Mini Office II

Reviewed by Allan J. Palmer

 

Issue 28

Jul/Aug 87

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Database Publications
48k disk

19.95

For the last year or so I have had the use of an ICL 'One Per Desk' (OPD) desktop microcomputer at work. The OPD has supplied with it, on ROM, a package of software called 'XChange' by Psion. 'XChange' consists of four integrated utilities: Quill (word processor), Abacus (spreadsheet), Archive (database) and Easel (graphing). It is a very useful tool. Now, believe it or not, users of 48k 8-bit Ataris with a disk drive can have the equivalent. Database Publications have (at last) produced an Atari 8-bit version of their successful MINI OFFICE II, already available on Amstrad, BBC and Commodore.

If you have been trying to decide whether to spend anywhere between thirty and fifty pounds on either a word processor, spreadsheet or database, you can now obtain all three plus more for under twenty pounds!


THE PACKAGE

MINI OFFICE II is supplied on a double-sided disk in a sturdy box with a detailed 80-page, spiral bound manual and consists of six modules: Word Processor; Spreadsheet; Database; Graphics; Label Printer and Communications.

These are displayed as a menu when the disk is first booted, and selecting one of the options takes you down to an individual menu for the chosen module. The use of sub-menus within each module is maintained to provide ease of use and assimilation. The text appears in a Roman style font in white on a black background.

WORD PROCESSOR

MINI OFFICE II includes a full-featured word processor which provides just about all the facilities that most users could want. In Edit mode, the screen header displays the elapsed time since you started entering text, the number of words entered, the amount of free memory and whether you are in Insert or Overwrite mode. There are comprehensive commands to move through your text document, to delete characters, words or lines, and to manipulate blocks of text (deleting, copying, moving, totalling the words in the block, wholly changing the block to either upper or lower case). In addition, there are facilities to automatically number each page, display the typing speed in words per minute on the screen header, use 'hard' spaces, and more.

There is a preview mode using a software generated 80-column mode which produces multi-coloured characters that are just about readable. The scrolling speed of the preview can be adjusted. Page formatting commands are available in the Print mode (in addition to being available as embedded commands within the text) including single-sheet printing, justification, setting up of print control characters, page length, margins, and the positioning of headers and footers. Individual text files may be chained to create a larger document. This word processor can be used with the ATARI 1029 printer (is this a first?) and Epson compatibles.

A very flexible Mail Merge facility is also included and this integrates with the Database module of the package. Documents may be saved to and loaded from disk. The word processor and all modules support more than one drive, and on the 130XE, this includes the RAMdisk. My main criticism is that it does not appear to have the facility to use a pre-defined driver file for features such as underline, italic, condensed print, etc. In order to accomplish these functions, you have to use the 'Set Print Code Strings' option of the Print Text menu to set the control codes particular to your printer and assign them to Control +number combinations. These codes would have to be input at each session with the word processor, something which obviously needs remembering each time you use the package. Perhaps I am spoilt after using PaperClip, but I feel that I would not use the Mini Office II word processor for extensive document writing.

SPREADSHEET

Like the word processor, this module is also very comprehensive. The default spreadsheet set up is 15 columns by 20 rows, but use of the Insert command when in Edit mode allows for additional columns and rows to be added to your spreadsheet up to the limit of available memory. Unfortunately, however, the manual does not give an indication of these limits or clearly explain the method of editing in additional rows and columns. Text and numerics are easily enterable, together with complex formulas into each cell of the spreadsheet array. The formulas may include such arithmetic functions as COS(n), LOG(n) and SQR(n). Facilities are provided to modify individual cells and to make global changes to the entire spreadsheet changing column widths, number of decimal places, justification and more. If you have used a simple spreadsheet, such as SmartSheet' from PAGE 6 issue 22, you will be impressed at what can be done here in MINI OFFICE II. Options are provided to control the printing of the whole or part of the spreadsheet, with provision for the it elusion of printer control codes. Naturally, disk saving and loading are catered for. Spreadsheet data may also be saved in a form compatible with the Graphics module in order that the data may be displayed as a graph. Having used a number of spreadsheets, I felt the MINI OFFICE II version was very adequate with the only missing facility being the ability to do block moves/duplication of cells, in addition to the supplied single cell duplication.

