Apple Lisa

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Each month one of Microcomputer Printout’s team of experts gives a vast amount of free publicity to a product they happen to like. Julian Allason opted for Apple’s new LISA – because, quite simply, it works the way you do.

Soft Soap

Julian Allason is critical of LISA’s Software.

“A soft answer turneth away wrath” says the Bible’s book of Proverbs. And answers to the microcomputer problem come no softer than LISA. Indeed, so friendly is she that the doyen of micro dealers, Mike Sterland, professed himself worried that existing Apple clients might be jealous at the thought of mere newcomers enjoying her sundry charms.

There can be little double that what I suppose we must call the LISA operating system – although it is so transparent as to be invisible – is superbly executed. After a few minutes one is merrily scuttling the mouse across the table top; selecting here; opening there; consigning files to the waste basket, and drawing the prettiest of pictures. To the experienced hacker, the sheer joy of being able to see what files are open; what jobs remain to be done; whose birthday is impending; is little short of a revelation. Beginners soon take it for granted – which is perhaps the highest accolade of all.

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The movable mouse with its single ‘select’ button is used to point to a function on the screen

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But is the applications software (although again this is a term Apple wouldn’t dream of using) as good? I fear not.

Like the curate’s egg, it is good in parts. The authoritative Rosen Electronics Letter, describes them, with the exception of LISADrawer and LISAProject as ‘pedestrian versions of standard functions that have been better done elsewhere’. Quite so. The point, however, is the degree of integration between them. Unhappily, even this is not as comprehensive as it might have been. The LISAWrite word processor for example does not allow you to insert information from the other applications, except by adding an extra page to the document you are working from.

If you are the sort of writer who needs fancy functions like footnote management and indexing, you would be frankly better off with Wordstar (and it is just a matter of time before that appears on LISA). On the other hand LISAWrite gives you lots of type faces and sizes to play with. And you can print them all out exactly as they appear on the screen, using both Apple’s new dot matrix printer, and, amazingly, the daisywheel printer. Most of the usual functions for manipulating text are there, and in my humble judgement, the program is more than adequate.

Much the same judgement must apply to LISACalc, which would be a fairly run-of-the-mill first generation spreadsheet if it didn’t offer variable column widths and one or two other goodies. One criticism levelled at it is the absence of multi-sheet consolidation, a feature which might have been expected to appeal to the corporate users who supposedly constitute LISA’s target market.

LISAGraph offers the usual types of business graphs in four different sizes. Thanks to the 720×364 dot resolution of the 12” screen, they look a lot better than on most other micros. Up to seven different sets of data can be held, and converted into graphic form.

This data can either be keyed in directly as a set of values, or moused over from the Calc program. The point that caught the eye of almost all lucky enough to have had a sneak preview of the system, was the way in which the graphs change automatically following any amendment to the data. Clever stuff!

LISA Terminal is optional, and it sounds like, and emulates DEC VT100 and VT52 modem and terminals. IBM 3270 emulation is likely to be included by the time LISA goes on sale here sometime this summer (is September still the summer? “It’s real hot out here in September,” says my chum in Cupertino with a wink).

And now the exciting bits. LISADraw is astonishing. If you’re drunk it will even straighten out your lines. Combine it with LISAGraph or LISAProject and the results get to look very professional indeed. The first time I saw LISA the demonstrator, Apple’s Brian Reynolds, created first one, then a whole series of drawings of LISA just by selecting from lines, shapes and shading with the mouse. And, Apple II users please note, text can go anywhere on the screen.

LISAProject is for critical path analysts. I’m no expert on project management, but even I could understand the schedules when they were displayed in graphical form, showing the critical paths amongst tasks, represented by boxes containing the details of the resources required, and milestones. In true calc fashion the critical path can be changed to take into account changes in resources – more Irishmen hired, a compressor stolen, for example – or unexpected delays. Once the output has been tarted up using LISADraw, the results are well up to management consultancy standards.

The last application is LISAList which is really a sort of database for dumbos. I’m not sure why it’s been billed as a list management package as several of the more standard mailing list functions seem to be missing; ditto a proper report generator.

Apple would probably argue that LISAList is intended for general use rather than high powered mailing or database management. Packages dedicated to precisely these applications may be expected sometime in the future. Quite when, however, remains a bit of a mystery. As I write, more than a month after the launch, the LISA development toolkit has yet to appear, and latest word is that it is unlikely to be before June. Without it third party software houses are going to have difficulty writing any applications programs that exploit LISA’s true capabilities. Without those programs LISA could turn into a seven month wonder.

The computer supports Pascal, BASIC, and COBOL languages so the problems are hardly insoluble. The onus must also be on Apple to get out and sell LISA in quantity. These self-same software houses subscribe to a strictly commercial code. Commandment 1 of this states that Thou Shalt Only Convert Software for Machines with a Large User Base’.

So different and so special is LISA it can truly be said to have a user base of zero.

But perhaps not for long. I, for one, have placed my order.

Lisa – An Expensive Lady?

In counterpoint to the otherwise noisy proceedings at LISA’s launch was the silence that greeted the announcement of the price – the sterling equivalent of $10,000 plus travelling expenses.

With the pound sick, and the gnomes tremulous, that translates to something like £7,500 – a lot of anyone’s money for what is still essentially a personal computer. Have Apple blown LISA’s chances then?

Some of the more cynical dealers thought not. “No one knows better what the market will bear than Keith Hall,” remarked one computer retailer, who had known the rugger-playing Sales Director in his incarnation as Commodore’s marketing mafioso. The existence of a market at that sort of price level is certainly not in doubt. Xerox have demonstrated that by selling every 8010 work station – the only piece of hardware remotely comparable to LISA – at over £11,000 each.

The other conclusion reached by the trade, after the customary head scratching, was that when LISA does arrive it could be in short supply. Indeed Apple have already indicated their intention of restricting LISA dealerships to a select few. The official explanation is that only the most experienced business systems houses would be able to do justice to the new baby. Quite how this squares with Apple’s claim (probably justifiable) that LISA is so easy to use that it can be learned in twenty minutes, is anyone’s guess.

Rumour, that oft ill-informed lady, has it that the original UK target price was £6,500; that was before the gnomes weighed in and sterling tumbled. There seems also to have been genuine disagreement on price within Apple. Sources close to the company’s Cupertino headquarters talk of two distinct schools of thought, one favouring a ’low’ price around the $8,000 mark with a view to maximising the company’s advantage in being first. A second group is said to have canvassed a $12,000 price tag on the basis that this would generate the optimum revenue, given the inevitable supply problems during the first year.

In the event, Apple’s chief executive, Mike Markkula, seemed to have split the difference, conscious perhaps that LISA’s market lead had been whittled down by successive software delays.

The unknown factor in the LISA price equation is Macintosh, LISA’s little brother. The conundrum now entertaining Cupertino’s corporate types is this: how cheaply can we make Little Mac?

Like LISA Macintosh is based on the Motorola 68000 16-bit microprocessor. Like LISA it should run much the same software. But will it? Like Topsy, LISA’s software just grew and grew and now occupies more than two megabytes of memory in all. Any possibility of marketing a floppy only version of LISA went out of the window more than a year ago; hence the presence of the separately boxed Profile five megabyte hard disk. Exactly the same problem now arises with Little Mac.

One theory now current amongst Apple watchers proposes $10,000 as an artificially high price for LISA, simply in order to maintain market separation from Macintosh. All this speculation – for speculation it largely is – is based on the assumption that LISA is overpriced. But is it? Try as one may, it is hard to put together a 68000-based system with Hi Res graphics, a megabyte of RAM, five megabytes of Winchester storage and half a dozen or so applications packages and still find oneself with much change from £8,000. And what price user friendliness?

LISA may not be within reach of everyone’s pocket, but it certainly looks like good value to me.

Which side of the Blanket?

Julian Allason examines Lisa’s parentage…

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The Xerox Star was the first workstation to employ the multiple-window technique. More recently Visicorp announced Vision for the IBM PC.

Frowns outweighed smiles as microcomputer folk reacted to the launch of Apple’s LISA computer last month.

The most maniacal grin adorned the visage of Apple’s rugger playing Marketing Director, Keith Hall, as he exhorted his dealers into orgasms of excitement at the prospect of selling the wonder micro.

The details of LISA, which will not have come as a very great surprise to readers of this organ, brought a furrow to the brows of competitors. “Now everyone will want integrated software,” moaned one small British microcomputer manufacturer. “Look how long that took Apple to develop – and we don’t have a fraction of their resources.”

Ecstasy was also less than unanimous amongst dealers. “Apple have wrecked the market. I’ve already had two of my best customers call to put a freeze on further orders. The worst part is that Apple won’t even be able to deliver LISAs for six months and then not in any quantity,” complained one member of the Computer Retailers’ Association.

Wry smiles were the order of the day in Uxbridge, headquarters of Xerox, makers of LISAs only competitor, the 8010 workstation, otherwise known as the Star. As noted elsewhere on these pages, LISA owes much of its heritage to work done at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center. Work that culminated in the Alto prototype user friendly computer. From the Alto – so far the only personal computer to have achieved true cult status – sprang from the aforementioned Star.

When industry pundits take a step back from the trees to inspect the wood, they will notice something very odd. Working from the same starting point, Apple reached a very different – one is tempted to say the opposite – conclusion from Xerox. For the Star is viewed by Xerox as a workstation for their Ethernet local area network. Apple, on the other hand, are adamant that LISA is a one-man machine, a personal computer that will adorn the desk of professional managers.

It is a curious conflict and one is tempted to wonder whether both companies can be right.

In truth not even Apple are convinced that they enjoy a monopoly of wisdom. As one senior manager remarked, after looking round to ensure that we were not being overhead, “In scientific circles the very best rows start with opposing conclusions being drawn from the same data…”

But it may not even be a two sided argument, because VisiCorp, whose VisiON operating environment has received the rough edge of Apple’s corporate tongue, think they are dealing with a very different sort of animal. If one could reconstruct the chain of evolution of the concepts first developed at Xerox PARC and Stanford University, it might go something like this: Alto user friendly personal computer becomes the Star workstation, a single component in a network of stations sharing printing and file storage resources, but its principal function is to exchange information.

As a personal computer company, Apple find other aspects of the Alto more sympathetic. The use of multiple screen windows, the mouse as a pointer to them, and of icons (small graphic symbols) to indicate the status of the work in hand all appeal. The network emphasis less so. Apple see the integration of the most popular office applications as a means of closing the gap between computers and office functions as they are normally (i.e. manually) carried out.

