Feb 1996 Reviews

For a full listing of this month's reviews, click here.

(Editor's Note: The WinMag Box Score rates products on installation, usability, supporting materials, functionality, performance and utility. We use a 5-point scale:
1 poor, 2 fair, 3 good, 4 very good and 5 outstanding. A list of recommended desktop systems is at the end of the Reviews section; in future months, other hardware and software products will be added to the Recommended list.)

Head to Head: Decision Processing

Two Ways to Avoid Judgement Daze

by: Rich Castagna

A coin toss or turn of a tarot card may suffice if you're trying to figure out which movie to see or what shirt to wear. But when it comes to career-making--or -breaking--business decisions, serendipity should take a backseat. DecideRight and Which & Why can help you put your options in order, weigh each option's importance and make a well-considered decision. The two programs help you make choices with confidence.

You begin the decision-making process similarly with both programs. You start with the overall issue and then list the factors you think should figure into a decision.

DecideRight's QuickBuild feature guides you through the process. You name your problem first, adding some descriptive text if desired. In the ensuing panel, you list the options that you wish to evaluate--for example, the candidate locations for your company's new headquarters. A similar window appears in which you enter specific

factors to consider. For the company headquarters decision, these might include items such as transportation, real estate costs and communications. For each of these criteria, you indicate the importance of the item by moving a slider within a scale that ranges from low to high.

The final step is to rate each of the options by placing them on a chart with columns labeled Poor, Fair, Good and Excellent. The resulting decision table ranks the options and adds a summary rating.

Which & Why doesn't offer as much help to get started, but it lets you build more sophisticated models. The program uses a hierarchical method where you enter the top-

level options in a box on the left of the screen and then further refine these options in subsequent boxes on the right. You can add an enormous amount of detail because each factor can be broken down into several lower-level subfactors.

If you're starting out with a little less definition for the solutions to your problem, you can use Which & Why's Model Builder feature. The Model Builder has a scratch pad on the left where you can randomly list options and criteria. On the right, you create a model tree--a kind of indented outline of decision options--by dragging the factors from the scratch pad and arranging them logically.

Which & Why provides weighting options. With Pairwise Comparison, you match up factors and rate their relative importance. You can also opt for User Defined Comparison and assign ratings to factors while viewing the relative importance of each as a slice of a pie chart. A click on the Auto Normalize box will ensure that the sum of your weights adds up to 100 percent. No matter how you choose to weight your options, you can always designate certain factors as "must haves''--so if an option doesn't meet those critical criteria, it's immediately discounted.

You can use both programs to print and present the results of your decision-making in a variety of ways. DecideRight has a nifty feature that can be a great time-saver. The software gives you a choice of output styles--full report, summaries, scenarios and presentations--but the full report is by far the best. This option takes all the information you've entered, plus the results of the decision-making process, and puts it into a cohesive narrative that you can edit freely. You might not want to hand this over to your boss as is, but it's a step above an outline and a great starting point. For presentations, DecideRight will create a basic outline that you can export to Freelance 2.1 or PowerPoint 4.0 for slide-building.

Befitting its sophisticated approach to decision analysis, Which & Why offers printout options such as a model's factors and hierarchical levels, and factor weights. You can print a variety of charts--line, tape, area or histogram--and convert them to WMF or BMP formats for use in other documents.

The programs share the same intention: to help you come to an educated, well-thought-out decision by carefully considering all the variables. They just go about it differently. DecideRight is more appealing for decisions that don't entail a slew of options and don't require elaborate weighting. Which & Why is more difficult to learn and use, but it can handle extremely complex decision analyses where you need to process scores of factors to arrive at a final decision.

--Info File--
DecideRight 1.0
Pros: Easy to use; reports
Cons: Limited factor weighting
Platforms: Windows 95 (16-bit), 3.x, NT (16-bit)
Disk Space: 4MB
RAM: 4MB (8MB recommended)
Avantos Performance Systems
800-AVANTOS, 510-654-4600
WinMag Box Score: 3.0

Which & Why
Pros: Sophistication
Cons: Operation
Platforms: Windows 95 (16-bit), 3.x, NT (16-bit)
Disk Space: 13MB
Arlington Software Corp
.800-496-1303, fax 514-954-9739
WinMag Box Score: 3.5

QuickBooks 4.0 and QuickBooks Pro 4.0

A Winner by All Accounts

by: Joel Patz

The details of setting up a small business can be daunting. You not only have to sell your expertise, but you need to keep track of money, too--where it's coming from and where it goes. QuickBooks 4.0 is the full-time accounting aid you need. You won't have to burn the midnight oil if you let this program help you sort out debits and credits, take care of payroll and inventory, and put all your financial numbers where they belong.

