by: Sara G. Stephens
There's an ironic, dark truth shared by many project managers. Behind their impeccable PERT charts' veneer of order lie frenzied efforts to patch every leak with last-minute scheduling fixes. But haste can lay waste to even the best-planned project scenarios.
The folks at Computer Associates know how the real world of project management works, so they graced SuperProject 4.0 with a number of practical tools, not the least of which is a multi-level undo feature.
Like some of its competitors--Primavera System's SureTrak Project Manager being the closest match--SuperProject blends the features of a heavy-duty project manager into a lightweight-looking package. And, while graphical interfaces generally make easier-to-use programs, too many graphics and macros can restrict, or at least obscure, the functionality of a more sophisticated app that requires entering and manipulating a lot of details in various formats. It's a fine line between easy and messy.
Fortunately, SuperProject is on the right side of this line. Each project view is tabbed like a file folder. You can open multiple projects, stacking these "file folders" on top of one another, and clicking on the tabs switches from one open project to another. Like Microsoft Project, another close competitor, SuperProject puts similar tabs on its dialog boxes and pop-up forms.
Other MS Project similarities include Calendar views, Gantt charts that let you display different start and end symbols for each item, and gridlines between rows. You can also combine project windows on a single outline, PERT chart or WBS chart view. The program's ability to illustrate interproject relationships with distinctive symbols is especially useful in this mode. You can use the Auto-Open feature to instruct SuperProject to open related projects whenever you open a particular project file.
Large organizations with mixed-breed setups should find SuperProject 4.0's expanded export/import formats particularly useful. It now includes the .MPX (MS Project) extension. Even more significant is the program's LAN support installed via CA's Activate program. It's compatible with IBM PC, 3Com, Novell NetWare, Banyan and other networks. This feature, combined with the program's ODBC support, means subproject managers can each update the server-residing relational database from their desktops, regardless of the database program they're using.
SuperProject can create a work breakdown structure with forms that flow more intuitively than those I've seen in competing products. For example, task, resource and account names have a generous length limit of 56 characters. The program also lets you check your project schedule's progress by transferring it to as many as three baselines, rather than the traditional single-baseline option.
Because the fruits of a project manager's work eventually must be printed and shared with staff or management, CA also improved SuperProject's reporting capabilities. It now prints bitmaps in a report's header and footer. It also lets you Print to Fit, so you won't be tied to your desk with a roll of Scotch tape, piecing together panels of a Gantt chart. Balloon help is convenient for newcomers, while a configurable toolbar lets the more fluent SuperProject user customize his desktop with up to 50 different buttons.
SuperProject comes bundled with TimeSheet Professional, an electronic time-sheet app that integrates nicely to form a full project- and resource-management solution.
While many "improved interfaces" actually intimidate rather than invite users, SuperProject combines color, graphics and solid features so they not only look cool on the desktop, but also let you keep cool-headed control of your projects.
Price: $649; upgrade, $149
In Brief: SuperProject combines the graphical with the functional, resulting in a friendly package that also delivers to the more sophisticated project manager.
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.x
Disk Space: 8MBRAM: 4MB (8MB recommended)
Computer Associates International
by: James E. Powell
The term Interactive Voice Response (IVR) might seem cold, but when you use the technology to phone and access up-to-the-minute bank account information without talking to another person, it's not just cool, but efficient, too. With voysAccess, a toolkit that works with Visual Basic 3.0, you can build your own custom IVR applications. The toolkit's designer is so simple to use that your first IVR VB-based application will be up and running in just a few hours.
VoysAccess, which I tested in beta, includes a custom VBX control and voysDesigner, an application generator that lets you design your voice response application in a spreadsheet-like grid. You select actions from a toolbox or the main menu, then pick action-specific options from dialog boxes. For example, your logic can include commands to play a greeting, wait for digits to be pressed, analyze the response and branch to a subroutine based on the caller's keystrokes.
