See a complete listing of this month's product reviews.
(Editor's Note: The WinMag Box Score: rates products on installation, usability, supporting materials, functionality, performance and utility. Our overall ratings follow this scale: 5,Outstanding or breakthrough product, best of its kind; 4, Exceeds expectations, superior to most competing products; 3, Works well, meets all our expectations, no major problems; 2, Has serious difficulties or limitations; 1, Has critical flaws. A list of recommended products follows the Reviews section.)
Get an early peek at two key Microsoft products: the newest NT-Version 4.0-and Exchange Server 1.0. Other reviewed programs will help you create Web wonders, balance your bottom line and bring order to data chaos.
By John Gartner, William Gee, and Cynthia Morgan
NOT JUST E-MAIL and not quite groupware (yet), the new Microsoft Exchange is a vast improvement over the stopgap e-mail Windows 95 presently offers.
The real Exchange-the enterprise messaging system-isn't the primitive InBox client that shipped with Windows 95. Microsoft needed to supply a fax and Internet-capable Win95 mail client, but the backend, Exchange Server, wasn't ready. So the folks in Redmond hastily cobbled up a minimal InBox for Win95.
Exchange Server is the first step towards Microsoft's groupware vision. It includes migration tools, forms, server-based storage, its own SDK for building applications, and clients for DOS, Windows 95, 3.1x and NT. Macintosh and UNIX clients are coming. Exchange Server requires at least NT 3.51 running on Intel, Alpha, Mips and-by summer-PowerPC platforms. At minimum, the software should be installed on a 90MHz Pentium with 32MB of RAM and ample storage for e-mail and public folder data. Plan on having at least one striped drive set and extra disk space for the Exchange pagefile-at least 100MB, plus the amount of physical RAM in the server.
We tested release candidate 2 of the Exchange Server beta in the WinMag labs, installing it on an AT&T S40 dual-processor server with 130MB of RAM, and attaching Exchange DOS, Windows 95 and Windows NT clients. We found it a powerful communications system, integrating well with Windows 95 and NT. It shows great promise but leaves a few questions unanswered.
Exchange is not exactly Lotus Notes. It lacks Notes' plethora of ready-made applications and currently, cross-platform (that is, non-Windows) capabilities. Nor can it match Notes' seamless integration of workspace and messaging. It does offer groupware tools: basic forms templates for extending its power into applications. Given time and the large number of Visual Basic and C++ programmers, the next version of Exchange could easily rival Notes.
As e-mail users, we appreciated Exchange's extreme flexibility. the old Exchange offered almost no filtering or message management tools. The new edition can match features with best-of-breed Novell GroupWise, letting you send and receive multiple data types, for example.
The Exchange client has changed dramatically, becoming a rule-based e-mail filtering system. Its InBox Assistant can route messages to folders or even delete them based on criteria you set. It can alert you-and automatically reply-to important new mail. Exchange views can display messages by sender, group or subject thread, with or without details, while the new Schedule+ master "free/busy" file prevents scheduling conflicts.
This new Exchange follows the Internet paradigm closely. an Exchange message can have autosignatures, the personalized text that typically ends Internet messages. URLs included in messages are live; Exchange identifies and creates an active hyperlink for them on the spot.
Folders can be public or private. Information in private folders can be accessed only by the folder's owner, while data in public folders can be shared across the network. You can also create and participate in discussion forums within Exchange and, using Office 95, post e-mail messages directly into folders.
Analogous to a voice-mail system, Exchange's Out of Office Assistant automatically filters your e-mail when you're out. It can reroute important messages to you, page you when mail contains specific keywords or priority sources, respond to low-priority correspondence with an "I'm out" message and forward messages to your assistant.
Exchange now has powerful remote site capabilities. Folders can be designated for work online or offline, reducing long-distance charges when you're on the road. Exchange downloads a snapshot of offline folders to your notebook's drives, automatically synchronizing them the next time you log on.