At the bottom of the chain, or at least as far down as we can see for the nonce, is VisiCorp. In their world view the PARC concept is primarily a means of making applications programs more user friendly. Not surprisingly, the first programs to receive the VisiON treatment will be VisiCalc, VisiWord, VisiPlot, VisiTrend, Visi etc. And least anyone deprecate that, your correspondent would like to add that he was enormously impressed the first time he sat down with VisiON. Moreover, the system has received the imprimatur of mega-mini-computer-maker Digital Equipment Corporation. In the computer world this is the equivalent of not just a feather in the cap for VisiCorp, but a whole bird in their bonnet.

Whether future micro biological expeditions down this particular evolutionary train will be warranted in the future remains to be seen. Certainly there are some interesting growths under culture in the labs of Microsoft and Digital Research. Our microscopes will be trained in their direction over the coming months…

First published in Microcomputer Printout magazine, April 1983

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Profile on Apple

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Peter Cobb – Apple UK General Manager – “Ultimately my job is to earn dollars for the US shareholders. There are all sorts of wrinkles to this thing: where are these things bought, how long forward, managing exchange exposures, there’s a whole sophisticated exercise going on designed to avoid the consumer having to cough up simply because the exchange stays low. That’s not good business practice in my view.”

By Martin Hayman

History, it is said, repeats itself. Subscribers to the teleological view could do worse than search the annals of the computer business if they seek evidence of this theory. The backwards and forwards surge of capital is perhaps an unlikely place to look for patterns, but really the movement is ever onwards: the next wave is always the biggest. Right now Apple is the next wave.

Apple has just had its most successful year ever, with sales of $580m. Its sales topped $200m for the last quarter of last year alone. It no longer talks about ‘if but ‘when’ it will reach the Fortune 500 – the index of the biggest-grossing companies in the US. If it does, it will be the youngest company ever to do so. It talks of spending $50m every year on research and development. This is a staggering achievement for a company which, as just about everyone must have heard by now, was started in 1976 by two young men, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, working out of a garage, who raised the launch capital to build an order of 50 from the sale of a pre-owned Volkswagen van and a programmable calculator. The computer prototype took six months to design and a mere 40 hours to build.

The company’s success is the more surprising because it relies largely on that one ageing machine, the Apple II, in an industry where technical novelty appears to be paramount. Though according to Adam Osborne it isn’t. He ascribes Apple’s success not to the ingenuity of the product or indeed the dynamism of its youthful progenitors, but to the solid understanding of Apple’s backer, marketing chief and eminence grise, Mike Markkula, of the simple market expedients of outlets (lots, and one in your neighbourhood); service; and support.

“Markkula was the only one in the  business in 1976/7 who understood that simple list,” reckons the Big O. Heard it before? Right: Osborne describing his own operation. But before that was another wave…

Fortune 500

Long before there were micros, there were minis. And there was a firm known as Data General, who set the cat among the pigeons by playing rough and tough. They started in 1968, and it took them a decade to get into the Fortune 500. DG put Digital Electric Corp’s nose out of joint something rotten, but then, in their turn, doubtless DEC- world’s No.2 in computers – cost IBM more than a fleabite, even when mainframes ruled the roost and a minicomputer was something you put in a small room rather than a big one. And as for IBM, long before transistors and the like, when the acme of business software was the stack of Hollerith punched cards, and salesmen travelled on trains, you may be damn sure that John L. Watson and his team put somebody else’s nose out of joint. Then, they were the next wave; now they’re in the Fortune 500, and pretty near the top of it too.

Undoubtedly Mike Markkula is one of Apple’s biggest assets. It’s debatable whether the two Steves would have got far with their garage computer without enlisting his experience on their side. As a former marketing chief in two not exactly unknown semicomductor firms, Intel Corporation and Fairchild Semiconductor, he had already made a pile and was reputedly a dollar millionaire. He was able to introduce the Apple boys to sources of venture capital without which Apple would merely have shrivelled: firms with resonant names like Venrock Associates, Arthur Rock & Associates and Capital Management Corporation; plus, for good measure, he put in some of his own.

Markkula certainly must have understood the nature of the marketplace, volatile as it is; there is a consciousness among Apple people of their customers ‘out there’ (a favourite phrase) and the sheer availability of the kit must, in the early days before the turn of the decade, have been a strong enough argument. Because of its simple, modular construction, just about anyone could configure the system with their own boards, and soon a whole sub-industry of add-ons was going for the ambitious punter’s cash: plotters, graphics tablets, communications interfaces (one polytechnic hobbyist relates using a high-speed communications card to interface his Apple with a Prime 550 and he was by no means alone), digital music synthesisers, Z-80 softcards if you insist on CP/M, the usual add-on memory boards and A-D converters for instrument control; the Apple was even the first microcomputer to be approved for connection to British Telecom’s network, and you may imagine how arduous it was to make that stick.

Serious tool

And not only kit: Apple seemed to get the best software releases soonest, with the undoubted clincher being Personal Software’s VisiCalc, which arrived in this country in early 1980. This renowned piece of software had been adapted from mainframe use by Dan Bricklin and Bob Frankston, curiously working out of Massachusetts rather than California, and soon to become the world’s hottest-selling piece of software.

One reviewer of the time wrote, “We were unable to find any bugs in the program or to crash the system”. Given that it would run in a mere 32K and a couple of disks, and cost a mere £95, it made the Apple look like a potentially serious business tool rather than an obscure hobbyist’s plaything.

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Peter Cobb – Apple UK General Manager

For the fact is that in the US the Apple was seen principally as a ‘home’ computer. Called on to describe the difference between a hobbyist and a home user, Apple UK General Manager, Peter Cobb, responds drily, “about a year”. VisiCalc further elided the distinction between the home user and the business-person and, at least in the UK, Apple rapidly became the first cheap business microcomputer: it could be  used for ‘serious’ office-type work without the user really needing to bend his brain with concepts of computing for which he had no time and which certainly held no charms for him.

Cobb, looking very like Denis Healey, says bluntly: “The great Mr. Prospect now is a perfectly straight-forward businessman like me who doesn’t want to play technical games with the machines, doesn’t particularly want to know how it works, but just wants it to do a job”. In this respect he makes a distinction between the user, typically one such as himself, and the ingenious insiders who saw the retail potential of micros – people like the Brewer Brothers.

Crock of Gold

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The Apple III and newly-announced IIe are supported by a new range of both floppy and hard disk systems

The Brewer Brothers’ story has a ‘room at the top’ feel. As the first distributors of Apple products they were living proof that there was a crock of gold to be made in micros. Theirs is not a rags to riches story, but there is something of the fairy tale about the way they took the business by the scruff of the neck. Their sell-out price to Apple, when the US company decided it needed to control the burgeoning UK market, has never been disclosed but it was undoubtedly worth several million – far more than any comparable business might have been expected to produce in such a short time.

Their business was already well established when the word went out that a new firm in California had a product intended as a low-cost hobbyist’s computer, but which might have some use in business. In fact the Brothers Brewer had been supplying items to the computer trade since 1964 – mostly furniture and supplies, by mail order.

Curiously, though, the first computers which they started to import from across the water were Commodore PETs which, Stephen Brewer says, they bought for around £500 and resold at around £750, yielding a margin of ‘around 30% off retail’ (sic).

Data Efficiency, as the Hemel Hempstead-based firm was called, was not the only dealer to want in on micros. It was in competition with Keen and Personal Computers to pick the winner. DE ordered 60 ITT 2020s, which were made to Apple’s design under licence by ITT Consumer Products, who had approached Apple as early as mid-1977 and been granted a Europe-only agreement. Some arrived; some worked. “It was not a particularly auspicious start,” says Brewer, who was looking to feed a newly set-up chain of 10 dealers in north-west London and the West Country. ITT’s partnership with Apple ended after a copyright lawsuit about the design of disk operating system was settled out of court.

A trip to NCC in 1977 has yielded some contracts for distributorships of printers, monitors and boards, but it was not until two years later, also at NCC, that the Brewer Brothers made their big connection: Andre Souson of Eurapple, then the sole European control centre for Apple, appointed Microsense as the UK distributor for Apple. It was a coup which failed to please Data Efficiency’s rivals: “Personal and Keen went up the wall,” recalls Brewer. From then on Microsense, which had been formed as a splinter company from DE to market Apples, went from strength to strength.

Freddie Laker

Stephen Brewer was Marketing Director, while his elder brother, Mike was Managing Director.To Stephen fell the lot of organising the dealers, and marketing and advertising the product. One of his wheezes was to hook Freddie Laker in to promote the computer (Sir Freddie was then flying high as a sort of popular hero), though there is some doubt as to whether he ever actually used the Apple installed behind his desk.

Brewer is aware that Microsense was perhaps not too, uh, popular among some of the people who were buying from him but contends that it was necessary to be tough. As Peter Cobb remarks, many of the people who took on micro dealerships in those early days quickly found that it was not, perhaps, the right business for them.

Some were just enthusiasts operating out of their front rooms, and had very little idea of business practice. Brewer decided to use the contentious technique of credit factoring – that is to say, he sold his debts to a collection agency who would invoice the dealers and deal with other routine debt-collection. But the beauty of credit factoring, from Microsense’s point of view, was that the collection agency would investigate the credit-worthiness of would-be dealers and assign each one a credit ceiling. This avoided Microsense the headache of attempting to assess the story of anyone who came banging at their door asking for stock on credit.

Microsense itself was among the entrepreneurial merchandisers who made good. In turn the Brewer Brothers reported to Eurapple, an independent organisation which was bought out and run by Apple’s own-employee ‘commando’ of which Peter Cobb was one of the first members. As former financial controller or, as he cheerfully puts it, ‘chief bean-counter’ for Intel in Brussels, Cobb followed a little later by Keith Hall, recruited from Commodore to take charge of sales, marked Apple’s tightening grip on world ‘local’ markets.

World-wide Marketing

Eurapple handled the marketing and re-engineering, if needed, of all Apple computers sold outside the US with the exception of Japan. In late 1979, in an interview with Yorkshire Apple dealer, David Hebditch of Microtrend, Eurapple chief Andre Souson claimed that he was about to start up in Japan, showing Apple’s determination from comparatively early – Eurapple was set up as a world-wide marketing operation in June 1977 – to expand and compete with Commodore, who had excellent worldwide distribution for its PET, sold alongside its range of successful calculators, and Radio Shack, whose TRS-80 sold through that company’s coast-to-coast chain of electrical hardware retailers.

In fact Apple even alluded to its competitors Commodore and Radio Shack in its prospectus for the first public sale of shares in 1980, in which it admitted that ‘the company might be at a competitive disadvantage because it purchases integrated circuits and other components from outside vendors, while certain of its competitors manufacture such parts’.

It owned modestly that it might have to expand its distribution channels, or establish additional marketing arrangements such as a direct sales force. Well, Apple shifted the 4.5 million of its 52.4 million outstanding shares for the right price in December 1980 and a further 2.3 million in May 1981 and they were in business.

