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March 1996 Reviews

Click here to see a list of all products reviewed this month.


There's an app for every appetite, with forms processing,
graphics and business programs heading up our list of 22
more software reviews.

(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.)

OmniForm 2.0

How Ya Gonna Keep 'em Down on the Form?

By James E. Powell

OmniForm has definitely grown up. While I generally liked the previous version of this forms-creation tool, it displayed the classic shortcomings of a version 1.0, lacking many of the timesaving and ease-of-use features I'd expected. Caere has addressed those shortcomings in OmniForm 2.0 with a friendlier interface and other improvements, such as greater character recognition accuracy, added to its feature package.

OmniForm accepts paper-form images, either from your scanner or a fax machine, then analyzes the images' content and develops an electronic version, with live data entry blanks, of each form page.

It adds data entry fields and will build a database to store responses. It can even build calculations into the online form, automating the printed document with very little human intervention.

The program's new 32-bit OCR engine (which will make another appearance in Caere's OmniPage later this year) is trained to recognize underlines, check boxes, tables, data combs and labels (such as address) that usually indicate entry points on paper forms. If the OCR engine misses a fill-in blank or misspells a word on the first recognition pass, a spell checker and Caere's Language Analyst will try to pick up the straggler before the form is created. Once the form is developed, the same spell-check engine can continue to be used to improve data entry accuracy.

Analyzing an electronic version of my printed test form, with 15 fields and a 30-cell table -- including building in and performing all calculations plus creating a database for entry fields -- took less than one minute on a 133MHz Pentium. That's impressively fast.

The program also simplifies building a form from scratch or modifying an existing electronic form. OmniForm offers a graphical editing environment, including tools to add blank lines, fill-in boxes,rectangles, check marks and other elements.

You can include validation functions such as must-enter and numeric range limits, and specify date formats with a form of input masking. OmniForm also permits the forms designer to add help prompts at critical points.

OmniForm's new Wizards organize the process and clearly explain your options, starting with the first scan or fax. These electronic gurus also help you incorporate tables such as those found in invoices or purchase orders, or change the heading of a column. If your columns are headed with such commonly used labels as Price, Quantity and Total, OmniForm wizards automatically generate calculations for them, placing the results on the bottom line of each.

The program was smart enough to know that I wanted to multiply Price by Quantity for my Total column, and it added all of the totals for the Grand Total cell I added underneath, just as I would have done manually. Though smart, OmniForm's AutoCalc features can be very fussy about positioning; the Grand Total cell must be directly beneath the Total column.

Auto-calculation is a great timesaver because creating calculations manually in OmniForm can be unnecessarily tedious. Instead of the line SUM(total[1]total[10]) you'd have in a spreadsheet,this program requires you to list each item separately: SUM(total[1], total[2],total[3] and so on. Since you'll still need to create the occasional manual calculation in an OmniForm document, Caere would do well to simplify this feature in its next version.

OmniForm's new Scrapbook makes quick work of creating repetitive forms. Common name and address layouts can be "lassoed" from one form, dragged to the Scrapbook and saved there for use as boilerplate text. To reuse them, you simply drag them out of Scrapbook and into position on the new form. Best of all, Scrapbook entries can include calculations, another timesaving innovation.

The new version of OmniForm also makes it easier to set tab order for quicker navigation between fields. The fields are ordered from left to right and top to bottom by default, and those contained within a box are automatically given a sequential tab order, a logical (and thoughtful) solution. OmniForm now provides a thumbnail sketch of the form with fields numbered in the tab order. The program also displays a hierarchical list of all the fields on the right side of the form. You simply drag the fields in the list to change the tab order. You cannot, however, click on a field's number in the thumbnail and type in a new number to change the tab order, a timesaving method used by many other database form design tools.

Besides long filenames, OmniForm supports OLE 2.0 as client and server, so you can create a document in OmniForm and insert it into another OLE 2.0 container (such as Word) or include a Word document, logo or other graphic image within your form.

