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Spreadsheet Faceoff: Final Calc vs. TurboCalc, Part 1
By: Jason Compton
It really makes me proud to see things like this--two application programs
in honest competition with each other, in an area not traditionally
Until I found out, not so long ago, that spreadsheets could really do some
fantastic stuff, I could have cared less. But now I know better. While
they're not necessarily indispensible tools for everyone, you may be
surprised to find out what you really can get done.
It's only fair to take a look at the two big players in the market right
now, TurboCalc 3.5 from Digita and FinalCalc 1.03 from Softwood. And it's
only fair, given the complexity of the programs, to split up their
evaluation over a few issues.
This time around, I'll deal with some basic interface issues and cover the
tutorial aspects of each program. In the future, some of the unique
features, shared strengths, and individual weaknesses will be revealed.
TurboCalc needs little introduction. It's been bouncing around for some
time now, most recently as an extremely low-cost CD-ROM in version 2.1.
Recently, Digita acquired the English language publication rights,
presumably to solidify their position as a full-service Amiga application
To settle you into using a spreadsheet, the manual covers the basics--how
to get around, how to use cells, and the difference between relative and
absolute addressing. It also talks you through a short demonstration.
Of more interest is the included tutorial script, which upon loading takes
the user through the basic financial appliaction outlined in the manual.
Once through that example, you're more or less left to your own devices to
explore the dozens of sample projects in the package, some of which
illuminate very basic concepts (how to get an X/Y graph to look right),
others which add programming commands to the toolkit, and even a project
which allows you to play Connect 4 against a friend.
The sample sheets often could stand a bit more explanation and
documentation for first time users, and I found the occasional usage of
German commands internally where the English command was explained to be
confusing. Still, they do a good job of exhibiting the power of the
The GUI is very tight and efficient, with flexible coloration, font
selection, and screenmode support. As a rule, it is fairly responsive,
although some scripting jobs cause pauses and flashes that get distracting.
Final Calc 1.03
Softwood isn't a stranger to the Amiga applications market, but Final Calc
is a relatively new entry.
Based on years of work by Khalid Aldoseri, who developed it to assist him
with his business, Final Calc brings a lot of high-end performance to the
It does so in a fairly stark style, however, at least for starters. Its
default opener on an NTSC: High Res screen took me slightly aback, as did
the gunmetal grey color scheme. A little quick work in Preferences got
that sorted out, but it does lack a bit of elegance.
On the other hand, nobody uses a spreadsheet because they're attractive.
After a brief overview of the nature of spreadsheets, Final Calc's manual
delves into issues of tools and applications. The tutorials come as a
collection of sample projects--not nearly as many as TurboCalc, but
interesting in their own right. They show off Final Calc as a number
cruncher with several real-world applications (such as generating calendars
for any month, any year, with any day of the week as the first position).
The most interesting project is the graph demo, which includes dozens of
graphs generated on a large data set, to show off the power of Final Calc
in creating presentations and displays.
Like TurboCalc, the more intricate coding aspects are not entirely
explained as this goes on. You do get a definite feel for the power of the
package, although more samples would have been nice to have. And the
manual is always available to describe the commands more specifically.
Final Calc also comes with a tool that is becoming popular in many
different applications--a "crash recovery" program, which actually searches
through memory not corrupted by a reset to try to locate FinalCalc project
data. This could come in handy if ever a random guru knocks you out just
as you are about to save.
While neither Final Calc nor TurboCalc take you by the hand and parade you
through their entire set of options, they do have intelligent and helpful
introductory projects. Next time, we'll take a look at what happens when
you actually start USING them.