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The Many Qualities of SuperCalc5

RICHARD O'REILLY <i> designs microcomputer applications for The Times</i>

There is an appealing strategy behind SuperCalc5, the latest version of the personal computer spreadsheet program that has been around even longer than best-selling Lotus 1-2-3.

The strategy is this: First, give customers as much or more power and flexibility than competing spreadsheets. Then, give them the option of using Lotus commands to run SuperCalc5 to make it easier for customers to switch from Lotus 1-2-3 to SuperCalc5 or to use both. Also, allow users to print annual report-quality charts, tables and reports directly from spreadsheet data. And do all of that with a program that runs on virtually any IBM PC or compatible computer.

Computer Associates, the nation’s largest independent software publisher, drew inspiration for SuperCalc5 from its mainframe graphics programs. It also offers mainframe spreadsheets that are compatible with their PC counterparts.

A spreadsheet program makes working with numbers easier, doing everything from automatically totaling a column of sales figures to calculating a table of monthly mortgage payments to predicting how visible stealth aircraft will be to radar.

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SuperCalc5’s programmers may not be any smarter than their counterparts at other major spreadsheet publishers, but they have packed an impressive array of features into a compact, efficient package.

One way they did it was to forgo fancy typography on the screen, except when charts or graphs are being displayed. Because of that decision, the program will run in as little as 512 kilobytes of computer memory. An old PC/XT, even one with monochrome graphics, will do just fine.

Thus, you can just spend your money on the laser or color printer needed to produce the fancy reports and graphics instead of spending it on a powerful new computer or upgrades to your old machine to run the program. SuperCalc5 will even run a typesetter if you really are producing a corporate annual report.

Of course, if you happen to have a new computer with a fast 80386 microprocessor and 32 megabytes of memory and a colorful VGA monitor, SuperCalc5 will take advantage of all that to run faster and look better on screen.

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Simple Commands Used

Broad compatibility with Lotus 1-2-3 is a must for any spreadsheet that hopes to find a place on corporate hard disks. SuperCalc5 is compatible in several ways.

First, there is file compatibility. You can open any Lotus release 1 or 2 spreadsheet file (though not release 3) in SuperCalc5, work on it and save it as a Lotus file without having to go through a conversion process.

Simple Lotus macro commands, which execute a series of actions with a single keystroke, will run in SuperCalc5, but more complicated macros have to be converted using a SuperCalc5 command.

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Second, you can make SuperCalc5 look and behave much like Lotus by executing a special command that causes the program to mimic the 1-2-3 menu structure. That menu, however, will be near the bottom of the screen, like SuperCalc5’s normal menu, instead of at the top like Lotus.

The disadvantage of running SuperCalc5 in its Lotus mode is that it is more difficult to use the advanced features that make SuperCalc5 different.

A major strength of SuperCalc5 is the flexible way that more that multiple spreadsheets can be tied together so that changing one also changes related values in the others. A single file can contain up to 255 related spreadsheets, each of which is considered to be a “page” of the file. (Lotus also introduced that feature in its new release 3 of 1-2-3.) When a multipage file is loaded, all of its pages are in memory and parts of three pages can be displayed at one time. Moving back and forth among any of the pages is easy and cells on one page can be linked to cells in any or all the other pages.

Jazz Up Reports

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For instance, a simple multipage file might contain a spreadsheet of expenses and revenue for each month of the year. The 13th page could be a year-end summary automatically calculated from data on the 12 monthly pages.

If memory permits, up to 255 separate files can be open at a time in SuperCalc5 and they can be a mixture of single and multipage spreadsheets as well as a mixture of native SuperCalc5 files and Lotus files.

If your computer doesn’t have enough memory to open all the spreadsheets you need at once, it also is possible to link cells in an open spreadsheet to cells in other spreadsheets stored on the disk. For instance, in the example above, the year-end consolidation could be a separate file from the multipage monthly sheets. The monthly figures would be automatically gathered from the monthly spreadsheet while it was still stored on the disk and the totals would appear on the year-end spreadsheet that was open on the screen.

SuperCalc5 works well with laser printers. It even knows about most of the popular type fonts available for such printers. You can jazz up your printed reports up to eight different type sizes and styles. But you can’t see what they look like on the screen, which makes it hard to keep track of what you are doing, especially when you update old spreadsheets.

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The selection of two- and three-dimensional charts and graphs is excellent. For on-screen display they can be colored with up to 71 hues if you have a VGA monitor. There are several chart types that you won’t find in other programs such as a combination pie-bar chart and 1-column, 2-column or 3-column word charts.

The manuals are clear and comprehensive. But the on-screen help text will answer most users’ questions.

The lasting popularity of Lotus 1-2-3 in the face of rival programs with more features has shown that the spreadsheet market is very conservative. SuperCalc5 makes the transition simple, however, both in its hardware requirements and its command structure.

Computer File welcomes readers’ comments but regrets that the author cannot respond individually to letters. Write to Richard O’Reilly, Computer File, Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053.

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THE SPECS

SuperCalc5

This is a powerful spreadsheet program that offers advanced features on IBM PC or compatible computers. $495.

Features: Two- and three-dimensional spreadsheets of up to 255 pages. Single-page and multi-page files can be open simultaneously. Sheets stored on disk can be updated from sheets open on screen. Large selection of chart and graph types. Excellent laser printer support with multiple type styles printed on a page. For each group of three network users, there is an additional $495 charge. Runs under OS/2’s DOS compatibility mode.

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Requirements: IBM or compatible PC with hard disk and minimum of 512 kilobytes of memory, expandable to 32 megabytes. Color or monochrome graphics monitor.

Publisher: Computer Associates International Inc.; 1240 McKay Drive, San Jose, Calif. 95131. Phone: (408) 432-1727


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