We’ve reviewed many operating systems versions in SCO World, and we’ve occasionally looked at applications as First Looks, but we’ve never really concentrated on the variety of end-user applications that are available for SCO platforms. The reasons for this are somewhat convoluted, but really are rooted in the fact that most of us do our real application work (word processing, spreadsheets, etc.) on a Windows machine and use the SCO server for custom applications. With the development of many more sophisticated applications specifically for Unix, as well as the ability of today’s Pentiums to power many users with X terminals or X client software, it’s time to look specifically at some sample applications for SCO platforms.
We requested a bunch of products that cover the gamut of end-user applications. We started with the basics: word processing, spreadsheets, and presentation graphics, and added some others like scheduling. We looked primarily at GUI-based systems, although we did request character-based versions of some applications (there are a lot of ASCII terminals out there!). All software was loaded on an ALR Revolution 2XL with two 266MHz Pentium IIs and 128MB RAM and SCO OpenServer 5.0.4. The client machines were four SCO OpenServer systems and four Windows 95 machines, connected together through a 10Mbps Ethernet network.
Each application was used for a period of a month by our lab staff, and assessments discussed at the end of the testing period. The results were interesting, as most users expected to find some compromises in the Unix versions of their Windows applications. The final assessments wrap up this look at five applications.
Applied Information Systems Xess 4
Xess 4 is a spreadsheet application designed for use on X-based UNIX systems. The latest release, version 4, was still in early release when we tested the tool. Xess 4 is designed to provide both a standard spreadsheet tool to the user, as well as additional capabilities such as data graphing.
Our version of Xess 4 was shipped on two diskettes. The contents of these disks are tarred to a temporary directory, then an installation script completes the process. A number of questions ask about optional components such as the API and target directories. The installation was fast, taking us about four minutes. Accompanying the software are three books, a User’s Guide, a Getting Started book, and an API reference. Memory requirements are benign, as is disk space requirement (after all, two floppies can’t take up that much room!).
The Xess 4 interface is logical and easy to learn, at least for most tasks. Pull-down menus control most aspects of the tool. The mouse can be used for point-and-click capabilities such as cut-and-paste and using pop-up menus. Xess 4 includes all the standard mathematical functions you would expect, as well as a host of statistical and matrix functions. Composing a spreadsheet with Xess 4 is really no effort for any user who has worked with spreadsheet tools under any operating system.
What sets Xess 4 apart from many spreadsheets is its live update capability. This feature allows your spreadsheet’s entries to be updated automatically from another X application, anywhere on the network. For example, our lab maintains a record of hits on our Web pages on one server, which are then transferred to the Xess 4 spreadsheet to provide an administrator an up-to-date picture of the Web server’s condition. The entries on the spreadsheet update at specific intervals, and graphs that show usage are also updated at the same time. While this is a simple example, Xess 4 gives you the ability to monitor data from up to 63 sources simultaneously, which could be extremely handy for system administrators or business people who don’t want to manually refresh data at random intervals. Calculated data from Xess 4 can be sent to other applications, too, which extends its utility enormously.
One optional component of Xess 4 is the API, which gives programmers a C-based interface through which Xess 4 can be customized. The API also allows new extensions to Xess 4 to be added. For example, we easily added a number of new statistical functions to the library.
Importing spreadsheets from other spreadsheet applications is possible for common formats, and Xess 4 sheets can be saved in a number of formats. We imported and exported to Lotus and Excel under Windows with no problem. Printed output from Xess 4 can be either ASCII, PostScript, or LaTex format. HTML can also be generated.
With a fast learning curve, powerful built-in functions, and the ability to extend Xess 4 to sample data from other machines, you may not have much of a decision when it comes to choosing a spreadsheet for your Unix system. We’ve tried several spreadsheets on our server, but none have left the impression Xess 4 has. If all you need to do is add rows of numbers, then any spreadsheet will do. If you want an extensible, integratable product instead, you should look at Xess 4.
Corel WordPerfect 7 for Unix
We’ve looked at Corel’s WordPerfect 7 for Unix before in a standalone review, but since this is the most powerful word processor available with compatibility across many platforms, it was natural to include it in a roundup of application software. Probably the most important aspect of WordPerfect 7 for Unix is its compatibility with Windows-based WordPerfect versions. WordPerfect may not be the dominant word processor on Windows 95 machines any more, but there are legions of fans that still use this tool. Even for those who don’t, conversions between Word and WordPerfect are straightforward as both Windows tools offer converters.
