by: James E. Powell, Northwest Bureau Editor
From the moment you launch Paradox 7 and use the new Startup Expert, you know you're using a vastly improved database. New experts take you through the chores of creating tables and databases, running mail-merge applications, building charts or importing ASCII data. The Startup Expert even steps you through building seven predefined applications that Paradox 7 provides, including a powerful contact manager application complete with forms, tabbed menu choices and reports.
Paradox's Form, Report and Mailing Label Experts now let you use aliases or path names for saving files, and accept both queries and tables for input. The Mailing Label Expert now allows you to define nonstandard label formats, and the Mail Merge Expert creates documents using WordPerfect, Microsoft Word or Paradox's own report writer. The new Chart Expert helps you graph your data 18 different ways. Fixed-length or delimited text files are easy pickings for the Import Expert, which also lets you save your layout definition for future use. To give your application a professional look, use the Application Launcher Expert to design a tabbed window from which your forms, reports or queries can be launched.
Version 7's Table Expert makes it easier to create a table. Using this expert, you build a new table by selecting bits and pieces from other databases. Cannibalize your own tables or those provided, such as Paradox's predefined Orders table. It's a great time-saver, especially if you need to create several small, but similar, databases.
After you've developed your data formats, the Report Expert helps you design the data displays. The program has several new display options, including a pleasing 3-D look. Version 7's Report Expert also streamlines some operations, such as adding page numbers and defining page breaks. The banded report designer simplifies adding or repositioning fields, grouping them and adding GUI objects such as check boxes and graphics.
The Object Explorer, which is available throughout Paradox, lets you click on any object and change properties, such as the font size and color and the visible/hidden setting. You can also view the object's place in the hierarchy (report, group, field, label and so on), and use the alignment options to set the horizontal or vertical spacing among objects or to make their horizontal or vertical sizes conform. The Object Explorer also has tabs for inspecting methods and events. Double-click on a method, and an edit box pops up where you can add your own method code.
Paradox's ObjectPAL Editor has been enhanced to include functionality found in Borland's C++ compiler and the company's Delphi development product. New to the Editor are color syntax highlighting, indenting and outdenting, keyboard recording, incremental search, keyboard mapping (to mimic Brief and Epsilon, for instance), bookmarks and multilevel undo and redo.
The Design Layout dialog lets you quickly change an existing report's look, switching from individual fields to a table, for example. New controls for forms--such as list boxes with multiselect, combo boxes, spin controls and progress bars--are available. You can now create tabbed dialog boxes and place data on the tab sections--an especially useful way to segregate the information in large records. Select the number of tabs and determine how many are displayed in each row.
Current users will be pleased that version 7 maintains compatibility with Paradox 5 data, forms, reports, queries and applications--without any special conversion steps. Just open the objects in Paradox 7. This means you can use version 7 to easily convert Windows 3.x applications built with Paradox 5 to Windows 95.
Paradox 7 also supports OCX controls so you can extend its functionality with third-party add-ins to add features like pop-up calendars to your applications. The controls can be manipulated with ObjectPAL, Paradox's programming language. ObjectPAL has been enhanced with over 100 new methods, including 10 that provide MAPI functions like Send Mail.
Version 7 can be used as an OLE automation controller (to execute the functions revealed by another server-enabled application) and a server (to let it be controlled).
Paradox 7 boasts a few fit-and-finish touches, too. For instance, a new menu system organizes the functions more logically. You can dock Paradox's customizable toolbars to any screen edge, and add Paradox to the Microsoft Office and Novell PerfectOffice toolbars.
Despite its new features, Paradox has some odd inconsistencies. When you select the File/New/Table command, you're tossed directly into the table builder, bypassing the Table Expert. But if you pick File/New/Form, you're offered the choice of creating a form from scratch or using the Form Expert. At times, the Experts, too, may be sources of confusion, like when it jumps you from step
2 to step 5. This isn't a goof. It's done to maintain consistency among steps--step 5 always controls chart type, for example--but it can be perplexing.
Still, Paradox 7 does whatever it can to help the new or occasional user. The CD Quick Tour offers an animated program overview, and the Windows 95-style help is clear and easy to follow. Even in the beta version I tested, the help system answered all my questions.
With Paradox 7, Borland has taken a giant step in making database-application development accessible. While there's still room for improvement, Paradox 7 is a good choice for building anything from a simple database to a complex data-intensive application.
Price: $299 (street); upgrade, $89 (street); competitive upgrade, $99 (street)
In Brief: Paradox 7 hides its sophistication and processing power behind a more intuitive interface and expands the breadth of its helpful experts.