The Record command lets your customer leave a message, and you have the option of limiting its length. You have to write the logic that organizes these messages and plays them back. Because the system supports variables, it's easy to create a "count" field to tally the number of incoming calls. The system can dial or transfer a call, too, and you can specify the number of rings before your program terminates a call.
Using a caller's Touch-tone input, your application can retrieve information from a database. The application can also respond vocally, even formatting values such as adding the words "dollars" and "cents" to currency fields and translating numerical dates into their narrative equivalents.
To retrieve information you use the designer's Data Query Wizard to map a schema of the data, including relationships between tables and databases. The Query Wizard builds SQL statements using Select, From, Where and Order By parameters, which can be completed by picking field names and conditions from pop-up lists. The Query supports most popular database formats--dBASE, Paradox, Access and FoxPro--and ODBC.
The digits that a caller enters can also be captured as data and stored in a database, so your application can receive information as well as disseminate it.
Once you've designed your application, the designer generates the entire application in Visual Basic code and can automatically launch the application. The code-building process checks for errors such as undefined branches. The resulting source code is well commented and uses easy-to-understand function names, such as voysAcces1.
Vspeak ="C: \MYAPP\HELLO" which "speaks" the HELLO voice file.
Programming purists may not like the way the voysDesigner worksheet handles branching indentation because all actions are left-justified. However, the generated VB code is properly indented.
The toolkit includes a starter prompt library and a collection of about 300 professionally recorded voice files. There is also a sound processing and editing utility that supports .WAV, .VOX, .VOC and other sound file formats.
The package includes a two-line Dialogic voice card that is required to run your completed application. Installing it is relatively easy, though you'll need to manually set jumpers.
While there are a few alternatives available, voysAccess offers the fastest, easiest route to custom VB-based IVR applications that I've seen so far.
voysAccessfor Visual Basic
Price: $595; with two-line Dialogic card (needed to run application), $995
In Brief: Combined with Visual Basic 3.0, voysAccess provides the easiest way to build Interactive Voice Response applications.
Platforms: Windows 3.x
by: James Bell
A million Mac users can't be wrong. At least Claris hopes so, as it tests the Windows waters with its popular ClarisDraw graphics program. The company says the Mac version--along with its predecessor, the MacDraw family--has an installed base of almost a million users, and it has drawn heavily on that experience to create ClarisDraw for Windows.
The beta version I tested is a 32-bit application that runs under either Windows 95 or Windows 3.x. Designed for the general business user, the program takes a simple, streamlined approach to drawing, but also includes a handful of interesting surprises.
One of ClarisDraw's obvious advantages is its complete cross-platform compatibility with the Mac counterpart. You can even convert MacDraw files after running them through a file "splitter" utility (which ClarisDraw provides).
ClarisDraw's interface closely matches that of its Mac sibling. While this would be helpful for someone using both platforms, it's a real disadvantage for Windows users--especially Windows 95 users. There are no context menus, ribbon bars, tabbed dialog boxes or even help balloons to describe program icons. Nor does it support OLE or drag-and-drop between documents or with other applications. None of these features are crucial to the drawing process, but they would have made ClarisDraw easier to learn and use.
To its credit, the program does provide some shortcuts, including tear-off tool palettes that you can shrink down to just their title bars when you're not using them.
ClarisDraw's real strength is the intelligence of its toolset. Beyond the basic tools for drawing lines, curves, and standard shapes like ovals and rectangles, you'll find several "smart" features. These include 16 Shape tools for one-step creation of polygons, stars, arrows, and 3-D boxes and cylinders. But shading for 3-D shapes isn't provided, and you can't ungroup them to add shading manually.
Other smart tools include SmartConnector lines that maintain links between objects; SmartSize for scaling objects proportionally; Guideliner and PointGuide for precisely positioning objects and lines; and SmartAlign for keeping elements aligned or distributed, even after being moved. ClarisDraw also provides quick format tricks with SmartShadow and SmartEmbossing, and there's even a search-and-replace feature called Replace Clones for substituting one piece of clip art with another in a drawing.
