Good menu program can help run computer

May 13, 1991|By Michael Himowitz | Michael Himowitz,Evening Sun Staff

The biggest complaint I get about personal computers is tha they're too hard to use.

I've seen inexperienced users reduced to tears by the mechanics of finding their word processor on the disk, loading it and then finding the letter they wrote yesterday.

So it's not surprising that menu makers have always been steady sellers. Menu-making software tries to take the hassle out of computing by presenting you with a list, or menu, of programs and commands.

With your cursor keys, you can highlight the menu item representing your word processor, spreadsheet or database program and hit the ENTER key to run it.

Some menu programs are simple, issuing a few basic commands to the disk operating system (DOS) when you make a selection.

Others, like MenuWorks Advanced, a powerful $120 utility from PC Dynamics of Westlake Village, Calif., are full-fledged applications that add file management, text editors, multiple-user support, security, networking and other goodies to the package.

While a good menu program can make a computer easier to use, it still takes an experienced user to set one up. MenuWorks tries to get around this Catch-22 with a much-heralded automatic menu setup feature.

MenuWorks claims to recognize more than 2,000 different commercial programs. When you install it on your hard disk, it categorizes the programs it finds (word processors, spreadsheets, databases, etc.) and sets up basic menus that should get you started. That's the theory, anyway.

MenuWorks did find all my major word processors, spreadsheets and databases and communications programs.

It also found quite a few programs I'd forgotten about - including oddball utilities and overlays used by other software. But its attempt to categorize them and assign them to the proper

menus was at best amusing. For new users who have no idea what they're seeing, selecting some of MenuWorks' choices can be downright hazardous.

Still, MenuWorks is a superb tool in the right hands. If you have even a rudimentary knowledge of DOS, you can use its menu and screen design features to create a powerful and efficient PC command post. The program is particularly useful in a corporate setting, where multiple users may share a PC and security is important.

When you run MenuWorks, you'll see a menu on one side of your screen. These are generally high-level subject menus that take you to specialized menus for word processing, spreadsheets, accounting or whatever.

The main screen also presents you with a menu of function keys that will show you a directory, call up the program's file manager, locate a particular file or perform some other useful function.

But all of this is customizable. With the program's powerful screen designer, you can set things up any way you want, paint the screen with boxes, lines and colors and set up a virtually unlimited number of menus and submenus.

At its most elementary level, a menu choice might issue a series of DOS commands. For example, one might switch to your word processing directory and run your word processor. You can set up simple menu choices like this just by filling in a form on the screen.

For more complex tasks, MenuWorks provides a simple text editor and robust programming language that combines standard DOS commands with more powerful extensions in a syntax similar to that of BASIC.

As an example, you can set up a menu item that prompts the user to put a disk in the floppy drive and then automatically copies all the data files from a specified directory to the floppy.

The command language includes "hyperfunctions," including one that displays a point-and-shoot directory that allow a user to pick only the files he wants to copy.

For shared PC's, you can set up a security system that requires each user to sign on with an ID and password, and restricts that user's access to certain menus (although knowledgeable users can always find a way around this kind of thing).

If you're playing Big Brother, you can tell MenuWorks to create a variety of reports showing used the computer and what programs they ran.

MenuWorks' built-in file manager is adequate, although it's not the best I've seen (I still prefer my old favorite, the Norton Commander). It will display a "tree" list showing the nested directories and subdirectories on your drive, as well as the files in each directory.

You can easily copy, delete or rename a file or group of files and switch easily from one disk or directory to another.

MenuWorks is exceedingly well-behaved. When you run a program, MenuWorks exits gracefully, storing most of itself in a temporary file on your disk. A small, 5K core remains in memory behind to reinstall your menus when you leave your application.

In addition to the automatic menu setup, which is chancy at best, MenuWorks has a few shortcomings.

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