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===========================================================================
                Review: Personal Suite CD-ROM from Cloanto
                            By:  Jason Compton 
===========================================================================

It STILL amazes me how far the Amiga CD-ROM industry has come in just a few
short years.  Besides the largely failed CDTV experiment, there seemed to
be some Fred Fish disk collections...and not much else.

Then, spurred in the commercial market by CD32, and by Aminet CDs on the
compilation side, things began to take off.  The art of the shareware
CD-ROM has been pretty well explored, by Aminet, Fred Fish, and others such
as the Meeting Pearls crowd.  On the other end of the spectrum, we've seen
multi-disc collections from Almathera.  Games are still released on both
floppy and CD format, although CD32's premature demise as a going concern
has curbed the expansion of gaming CDs.

Now, slowly but surely, CD-ROM is finally gaining the sort of legitimacy
for commercial applications that it has enjoyed for years on other
platforms.  A major step in this direction is the Personal Suite CD-ROM
from Cloanto, the shining beacon of Amiga development in Italy.

Personal Suite sets out to be just that--a collection of utilities an
individual user will find a great deal of use for.  Headlining the CD are
the "Personal" applications: Personal Paint 6.4, Personal Write, and
Personal Fonts Maker from Cloanto and Personal SBase 4, from Oxxi.  Also
included are a set of Kara fonts, Cloanto's DirDiff tool for watch-dogging
and protecting extremely large file copies, and the PNG datatype.  To round
out the CD, a collection of Amiga artwork and animation is supplied, as
well as some classic novels, which have all of a sudden become a very
popular item for CD-ROM compilers.

Personal Suite ships in a container very much like a film can--a metal tin
just big enough to hold the CD.  No paper.  All documentation is online in
AmigaGuide format, in the Big Four Amiga languages, English, German,
French, and Italian.  The majority of the books are in English, with a
small assortment in Italian.

It is the hope of any CD such as this to be more than the sum of its parts.
But to understand if this is the case, it is best to take a look at the
parts first.

Personal Paint 6.4
------------------

Clearly, the headliner of the headliners.  Personal Paint has come a long
way, and it is essentially the only game in town for 8-bit (and below)
paint applications that is still undergoing development, DPaint and
Brilliance being abandoned programs.

PPaint is, at heart, a paint and animation program with a great deal of
features.  Most notable is support for a wide range of filetypes for
loading and saving (including datatype support under OS 3.x), and the
built-in image processing features, allowing any one of a great deal of
present effects or programmable convolves to be applied to an entire image
or any user-definable area, a process as easy as picking an effect and
"lasso-ing" a region.

The new version provides support for graphic cards through the display
database, and I was considerably impressed by its performance on my Retina
Z-III running CyberGraphX.  The speed, and solidity of the display, was
astounding.

In addition, the new manual offers helpful tips and tricks for Amiga
artists, including advice on dealing with the varying sizes of pixels in
the Amiga environment versus the rest of the world.  PPaint allows you to
force square pixel usage.

Such features as multiple-level undo, built-in virtual memory, and the
DPaint-paradigm multiple function buttons (filled/unfilled objects, for
example) are all welcome.

PPaint alone pretty well makes the CD-ROM worth the price of admittance.

Personal Write
--------------

Personal Write is an odd one.  It is billed as a word processor, but to my
mind it fits better in the category of text editor.  Still, few text
editors allow flexible Postscript output and rudimentary grammar checking.

I suppose what throws it off is a total lack of WSIWYG.  Instead, a display
very much like that of the text editor of your choice greets you.  But
PWrite allows mail merging.

The interface clearly hearkens back to an era of OS 1.3, despite the
updated 1995 copyright notice.  No concept of a display database exists,
instead you can choose to toggle interlace, A2024 mode, and the like.  I
did find that a forced promotion to a 640x480x16 CyberGraphX screen worked
acceptably.

PWrite isn't really as comfortable to use as most text editors.  For
example, text highlighting is not done by merely clicking and dragging, it
is a mode that must be toggled.

The one saving grace of PWrite is its ability to translate ASCII data into
a number of international and cross-platform modes.  It's worth a look, but
it won't be the document generator of choice here any time soon.

Personal SBase 4
----------------

Oxxi software has become pretty hard to get a hold of lately, so a line on
one of the few databases for the Amiga is a worthwhile cause.  Like Twist
2, and unlike Final Data, SBase is a relational database.  In
oversimplified terms, this means that data in one file has access to data
in another file, which can be used interactively and cooperatively in such
applications as forms and invoices.

There's a lot of learning to do if you're going to get a relational
database to jump through hoops for you.  Still, the potential to do some
great work is there.

The manual includes a guide to get you up and running somewhat comfortably
in 15 minutes, but that's only the beginning.

Personal Fonts Maker, Personal Fonts Maker 2
--------------------------------------------

PFM pretty much announces what it is--a tool to generate your own bitmapped
fonts.

Not being a typographer, it's admittedly difficult for me to comment on the
relative usefulness of such a program.  I've always been quite happy with
the existing wealth of fonts, but can see the appeal to having access to
modifications.

PFM2 adds color capabilities and the ability to use a larger (in fact,
unlimited) bitmap.  Unfortunately, it is hardcoded for AGA, and will not
promote to a CyberGraphX 256 color screen.

PFM similarly suffers from being built from an old interface, however.  It
does not properly promote.

The neatest, and highest-level, tool is the Printer Driver Modifier,
allowing you to mess with escape codes sent to your printer.  Use only if
you know what you're doing.

A number of fonts are included as object lessons and examples, and for your
general use.

Artwork, Books, PNG Toolkit
---------------------------

Any artwork collection with Eric Schwartz in it is ok in my book.  Of
course, you'll want to check out the E. S. Productions CD-ROM for the
complete story.  Legendary Jim Sachs is featured, as are Karl Bilheimer and
Dr. Chip.

The books?  Classics are great.  AmigaGuided in one big file for your
reading pleasure.

PNG is the GIF-replacement standard Cloanto helped develop after the GIF
patent fiasco of recent times.  It is only fair to credit Cloanto for the
amount of work put in documenting the various unsavory actions of Unisys
and Compuserve throughout the GIF saga, encouraging the support of a new
standard.  Both the datatype and a developer's kit are included.

The Verdict
-----------

Personal Suite street-prices around US$70 (or about UKP 50).  What are you
getting for that price?  In all honesty, two high-quality productivity
packages, one of which (Personal Paint) is a very mature and powerful piece
of software.  SBase is showing a bit of age and disrepair, largely where
the interface is concerned, but is still a useful package.

You get two commercial applications which, while useful, have definitely
seen better days.  Personal Fonts Maker is functional and really can be a
useful tool, and while Personal Writer is worth a look, it won't be
superceding Digital Quill any time soon.

Kara fonts are nothing to sneeze at.  Consider yourself lucky to have
access to them.

Rounding out the CD to a comfy 646 megs are the additional artwork, fonts,
and books.  No complaints here.

Top that with an AmigaGuide interface linked to the applications, full
manuals in multiple languages, and it seems to be a steal.  It is.

My hat is off to Cloanto for paving the way for more CDs of this quality.

Cloanto Italia srl
PO Box 118
33100 Udine
Italy

++39 432 545902 voice
++39 432 609051 fax
++39 432 545905 BBS
info@cloanto.it e-mail