Work, even the work that we do at computer keyboards, is seldom without interruptions. The telephone rings, and you need to take down a note from a caller or schedule a meeting.
Or you're writing a report and reach a crucial spot where you lack enough information to finish. You need to call the person who knows the answer. Or you need to perform a few mathematical calculations.
Two programs marketed for the IBM-PC and compatible computers that are designed to accommodate just those kinds of varied tasks are Spotlight, $149, published by Software Arts, and The Desk Organizer, $149, published by Warner Software Inc. (The Desk Organizer is also available for Apple Macintosh.)
While they offer outwardly similar features--calculator, note pad, telephone list and dialer, appointment scheduler--the approach of the two programs is quite different.
Spotlight is meant to be an auxiliary to the programs you regularly use, running in conjunction with them. The Desk Organizer is presented more as a stand-alone program, which can also be used in conjunction with other programs.
These differences are nowhere more apparent than in the computer memory requirements of each program. Spotlight takes 75K of RAM (the computer's operating memory) while Desk Organizer requires at least 128K and optimally 192K.
It's likely that those who use their computers for major tasks such as spreadsheet analysis or serious word processing or database applications will find Spotlight more suitable to their needs.
Opens a 'Window'
On the other hand, those who want to use their computers primarily to manage their time-setting schedules and keeping track of appointments, placing numerous telephone calls, writing short notes and business letters and minor information filing, will find Desk Organizer tailored to their needs.
These differences are readily apparent as soon as you see each program in action. Spotlight uses only about half the screen, opening a "window" through which you peer at the function you have called. You can call several functions in succession, and each appears in its own window largely overlapping the previously opened windows.
Desk Organizer, on the other hand, takes the entire screen, dividing it into seven partitions to provide you various bits of information to help you keep track of the many pieces of information it may contain.
Both programs are best suited to use on hard disk-equipped computers if you intend to run them in conjunction with other programs.
I found Spotlight a delightful program to use, and quite handy. One of its nicest features is a file manager that shows you all the files on your disk and allows you to instantly sort them in various ways and to easily view their contents, copy them, delete them or rename them. It is much easier than doing the same tasks with DOS operating system commands.
The calculator imitates the common simple electronic calculator and offers no advantage except that it's on your screen and will automatically "paste" results into whatever file you are working on, be it word processing, spreadsheet or whatever.
The appointment book is quite nice, giving you a look at your daily schedule, allowing you to set alarms to beep you at appropriate times. It is easy to view the calendar of whatever day you choose.
The phone book should be a popular feature. If your computer is equipped with a Hayes or Hayes-compatible modem, Spotlight will dial the telephone number for you. All you have to do is display the proper number on the screen, put the cursor on it and type "D" for dial. (Both programs use single-letter commands to invoke their functions, using the first letter of words describing the function.)
An index-card function provides up to 500 "cards", each up to 12 lines long. They can be stored under up to 36 separate indexes.
The other major function is a note pad. It contains only eight pages, electronic slips of paper really, each limited to 14 lines long. Unfortunately, neither the contents of index cards nor the note pad can be pasted into the other program open on the screen.
Desk Organizer has much greater note-taking capabilities than Spotlight. In fact, it can be used as a miniature word-processor; the limitation being that no single document can exceed 2,500 characters, or about 400 words. That makes it sufficient for one-page letters but no more.
Included is the ability to adjust page margins, line spacing and number of lines on a page as well as controls to invoke special printer features such as boldface printing and underlining. You can also store stock paragraphs for repeated use in your letters.
It, too, has a calculator, but it is more sophisticated than Spotlight's in several ways. It lets you run a "tape" on the screen, displaying your entries for easy verification. It also lets you store sophisticated mathematical formulas and run them.
The calculator rivals the function found in many spreadsheet programs, recognizing the major algebraic and trigonometric functions. In fact, the program comes with a variety of useful formulas for business and investment use.
To organize your notes, you may create a number of indexes under which to store them. Each note can be given one or more labels, the names of which are shown in a list easily scrolled on your screen. That makes a nice cross-reference available.
Ability to Customize
The appointment scheduler does the same thing as that of Spotlight, but it is not as visually attractive and not quite as easy to use. It gives you more alarm options, however, offering the choice of a beep, chimes or a flashing visual symbol. The telephone dialer and phone list also requires a Hayes or Hayes-compatible modem to work. Like Spotlight, it lets you set up long-distance calls that allow use of access codes of the sort needed for Sprint and MCI services.
Among the advantages that come with Desk Organizer's greater size and complexity is the ability to customize many of its commands to your tastes, choosing from a series of alternatives.
Desk Organizer can be used while you run another program if you've got enough memory and if the other program is not running in a graphics mode. Although Desk Organizer does take over the entire screen, a simple keystroke returns you instantly to the other program.
The choice of which one to buy depends on how you use your computer. Both do useful work. Spotlight is faster, visually more attractive, easier to use and more limited in what it can do.
Desk Organizer, on the other hand, may be the only program that many computer users need for organizing basic office tasks.
The Computer File welcomes readers' comments but regrets that the authors cannot respond individually to letters. Write to Richard O'Reilly, Computer File, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles 90053.