Outside In Permits easy transfer of data


January 02, 1991|By PETER MCWILLIAMS | PETER MCWILLIAMS,1990 Universal Press Syndicate

The other day I was talking with a friend about "time." All our labor-saving devices -- the computer included -- are not freeing up time, giving us a shorter workweek. People aren't taking an extra vacation to Mazatlan or whatever. Technology is making everyone cram more into a day.

Where we once sent letters and expected a week's turnaround time, we now send faxes and expect a response within the hour. People don't have time to mull things over anymore, it seems; they need to choose and think fast on their feet.

We're demanding more and more from our computers, too. Speed is on people's minds as they shop for computers. "What's the clock speed?" they want to know. "Thirty-three megahertz? Must be good."

Often it is good. With companies especially buying so many computers and software programs, compatibility is more and more an issue -- another demand on computers.

A few years ago, an entire company might buy only one brand of computer and only certain packages of software. "Stay uniform!" was the motto. But individuals, to their credit, demanded from their bosses other computers or other software for their specialized needs. And they got them.

Now people are thinking, "Wouldn't it be handy to be able to give this file to so-and-so?" even though the other person uses a different program, for instance -- or a Macintosh instead of a PC.

I wrote about Software Bridge ($149 list) a few months back, a program that can convert 50 among word-processing programs WordPerfect with Microsoft Word, Q&A with WordStar, etc.) and across machines (Macs with PCs and vice versa). Now the manufacturer, Systems Compatibility Corp., has come out with an other extremely handy program, Outside In.

Outside In ($99) is a memory-resident program that allows users to be using their favorite word-processing program, grab information from an alien file and drop in that information. Or, as the well-written manual describes it, Outside In is a "RAM-resident utility designed to help you create documents with your word processor by importing data from a variety of other files."

For instance, you might be writing with WordPerfect and want to include some information from a spreadsheet (Lotus 1-2-3, Framework, Quattro or nine others) and a data base (dBase, Enable, Microsoft Works or five others) or simply from another word-processing program (50 PC and Macintosh programs).

Pressing Ctrl-I brings up Outside In as a window. You choose the file you want from the appropriate subdirectory or disk drive, view the file, block the information you want and insert the block into your document. Outside In, amazingly, converts many of the character attributes, such as bold, underline, italics and tabs.

You view documents in their native mode, without all the strange coding that would appear if you viewed it as an ASCII file. For example, even though you might not have Lotus 1-2-3, you can view a Lotus 1-2-3 file as if you were running the program.

Imagine that you need to create a company report that needs portions of many documents including data from a spreadsheet and information from an inventory data base. Typically, one might retype the data from the documents into the report.

But, hey, this is NOW -- you don't have the time, luxury or perhaps desire to retype everything. Outside In saves time and also reduces the possibility of data errors that might occur in retyping data.

If you have such needs, you still might want to get Software Bridge. Outside In is meant for viewing or grabbing bits and pieces of documents; Software Bridge converts entire documents with all or most of their attributes, including headers, footers, footnotes and font styles.

For Macintosh/PC users and offices, the main obstacle to easy compatibility between the two machines is the disk formats. A Macintosh disk cannot be read in a PC drive (so far, at least). A Macintosh, however, can read PC disks. The simplest way to convert files from one machine to the other, therefore, is to get Software Bridge for the Macintosh (a different edition from the PC version, $129), a program that adds to Macintosh's AppleFile Exchange utility to make the utility work more efficiently.

(Systems Compatibility Corp., 401 N. Wabash, Chicago, Ill. 60611; [312] 329-0700.)

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