Andre Souson, when asked in autumn 1979 about the definition of, and prospects for a home computer, replying on behalf of the company (for whom he was at the time entitled to speak, since he did work closely with Apple Corp) said that the day of the home computer had not arrived and that he had seen no evidence that it would. Rightly, he distinguishes the ‘personal’ from the ‘home’ computer and remarks that what makes a personal computer personal is that one person uses it. He also shows that Apple grasped the nettle of service and back-up early, and sought to implement a policy of 24-hour turnaround to the end user anywhere in the world.

Over-pricing

It is intriguing to study the prices of mid-1979. Then, the price to the UK customer of a 16K Apple II was £750 (current price of the 48K Apple II Plus, £675), that is, around $1600 at the prevailing exchange rate, compared with a US price of $1200. Import duties for manufactured computers, then as now, stood at 16% (working from end-user price in the UK, nearly $300) and the PAL or SECAM conversion cost was around $80. Then, as now, Apple had to defend its products against accusations of over-pricing on export markets, but it is a fair indication of how well Apple has contained its costs that the stated price to the UK customer is little different now. But then neither, I daresay, is that of the Commodore PET, which Souson identified as the principal competitor to Apple, and for whom he had previously worked as chief calculator design engineer.

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LISA – an important step in re-establishing Apple’s credibility as an innovator.

Apple still has to defend the price of its product: at the Barbican launch of the 1983 model year range, some were disappointed that Apple had not taken the opportunity to cut the price of its easy-build Apple IIe, despite the fall of the pound against the dollar. This is tricky, because Apple UK buys its computers in dollar prices from the Cork factory in Eire. “Ultimately my job is to earn dollars for the US shareholders,” says Cobb candidly. “There’re all sorts of wrinkles to this thing: where are the things bought, how long forward, managing exchange exposures, there’s a whole sophisticated exercise going on designed to avoid the consumer having to cough up simply because the exchange rate is low. That’s not good business practice in my view.”

Looking at Apple’s technical strategy, Souson let slip some intriguing speculations in 1979, among them the assertion that “Pascal is the language that all our future machines are going to support primarily… It is the sort of language that a lot of people believe is going to be the basis of all the languages of the future”. Whether or not this is a Good Thing, if indeed it was an a priori decision in 1979, is debatable. Vile rumour has it that the Microsoft BASIC in Lisa actually runs slower than that in the VIC-20, because it has to be interpreted into p-code and thence into its native code.

Furthermore, Souson asserted, “The real question is, do we want to build a machine with a register architecture or not? And I think the answer is no.” He then alluded darkly to a machine that was 5% completed but would be ready for delivery in late 1980. “I think it will be a very nice machine for the user.” And that’s the point: most of the people who use Lisa will not be interested in running BASIC.

Smalltalk

As it turned out, this revolutionary product appears to have been Lisa. Now we know how it came to take two person-centuries of research and development to get it out on the market. It seems surprising that the ground-work for the astonishing Lisa was then already in progress; that Steven Jobs and software engineer, John Crouch, had already toured Xerox in Palo Alto to look at Smalltalk and were ready to recruit their tour guide (followed later by another 15). Was the design for Lisa laid down that long ago? Souson says the architecture for a ‘totally innovative’ machine was ready in autumn 1979. Maybe he’d already seen it at work in Palo Alto.

This long gestation for the new model is reassuring. If a great many people have hammered away at it for a couple of years before the customer gets his hands on the product, it is likely to have shaped up. This point is still being made about Apple’s bread and butter computer, the Apple II which is sometimes referred to as outmoded. So, too, was the Volkswagen Beetle. And the Apple II, like the Volkswagen, is subject to continual improvement to its subcutaneous performance: the new IIe is the thirteenth revision to the garage computer, and now it is a different and more powerful machine, which nevertheless remains capable of running programs developed ages ago.

People do not like to junk major time investment in intellectual tools, and Apple still understands well that the individual favours continuity. It is becoming more generally recognized in the corporate environment, too: when the US Defense Department proposed to buy a hundred or so new mainframes, it required the contestants, Sperry-Univac and Burroughs, to enter into the lists in a computing tournament to adapt the Department’s software to run on the machines they were pitching to sell. But that’s an altogether different story…

Ill Feeling

For all that the Apple II has scarcely shown any signs of flagging in the cheap 8-bit personal computer market, it is just as well that Apple has the Revolution slogan (for Lisa) to add to Evolution, for much more flattering interface with his computer, they would have been out of luck. The Apple III has been troublesome for the company and in the UK at least led to ill-feeling among dealers who thought that a two-tier operation was coming into force, with only some of the existing Apple II stockists being permitted to handle the III. In the event they might have been relieved – because on its launch two years ago Apple III was something of a turkey, and 14,000 were recalled, for what Newsweek delicately describes as ‘retooling’.

How revolutionary is Apple’s strategy? Will Lisa be so easy to learn and use that everyone who deserves one will have a clear desk-top? As an onlooker one can only applaud Apple’s determination to improve the computer’s model of the human brain engaged in so-called ‘mindwork’. The intellectual tools used by the human brain for this sort of work are sophisticated, so any computer which comes nearer to an extension of the human brain, in the same way as a hammer and chisel, a quill – or even, dare I say, a typewriter – is good news. Especially when it costs as little as $12,000 – or is it $9,995 (the latter figure is Newsweek’s).

Truth to tell, an office worker might feel a bit of a Charlie pushing a streamlined dinky toy around the desktop and peering into a screen displaying ‘icons’ of the familiar equipment now banished from the office – the filing cabinets and folders, the wastepaper bin and calculator, and the ready-reckoner. Secretly he might prefer to invite one of the girls to go and retrieve such-and-such a file, but hell, that’s progress.

Clerks of a century ago, used to pens and ledgers, undoubtedly thought the office typewriter a bizarre mode to employ, so who’s to deny the mouse? It sounds better than sitting at your office computer talking to it in precisely modulated tones, as Texas Instruments seems to be inviting us to do with its new voice input Professional Computer. That invokes an altogether different muse, a new Thespian slant to computer salesmanship.

Volkswagen

Lisa had better work. Volkswagen came back from the dead when the Beetle finally waned and was banished to local assembly sites, and it took them time to find the right follow-up, but they did. Although Apple Corp’s performance is impressive, it has to make sure that Lisa sells well to recoup costs. Its market share in the US has declined from 29% to 24% since the introduction of the IBM PC in August 1981, and the PC will be able to run VisiOn rather more cheaply than the Lisa package. Certainly IBM are gunning for Apple, who must be kicking themselves for not using Personal Computer; after all, say Apple, “We invented the Personal Computer” – one of the big sales slogans in dealer motivation pep-talks. Stewart Lakey of Personal Computers, London, reckons that even if he had a hundred Lisas in stock right now, it would take him more than a year to sell them: as well as being an Apple dealer, Personal handle both DEC and IBM.

Definitely on the stocks for the future, and enjoying the wholehearted attentions of Steve Jobs as project leader, is the economy Lisa, which may well also be based on the Motorola 68000 and is aimed to sell at around $2,000. Why MacKintosh? I hope it’s not an acrostic, but is it anything to do with outgoing Apple President Michael Scott who, it is reported, refused to let young Jobs run the Lisa team because he was too inexperienced? Come what may, Jobs will have to keep his nerve, because IBM is said to be ready, with its own ‘Popcorn’ executive workstation aimed to compete with Lisa, and a 16-bit ‘Peanut’ machine designed to undersell even the Apple IIe. But none of this blue sky has been seen yet. It will be interesting to see whether, as some people predicted, the era of the garage microcomputer is over, now that the punks have shown the big boys how the market for personal computers works. Apple should be in the Fortune 500 this year, and that’s good going in six years.

First published in Microcomputer Printout magazine, April 1983

Multiplan

Mike Liardet looks at Multiplan – Microsoft’s entry to the spreadsheet fray.

After releasing the Apple version of Visicalc about three years ago, Visicorp enjoyed at least 18 months completely unchallenged in the market for what has now become known as spreadsheet software. But in the last year and a half there has been a steady stream of Visicalc rivals arriving on the scene and, naturally, some of the established companies have been getting involved in this growth area.

Probably the best known of all the micro software companies, Microsoft’s pedigree goes right back to those prehistoric days of ‘core-store’, paper-tape and teletypes – 1975 in fact, when the first of a million microcomputer systems was equipped with a Microsoft Basic interpreter. Now Microsoft has augmented its own spreadsheet system: Multiplan. Will Multiplan further enhance Microsoft’s reputation for excellence? Will it be another Ford Edsel? (You should get this point if you have heard of a Ford Edsel and you definitely will if you haven’t!)

The first thing that strikes you when confronted with a copy of Multiplan is the packaging: Microsoft has obviously invested a lot of effort (and money as well, I am sure) in presenting its ‘new baby’ to maximum advantage. A heavy-duty transparent plastic case holds a substantial ring-bound manual, system disks, various leaflets and a few pieces of carefully positioned cardboard mouldings – simply there to mask out awkward gaps and present an uncluttered appearance through the transparent box. Readers who are concerned by such a flagrant wastage of the world’s resources on a mere piece of marketing-hype will doubtless be relieved to learn that you need not throw the box away after purchase – it readily converts into a sweet little bookstand to support your manual!

Anyway, underneath the packaging we eventually find the disks – my review copy was for the Apple II (DOS 3.3), but Multiplan is also available for The Apple III, CP/M systems and, of course, Microsoft’s MS-DOS. All versions are evidently functionally identical, with just a few pages at the start of the manual outlining any minor differences, so non-Apple owners should still bear with me! (I also had the opportunity to take a quick look at the MSDOS version on a Sirius, so have made occasional references to this, too. In particular, I have included benchmark results for the Sirius version, specifically to check out Multiplan’s performance with a new generation (8088) processor and all that extra memory capacity.)

Getting started

Getting started proved fairly easy – the ‘First Time’ instructions were not on page 1, where I like to see them, but a little bit of page-thumbing soon tracked them down. A bit of disk copying, data disk initialisation, and two or three minutes later I was faced with a reassuringly familiar display of a spreadsheet. The only hold-up in all this was to have a good chuckle at the latest piece of computer jargon, encountered in the instructions for seeking the system for optional (on the Apple) 80-column display mode: ‘Recable’ – to exchange 40-column video cable connection with 80-column!

The initial display is of the top left hand corner of the spreadsheet, showing seven spreadsheet columns and 20 rows, all completely blank. The remainder of the display is devoted to helpful prompts: the names of twenty different ‘commands’, a ‘what to do now’ message and status information, such as percentage of storage space remaining, current cursor position, etc. Both rows and columns are identified by numbers, unlike many systems which use the alphabet for column headings. The repercussions of this are fairly great, since whereas ‘Q99’ is unambiguously a reference to a specified cell, ‘1799’ clearly is not. Multiplan provides several alternatives for identifying cells, but the simplest is that they be written as ‘RyCx’ – eg, ‘R17C99’ – a little bit longer than ‘Q99’!