ClarisDraw includes basic image-editing capabilities for imported bitmaps and the ability to create black-and-white, 16-color and 256-color images. If you can use the somewhat limited tools, they can save you the trouble of having to switch to another program. The software supports both HLS and RGB color palettes--but not CMYK--and bundles predesigned palettes of up to 256 colors.
Nonartists can import several PC and Mac graphic file formats, including .EPS, .TIF, .CGM, .GIF, .WINF, PICT, PICT2, .BMP, .PCX, MacDraw, MacPaint and .AVI movie frames. Included, too, are 60 TrueType fonts and 2,400 pieces of clip art. The clip art is organized into drag-and-drop libraries, and you add your own images by dragging them onto a library window.
It's also possible to import text and lay out ClarisDraw pages by using linked text boxes. The program supports paragraph formatting, text styles, a spell checker and thesaurus, and both regular and irregular text wrapping around graphics. ClarisDraw won't replace a true desktop publishing package but it should satisfy most basic needs.
ClarisDraw's layering feature is a pleasant surprise. It's ideal for floor plans, maps and diagrams, and can be used to create slide shows, too. Slide shows can be augmented with fades, bulleted text lists and simple sequence controls. Again, this feature can't compete with dedicated presentation programs, but it's adequate for simple projects.
Like the generalist users ClarisDraw was designed for, the program doesn't aim to be the best in any particular category. Instead, it focuses on providing simple, useful tools for the occasional user. Limitations in its interface are offset by a bevy of intelligent drawing options.
Price: $199 (street);competitive upgrade, $99
In Brief: ClarisDraw offers cross-platform compatibility with its Mac version, intelligent tools, and drag-and-drop clip art.
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.x
by: Hailey Lynne McKeefry
Perhaps it's true that a poor master blames his tools, but having great tools can't hurt. The dynamic duo of Dabbler 2 and the Wacom ArtZ II graphics tablet helped me discover my well-hidden artistic talents.
The ArtZ II Tablet, which measures 0.5 by 13 by 9.6 inches, has a 6-by-8-inch drawing space with a resolution of 2,540 lines per inch. The unit plugs into a serial port and comes with drivers for Windows 95, 3.x and NT. A menu strip at the top of the ArtZ II provides five user-definable function buttons and 11 predefined buttons (including Cut, Copy, Paste, Undo, Delete, New, Open and Save), as well as controls to change pressure sensitivity.
Wacom's Erasing UltraPen, included with the tablet, literally turns the world of graphics tablets upside down. If you use it with an eraser-enabled application, you can flip the pen over and rub its top against the tablet to erase what you just drew. Dabbler, Fractal Design's Painter, SmartSketch, QFX and Adobe Photoshop all support the eraser technology, and Autodesk Animator Studio, Fauve Matisse and Aldus Freehand will support it soon.
With the tablet in place, I loaded Dabbler from its CD-ROM. The CD holds both 16-bit and 32-bit versions of the program, in addition to more than 300 stencils, 120 paper testers, 3 image font libraries and 100 stock photographs.
Dabbler is the definitive program for anyone who wants to learn PC-based drawing and have fun doing it. The program uses a desk-and-drawer scenario--to peruse the selection of brushes, colors or paper textures, you slide open the appropriate drawer. Your sketch pad sits atop the on-screen desk, and you can flip through its pages by clicking on the arrow keys. Rotating the sketch pad lets you draw at any angle. The program also allows you to create multiple sketchbooks and open them one at a time.
Dabbler's Multimedia Art Tutors led me through some of the basics of cartooning and cartoon animation, as well as the nuts-and-bolts operation of the program. Although the program won't let you draw as you watch the lessons, you can switch easily back and forth between the two modes. Once you've mastered animation, the Flipbook Animation feature lets you create animations and export them as QuickTime or AVI movies.
The software's stencils, clip art and stock photos give you a running start and help you get by that first blank page. Once I had a stencil in place, I used the Effects menu to customize the color and texture of the shapes. Dabbler's Effects include Fill, Auto Clone, Fade, Glass Distortion, Motion Blur, Negative, Sharpen, Soften and Texturize.
