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April 1996 Reviews

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Top Software This Month…


Extremely cool Extreme 3D kicks off the software reviews, along with head-to-head coverage of two uninstallers, and the newest in Internet, accounting, graphics and multimedia software.

Top Software This Month…

This Month…

Macromedia Extreme 3D

HEAD TO HEAD: File Cleanup Utilities
MicroHelp Uninstaller
Vertisoft Remove-IT 95

Visual C++ 4.0

Macromedia Shockwave for Director

TurboCAD 3

Visual AccountMate

Multimedia Toolbook 4.0

Internet Mania

Peachtree First Accounting 2.0

LapLink 95

Designer's Edge 1.0

AutoMaker 1.0

Crystal Info 4.5

CD Creator 2

Extreme 3D

3-D Goes to Extremes

By Lynn Ginsburg

Three-dimensional animation has come of age in Hollywood with the overwhelming success of the computer-generated hit film Toy Story. It's also come of age on the desktop in next-generation programs such as Macromedia's new Extreme 3D.

I tested a beta copy; Extreme 3D proves that the desktop can be a dynamic stage where 3-D objects come to animated life. It's a perfect complement to other Macromedia programs such as FreeHand and Director.

Extreme 3D's power doesn't come without practice, however; I doubt the weekend animator will re-create Toy Story overnight. But it shines in the hands of skilled multimedia professionals.

Most 2-D graphic artists will find the Extreme 3D interface much like that of a traditional drawing package, with similar tools for creating 2-D rectangles, straight lines. Its pick tool, comparable to its 2-D counterpart, can be used with control to directly scale and rotate objects without having to re-select separate tools. It imports shapes in DXF, EPS, WMF and native FreeHand formats.

I used Extreme 3D's spline-based drawing tools just as I would B...zier tools in 2-D packages, with none of the quirks I've experienced using spline tools in other 3-D programs. Two-dimensional shapes created with the spline tool can be extruded, lathed or skinned into 3-D objects. You can edit a 2-D profile even after it's been extruded, so I could apply intuitive 2-D illustration processes directly into the 3-D realm.

Extreme 3D can create time- and frame-based animations, with interactive key frame manipulation and B...zier spline motion paths. Extreme 3D's animation capabilities are built around the Score window, which tracks every object in a 3-D world including parameters for lights, materials and cameras. It's a parallel concept to the Score feature in Macromedia's Director.

I was especially impressed by the program's ability to assign motion paths to individual points, an amazing amount of control for creating complex, morph-like sequences. Although Extreme 3D doesn't support inverse kinematics, it offers flexible-forward kinematics. Links can be constructed around definable axes, allowing you to create complex effects typically seen only in high-end workstations. Overall, Extreme 3D's animation toolset is impressive; it gives 2-D graphics professionals enough accessibility to get results, and more advanced users more animation power and flexibility.

Extreme 3D employs Phong shading and an exceptionally fast render engine, and can assign different render attributes to each object in a scene. It doesn't offer ray-tracing, however; Macromedia says that's because it has focused on optimizing the animation rendering engine. The lack of ray-tracing is a problem for print designers who need realistic surfaces, but you can still manage impressive reflective effects with the program's Chrome+Glass shader. And Extreme 3D supports visible spotlights, which show not only the light's reflection but the actual source.

Extreme 3D's emphasis on animation and multimedia makes it perfect for use with both Director and Authorware. This is one of the most powerful and sophisticated 3-D programs available now. I expect it to give the competition-at all levels-a run for its money.

--Info File--
Extreme 3D
Pros: True spline-based modeling and animation; easy transition from 2-D drawing packages
Cons:Lacks a ray-tracing engine; steep learning curve for non-professionals
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.1x, NT
800-326-2128, 415-252-2000
WinMag Box Score:4.5

Head to Head:
UnInstaller 3 and Remove-It 95

Dexterous Duo: Discerning Deleters

By Hailey Lynn McKeefry

Now that Windows 95 is here, uninstall utilities will go the way of the brontosaurus, pundits predict. Software manufacturers, on the other hand, are betting that there's enough added functionality left in the category to keep it viable, particularly for those still running 16-bit Windows 3.1x programs.

