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March 1996 Reviews

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


(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.)

Fractal Design Painter 4

Art App Brushes Up Its Tools

By Lynn Ginsburg

Fractal Design Painter has once again reinvented itself. Previous Painter versions originated and defined the standard for natural media in a rasterized, digital environment. However, Fractal Design is no longer content to play only in the bitmap arena, and extends its flagship product to include vector tools. Painter 4 now offers the best of both worlds--bitmap's flexibility and vector graphics' precision--plus valuable new tools for creating Web site graphics.

Painter continues to go where no other software has gone before in the more traditional arts as well, now letting artists smear oil on cotton duck canvas or scribble waxy crayons onto a fine linen weave. But just as modern artists have turned away from emulating nature, version 4 moves beyond mimicking real-life tools to developing original digital media.

Incorporating both vector and raster tools makes Painter an infinitely more powerful program. Vector graphics generally are better at more exacting tasks--such as editing shapes independently of one another, using B...zier controls to precisely edit polygons and lines, and using layers to organize complex images--for the sort of fine-tuning you simply can't get from a bitmaps-alone paint package.

By employing any of Painter's object creation tools, you can draw vector-based objects on a PostScript layer and import Adobe Illustrator 5.0 files (or FreeHand files converted to Illustrator format); they'll remain fully editable, with an object layer hierarchy. Painter's vector tools are comparable to those in any drawing package, allowing you to break objects into segments and add or delete points.

One improvement over most drawing programs is that Painter's tools let you work with smooth, anti-aliased shapes, regardless of image resolution.

As long as you stick to drawing, you can edit outline, color and fill attributes and the object remains editable. However, when you apply Painter's natural media elements to the vector object, it becomes a floating bitmap and is no longer vector-editable. Nonetheless, it still can be moved and placed on vector objects. Although Painter's vector tools aren't so comprehensive you'll toss drawing programs aside, the capability does raise digital collage creative possibilities to a new level.

To advance in the Web design market, Painter 4 provides features that make it easy to output Painter images for publishing on Web sites. Last year an interim Painter version offered the ability to output images in GIF and JPEG formats with support for interleaved and transparent GIF images.

Painter 4 now lets you create Image Maps that can be assigned URLs, so that a single Painter file now can contain multiple elements, each with a separate URL. Add Painter drawing layers, known as floaters, and you have the ability to assign a separate URL to a Painter image's every layer. You activate this powerful feature with just a few mouse clicks: Open the floater attribute box, click to make it a Web Map clickable region and enter the URL.

Like each previous upgrade, version 4 features a "geek" toy. And this one's especially nice. The Mosaic tool builds digital simulations of the intricate tiled patterns Byzantine artists once slaved to accomplish. You can vary the color, width, length and pressure of strokes for applying the tiles, as well as specify the grout width between tiles. Those ancient Byzantines probably would have appreciated Painter 4's ability to automatically calculate the way the individual tiles will conform to each other (eliminating the nasty task of cutting glass by hand). Unless you're familiar with mosaic techniques, however, this tool can be difficult to harness.

Painter's tools, like their natural media counterparts, require some degree of skill. The digital power of Fractal Design Painter can never completely compensate for a lack of artistic proficiency.

It's difficult to compare Painter 4 to another product since no other single program offers such a powerful combination of unsurpassed natural media simulation, animation and Web design tools, with PostScript drawing and editing capabilities. This program is in a class by itself; an elegant powerhouse that's a must for the ambitious digital artist.

--Info File--
Fractal Design Painter 4
Pros: Tools
Cons: Tools no substitute for artistic skill
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.1, NT
Disk Space: 12MB
Fractal Design
800-297-COOL, 408-688-5300
WinMag Box Score 4.5

PhotoImpact 3.0

Adaptable Art Editor

By Lynn Ginsburg

When you're doing down-and-dirty image processing, you want fast and easy and don't expect sophisticated or innovative tools. With PhotoImpact 3.0 you can have it all. Its automated interface offers fast and easy image editing with enough features to satisfy advanced users.

Ulead has stuffed its program with image-editing wizards, simplifying multistep tasks into point-and-click no-brainers.