The previous version of the software, QuickBooks Pro (First Impressions, September 1995), impressed me with its array of helpful features for accounting, estimating, time tracking, payroll and job costing. QuickBooks 4.0, which I tested in late beta, offers improvements that make it even easier to get a business up and running and to keep all those details in order. A new "pro" version, QuickBooks Pro 4.0, offers additional business management functions.

Most programs offer online assistance; QuickBooks 4.0 takes help to a new level with in-depth industry-specific documentation for more than 20 different types of businesses. The Easy Step Interview elicits information via an intelligent question-and-answer format to give you a hand as you set up your company's books. Respond appropriately, and you'll end up with a set of ledgers including key reports, transactions and menus that are tailored to your specific needs.

Field, form and report customization is one of the program's strongest features. You can personalize customer, vendor, item and employee information, and produce detailed reports on every facet of your business with a click of the mouse. It's now easier to select filters and to format reports, such as resizing and reordering invoice columns or marking invoices as pending so they don't affect customer balances. Auto-formatting eliminates fiddling with columns to get information on a page.

Version 4.0 also adds features to help you manage your tax reporting. In addition to printing W-2 and W-3 forms, it can output 1099 forms for the vendors you select, 940 and 941 forms for payroll-related tax reporting, and reports with line-item totals for your own tax returns. The program includes a link to TurboTax for Business (also reviewed this month), although it was not functional in the beta version. The documentation also helps you move and convert data from Quicken and QuickPay to QuickBooks 4.0.

The program's new contact management features don't rival those found on most standalone PIMs, but they will help you keep better tabs on your customers and vendors. You can add new contacts on the fly, compose date-stamped notes and schedule callbacks. The To-Do list manager keeps track of date-specific chores. You can choose names and addresses and send them to your word processor for mail-merge applications. You can also print labels for any group of invoices you've just printed using a company's "bill to" or "ship to" address.

QuickBooks Pro 4.0 and the CD-ROM version of QuickBooks 4.0 include an outstanding business library, many with audio segments, by business experts Jane Applegate, Paul and Sarah Edwards, Thomas Stemmy and Steve Nelson. Library topics include finance, accounting, human resources and benefits, general management principles, and ways to minimize taxes and improve your cash flow. The legal section, for example, contains topics such as trade, intellectual property and business structure. Many of the library's topics feature interactive segments that are instructional and thought-provoking for both new and seasoned business people. And clicking on the SoundAdvice button that appears on many screens launches an audio clip explaining how to get the most from that particular aspect of the program.

Small changes to the program's interface include a handy pop-up calculator and an improved print preview feature. The toolbar can be customized to include only the functions you need. When printing reports, you can select just the pages you want to print. Both the printed and online documentation for QuickBooks 4.0 are extensive, clearly written and well indexed.

I'm still impressed. QuickBooks 4.0 could be the best business partner you'll ever have.

-- Info File --
QuickBooks 4.0 and QuickBooks Pro 4.0
QuickBooks 4.0: $99 (disk), $129 (CD-ROM); QuickBooks Pro 4.0: $189
Pros: Ease of use; form and report customization
Cons: Won't replace your favorite contact manager
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.x
800-624-8742, 415-322-0573
WinMag Box Score: 5.0

SureTrak Project Manager 1.5

Absolute Power Coordinates Absolutely

by: Sara G. Stephens

Once upon a time, a project manager's top priority was to make a project happen, then make sure it happened on time. Thanks to the downsized realities of a new economy, today's project manager has a third mission: finance control. Primavera's SureTrak equips project managers with tools for budgeting both labor and material resources, capabilities common to industrial-strength project management packages but rarely found in the lower-end variety.

They're a major attraction of SureTrak 1.0, combining powerful, easy-to-use features with advanced communications capacities.

The new SureTrak Project Manager 1.5 interface--already brushed with a bevy of buttons and colors--further evolves with industry-specific templates and Wizards that steer users through a sea of activity codes and data dictionaries. You can categorize project components according to responsibility and phase, and later slice and dice the whole plan with an eye toward summarizing, setting priorities or distribution.

SureTrak was one of the first of its class to weave in workgroup capabilities. Version 1.5 improves upon its predecessor's e-mail update features with direct-mail addressing, which lets users broadcast multiple messages simultaneously.

