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Two Programs for PC Novices, Old Pros

Richard O'Reilly designs microcomputer applications for The Times

Most newcomers to personal computing hope that their machine will make their work easier. But first you must learn how to operate the computer and the software, and that sometimes is difficult enough to keep new users from getting very far.

Two programs, however, have the happy distinction of being easy for newcomers to learn, yet powerful enough to serve the needs of many experienced users.

Both come from Software Publishing Corp. of Mountain View, Calif., which established a good reputation with its “PFS:” series of programs for the IBM PC and its clones.

PFS: First Choice is Software Publishing’s first integrated program. It combines word processing, database, spreadsheet and telecommunications into a single package.

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First Choice is suited for computers with floppy disk drives or a hard disk. It also is an excellent program for portable computers with built-in modems that use the MS-DOS operating system.

The other program is Harvard Presentation Graphics, which lets you create text charts, organization charts, pie charts, bar charts, line charts, area charts and stock market high-low-close charts. You can produce the images on dot matrix, color and laser printers, as well as on plotters and slide makers.

First Choice is designed for the vast majority of computer users who have relatively simple tasks and neither the time nor the inclination to become experts. The program comes on two disks (only one if you’re using the 3 1/2-inch disks of a portable computer) and needs between 256 and 384 kilobytes of electronic operating memory, or RAM, depending on which version of MS-DOS you use.

Program operations are selected from menus. If you need to work with an existing file, a directory appears showing the names of all your files categorized by the type of file--text, database or spreadsheet.

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Regardless of the file you choose, you can copy sections of whatever you see on the screen into any other file. That makes it very easy to include tables from a spreadsheet in a report written with the word processor.

Word processing text is displayed just as you would see it on the printed page, complete with left, right, top and bottom margins. Margin settings are easily changed.

You won’t find any fancy features like the ability to format the text into multiple columns, automatically create an index or make right margins even, but you can check your spelling.

The database is similarly simple. All you do is type the names of the data fields you want to store (such as name, address and city) on the screen and then enter the data. Then you can just as easily design specialized reports to print out the data just the way you want. You can do mathematical calculations on selected fields of data too. The spreadsheet is slow and doesn’t rival the power of Lotus 1-2-3, but it has some nice features, such as space automatically reserved across the top of the columns and down the side of the rows for entering labels.

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First Choice can automatically enter the months of the year across the columns. Columns also automatically expand or contract according to the width of text or numbers stored.

Formulas in the spreadsheet can be given names like SalesTotal, making it easier to reference them in other formulas. Copying formulas within a spreadsheet is tedious, however.

This is not meant to be a heavy-duty program. It’s for small spreadsheets, small databases and light report writing or correspondence. If your needs don’t exceed those bounds, First Choice could easily be the last choice you’ll have to make as well.

It is especially important that a graphics program be simple because it tends to be used infrequently. Harvard Presentation Graphics fills that bill, letting you easily create well-designed graphics to illustrate virtually any kind of business presentation.

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The program requires an IBM PC or compatible computer with at least 256K of RAM. A hard disk is desirable but necessary only if you use a film recorder. Likewise, a graphics videocard, either monochrome or color, is desirable. But if you’re willing to forgo seeing the chart on the monitor, waiting for the printout instead, this is one of the few graphics programs that will run on a monochrome card-equipped PC.

Making charts is as easy as highlighting a series of choices on the menus and typing in the appropriate text and numbers.

The design problems have already been solved. Formats are available for title charts, plain lists and lists marked with bullets and two- and three-column tables. You also can make a free-form text chart. A variety of type styles and type sizes can be used, and you can add color.

To create a simple organization chart, you only need to type into one column the name of a manager and into the other column the names of that manager’s subordinates. You can put up to eight levels of management and 32 names on a single chart.

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Charts and graphs based on numbers are also easy to make, either by typing in the numbers in the form provided or by using numbers imported from just about any spreadsheet or database program. Such charts may be customized and annotated in various ways.

If you want to create the kind of basic charts and graphs that have come to be associated with business presentations, Harvard Presentation Graphics will do it about as easily as possible.

Neither First Choice, $179, nor Harvard Presentation Graphics, $395, is copy protected. Further information is available from Software Publishing Corp., 1901 Landings Drive, Mountain View, Calif., 94039-7120, phone 415/962-8910.


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