You can customize PhotoImpact's interface according to your skill level, with basic, intermediate or advanced toolsets. The basic environment presents a simple toolbar across the screen's top. Choose the intermediate level, and the toolbar becomes vertical, with added functionality. At the advanced level you get an on-screen color palette and a display of predefined effects and filters known as the EasyPalette.

The skill level demarcations may seem arbitrary, as beginners may need features found in the intermediate and advanced toolsets. Still, the options can help avoid overloading the uninitiated. PhotoImpact's "guided work-flow tools" let you hit the ground running. First you acquire the image from any TWAIN-compatible

device. Next you correct image quality by applying filters to straighten, crop, adjust brightness, focus and contrast, and remove moir...s. Although these features offer no controls, they're fast and automatic.

The third and fourth steps in the process refine brightness and contrast adjustments, giving you a measure of control. A series of thumbnails is displayed to illustrate the range of possible effects; all I did was point and click to choose.

The customizable interface extends to PhotoImpact's special-effects menus, which also display thumbnails depicting the range of applied effects. They're a great way for newcomers to experiment with effects before actually applying them. As you gain experience, you can disable the thumbnails and move to an interactive preview. PhotoImpact supports more sophisticated effects, styles and filters, but continues its "see it, pick it and apply it" concept. The EasyPalette, a large library of predesigned gradients, textures and image effects, lets you drag and drop any effect to an image. You can store your own image styles in EasyPalette to save custom color controls and a wide variety of personalized special effects. EasyPalette places images in layers you can manipulate through selection tools, clicking through the palette to select them or dragging from the desktop page and into the library. EasyPalette became my central control panel, which greatly minimized screen clutter.

PhotoImpact doesn't support GIF, the image format of choice for online services and the Web.

There are more sophisticated image-editing programs than PhotoImpact, but the program holds its own compared to other image editors while empowering the uninitiated.

--Info File--
PhotoImpact 3.0
Pros: Interface; value
Cons: Help; no GIF support
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.x NT 3.51
Ulead Systems
800-858-5323, 310-523-9393
WinMag Box Score 3.5

WinBatch 96 and WinEdit 96

Two Winning Tools for Win95

By James E. Powell

You can lament the bygone days of DOS batch files, look back wistfully at their frustrating lack of sophistication --or you can pick up a copy of WinBatch's new Windows 95/NT version.

WinBatch includes more than 450 functions in its arsenal, called the Windows Interface Language (WIL). It can run Windows or DOS applications, sending keystrokes, rearranging, resizing, hiding or closing windows. It can prompt users for input, and manage files, copy to and from the clipboard, perform string and arithmetic operations, and read and change system values for parameters as diverse as the wallpaper selection or the keyboard repeat rate. WinBatch can control multimedia hardware, playing a CD audio disc or a WAV file, and supports operations through a network, including Novell NetWare 3.x and 4.x and Windows for Workgroups.

Run your WinBatch files from the interpreter, which was added during installation to your Startup group. Or, for an additional $395 you can use the WinBatch compiler to create standalone executables for royalty-free distribution.

WinBatch's reference manual, organized alphabetically by function name, includes See Also references to help you find related commands. That's handy, since the printed index is weak. The 48-page tutorial should give you enough information to get started.

If you're familiar with any other programming product, WIL should be a breeze. The language has most of the expected constructs such as FOR loops, IF/THEN/ELSE statements and CASE structures. You can use the time and date functions to schedule operations.

WIL includes a good dialog box editor, and the WinInfo utility grabs window position settings so you'll know what parameters to use in the WinPlace command.

As you'd expect, Windows 95 and Windows NT required several new commands in this edition;a text file on the installation disks explains them. Most deal with long filename problems, such as getting the current path, directory attributes, the long or 8.3 versions of a filename, and functions to create a program's registry entries or delete its registry values. Most functions' names indicate their purpose, as in ShortcutEdit.

Several sample files are included. One lets you build a time limit into your Solitaire game, asking how many minutes you'll want to play, launching the game and inserting a message to the Solitaire title bar showing how many seconds remain.

A second product from Wilson, WinEdit 96, can be used to edit your WinBatch files. This industrial-strength, 32-bit text file editor for Windows 95 and Windows NT is for when you need something stronger than WordPad.