Installing WordPerfect 7 for Unix is a matter of mounting the first of two CD-ROMs and running a single installation script. The CD-ROMs included with the package contain binaries for several versions of Unix, including SCO OpenServer 5. The installation routine guides you through all the necessary steps to install the product, and gives you options for installing auxiliary components such as different languages and printer support. A license key is included in the package, so there’s no need to obtain one from the vendor (an approach we wish everyone would take). Total installation time on our system was fifteen minutes. We installed both character and GUI-based versions of WordPerfect 7 for Unix. The character-based system can be used on any terminal supported by SCO UNIX. A nice touch is backwards compatibility options for those who use WordPerfect 5.1 on their UNIX boxes. A large User’s Guide, a Clipart reference, and an installation and management book make up the documentation set.
WordPerfect 7 for Unix has relatively benign system requirements. A full GUI install with all options takes up about 90MB of disk space. A character-based installation only requires about 35MB. The first user of WordPerfect 7 for Unix GUI needs 9MB RAM, and each additional user needs 2.5MB. Character-based memory requirements are 2MB for the first user and 1.5MB for each additional. While these memory requirements may seem high by standards of a couple of years ago, with memory prices so low now it is unlikely that memory will be an issue. We ran eight WordPerfect sessions of a 64MB-equipped system, all GUI, with no problem.
Users of WordPerfect for Windows will feel right at home with WordPerfect 7 for Unix. The interface of both the GUI and character-based systems are almost identical to the DOS and Windows versions, and many users will not notice any difference between the two operating system versions. There is no reduction in capability or features with the Unix version of WordPerfect, either. As far as we could tell, if it’s in the Windows version, it’s in the Unix version too.
We started our testing by importing a set of documents that were composed under DOS WordPerfect 4.1 and Windows’ WordPerfect 7 Suite. Each document opened perfectly under Unix. When we made changes and saved them under Unix, we could open them just fine under Windows (of course, we had to use a converter before the older WordPerfect 4.1 DOS version could read the files, but that was expected). We also tried the latest version of WordPerfect Suite 8 for Windows, and after converting the documents to version 7 we could move them back and forth, too. We could open Word 95 for Windows documents under WordPerfect 7 for Unix, and vice versa, using converters each tool provides. Graphics and formatting were not lost in any of our conversions, except when converting back to WordPerfect 4.1. Compatibility issues are therefore non-existent with WordPerfect 7 for Unix.
Providing a list of features in WordPerfect 7 for Unix is silly. If any other word processor can do it, so can WordPerfect 7 for Unix. Style sheets and document formatting is excellent, allowing desktop publishing without forcing you to learn a new tools (like FrameMaker or Interleaf). Charting and drawing tools are superb, with enough flexibility built in that you will likely never have to resort to a dedicated graphics tool unless you are doing complex graphics. Generating HTML code from a document is simple, and WordPerfect 7 for Unix allows hyperlinks to be embedded easily. Database records can be sucked into a WordPerfect document through an interface which supports several popular database systems. Unix integration is enhanced with built-in mail utilities.
A clipart library on CD-ROM can be copied to a hard disk directory for general access, or left on the CD for occasional use (thereby saving a chunk of disk space). The clipart is very good, and while not as large as clipart libraries with CorelDraw! For example, it will suffice for practically every document you may have to compose.
Although WordPerfect 7 for Unix is now one version old, as WordPerfect 8 for Windows is now available, it is likely Corel will update this system shortly. Even if they don’t, the version differences are not going to cause any consternation for either users or system administrators. Throughout, WordPerfect 7 for Unix is a class act, and without doubt the most powerful word processor you can find on a Unix box. Its compatibility with the rest of the WordPerfect family is a welcome bonus.
CrossWind Technologies Synchronize
Synchronize is a scheduling and calendaring package that runs across a number of platforms, providing a more complete view of what’s scheduled with whom, and when. Synchronize is one of those applications that you think is handy at times but you don’t expect to use every day. It’s also one of those applications that grows quickly to become almost indispensable.
We downloaded our copy of Synchronize from the vendor’s Web site. This is their usual method of distribution, and since the SCO binaries are relatively small at 2.8MB, even those with small Internet connections won’t find the download too onerous. The SCO package is sent as a Windows ZIP library, which is unpacked and placed on the SCO box. Installation is quick, taking about ten minutes on our test server. An installation script takes care of most of the installation process for you, prompting for information as necessary. There’s no real documentation with Synchronize except for a couple of small booklets. These are a system administrator’s guide, and a Quick Start User’s Guide (copies are available for all supported platforms).