Moving around

Moving the cursor around the spreadsheet is very simple – single control-key hits (ie. simultaneously pressing ‘Control’ and one other key) move the cursor left, right, up and down, with the VDU screen window being ‘pulled along’ by the cursor if an attempt is made to move to a cell off the edge of the screen. Sensibly, the keys that achieve this movement are arranged in a diamond (on the Sirius the arrow keys are used) – easy to remember and easy to touch-type when you are looking at the screen. Further investigation reveals that there are also control-key hits to ‘home’ the cursor to the top left hand cell and to the bottom-right, and a ‘Go-to’ command where destination coordinates can be typed in, as well as a rapid scrolling facility where the cursor is moved several cells at one go.

Also of particular interest is a very powerful split-screen facility. The screen can be subdivided into display areas (called ‘windows’ in the manual), each displaying different parts of the spreadsheet, and the cursor can be quickly ‘jumped’ from one to the next. There are many possible uses for this: locking row and column headings for continual display, quick movement between different parts of the spreadsheet, and keeping totals or whatever continually in view when other parts of the spreadsheet are being modified. Moreover each window can be displayed with a nice surrounding border, and can also be ‘linked’ to another window so that columns or rows in both always line up correctly. If all this sounds a little confusing to the newcomer, then take heart. You can completely ignore the facility at first, but once you are ready for it, the chances are that however you want to lay-out your display then Multiplan will accommodate you.

Entering data

As with most spreadsheet systems, the ‘bread and butter’ activity centres on entering or changing numbers, titles and formulae. To achieve this, simply move the cursor to the cell to be changed and start typing whatever is required there. The only thing to watch out for is that text entry must be preceded by selecting ‘Alpha’ mode (simply press ‘A’ before typing the text) otherwise the chances are Multiplan will assume you are entering a command – occasionally disastrous. For example, a sensible abbreviation for Total-Costs-Yacht could be ‘TCY’. Enter this without pressing ‘A’ and Multiplan does a ‘Transfer-Clear-Yes’ wiping out the entire spreadsheet! Don’t believe it could happen? A PCW editor (I’ll spare his blushes) did it! Well, it probably wasn’t a yacht, but a yo-yo or a yard-of-ale or something…

The formulae themselves can be built up using a wide range of maths and other functions, including trig, standard deviation, string concatenation, logical and table look-up, etc. The notation used is the classic keyboard version of school maths notation, easily learned by anyone not already familiar with it. As we have already mentioned, formula references to cells require an RyCx’ notation – eg, the formula to add the first 2 cells on the first row could be written as ‘R1C1 + R1C2’. However, there is a little trap lurking for experienced spreadsheet users – the replication facility does no formula adjustment whatsoever. Thus, if the above formula was located at R1C3, and then copied to 99 cells below, each and every copy would be ‘R1C1 + R1C2’ and the expected Column 3 = Column 1 + Column 2 would not be achieved. It turns out that the original formula, quite correct if no replication is envisaged, should be ‘RC[-2| + RC[-1)’, meaning ‘add cell in current row two columns back, to one in current row one column back’. Now, wherever this formula is located, it will add together the two previous values on the row, and in particular, if replicated right down column 3 it will do the column sum correctly.

If typing ‘RC[-2] + RC[-1]’ seems like a bit of a fingerful (tactile equivalent of mouthful) then Multiplan to the rescue! Instead of working out ‘RC[-2]’, etc, simply use cursor moves in mid-formula entry and Multiplan will type in the formula for you. In the above example only the ‘+’ need be entered from the keyboard, the rest of the formula being built up by using the cursor to point to the cells to be referenced.

It is also possible to refer to cells by their row or column name and thus build up formulae like ‘profit = sales – costs’. Since (a) this is immediately comprehensible and (b) always replicates correctly, the extra typing involved is well worth it!

In conclusion, I must say that I did not greatly like Multiplan’s methodology for referencing cells. It should be noted that cell references occur not only in formulae, but are also required by the majority of commands (see below), so a major part of one’s time at the keyboard is spent using them. In fairness I must point out that (a) my previous spreadsheet has been with the Visicalc style of cell-reference and (b) that Multiplan has some compensations for this minor irritation with some excellent other features and facilities.

Commands

Thus far, we have looked at Multiplan’s basic essential facilities, but of course there are many other, typically more peripheral (in both senses!), functions needed to provide a comprehensive spreadsheet system. These extra functions are provided for by Multiplan commands, and invoked by selection from a command-menu.

Actually, in passing, we have already touched upon four commands provided by Multiplan – ‘Go-to’ cell, ‘Alpha’ for entering text, ‘Copy’ for replicating cells, and ‘Window’ for the split-screen facility. There are in fact 20 in all, each starting with a different letter of the alphabet, and all permanently displayed at the bottom of the screen. Bearing in mind that there were only six letters of the alphabet to spare, the implementers have done a pretty good job of choosing 20 sensible names – probably the worst one is ‘Alpha’ (it couldn’t be ‘Text’ because that clashes with ‘Transfer’ and ‘Transfer’ couldn’t be ‘File’, ‘Storage’ or ‘Disk’ because F, S and D are in use, etc).

Anyway, in the unlikely event that a command’s meaning is unknown, or in the more probable event that the precise method of usage is unclear, there is an excellent ‘Help’ facility available. Basically the list of command names has its own cursor, which can be shifted along by pushing the space bar. Commands can be selected by moving the command-cursor then pushing ‘Return’ (or by just typing the command’s first letter – much quicker). However, if ‘?’ is hit instead of ‘Return’ the spreadsheet screen is replaced with a ‘help’ screen for the currently indicated command. Moreover the information is not just a few cryptic instructions, but a fairly comprehensive run-down which in some instances extends to several pages. By the way, all the help-screen information is read from disk when needed, and does not affect the precious memory allocation for the spreadsheet itself.

To get some idea of the command facilities available, here is a quick rundown of all 20:

  • Enables text to be entered at the current cursor position.
  • Blanks out one or more cells. Contents are blanked out, but display format assigned to cell is unchanged. Not the same as Delete since, in particular, the following rows or columns are not shifted.
  • Copies cells from one place to another (ie, replication). Relative-copy is not possible (see text above) – must do absolute copy of relative formula!
  • Deletes a row or column of cells, moving all subsequent rows/columns back by one.
  • Instead of correcting a long formula by retyping from scratch, this command can be used to apply the changes quickly.
  • Numerous different display formats are possible: different column widths, centre, left, right justify, scientific, integer, financial, primitive bar graph, and more besides! As an extra convenience, a default format can be specified, assigning the format you most expect to use to all cells not explicitly reformatted to something else.
  • Go to cell specified by its name or coordinates.
  • Gives general help information, not covered by the help-screens, for each specific command.
  • Inserts a blank row or column, moving all subsequent rows/columns along by one.
  • Locks or unlocks specified cells. Can permanently lock all formulae – useful for turnkey systems.
  • Moves a row or column to between two other row/columns.
  • Enables a cell or group of cells to be given a user-supplied name. This name can be used in formulae, and also by the ‘Goto’ command. It saves confusion if the name here is the same as the visible title.
  • Used to set basic operational features, eg, switch off auto-recalculation or audible error beeps. The former is very useful when the spreadsheet is getting fairly full and every change takes several seconds – not to be registered on the screen, but for its effects to permeate through the system. The latter is absolutely priceless if you work at home and your family ‘can’t stand that incessant cheeping’ (to quote my good lady).
  • Can print to printer or disk file. Option to print the formulae as well as the calculated values. This is useful for documenting or debugging the model. It’s also possible to print selected areas.
  • Finish – back to resident operating system (eg, CP/M, MS-DOS, etc).
  • Sorts calculated or entered numbers or text by suitably shuffling rows.
  • Load, save, delete and other disk file operations. Of particular note: Multiplan can read Visicalc data files, or read/write files in a well-documented external interchange format, as well as using its own internal disk format. As it can also print to disk, it is extremely versatile in its file-handling.
  • Can optionally be used for entering formulae or numbers.
  • Split screen facility.
  • Used to read in answers calculated by one spreadsheet as raw input data for another. Can be used for ‘consolidation’.

Documentation

The documentation is comprehensive, clear and well-written. The bulk of it is in a stout ring-bound manual (minor niggle – the rings are not circular and tend to snag the pages when you are turning them quickly). It has obviously been put together with the sort of thoroughness we would expect from Microsoft, right from the Contents page at the front to the Index at the back. The basic material provided is:

  • System-specific instructions. How to create your working disks under your particular operating system.
  • Organised as seven lessons. Gives you key by key instructions, starting with simple cursor moves in lesson one through to multiple work-sheets at the end. Well illustrated.
  • In alphabetical order, everything you need to know about the command, key-strokes and formula-functions. Also includes a list of all system messages, together with advice on what to do when you encounter them.
  • Extra helpful information, including a glossary and notes for Visicalc experts – a nice touch!
  • Quick Reference Guide. A separate pocket book (16 pages), being a condensation of the reference section in the main manual.
  • Help Screens. Comprehensive instructions on-screen for every command and a few of the other facilities.
  • With this breadth of documentation, there should be something to please all levels of user. Complete beginners can try the tutorial. Experts will probably just use the quick reference guide or help-screens and everyone can make good use of the comprehensive index.

Sirius slip-up

Having given the Apple version a thorough work-over, I arranged a joyride on somebody else’s Sirius. The article was nearly complete – I just needed to pencil in the Sirius Benchmark times and then off to Mustique for yet another three weeks.

First problem: Sirius version of Multiplan manual temporarily mislaid. Well, I should know the system well enough by now. So, in preparation for Benchmark 1, I quickly set up the first 12 columns by 200 rows of the spreadsheet. (Readers familiar with the benchtests will know that this results in a display of 1.. 12 in the first row, 13. . 24 in the second, etc.)

Next I needed to set up column 13, each cell in it being the sum of the previous 12 in the row. Easy! Just use the row-sum function in column 13 of row 1, and then copy it down to all cells below it. Unfortunately I couldn’t remember the correct syntax for using it. Anyway, after experimentation I found that ‘SUM(C1:C12)’ at least did not give a formula error message, but it did seem to be displaying the wrong answer. Okay – time to copy it. Well, much disk-whirring and clanking, then watch the calculation count-down on the VDU display. 45 minutes later; I’m still waiting and the disk is still whirring and clanking and countdown’s still not finished – I’m frightened to switch off in case I corrupt the disk (it’s not mine, anyway) – can’t stop it at the keyboard, etc. Anyway it took about 50 frustrating minutes.