Exchange Server's new mail-management toolset will please network administrators. It stores a single copy of messages on the server-users receive pointers to the server files, not the actual messages. In theory, using Exchange will minimize e-mail traffic and lower storage requirements. In practice, however, users likely will increase traffic as they use Exchange's more intelligent InBox and folders. Be prepared to boost storage soon after deploying Exchange.
Exchange automatically migrates old Microsoft Mail systems, and can maintain duplicate post offices to synchronize traffic on non-Exchange servers and gateways. If you've already upgraded to Windows 95's Exchange client, though, you must move old messages over manually. A migration tool for .PST files is not included.
Although the move to the new Exchange is remarkably easy given its scope, you should plan your migration carefully. Microsoft provides a fair amount of guidance, including load-simulation utilities, and will make available site modeling, cost-of-ownership and other migration tools available.
Exchange installation runs smoothly as long as you're using default setup values. The system's Performance Optimizer Wizard can customize settings afterwards, determining the best way to distribute components. For our server's pair of 2GB Seagate Barracuda drives, the wizard advised us to isolate log files on a different physical drive, for example.
Microsoft's difficulties bridging the gap between user friendliness and tight security still pose a problem in Exchange.The Exchange client does not password-protect stored messages by default-it's up to you to secure your messages. Remote-access security can be confusing. It's hard to see which folders are online; unless you disable offline file viewing, these folders won't be password-protected on the notebook. If you've enabled offline work, the Mailbox messages are viewable once the Windows password is entered.
If Exchange delivers on its rich promise, though, this messaging system will be an almost inevitable migration for Windows networks, especially for MS Mail LANs. For other network managers, it's definitely worth consideration.
Microsoft Exchange Server 4.0
Price: Not available at press time
Pros: Messaging environment; groupware development platform; improved client
Cons: Security; offline features
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.1x, NT, NT (server); DOS
WinMag Box Score: 3.5
By James E. Powell
Like most other software products, GoldMine, that venerable contact manager and sales management tool, has caught the Internet bug.
A favorite of mine, GoldMine's Windows 95 version lets you send messages to any GoldMine contact via the Internet. Sent and received mail automatically updates a contact's History folder. This version also adds embedded wireless paging, allowing you to send e-mail messages to alphanumeric pagers via modem.
The program's Rich Text Format editor lets you create an e-mail message, attach multiple MIME-compliant files to a message and, to a limited extent, define simple rules for handling e-mail. How to perform such tasks isn't immediately obvious. I spent some time digging before I finally figured out how to define a contact's e-mail address.
The product's new wizards help you import, export and globally replace data,build groups, and purge records. GoldMine's increasing complexity requires these wizards and even more. A wizard that could easily set up automated operations would be most welcome, for example.
InfoCenter, a hierarchically arranged knowledge base included as part of GoldMine's help, misses the mark. It's more a feature overview than the valuable tips it could be. Fortunately, you can use it to store your own tips, tricks and reminders.
This Windows 95 version maintains most of the previous version's look and feel with its two customizable toolbars: the original along the top of the work area and a new one on the screen's left-hand side. GoldMine provides a macro recorder to make up for the one that isn't, but should have been, included in Windows 95.
You can now place eight additional detail fields in a user-defined Profile, assigning them to a tab on the main screen. GoldMine's new graphical report designer, however, displays only the 16 predefined fields found in a standard GoldMine database. That is a serious limitation for customizing reports extensively.
GoldMine's full potential is best realized on a network with other GoldMine users. E-mail sent to you will appear as a pending item in your correspondent's contact record, waiting for your response. You can send a phone message or a "while you were out" reminder to another GoldMine user. You can also use the product's Advanced Group Scheduling option to evenly distribute incoming calls to your telemarketing group, an extremely valuable tool.