Platforms: Windows 95,3.x, NT
by: Jim Forbes
While other notebook manufacturers walk the razor's edge trying to balance performance against weight and price, veteran laptop maker Toshiba America takes a different tack. Its hot new Tecra 700 series is powered by a 120MHz Pentium processor and, when fully configured, can take a $6,000 bite out of your wallet. But the unit's 7.3-pound heft makes it obvious that Toshiba has come down on the side of performance. And the Tecra 700 delivers the goods in spades through its use of the PCI architecture and the attention to design detail that have become the mark of Toshiba products.
The Tecra 700 is indeed dense. The 7.3-pound travel weight includes its surprisingly small power supply, an external 3.5-inch floppy disk drive and case. Its dimensions and overall shape, however, resemble those of other Toshiba notebook computers.
The unit I tested, the Tecra 700CT, arrived with an optional quad-speed CD-ROM drive, a lithium ion battery, 16MB of RAM, a brilliant 11.3-inch active-matrix display, Sound Blaster Pro-compatible sound and some of the best internal speakers I've heard on a notebook. This machine also comes with serial, parallel, PS/2, SVGA, serial infrared and two stacked Type II PCMCIA slots, as well as a docking-station port.
The Tecra 700 ships standard with a removable 1.2GB hard drive. A lower-cost version with an 11.3-inch passive-matrix color display and 8MB of RAM will also be available soon.
This computer is not designed for globe-trotting journalists looking to write the Great American Novel over the Atlantic, or corporate managers working on that career-defining spreadsheet between New York and the West Coast. Not surprisingly, given this notebook's hungry processor, hard drive and screen, its battery life (which I measured at well under two hours) is not a strong point. But since this machine is much more likely to run connected to a wall outlet than on batteries, I don't think this is a serious problem.
One of the features I particularly like on the Tecra 700 is its ability to use the optional CD-ROM and its 3.5-inch drive simultaneously--something you can't do with other high-end notebooks such as the NEC Versa 4000 or the Gateway 2000 Solo. Drives attach to a pocket on the front of the unit, under the keyboard. This pocket will accept either the CD-ROM or 3.5-inch drive. To use both drives, you must insert the CD-ROM into this pocket and attach the 3.5-inch drive to an external connector that sits on the right-hand side.
I also like Toshiba's use of a quad-speed CD-ROM drive, which makes short work of loading complex programs.
The active-matrix color screen on the unit I tested, a prototype version, is as suited to showing full-motion video as it is to giving presentations in the boardroom. Video speed is greatly enhanced by the notebook's PCI bus.
The keyboard is comfortable to use for extended periods and sits behind a palm rest. Like all Toshiba computers, this machine uses a stick pointing device to position the cursor. The pointer is located above the B key on the keyboard, and its two associated buttons are on the palm rest. All controls and switches are easy to find and use. Lighted status displays for power, drive access and other features are on the front, which for some users may not seem particularly instinctive.
Like other Toshiba notebooks, this machine is built like a tank. For added security, there's a 3-year limited warranty.
On our WINDOWS Magazine Wintune benchmarks, the Tecra 700CT delivered an astounding 217MIPS and 67MFLOPS. The 1.2GB hard drive had a cached throughput rating of 12.5MB per second, and the video generated 6Mpixels per second. The unit took an average of 28.33 seconds to execute our Word 7.0 macro, and 24.33 seconds to complete our Excel 7.0 macro.
This machine is not for everyone. In fact, the price means it's unlikely ever to be a big seller. Nevertheless, like other notebooks in the Toshiba line, the Tecra 700 should be a standard-setting piece of hardware.
Toshiba Tecra 700CT
Price: $5,999 (with 4x CD-ROM, 11.3-inch TFT screen and 16MB of RAM)
In Brief: This notebook computer offers great performance, uses the PCI architecture, has an optional quad-speed CD-ROM drive and can display full-motion video on its 11.3-inch screen.
Toshiba America Information Systems
by: James E. Powell
On the surface, Harvard Graphics 4.0 is much like the version for Windows 3.1. But once you dive beneath the surface and get beyond the standard Windows 95 features like tabbed dialog boxes, context menus and common toolbars, you'll discover a rich set of tips and other helpful aids, including new quick-start presentation templates. These new features will get you up and running in no time.
For harried presenters, the Quick Presentations option provides a variety of templates for common types of pitches. The templates include Marketing Plan, a Quarterly Review and a Business Plan to Partners. This version has five new templates, and all are more than just graphic design elements--they also get you going on your presentation's content with suggested text, such as a sample agenda. You can also add templates that you develop to the Quick Presentations choices.