So, what went wrong? Well, basically a minor slip-up in my use of the SUM formula. I eventually got it right (by using a help-screen, what else?): ‘SUM(RC[-12]:RC[-1])’ and the whole test was over in under a minute. The formula I had originally used did not add the row up, but calculated the whole 12 x 200 array of numbers, and of course this formula was then copied 200 times down the column – a bit of a hefty number-crunch!

Anyway, the moral of this story is: make a good effort to learn Multiplan’s cell referencing – it could save you a long wait!

Conclusion

We have taken a fairly fast swoop right through the major facilities and features of Multiplan; so fast that some very valuable features, not generally available in mere state-of-the-art spreadsheet systems, may have gone unnoticed. Just for the record.

Multiplan gives you:

  • If you need to sort columns of figures or text then it is impossible to do this without a ‘Sort’ command.
  • Multiple worksheets. Results from one worksheet can be communicated to another, useful for consolidation.
  • Multiple split-screens. Very flexible facility to design VDU screen display of spreadsheet.
  • Flexible file handling. In particular data interchange with other software is feasible, and Visicalc data files can be read (but not written! – no doubt Microsoft doesn’t want to encourage users to migrate that way!).
  • Available on 16-bit microprocessor (8088/6). The new 16-bit processors can handle a lot more memory, and spreadsheet systems which have been properly installed on them can use this extra memory for setting up bigger spreadsheets (see Benchmarks).
  • Comprehensive help-screens. In addition to these. Multiplan also provides more mundane, but by no means universally available, facilities – such as cell references by names, formula protection, formula printout, print to disk and formula editing.

Certainly Multiplan has a lot of facilities to offer, but what is it like to use? Well some minor complaints here: the row/column numbering scheme increases the amount of typing for formulae. You have to consider replication consequences when you enter a formula, rather than when you do the replication, you have to choose the ‘Alpha’ command before you enter text (okay, it’s only one extra character, but most other spreadsheet systems don’t do it this way). To balance these minor grumbles are comprehensive error messages, and understandable prompts for all input.

So finally, my advice to spreadsheetless owners of Apples, CP/M or MS-DOS systems, or to anyone looking for an upgrade: put it near the top of your list!

Benchmarks and other measurements

These tests were run on an Apple II system with 64k of RAM (which is in fact mandatory) and an 80-column display card (which is optional). Available space for the spreadsheet itself amounted to 21k. Figures are also included for the Sirius (with 128k of RAM, and theoretically extendable to 800k+), running MS-DOS and allowing greater storage space for the spreadsheet. Where the Sirius figures are different they are appended in parentheses after the Apple figures.

Incidentally, a Sirius retails for around £2500, and the nearest equivalent Apple system (but with lower disk capacity, half the RAM, 8-bit processor) would be around £1750.

  • Spreadsheet size: 63 columns wide by 255 rows.
  • Numeric precision: 14 digits.
  • Max column width: 32 characters.

The benchmark tests are described in ‘Which Spreadsheet’, PCW Feb 1983.

Benchmark 1: (a) max rows accommodated: 95 (235); (b) recalculation time: 60 (55) seconds – ie, 1.5 (4) rows per second: (c) recalculation time: 60 (55) seconds; (d) vertical scrolling: 6 (6) rows per second; horizontal scrolling: 4 (4) columns per second.

Benchmarks 2: max rows of text accommodated: 190 (Sirius not tested).

Benchmark 3: max rows of numbers accommodated: 190 (Sirius not tested).

Price: Around £150.

Checklist

Documentation: 400+ pages, contents, tutorial, reference, index, quick reference and help-screens. Well-illustrated. Excellent.

User-friendliness: Consistent and easy to use — cell-referencing can be a little tricky!

Error-handling: 20+ error messages. Erroneous calculations (eg, zero-divides) displayed as special error values.

Facilities: Arithmetic and other functions: +, -, *, /, %, string operations, logic, descriptive statistics, trig, logs, look-up and more besides!

Configuration: version tested easily configured for different types of Apple screen.

Graphics: a let-down compared with the other facilities!

Interface to other software: specifically can read Visicalc files, and print to disk. Can also be interfaced to other software using data interchange format (requires programming skills to do this).

Spreadsheet overlays: yes – can do consolidation or merge information into existing spreadsheet.

Turnkey: Apple version is turnkey with all disk formatting, copying, etc, achievable without recourse to Apple DOS.

Insertion, deletion and replication: yes.

Display flexibility: just about everything you could possibly want. Excellent.

Protected cells: yes.

Formula printout: yes.

Formula editing: yes.

Automatic/manual recalculation: yes.

Out of memory: memory left permanently displayed. Recovers correctly when it runs out of memory.

Long jumps: can jump directly to any specified cell.

Sorts, searching and logic: yes.

First published in Personal Computer World magazine, April 1983

Say it again SAM

SAM001

Nigel Cross lends an ear to a Shakespeare-quoting speech synthesiser for the 48K Apple II.

Despite its dubious acronym – Software Automatic Mouth – and its origins with a Californian company named Don’t Ask Computer Software, SAM turns out to be a pleasant kind of character.

In fact, this combined hardware and software package for the 48K Apple II is far better than its trite packaging (awful cartoon character on silver box) and slender instruction booklet indicate.

Setting it up

Once the box is discarded SAM manifests itself as a disk and a small PCB. The board has to be located in slot 4 of the Apple, then two pieces of wire are connected to the internal speaker pin and loudspeaker.

For best results a medium size speaker of four to eight inches is recommended to give an acceptably ‘rounded’ voice. A volume adjustment is also included so that if you don’t like your neighbours you can really give them a hard time.

For more volume you could wire the output to an amplifier – but be careful. The internal speaker is disabled and all sound output is passed through SAM.

Having got this far the disk can be loaded and the demo programs run. These programs include a short story about SAM and its capabilities. Another program is a small selection of famous speeches – Hamlet’s soliloquy was definitely interesting but SAM is certainly no Olivier.

The other two should be avoided if only for the content – Allegiance to the Flag and Gettysburg Address.

Up and Running

By this time most people would be falling about in fits of laughter, but don’t let this put you off. The real part of the package is very good and easy to use.

To make things easy a subroutine ‘reciter’ is included so that by encoding an alphanumeric string and performing a call. Reciter decodes English into phonetics, then SAM utters them through the speaker.

This method is very fast and its efficiency is something to marvel at. The English is decoded according to about 450 rules of English pronunciation and copes very well with all sorts of combinations of letters – even absolute gibberish.

An interesting note on this function is that ‘goodnight’ is pronounced correctly whereas ‘goodnite’ becomes ‘goodnit’.

This use of SAM is obviously limited by the nature of direct translation and does not incorporate much capability for stress, inflection and intonation – not to mention dialect.

However, strings of invective and expletives are wonderfully effective and, in fact, woke up someone in the next room.

Having decided to pass on to SAM itself, the booklet comes into its own. Data passed to SAM can be structured according to the dictionary and by the simple expedient of encoding a phonetic string then issuing a call.

SAM uses about 60 phonetic units, which are noted on a quick reference card, to produce its sounds.

By analysing the words, phrases and sense of what you wish your computer to say using the phonetic reference chart and the dictionary, comprehensive structures can be compounded.

A word of warning – SAM has a ‘breath’ capacity of only 2.5 seconds, so be sure to encode a pause within the time limit. Unexpected pauses ruin the overall effect.

Once the data has been encoded phonetically it is then possible to add emphasis on a scale of 0 to 9 to every part by including a digit of appropriate value at correct places in the data.

The phonetic writing of compound statements is not easy to start with, but after a little practice it almost becomes second nature (depending on your own accent) and the results turn out to be very pleasing.

As regards the ‘voice’ of SAM, the first impressions are very reminiscent of a tired and emotional Mexican speaking with his mouth full of chilli, but a bit of effort and thought makes it clearer.

Verdict

This package is very impressive with great scope available to the user for personalisation of program prompts or actual enunciation of data.

The ‘voice’ becomes clearer with use, but even using just the Reciter function all speech is understandable.

Within its capabilities this is one of the best-implemented speech synthesisers available.

  • Name: SAM (Software Automatic Mouth)
  • Machine: Apple II 48K
  • Manufacturer: Don’t Ask Computer Software
  • Price: £102.35 inc vat
  • Outlet: Pete & Pam Computers

First published in Personal Computer News magazine, 1st April 1983

Review MPF-II

MPFII_Main001

Tim Langdell discovers whether the 64K MPF-II really is an Apple at far less than half the price.

Taiwenese Multitech has pushed a new contender into the £200 colour-computer arena. Its MPF-II is a 64K 6502-based machine with six colours and a Basic which bears far more than just a passing resemblance to Applesoft. In fact the MPF-II is almost identical to a 64K Apple II – but without the expansion potential – and will run most Apple software.

About 32K of RAM is available to the user, and a further 16K or so is required for the video pages. It uses 16K of ROM, which again seems very similar to the Apple II. Indeed the few Calls we made to the ROM produced the same results as on our Apple. For instance, Call -932 cleared the screen, and Poking location 33 enabled us to set the line length to any given value.

Positive keyboard

The MPF-IIs unattractive casing is flat and light-grey, about 7in. wide by l0in. deep, by about 1in. high – it is rather like an Apple in a Spectrum case. The keyboard is of the calculator type, although it has a more positive feel than many on the market. Multitech claims an inexpensive add-on typewriter-quality keyboard is also about to be released.

As soon as you begin to work with the MPF-II its similarity to the Apple becomes apparent. There are three modes: text, low and high-resolution graphics. The text mode is black and white only, but six colours are available in either of the graphics modes. The lower-definition graphics mode has a resolution of 40 by 40, while the higher is 280 by 192. The MA command moves the screen memory to another location, and there is a choice of two high-resolution screens. The first leaves four text lines at the bottom of the screen: the second leaves just one line for, say, error reports.

The MPF-II has a full QWERTY keyboard with larger keys for Return, Space, Control and Shift. There is also a reset button, which is set precariously close to the 0 key, and four cursor keys. The keyboard is uncluttered, but hides many secrets.

Use of templates

The first of the two templates supplied with the machine reveals that the keys provide a full range of graphics functions, accessed by pressing CTRL B followed by any key. There are a total of 49 graphics ranging from a variety of line-drawing aids, through block graphics, to hearts, clubs, diamonds and spades.

The second template presents the surprise; pressing Shift and CTRL at the same time – they are conveniently adjacent – along with another key produces a full key-word on the screen. Thus you can type words in the normal manner, as well as use the Sinclair approach of single-key entry. Offering both is an excellent idea, and using templates instead of cluttering the keyboard is ingenious.

At the back of the MPF-II are sockets to attach either a domestic television or a video monitor. There are also Mic and Line sockets for your cassette recorder, and one for an AC plug. On the left-hand side is a printer interface, a plug-in ROM socket and a labelled RCB.

