K-Spread 2

Matthew Jones looks at Kuma's revised and updated spreadsheet.


Issue 27

May/Jun 87

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Kuma Software

Before the ST came out, I used my eight bit Atari 800 for several purposes. As well as programming, I word-processed, communicated, and used a spreadsheet to keep me in touch with my bank account. The spreadsheet I used was Visicalc, which was pretty basic compared with modern spreadsheets, but it did all I required, and it did it fast and easily. When I bought my ST I was looking for a replacement of each of these programs and the only one that I could not find a satisfactory replacement for was the spreadsheet. I could not afford the full featured VIP, and so looked at K-Spread. At the time Kuma was, to be fair, still getting used to the Atari ST and GEM and it is not until you get feedback that you can judge how usable your program is. I rejected K-Spread on one count, and that was the terrible input method which to my mind made it so slow as to be unusable. I have still not found the right spreadsheet, so the chance to review the latest revised version was welcomed.


K-spread 2 comes on an unprotected disk in the usual Kuma packaging and with a 66 page 'spiral' bound manual. On running the program, a single spreadsheet window is displayed with a set of icons representing a disk drive, printer, spreadsheet, clipboard and trash can shown on the left of the desktop. There is a standard GEM menu bar with a spreadsheet function/edit bar just underneath.

You can start to use the spreadsheet straight away, but to get further than very basic use, you must begin to understand some of the many options available. For instance, when you have finished entering a cell, you can press Return to go to the next cell. It is possible to set the direction of entering cells by clicking on a little box to the right of the edit box, or by hitting the appropriate cursor key. From then on, Return will take you in that direction. It is also possible to define a block that you are going to fill with data, in which case you go left to right until you get to the rightmost cell, at which point you go to the leftmost cell on the next line, and so on. I am pleased to see such features, but still it does not come quite as easy as my old Visicalc.

If I typed '56' and 'Total' into Visicalc, it worked out that 56 was a number, and 'Total' was text. With K-Spread 2 you have to tell it which is which. I understand that K-Spread 2 has an extra data type (column titles) but even so I think that this is an un-necessary hassle, and it gets in the way of setting up a spreadsheet. In fact K-Spread 2 has two more data types, for separate 'value' and 'formula' cells. Maybe I mis-understand these, but surely a value is just a formula with no operators? Anyway, you must select which type the cell contents are by either the TAB key, or clicking on a box. As a new user I found this very annoying as I did not know the sequence and kept clicking past the type I wanted, having to go round again.

Apart from this problem, which I think will ease with time, I am impressed with K-Spread 2. There are plenty of functions available, including conditionals (IF THEN ELSE), logicals (AND OR NOT), trigonometric functions, time and date functions (TIME, DATE, DAY, MONTH), and general functions (ABS, INT, SQRT). One facility I think is essential in a spreadsheet, and which is included, is the ability to move around the sheet in the middle of formula entry in order to identify a cell to be included. This saves you having to remember, for example, that the subtotal of spare parts is at cell G53, you move around with the scrollers instead, find the cell you want, click on it to put the reference into the formula, and then continue with the rest. K-Spread also has labels to help in this.

Other facilities include prompted inputs and macros. A prompted input will make K-Spread 2 ask the operator for a new value each time the sheet is recalculated. This is useful for creating spreadsheets for others to use. Also related to this is the HIDE facility, which stops people viewing or altering the cell contents unless they know the password (though if you are looking for a secure spreadsheet, check that you cannot still send the data out to a DIF file - see later). Macros are user-defined functions, and can be passed parameters which may include the current cell position.

A clipboard for cut and pasting ranges of cells is available, and more than one window can be open onto the sheet but multiple sheets cannot be handled. As well as the K-Spread 2 '.SPD' file format, it is possible to import and export data in DIF (Data Interchange Format) files.

A major part of spreadsheets is printing. K-Spread 2 has a full range of options including horizontal and vertical divider characters, column/row headers (A B C etc), page break on/off, width, depth, margins, output port (parallel or serial) and paper change pause on/off. K-Spread 2 is smart enough to split the printout in two if your printer is not wide enough to print the area selected. If you have a true Epson FX80 compatible, with downloadable font capability, you can select sideways printing, which can print up to 66 lines by 'unlimited' columns.


         'I am impressed with K-Spread 2'




One facility that I have not seen in a spreadsheet before is the ability to define the text attributes (colour and shading etc) for each data type (label, text, value or formula). K-Spread is full of useful functions and I am sure I have not found them all.


The manual is the area where I am most disappointed. It is not bad, and everything is there somewhere, but it is very fast and confused. Maybe I am getting old, but the K-Spread manual assumes that you will remember and understand everything first time. The 'Starting to use the program' section starts by telling you what functions are available, then tells you which data types are available and then gets around to telling you about the edit box and entering data. After a quick run-down of what all the various keys do and a spin around the spreadsheet window controls, you are given another section called 'Starting to use the program - an introduction', this time you are taken through a simple example. There seems to be no thought out order. The manual does have everything in it, but if you are new to spreadsheets, you will need a separate book to introduce you to the spreadsheet concept. A better manual would make K-Spread 2 a better spreadsheet.


Two other programs are provided in addition to the main program. One is used to convert old K-Spread files to the new K-Spread 2 format and the second allows you to fully configure the printer, though most of the configuration functions are available in the main program.


Apart from a bug in the custom file selector and my dislike of the data type selection, I found no problems with K-Spread 2. Data is compatible with K-Graph, K-Data and K-Word which may add further value to K-Spread. If you are looking at spreadsheets, it is well worth trying, though the manual is not as good as it should be. K-Spread will certainly be used by me.