Feb 2002                                                                                                     

Web Master Wanderings
By Curt Potsic, Space Coast PC Users Group

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SCPCUG Web Master Curt Potsic

Have you been looking for a Office Suite but do not require the complex computing power offered by large program suites like Microsoft Office or Corel WordPerfect Office? Maybe you are not sure how many features of a Office Suite you would actually use. Maybe you don't want to face a big learning curve. And maybe you do not want to spend a lot of money to find out you don't really need all that computing power to handle your correspondence, financial, and presentation needs. I may just have the answer.

I am talking about a very capable Office Suite called EasyOffice 2001 from E-Press Corporation of Ontario, Canada and available at their website http://www.e-press.com. It has many features that should prove ideal for most home users. And that is the key. The suite is free for personal use. Business users are required to buy a commercial version. The E-Press website is understandably structured to favor the Premium versions of EasyOffice. I had to do a bit of hunting around to find out details about the Freeware version but all versions of EasyOffice 2001, including the Freeware version, are available for downloading at http://www.e-press.com/demo_downloads.html. EasyOffice is also available from ZDNet Downloads at http://www.zdnet.com/downloads/stories/info/0,10615,72375,00.html and CNet Downloads.com at http://download.cnet.com/downloads/0-10016-100-7531747.html but to ensure getting the latest version I suggest going to the E-Press Corporation site.

Every time a program within the EasyOffice Suite is started a screen pops up stating the "use" requirement. This screen explains that this is indeed Freeware for individual users with nothing to buy, no time limits, nor any other limitations. Once you click on the "Buy later" button you have complete use of the program. The only possible deterrence could be the 33 MB download size. Individuals on a Dial-up Internet connection will find downloading taking a bit of time. Note also that Freeware version users are not entitled to upgrades. I do not think many people (especially those on Dial-up) will be interested in downloading and reinstalling the complete EasyOffice Suite every time there is a new version available. Thus, the big advantage of purchasing EasyOffice is you are entitled to free upgrades and service packs for two years.

The version Of EasyOffice 2001 reviewed here is dated Oct 16, 2001 and does not include support for Windows XP. There is now a 43 MB download available that includes support for Windows XP and XP Pro. If you are using WinXP be sure to read the EasyOffice Frequently Asked Questions page (http://www.e-press.com/faq.html) under "Windows XP Issues" for information concerning speech synthesis. All potential users should also note that EasyOffice requires Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) 5.0 or higher be installed on your computer. You do not have to use IE as your browser, but it must be present since many of the software routines called by EasyOffice are kept within IE.

The EasyOffice 2001 Suite comes with a number of programs including SimpleWord, EasyWord,EasyOffice 2001's EasyWord program EasyPresentation, EasySpreadsheet, EasyBookkeeper, EasyCalculator, EasyContactManager, EasyZip, EasySpeaker, and EasyHelper. On installation you have a choice of minimal, custom, or complete install. I selected the complete install which included additional pictures and clip art. This install selection caused the 33 MB download to expand to over 84 MB on my hard drive. When the installation completed I had ten new icons, a shortcut for each of the above programs, on my DeskTop. I might point out that the installation did not add anything to my Start Up folder or System Tray as many programs tend to do these days. There is nothing associated with EasyOffice running in the background and using up memory when EasyOffice is not in use.

Obviously, EasyOffice has more features than I could ever hope to cover in this review but one thing that caught my eye was its text-to-speech capability. Those of you that know me, know that I am a big fan of programs that feature voice recognition and text-to-speech. For voice recognition you will have to buy one of the commercial versions of EasyOffice. But I must say, for text-to-speech this Freeware version of EasyOffice implements it beautifully. In EasyWord, a word processing program that is compatible with Microsoft Word documents, I now have a choice of three voices (Mary, Mike, or Sam) reading text to me. I can use this feature to have a voice let me know I have made a spelling error while typing, speak each word as I am typing, or after the fact read back all or any portion of what I have typed. This text-to-speech capability carries over into other programs of EasyOffice. The EasySpeaker program allows you to open any text file and have it read to you and the EasyCalculator program features a running tape which is printable for record keeping and by clicking on the "Speak Tape" button the tape is read back. For text-to-speech EasyOffice uses the Microsoft Voice Engine. This is a free voice engine, available to program developers, that is also used by other Shareware and Freeware programs.

One feature of EasyWord that I like is the ability to make columns. For our Family Christmas letter I used this feature to make the letter more readable by using two columns with ten point spacing between the columns. It took me a while, however, to figure out how to get the spacing between the columns that I wanted with no black line or bar. The associated Help file pointed me in the correct direction but was lacking in details on how to implement exactly what I wanted. Along those lines I should say that EasyOffice has "Cartoon" type tutorials that pop up as you start each program. Once you are familiar with the program this feature can be turned off. These tutorials are basically a "Quick Start" type of overview. For more details you have to go into the actual Help files found within each program. Even so, although much of what these programs can do is intuitive and should be recognizable by those who have used similar type programs, you may discover a few spots that require stumbling through until you figure it out.