The program's Graphics Advisor System, a combination of help and advice, has always been impressive. You can use the Design Checker to inspect for presentation faux pas, such as too many bullets on one slide. The new Fixer Mode will take you to the right place in the program to fix errors that the Advisor detected.
In addition to the Advisor, Harvard Graphics offers a couple of other comfort-inducing features. A Quick Tour shows you around the program and describes its major features, and the "Five Minute Coach" provides some more-than-basic instruction about creating text slides, building charts or delivering effective presentations.
Harvard Graphics includes a "light" version of Harvard Montage for managing image libraries and the more than 500 pieces of clip art also in the package.
Some of this version's more subtle changes are worth noting. For example, you can now include text in superscript or subscript, and control type leading more accurately. You can use Find and Replace across an entire presentation, and printed output can be page numbered. When you switch between landscape and portrait modes, the new Aspect Ratio Correction feature makes appropriate adjustments to all the objects on the slide.
The program is extremely easy to use. You can resequence slides by dragging them in the Slide View, and if you drag a slide from one presentation to another, Harvard Graphics adjusts its properties to keep it consistent with the rest of the presentation. Other features include dockable toolbars, VCR-style navigation controls, and slide sorter and outline views. For most options, there are thumbnail graphics or previews to show what the selection looks like. Though HG offers its own charting capabilities, its OLE 2.0 support lets you drag charts from Excel or text from Microsoft Word into a slide.
Harvard Graphics still lags behind the competition in some areas. For instance, the program doesn't support simple animations that are included in some rival programs, including PowerPoint's latest release. This makes it impossible to move objects around to create some dramatic effects. Among other things, you can't set the bars in a bar chart to "grow" from the x-axis and you can't fly in other graphics elements.
Harvard Graphics is a lone wolf in a world of application suites. Most of these suites include presentation graphics programs, so you might wonder if you really need Harvard Graphics. The answer is a resounding yes. The product offers excellent help, an eye-pleasing set of predefined templates and a simplicity that belies its highly professional output.
Harvard Graphics 4.0 for Windows 95
Price: $290 (street)
In Brief: The Windows 95 version features an easy interface, quick-start templates and plenty of help.
Platforms: Windows 95
Disk Space: 13MB (minimum); 37MB (full installation)
RAM: 4MB (8MB recommended)
Software Publishing Corp.
By Jim Forbes
It's not often you run across a product that does everything right. NEC has come very close to producing a notebook computer that fits that criterion with its Versa 4000 family, an innovative series of Pentium-powered notebook computers. Simply stated, these machines are an exercise in elegance.
The NEC 4000 family comes standard with Intel's 75-, 90- or 120MHz Pentium processors for portable computers, 16MB of RAM (8MB for 75MHz), 256KB of level 2 cache, a variety of hard drives, and a choice of 10-plus-inch active-matrix color and dual-scan color screens. Also standard is a full array of external connectors including serial, parallel, docking station, two stacked Type 2 and two IRDA-1 infrared transceivers (one on the front and one on the back).
All the NEC Versa 4000 family members have the same basic shape and size. They measure 2.1 by 11.7 by 9.5 inches. The travel weight, including the battery charger, is about 7 pounds (depending on which screen you order). The 4000C unit I examined had a 10.1-inch, 640x480 active-matrix display; a 75MHz processor; a 540MB hard drive; and 16MB of RAM.
Although I've criticized the keyboards on previous NEC notebooks, I like the one on this model almost as much as I like the Lexmark keyboard IBM uses on its ThinkPad line. Unlike older NEC machines, this keyboard includes an integrated palm rest and uses a Versa Glide touchpad pointing device with double-tap capability. The trackpad is located to the left-center of the palm rest, which some users may find uncomfortable.
The NEC V4000 family's sound sub-system should please anyone who really needs to punctuate presentations with audio. NEC has built two decent speakers into the case. They are placed high enough so your audience can hear your presentation clearly.
Virtually all the controls are positioned intuitively and within fast reach. And NEC has included software that simplifies control of the power-saving features.
Like Gateway 2000's Solo, the Versa 4000 series uses a single bay (VersaBay II in NEC parlance) to accommodate a dual-speed CD-ROM drive, a 3.5-inch disk drive, a second battery or a second hard drive. Unfortunately, you can't hot swap drives. To change from the 3.5-inch drive to the CD-ROM, you have to power down the computer, pull out one drive, snap in the other and reboot.
NEC gets bonus points for including a small zip-up pouch that houses the unused drive and a hard-shell case large enough for the computer, its documentation, the unused drive and other paraphernalia.
