts on your PCW printer or an Epson compatible machine, and can have up to 20 lines of print per label, depending on its overall size.
If you are feeding addresses from a word processor or database file, you can 'scrunch' them so that addresses of different lengths don't have unsightly gaps in between their lines.
The program is largely controlled through a series of menus and is simple to set up. You can use data from any word processor which can produce a straight ASCII file as output, so later versions of Locoscript and of course MicroWord are fine for the job.
This program is designed to stop other people looking at the data from your word processor, database or spreadsheet. Lock-lt codes (encrypts) any ASCII file in such a way that it can only be read by someone who knows the password you used to prepare it.
Encrypting data is probably of little value to anyone using their PCW at home, but in the office, particularly one dealing with sensitive information, it could prove very useful. Whatever you do, though, don't lose your Lock-lt disc!
It's hard to be critical of any package offering so much at such a reasonable cost. The database and word processor alone are worth the price and the other programs are of varying value, depending on the tasks you set your PCW. There are a couple of problems with the spreadsheet and it's a shame Saxon aren't supporting the product, but overall it must be a very good general purpose office control package.