This socket is for the £10 Remote Control Box – or either a Chinese-character generator, an additional keyboard, or an £80 speech synthesis and sound-generation box.

The MPF-IPs Basic is excellent and, as stated, virtually identical to Applesoft. It may well represent the most powerful Basic available with a machine which costs less than £200. Table 1 gives a list of the key-words.

Capacity for graphics

Although the MPF-II can use only six colours, it can plot them in even the highest resolution. This is in contrast to all the other sub-£200 computers on the market which either limit the number of colours available in the high-resolution mode to two, or only allow definition of colour by character squares – for example, the Spectrum.

The MPF-II is thus capable of very good colour graphics in a limited range of colours. This is enhanced by an excellent facility again, as offered on Apples – to be able to draw shape tables in memory using Draw, XDraw, Rot, Scale and SHLoad.

With these commands you can display a defined shape in memory on the screen, either as it was written into memory, or scaled up or down, or rotated through a given number of degrees, or drawn in the complement colour – XDraw. In addition it is possible to load such shapes onto cassette or disc and recall them again astounding abilities for such an inexpensive computer.

The Basic contains all the standard data and variable handling key-words along with such unusual but very useful commands as OnErr Goto – when an error occurs a Goto is executed – On Goto, and On Gosub. The two graphics resolutions are set by either GR for low resolution or HGR for high.

Drawing lines and plotting points are easily produced with commands such as Plot, VLin, HLin – drawing horizontal and vertical lines  – and Scrn which returns the colour code of the point defined. The printer can be switched on or off using PrtOn and PrtOff – and one presumes that these two replace the more extensive Prt# commands on the more expandable Apple II.

The ability to delete blocks of lines from programs using Del is welcome, but the Basic sadly lacks a renumber routine. Screen editing, Multitech claims, is possible by moving the cursor to the line on screen with an error and retyping it. However this full screen-editing facility did not seem to work on the review version.

A rather interesting plus for those used to other inexpensive microcomputers is the fact that like the Apple the MPF-II has a built-in monitor which can be Called from Basic. Once Called, memory locations and register situations are displayed. With simple one-key commands you can disassemble any area of the memory map into 6502 mnemonics.

Hex dumps are also possible, and there is also a facility for testing areas of RAM for certain bytes, moving bytes in blocks to other locations, and reading and writing machine code to tape or disc. Multitech has included two such systems, one for its own system, and one compatible with the Apple II.

Although sound is clearly possible with the MPF-II, directions on using it are not given in the manual. The useful Diagnostic Nurse supplied with the MPF-II runs a check on most aspects of the machine, including a display of its sound capabilities, which are essentially duration and pitch variations. Like the Apple, the MPF-II has a Trace facility to aid debugging. Unlike the Apple II the MPF-II is not expandable, but it will soon have a disc drive, the speech synthesis and sound-generation board mentioned earlier and Pascal and Forth. A Chinese-language unit has already been produced which allows Chinese-speaking users to work in the Dragon symbol system. Excellent plug-in ROM games are available, and the Invaders and Bridge provided with our system were of excellent quality. A £110 printer will also appear soon, producing 150 lines a minute in a 40-character-per-line format.

Conclusions

  • The MPF-II offers excellent value at around £200.
  • The fact that it is compatible with the Apple II means that an enormous amount of software is already available for it.
  • It is the only £200 microcomputer with true high-resolution colour graphics, and offers a Basic which until now is to be found only on machines as expensive as the Apple II or a BBC Micro.
  • The excellent idea of having the option of either single-key entry or normal entry of key-words should mean that the MPF-II satisfies everyone.
  • It would make an excellent training machine, especially with its good, built-in monitor, but also a good
    home computer for the game player or a low-cost computer for the small businessman.
  • Clearly, anyone who has been attracted by the Apple’s facilities but not by its price will seriously consider this micro as an inexpensive alternative.
Table 1. Keywords
CHR$, ASC, LEFTS, RIGHTS, MIDS, POKE, PEEK, WAIT, CALL, USR, HIMEN, LOMEN, LIST, LISTx,y, DELx,y, REM, INPUT, INPUT” “, GET, DATA, READ, RESTORE, LET, DEF FN, GOTO, GOSUB, IF-THEN, FOR-TO-STEP, RETURN, POP, ON GOTO, ON GOSUB, ONERR GOTO, GR, COLOR, PLOT, HLIN, VLIN, SCRN, HGR, HCOLOR, HPLOT, HPLOTTO, HGR2, SIN, COS, TAN, ATN, INT, RND, SGN, ABS, SQR, EXP, LOG, PRTON, PRTOFF, HC, CONTROL, MA, MP, LOADT, SAVET, LOADA, SAVEA, LOADD, SAVED, DRAW AT, XDRAW AT, ROT, SCALE, SHLOAD, SPEED, TAB, SPC, POS, HOME, NEW, CLEAR, FRE(O), DIM, VAL, STRS, TRACE.

First published in Your Computer magazine, October 1982

Franklin Ace 1000 – Apple Work-Alike

FranklinAce

By Chuck Carpenter

Having one personal computer that will do most everything l want to do has always seemed highly unlikely. That is, until I tried the Franklin Ace 1000, an Apple work-alike computer from the Franklin Corporation.

By simply including a standardized, full size ASCII keyboard, the Ace 1000 comes close to meeting all my requirements, primary among which is word processing. Others include communications, hardware testing, and software development for business purposes (test, measurement and control, not accounting or inventory).

Let’s take a closer look at the Ace 1000; perhaps it will meet your requirements, too.

Features

One of the first things you notice is the size of the Ace 1000 assembly. Some of this added size is width necessary to accommodate the length of the full size keyboard. Inside, extra space is needed for the large power supply and the spacious main circuit board.

Extra space on the circuit board means more room between components and between cards in the expansion slots. With more room between parts, cooling is improved and heat related problems are less likely to occur.

Additionally, the power supply has a built-in fan, which is noisy but not objectionably so. Besides keeping the power supply cool, the fan circulates air inside the computer case to aid in component cooling.

Table 1 shows the published specifications of the Ace 1000. In using the system, I have listed some additional features which should be of interest to prospective purchasers and users.

Most significant is the full-size keyboard. It includes a sculptured design to aid the user, and the layout of the keys is similar to an IBM Selectric. All the key functions worked properly with the languages and programs I tried.

Keys on the keyboard are individually replaceable. Manufactured by Keytronics, the keyboard uses capacitive switches so there are no contacts to wear out. The “feel” is somewhat spongy with a certain amount of tactile feedback to the user. I am used to a keyboard like this so it didn’t bother me.

All keys on the keyboard are repeat keys. Consider how much help this feature is when using a word processor. Text editing involving extended cursor movement is greatly improved, for instance.

Two special keys called PAUSE and BREAK are included on the keyboard. These are especially useful in Basic and Pascal programming. PAUSE generates a CTRL-S and BREAK generates a CTRL-C.

Memory for the equivalent of a 16K RAM expansion card is included on the main circuit board. Slot 0 is not needed for this application. A cut-and-jumper area is included to allow you to use slot 0 if you need to.

Cassette capability is not included with the Ace 1000. However, space for the circuit components is included in the circuit board etch (see Figure 1). I suspected that some of the Ace 1000 features used the memory space originally occupied by the cassette input/output (I/O) routines, and on investigation this turned out to be the case. Therefore, the cassette routines are not available in the firmware. Because the Ace 1000 is not considered a hobby machine, the cassette interface was not included.

Figure01

Figure 1. Circuits for cassette interface are included in the circuit board etch. However, the cassette input/output routines are not included in the monitor firmware.

Booting with the Ace 1000 Master Disk allows you to enter Floating Point Basic in lower-case. (Similar to Basic-80 under CP/ M.) When you list a program the lower-case commands and statements are converted to upper-case. Any variables entered in lower-case remain in lower-case. Under control of the Ace 1000 Master Disk, a lower-case filename is saved in upper-case. Integer Basic is converted directly to upper-case as you type.

When you boot with an Apple II Master Disk, you can enter Floating Point Basic in lower-case but not disk operating system (DOS) commands. Also you can’t save a program using a lower-case filename. For Integer Basic, you must press the shift lock key and enter everything in upper-case.

Otherwise, the operation and functions of the Franklin Ace 1000 are the same as the Apple II. A few minor problems arise because of the differences in keyboards. These will be discussed in more detail later. Table 2 is a summary comparison of Ace 1000 and Apple II features.

Hardware

Generally, the hardware is much like that of the Apple II. Power supply capacity is greater – about 65 watts for the Ace 1000 and 40 for the Apple II. Memory expansion (16K) is built in, or you can use slot 0 for memory expansion of your choice. To use slot 0, you make cuts to a designated block on the main circuit board.

There are several other memory options you can select through cuts and jumpers with this board option too. They are described in the User Manual. A reset button is provided under the left front edge of the case.

Operating the Ace 1000 is much like running an Apple II. I removed all the cards from my Apple – except the language card – and inserted them in the Ace 1000. Without exception, all of them worked.

I used the dual drives from my Apple for most of the test. Drives available from Franklin are Micro-Sci drives (reported to be manufactured under license by Franklin). I tested single Micro-Sci drive and controller and both worked without any apparent problems.

To gain further assurance I tried a sampling of software from my collection. Other than the minor problems alluded to above, everything worked. Table 3 summarizes the peripheral cards and software I used in the evaluation of the Ace 1000.

Software

Because most all Apple programs expect upper-case input, you must press the shift lock key to make them work (the minor problems). For instance, with Super-Text, the character X is used to print a file. A lowercase x wouldn’t execute. Furthermore, a filename typed in lower-case wouldn’t save. Upper-case filenames worked fine.

Another difference, again with Super-Text, concerns shift key operation. With the Apple II and a Videx Keyboard Enhancer, a certain key sequence is required to make the shift key work typewriter style.

By experimenting, I found a sequence that performed a similar function with the Ace 1000 keyboard. First, ADD mode is selected. Next, the shift lock is pressed, followed by a CTRL-C. Now the shift lock or shift key generates upper-case characters. Using a CTRL-P, the code for starting a paragraph, caused the steps just described to terminate their response. My solution was to use the tab function to indent paragraphs.

In addition to the Super-Text word processor, I tested Word Star running under Apple CP/M. My test was rather limited but showed that it worked at least enough to write a short letter, save it, recall it, and make local and global changes.

Included in the Ace 1000 service manual is a patch for the Applewriter II word processor. The patch lets you modify Applewriter so it will recognize the keyboard features of the Ace 1000.

Software provided with the Ace 1000 is limited to a Master Disk. Most of the programs are utilities and are much like those included with DOS 3.3. Each program is described in the Users Manual. Diagnostics are also included on the master disk. These utilities will help you locate a problem should you experience difficulty in operating the system.