And there's no question that GoldMine can help manage your sales prospects. The package comes with reports ranging from leads and quota analysis to statistical tracking of events. You can check to see how many calls led to closed sales, for example, and the program's forecast analysis tools will help you predict next month's sales.
Although GoldMine's user interface is improving, it's not keeping up with other Windows 95 applications.
Drag-and-drop is limited. You can't just drag a contact name to a calendar to set up an appointment, and when you do schedule a meeting you can't check for conflicting appointments by viewing other obligations for the same day.
Although GoldMine alerts you to overlapping appointments and has an Available Time grid to show conflicts, avoiding them would be easier if you could simply drag a name to a visibly available slot on a calendar.
While creating a custom field display in GoldMine is complex, trying to figure out how to merge GoldMine data with Microsoft Word was impossible. The documentation touched on it, but didn't provide the step-by-step instructions necessary to set up the transfer.
I had problems with form design, and finally gave up trying to alter or merge existing forms, or to create new ones. The menu structure was obtuse at best, a major and inexcusable flaw. GoldMine's documentation just duplicates the menu structure; the manual needs to be brought up-to-date and organized from the standpoint of accomplishing commonly performed tasks.
On the plus side, GoldMine has a well-designed screen that shows everything in your in-basket, from appointments and calls to unanswered e-mail and open action items. The program also looks good under Windows 95. More consistent, it uses tabbed dialog boxes effectively, and older DOS version vestiges, such as pressing F2 to see a pop-up calendar, can be handled with a right-mouse click.
GoldMine for Windows 95
Price: $295; 5-user license, $895
Pros: Features; "open item" access
Cons: User interface
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.1x, NT
Disk Space: 8MB
GoldMine Software Corp.
WinMag Box Score: 3.0
By Rich Castagna
NOTHING GOES BETTER with chips than Salsa. Add Salsa to your PC chips and you might just cook up a delectable database. Wall Data's new end-user database application development tool helps relational rookies create sophisticated relational models unencumbered by arcane terminology.
When you start up Salsa for the first time, you're greeted by a saucy screen that lives up to the product's name. You start off in Learning Studio, where you can launch self-running demos or wizard-like helping hands that walk you through your first app. Whichever you choose, the message is clear: This database is for decidedly nontechnical users.
Salsa's work area consists of an area for construction on the right. On the left is a tabbed Catalog window that holds the objects you create and use. You can get your application off to a head start with Salsa's business templates, which are called Starter Kits. For do-it-yourselfers, building a data table from scratch is no sweat; you simply draw a box with your mouse. A right-click on the box's title bar opens its Properties sheet, where you can name it and define other characteristics. Salsa then adds your new object to the Catalog for later reuse.
To add fields to your table design, just drop a field from the Catalog onto the table object. Once it's in place, a right-click will open its Properties sheet. To facilitate the process, the program includes commonly used field descriptions. For example, if you're building a contact database, just pluck the Company Name field from the Catalog's list. Better still, use the Catalog's field groups, such as Address and Phone, with predefined subfields such as Street, City, State and Zip in the Address group.
Each field has a small subscript that defaults to "0-1." The zero indicates that a field entry is not required and the one limits the number of entries to a single item. If you change the first to "one," the field becomes a required entry; the second number limits the number of entries to one or multiple, "N" (no limit), with a scrollable entry box. You can also add validation criteria to control data input, but it requires writing code in Salsa's Visual Basic-like scripting language.
Creating related tables is a no-nonsense proposition-just draw boxes for each related table in your database and populate them with unique fields. You establish relations between tables by dragging a table title to a field on another table.
Click a button, name your app and Salsa builds it for you. The result might not be artistic, but can certainly be used to test the application.
Give your database app style with the program's report designer. Its basic but adequate tools create professional-looking screens. You can group objects on forms, move them around and copy formats from one object to another. The report designer is a banded report writer that also sets itself up with a default format. In both design environments, you'll make frequent, effective use of your mouse's right button to define the properties of the constituent elements.