The program includes a set of built-in ODBC drivers so SureTrak files can easily integrate with database applications created in Oracle 7, SQL Server, Excel, Access and Approach. SureTrak's Pivot Table Wizards for Excel lets you instantly cross-tabulate project data in Excel.

Microsoft Project led a trend toward multiproject control, letting users overlay projects for compatibility checks. SureTrak picks up the baton by allowing simultaneous updating of common variables across multiple projects in a group.

The new SureTrak includes OLE support, so project managers can dress up their work with eye-catching illustrations, supporting documents or even videos. It also offers Softbridge Basic Language. Like MS Project's Visual Basic, SoftBridge lets you build macros into your projects.

SureTrak 1.5 has the advantage of "good genes." A spin-off of Primavera's higher-end project management packages, it combines sophisticated tools with a competitive price. It's perfect for medium-size businesses that don't have the big bucks or staff to maintain a high-end system.

--Info File--
SureTrak Project Manager 1.5
$299 (street); upgrade, $99
Pros: Built-in ODBC drivers; OLE support
Cons: Busy interface
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.x
Primavera Systems
800-423-0245, 610-667-8600
WinMag Box Score: 4.0

AutoCAD Release 13c4

CAD App Has Designs on Win95

by: Ranjit S. Sahai

The day Windows 95 shipped, Autodesk announced its intentions to have a Windows 95-compliant version of AutoCAD Release 13 available within 90 days. Autodesk stuck to its word and delivered AutoCAD Release 13c4, the Windows 95 version of its flagship product, as promised.

When AutoCAD Release 13 came out last year, it was written to the Win32s programming interface so the same executable could run under Windows 3.1 (with help from included Win32s libraries) or Windows NT 3.5 for Intel processors. Since its initial release, the popular CAD software has undergone three maintenance releases--from Release 13c1 through Release 13c3. These updates essentially fixed bugs and improved performance. However, Release 13c4 is more than just a Windows 95 revision; it adds new features and functions.

The new AutoCAD's executable senses its host operating system and adjusts accordingly. You can run it under Windows 95, Windows NT 3.51 on Intel or Windows 3.1. The new features in this update include long filename support, OLE 2.0 compliance, ACIS 1.6 implementation, a new dialog box interface for the text Style command and the ability to run multiple sessions.

The program's interface is essentially the same as that in the version I reviewed last year (First Impressions, February 1995). It has more than a dozen task-specific floating toolbars with "fly-out" icons--Draw, Modify and Dimensioning, among others--for easy access to various commands. In addition, this version includes a resizable drawing window, a floating command window, and excellent online help and tutorials.

You can customize AutoCAD at several levels. With the Toolbars dialog box active, right-click on any icon to reassign its action string. You can customize AutoCAD's menu bar by editing the ACAD.MNU text file. More adventurous users can write macros in the program's AutoLISP programming language and create custom dialog boxes in Dialog Control Language (DCL). And professional add-on application vendors who program in C language have access to the AutoCAD Development System (ADS) libraries to create plug-ins to extend AutoCAD's functionality.

The new WHIP driver, introduced in AutoCAD Release 13c3, provides dramatic speed improvements in standard pan and zoom operations. When installed as AutoCAD's driver, it also implements two new commands: RTPAN for real-time panning operations and RTZOOM

for real-time zoom capabilities. With real-time pan, the cursor assumes the shape of a hand, and you can pan the drawing across the screen by simply dragging the hand with your mouse. With real-time zoom, depending on the direction and distance you drag the cursor, the drawing zooms in or out to varying degrees.

Under Windows 95, AutoCAD Release 13 no longer restricts you to the conventional 8.3 DOS filename. You can give your drawing a long name that even includes spaces. Because of the program's OLE 2.0 support, it's now easier to embed and edit AutoCAD drawings in other applications, such as word processors. Also, whereas previously when you selected Text Style from the Data menu the selection initiated a series of command-line prompts, it now pops up a dialog box that simplifies text-style management.

Release 13's feature set is impressive. It supports overlay-style external reference files for attaching other workgroup members' drawings in a network environment; has an integrated spell checker and offers a sophisticated environment for linking external database files to drawing elements. Additionally, the program now offers multiline paragraph-style text, true ellipses and new tools, such as the Lengthen command and Geometric Dimensioning & Tolerancing (GD&T) symbols.