Testing that theory, I recently looked at betas of two new cleanup tools, UnInstaller 3 from MicroHelp and Vertisoft Systems' Remove-It 95. Each has something to offer-even if you're using Windows 95.

Both packages remove unneeded files and programs and monitor new software installations to ease removal later. But they take different approaches.

UnInstaller scans the system for all links between programs and files on the hard disk. Remove-It's scan, although similar, was less thorough. However, the program also uses a database of 850 common DOS and Windows installation routines.

I compared the packages by duplicating my hard disk contents on two separate drives, then loading one utility on each and initiating cleanup. UnInstaller and Remove-It generally identified and marked the same files for deletion when I was removing an application, although UnInstaller occasionally found small OLE references and embedded files that Remove-It overlooked.

Remove-It chewed through everything I gave it; UnInstaller balked at deleting an old DOS program, giving me a message about a data compression error, although it completed deletion successfully the second time around.

The programs found about the same number of duplicate files on the drive, letting me filter my search for files of the same size, date, time and name. Remove-It additionally looked for dynamic links.

UnInstaller let me exclude specified folders or restrict its searches to a particular size or date, a feature I found very useful since I could exclude the folder in which I store a backup copy of my WINDOWS directory.

UnInstaller's Windows Cleanup routine identified 792 deletable files, including backups, clip art, cursors and icons, fonts, help, screen savers, setup programs, sound files, text, wallpaper and .ZIP files. Remove-It found fewer deletable files-616, to be exact.

Remove-It's cleanup was particularly elegant, though, color-coding all files suggested for deletion with a green square for "Go," a yellow triangle telling me to use caution when deleting, or a red stop sign for vital files. That made it easy to choose which files should be deleted and which I needed to examine carefully before nuking them into oblivion.

UnInstaller scrubbed my .INI files with a separate utility, letting me create, change or delete associations and actually edit the file. It also let me sort .INI files by description, extension, operator or command line. I could check standard or nonstandard Windows .INIs.

The program did a fine job of integrating the Windows 95 look and feel, with right-mouse-button support, tabbed dialogs and drag-and-drop capabilities.

Remove-It bundles several utilities: Watch-IT, for instance, monitors file usage and lets you set criteria for deleting files; Store-IT creates an active application archive and Report-IT creates system reports; Move-IT shifts applications from one drive or folder to another; and Transfer-IT sets up a self-installing application backup. You launch each by clicking a button; this makes them very easy to use.

No uninstaller is foolproof. All carry a risk of deleting seemingly useless files that turn out to be vital, forcing you to spend hours re-creating or reinstalling them. And, while they're generally reliable, putting cleanup tools on a much-used, much-upgraded PC can yield unexpected-and undesirable-results. They're best when added to clean-i.e., new or freshly reformatted-systems, especially if you're running Windows 3.1x apps that Win95's uninstaller doesn't detect. If you insist on adding an uninstaller to a "dirty" environment, use its compressed backup to save deleted files. It could save hours down the road.

Unfortunately, at $69.95 Remove-It is almost double the price of UnInstaller, and it doesn't offer comfortable Win95 features such as right-mouse-button support. That, coupled with UnInstaller's more complete file removal, gives MicroHelp's package the edge.

--Info File--
Remove-It 95
Pros: Deletion safety indicators
Cons:No right-mouse-button support
Platforms: Windows 95
Vertisoft Systems
800-466-5875, 415-956-5999
WinMag Box Score: 3.0

UnInstaller 3
Pros: Win95 look and feel; ability to associate .INI files
Cons:Compression errors
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.1x
800-777-3322, 770-516-0899
WinMag Box Score: 3.5

Microsoft Visual C++ 4.0

Lifesaver for C Sick Programmers

By Martin Heller

Microsoft's new Visual C++ 4.0 has gotten most of the little things right. Come to think of it, it has succeeded with most of the big things, too. This new version is right on target with the features developers need-generating small and fast production code, fully supporting OLE controls, providing a flexible and robust application framework, automating common-code generation, supporting most of the latest C++ features and providing a database engine.