The battery life on the unit I tested was about 2.5 hours without power conservation (other than turning off the audio and removing my 28.8Kbps modem). With strict power conservation, I was able to run it about 3.5 hours on its single lithium ion power cell. NEC claims Quick Charge Time takes about 2.5 hours; this unit took less--slightly more than 2 hours.
The results of our WINDOWS Magazine Wintune 95 benchmarks were 135MIPS and 40MFLOPs for the 4000C, 5.23Mpixels per second for the video and 9.16MB per second cached data-transfer rate for the hard drive. The 4000C took 21 seconds to execute our Excel 7.0 macro and 36.3 seconds to complete our Microsoft Word 7.0 macro.
Priced at $5,100, the 90MHz 4050C --with 16MB of RAM and 810MB hard drive--posted 162MIPS, 48MFLOPS, 5.5Mpixels per second and cached hard drive throughput of 9.94MB per second. Times to execute the Excel 7.0 and Word 7.0 macros were 14 and 39.66 seconds, respectively.
There are few tasks for which the Versa 4000C is not suited. Its audio and video subsystems make it a dream for presentations, and its Pentium processor has the horsepower for virtually any undertaking. It has a full suite of connections, and NEC offers a docking station that makes the Versa 4000C an ideal desktop replacement. This notebook has a 3-year warranty.
The Versa 4000 family is brawny, yet elegant. Its VersaBay lets you add a CD-ROM, a 3.5-inch disk drive or other peripheral as the need arises. That, and the ability to use a docking station that has expansion ports, make for a very attractive--and versatile--package.
NEC Versa 4000C and 4050C
Price: 4000C: $3,999; with 16MB of RAM, $4,474;4050C: $5,100
In Brief: The NEC Versa 4000 family is available with 75MHz, 90MHz or 120MHz Pentium processors, lithium ion batteries, a variety of hard drives and a CD-ROM drive.
by: Jim Forbes and James E. Powell
NEC Technologies makes stunning monitors and rugged notebooks. It also makes terrific desktop computers, as evidenced by the PowerMate and Ready series. We were extremely pleased with the two latest offerings, both 133MHz Pentium systems.
These machines are similar in many respects. Both use a PCI bus and come standard with 2MB of video memory, 16MB of RAM, infrared support and a generous 1.6-gigabyte hard drive. They also boast a full battery of ports, full-sized keyboard, NEC-branded mouse, 16-bit Sound Blaster-compatible audio and great speakers. Both are housed in a wide mini-tower case that allows easy access to the internal components.
The PowerMate series is aimed at the corporate market and includes a minimal software bundle, since most of its users prefer to install their own applications. The Ready line is designed to be sold by computer retailers and includes an impressive software lineup.
At $3,299, the PowerMate P133 is the more expensive of the two systems. The basic configuration includes a 6x CD-ROM drive and a small software bundle. Getting inside the mini-tower case is a snap: Just twirl two readily identifiable machine screws, lift out a side panel and you're in. This is a much more elegant and useful way of opening up a system than removing an entire cover assembly.
The PowerMate P133 has two ISA and four PCI open slots so it can grow with your needs. The 6x CD-ROM is wickedly fast, and the speakers that ship with this unit have a rating of 8 watts. Other goodies include a full complement of communications programs, a TranXit infrared software front-end and support for voice input.
The Ready 9542, geared more toward the home market, also has two ISA and four PCI open slots, though one PCI slot can be used only to replace the on-board video. It ships with a 4x CD-ROM and nearly two dozen multimedia titles, including games such as Descent. The system includes MPEG-1-software compatibility for full-screen video playback, SRS 3-D surround sound, wavetable audio and a telephone answering system with speakerphone.
Productivity titles include Microsoft Works, Publisher, Quicken SE and Encarta. The Ready also ships with Bob--which you can remove--and Midisoft's MediaWorks, a similar but less cutesy Windows 95 front-end that resembles a home office. MediaWorks includes utilities that let you capture and edit video and audio or send a fax.
A 28.8Kb-per-second modem with DSVD (for simultaneous voice and data transmission) is also part of the package, as is Netscape Navigator and sign-up kits for the major online services.
The PowerMate offers you the option of installing Windows for Workgroups or Windows 95 when you power up for the first time. We installed the Workgroups edition, then used our own copy of Win95 to upgrade, which took 24 minutes.
The Ready unit comes with a setup program that first examines the installed equipment, then loads the installation program for Win95. In all, it took 30 minutes to install the operating system before we could use the machine, an annoyance that beginning users--presumably the primary intended buyers for this desktop--shouldn't have to deal with.