EasyWord has an unique feature that I find a need for from time to time. That is the ability to save my file in Portable Document Format (PDF). This is a very popular format that is used in business and on the web. The electronic version of our own Space Coast PC Journal is received in this format. Adobe's Acrobat Reader (a free program) is required to read PDF documents.

As downloaded EasyWord does not have the capability of saving files as a PDF document. When I tried, EasyWord told me it had to install a PDF Export Filter. That installation added another 460 KB but I now have PDF saving and printing capability. Note that this filter can be uninstalled from the Tools Menu if you later find you do not need this capability.

Some other features EasyWord has are mail merge, printing labels and envelopes, word count, automatic backup, and ancestors backup. You can define the time between backup saves. It has spell check dictionaries in American English, Canadian French, and European French. You can even add words to an user dictionary--something other free dictionary programs do not allow. There is a separate full English dictionary. The thesaurus contains both synonyms and antonyms. The font selection dropdown arrow listing provides an actual image of what the font looks like, making proper font selection easy. In particular, I find the grammar check feature valuable for making my writing clearer and more readable.

For a test of the EasySpeadsheet program, I decided to take a spreadsheet listing of the books my wife Milada has read over the past several years. As an avid reader of Historical Fiction and Time Travel novels, Milada keeps the Brevard County Library System busy. She currently has over 1450 books in this listing. To keep track of her reading, Milada was using an old Windows 3.1 version of Microsoft Works that came with my 1995 vintage Gateway computer. I figured EasySpreadsheet would not recognize this old Works file format and sure enough it did not. So in MS Works I used the "save as" to save the file as a "Text & Commas" type file. It removed some formatting and saved the file with a CSV extension. I then opened this file in EasySpreadsheet with no problem. All the data was there, properly separated in columns and rows. I did have to readjust the column widths and then add back some formatting for column titles. The reformatting included things like font size, bold, underline, and centering. Overall the transfer into EasySpreadsheet was a "no brainer" or should I say "easy." An additional benefit of EasySpreadsheet is the program will read back to you any row or column. This seemed like a very handy feature for checking to ensure data was entered correctly. You can start, stop, pause, and resume the reading. That was fine but what if you had a long column and wanted to read back only a selected portion. At first I thought there was no way to do this. The EasySpreadsheet Help file offered no help. I thought about this for 30 seconds and said why not use "copy and paste" to paste my selected cells into EasySpeaker. That worked like a charm. In fact better than I expected as EasySpeaker, Two Modes of EasySpeakerlike other programs in this Office Suite, has two modes, "EZ" and "Advanced." In the Advanced mode the EasySpeaker slides right into a blank area of EasySpreadsheet's frame as a small "toolbar" type of overlay. Hence, it does not interfere with your work area and is readily available for reading back anything you select. You do not even have to use "copy and paste" commands. Just highlight the cells of interest and press the up arrow symbol on EasySpeaker. The selected cells are read back. What could be simpler?

With EasySpreadsheet you can save your work as a ESS (EasySpreadsheet) or XLS (Microsoft Excel) file. To demonstrate some of the program's capabilities, included is a rather complex sample spreadsheet that shows a fictitious company's financial layout with tabs for Assumptions, Income Statement, Balance Sheet, and CF Analysis. That is much more computing power than I would ever need and shows that this program is no light weight.

EasyPresentation is similar to Microsoft's PowerPoint program.EasyOffice 2001's EasyPresentation program It allows creation and presentation of slide shows complete with text, graphics, sound effects, and music. The program comes with two sample presentations which demonstrate some of the effects that are possible. Creating a presentation is indeed "easy." To aid in getting started a small library of photos, graphics, music, sound effects, etc. is included with the EasyOffice 2001 download. EasyPresentation walks you through the slide creation process step by step. You first select the slide format from 16 templates. Next you choose the slide background color or a textured background. Title words are typed and the text font type, size, and color are selected. The same is done for the slide body text. Any GIF format graphics (including animated GIFs) or JPEG format photos you wish to add from the sample library or any other source files on your computer are selected as is the slide background music (MIDI format) or sound effect (WAV format). There is even an option for recording your own voice using Windows Sound Recorder. The WAV file saved in Sound Recorder is then inserted into the presentation. Finally, for slide transitions you can choose from a list of 45 special effects and select the effect's time duration. Oh, how I wish the Windows Movie Maker program that comes with Windows ME (and now XP) had a feature like that! After you have created your slides you can choose to have an automatically timed presentation by selecting a time delay duration between slides. The presentations are saved in two basic parts: a file with a EZP extension which contains the control information for the presentation and a folder containing all the files (HTML, GIF, JPEG, WAV, MID) that make up the slides. The slides are actually HTML files. You can drag and drop them into your favorite browser (Netscape, Internet Explorer). So it appears that a side benefit of the EasyPresentation program is the capability of creating very basic web pages without knowing a thing about the HTML language.

As stated earlier there is much more to EasyOffice 2001 than I could hope to cover here. For additional opinions go to CNet User Reviews of EasyOffice at http://download.cnet.com/downloads/0-10016-601-7531747.html and read what over 180 other people have to say. Ninety four percent give it a Thumbs Up. I wholeheartedly agree!

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