Business-like, isn't he?


 

 



PerForm Pro

by Alan Zisman (c) 1992. Originally published in INPUT, May 1992 (where it was mis-credited to Ross MacDonald.

One of the unkept promises of the personal computer 'revolution' is the so-called "paper-less office"... a vision of a future work environment where memos would circulate as e-mail messages, and all of our forms and files would be stored on disk, available as needed.

Instead, computers have teamed up with laser printers to become major contributors to the deluge of paper in which we're drowning.

Canadian software company, Delrina Technology doesn't have the solution, but their PERFORM PRO form designer and filler
software has the potential to move us one step closer to that elusive goal, while increasing office productivity in the process.

Forms make up about 30% of the paper used in a typical office; $2 billion is spent each year buying forms, but about $60 is spent processing forms for each dollar spent on their purchase. PERFORM PRO can help in two ways-- using it, forms can be designed in-house, meeting the users' unique needs. Even more powerfully, however, PERFORM's filler module (also available separately), permits users to fill in forms directly on a wide range of personal computers, eliminating the need for 'hard copy' paper forms entirely.

 FORM DESIGNER

PERFORM PRO's form designer module is a Microsoft Windows
product. (An earlier version of the program, PERFORM, designed to run on PC's using the GEM environment, is still available at a reduced price). As with all Windows applications, it provides users with a graphical screen; the form is designed on screen, using tools similar to desktop publishing or a paint program.  Unique to Perform Pro is the Comb -- this tool makes it easy to lay out forms with evenly spaced horizontal or vertical divisions. If the area is resized, these divisions automatically adjust to the changes.

Once a form has been designed, it could simply be printed out, for further re-printing. Aside from then adding to the clutter of paper in most business environments, this would be passing up on Perform Pro's real strength.

 FILL FORMS ELECTRONICALLY

Rather than creating more paper clutter, would be to use one of the PERFORM family of form fillers to process forms directly on your computer. The Windows version of the Perform Filler is included in the PERFORM PRO package. Versions are also available for DOS (text screen), DOS (GEM environment), and MacIntosh. All versions share file information, and priced inexpensively enough to permit purchase of several copies to accompany a single copy of
the designer package.

Employees using the form fillers are unable to design or alter forms; instead, they fill in information on screen. Related forms can be grouped into folders-- for example, customer invoices could be grouped together with payment records, or personnel forms with payroll forms. Entering a name on one form would cause it to be entered on all related forms in a folder, saving time and minimizing errors.

Forms can be designed to include graphics-- potentially useful for personnel or real estate forms, for example. Bar codes can be created and included on forms, in a variety of formats. As well, forms can be set up to automatically perform simple arithmetic (calculate totals, and add on GST and PST for example), or to use lookup tables. Data can be saved and accessed in DBase format, ASCII format, or in Perform's native format.

The Filler includes a number of sophisticated options for printing data. While forms may simply be printed, a page at a time, complete with data, this is by far the slowest method. If pre-printed forms are available, a user may choose to send the just the data to the printer. As well, if using an HP Laserjet or IBM laser printer, the form layout information may be sent to the printer as a macro. This lets the printer lay out the form design just once, adding the data only, rather than having to start from scratch on each new page. These options are clearly explained in the documentation.

 SECURITY CONCERNS

Security can become a problem in an electronic data sharing
environment such as this. Perform Pro provides an optional  module devoted to minimizing this problem. The person installing the software is asked to provide a
password. After that, they provide a user list, and the program randomly creates passwords for those users. In addition to controlling user access in this way, persons issuing forms can be provided with secure, electronic 'signatures', ensuring that only they can 'sign' their names to electronic documents.

 INSTALLATION

Perform Pro must be installed from Windows. It gives the user a number of options, such as whether to install the security module or some or all of the 122 sample forms included. In each case, the amount of hard drive space required is indicated. As well, Perform Pro users are given the  option of installing the Agfa Type Designer system, for providing screen and printer fonts for a wide range of printers. A full installation will take up about 6 megs. Eliminating the fonts,  which are redundant if another type manager such as Adobe Type Manager is in used, will get the installation down to a more reasonable 3 megs. Even a minimum installation installs both the designer and filler modules; while the filler module can be purchased separately, the designer module is only sold as part of the complete system.

The system comes with a wide range of sample forms, which can be easily modified to meet a user's unique requirements. It is well documented, including separate manuals for program set up, and for the Designer and Filler modules. It does fall down in the area of on-line help, however; while it makes use of the standard Windows help system, the help provided is only a sketchy outline of the menu commands. I was unable, for example, to get help for a process as basic as importing a graphic.
 

If your business makes use of forms (and what business doesn't), this software is well worth considering. If used to its fullest potential, it can result in significant productivity and cost benefits, even for a small business. As well, users can get that warm glow from using a product that is truly environmentally friendly.
 

 PRODUCT SUMMARY

Perform Pro Forms Designer and Filler
from:
Delrina Technology
1945 Leslie Street
Don Mills, Ontario
M3B 2M3
1-800-268-6082  Fax (416) 441-0333

list price: $594 (CDN)-- (Has been on sale in Vancouver for  as low as $149.
 Form FILLER module-- available separately in Windows,
 GEM, or DOS Text Editions, (MacIntosh version  expected) $239 (CDN) list.

 PerForm 2.1 (older GEM version) --Designer and Filler--
 $179 (CDN) list.

Windows version requires a Windows-compatible computer (see sidebar), with Microsoft Windows v.3.x already installed, and 3-6 meg of free hard drive space.

PROS: This Windows product offers a powerful system for forms design and filling. It provides true on-screen display of forms and data, and (relative) ease of use. Form FILLER module can be purchased separately, for multiple users.

CONS: A weak on-screen help system. Can not purchase or install just the Forms Designer module.


(Note from the year 2003): The above article was originally published in 1992, as a review. A decade and more later, I've gotten a series of emails from XTree fans hoping that I could sell them a copy of this software or direct them to a place where it is still available. While I have reviewed software since 1991, I am not a vendor of r any products. I suggest to everyone looking for copies of older software to check at eBay or at OldSoftware.com.If you check on my Files webpages, you'll find links to a number of (mostly freeware) downloadable software, some of which may be good replacements for older programs.
-- AZ (September 15, 2003)


Google
Search WWW Search www.zisman.ca



Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan