As software and hardware get more complex and difficult to use, it's a pleasure to run across useful products that do exactly what they promise, quickly and effortlessly.
Outside In, from Systems Compatibility Corp., is an outrageously simple $99 utility program that works with most text-based word processors to import information stored in 50 different word-processing, spreadsheet and database formats.
If you've ever had to exchange files with someone who uses a different word processor, or if you need to add a couple of columns of numbers from a spreadsheet to a written report, or find an address stored in a database, you already know what a pain this can be.
While some word processors can convert files from a handful of other programs, the process is tedious at best.
Once you've converted the file to your program's native format -- provided your word processor can handle the job -- you have to select the material you want and then import it into your original document.
Outside In handles all this within your word processor. It lets you browse through any foreign file, select just the material you want and insert it into your document -- with attributes such as boldface and italics preserved from the original.
The memory-resident program for IBM compatibles occupies about 80K of RAM. It's invisible till you press a key combination that pops up a directory of files on your disk.
As you move the cursor down the list of files on the left side of your screen, the contents of each file is displayed in a window on the other side -- in its original format.
You can tell Outside In to search for particular types of files, but you don't have to. If it recognizes the format of a file, you'll see it displayed properly.
Once you've chosen the file you want, you can import the whole thing or select portions of it. You can select a single line, multiple lines or any block of characters.
To import the text into your word processor, just hit the Insert key. Outside In handles the translation without a fuss. It even reformats text placed in columns by graphics-based word processors such as Ami Professional, which runs under Microsoft Windows. It also handles really tricky conversions, such as those involving IBM's DisplayWrite word processor, which uses a proprietary IBM code to store its documents.
I was particularly impressed by the program's ability to deal with spreadsheets. Besides importing contiguous blocks of numbers, it allows you to skip over columns you don't want and select just the material you do need. Database files are treated like spreadsheets, with the information laid out in rows and columns.
Spreadsheet files can be a little tricky, since you have to set up the appropriate tab stops in your word processor to display the numbers properly when they're imported. But with a little practice you can get the job done with a minimum of hand-retouching.
About the only thing you have to tell Outside In is what word processor you're using. It supports 30 different programs out of the box, but you can customize the way it handles line feeds, carriage returns and text attributes to match virtually any software.
Among the word processing formats Outside In will translate are WordPerfect and Microsoft Word (DOS, Windows and Macintosh flavors), WordStar, Ami, DisplayWrite, Enable, First Choice, Office Writer, PFS: Write, Framework, Windows Write, Sprint, Samna Word, Volkswriter, MultiMate, Office Writer, XyWrite and MacWrite II.
It handles spreadsheets created by Lotus, Enable, Framework, Excel, Microsoft Works, PFS Professional Plan, Quattro Pro, SuperCalc 5, VP Planner 3D and others. It will import database material created by dBase III and IV-compatible programs, dBXL, Enable, Microsoft Works, Paradox and Smartware II.
In short, Outside In performs some real magic. And like most good magicians, it makes the hardest tricks look easy.
Speaking of tricks, how would you like to get beautiful, shimmering, color presentations out of your Plain Jane laser printer?
When I showed some of our computer experts a piece of beautifully embossed gold letterhead and told them it came out of my LaserJet, they told me it was impossible.
But with a neat little product called LaserColor, from Minds In Motion Inc., you can do it. LaserColor kits contain sheets of thin, metallic film in seven different colors.
To add color to your document, you print it normally first. Then you cut a piece of film big enough to cover the area you want to highlight with color. Tack the film to the paper with little adhesive dots that come with the package and run it through the laser printer again by printing a blank page.
When it comes out, peel off the film. The color sticks to the printed area and you have something that looks like it came from an expensive custom printing house.
LaserColor works with any laser printer or copier that uses dry toner, including Hewlett Packard LaserJets, Apple LaserWriters and other common printers that use Cannon laser engines.
Description: This kit of thin, metallic film sheets lets you add shimmering color to pages produced by most laser printers and dry-toner copiers.
System Requirements: Laser printer or copier that uses dry toner, including HP LaserJet and Apple LaserWriter models.
Price: $19.95 for a pack of 10 (single color or mixed packs available).
Information: Contact Minds In Motion Inc., 14260 Garden Road., #30B, Poway, Calif. 92064 (619) 748-5003.
Description: A memory-resident program that works with text-based word processors to import text and numbers from files created by 50 different word processing, spreadsheet and database programs.
System Requirements: IBM-compatible computer with 384K of memory. Hard disk recommended.
Information: Contact Systems Compatibility Corp., 401 N. Wabash, Suite 600, Chicago, Ill. 60611, (312) 329-0700.