Salsa also lets you add finishing touches to your application. You can completely customize an application's menubar and menu selections, and you can even pick the icon that will launch the app from a program group or the desktop.
When using the application, you can type in a string of characters in any field and then click on the Query button to find matching records. If your query is more complex, you have to type in the limiting criteria-less than, greater than, and so forth-manually. Given the number of point-and-click and drag-and-drop conveniences provided, it seems odd that end-user queries cannot be defined and executed similarly.
In fact, at certain points, all the easy mouse-oriented operations seem to stop, and you're forced into manual-and far more technical-efforts such as coding scripts to calculate fields and perform other logical operations. It's a bit jarring to suddenly go from "almost too easy" to "kinda tough." This is Salsa's debut version, however, and I wouldn't be surprised if its laudable ease-of-use features are extended in future program releases.
Out of the gate, Salsa provides business users an easier-to-use alternative to Access and formidable competition for Approach. If you know what's needed, but don't want to deal with the mind-numbing mumbo jumbo of relational database terminology, Salsa is worth a serious look.
Salsa for the Desktop
Price: $499; introductory,$149 (with Starter Kit, $189); Starter Kit, $49
Pros: Interface; relational modeling
Cons: Scripting requirements
Platforms: Windows 95 (16 bit), 3.0, 3.1x, NT
Disk Space: 40MB
RAM: 8MB (12MB recommended)
WinMag Box Score: 3.5
By Lynn Ginsburg
If the Who's Who list of best multimedia titles is any criterion, Macromedia's Director leads the pack. Some of the most innovative interactive multimedia titles--The Resident's Bad Day on the Midway, for example, or Passage to Vietnam and Deep Forest--were created with Director. With Director 5's release, the leader becomes even better.
Wisely, Macromedia didn't implement any earthshaking changes to its flagship product. Instead, the company concentrated on improving the software's overall usability and shoring up the weak areas. This version offers strong new text-handling features, external as well as internal multiple Cast windows, extensive new Lingo scripting capabilities and open architecture support for third-party plug-ins.
The program is so well designed, and with such clearly-defined tools, that even novices will quickly pick up the basics of multimedia authoring. But Director's extensive, detailed controls, while great tools in the hands of power-hungry professionals, will present a daunting challenge to the uninitiated. Make no mistake: Going from the basics to scripting your own dynamic, interactive multimedia titles with Director 5 requires plenty of time, sweat and diligence.
Although this version is Win95-compatible, its interface hasn't changed a great deal. Macromedia has added a toolbar for quick access to key features. You can reconfigure this Windows 95-style toolbar to resemble the familiar black-and-white Mac toolbar.
Director previously supported only a single Cast window, and only then as an internal part of a Director file. Director 5, however, lets you save multiple Cast windows independently from a movie, all as external files. Further, these Cast windows can be linked to multiple movies. In effect, they become reusable libraries for commonly used Cast Members-the sound files, animations, video clips, images and other Director movies. These in turn open the door to storing like objects together or sequentially to save space and eliminate confusion. Cast windows now can be a great boon to authoring teams, since they can be shared, ensuring that each team member uses the most up-to-date version.
I tested a beta copy of Director on moderately sized movies and found that having multiple external Cast windows greatly simplified the authoring process, since I was able to precisely organize Cast members and didn't waste time tracking them down.
Director's text-handling capabilities have radically improved from the earlier version's primitive font basics. Director 5 offers full text formatting capabilities, including paragraph alignment, leading, kerning and tabs. Fonts can be anti-aliased for displaying large type without unsightly jaggies. Formatted text remains live and editable, and this version lets you convert fonts to bitmap, so that users viewing movies with distributed Projectors no longer need to have a movie's fonts on their PCs. And using bitmapped text can improve playback performance. The new text tools let me stay in the Director environment to compose type, a practical, timesaving improvement.