With all these features, this AutoCAD version still has room for improvement. Line thickness as an element attribute and command-option implementation in a dialog box interface, rather than as command-line prompts, still top my wish list. But AutoCAD retains its position as the leading CAD program. With AutoCAD Release 13c4, Autodesk adds the latest updating system to its impressive list of supported platforms.

--Info File--
AutoCAD Release 13c4
$3,750 for CD-ROM; $3,995 for disks
Pros: Improved pan and zoom performance; help and tutorials; toolboxes
Cons: Command-line operations; no support for relative line thickness as entity attribute
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.x, NT
Disk Space: 58MB
800-964-6432, 415-507-5000
WinMag Box Score: 4.5

MapInfo Professional

Map App Puts Data in Its Place

by: Hailey Lynne McKeefry

Your company's data--tucked away in disparate databases around the enterprise--may contain the hidden treasures you need to do your job better. MapInfo Professional, with its passel of data-mapping tools, gives you the opportunity to hunt down your enterprise's data riches and shine them up into meaningful, useful nuggets of geographically based information.

MapInfo Professional, the latest release of the popular mapping software, lets you take database and spreadsheet information and layer it onto maps to reveal patterns and trends that are often difficult to detect by examining the data alone. The program permits you to glean material from multiple databases including Oracle, Sybase, Ingres, Informix, Access and SQL Server. The new version adds wizards to walk you through geographic queries to remote databases.

MapInfo Professional also packs in a bunch of new ease-of-use features. The Polygon and Polyline tools let you autotrace the nodes of an existing object when you are in Snap mode. With the program's cloning feature, you can create an exact duplicate of your map with a single command, so it can be used to create different views of the same geographic area. When it's time to wrap up your mapping efforts for the day, you can save all the elements--maps, browsers and windows--as a "workspace." This designation saves a list of the files you were using along with all the information needed to re-create your desktop. This is a particularly nice feature for those who want to reuse the same process for monthly or quarterly reports.

I found that the multitude of elements I needed on my desktop (including maps, charts, browsers, toolbars and information boxes) made me wish for a lot more monitor real estate than my 15-inch screen provided. I tested this program on a 100MHz Pentium system, and the program redrew my maps and accessed data quickly. At the least, you should have a 486 system with 8MB of RAM to run this program.

MapInfo Professional's layering features are perhaps the most powerful tools in the package. Layering let me combine many different types of information on a single map and allowed me to see the data's geographic relationships. For instance, I took a map of the United States and overlayed the state capitals. Next, I added a cosmetic (clear) layer and created labels for each of the capitals. By calling up a layer control box and checking the appropriate boxes, you can choose which layers can be viewed, edited and selected. You can also stipulate that certain layers only be seen when viewed at a certain magnification, so your maps look less cluttered.

You can choose to make some of the layers seamless, so that several tables of the same type of data can be combined and treated as a single table.

Once the tables are grouped, you can change display attributes, apply labeling or use the layer control dialog to regulate the entire group. When you pan across the map, the program transparently opens and closes the necessary data tables needed to display the appropriate information.

Labeling support is also new to the program. Adding labels is as simple as choosing the Text tool, clicking where the label should go and typing the text. This version also provides more text style options, including haloing, drop shadows, all-caps and double-wide spacing.

MapInfo supports OLE 2.0, so you can drag and drop map objects into other OLE applications. You can also clip part of a MapInfo map and use it in another document. For example, I pared two noncontiguous states from a map so they could be easily compared in a document. The clipped portion of the map can also be brought into a separate map window to be used as an inset within the larger map.

The program is available for Windows 3.x, Windows 95 and Windows NT. MapInfo also incorporates myriad features that will make Windows 95 users feel as though they are entering a very familiar interface. It is Win95- and Office 95-compatible, and includes tool tips, dockable toolbars, long filenames and mail enabling. Right-mouse-button support lets you control layers, change your view, clone your view, see the previous view, inspect an entire layer and edit map objects. MapInfo also has an online forum on the Microsoft Network that you can connect to via the program's Help menu.

Although it takes time to learn all of MapInfo Professional's ins and outs, the program has a simple interface and comprehensive manuals that will help you turn your databases into geographically based information that's worth its weight in gold.

--Info File--
MapInfo Professional
$1,295; upgrade, $195
Pros: Interface; comprehensive features
Cons: Need large monitor to work with complex data sets
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.x, NT
MapInfo Corp.
800-327-8627, 518-285-6000
WinMag Box Score: 3.5