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COMPUTER FILE / RICHARD O'REILLY

A Lexus-Class Spreadsheet at a Hyundai Price

September 23, 1993|RICHARD O'REILLY | RICHARD O'REILLY is director of computer analysis for The Times

Borland International has handed its competitors a tough challenge. Its new Quattro Pro 5.0 spreadsheet programs for Windows and DOS not only set new standards of sophistication, they have an introductory price of just $49.95.

That's like being offered a Lexus for the price of a Hyundai.

The regular price of $99.95, effective after Jan. 15, is still a big cut from the $495 suggested prices of Lotus 1-2-3 and Microsoft Excel, even if their prices are heavily discounted.

Both the Windows and DOS versions of Quattro Pro 5.0 provide spreadsheet "notebooks," the best method of organizing spreadsheet data that I have used. Unlike current Lotus 1-2-3 and Microsoft Excel programs for Windows, in which multiple spreadsheets also can be aggregated, it is automatic in Quattro Pro 5.0.

A Quattro Pro spreadsheet notebook is contained in a single file, inside which you can have up to 256 separate, full-size spreadsheets, like ledger pages in a notebook. Each page has a visible tab on which to enter a 15-character title, such as "January Sales."

The pages of the notebook can be used independently, or consecutive pages can be grouped so that an entry on the first page can be entered automatically on subsequent pages. You can also "drill down" through a notebook, allowing a formula to use values at the same cell location in selected pages.

For instance, to make monthly sales spreadsheets, the structure (labels and formulas) of 12 pages covering each month of the year can be constructed simultaneously by grouping them.

Another work sheet in the notebook--"Annual Sales," for instance--could consolidate data from each of the monthly sheets with a simple reference to a range of cells spanning the monthly work sheets.

Both DOS and Windows versions have built-in networking support. An additional version, Quattro Pro 5.0 Workgroup Edition ($99.95 until Jan. 15 and $495 thereafter), is an enhanced Windows version offering greater connective support, including the ability to create work groups to share specific files across a local network. It also has a spelling function and connection to corporate SQL databases.

The DOS version will run on everything from an 8088 microprocessor PC/XT with 512 megabytes of RAM to the latest Pentium machines. It needs a minimum of six megabytes of free space on the hard disk. Although it will do graphs and slide shows, complete with sound effects, and display different fonts even on machines with low-resolution CGA graphics, the results will obviously be better with the better graphics cards, such as EGA or VGA.

There is no doubt that the DOS version can extend the usefulness of old IBM-compatible computers.

Quattro Pro 5.0 for Windows replaces version 1.0 for Windows, skipping intervening version numbers to synchronize with the DOS version number.

It adds dozens of new features. One, also in the DOS version, is called analytical graphing. It lets you look at data in various ways in a graph without changing the underlying table. For instance, daily values can be aggregated into weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly values in the graph, or data can be smoothed out with running averages or automatic curve fitting.

There now are more than 250 functions, with strong emphasis on engineering, financial and statistical operations. A collection of 23 interactive tutors teaches you how to perform various tasks while you build your own spreadsheet, and several "expert" procedures automatically perform some complex tasks.

If you have casually followed recent news stories about Lotus Development's copyright infringement lawsuit against Borland, you may have the impression that Borland was under court order not to sell Quattro Pro.

That applied to the previous versions of Quattro Pro, the ones that Borland stopped manufacturing the day of the court order (which Borland sought, incidentally, to move the case to a point where it could appeal the initial ruling).

Quattro Pro itself hasn't been the issue in the long-running lawsuit for several years. The remaining legal issue concerns one feature in the previous versions that allowed users of Lotus 1-2-3 to move their Lotus files into Quattro Pro unchanged and still run the macro keys that they had designed to automate some of their spreadsheet tasks.

The new Quattro Pro 5.0 versions have no Lotus macro compatibility included in their macro features. They do, however, accept nearly all other features in Lotus work sheet files, including Allways and Impress font formatting.

Frankly, I don't think Quattro Pro needs Lotus macros. One of the advantages of having Quattro Pro is not being tied to the way Lotus thinks a spreadsheet ought to work. To take full advantage of Quattro Pro's notebook design and many graph-building and presentation features, you would want to redesign your spreadsheets and create new macros to run them.

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