On our test system, we placed the main Synchronize server duties on a SCO OpenServer system, and ran clients on both SCO OpenServer and Windows 95. Both Macintosh and Web browser clients are available, but we didn’t try them. For those stuck with character-based terminals, an ASCII interface can be used with surprisingly little bother. In fast, the ASCII interface to Synchronize is one of the best application ASCII interfaces we’ve seen. The real winner of the Synchronize system is the Motif client, though, which mirrors the Windows 95 and Windows NT client superbly. Moving from Windows to Motif is no hassle at all.
When you launch the Synchronize tool a calendar window appears. Select the date you want to work with, and more details for that day appear. The top of the window shows two calendar summaries which can be quickly toggled forward or back to select dates. The lower part of the window is divided into two and shows graphical representations of available and booked times during the day. Synchronize’s main use will be to ensure that meetings and resources like meeting and conference rooms are scheduled at times when all participants are available. To do so, you select the people that are in the Synchronize database as users (the same applies for resources) and select those who have to participate. Conflicts can be viewed on-screen, allowing you to chose the best time for your event. Alternatively, Synchronize can find the best time for everyone to be available, given some parameters to try and meet (such as meeting next Thursday).
In order for Synchronize to work properly, everyone in the workgroup that Synchronize will manage has to use the system to block off unavailable time. This may take a bit of practice, as many users only mark some (if any) events off at first. Finding out they have an important meeting scheduled at the same time they have a dentist’s appointment quickly straightens them out.
In our lab, we had eight people working with Synchronize (four on SCO platforms and four on Windows 95 machines). We used Synchronize for a month, and handled our lab meetings and meeting room bookings through the package. The overall consensus was positive: users found Synchronize easy to work with. Most importantly, Synchronize is unobtrusive, and isn’t a major change in your working habits. On-line help is good, with enough information available through the help system and on-screen in the tool itself to make the learning curve very fast. System administration is light, requiring most effort at setup time when entering all the users and resources into the system. After that, maintenance is minimal.
Synchronize impressed us with its utility and light overhead on the system. After using it for a month, we now wonder how we will manage without it. That is probably the best testimonial we can give Synchronize.
The Cliq suite, composed of ClipCalc, CliqWord, and CliqDesk, an integrated spreadsheet, word processor, and desktop tool set. The Cliq set is character-based, with no GUI version available. The spreadsheet and word processor can be launched independently, but the suite is really intended to be used through CliqDesk. CliqDesk uses a desktop and a set of drawers to contain work (analogous to directories or projects) and a set of accessories for managing drawers and their contents. Using CliqDesk in this manner does have some benefits. For example, when you save a CliqWord document to the desktop, then close the application, you can reload the document in the future and find your cursor positioned at exactly the same place you left off at. For some writers, this is a useful feature indeed.
Our copy of the Cliq suite was supplied on quarter inch tape. Installation involved using cpio to extract the source material, then an installation script was executed to complete the process. The installation routine took just under five minutes to complete. Accompanying the system are three manuals, one for each component of the set. Installation notes are one a separate set of paper. We must have received an old set that was laying around from Quadratron, as the manuals had obviously been through several users prior to reaching us. System requirements are benign, with only a few megs of disk space used up, and very little memory required. Even older 16MB systems won’t have a problem with Cliq. Getting terminal keys to work properly with the Cliq tools was, quite frankly, a real pain. It took several hours to get everything working correctly, and even then we experienced several keymap problems during user testing. Technical support is not available unless you have a support contract.
Because it is character-based, Cliq tools have limitations that are not present in GUI-based equivalents. The use of icons and graphics, for example, is not possible to simplify a user’s learning curve and daily routine. However, the learning curve for all the Cliq tools is not too bad, although it will be a while before users feel comfortable with the set. A Getting Started section in each of the manuals helps ease new users into each of the tools, but we did find ourselves having to frequently refer to the documentation. With practice, of course, all the commands (most of which have keyboard shortcuts preprogrammed) will become second nature.
The CliqDesk tool presents an interesting problem for reviewers. It is an attempt to remove from the user the need to know Unix commands for copying, storing, and moving files around. In that sense, it does work well for those new to this operating system. The concept of drawers is useful for those unfamiliar with directories, and there are some organizational advantages to having users keep everything cleanly sorted in different drawers on the desktop. However, any knowledgeable Unix user is going to become frustrated with this tool quickly. After our first day using it, we basically ignored it except when necessary. The menu-driven system is effective and simple, although even newcomers may need a fair bit of hand-holding to get going. Integration with CliqWord and CliqCalc end when you load them, so CliqDesk is really more of a file organizer than an integrated front-end to the Cliq tools.
