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COMPUTER FILE / Richard O'Reilly

Package Breaks New Ground for 'Power Users'

June 23, 1986|RICHARD O'REILLY | Richard O'Reilly designs microcomputer applications for The Times

Hard as it may be for most of us to imagine, there are computer users out there who really understand what their machines are doing. They know their hardware and software inside out and have earned the title "power user."

They are the users to whom KnowledgeMan/2 is directed--people who have already pushed their dBASE II and dBASE III and Symphony and Framework packages up against the limits and want more.

The publisher, Micro Data Base Systems, Inc. of Lafayette, Ind., (317) 463-2581, describes it as "the universal knowledge management system."

It is an integrated package with relational database management, spreadsheet, statistical analysis, calculation, forms management and application development capabilities with options to add word processing, multicolor forms creation, report generation, business graphics, telecommunications, a mouse driver and a natural language interface (so that you can interact with the program in English).

The key to its power is that any function is available at any time from within any component of the program. You can issue a command in the middle of text editing that will insert a database report at that point in the text, automatically drawing the latest data from various database and spreadsheet files as needed.

Then you can have the program draw color graphs, including three-dimensional bar graphs or stock-market style high-low-close graphs, using selected numbers from the report that you just constructed.

If it's an analysis that you have to prepare weekly, for instance, you can insert commands into it so that each week all you have to do is print it out and the latest data will be automatically incorporated and graphed as it is printed.

For very large-scale database applications, the company has another, more powerful product--MDBS III--that you can access through KM/2.

At the heart of KnowledgeMan/2 are a series of commands which cause it to execute various tasks. It is similar to dBASE II and III in that regard, but its commands are much more extensive. When you add a module to the basic program, what you really get is an additional set of commands that then become available for use throughout the program.

People who already know how to program with the dBASE or Rbase 5000 command language will find the transition to KM/2 much easier than those who do not. This is not a program for the novice, nor even the experienced occasional user. It is no accident that there are 19 KnowledgeMan/2 user groups across the nation dedicated to helping members expand their abilities to work with the program.

The publisher stages a series of two- and three-day seminars to train new users, at $395 and $495 per participant. It also maintains a special department to work with users designing major applications with KM/2.

The program code alone occupies 1.3 megabytes of hard disk space on an MS-DOS computer, with all accessory modules installed, and costs $1,715. The basic package is $595. A network version allowing 10 users costs $3,295 with all the options. Versions for larger numbers of users are also available.

A unique feature of KM/2 is that versions are available not only for most of the MS-DOS microcomputers on the market, but also to run under the CPM/86 operating system, UNIX and the VMS operating system on Digital Equipment Corp.'s VAX 11 series of minicomputers. It is also available in eight foreign language versions.

The installation procedure is completely programmed and the easiest I have ever used. But it has at least one serious flaw: Installing it for a monochrome monitor on a Compaq portable computer renders the program unusable. It took careful scrutiny of the three thick volumes of instructions to find out how to fix it. (The manuals are very detailed, though printed in type too small for easy reading.)

The program requires a minimum of 320 kilobytes of RAM memory and is best with a color monitor. Unfortunately, it does not yet support the IBM and compatible enhanced color graphics system. A hard disk is a must even though you could use pieces of the program separately on a floppy-only-equipped machine.

As an alternative to using the programming language to command KM/2, it offers a series of pop-up menus to lead you through the choices needed to perform the function that you desire, with context-sensitive help available at each step of the way.

Unfortunately the process is slow and cumbersome. To simply look at all the records in an existing database, for instance, can require that you make 30 or more choices from five different pop-up menus, and if just one of those choices is wrong you get nothing except the chance to try again.

The end result of using the menu selections is to build a command line to be issued to the program, so you'll want to write down that command if it's one you expect to use frequently so that next time you can type it in directly. Better yet, you should study the manuals and learn how to construct commands on your own.

Programs like Lotus 1-2-3 or Q&A for spreadsheet and simple database management, respectively, are more elegant than KM/2 and much easier to use. Only after you run up against their limitations, particularly in the ability to automatically put disparate pieces of information together into one usable document, do you need KM/2.

A good way to try it out is to buy the $50 demo version that comes on five diskettes and limits you to very small data tables, spreadsheets and text files, but otherwise gives you the full capabilities of the program. You'll find KnowledgeMan/2 at computer and software dealers.

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