OLE automation support may have far-reaching implications for using OmniForm in a workgroup. You can, for example, use information written to another data format, such as an Excel spreadsheet, to populate invoice forms you've created in OmniForm.

Caere hasn't forgotten its 16-bit Windows customers. OmniForm 2.0, a Windows 95/NT application, also includes Version 1.0 for Windows 3.x in the box.

OmniForm's new feature and speed improvements, its better ease of use and the virtually painless translation of printed page to electronic document are most welcome changes for users who want their forms to perform. There's a welcome elegance to OmniForm's newfound maturity.

--Info File--
OmniForm 2.0
Pros: Spell checker; calculations
Cons: Complex formulas
Platforms: Windows 95, NT
Disk space: 10MB
RAM: 8MB (Win95), 12MB (NT)
Caere Corp.
800-535-SCAN, fax 408-354-2743
WinMag Box Score 4.0

Ray Dream Studio

3-D Bundle Offers Depth

By Cynthia Morgan

Owning 3-D software won't make you an animator. It'll take effort to master a graphics program and create effective animations. But if you have Ray Dream Studio, you'll find the learning curve isn't as steep as you might have expected.

Studio is a bundle of well-integrated products built around Ray Dream Designer 4.0. The suite ably uses the Windows 95 interface with wizards to build models and scenes. Even novices can create impressive illustrations in a few mouse clicks.

The program's free-form modeling tool is one of the best I've seen. In fact, if you're familiar with illustration packages' Bézier curves you'll be right at home. Use Ray Dream's Perspective wireframe grid

for each plane instead of struggling with x, y and z dimensions individually. You don't grab the object itself but move its bounding box projection on the appropriate grid--an easy way to restrict movement to a single axis. Lights and cameras, usually tough tools to master, operate with natural elegance.

The program uses drag-and-drop extensively. Drag a tool into a window to activate it, and drag shaders and textures to map them onto an object. Ray Dream Animator, Studio's second component, offers one of the most powerful timeline controls in the industry. You easily manipulate multiple lights and cameras, shift objects and set keyframes from the slider controls, using tabbed environment pages, again by dragging and dropping.

The suite includes 500-plus canned models and a set of extensions for special camera angles and lighting effects. There's a very good, if lengthy, tutorial to get you started.

Rendering isn't exactly real time--some might call it glacial--so it's nice that Ray Dream saves batch queue lists. If you abort rendering to correct an element, simply recall your list and re-render.

Ray Dream's new human modeling capabilities are greatly improved over previous versions. Ray Dream offers the natural motions of inverse kinematics, very welcome for a product in this price range.

On the downside, the package's surface mapping tools lack precision. Drag-and-drop is useful for random surfaces but makes it tough to control precise images without distortion. And Ray Dream relies on keyframes animation; spline motion is far easier for complex scenes. The program also needs better status reports for lengthy processes; sometimes the whirring of my disk drive was the only indicator.

Ray Dream Studio's rich collection of modeling and animation tools compares well to the expensive competition. Reasonably priced, this powerful animation tool requires a lot of computing power to exploit it properly. But the results will be worth it.

--Info File--
Ray Dream Studio
Pros: Price; ease of use; power
Cons: Imprecise surface mapping; status boxes
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.x, NT
Disk space: Program and workspace, 40MB
RAM: 12MB (16MB recommended)
Ray Dream
800-846-0111, 415-960-0768
WinMag Box Score 4.0

M.Y.O.B. Accounting Version 6.0

Lingo-less Accounting

By Joel T. Patz

Responding to its customers' wish lists, BestWare has released Version 6.0 of its popular M.Y.O.B. Accounting package. While not a revolutionary update of the program, this version is a more powerful, easier-to-use system that keeps account-speak at bay.