Not only that, VC 4.0 has solved the obsolescence problem. When you buy the subscription version, you get quarterly updates, so when Microsoft's next version of Windows comes out you'll be up to speed.

The little things make all the difference when you're writing and testing code, and it's here that the new Visual C++ really shines. For example, if it takes half an hour to look up a Windows API call, you may forget what you were doing in the first place. In VC 4.0 it more likely takes 30 seconds, and you are led right to a block of sample code.

Similarly, some products make you spend 5 minutes reading multiple source files simply to find a class or function. With VC's browser, the search takes only a few seconds. And it makes reusing code from another project a matter of pointing and clicking, reducing previously hours-long code analysis to a simple 10-second exercise.

Checking the value of a variable while you're debugging can be a big, distracting deal. In VC 4.0, it's merely an aside. Fixing a line of code while you're debugging can force you to end your debugging session, fire up an editor, rebuild your project and restart the debugger. In VC 4.0, it's usually a simple matter of editing the source code from within the debugger and then moving on. Rebuilding after making a few changes, which most programmers think of as a "go to lunch" proposition, is barely an excuse to stretch here.

Code reuse probably constitutes the biggest innovation in this new version. VC 4.0's Component Gallery is a credible first stab at a code repository, which supports reuse of OLE Controls, C++ classes and resources.

Custom AppWizards allow you to distribute your own base-level applications in parameterized form, which should be of emormous help to programming shops that are struggling to establish standards and disseminate their expertise. The environment's support for OLE Controls allows the C++ programmer to access the same components as Visual Basic programmers.

Speaking of VB, C++ programmers no longer need to suffer database envy. The VB/Access Jet Database Engine and data access objects are now included in VC, along with a set of classes that makes using the Jet engine almost exactly like using Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) databases. And, in case you still use it, ODBC implementation has improved significantly.

But Visual C++ 4.0 doesn't cure all programmers' ills. There are places where it definitely falls down on the job. VC makes you install and use two development environments instead of one, making it difficult to maintain 16-bit Windows programs while building their 32-bit brethren.

Its use of the Microsoft Foundation Classes (MFC) does help insulate you from the differences between 16- and 32-bit code, however. But don't expect to find much help from the printed documentation, since Microsoft has made the mistake of selling the paper manuals separately from the software.

Microsoft has supported many of the latest C++ language features, including templates, exceptions, runtime type information, name spaces and the Standard Template Library. Unfortunately, you'll miss out on the new mutable, bool, typename and explicit constructs in this version. And not all of VC's source code optimizations are safe all the time, so that source code that works properly when compiled for debugging may not work identically when fully optimized. You can get around this problem by adding pragmas to specific functions, but finding and fixing such bugs is difficult and time-consuming.

Nor will you have much luck using even the 16-bit environment on an older machine. VC requires 16MB of RAM, either Windows 95 or NT 3.51, a lot of hard disk space and a CD-ROM drive.

Still, Visual C++ 4.0 is my current pick for a C/C++ compiler targeting 32-bit Windows platforms. It's definitely raised the bar for the competition.

--Info File--
Microsoft Visual C++ 4.0
$499 (subscription); upgrades, $199 (no subscription) to $349 (competitive upgrade, subscription)
Pros: Code reuse; updates; online documentation
Cons:Separate 32-bit and 16-bit environments; no printed documentation; hardware requirements
Platforms: Windows 95, NT
Disk space: 110MB
Microsoft Corp.
800-719-5577, 206-882-8080
WinMag Box Score: 4.5

Macromedia Shockwave for Director

"Shocked" Videos Really Move

By Lynn Ginsburg

Let's face it, the World Wide Web has been largely a static medium, a novelty more akin to CB radio or 3-D movies than mainstream television. All that may change when an innovative new Web application known, appropriately enough, as Shockwave hits the pipeline.