The developers have added new command lines for printing a file, then quitting, and for opening a file at a specified line number. There is a new file difference utility, a brace matching tool that C programmers will really appreciate and a Save All Files option. Pressing Shift+click now extends selected text, and you can toggle a selection's case with a menu option. WinBatch's syntax coloring is fully configurable, but you have to do so by editing an .INI file. You also must know the color number that you want to select--a primitive solution no programmer should have to use.

You can assign shortcut keys, set auto-save increments, select a column of text, insert a skeleton (such as an If/Then/Else block), and customize the program to run your compiler and save the errors in a designated file. The program comes with configurations for error parsing logic for Microsoft, Zortech, Watcom and Borland C compilers, plus Turbo Pascal, Borland TASM and Clipper. You can add your own compiler settings, too.

The new version now lets you specify backup filenames and locations, while the macro recorder now records all commands as WIL scripts. After recording, it opens the macro for editing, then adds your macro to the Macro menu. WinEdit offers multilevel undo and redo, a large file history for reopening previously edited files, and it can print two-up output to save paper.

If you already have a 32-bit editor, you may have no compelling reason to upgrade to WinEdit. However, if you need a 32-bit editor, this is a good choice for basic editing functions with the ability to create macros on the fly.

Both WinBatch and WinEdit include 16- and 32-bit versions. You can try out these programs by downloading free evaluation copies from

--Info File--
WinBatch 96
$99.95; $495 with compiler
Pros: Functions; easy to learn
Cons: Printed documentation
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.x, NT
Disk Space: 1.5MB
RAM: 8MB (16MB recommended)
WinMag Box Score 4.5

WinEdit 96
Pros: Compiler integration; file utility
Cons: Few compelling features
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.x, NT
Disk Space: 2.2MB
Wilson WindowWare
800-938-4596, 206-938-1740
WinMag Box Score 3.5

Esperant 3.0

Front End Finds, Formats Data

By James E. Powell

Although database reporting tools keep getting more sophisticated, working with SQL data can still pose a challenge. Esperant 3.0 lets you join and query data from heterogeneous databases throughout your enterprise. You can tap into files created with Oracle, SQL Server, DB2, Adabas, Informix, dBASE and Paradox. While Esperant has some excellent query-building tools, especially for complex queries, its reporting features are only average.

Esperant's Administrative options let you define table joins, including a DataView option that automatically joins all commonly named fields within selected databases. You can even create virtual tables, such as all records where OrderStatus is "Backorder," and virtual columns from a calculation. Use the Administrator to determine visible and hidden columns. End-users implement the DataView to run queries and reports.

An administrator can join any two supported database types, and only the minimal result set of your SQL query is returned to your computer, which does the final join. Use the Administrative module to give database fields understandable, English-language names, as well as to set security and access rights for individuals and groups.

Administrator also provides security for individuals and groups of users, including passwords, which DataViews can be opened and a host of controls on what can be done in a query.

The Query system is Esperant's key component. Open a DataView, then start building your query with one of the slickest tools I've seen. With a series of dialog boxes, you can build a query that counts occurrences, computes averages or shows a range's minimum or maximum values, sets sorting options and more. It's all easily accomplished by clicking on buttons.

You can also build "Show X as a Percent of Y" and "What Percent of X Have Condition Y" queries. A "Compare Against" query compares two numeric values, but the results table uses the cryptic "Criteria1" and "Criteria2" as labels, so you'll need to reinspect your query to remember what you asked for. Esperant can also build prompted queries, so you can reuse a query and enter different values each time it's run.

As you build the query, Esperant builds the editable SQL statement. Choose Run Query, and Esperant returns your data in a spreadsheet, which has buttons to send results to Microsoft Excel, Quattro Pro or Lotus 1-2-3. Other tools let you select the top or bottom values. If you're running against a large database, use the Batch Facility for after-hours processing. With Esperant's scripting language you can store several operations in a single file.

For ease of use, predefined queries, reports or scripts can be placed on and run from the Esperant Executive Desktop. The user does not even have to open Esperant to use the Desktop--it's a completely separate executable program. You can define an icon that runs a predefined script that will prompt the user for input (such as a variable value), run the report, download the results, and export the data to Excel.

