Rom Review

Viewsheet
Acornsoft

VIEWSHEET

By DAVID BROWN

VIEWSHEET is a ROM based spreadsheet program marketed by Acornsoft and written in house, rather than commissioned from another software house.

The pre-release version came with a pre-release type manual. It is therefore not possible to comment on the presentation of the documentation as it will finally appear, only on its content.

There is little doubt, however, that the final form of the package will be up to Acornsoft's usual high standards.

The manual is very well written. The first part is a "try this and watch what happens" tutorial approach which assumes no prior knowledge of spreadsheets and expects a reasonable standard of intelligence from its reader.

There are consequently no condescending "Did you notice what happened then .. ? I bet Teddy did!..." lines to make one want to rip the book to pieces.

The tutorial covers all the facilities offered by the program, not just the simple ones. The second part is a more curt reference section which concisely explains all available facilities.

To access the spreadsheet one types *SHEET or *SH. This puts one in the Viewsheet command mode from which one can load, save and print sheets as well as perform a number of other functions, including changing mode.

The system works equally well in all seven modes, which means that those using TV sets don't have to squint at 80 column layouts and those with particularly bad eyesight can use Mode 5 if they wish.

The foreground and background colours can be changed to good effect using the usual Ctrl-S,n,n,0,0,0 technique.

Mode 3 with yellow writing on a blue background makes the whole system look very attractive and is more restful on the eyes than white on black.

Pressing Escape takes you into sheet mode, in which you can manipulate the sheet in memory. Pressing it again takes you back into command mode (Wordwise users will have no problems here).

One thing that did strike me is that there is no use whatsoever made of the *HELP command. It seems unlikely that ROM space is at a premium, and it therefore seems a shame not to make the most of this facility, even if only to provide a list of commands available in command mode as is done in the DFS ROM.

The maximum size of the sheet itself is 255 columns by 255 rows, which means there is no real restriction on the size of the application save that imposed by the amount of memory. (For those with an academic interest in such things, the package will work with the 6502 second processor.)

Facilities are all fairly standard. Moving around the screen is simply a matter of using the cursor keys.

Unfortunately however, the GOTO cell function is rather awkardly hidden on function key number seven.

All cell entries are simply typed in and once entered they are interpreted to be values or labels.

Very annoyingly, there is no facility for forcing an entry to be interpreted as a label so that 1981-82 comes out as 1899!

As one would expect, ranges of values can be totalled, averaged, "minimum-ed" and "maximum-ed" without difficulty. Replication is done in a standard way and is both powerful and easy to use.

Rows and columns can be inserted and deleted, although accidental deletion can be protected against.

The numerical (but not textual) format of the information can be specified on a cell or window basis. The default row and column headings can be redefined or even turned off.

There is a comprehensive IF statement and a facility for reading and writing elements of random access disc files. At first sight it seems that nothing has been overlooked.

Unfortunately there is one major oversight. Presumably in order for the reverse video cursor to show up in Mode 7 there is a mandatory gap between columns which cannot be filled.

This means that any text which is entered into the sheet has to be typed in on a one word per cell basis.

If you wish to write "Uncommunicative" on your sheet, you either have to have a column width of 15 (in which case one can only get about three columns on a screen) or be satisfied with something along the lines of "Uncommu nicativ e". As a result headings, and for that matter all labels, are a pig's breakfast. To compound the error, column widths are not variable.

One can only suppose that the answer is to transfer the computed sheet, complete with mnemonic labels, to a word processor - one feels sure that Acornsoft would recommend View -and tidy up the dog's dinner when the number crunching has been completed. That strikes me as being a distinctly unsatisfactory solution.

Having got over that hurdle we come to another problem. Acornsoft has gone overboard on windows. One can define up to 10 (yes 10) screen windows and another 10 print windows.

The idea is to enable you to dissect your sheet into logical subsections in order to view and print these as inter-related sub-sheets.

There is a facility for loading and saving window definitions separate to the sheets, thus enabling you to swap from one perspective of the sheet to another by loading in a new window definition.

While this is a very laudable aim, there is a considerable obstacle. Defining and manipulating window definitions is uncannily difficult, being about as user-friendly as a kick in the teeth.

Fumbling around defining and redefining windows in order to get the display right is not easy. One might feel that the struggle would be worth it if the end result were to prove useful, but I have yet to be convinced.

My view is that an ability to split the screen into two - or at most four -different windows is a very useful facility, but the usefulness of 10 screen windows is dubious.

The printer windows, which allow one to define the area of the sheet to be printed and to some extent the format of the output, could be useful for very big sheets.

More work needs to be done by Acornsoft to find the best compromise between flexibility and user friendliness.

In conclusion, Viewsheet's major failing is to provide adequate facilities for textual labelling." Apart from this it succeeds in providing all the basic spreadsheet functions in a well presented package.

The only real advantage it has over its competitors at the moment and one which may evaporate before its release - is that it is ROM based. Acornsoft is capable of producing better programs.