Slyfoot (slyfoot) wrote in oldware,
Slyfoot
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oldware

The Secretary Bird

Today I'd like to review a relatively unknown office package for DOS called "The Secretary Bird" by Wesson International. If you've never heard of this office suite I can't say I blame you because I hadn't heard of it until recently. The Secretary Bird comes with four components: Writer, Filer, Calc, and Manager. The program is very simple and intuitive and it stacks up surprisingly well against other more well known commercial office suites for DOS.

The Writer program is nominally a word processor, but in reality it is little more than a glorified text editor. It's better than the EDIT program that comes with DOS 6.x, but it's not nearly as powerful as, say, Microsoft Word 5.5 for DOS. You get a functional spelling checker, a ruler, Bold and Underline (which does not appear on the screen, but only in printing) and your basic cut & paste editing features. One nice thing about the Writer program is that you can assign simple key substitution macros to F2-F12, so that you can save time with a repetitive task. It can't handle very large text files (but then again neither can EDIT or MS Word 5.5 for DOS). But it's sufficient for keeping track of notes and to-do lists and that sort of thing.

The Calc program is the spreadsheet program, and it's surprisingly versatile. You enter text and numbers almost the same way that you would in Lotus 1-2-3 or MS Excel, except to specify a range you would type A1...A3 rather than A1:A3. I haven't checked to see if there's a way to do absolute referencing, but I did notice that if you insert or delete a row that your formulas will reference cells relatively so you don't have to re-enter them all over again. There's quite a few functions from currency to statistical to geometry and trigonometry functions, so unless you're a professional who needs more sophisticated functions it should be sufficient.

The Filer program is the database portion of the program, and I was most impressed with it. The layout is easy to design, but if you're used to using a list entry (similar to a spreadsheet) you're out of luck because Filer doesn't have one. You can do basic queries on records using the ? and * wildcard conventions, which is a nice bonus. The report function is very basic, and presents your data in a simple table. The nicest thing about the Filer program is that you can design large fields on the fly with the arrow keys. The field size can stretch from the field name to the end of the screen and extended down to the bottom of the screen, so that you can type larger blocks of data.

The Manager portion of The Secretary Bird is the basic file management section. One nice thing about it is that it will display a column for each type of document: word processor, spreadsheet, and database, so that you can quickly find the type of document you need. You can even format a disk, and create directories in the Manager, but I didn't try formatting a disk because I ran it under DOSBox.

One useful feature of The Secretary Bird is that you can jump to DOS and do things at the prompt, then exit back into the program. TSB also gets points for making it easy to change certain default settings like the colors, but loses points for not being able to save the default margin sizes in Writer (I disliked having to change the margin size each time I wanted to type a text document.) There is only ONE conversion option, and that is to convert 1-2-3 spreadsheets back and forth between TSB's Calc program.

I actually like The Secretary Bird enough that I decided to use it for doing my budget spreadsheets and contact database instead of Microsoft Works 1 for DOS. While it doesn't pack a whole lot of power, it's simple and functional, and you don't need a degree in rocket science to figure out how it works. Released in 1988, The Secretary Bird is a nice example of oldware that is still useful. If you want to try it out, then check out the link here: http://www.dossolutions.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/
Tags: software review
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