Using Esperant's reporting tool, a Helping Hand wizard steps you through the process of building columnar or one-field-per-line reports, crosstabs and labels. You can move a query result directly into a default report format. However, working with the report design tool is good, but not great. While it supports format masks and snaking columns, other reporting tools--like those in Microsoft Access and Lotus Approach or standalone products such as Crystal Reports--are easier to use for creating and modifying reports. Esperant's charting module lets you add 2-D or 3-D graphs to reports.

When you install Esperant, you'll get the impression that ODBC drivers are also installed, but in fact the program only adds stubs to the ODBC driver list. Once I got past that hurdle, setting up a DataView was simple. In addition, error messages are sometimes misleading. For example, though I added an invalid field name to an SQL query, the resulting error message indicated an invalid join path.

For data manipulation from a variety of sources, Esperant delivers, but the product's reporting side needs improvement. The program's Getting Started guide will help new users understand the query-building process.

--Info File--
Esperant 3.0
$595 (single user)
Pros: Plain-English query builder; SQL support
Cons: Poor error messages; misleading ODBC installation
Platforms: Windows 3.x
Software AG of North America
800-423-2227, 703-860-5050
WinMag Box Score 3.0

PlanMaker 2.0

Backer Attracter for Biz Whizzes

By Joel T. Patz

What does it take to attract investors? Details, details, details. Before agreeing to invest in your scheme, backers want a well-organized, financially accurate picture of what it needs to succeed. PlanMaker 2.0 can help you develop the facts and figures you need for a winning presentation.

The program leads you through Workbook, Narrative and Financials sections to gather the information for your plan. In Workbook, tutorials cover 16 topics, including Objectives, Management and Personnel, and Pricing and Profitability, displaying text in one window and leaving a second window open for your notes and ideas. Once you've completed a tutorial, PlanMaker asks very specific questions on the subject, drilling down to the core: What are your goals for next year? What are your principal budget categories and distribution amounts under your capital disbursement plan?

You'll use your answers to compose your plan in PlanMaker's Narrative section. You also can import text from outside documents and include information from PlanMaker's sample plans if they fit your proposal or spark an idea.

In the Financials section, you identify your business' legal structure--Proprietorship, Partnership or Corporation--before beginning the financial section of your plan. The program provides four financial reports with preformatted worksheets: Twelve Month Proforma, Three Year Projected Income Statement, Cash Flow Projection and Balance Sheet. Each one's instructional text will guide you as you work.

You then format your plan layout, choosing the styles of fonts, paragraphs, colors, headers and footers, and other aspects. PlanMaker automatically builds a table of contents and suggests techniques for making an effective presentation. The program comes bundled with several generic confidentiality and retainer forms.

PlanMaker's design and output are straightforward, with its unadorned user interface. You should find it quite serviceable.

--Info File--
PlanMaker 2.0
Pros: Straightforward
Cons: Interface; no print preview
Platform: Windows 95, 3.x
Disk Space: 1.4MB
800-955-3337, 314-421-0670
WinMag Box Score 3.0

StreetFinder 1996

Paving the Way to 6 Million Miles of Streets

By Hailey lynne McKeefry

Rand McNally has moved its mapmaking reputation into the high-tech realm with StreetFinder 1996. The program lets you create custom maps by tapping into its database of 6 million-plus miles of streets in the continental U.S. and Hawaii on two CD-ROMs that are included in the StreetFinder package.

StreetFinder maps are quite complete compared to those offered by similar mapping programs I've tested. StreetFinder includes many small streets, although not all that I checked for were included on its maps.

The program has a good database of local points of interest that can be added to your map. I was able to add my own addresses and points of interest to StreetFinder maps by importing a comma-delimited text file. The Walking Guide feature let me map out the best routes for a walk with several interim stops.

StreetFinder navigates by address, area code or zip code, then via mouse and scroll bar when you get within range of your destination. If I tried to move too fast, however, I'd occasionally get an error message. StreetFinder's set of tool palettes, with simple compass, annotation, legend and scale tools, would be improved by additional navigational aids.