CliqWord, the word processor, has one major feature: it is easy to use. Since it’s character based, it has many limitations imposed on it. There are a few character-based word processors around, mostly stand-alones, such as Emacs and SCO’s old Lyrix. WordPerfect is available for character-based systems, too, and has far more power than CliqWord. For a fairly simple word processor, though, CliqWord is good. It supports multiple windows, move and copy of text between documents, add-on queries to databases using SQL, and an impressive set of typesetting commands. CliqWord allows choice of multiple columns, fonts, sizing, and practically every aspect of text layout you’ll need. Of course, you can’t preview it until you print the document. Finally, CliqWord includes a good-sized thesaurus and spell checker.
CliqCalc is the character-based spreadsheet, and much like the old SCO Professional and later Lotus 123 for Unix provides a good set of tools for users. CliqCalc allows spreadsheets up to 8192 rows by 256 columns, which should be enough for anyone. Working with CliqCalc is fast and easy. The function library is good, but not as large as the Xess 4 library mentioned elsewhere in this review. CliqCalc supports rudimentary programming with if-then structures, but lacks any graphics capabilities.
The Cliq suite seems aimed at users who do not need the word processor power of a high-end tool like WordPerfect or a spreadsheet like Xess 4, and who don’t want to deal with Unix commands and shell prompts if they can avoid them. In that respect, Quadratron’s suite does offer fairly simple to learn and use tools. Character-based applications may not be much of the market today, but the small size of the toolset and their unobtrusive demands on the system make the Cliq set appropriate for many older installations.
Visual Engineering Ovation
Visual Engineering’s Ovation is, essentially, Microsoft PowerPoint for Unix with some extras thrown in. We looked at an earlier version of Ovation two years ago. Visual Engineering was in the process of releasing a new version, v 3, during our review cycle, but we didn’t get a copy until the last moments. Therefore, we worked primarily with version 2.5 of Ovation. The v 3 release will be ready by the time you read this, and adds several new features to an already excellent tool.
We obtained our copy of Ovation from the Visual Engineering Web site, primarily because we were working with beta versions. Most users will get their software on CD-ROM or tape. Our FTP binary was over 20MB big, requiring quite a download time (especially since the Visual Engineering server seemed slow). Nevertheless, the Ovation package installed easily with a script, and despite being large required a minimum of interaction from us. Total installation time after selecting most of the optional components was half an hour.
The shipping versions of Ovation come with two perfect-bound books. The largest book is the User’s Guide, which covers every aspect of the tool you will need as well as including a useful tutorial to get novice users started. The companion book is a guide to the clipart library included with Ovation. Most users will not need much of a learning curve for Ovation if they have used the Windows PowerPoint software. The two behave quite similarly.
Ovation has several strengths that make it stand out. Not the least of which is its compatibility with PowerPoint presentations. You can move PowerPoint slides in and out with a minimum of fuss. We particularly liked this features as we were developing a course on both platforms, and being able to make compatible slide sets on both Windows and Unix, and merge them together later was a great convenience.
The text abilities of Ovation are excellent, allowing you to put text anywhere you want, in any font, and in any size. An outline processor is built in, allowing you to develop your slides in a top-down manner. A drawing tool, coupled with a good sized clipart library, gives you graphics anywhere on a slide. Even more useful is a screen capture utility, which lets you grab windows or parts of windows and import them to slides. Ovation handles many different graphics formats, including all the standard Windows and Unix forms.
Ovation’s templates cover most standard business formats, as well as a bunch of others that can be used for different purposes. Modifying a template is simple, and we preferred Ovation’s approach to that used in the latest version of Microsoft PowerPoint. The Presentation Manager allows you to see thumbnail sketches of your slides and rearrange them however you want, quickly.
When it comes to presentation time, a slideshow feature works well with user-adjustable intervals, or slide-by-slide prompting. Hyperlinks between slides and non-Ovation items are supported. The runtime for Ovation slideshows is royalty free and can be distributed with your presentations. Printing capabilities are superb, too, with excellent output to a variety of printers and film recorders.
When we reviewed Ovation two years ago we raved about its capabilities. The latest version adds even more, making Ovation the only choice for presentation graphics under Unix. We’re impressed.
The one fact that surprised us in this application test was the high quality and lack of compromise of most of the applications. Word Perfect for Unix is in no way a poor cousin of the Windows version, and Xess 4 is as good a spreadsheet as you can find on Windows. Ovation is a class act, and Synchronize is one of the handiest utilities we found. The only real disappointment was Cliq, which suffered from not only its character-based focus but also its awkward interface and setup.
All our testing provides one important fact. If you want to use a SCO server for applications, you are not losing out anything over a Windows platform. These applications are overall superb, and offer not only the strengths of Unix as an operating system, but also the Motif interface to users. It will be interesting to see how many users go back to their Windows platforms for these application bases.