The program's new Payroll module offers virtually unlimited wage, expense, deduction and accrual categories, and you can tie accrual time to payroll categories. You also can assign different accrual categories to individuals and specify leave to be carried over to the next fiscal year. Your employees also will appreciate M.Y.O.B.'s ability to print vacation and sick-pay accrual on pay stubs.

The Report Customizer lets you add visual impact to accounting documents (provided you have a color printer); for example, negative numbers can appear in red. You can also use drag-and-drop to select which fields you want to include in a report as well as their order of appearance. The new software lets you save multiple versions of customized reports, which can be used by any M.Y.O.B. data file. BestWare catches up with its competition here by adding report drill-down so you can dig up the underlying details of any report entry. Summary screens throughout the system include zoom arrows. Click on these, and M.Y.O.B. displays the complete transaction using the original data entry screen.

The program's improvements extend to job tracking and expenses. You can now include revenue, direct cost, expenses and profit/loss entries. Reimbursable job expenses can be automatically included on invoices with appropriate markups, and projects can be carried into the next fiscal year. M.Y.O.B. includes the TimeSlips accounting link to import employee time and billing information.

Want to start a new company? M.Y.O.B.'s 100 sample charts of accounts can help you get your fiscal ducks in a row. The help system's new Cue Cards feature offers detailed step-by-step instructions for important procedures such as handling bounced checks, setting up recurring checks, customizing check stubs and posting 13th-period transactions. In addition to a 30-minute videotape titled "Getting Started with M.Y.O.B.," the program's CD-ROM contains 'Multimedia' video help that features friendly, informative tips about commonly used screens. Most of the video instruction, however, states the obvious with John Madden-style annotation: The speaker describes areas on the screen and uses a red highlighting pen to literally draw your attention to the topic at hand.

M.Y.O.B. excels in inventory control, support for automatic back-ordering of items (with back-order quantity tracking on invoices and purchase orders), batch updating of prices and the ability to produce interactive inventory count sheets. I especially liked its analysis reports. For example, the sales analysis offers insight into profits, margins and average cost, plus a graphical display of sales by product and by month. M.Y.O.B. now imports Quicken data via .QIF files, and its export format list is extensive. You can send sales and purchasing transactions, general journal entries and account information to comma-separated or tab-delimited ASCII files.

I've always been impressed by M.Y.O.B.'s ease of use and excellent navigation. Its Command Center offers intuitive flow charts for accessing specific accounting tasks and, with the M.Y.O.B. Analyst, puts you only a click away from important information. There's also a useful file of standardized letters such as back-order requests, collection forms and thank-you notes.

There are still some minor omissions in the program. While the inventory module is among the best I've seen, it only supports average costing; LIFO (last in-first out) and FIFO (first in-first out) costing methods are still missing. And the software's tax tables can't be edited, so you're dependent on the company's tax update service ($19.95 per update).

Limitations aside, M.Y.O.B. is still among the easiest accounting packages to understand and use. Its ability to add anything on the fly (such as a new part number when you're creating an invoice) lets you work the way you think, and its flexibility handles service, item, and professional invoices and purchase orders equally well. And, perhaps most important, it integrates tasks well. If, say, you create an invoice and try to sell more of an item than you have in stock, M.Y.O.B. automatically notifies you and helps you draft a purchase order, make more of the items using components in stock, or create a pending invoice for items already on back-order.

M.Y.O.B. lives up to its name. It helps you mind your own business--effortlessly.

--Info File--
M.Y.O.B. AccountingVersion 6.0
$79.95; with Payroll module, $125.95
Pros: Inventory; payroll
Cons: No LIFO or FIFO costing
Platforms: Windows 95 (16-bit), 3.x
Disk space: 9.7MB
800-322-6962, 201-586-2200
WinMag Box Score 4.5

Peachtree Accounting Release 3.5

Balancing Act: Multimedia Accounting

By Joel T. Patz

Thinking about setting up a new accounting system is enough to make a small-business owner cringe. When an established and growing enterprise needs a more powerful system with additional functions, such as inventory, comprehensive invoicing and payroll, there's always the possibility that something will slip through the cracks. Improving on an already extensive feature list, Peachtree Accounting Release 3.5 now adds a multimedia company setup which leads you carefully through a successful implementation.

