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-- by Cheryl Dominianni
HotDocs, which first appeared in 1993, offers an easy way to create form templates for document automation, without using tedious word processing merge programs. It still fills that bill, but the new HotDocs Pro adds tools and features that make it more powerful and easier to use. Both programs work within the major word processors: Word, WordPerfect and Ami Pro/Word Pro. HotDocs Pro is compatible with HotDocs 4.0, but not earlier versions.
HotDocs Pro has a neat new feature called HotDocs Automator. This ensures that templates won't change in size or appearance when you fill in data, so a one-page form won't unexpectedly spill over onto a second page.
Another handy new feature supports up to four levels of nested lists. If you were creating a will, for example, you could list beneficiaries and, within that nest, the children of the beneficiaries.
The program also lets you attach a script to an information-gathering dialog box. We tested this using a performance-evaluation template. If an employee's raise was approved (variable answer "yes"), the raise amount and effective date had to be entered before continuing. With a negative response, those two entries were dimmed, and data entry was not allowed. It worked beautifully.
HotDocs Pro can spell-check or search and replace specified text throughout a file, including edit prompts and scripts, merge text and edit-help text. If you're an experienced user, you'll appreciate the floating dialog box, which speeds up template creation.
HotDocs 4.0 is still a good, economical choice for basic template creation. But HotDocs Pro provides more powerful template-creation tools. If you're still automating documents with merge or (heaven forbid!) cut-and-paste techniques, leave the Dark Ages behind with HotDocs Pro.