Except as noted earlier, all programs from the Apple II master disk worked. Integer Basic was loaded into the expansion RAM and it worked too. In fact, the utilities such as the mini-assembler and those from the programmer’s aid ROM worked very well.

Along with a check on the machine language utilities, I tried PEEKs, POKEs and CALLs from the Integer and Floating Point Basics. As expected, as long as no routines from the cassette I/O are used, all access to memory locations functioned properly.

Documentation

Documentation is rather sparse. The Users Manual is all you get. If you want to learn any more than how to operate the machine, look elsewhere. There are no descriptions of programming languages included in the manual.

In fact, there is less information in the Ace 1000 manual than there was in the first Apple II manual. At least the original Apple manual included memory usage, a summary of machine language and Integer Basic commands, and sample programs. I expect some improvement in the area of documentation very soon.

If you are considering purchasing the Ace 1000 as a second Apple-like computer, all you need to know is how the new system works. More than likely you will already have all the documentation you need to describe programming languages. If Ace 1000 will be your first machine, locate and purchase as many of the Apple II manuals as you can.

Conclusions

For those who want to use a personal computer as a word processor, the Franklin Ace 1000 is an excellent choice. The full size upper and lower-case keyboard is a delight to use. This review was written on the Ace 1000.

If you want a system, as I do, with flexibility, ease of expansion, and functional utility, the Ace 1000 will do the job quite nicely, especially if you are considering a second computer and already have documentation. Software for personal, business, professional, and development applications is available through many sources.

If you are interested in color graphics, however, forget it. The Ace 1000 generates only shades of grey and black and white (assuming you use a black and white monitor). A color adapter board is “soon to be available.” It will plug in to one of the expansion slots.

Based on my evaluation of the computer, I suspect that any software or peripheral that will work on an Apple II, will work on the Franklin Ace 1000.

The Apple II is probably to be at the peak of its product life right now and, the Ace 1000 should help to stimulate the market for Apple-compatible products. The new Apple work-alike products won’t injure the Apple market, they will enhance and sustain it.

One caveat: make sure the company manufacturing your Apple work-alike will support the product. Franklin appears to be establishing the required support network. High Technology, the local distributor, has been involved with factory training programs through Franklin. In turn. High Technology provides training and support for its dealers.

Franklin Computer Corporation, 7030 Colonial Hwy., Pennsauken, NJ 08109

Table 1 – Franklin Ace 1000 Specifications
Microprocessor 6502 at 1.022 MHz
Text 40 characters x 24 lines standard

5 x 7 upper/lower case

Direct lower case entry

Normal, Inverse, Flash

Graphics Black and White only

40 horizontal x 192 vertical

40 vertical with 4 text lines

Hi-Res Graphics (B&W) 280 horizontal x 192 vertical

160 vertical with 4 text lines

Cost $1530 Processor

$579 Drive & Controller

$479 Drive without Controller

EME/RF1 FCC Class A Service

Class B pending

Memory 64K bytes of RAM

250ns access time

6 EPROM sockets (2716)

Keyboard 72 keys upper/lower case

15 key Visicalc pad

2 special function keys

I/O Joystick/paddle connectors

8 expansion slots

Physical 17.75” x 4.5” x 19.75”

15 pounds

Power 115 VAC, 60Hz, 65 Watts

 

Table 2. Franklin Ace 1000 Comparison
Item supplied Apple II Ace 1000
Full upper/lowercase keyboard No Yes
Cassette interface Yes No (1)
Color graphics Yes No
Black and white graphics Yes Yes
Visicalc 15-key keypad No Yes
80-Character columns (2) No No
Power supply with fan No Yes
64K RAM memory (3) No Yes
Mini-Assembler (4) Yes Yes
Floating Point routines (4) Yes Yes
Sweet-16 interpreter (4) Yes Yes
Programmer’s aid routines (4) Yes Yes
(1) Circuitry of components included on the main circuit board

(2) Videoterm or equivalent board suggested

(3) 16K equivalent expansion board built-in to Ace 1000 main circuit board.

(4) Available with soft-loaded Integer Basic or Integer Basic ROM card

Note: A ROM card or memory expansion card can be used in slot 0 if appropriate cuts-and-jumpers are added to the selection block area of the main circuit board.

 

Table 3. Franklin Ace 1000

Peripherals and Software Tested

Peripheral Software
Microsoft Z80 Softcard Super-text II
Apple Controller 2 Drives Sargon II
Wesper 80-column Video Board Space Eggs
Mountain Computer Clock Gorgon
Wesper BPO Printer Buffer Universal Boot Initializer
Apple Parallel Printer Board Flash! I/B Compiler
Micro-Sci Controller & Drive (1) S-C Assembler 4.0
Hayes Modem II Data Capture 4.0/80
  CP/M & Basic-80 (MBasic)
MPC SIO Serial Printer Board Locksmith 4.1
  CP/M & Wordstar W/P
  Visicalc
  Pascal
(1) Optional drive supplied by Franklin

First published in Creative Computing magazine, January 1983

Microsoft Excel

Microsoft Excel is a powerful, sophisticated spreadsheet which runs under Windows and has the potential to overtake Lotus 1-2-3 in the popularity stakes. But how do its features compare with those of its established Macintosh relative? Anthony Meier finds out.

Microsoft’s new spreadsheet program, Excel, looks set to leave Lotus 1-2-3 and its lookalikes well behind in the spreadsheet stakes. It promises to be the most powerful and user-friendly spreadsheet written to date. It is being introduced as the third generation spreadsheet for personal computers, and is designed primarily to run on machines based on the 80286 and 80386 microprocessors. Macintosh users will be familiar with this program already, as a version of Excel has been available for this machine for 24 months or so (see the ‘Function comparison’ box for a comparison between the two versions).

Overview

Excel is a sophisticated piece of software which offers many advanced spreadsheet facilities and programming features, an integrated onsheet database and a wide range of charting and graphing facilities. It is the first spreadsheet in the MS-DOS environment to offer interactive, dynamic linking of worksheets, a one-step automatic macro recorder and high-resolution output. It runs under Microsoft’s Windows 2.0 and takes full advantage of all its facilities, providing multiple worksheets in overlapping windows onscreen, pull-down menus and full mouse operations.

Excel001

Excel makes use of the ability of Windows 2 to have a number of spreadsheets open at once. The arrows at the top left size the windows. The most obvious difference from Excel on the Apple Macintosh is the use of colour.

A run-time version of Windows 2.0 is bundled with the program for users without the full version. A version of Excel is also planned for the OS/2 operating system. Windows 2.0 has an identical interface to that of OS/2 with Presentation Manager, so Excel users should find making the transition to that new operating system easy.

The machine I used for the review was a Dell 286 with a 20Mbyte hard disk, EGA card, colour monitor and mouse. I also had an AST card installed which increased the memory from 640K to 2.5Mbytes to give more room for testing large spreadsheets. There is only about 140K available for data on a standard 640K machine.

Installing the program on the hard disk was very simple. It involved inserting the setup disk, typing ‘setup’, and following the instructions given on the screen. These asked for the other disks supplied to be inserted one by one until all the necessary files had been copied across. I was supplied with 14 disks, eight of which contained the files for Excel, the other six were files for run-time Windows.

In use

When the program had been installed and loaded, I found Excel very simple to learn and use. Virtually all of the user-friendly features of the combinations of clicking, double-clicking and dragging.

The mouse can be used to give all the commands and instructions you need in Excel. It saves you from having to learn and type in commands at the keyboard, and makes program operation very fast. You can also keep your eyes on the screen instead of continually glancing at the keyboard. However, keyboard lovers can still use the keyboard instead of the mouse for all the commands and operations they need – even moving and sizing windows. Pressing the ‘Alt’ key makes the menu bar active, then pressing the underlined letter of the menu title you want (or using the cursor key and Return) pulls down that menu. Finally, pressing the underlined letter of the command you want (or using the cursor key and Return) invokes that command. Pressing the ‘Esc’ key cancels the menu selection.

The mouse, however, does make it quick to select a cell, or cells, for data entry – you just move the pointer to the cell you want and click to make it active. You then need to use the keyboard to type your data in. The mouse can also make operations like inserting and deleting rows and columns, and cutting, copying and pasting cells, very fast.

The mouse also comes in handy for entering cell references into formula. Instead of typing in a cell reference, you only need to point and click on the cell in question for its reference to be automatically inserted into the formula. Dragging the pointer across a range of cells inserts that range into the formula. And you can include references to cells on another spreadsheet (linking the spreadsheet) just by clicking on the cells in that other spreadsheet. This saves time setting up formulae and speeds up the creation of models.

Spreadsheet handling with Excel is very impressive. You can have several spreadsheets, charts and macro sheets onscreen at the same time, each one in its own window, like so many pieces of paper. You can shrink or expand the windows, depending on which one you are working on, and you can transfer information easily from one to the other.

Spreadsheets can easily be linked, allowing you to consolidate figures from as many different spreadsheets as desired. Because you can work on many spreadsheets at once, you can see the effects of changes in one worksheet on other linked worksheets immediately on the screen.

Each spreadsheet has a maximum of 16,384 rows by 256 columns, and it is easy to move quickly to any desired location using the mouse on the scroll bars along the sides of each window. Column widths and individual row heights can be adjusted easily with the mouse. Each window has a horizontal and a vertical split bar which you can use to divide the window into a maximum of four panes, to see different parts of a spreadsheet next to each other. You can also open up new windows for the same spreadsheet if this is more convenient. As you are expected to have many windows fighting for space on your screen, there is a window menu which lets you select the window you want to bring to the top of the others.

Functions

Excel has all the features and functions you would expect to find in a top spreadsheet package, such as cell protection, calculation options and zero suppression. It has an ‘undo’ feature that can reverse your last command if you make a mistake, and it also has a matching ‘repeat’ feature that you can use to repeat your last command.

Excel only recalculates those cells that have changed since the last calculation, thus speeding calculation. It also uses ‘background’ calculation which lets you continue working while it recalculates. And it doesn’t require you to wait until all the cells have been calculated before you can start working again, which is nice.

Excel has more functions than both Lotus 1-2-3 version 2 and Excel for the Macintosh. The box on page 140 gives a comparison, although functions alone should not be used as a guide to a program’s overall capabilities.