Dabbler also provides several features to help you forge and use art elements from the CD-ROM or other images in any of several formats (including RIFF, TIFF, PICT, Targa, BMP, PCX and Photoshop). The Tracing Paper feature lets you pick an image and trace it onto your drawing. You can also manipulate an existing image using natural media cloning; this feature lets you select an image and render it using the medium of your choice (such as ink, oil paint or chalk).
Even with these great tools, my artwork isn't likely to end up on a museum wall, but within an hour or so I was able to create drawings that were better than I could have ever imagined. The Wacom ArtZ II felt as natural as using a pen and paper, and the eraser came in handy. Dabbler, which can also be used with a mouse, is fun to use, versatile and provides enough help that you're bound to learn something each time you use it.
Price: $69; upgrade, $29
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.x
Disk Space: 23.6 MB
Fractal Design Corp.
Wacom ArtZ II Tablet
Platforms: Windows 95,3.x, NT
Wacom Technology Corp.
by: James E. Powell
Sometimes it takes a while to commit to a relationship. For FileMaker Pro--long a favorite among flat-file fans--its long-awaited foray into the relational world is welcome.
FileMaker Pro 3.0, which I tested in beta, now lets you create one-to-many and many-to-one relationships between two files, including a minimal amount of referential integrity. The program retains its look-up feature, which copies data from one file to another--sometimes all the relational capability you need. You can glimpse into another database to set up master/detail reports and forms with a special object called a portal. Although it's an effective process, it isn't as effortless or intuitive as similar operations in Approach or Access.
FileMaker Pro is well designed, making it easy to use and navigate, especially for database beginners. It still doesn't have a traditional programming language, but its script builder is among the simplest to learn, understand and use that I've ever seen. You can build scripts with programming constructs such as loops and if/then/else, and you can include custom messages complete with OK and Cancel buttons. The program also supports variables, which it calls global fields.
Database files are easily set up, and the tabbed dialog boxes let you set options such as range checking and automatic serialization for numeric fields. Vastly improved built-in functions, like Future Value, IsEmpty and Length, make it possible to build complex validation rules. You don't get a wide range of field types to choose from, but the unique, repeating field type lets you create multiple field values within a single record.
Forms are easy to create and can contain traditional GUI elements, such as radio buttons and check boxes. You can also set the order in which the cursor moves through fields when you press the Tab key.
Although the reporting module is generally simple to use, setting up totals and subtotals is cumbersome. You have to assign summary fields to the database, specifying which calculation to perform (sum, count, average) and upon which field to perform it. Then, position the summary field on your report. In most other database programs, you would define the calculation field on the report itself.
You can quickly create forms for columnar reports, labels and envelopes. But the program lacks wizards to help you through creating more complex reports. You can, however, display actual record data from a sample to facilitate setting field sizes, with empty fields replaced by dummy text or numbers FileMaker Pro generates.
Specify colors, fonts and object alignment for forms and reports. You can lock objects so they don't get accidentally nudged, draw your own lines and boxes, and use snap-to-grid for alignment help. In this version, you can format paragraphs, including custom indents and precise line spacing, but you still can't format a numeric field as a telephone number.
Automatic phone dialing and mail merge are also new in this version. And you can now have up to 50 files open simultaneously, rather than the previous version's 16. Windows 95 features include long filenames, uninstall and OLE Container support. Field indexing is now optional, and you can let FileMaker Pro create indexes when necessary to speed up searches and sorts.
Other features of the network-ready FileMaker Pro include a spell checker, a converter that imports files created with other programs and the ability to export a file's structure without its data. Assign groups and passwords, and specify security down to the field level. More unusual features include the ability to find records containing illegal date and time values or duplicate values.
For current FileMaker users, the look and feel of version 3.0 will be immediately comfortable. Database dilettantes will find FileMaker Pro's ease of use and jargon-free manuals refreshing.