Peachtree's new CD-ROM version uses audio and video to explain key accounting concepts, telling you why you're supplying certain information and then pausing while you make your selection or enter key data. The product also offers 75 different company templates (15 are new in this version) for quick setup of your chart of accounts. Company types include everything from architectural firms to medical practices; you can view a sample chart of accounts before making your final selection. While the Peachtree method takes longer than comparable products (about an hour in all), you'll come away with a better sense of how things work, giving you more confidence in your choices.

If you opt for the diskette version instead of the CD-ROM, the package has a text-based setup program with similar information, plus a handy checklist to remind you of everything you'll need to do.

Once you're up and running, Peachtree 3.5 continues to lend valuable assistance. The audio tutorial's online lessons will teach you how to set up beginning balances, add customers, vendors and employees, and run financial statements and reports. Peachtree's navigational aids--mini flowcharts of the processes for receivables, payables, payroll and inventory among others--make the program especially easy to use. Click on the tabs at the bottom of the screen to bring up a flowchart, select the appropriate icon and Peachtree takes you to the corresponding program area.

Smart Guides pop up on every screen to explain certain tasks. A new wizard walks you through purging data. The Manager Series provides you with a graphical view of your company's financial status with drill-down to underlying data. And the Online Business Guide is available with information ranging from understanding ratio analysis to setting up a 401(k) deduction.

Standard, customizable reports are organized by area and include easy-to-understand descriptions. The financial statements also now include a rollup to summarize account totals by department or location. You can group reports, then run them at regular intervals--a feature that will appeal to those who need the same reports for every month-end closing, for example. Peachtree also lets you create your own reports, with logos and other graphics from the CD-ROM, using its Custom Forms Designer.

The data-entry screens resemble the business forms you're already familiar with, a standard for accounting packages. This version is network-ready out of the box, with multilevel password security. Peachtree supports extensive accounting features, such as LIFO, FIFO and Average Cost method for inventory, while shielding you from the complex and seemingly obscure accounting terminology. For those unfamiliar with principles and methods, the 46-page accounting primer is invaluable.

Peachtree emphasized inventory control in this new version. The module automatically sets up new items' inventory, cost and assets accounts. A retroactive cost adjustment for selling out-of-stock items--a condition that, in an earlier version, could corrupt your data--has also been added. A new optional warning message alerts you when you try to sell more items than are in stock. Inventory now links to General Ledger accounts, and you'll find a cost field to provide a cost basis for new items where no purchase history exists, with support for costing partial quantities.

Peachtree bundles TimeSlips Accounting Link (a time and billing program), Sharkware (a personal information manager), FaxWorks (for sending and receiving faxes via your fax modem), the CompuServe Information Manager and NetCruiser (for Internet access) software on the CD, as well as Teneron's LegalPoint, a tool for creating and editing business documents that's also a repository of legal information. On the technical side, it includes First Aid, a utility for diagnosing and troubleshooting Windows 3.x.

The bundle's new features, help and ease of use should help you add to your profits.

--Info File--
Peachtree Accounting Release 3.5
$119 (street)
Pros: Enhanced features; installation procedure; help
Cons: No back-order processing for inventory
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.x
Disk Space: 15MB
RAM: Diskette, 4MB; CD-ROM, 8MB (16MB recommended)
Peachtree Software
800-228-0068, fax 770-564-5888
WinMag Box Score 3.5

CorelXARA 1.1

Accelerated Art

By James Bell

With CorelDRAW's success, the last thing you'd expect from Corel Corp. would be another drawing program. Surprise, surprise! The new CorelXARA--which runs under Windows 95, 3.x or NT--is blazingly fast and provides a unique set of drawing tools.

