|★ HARDWARE ★ LES PC D'AMSTRAD ★ AMSTRAD PCW 8512 : Not just a wordprocessor...|Popular Computing Weekly) ★|
|Amstrad PCW 8512||Hardware Les Pc D'amstrad|
Tony Kendle debunks the myth that the PCW machines are only wordprocessors. With CP/M Plus, there is a surprising variety of packages available: spreadsheets and databases, including the big daddy of them all, Dbase II
For those adventurous users who see their PCW as primarily a general purposes CP/M Plus computer, there is a wide and rapidly expanding choice of highly respected programs available at bargain prices that would have been unbelievable just a year ago.
Companies such as William Poel's Newstar have done a superb job in negotiating price cuts, but there are one or two things to bear in mind when buying these "cheap'1 programs. The average price is £50 which is peanuts to a business, but not to an individual.
Secondly, most of the price reduction is explained away as a "reduction in aftersales service". In plain English the companies are no longer prepared to spend hours on the phone explaining the program and solving your problems. In such cases the quality of the documentation becomes important.
The two main categories of serious computer applications (other than word processing, for which, see pages 23-26 in this issue) are spreadsheets and databases.
The function of a database is pretty obvious - it should at the very least be able to store data efficiently, sort it into order, select subsets of the data based on specified criteria, be able to print out the selected data and save it as a separate file.
The two simplest programs available are Saxon's Flexifile (£39.95 but with a throwaway Wordstar mini-copy word processor for £49.95 total) and Caxton's Cardvox (£99.99). At those prices it is obvious which to go for the far too brief manual of Flexifile.
A small step up in power comes with Camsoft's Cambase (very attractively designed and excellent value at £39 95) and Sage Software s Database (£69 99) The latter can produce mail letters and envelope labels without a word processor. Saxon also sell a label printer addition and some ready made "database templates'' for different applications
To be honest, if you are new to databases you will probably find that even the simplest will do everything that you ever wanted to do. So just go for the cheapest - at least until you know exactly what else you wish you could do.
The real star of the database market is Ashton Tate's Dbase II which is a database language rather than just a program. It is very powerful and is THE business database, but unfortunately Ashton Tate is still living in the past and refuse to drop the price from a staggering £385. They may come to the same solution as Micropro did with Wordstar and repackage the program as Mickey Mouse's Database or somesuch.
In the meantime il you really need something special and you have a PCW 8512 or a second disc drive, look at Compsoft's Delta 1 (£99.00). It's another data management language with a friendly front end, and if not quite as powerful as Dbase it is way beyond most programs.
Speadsheets let you create large numerical calculations based on columns rows and cells of data linked to each other by formulae. Like a word processor, you can simply edit some of the data (eg. to reflect annual sales) and the program instantly works out the implications through all of the formulae.
If your requirements are pretty mainstream there is little to challenge Supercalc 2 which is another extremely famous and respected business program, but sold at a giveaway £49.00. The manual is a model to in the computer industry.
The Cracker is a strong competitor to Supercalc because of its friendliness and flexibility, it is very hard to make mistakes with The Cracker and you are also provided with simple database facilities, superb graph and chart displays which must be one of the strongest selling points, peripheral control (it can run your central heating!), label printing, etc. etc. It is an excellent value buy if you want one program that does everything, but not surprisingly it isn't the largest capacity sheet around.
Caxton makes that claim for their Scratchpad which uses the disc to hold data that overflows the memory. This is £69.00. but for a limited period' you get a free program called Smartkey that lets you assign extended functions to different keys on your computer.
Comshare's Plannercalc (£39.95) is also pretty famous - it finds a niche by emphasising its business planning aspects rather than number crunching so it has less versatile calculation options but is simple to use. It is supposed to have a good manual, but I find it dull and unen-lightening.
Masterplanner (£69.00) is an expanded version - more versatile and again with the ability to use disc storage for data that doesn't all Fit in memory, Microsoft's Multiplan is another BIG name in the spreadsheet world Again you won't go far wrong with this but as £69.00 there is no real need to pay the extra unless you need its very clever capacity to link several data files together.
One of the obvious uses for a spreadsheet is to keep personal accounts and I must throw in a quick plug for a dedicated program. Money Manager, (£23.95) from Connect Systems. It is good enough to make most programs of this type give up in shame.
My personal tips are Cambase. Flexifile. Supercalc, Cracker, Money Manager Where to get them:
Tony Kendle , Popular Computing Weekly