I found the program's promised additional travel information to be inaccessible, thanks to apparent conflicts with Windows 95. Although I reinstalled Windows 95, as suggested by StreetFinder tech support, that still did not resolve the problem and allow me to get to the elusive information.

Navigation and interface improvements would make this program easier to use and more useful. Still, StreetFinder 1996 is a helpful map-building tool.

--Info File--
StreetFinder 1996
$49.95 (street)
Pros: Map data
Cons: Win95 implementation; interface
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.x
Disk Space: 7MB to 14 MB
RAM: 4MB, 8MB recommended
Rand McNally New Media
800-671-5006 x601, fax 708-675-6368
WinMag Box Score: 2.5

Formbuster 2.1

Transform Forms to Digital Docs

By Cheryl Dominianni

No matter how computerized you think you've become, chances are you're still plagued by forms that require you to pick up a pen or, worse yet, find a typewriter. A program called Formbuster offers a way to solve this problem and the chance to say good-bye to your typewriter forever.

Formbuster lets you import existing forms via your scanner or fax machine and then fill them out on your computer. It supports a wide range of file types, including .BMP, .DCX, JPEG, PICT, .PCX, TIFF and .TGA. You also can bring in forms created in a graphics, word processor or paint program simply by opening them in the original application, choosing Formbuster as your printer and printing them.

Once imported, use Formbuster's text tools to add data when the form is short and needs precise positioning. Click on the New Text icon and type text into the dialog box. Click OK and the program attaches the text to the mouse pointer's tip, so you can move it to the proper location and left-click to drop it into place.

For longer forms, you can speed the filling-in process by inserting dynamic tabs at each data-entry point. The tabs--small squares that turn red when active--guide you through filling out the form, but won't appear on final printed output. If you plan to use the form repeatedly, save it with tabs before you first fill it out.

Formbuster provides several tools to ensure good-looking, accurate forms, including pens that you can use to draw freehand shapes or lace boxes on the form, and eraser tools to remove mistakes and stray marks. Two features, Infobase and Database, expedite data entry. Infobase lets you call up previously used information and insert it quickly with just a mouse click. Database grabs information in many popular database formats, inserting it into the current form.

Formbuster's CD-ROM version includes an extensive collection of commonly used forms, such as invoices, estimates, memos, purchase orders, statements and time sheets. Already tabbed and ready for use, they may eliminate the need to import or create your own.

If you're tired of filling out forms the old-fashioned way and want to use your computer screen instead, Formbuster offers an easy solution to a persistent problem.

--Info File--
Formbuster 2.1
$99.95, CD-ROM; $69.95, diskette
Pros: Straightforward data entry
Cons: Can't output to preprinted form
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.x
Disk Space: 5MB
Virtual Reality Labs
800-829-VRLI, 805-545-8515
WinMag Box Score 4.0

Long File Names 4.0

The Long and Short of Filenames

By Tom Ponzo

Antidisestablishmen-tarianism.doc. I don't even know if "antidisestablishmentarianism" is really a word, but I do know that with Windows 95 I could name my file that if I wanted to. Gone is that nettlesome 8.3 filename format. Never again will I lose last month's budget report because I can't decipher the short, cryptic filenames.

There is one problem, though: I use Windows 95 in the office and Windows 3.x on the PC I use at home. Compounding that problem, I'm also still using an older version of Microsoft Word on my Win95 machine. And Windows 95's long filename capability simply doesn't apply to non-Win95 apps.

So, until my computers are in sync and I upgrade my apps, I'll use Long File Names to bridge the gap. It works so well, in fact, that on both my computers the name of this review is "Long File Names.doc" not some nonsensical label such as "LONGFI~1.DOC."

Long File Names offers a straightforward install and easy, uncomplicated operation. Simply type a name for the file you want to create when you save a document, and it transparently allows the save. The program works with folder names, too. The 255-character limit gives you a good-sized paragraph of document information in your title--far more than most people will use. Long File Name's dialog box lets you read the filename in full as well.

--Info File--
Long File Names 4.0
Pros: Ease of use; good transition tool
Cons: To be effective, must be installed on all 3.x PCs in workgroup
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.x
Disk Space: 1.5MB
VIEW Software
800-487-VIEW, 415-856-8439
WinMag Box Score 4.5

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