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ISSUE 576: Zisman- Nov 7 2000

The high-tech office


Clever software can open files across different platforms

Utilities. In the game of Monopoly, they're Electric Company and Waterworks. For personal computer owners, the word implies a wide range of software products which, unlike applications, aren't used to create documents.

Some keep your computer running smoothly. Others turn your computer into a fax machine or a CD-pressing plant. Still others expand the range of documents your applications can open and save.

Many computer users get along just fine without ever purchasing any of these products. Basic capabilities that used to require third-party utilities are now built into both the Mac and Windows operating systems. Despite this, new products continue to be brought to market and classic utilities are revitalized with new versions.

Dataviz ( has recently updated a pair of its products: MacLink Plus, for Mac users (as you might have guessed), and a companion Conversions Plus for computer users on the Windows side of the great divide.

One of the main functions of this duo is to help bridge that split by making it easier for users of either sort of computer to understand files from the other side.

As the minority flavour, Macs have been forced for years to make some concessions to the PC-using majority. Mac operating system software includes a File Exchange control panel, enabling Macs to read PC-formatted disks and at least try to figure out what to do with documents created on a PC. And, for a long time, Apple included a stripped-down version of MacLink, including a set of filters to automatically translate many sorts of common PC documents into something more Mac-friendly.

That's no longer the case, and even owners of older Mac operating systems or previous versions of Claris Works or Apple Works are, at best, limited to reading and saving in less than current PC file formats. But install a copy of MacLink Plus Deluxe ($150 -- now up to version 12) and, like magic, your Mac can open a huge variety of file formats. In fact, it cleverly adds itself to many standard applications, giving them new capabilities to save files in new ways. For instance, owners of the newest Apple Works 6.0 need MacLink Plus Deluxe in order to share files with Microsoft Office owners.

PC owners don't even get the basic capabilities to read foreign disks. Conversions Plus ($105 -- somewhat behind the Mac equivalent, it's only up to version 6) makes up for that shortcoming, letting PCs read Mac floppies, Zip drives, CDs and more. It doesn't let you run Mac applications on your PC, but it does let you read most of the documents on the disks. Like MacLink Plus, it converts a wide range of word processor, spreadsheet and graphics documents between Mac and PC formats. (PC users who don't need the file translators can still read Mac diskettes with Dataviz's $75 MacOpener).

In addition to translating files between PCs and Macs, each version lets users read documents that may have originated on the same platform, but were saved with applications that aren't on your machine.

Your Microsoft Word user can now read and write documents made with MacWrite, WriteNow or other Mac word processors or with AmiPro or WordStar among other PC word processors. If you have a collection of files over the years, you probably have some created on software you no longer have installed. One of these programs may be your salvation if you ever need the information in these orphaned documents.

Still, this now-classic utility duo may be less needed than previously. A decade or so ago, there were more than 40 different word processors in more or less common use. Now there's Microsoft Office. And even if PCs can't read Mac disks directly, networks and e-mail attachments make it possible to send documents to all and sundry. At least if they're MS Word files. *



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