The PowerMate P133 blew the doors off most of our Wintune 95 benchmarks. Its 133MHz processor cranked out 246MIPS and 74MFLOPS, while its hard disk scored a 3.43MB-per-second uncached data-transfer rate. Due to a problem with the video driver, we could not report a video score in our standard 800x600-pixel, 256-color mode.
The Ready 9542 was similarly impressive, yielding 244MIPS and 74MFLOPS. The Maxtor hard drive's uncached performance was 3.5MBps, and its video system pumped out 13.1Mpixels per second.
The results of our applications benchmarks were also good, but not quite as startling. The PowerMate P133 took only 39.66 seconds to execute the 32-bit version of our WinWord macro and a scant 17.33 seconds to run our 32-bit Excel macro. The Ready unit took 19.7 seconds with Word and 40.3 seconds with Excel.
If you're looking for Pentium 133 power at a reasonable price, these units should be at the top of your shopping list.
NEC PowerMate P133 and Ready 9542
Price: PowerMate, $3,299 (without monitor); Ready, $2,999 (without monitor)
In Brief: The NEC PowerMate P133 and Ready 9542 are both full-featured, PCI-bus, 133MHz Pentium systems in a mini-tower case. The PowerMate is aimed at corporate buyers, while the Ready is intended for the home user.
by: James Bell
For little more than the cost of a computer book, you can pick up a great Windows 95 drawing program. Micrografx's Windows Draw 4.0, which I tested in beta, includes both drawing and image-editing modules, along with 250 fonts and over 10,000 pieces of clip art.
Although the bundle is marketed for home use, don't assume it's a limited package. While the low-cost program doesn't include all the features of Micrografx's high-end ABC Graphics Suite, Windows Draw is a useful office addition.
Windows Draw makes good use of the Win95 interface. If you've worked with Microsoft Office 95, you'll find Windows Draw especially easy to learn as it mimics Office's menus, commands and toolbars. You can also customize your screen layout and use tear-off toolbars that can be docked or left to float in the drawing window.
All the Windows Draw modules support OLE 2.0, drag-and-drop, and in-place editing. You can drag clip art from ABC Media Manager, the clip-art manager, into either the drawing or image-editing module and the program will automatically handle any necessary format conversions. Windows Draw supports over 50 vector and bitmap graphics formats.
Nonartists will appreciate Windows Draw's 150 drawing templates. They're organized into six categories--Celebrations, Diagrams, Publishing, Fun, Games and Sports--and cover everything from play money to floor plans and stationery. You have to master some basic skills to use the templates effectively, since they are predesigned documents that you modify manually. Each template includes suggestions for where to start making changes, but a few well-placed wizards would have been helpful for new users.
Windows Draw's drawing tools have been substantially updated from version 3.0. Beyond the standard fare--lines, ovals, rectangles and Bézier curves--there are 11 new CoolShape tools for one-step polygons, stars, arrows and 3-D shapes. The program even automatically shades the 3-D CoolShapes (too automatically sometimes, as you can't control the light direction).
Among the new features are "sticky" connecting lines that make it a snap to create organizational charts, flowcharts and annotations for illustrations. Also new are multiple levels of undo, a spell checker, a "format painter" for quickly copying object formatting and multiple drawing layers.
Windows Draw's image editor, Photo Magic, now supports TWAIN-compatible scanners and includes options for cropping, rotating, resizing, and modifying resolution and color depth. A Stitch feature lets you recombine images that were scanned in separate sections. Photo Magic's powerful masking tools can mask specific color ranges and create freehand masks.
Photo Magic supports over 40 special effects, from basic picture corrections--like sharpen, remove pattern, and adjust contrast and brightness--to special effects such as add color noise, wind, pop art, crystallize and charcoal. You can preview all the effects.
It's also possible to draw images in Photo Magic, using the dozen-plus painting tools that simulate chalk, pencils, markers, crayons, pastels, oils and watercolors.
ABC Media Manager, also in the bundle, simplifies using the package's clip art. You can also create your own clip-art libraries, including thumbnails and searchable keywords and descriptions.
Windows Draw doesn't offer all the features of high-end drawing packages. There are no color separations or sophisticated text controls in Draw, or multiple object layers in Photo Magic. For these capabilities, you'll have to turn to high-end graphics packages from Micrografx, Adobe, Corel or Macromedia.
If you have professional needs and a larger budget, Windows Draw may not be the program for you. But if you're looking for a good entry-level drawing program for Windows 95 that also works well with Office 95, this is it. Grab a copy before Micrografx comes to its senses and raises the price.
Windows Draw 4.0
Price: $49.99 (street)
In Brief: Windows Draw 4.0 is an inexpensive Windows 95 drawing and image-editing software bundle packed with fonts and clip art.
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.x