For simple machines


March 23, 1992|By PETER H. LEWIS

Borland International Inc. is offering new versions of two of its leading personal computer applications, Quattro Pro and dBASE The dBASE program, the most popular data base manager for IBM PC and compatible computers, was acquired by Borland when it purchased the Ashton-Tate Co. last year.

Unlike many rivals, the new versions of the Quattro Pro spreadsheet and the dBASE IV data base are designed to run on simple PCs using the DOS operating system.

Although DOS-based machines make up a large majority of all personal computers in use today, the major software companies appear to be investing most of their resources in writing or revising programs to run under a new generation of so-called graphical operating systems, including Windows, OS/2 and the Apple Macintosh's System 7.

In general, graphical operating systems make it easier to operate the computer.

The drawback is that it takes a faster and more powerful computer to run Windows and OS/2, and many people do not care to buy a new machine or to spend a lot of money to upgrade an old one.

That is the advantage of Borland's new products. Especially in Quattro Pro version 4.0, Borland has made a DOS program that looks and acts like a Windows program.

It looks pretty, it has push-button controls, it has fancy type fonts, but it works on a PC with 640 kilobytes of memory and a small hard disk. A mouse is not required, but it makes the program much easier to use.

Quattro Pro 4.0 is a program that manipulates numbers, permitting the user to do "what if" calculations and keep track of numerical records.

As with most spreadsheets, Quattro Pro also makes it easy to see the results in the form of graphs and charts.

It has lots of different graph types, including a new type called bubble graphs, and it works with graphs created by the popular Harvard Graphics program.

Experienced spreadsheet users will appreciate the new version's advanced features, including background printing, multivariate solvers, an auditing function and easy network operation.

In short, Quattro Pro matches or exceeds the features of other DOS-based spreadsheets, including Lotus 1-2-3. Borland's goal is to steal users away from Lotus, and it has given QP4 the ability to work with Lotus wysiwyg, Impress and Allways style sheets.

Quattro Pro 4.0 has a new feature (new in the sense that it is borrowed from Lotus 1-2-3 and Microsoft Excel) called "speedbars," which are series of buttons that activate common tools or operations.

The main speedbar automates general spreadsheet commands, allowing the user to do in one click of the mouse what used to take several keystrokes. The other speedbar allows the user to edit formulas.

Quattro Pro 4.0 comes close to matching the ease of use and power of a Windows spreadsheet.

It does not, however, have the ability to share data with other applications, which Windows spreadsheets have. For that, wait for Quattro Pro for Windows, due later this year.

On the data base side, dBASE IV version 1.5 was already under development at Ashton-Tate when Borland, Ashton-Tate's main rival, bought it.

Borland had little to do with the new version, but millions of dBASE users have been waiting a long time for an upgrade.

Data base managers are, at the simplest level, electronic frameworks for gathering and storing lists of information. Lists of names, addresses, part numbers, payment histories and other information can be searched quickly and then printed or sorted in various ways.

Borland makes a rival data base called Paradox, which is in many ways superior to dBASE.

However, dBASE has many loyal fans, and many businesses have used dBASE's programming language to develop their most important applications. Ashton-Tate allowed dBASE to fall behind other programs, like Paradox, but killing dBASE would have led to a revolt.

Instead, Borland is preparing to release an updated product that early testers say is noticeably faster than earlier dBASE IV versions, and that can be operated using a mouse.

The mouse support will be especially welcome because it will allow users to get information out of the data base by pointing at it, rather than by typing confusing commands.

Programmers who have seen the new dBASE IV version 1.5 say its programming tools have been improved and expanded.

The list price of dBASE IV version 1.5 will be $795. Previous owners will be able to upgrade for $99.95.

Borland, of Scotts Valley, Calif., can be reached at (408) 438-8400.

Quattro Pro 4.0 has a list price of $495. Owners of earlier versions can upgrade for $79.95. Owners of Lotus 1-2-3 or Microsoft Excel can get Quattro Pro for $99.95.

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