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Framework II a Big Improvement

Richard O'Reilly designs microcomputer applications for The Times

There were those who thought that integrated software--programs that can perform a variety of business tasks--would supplant single-purpose programs back when integrated software such as Framework was introduced four years ago.

It hasn’t turned out that way. Neither Framework nor its principal rival, Symphony, was able to match the success of single-purpose software such as Lotus 1-2-3, WordPerfect or dBASE.

That hasn’t stopped Framework’s publisher, Torrance-based Ashton-Tate, from continuing to hone its program, however. The recently introduced version, Framework III ($695), is a substantial improvement over the first edition.

Integrated software offers several advantages: a common set of commands for the various functions, easy switching from function to function and the ability to put data from the spreadsheet and database into word processing documents.

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But there are several reasons why integrated software never became a hit. The programs tended to be big and complicated, and they took awhile to learn well enough to be useful. Also, they were Jacks-of-all-trades, but masters of none. You could buy more powerful word processors, spreadsheets and database software with separate programs.

Moreover, integrated software packages are generally more costly than single-purpose products, so users really had to need the added functions before they could justify the extra expense.

Framework III, however, has advanced to the point that its individual functions--word processing, outlining, spreadsheet, database, graphing and telecommunications--are as powerful as needed for probably 95% of business users. Therefore, it is an attractive, cost-effective alternative to single-purpose programs. The manuals and the on-screen tutorial are an improvement as well, and you can quickly learn to do basic tasks with each of the software functions.

Structural Component

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The name Framework reflects the program’s structure, which is unlike any other software product. All work is done inside an image of a frame on the computer screen--a rectangular shape bordered with a double line. A frame is more than just a graphic device, however. It is a structural component around which the program is organized.

In most programs you organize your work into individual data files, but in Framework you organize your work into individual frames. Depending on what kind of data you put into a frame, the frame may be a separate, identifiable file, or just part of a larger file. That is because frames can be used to contain other frames, or they can be used to merely contain data. This gives you flexibility in assembling and modifying a complex document made up of the contents of several or more frames, perhaps more flexibility than you would have dealing with a collection of separate files. You can label each frame with a name, whether it is a distinct file or not, and that is how you keep track of them.

There are four kinds of frames: one for outlines, one for word processing (which can double as a containing frame to house the other three kinds) and one for spreadsheets and one for databases. You can start with an outline frame to sketch your ideas and then flesh it out by copying or moving the contents of other text, spreadsheet or database frames into the appropriate places in the outline as needed.

Navigating among all those frames is probably the most difficult part about learning Framework III, especially if you are already familiar with other more traditional software. It is fairly easy once you master it, however. If you use a mouse as a cursor pointer, navigation is more intuitive.

Word processing in Framework III is reasonably complete and easy to use. It includes a spelling check function as well as a thesaurus that gives parts of speech, definitions and synonyms. Optional dictionary and thesaurus disks are available in 10 foreign languages.

Some page layout options are available, such as putting graphs and data tables side by side on a page or printing the page in multiple newspaper-style columns, but they are rudimentary compared to the typographical sophistication of big-league word processing or desktop publishing programs.

Linking Cells

One of the big differences you’ll notice between Framework III spreadsheets and those of single-purpose spreadsheet programs is that you give them a size when you create them. Thus, if you need only a few columns and rows for your data, you create a small spreadsheet just large enough to contain them, which conserves scarce operating memory.

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You also can link a cell in one spreadsheet to a cell in another spreadsheet, allowing you to compute a value in one sheet based on a number in another, for instance. You also can link a region of cells in one spreadsheet to a single cell in another. That feature makes it easy to consolidate spreadsheet numbers, for instance to create a company summary sheet from individual departmental spreadsheets.

A nice enhancement in the latest version of Framework is the ability to average a group of cells and not get the wrong answer because some of the cells are empty. You’ll find all the basic mathematical and financial functions.

A Framework III database frame works much like any other database. It allows you to create, view and revise lists of data. The data can be displayed either as content in a data entry form, like a Rolodex card entry, for instance, or in tabular form with rows and columns of entries. The table can be sorted alphabetically or numerically on multiple columns as you choose.

Not surprisingly, since Ashton-Tate also publishes dBASE, you can create dBASE data files in Framework that can be used directly in dBASE III or IV. You also can import or export data from dBASE and other standard database formats to and from Framework’s file structure.

Companion Program

Graphs may be created from data selected either from spreadsheet or database tables. You have a choice of bar, line, pie, scatter points or high-low-close styles of graphs.

Framework III handles all of the typical telecommunications functions, including computer terminal emulation for specialized mainframe connections. Links with commonly used data services can be automated through use of telecommunications macro commands available in Framework III. (A macro replays a series of commands).

A $100 companion program sets up an electronic mail system on local area networks, allowing you to send and receive messages and files. The mail program is included with the $995 local area network version of Framework III that allows up to five simultaneous users.

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Finally, for the experts among you, there is FRED, the Framework programming language, with which you can create full-fledged accounting systems or virtually any other kind of specialized application that can be built out of text, spreadsheet, database, telecommunications and graphing capabilities.

The applications you make can be added to the Framework III menu so that they can easily be called upon to do their work.

FRAMEWORK III: THE SPECS An integrated business software package combining word processing, outlining, spreadsheet, database, graphing and telecommunications. Features Word Processing: Improved formatting, search and replace, footnoting, 80,000-word spelling checker, 470,000-synonym thesaurus, foreign language dictionaries, single-keystroke insertion of boilerplate text. Outlining: Automatic numbering in Arabic or Roman numerals, rearrange document by rearranging outline. Spreadsheet: Up to 32,000 by 32,000 cells, faster recalculation, unlimited sorting, auto formatting of stock fractional quotes and other numbers. Database: View as data table, custom form or dBASE-style, create dBASE files, six data types (character, numeric, date, time, logical and formula), unlimited sorting. Graphing: Use database or spreadsheet as source, bar, stacked bar, line, scatter points, X-Y axis and pie charts, print full size on laser printers, link to database or spreadsheet for auto redraw when numbers change. Telecommunications: One-key log-on scripting, dials voice calls from phone list, mainframe terminal emulation, multiple file transfer protocols. Electronic Mail: Modem or optional local area network modes, attach files to messages, unattended delivery or receipt, password protection. Requirements IBM PC, PC-XT, PC-AT, PS/2 or compatible computer with 640 kilobytes of RAM operating memory. Hard disk recommended. Supports mouse and expanded memory. Local area network version. Price $695 for single-user version. $100 for single-user local area network electronic mail. $995 for five-user local area network version. Publisher Ashton-Tate, 20101 Hamilton Ave., Torrance, Calif. 90502-1319, (213) 329-8000


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