Shockwave handles the transport and playback of Macromedia Director files across the Internet's World Wide Web, which at first doesn't seem like anything special. But thanks to Macromedia's advanced lossless compression scheme, Shockwave can play these sophisticated multimedia files on my computer with scant impact on precious system resources.

I examined a beta version of the program and came away impressed. Shockwave comprises two modules: the Shockwave plug-in for Netscape 2.0 and Afterburner, a compression utility. You can create Shockwave files with Afterburner, using it to compress clips created in Director. The lossless scheme trims a file's storage space by about 60 percent.

The real beauty lies in Shockwave's smooth playback. Open a Shockwave file and the Shockwave plug-in appears as a Netscape helper application to play the file. I checked several "shocked" clips, including files from the Residents, impressive interactive clips for the band Deep Forest and Jim Ludtke's multimedia spectacular, "Bad Day on the Midway." In each case Shockwave played these huge, resource-intensive multimedia files with minimal operational slowdown.

I'm used to catching up on my mail while waiting for the most basic graphics to download from the Web to my PC via dial-up modem. Under normal circumstances, the combination of Web graphics and a 28.8Kbps dial-up modem means long "Transferring files ... please wait" intervals. I was amazed by how quickly I was able to download and play these files in Shockwave format. Director provides sophisticated tools for combining audio, video, graphics, animation, user interaction and more. Shockwave can offer a level of power previously unavailable over the Web unless you have a very fast data line.

Don't confuse Shockwave with Java, the other revolutionary Web product. While creating files in Java-its language is similar to C++ coding-requires a programmer's background, Director is aimed at end users. Although you'll definitely need some time to learn Macromedia and its powerful toolset, just about anyone, with a little perseverance, should be able to create multimedia titles using Director. The Shockwave part, however, is relatively automatic.

If Shockwave and the inevitable Shockwave competitors take hold, the impact will make the Web come to life. This utility could go a long way toward replacing the hype about the Web's interactive possibilities with true multimedia muscle.

--Info File--
Macromedia Shockwave for Director
Plug-in free for registered Director users (Director, $1,199)
Pros: Plays multimedia Director Web files with little impact on system resources
Cons:Requires MacromediaDirector
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.1x
800-326-2128, 415-252-2000
WinMag Box Score:4.5

TurboCAD 3.0

Little Dough Buys Deft CAD

By Ranjit S. Sahai

Good CAD software doesn't have to be expensive. IMSI bundles new 16- and 32-bit versions of its flagship TurboCAD 3.0, an impressive, feature-packed application, for just under $100.

TurboCAD 3.0 offers drawing, element manipulation and modification tools, as well as an extensive undo buffer, snap modes, precision coordinate input capabilities and view-control tools. Its customizable graphic engine, laid bare for programming access through the integrated Enable Basic scripting language, makes it easy to use TurboCAD to automate repetitive tasks and perform jobs such as parametric placement of standard parts. Although a few command implementations are unusual--I had a little trouble with the Move command, for example--Enable Basic is a powerful tool once you learn it. IMSI doesn't offer a paper version of the Enable Basic language, just online documentation.

This version of TurboCAD has an updated interface, with multiple toolbars in addition to the requisite menu, status and scroll bars. A standard toolbar gives you quick access to file and Clipboard operations, while the Edit Bar lets you specify options for different commands. TurboCAD's default Polygon element has six sides. For example, click on the Polygon icon, and the Edit Bar lets you give subsequent polygons a different number of sides.

The Insert Entity toolbar combines many separate bars, letting you select your tools from drop-down icons in a single bar. Although it saves some screen space, it frequently forces you to wade through numerous drop-down icons to find the right tool. I often found it more convenient to simply open the toolbars I needed--such as Line, Arc, and Modify--and keep them on screen where I could get at them quickly.

TurboCAD's drawing commands are excellent. The program supports numerous entity types, including Bezier curves, and offers several methods of placing them. Its editing tools--again a very good value considering the package's price--let you determine line length and stretch, trim or mirror objects. The program supports basic double-line cleanup.