CorelXARA's speed reminds you just how slow your other graphics programs are. Screen redraws that usually take forever zip by in this program, thanks, in part, to the compact program code written by Xara Ltd., the English firm from which Corel licenses CorelXARA.

The 256-color palette, used for all screen displays, is another timesaver. A mere 256 colors would limit most graphics programs, but this is offset by CorelXARA's outstanding ability to simulate smooth color gradients and build 24-bit images.

The graphics special effects in CorelXARA are just as impressive. You can assign them to any object, including text, a solid color or gradient, bitmap or fractal fill. In addition, it's possible to adjust the objects' transparency interactively, from solid to fully transparent. You can even apply graduated transparency so that objects seem to fade away. The program automatically anti-aliases graphics and text, giving them a smoother, more realistic appearance when displayed on screen.

The program is equally adept with bitmap graphics. While you can't create or edit bitmaps directly in CorelXARA, you can resize and rotate imported bitmaps, change bitmap color depths, adjust brightness and contrast, and apply special-effect filters such as sharpen, blur and edge detect. You also can convert bitmaps into vector graphics using an included tracing utility, or use bitmaps as fills for vector objects.

An unlimited undo feature for endless experimentation; solid drawing tools; precision down to 1/1000 of a point; and drag-and-drop visual "galleries' for colors, lines, fills and fonts, add to one powerful drawing package.

It's easy to produce extremely realistic vector-based illustrations, complete with highlights, shadows, reflections, fog, and other transparent or translucent elements. Usually, these features are only effectively depicted in image-editing packages like Photoshop, Corel Photo-Paint or Fractal Design Painter.

Getting started with CorelXARA isn't hard. The documentation is skimpy, but multimedia computer owners will appreciate the Video for Windows tutorials included on the CorelXARA CD-ROM. They introduce CorelXARA's "direct action" drawing tools, which let you make adjustments directly on screen, rather than through menus and dialog boxes. These direct action tools are a major departure from other Corel applications, but CorelXARA's speed makes this kind of interactive control a pleasure rather than the chore it would be in a much slower drawing program.

The program ships with 10,000 clip-art pieces and a drag-and-drop browser. You can import a wide range of graphic files, including AI, EPS, WMF and Corel's CDR (up to version 5.0, but not 6 or CMX) vector formats. .BMP, .GIF, JPEG, Photo CD, .PSD, .RAS, Targa, TIFF and WPG bitmap files can also be imported.

The text handling features in this program are limited. You can adjust font, size, style, kerning and tracking, but there is no support for paragraphs of text. Special effects include text on a curve, custom fills and transparency. CorelXARA includes 500 fonts.

You can also export illustrations to most common vector and bitmap formats. However, many of CorelXARA's best features are stripped out if you export an image from the program's own XAR file format to other vector formats like EPS or WMF.

For greatest fidelity, you'll want to export to a bitmap format. In fact, the program's support for Internet bitmap formats such as JPEG and GIF (including interlaced and transparent GIF), combined with features like anti-aliasing, make CorelXARA an ideal tool for creating Internet graphics.

Version 1.1 is CorelXARA's first release, which means it still has room for improvement. The program doesn't integrate well with the rest of the Corel line, as it uses different commands and shortcuts, and it can't read or write CMX or CorelDRAW 6 CDR files. It doesn't support OLE or produce color separations (though you can print to any

Windows black-and-white or color printer). Those will be notable drawbacks for power users.

CorelXARA is intuitive, speedy and produces high-quality, detailed illustrations. Bundled with clip art and fonts, it's an impressive drawing package.

--Info File--
CorelXARA 1.1
Pros: Anti-aliasing; special effects; performance; Internet graphics
Cons: No OLE 2.0 or color separation support
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.x, NT
Disk Space: 8MB (CD-ROM required)
Corel Corp.
800-772-6735, 613-728-8200
WinMag Box Score 4.0

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