Bob and Joy
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach

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September 2002, Week 1 -- Data on My Mind



 FileMaker 6


   FileMaker Pro is probably the best database you can buy for a small business or school. It works with Macs and Windows and the files are interchangeable. It's a breeze to learn and the operation is simple.

   I went through my own files and found to my amazement that the last time I wrote about the program was four years ago. A few changes have been made since then. You can use FileMaker Pro to publish a database directly to the web. Particularly useful for realtors or catalog publishing, you can import an unlimited number of pictures directly from a digital camera and arrange those in database categories as you wish, and then publish to the web.


   The new version 6 of FileMaker Pro has 21 templates ready-made for basic business uses (including time billing), education and home business data. All the templates are customizable, which of course they must be, because few business are exactly alike. The program can read and write the XML (extensible markup language) files normally understood by larger, more complex databases.


   If you look at comments from FileMaker users there is a definite division into two camps: small business, home and education users love the program, developers hold it in contempt. In short, there is a certain amount of snobbery here from database developers, but their point is correct in that FileMaker Pro does not have all the features you can get from Microsoft Access and larger programs.


   FileMaker is one of the great office programs. It easily performs many common operations like mass e-mailing to a selected list from a database and other common tasks. The learning curve is minimal. The Mac version of the software works with both OS-9 and the latest OS-X operating systems. Pricing runs $299 for the regular version ($149 for an upgrade) to $999 for the server version. A free 30-day trial is available from the web site: www.filemaker.com.


Cheap eats

  Office XP

   In a little publicized move, Microsoft Office XP is being sold for $149 to students and teachers under the company's "academic pricing" policy. Some discount chain stores, like "Staples" and "Costco," are selling it for $110-$130 with rebate. This is the full version of Office XP and identical to the version sold for around $500 at full retail.

   Academic pricing has been around for a long time and for many products, but seldom in a deal as good as this. Such pricing is extremely hard to police, of course, and the Microsoft guidelines allow the $149 price for students and teachers in any school grade. Technically, even kindergarten students are eligible for the discount. Parents who have a student at home are also eligible. You are supposed to show a student or faculty I.D. to get the discount, though few stores ask for them.


Good graphics, Charlie Brown

  True Space 6

   "TrueSpace 6" for the PC is Caligari's attempt at graphics immortality. There's good news and bad news. This is a whole lot of power for $595; to get more you have to move up to programs costing several thousand dollars.

   Here in the realm of relatively reasonable money you can still get many features found only in very high-end programs. Lighting effects can be "baked on," as they say in the business, allowing the user to create special textures on any object. Three-dimensional objects can be sliced, peeled and hollowed out. You can bend, splice and layer any number of objects. A new "mirror" feature lets you create half of any symmetrical object and the program will finish the rest.


   The bad news from users is the program is prone to crashes, has plenty of bugs and a learning curve the size of Everest. It boils down to time versus money, because you can get professional quality results from TrueSpace, as good as what you see in TV commercials and magazine ads.


   For those who would like to try working with high-end graphics like this but not spend a lot, Caligari sells previous versions of the program for much less. You can get version four, for example, for $79 as a "back to school special." I used this program a few years ago and it's great. More info at www.caligari.com.



-- www.artmuseum.net  Features current exhibitions from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, the National Gallery in Washington, the Whitney in New York, the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, etc. They also have a museum store.

-- www.fleetkids.com  A site to teach children about financial management and investing, sponsored by Fleet Boston Financial Corp. This was rated best-web-site-of-its-kind recently by the Wall Street Journal. There are lots of good games to get the kids to do simple dollars and cents math and a play-money stock market contest. Prizes are awarded to schools that use the games as teaching aids. We were generally impressed but the stock market game seems to be opposite of the way the real market works.




   "Links," the best simulated golf game ever, has come out with its "Championship Edition," $35 for Windows, from Microsoft. The package has 13 courses, including the Royal Melbourne Golf Club, Banff Springs and the Canyons at Bighorn, Montana. You can play as one of several pros or as an amateur. Without exaggeration, the graphics are spectacular. I have seen people become addicted to this game for many hours at a stretch. www.microsoft.com/games.

NOTE: Readers can search nearly four years of columns at the "On Computers" web site: www.oncomp.com. You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at bobschwab@oncomp.com or bobschwab@aol.com.