One drawback: TurboCAD needs an extra step when moving an object, since the program assumes each element begins to move from the center of its bounding box. And the program can display the bounding box only, not the actual element, during the move and copy operations. That can make it extremely difficult to accurately visualize and place elements, especially if you're not using snaps.

TurboCAD also has trouble using existing elements to construct new ones in the same drawing.

Although you can draw lines parallel to existing lines, you can't perform a similar operation using arcs. Naturally, you can use the arc drawing command to snap a second arc to the center of the first, but that requires you to take the extra step of specifying the original arc's center. Since TurboCAD does not offer a perpendicular snap mode to supplement its Tangent from Arc command, for example, there is no simple way to draw a line that's tangent to an arc and perpendicular to a given line at the same time. Considering its low price, however, these are relatively minor shortcomings.

TurboCAD is OLE 2-compliant, supporting the in-place editing of its drawings that have been embedded in other applications. The program supports the Multiple Document Interface, letting you keep multiple drawings open at the same time. TurboCAD will read from and write to files in native AutoCAD DWG and DXF format. The program offers several built-in hatch patterns and line styles.

I tested a late beta TurboCAD version, which still had a few extras missing. IMSI developers told me the shipping version should include more than 10,000 prebuilt symbols and a separate 3-D program for rendering TurboCAD drawings.

The makers of MicroStation and AutoCAD have nothing to fear from TurboCAD. Its weaker construction techniques and lack of support for the external reference files so critical to workgroup designing will keep TurboCAD out of contention in the professional CAD market. However, its impressive programmability, well-designed interface, excellent drawing commands and low price make it a very good value for less demanding users. Whether you need to create a furniture layout for your office or a complex networking diagram, or generate a complete set of plans for a new building, TurboCAD has something to offer you.

-- Info File --
TurboCAD 3.0
Pros: Interface; drawing tools; programmability; symbols library;3-D capabilities; price
Cons:Construction tools; snap modes; scripting manual online only
Platforms: Windows 95, NT, 3.1xIMSI
415-257-3000, fax 415-257-3565
WinMag Box Score: 4

Visual AccountMate

Finance with a Friendly Face

By Joel T. Patz

Aimed at small to midsize businesses, the easy-to-use Visual AccountMate's extensive feature set and pleasant interface is sure to please demanding users. Although SourceMate currently offers six accounting modules in this package-System Manager, General Ledger, Accounts Receivable, Accounts Payable, Sales Orders and Purchase Orders-the company also should have released modules for Bank Reconciliation and Inventory Control by the time you read this.

Visual AccountMate's working screen includes a Status Bar for switching among modules, companies, the user log-in screen, a built-in messaging system and the change date function. Networked users can send and receive internal messages without having to leave the module they're using. You can place your most frequently used functions on Visual AccountMate's customizable Express Icon bar. If you're handling accounting systems for multiple companies on the same machine, customize an environment for each during setup, then move among them by clicking on the Select Company icon.

The System Manager module helps you establish parameters for a company's accounts. You can also set up a security system for each company, establishing access rights for specific user groups, and determining which days and times a user can log in to specific functions and modules.

Visual AccountMate uses tabbed screens to provide important information. When setting up General Ledger, for example, you'll use tabs to customize general company parameters, establish transfer restrictions, account categories and cash-flow captions for each company. In setting up the Chart of Accounts, tabs for general account information, period analysis and auto distribution setup simplify your work. A tab for including notes relevant to the account entry also is included.

The Accounts Receivable lookup function puts all the details of a customer record at your fingertips, including customer balance, aging totals, sales history, back orders and available credit. Use menu choices to apply payments, assess finance charges and set up recurring invoices, and track the type, number and location of inventory items. Include photos of items on its record and, to add impact to monthly summaries, generate graphs to accompany a printed report.

Tabbed screens make it easy to track vendor information in the Accounts Payable module. You'll easily find company data kept together on the same screen. A direct-dial icon lets you call a vendor via modem with a mouse click. Apply payments to AP invoices manually or automatically, post handwritten checks, enter finance charges to invoices, record and reverse canceled checks, and release on-hold checks.