Many of Excel’s functions are similar to those of Lotus 1-2-3, so 1-2-3 users should be able to build spreadsheet models with Excel’s functions without too many problems. Some of the interesting new functions provided by Excel are as follows:

  • The ‘information’ function, CELL(type-of-info, reference), returns information about the formatting, location or contents of the upper left cell in ‘reference’. CELL(“width”, F13), for example, would give you the column width of cell F13. CELL(“format”, B12) would give you information on the cell formatting.
  • The text function, CODE(text), returns the numeric ASCII code of the first character in ‘text’. CODE(“Alphabet”), for instance, would equal 65. CODE(B5) would equal 70, where cell B5 contained the text “February”.
  • Excel can be used for working on arrays, which are groups of two or more values that can be used like a single value in formulae and functions. Excel also has matrix functions which can be used for working with these arrays. The matrix function, MMULT(array1,array2), returns the product of two arrays, where both arrays contain only numbers. This might be written as MMULT(A1:B2,D1:E2).

Compatibility with Lotus 1-2-3

Many of Excel’s new users are expected to be previous Lotus 1-2-3 users, and Microsoft has developed tools and functions within Excel to make learning and using the program easier for these users. The features will also help Excel integrate more easily into a Lotus 1-2-3 environment.

For beginners, two-way file compatibility enables spreadsheets to be exchanged between the two programs. Then there is a useful 1-2-3 macro translator that can automatically convert nearly all 1-2-3 macros into Excel macros. A ‘1-2-3 Help’ facility lets users type in the command sequences they would have used in 1-2-3 and automatically gives them the corresponding Excel commands.

Presentation features

Excel002

Fonts, type styles and colour can be used to enhance the appearance and logic of a spreadsheet both onscreen and when printed. Debits, for example, could appear in red

Excel’s presentation facilities are very impressive, and provide you with a wide range of screen display and printing options. You can turn the spreadsheet grid on or off, show or hide the row and column headings, switch them between R1C1 and A1 according to your personal preference, and choose between different font types and sizes. You can use up to four different fonts on one worksheet – individual row heights will automatically adjust to accommodate the font sizes you choose. There are 19 number-formatting options which are meant to be used for things like date formats, decimal places, commas and negative brackets.

Excel007

An Excel worksheet can be as plain or as detailed as you want, with grid lines and headers being optionally shown in various colours and styles.

Individual cells can be emboldened, underlined or italicised. You can add shading, create boxes or lines around cells or blocks of cells, and control screen colours to enhance the appearance of the screen display or printed document. You could have all the positive figures in a column display automatically as blue, and all negative figures red, for instance. All these facilities help you to produce printed documents that rival word processor output and can be used for final reports and presentations.

There is a page preview facility to let you see a miniature version of your page as it will look when printed out, which is very useful for checking pages before printing them. It is also useful for viewing large spreadsheet models like a map to give you a better idea of what they look like.

Printing

A wide variety of printers and plotters are supported, and your own printer and plotter drivers can be installed during the ‘SETUP’ procedure. High-resolution graphics printers are required if you want to take advantage of the graphics output of the program – a laser printer would be ideal.

Excel includes a sophisticated printer spooler that lets you queue up print jobs, control the printing operation and continue with your work while they print in the background.

Charts

Excel003

Charts are created by selecting an area of data and then choosing a chart style option. Charts are automatically updated as the data changes.

Excel has sophisticated charting and graphing facilities. A wide range of charts can be summoned instantly from selected spreadsheet cells and will change shape automatically if the cell contents are changed. You can see a chart in one window change as the data in the spreadsheet window alongside it is altered.

To create a chart from data in your spreadsheet, you first need to select the data you want to chart. This can be done by dragging the mouse across the relevant cells to highlight them, then you select the ‘File New’ command and click on the ‘Chart’ option. This creates a new chart window that automatically contains a default-type chart built up from the values in your highlighted cells.

The program has 44 pre-designed chart formats grouped into seven types of charts: area, bar, column, line, pie, scatter and combination. When any of these is created, the program provides default labels and designs. The charts are highly customisable, however, and most of the parameters can be altered to suit your own requirements. You can alter the colours, add text labels and legends, and scale the chart horizontally or vertically to get it to look just the way you want.

Excel004

Many chart styles are available. The ‘help’ system includes a cross-reference to Multi plan and 1-2-3 commands, so users who know what to do in those programs can transfer across.

Auditing & documenting

Excel has very useful auditing and documenting features. These help you check the logic and formulae in your model, track down errors and discrepancies, and document your model for your own reference and for other users. You can attach notes to any cell and view them using the ‘Show Window Info’ command. This command also shows you other information such as the cells that contain references to your active cell (dependents) and the cells that it refers to (precedents).

You can use the ‘Formula Select Special’ command to highlight all the dependents and precedents in the worksheet for easy identification. You can also automatically find all the cells with notes or those containing a particular formula.

These features are a great help when you are creating or amending a spreadsheet model and when you are checking its logic. They reduce the risk of missing important cells and making errors.

Excel has sophisticated cell-naming features, too. You can name each cell in a block of cells automatically by using a combination of the titles in your row and column headings. You can easily find cell references in a spreadsheet and replace them with names, and you can find cell names.

You can define a name which is not attached to a particular cell, but which refers to a value: ‘INFLATION’, for instance, can be defined to be ‘4%’. Then, whenever you use the name in formulae in your spreadsheet (and in other spreadsheets) it will equal 4%.

Macros

Excel005

Macros can be created line by line or recorded; this allows Excel to ‘learn’ a process that the user performs. A separate module allows for the conversion of 1-2-3 macros.

Excel has powerful macro facilities which let you pre-program the system to perform calculations and operations automatically. Excel macros have their own programming language and are created on separate macro sheets which are handled in the same way as spreadsheets. The macro commands are typed into cells in a column and, like cells on a spreadsheet, can be deleted, copied and moved around. You can have as many macro sheets as you want, and as many different macros as you can fit on each macro sheet. The macros can then be used with any spreadsheet.

You can incorporate branches and loops into your macro, and control can pass from one macro to another if certain conditions are satisfied. You can create ‘intelligent’ macros to interact with the user for example, to prompt for information at certain stages, using dialogue boxes.

There is also a group of macro commands for customising the appearance of the program itself. You can set up your own menu bar and menu options, and create your own commands and dialogue boxes. You can use these facilities to effectively create your own custom applications within Excel.

The automatic macro creation facility can be used to build macros if you want to avoid programming – this works by simply recording actions you perform. The ‘Record’ command starts the macro recording, after which you can perform the task you want to record. When you have finished, you give the ‘Stop Recorder’ command. When the macro has been recorded, it can be edited and added to just like any other macro. In fact, you can see your macro being created line by line as you perform the actions it records. You can do this if you place the macro sheet window next to your worksheet window.

Macros can also be used for creating new spreadsheet functions; these are called function macros as opposed to the command macros just described. The 131 functions already available cover most of the standard purposes I can envisage, but function macros can be created for more complex, customised requirements. A function macro called ‘PAYE’, for example, could be set up to calculate the tax due for a given set of variables such as gross pay, tax code, month, and so on. Function macros can be used in formulae in the same way as standard functions.

Database

Excel006

It is possible to create forms for the entry of information into a database section of an Excel worksheet. There is provision for creating search criteria for finding records.

Excel has on-sheet integrated database facilities with 11 database functions and a new feature, an automatic database form interface. Any rectangular area of the spreadsheet can be designated as the database area, after which its rows become database records and its columns database fields. All the database functions, like ‘EXTRACT’, ‘DSUM’ and ‘DMAX’, are then available for acting on the information, but these don’t interfere with other spreadsheet functions which can be used as normal.

The ‘Database Form’ command is used to bring up the automatically created form window, which you can use to enter, edit, delete and find records. The form resembles the standard form layout screen that many database programs provide, and makes using the database very simple.

The macro facilities can be used in conjunction with the database facilities to perform customised database operations and create customised database applications.

How Microsoft Excel compares to the Macintosh version

On running the Windows version of Excel for the first time, I was amazed at its similarity to the Macintosh version. The look of the spreadsheet with its cell grid, the cross pointer, the menu options and the way in which the mouse operated are all the same. The ways in which you create macros, databases and charts are the same, too. On closer inspection there are a few differences, all of them turning out to be improvements. The Windows version I used did not seem to be as fast, however, but the final release version should be faster as all the debugging code will have been removed.

The Windows version has all the features of the Mac version with many more besides. The first new feature difference I noticed was a status line at the bottom of the screen that gives brief explanations of each command as you move through the menu options – very helpful for the first-time user. Another feature is that you can choose between short and full menu options: short gives you the most commonly-used commands and may be more suitable for beginners; full gives you the complete range of commands.

On the Mac version you can adjust only column widths on a spreadsheet, but on the Windows version you can adjust the row height of individual rows as well. You can also use more than one font on a worksheet. Both these features give you a lot more flexibility in designing models and spreadsheet reports.

On the Windows version, there is a new ‘Arrange Windows’ command that automatically resizes and fits all your windows into neat boxes on the screen to let you see them all side by side. I found this feature very useful when my screen became cluttered with several spreadsheet windows.

The ‘Resume Excel’ feature from the Macintosh version has been enhanced in the form of the Workspace feature on the Windows version. This lets you save all open worksheets and window arrangements you are working on for any particular project as a workspace file, to which you can give a name. You can then reload that workspace file (or any other) if you wish to continue working on that project, and all your worksheets and windows will be opened up exactly as they were when you saved them.

The auditing and documentation features of the Windows version, described in the main text, are an important new addition that make the Windows version useful and practical, and there are also many new spreadsheet functions (see the ‘Function comparison’ box).

There are other differences too, but for day-to-day operations the programs are basically the same; and a Macintosh Excel user should have no problem at all getting to grips with complex spreadsheets on Excel for Windows. However, the Windows version offers more features and functionality which power users will find very useful indeed.

Data transfer

Data transfer facilities are very important, as you may often need to import data from other programs to Excel in order to perform analysis and create reports from it. Excel can read and write files in any of the following formats: text, CSV (comma separated values), SYLK, WKS and WK1 (Lotus 1-2-3), DIF, DBF2 and DBF3 (dBase II and III). This is a comprehensive range and facilitates the exchange of data with a wide variety of programs.

The Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE) protocol resident in Windows can also be used by Excel to exchange data with other programs running under Windows.

Documentation

The Excel manuals are well up to Microsoft’s usual standard, and I didn’t have to refer to them too often since the program’s menu options are fairly self-explanatory.

Conclusion

Excel is an impressive program, and there is no reason why it should not ultimately overtake Lotus 1-2-3. It has superior power and ease of use, more facilities, and it is easy for 1-2-3 users to upgrade to. I have been a regular user of Excel on the Macintosh for some time, and I am confident that Excel for Windows will serve me equally well.

Function comparison      
Function Type Lotus          1-2-3 Excel (Windows) Excel (Macintosh)
Maths/Trig 17 26 18
Logical/Special 18 34 23
Text/String 18 21 8
Date & Time 11 12 10
Financial 11 13 8
Statistical 7 14 11
Database 7 11 7
89 131 85

Anthony Meier is a chartered accountant and computer consultant.

First published in Personal Computer World magazine, December 1987