FileMaker Pro 3.0
In Brief: An easy-to-use FileMaker has entered the relational database world.
Platforms: Windows 95,NT 3.51
by: Sara G. Stephens
It's time to stop watching others ride the currents of communications technology while you wait for the easy-to-use, state-of-the-art solution. The miroConnect 34 wave packs all your messaging and communications tools into one circuit board with a V.34 modem and a bounty of software.
The hardware consists of a single 16-bit card with IBM's Mwave DSP (digital signal processor), audio connectors, MIDI or joystick connector, and CD-ROM cable connectors. The miroConnect's V.34 modem transfers data up to 28.8Kbps and supports fax at a transfer rate of up to 14.4Kbps.
Hardware setup was surprisingly easy. In fact, the miro manual is about the best I've seen. Technical support comes in the form of fax-on-demand, a bulletin board and a toll-free phone number.
Included among miroConnect's software components are Multimedia Connect, for telephony apps; Multimedia Blender, for mixing sound; Multimedia Wave Editor; various Internet access tools, including America Online, Netcom Web browser, Prodigy and CompuServe; a pack of MIDI files; and the Intel ProShare conferencing app.
The primary application in this package is Multimedia Connect, a full-featured comm app that combines voice mail, a fax and a speakerphone into a single, easy-to-use system.
Multimedia Connect joins the ranks of Creative Labs Phone Blaster's Ancilla, Boca Research's CallCenter and Spectrum's Office F/X by offering such advanced features as Caller ID, fax-on-demand and call forwarding. With this tool, you can even be notified via pager of any new voice or fax messages waiting in your inbox.
All in all, the miroConnect 34 wave is an impressive product. This package lets you ride the highest, fastest waves of communications without wiping out during setup and customization.
miroConnect 34 wave
Platforms: Windows 95,3.x, NT
Disk Space: 20MB
RAM: 4MB, 8MB recommended
miro Computer Products
by: Rich Castagna
It's tough to say au revoir to ancient apps. Sure, parting with old friends is hard, but it can get even harder if you accidentally give the heave-ho to needed files along with those you really want to deep-six. You can cross your fingers and whisper a little prayer before clicking on Delete--or you can use CleanSweep 95.
The Windows 95 version of this uninstaller boasts big improvements over its 16-bit predecessor. CleanSweep's tabbed interface and step-by-step guidance not only make it easier to use, but enable you to use the program with more confidence.
The tabs in the software's dialog divvy up its functions clearly. From the Program tab, you can delete, archive, back up and move files, or transport them to other computers. The Cleanup tab scours your system by finding duplicate and orphan files, redundant DLLs and infrequently used files. You can use Restore to fetch files you've backed up, moved or transported, while View lets you look at logs to see just what you've done. The Options tab provides configuration settings to toggle the usage monitor, set alerts for rarely accessed files and so forth.
Whatever you do, there's a wizard to lead the way. For example, when you uninstall a program, you click your way through well-prompted steps that include suggestions for using CleanSweep effectively--and safely. Just before your final click, CleanSweep stops for confirmation and tells you how much space you'll gain. You can also look at a list of program components if you want to spare something from the purge.
If you don't want to shuffle a bunch of files into oblivion, you can opt to keep them in compressed form; CleanSweep tucks them away in a PKZIP-compatible format. When you find you do need the app after all, a click on the Restore tab puts it back in working condition.
The Master Log tracks almost everything CleanSweep does. You can append each new activity to the printable file to keep an audit trail, or you can clear it and start with a blank slate. CleanSweep also outsmarts Win95's own uninstaller: It will find programs that aren't in the Registry.
As you ring out your old apps and ring in new Win95 versions, CleanSweep makes it easy to clear the clutter and keep your system up-to-date.
Price: $29.95 (street)
Platforms: Windows 95,3.x, NT
Disk Space: 2MB
by: James E. Powell
Even quad-speed CD-Rom drives get a performance boost with d-Time 95. The utility works like a system caching program, using your hard disk to store data read from a CD-ROM. Your hard disk's speed will affect performance gains, but in my tests--using a 30MB cache--I netted an average 50 percent pickup.
