Business in Vancouver: News that works for you

    These are a few of my favourite things--a sampling of software selections for all reasons

    by Alan Zisman (c) 1996 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #348 June 25, 1996   High Tech Office  column

    I get a lot of software as free evaluation copies, but I end up keeping only about 10 per cent of it on my computer. I also try out a fair amount of shareware--software that can be freely downloaded from on-line sources, but should be registered if it's used on a long-term basis. Again, maybe one in 10 is a keeper.

    So here's a list of the software I like: be aware that like my choice of shoes, what's comfortable for me may not fit someone else. I could pretend that my choices are "the best," but the reasons for my choices are often subjective, and sometimes quirky.

    While I'm running Windows 95 versions, almost everything I've listed has a Windows 3.1 equivalent, and nearly all have Mac versions as well. Put them all together, and it's a 250-meg package. Here goes.

    For a word processor, I'm running Microsoft Word, the current industry standard. I prefer the Windows 95 version--I love the way it underlines misspelled words while I type. I used to use Lotus Ami Pro for Windows 3.1--small, fast, with good desktop publishing features--but I switched to Word 7.0 when I moved over to Windows 95.

    I also use Word's MS Office stablemate, Excel, but I have to admit that I probably use 25 per cent or less of the features of these big programs. For that reason, I like the all-in-one integrated programs, and also keep Microsoft Works on my drive: for a while, I used its word processor and spreadsheet for most daily uses. I still use its database: I find it easy to use, and powerful enough, while I find dedicated database programs--even the so-called simple ones--too complex. But I've been able to combine the word processor and database in MS Works to create some pretty documents--a customized invitation for each of 400 guests, for instance.

    I'm not a graphics professional, and I really can't justify keeping the pro-level publishing and graphics programs around. Nevertheless, I do have to sometimes produce a more complex page than I can easily create in Word. For those times, I work with Microsoft Publisher. It's sometimes frustrating to use, but it's generally easy to produce attractive results. It's also virtually the only Microsoft business product with a sense of humour (try the Paper Airplane Wizard, if you need to be convinced.)

    So far, it's been something of a Microsoft sweep--I'm aware of many people who love to bash Big Bill's products, but after trying lots of alternatives, these are the ones I keep coming back to.

    I do have to work with picture files pretty regularly--I need to scan, resize, and convert pictures--but again, something like Adobe Photoshop would be overkill. Instead, I use a shareware product--JASC PaintShop Pro. It includes all the file conversion I can use, along with basic editing tools. It even accepts Photoshop filters.

    I keep my phone book and calendar on disk: I use Lotus Organizer, which mimics a traditional Day-Timer notebook. While I've upgraded many of my applications, I've stuck with version 1.1 of this one--later versions have grown massively in size, mostly adding networking features that I don't need. This version ships on a single floppy, and its compact code is still desirable, even in this age of gigantic hard drives.

    Similarly, for presentations, I used to use Lotus Freelance, but I've moved away from it and equally big Microsoft PowerPoint, preferring SPC's ASAP, which even in its Windows 95 incarnation takes a mere two floppies. Its instant presentations are good enough for most of what I need to show, and take a fraction of the time to create.

    I've dumped Netscape Navigator for Microsoft (again!) Internet Explorer: version 2.0 ships on a single floppy (and is available for Mac and Win 3.1 as well as Win95). It doesn't have current-fad Java support, but I still haven't found any Java applets that I really care to run.

    The freeware version of Eudora works fine for my Internet mail needs, far more easily than Windows 95's complex and cumbersome Exchange. I do find Win95's basic fax program adequate, however.

    Despite the decline of traditional bulletin board systems and on-line services, I continue to work in those environments, and when I do, I use Unicom, a shareware telecom program from Seattle's Datagraphics. The support is pitiful, but the program does everything I need, simply, efficiently, and with a minimum of hard-drive space.

    Other invaluable tools: Adobe's free Acrobat reader for viewing and printing out all sorts of documents--Revenue Canada forms from the Internet, for instance; Iomega's Zip drive for 100 megs of storage on $20 disks; WinZipImso's QuickView Plus for viewing a huge variety of data files; and DataViz Convert Plus for converting almost any Mac or PC datafile format into virtually any other. shareware for working with compressed files;

    Notice there are no big utility packages on the list--the more modest tools that ship with Win95 seem to meet my needs.

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