Director now offers an open architecture that supports Photoshop-compliant plug-ins. These add to the versatility of Director's basic Paint module, letting you apply your favorite filters without leaving the program. I added plug-in filters from Kai's Power Tools as a pull-down option on the Extras menu. When I tried it, I found I could easily add a custom gradient to a frame background. Unfortunately, I couldn't get my 32-bit Photoshop filters to work, but Macromedia assured me that a future release will include full Photoshop compatibility.
Director's Lingo scripting language has undergone an extensive overhaul, getting many new or modified terms, mostly to comply with the multiple/external Cast window feature. The Script window has been expanded, too, a real boon to nonprogrammers, since Director now displays Lingo commands in the window alphabetically or grouped by category. You just scroll through the list and click on a command to automatically insert it into your script. If you are unsure of Lingo syntax, don't know where to reference a Lingo command or would just like to save some typing, the Script window is a great new ease-of-use feature.
Director 5's well-balanced offering of significant enhancements to tools that already worked well is clearly a result of that sage philosophy, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." But with new features and enhanced functionality that make an infinitely powerful program even more usable, Director maintains a comfortable lead as the premier multimedia program on the Windows desktop market.
Macromedia Director 5
Price: $850 (street)
Pros: Power; text library features
Cons: Learning curve; price
Platforms: Windows 95, 3.1x,NT 3.51
WinMag Box Score: 4.5
By Cynthia Morgan
They called it CorelCAD, but they could just as easily have chosen "Corel3D." The latest offering from Corel's soup-to-nuts graphics factory, CorelCAD offers AutoCAD-like tools in a friendlier, Windows 95 interface.
I tested a beta version of the program, which installs from a CD. Corel mastered the art of CD software packaging long ago, and you have the option of completely installing the system onto your hard disk or, to save space, leaving some components on the CD. Corel plans to bundle sample drawings, templates and symbols with CorelCAD, although they weren't included in my beta. But Corel is known for stuffing impressive arrays of fonts, symbols, templates and sample files into its other graphics CDs and I doubt this one will prove an exception.
Corel tells me that, completely installed, the final product will come in just under 90MB on the hard drive. You'll want lots more additional space for your files. Corel- CAD needs a powerful system, at least 486DX4 with 16MB of RAM and a minimum video resolution of 800x600. Serious CAD/rendering work requires even more power or an ample supply of patience.
CorelCAD sure doesn't feel like AutoCAD; whether that's good or bad depends on your background. It's definitely not your father's drafting program, emphasizing three-dimensional illustration. Not surprisingly, CorelCAD has a strong flavor of CorelDRAW and CorelDream 3D, the company's 3-D rendering system. You can wrap bitmaps around objects, control eight light sources and specify the degree to which one object reflects others in the scene.
Command lines, which look archaic but in reality are powerfully precise, aren't there but could be simulated using CorelScript. Bundled with CorelCAD, CorelScript is a compilable macro language for automating repetitive tasks, useful when your drawings involve repeating objects. It offers powerful hooks into Windows 95 DLLs and OLE 2.0 automation. It's also compatible with CorelDRAW 6, CorelFLOW 3 and Photo-Paint 6.
I'm of the "real CAD doesn't draw" school; CorelCAD looks a little too much like a drawing program to me. Newcomers to CAD, particularly those with illustration software experience, will love CorelCAD. Diehard AutoCAD and MicroStation fans may find it frustrating.
Not that it isn't powerful. You can build your designs in layers, which can be made invisible, printed separately or even protected against modification. CorelCAD is also extremely customizable. Like AutoCAD, CorelCAD's tools are stored in a series of toolbars and little windows, called Roll-Ups. You can anchor them to menubars on each edge of the screen or float them in the work area. If your workspace becomes crowded-and I'd recommend a nice, big screen set to at least 1024x768-you can touch a button and tuck away the Roll-Ups. You can create your own toolbars that include your most frequently used tools.