Many CD-ROM-based programs install a few files and then run the program from the CD-ROM. Performance is sluggish, but with d-Time, your patience will no longer be sorely tested.
D-Time's monitor shows you how it's working by displaying the percentage of "hits"--reads from the hard disk rather than from the CD-ROM. My tests yielded greater gains with large files, especially multimedia files. A "learn" mode tracks how you use a particular CD-ROM, then stores this information in a Timelog. The next time you use that CD-ROM, load its Timelog and performance is automatically optimized.
The speed gains are d-Time's good news; its setup is not. The setup routine first called a DOS program to run an animated logo, then froze my system. I got further with tech support's help, but my system hung up again after running Scandisk. It was supposed to run Disk Defragmenter next, as a safeguard before d-Time installed its files.
Once you get over the rough spots--and if you have 30MB or more available for the cache--d-Time can make your CD drive hum.
Price: $54.95 (street)
Platforms: Windows 95
Disk Space: Varies
Ballard Synergy Corp.
by: Hailey Lynne McKeefry
I've often wished that getting paper-based images into my PC was as easy as getting them out. Art-Scan Professional simplifies the document scanning process and, after I overcame some setup difficulties, it provided me with a straightforward way of moving images on paper off my desk and into my computer.
Art-Scan promises to work with more than 100 scanner engines, including major manufacturers such as Hewlett-Packard, Microtek, UMAX, Envisions, Epson and Relisys. But when I tried to use it with an Agfa StudioScan flatbed scanner--which was on the list of supported hardware--I ran into a jam because Agfa uses a slightly different SCSI driver for this new model. Jetsoft supplied replacement software with a bug fix, and I had no problem loading the program. Art-Scan requires that you have TWAIN-compatible image editing or graphics software such as Adobe Photoshop or PageMaker, Corel Photo-Paint, Aldus PhotoStyler, Fractal Design Painter or Caere OmniPage Professional.
The program's interface is simple and easy to use. In Auto-Mode, all scanning options are set without user intervention; the software determines the image type and configures the scanner automatically. I just had to choose the type of original, either film or photo. If you want to make your own setting adjustments, you have a multitude of options, including scan mode, resolution, size of the original and image range. You can scan color, gray-scale and line art, and you can choose to scan directly into .EPS or vector-based files without having to convert them separately to PostScript. A Batch Scanning feature prompts for more pages as each scan completes.
The simplicity and organized design of Art-Scan made scanning simple enough that I quickly recovered from the stress caused by my initial difficulties. In all, it was worth the work and wait to get this program up and running.
Platforms: Windows 95
Disk Space: 90KB
Jetsoft Development Co.
by: John Perry
Despite all the talk about the next generation's growing intimacy with technology, I never realized there was a market for "cyber-Crayola" applications. The Canon BJC-210 color BubbleJet printer brings color printing home to the family.
The BJC-210 is just about the smallest color printer I've seen, measuring only 8.2 by 13.7 by 6.9 inches and weighing only 5.8 pounds.
Color output is quite good. The BJC-210 has a 360x360dpi resolution and prints as fast as 0.27 pages per minute, at a cost per page of 35 cents. For best printing results, coated paper is a must. The vertical-feed paper tray holds 100 sheets. An application bundled with the Canon Creative software allows you to make heat transfers for T-shirts.
The BJC-210 ships with Canon Creative and Windows 3.x drivers, and Win95 drivers will be available by the time you read this. The Canon Creative package includes Sticker & Label Store, Stationery Store by DogByte Development, Crayola Art by Micrografx and Pattern Maker by HobbyWare. Swap out the color cartridge for a black one, and you've got a black-and-white printer with a printing resolution of 720x360dpi that's quite usable for business.
As far as repairs go, a 2-year full warranty with InstantExchange 24-hour replacement offers you a new printer instantly should yours break.
Price $269 (street)
Canon Computer Systems