In addition to giving in-depth customer information, sales history and account balance, the Sales Order module tracks inventory items so you can confirm availability, location, pricing, shipping requirements and discounts at a moment's notice. The Ship Sales Order screen details shipping and billing addresses, and items ordered. It also notes any conditions or special arrangements made with the customer.

The Purchase Order module can track payables, cash flow, specific vendor requirements, approval of purchase quotes, and receipt of both stock and nonstock goods. When you're filling out a purchase request, the module can also display the reorder point for an item, as well as the number on order and the quantity available.

Each module provides various customizable reports with print preview mode. Save report format options as macros, ensuring consistency in future reports, and the program's direct links to Excel and Lotus 1-2-3 facilitate transferring information to those spreadsheets for forecasting and analysis.

On the down side, Visual AccountMate doesn't let you drill down to specific entries in a report, a feature found in some less expensive accounting packages. And its Express Icons, which use tooltips to show their intended function, may not perform as expected if you frequently access the program from different machines. The program's transaction rollback, however, prevents information loss during a power failure.

Visual AccountMate's pluses far outweigh its few minuses, and it offers speedy performance to boot. This is a serious contender for those seeking an accounting software program.

--Info File--
Visual AccountMate
$995, compiled version; $1,295, source-code version; $1,795, developer version
Pros: Speed; power; interface
Cons:Lacks report drill-down
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.1x, NT
Disk Space: 500MB
RAM: 8MB (12MB recommended)
SourceMate Information Systems
800-877-8896, 415-381-1011
WinMag Box Score:4.0

Multimedia ToolBook 4.0

Books That Speak Volumes

By James E. Powell

Faster than a speeding bullet ... or at least the previous version. Asymetrix has speeded up the new edition of Multimedia ToolBook 4.0 and added a particularly helpful wizard to assist you in composing your own multimedia book.

ToolBook's Automated Book Specialist wizard helps you select the appropriate template, decide on its finished length and enter details such as copyright information. Using this information, it sets up a skeleton presentation in record time and is a great tool for helping new users get going quickly. Unfortunately, some of the features in the skeleton may also be confusing. While you can add buttons from the toolbar quickly, the predefined buttons are actually part of the background, so clicking on them to change properties is an exercise in futility.

ToolBook 4.0 lets you extend applications with VBX levels 1, 2 and 3 controls, although it only offers graphical support for level 1, the most common type. It's extremely easy to add a script for a predefined action, such as "move to next page" or "play a video," to any on-screen object. Simply highlight the object and select the action from a pull-down list. Developers can now share scripts between objects, so that a button and a hot word could exhibit the same behavior without additional programming. There's a catch here, though: The runtime version doesn't support shared scripts, which seriously limits their use.

This version's Script Remover eliminates the text of your ToolBook application's scripts, but leaves the executable script code intact. Besides reducing the file size, script removal ensures no one will edit, view and/or copy your scripts. The utility automatically creates a backup with the original script text.

Like many visual design tools, ToolBook offers a pop-up Property Editor to access any property setting, or you can right-click on individual objects to change settings. Version 4.0 also lets you browse objects in a hierarchy, letting you select, edit or delete them at will.

ToolBook is a 16-bit program, but the applications it creates can have a Windows 95 look through 3-D buttons and inset or raised fields, when used in that operating environment. The program's new palette optimizer blends dominant colors from all graphics and video into a single common palette to minimize palette shift, a common problem in multimedia applications.

These nifty new features come at a price, however; ToolBook needs 166MB of hard-disk space for a complete installation. That includes plenty of examples for multimedia applications, from kiosks to training titles, which always help me get started. Guides are well designed, though mostly leftovers from the previous version.

A good blend of drag-and-drop visual design and powerful scripting language, ToolBook 4.0 can help ease the pain of multimedia book creation.

--Info File--
Multimedia ToolBook 4.0
Pros: Speed; new design tools
Cons:Disk-space requirements
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.1x, NT
Disk space: 17MB, 166MB full installation
RAM: 8MB (12MB recommended)
Asymetrix Corp.
800-448-6543, 206-462-0501
WinMag Box Score:3.5
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