DATABASE

The Database module allows you to create and maintain files of information which you may then manipulate in whatever manner you desire. I found the documentation for this section very clear, taking you step by step through the definition of a database file structure and the creation of the database to entering and editing of data, followed by descriptions of the other functions including disk utilities, printing, searching, and sorting. A database record may be defined with up to 20 fields and each field may be either Alpha (i.e. text), Decimal, Integer, Date (in DD/MM/YY format), or Formula. This last option gives the powerful facility of calculating one record field from the contents of others. Editing records is very straightforward, and there is the facility to mark individual records which then allows you to create a sub-database for separate manipulation. Whilst in the edit mode, individual records can be printed directly.

The utilities function includes 4 important features: a copy option to create a back-up of your database files, a copy of marked records to create sub-files, a facility to extend the size of the database from the initial maximum set at file creation up to the limit of available space on disk, and a program to merge databases.

The Print menu is very comprehensive, allowing for the printing of all or marked records, selecting particular fields or parts of fields to be printed, printing the selected fields from each record in either horizontal or vertical format, with or without field titles. Provision is also allowed for printer control in terms of page length and printer codes.

The Search option is equally impressive allowing for searching all or only marked records, with the search operators including all combinations of =, < and > and provision for the use of wild cards. One other menu option to be noted is the ability to total a given field in all or selected records, or to alter the values in a field throughout the (marked) records. To give wider variety to the type of report produced, the Mail Merge facility of the word processor may be used to read Database files and generate comprehensive record listings, opening up the possibility of invoices, receipts, etc. Similarly, the Label Printer module can use Database files to generate labels. One of the obvious applications here for users will undoubtedly be a custom designed disk cataloguing system. No complaints on this module.

GRAPHICS

I feel the name Graphics is a slight misnomer for this module of the Mini Office II package. More strictly, this is a graphing module. Essentially, you have the option of producing vertical bar graphs, line graphs, or pie charts from data that you either enter directly or load in from files produced by the Spreadsheet module. I found this module to be very impressive, and whilst not incorporating some of the more esoteric statistical functions of B/Graph, it certainly would satisfy the needs of the majority of users.

The pie chart offers the ability to explode one or more segments of the pie for greater effect. The bar graph can be drawn either flat or in 3D. Having produced the desired graph, text can be placed where desired on the screen. Graph screens can be saved to disk for subsequent use in this module, or for use within other programs. The module also supports Atari 1029 and Epson printer dumps, and allows for graphs to be saved on disk in a format suitable for loading into the word processor files giving the ability to generate documents containing graph data. A very neat and comprehensive module.

LABEL PRINTER

This module is capable of accepting data from the keyboard or from Database files and allows you to design the format of label desired. Editing options provide for the specification of number of labels across the page and label depth. Using database files, specific fields or parts of fields can be printed in the desired positions on a label template. As in other modules, printer codes can be incorporated to utilise facilities such as bold-faced text, italics, etc. A nice compact and usable feature of the package.

COMMUNICATIONS

The Communications module provides an answer for those who found ViewTerm from Miracle Technology somewhat lacking. I am only a novice in the communications field, but I was soon able to get to grips with this module. Using the menu/sub-menu style of the other modules you are able to define your communications protocol. (MicroLink/Telecom Gold 300 and 1200 baud protocols are built in and a customised option is available). One important feature I found was the easy to change Filter mode, enabling you to switch between ASCII and ATASCII mode with a simple key-stroke combination. If you have ever used the CBABBS bulletin board, for example, you'll find the benefits in the use of ATASCII. There is a Auto-Print mode enabling all text received to be sent directly to your printer and this, again, is a feature which can be simply toggled on or off.

The module is designed to operate with a serial modem connected to port one of an 850 interface or with Miracle Technology's DataTari cable. Macro keys can also be set up for use when in Communicate mode, and uploading and downloading are catered for. To this newcomer to comms, the package does not appear to include Xmodem facilities, but I could be wrong.

SUMMARY

This review of MINI OFFICE II, of necessity, only scratches the surface in some areas. The program is, after all, six individual pieces of software, but incredibly well integrated. Yes, there are some shortcomings. I will, personally, still continue to use PaperClip for word processing, but the inbuilt word processor does give additional options for the formatting of reports from the database. In my opinion, twenty pounds (less five pence) is a reasonable price for any one of the six modules (well, maybe not the label printer) and anyone who wants to use their ATARI for purposes other than games should not go wrong in purchasing MINI OFFICE II. This is a product that Database Publications must be proud of.

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