Borland International on Wednesday unveiled Quattro Pro, the successor to Quattro, its 2-year-old spreadsheet program. I've tested a preliminary version of the program and I'm impressed--very impressed.
Spreadsheet programs are used to perform calculations on numbers that are organized into rows and columns. When you revise a figure or modify a formula, all numbers affected by the change are revised as well.
The Borland announcement comes on the heels of Lotus Development Corp.'s release of two new versions of Lotus 1-2-3, the program that dominates the IBM PC spreadsheet market with a share of more than 70%. Lotus 1-2-3 Release 2.2, which is a modest upgrade to the previous version, runs on just about any IBM compatible machine.
Lotus 1-2-3 Release 3 is an entirely new program with lots of bells and whistles. However, it will not run on older computers, such as an IBM XT; it requires a machine with the faster Intel 80286 (or 80386) central processing unit and at least a megabyte of memory. Millions of IBM compatible machines do not meet these specifications. Quattro works on virtually any IBM-compatible PC equipped with a hard disk and at least 512K of memory. Microsoft Excel, another leading spreadsheet program, like Lotus 1-2-3 Release 3, requires a computer with the faster Intel processing unit or a Macintosh.
Quattro is not a program that sacrifices one feature for another. It's easy to use, heavy on features and doesn't require a lot of memory or a state-of-the-art computer.
To begin with, it is compatible with Lotus 1-2-3. That's important if Borland expects to win defectors from the Lotus camp. The program is also able to load files from any version of Lotus 1-2-3 except Release 3. You can also display Lotus 1-2-3 graphs and you can use Lotus 1-2-3 macros. A macro is a sequence of instructions that enables a user to perform a complicated task in as little as one keystroke.
Easy to Copy Formulas
It's possible to configure Quattro so that it uses the same menus and commands as Lotus 1-2-3, but the program also comes with its own set of menus that, at least for me, made it easier to use. Unlike Lotus 1-2-3, Quattro allows you to use a mouse to select menus, issue commands and highlight portions of your data. I was able to use the program productively after only a few minutes of practice; even less experienced users should have little trouble learning it. The use of the mouse, combined with the program's superb graphics, made me feel almost as if I were using a Macintosh.
The program is able to work with up to 32 spreadsheets at a time. An individual spreadsheet can take up the whole screen or can be reduced in size to fit in a window. The program can automatically arrange the windows on the screen so that it's easy to use the mouse or the keyboard to move among them.
A formula in one spreadsheet can refer to data or formulas in another. That could be handy if you were consolidating data from several spreadsheets. For example, if you were developing a national budget based on reports from four regions of the country, you could load each report into the computer's memory and quickly consolidate the data.
Quattro also makes it easy to copy formulas or data from one work sheet to another. Each spreadsheet is saved as a separate file. But several files can be identified as belonging to a group so that they all can be loaded into memory with a single command.
All the major spreadsheet programs allow you to create business graphics, but Quattro takes it several steps farther. Creating a graph is easier than it is with Lotus 1-2-3. As with Excel, you begin by using your mouse or arrow keys to highlight the data you want included. You then select the type of graph (choices include bar, pie, column, stacked bar and others). If your data is set up in a standard column format, you can get an immediate graph by selecting the "fast graph" option. But you can also customize the graph.
Can Create a Slide Show
The most impressive feature, called "annotate," provides you with a set of drawing tools that let you draw lines, arrows, circles, boxes and other shapes. You can also enter text and modify the graphs. Graphs can be placed anywhere on the screen or on the page when printed out. It's also possible to use the graphic feature to create a slide show to use during a presentation.
Quattro comes with fonts from Bitstream, which, along with the graphics, give it the ability to create impressive screen displays and printouts. Because it operates in graphics mode, all fonts can be displayed on the screen or generated on a dot matrix or laser printer. I used the program with an inexpensive Epson compatible dot matrix printer and was impressed with the results.
Not surprisingly, the program was very fast on my 386 machine, which is equipped with three megabytes of memory. But it also works on IBM XT compatible machines with as little as 512K of memory. To test the program, I deliberately disabled most of my computer's memory so that only 435K was available. The program worked well, even after I had loaded in 11 spreadsheets. It wasn't as fast as it was in the larger system, but it did work.
The ability to run in machines with relatively little memory is increasingly important.
Most IBM compatibles have no more than 640K of memory and a lot of machines are now connected to local area networks that require running special software that uses part of that 640K. That's not a problem if you're running small, simple programs that don't take up much memory. But Quattro is a full-feature program. Programs with help screens, graphics, windows and other features generally take up a great deal of memory.
Quattro uses a programming technique, called VROOMM, which breaks the program into hundreds of small modules, called objects. An object is typically two kilobytes to four kilobytes in size. The program has a control center always in memory that keeps track of what the user is doing and loads in modules as needed.
As a result, the entire program doesn't have to reside in the memory. This creates more room for data, which is why it was possible for me to load multiple spreadsheets in only 435K of memory. Because it must load coding from a disk, there is a slight delay, but it is minor compared to the advantage of being able to use large spreadsheets on the old or low-cost PCs.
Quattro Pro, which will cost $495, is expected to be available some time before the end of this year. It requires an IBM PC compatible computer with a hard disk and at least 512K of memory.
Features: Quattro Pro is a full-feature spreadsheet program that offers a wide variety of mathematical and financial functions along with graphics and database management. It is able to display up to 32 files at a time and has a unique memory management system that allows the user to work with large amounts of data on machines with as little as 512K of memory. It is able to use files created with Lotus 1-2-3.
Manufacturer: Borland International
1800 Green Hills Road, Scotts Valley, CA 95066, (408) 438-8400, FAX: (408) 439-9273
Requirements: IBM PC-compatible computer with a hard disk and at least 512K of memory.