In my tests, I built a simple apartment lay-out, extruded complex shapes into solids and added text and logos. Except for beta bugs that Corel promises to fix, operations proceeded smoothly.
Corel offers all the nice Windows 95 touches you'd expect-tool tips, multiple forms of online help, customizable menus, tabbed property sheets and OLE 2.0 in-place editing. You drag-and-drop most of your work rather than type commands.
CorelCad offers extensive dimensioning tools, supporting orthographic measures as well as radial and angular measures along linear x-, y- and z-axes. You can design in perspective, isometric or any of the standard drafting views, and save particular views of your drawings. You can define insertion points according to absolute, relative or polar coordinates. Clicking on the Engineering Properties menu item brings up precisely calculated specs on an object, including surface area, volume and center of gravity.
CorelCAD's 3-D modeling tools are-excuse the expression-solid. The pro-gram supports Boolean addition and subtraction of 3-D shapes so you can quickly create a square tube by drawing two long cubes, one inside the other, and choosing "Boolean subtract." There are chamfer, lathe and extrusion tools, and a one-step "explode object" command.
The beta I examined couldn't import and export AutoCAD .DXF files, but Corel says the shipping edition will support this important conversion. Nor could I test printing and OLE components, both of which will be added to the finishedproduct.
CorelCAD's price wasn't set at press time, but it's expected to sell in the $500 to $800 range. That's a reasonable price for a powerful technical design tool, whether it's sufficiently CAD-like or not.
Price: Not available at press time
Pros: Drawing, 3-D and scripting capabilities
Cons: May confuse die-hard CAD users
Platform: Windows 95, NT
WinMag Box Score: 3.0
By Joel T. Patz
You'd expect accounting packages and spreadsheets to have a working relationship, with mutual support and shared data. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Microsoft's Accounting Analysis Pack for Excel brings them together. While an accounting program generally does the day-to-day number crunching and report generation, it offers little financial analysis. For preparing what-if scenarios and looking closely at quarterly and annual figures for future planning, the action shifts to spreadsheets.
An Excel add-in, Analysis Pack adds Accounting to Excel's main menu. There you choose different wizards. The Import Wizard asks you to locate your accounting data, then creates a mirrored version in an Excel file. Data in the original file doesn't change until you update the Import Wizard. To save time, Analysis Pack imports only new transactions.
The package's Report Wizard offers a complete set of standard financial reports that lets you choose from several subreports in each category as well as Financial Ratio and Sales Analysis reports. The Sales Analysis report uses Excel Pivot Tables to show sales by different categories, with the option of displaying cost of sales and gross profit along with actual and/or budget values.
Since Analysis Pack captured all the key data during import, you can drill down to specific transaction detail in all the reports by double-clicking on an entry. You may insert the balance for a single account as of a single date, or insert multiple balances for multiple dates.
The software displays the report in outline mode. Cells are given their own Tool Tip-style tips, short definitions of financial items and terms. The Pack's Recalculate Report dialog box lets you update reports whenever changes have been made in the original accounting program. To remap the data shared between accounting files, you simply drag and drop or cut and paste any category and move it to its new location. Excel's own Chart Wizard works with Analysis Pack-simply invoke it to create charts from the data.
Getting information into a spreadsheet takes valuable time-many users enter the data manually. Getting information out of a spreadsheet program requires learning another set of parameter-based commands which may or may not perform as desired. Let's face it: What passes for analysis work is sometimes just a seat-of-the-pants guess. Microsoft's Accounting Analysis Pack for Excel deftly joins an accounting system's information and a spreadsheet's capabilities. It's a cost-effective solution to a problem that's plagued business users for years.
Microsoft Accounting Analysis Pack for Excel
Pros: Speed; ease of use
Cons: Accounting apps supported
Platforms: Windows 95, NT 3.51
WinMag Box Score:4.5