Reviews Desk

Here in reviews central we're seeing an interesting trend: What would be parts of larger utilities packages on other platforms are shipped as a flurry of smaller stand-alone products on NeXTSTEP. This is possible because applications work together so well under NeXTSTEP, while the equivalent tools for other systems can't rely on the operating system for such seamless integration. Another encouraging trend is the arrival of new offerings that fill gaps in the NeXT product portfolio. Included this month are the excellent international spell checker from HSD and the pressure-sensitive graphics tablet from Wacom. Dan Lavin

This month's gang: Simson L. Garfinkel (SLG), Lee Sherman (LS), Rick Reynolds (RR), and myself, Dan Lavin (DL).

HSD Spell

4 Cubes

$195 for English and one other language; $99 each additional language

HSD Microcomputer U.S., 1350 Pear Ave., Ste. C, Mountain View, CA 94043.

415/964-1400, 800/828-5522.

HSD has successfully navigated the tricky waters of providing an up-grade to bundled NeXT software in this case, the spell checker. Spell has enough added functionality at a low-enough cost to make it a win for many users. The HSD-enhanced English dictionary and your choice of one of the ten included international dictionaries are enabled by your initial license; additional languages, at $99 a pop, are just a phone call away. If an application uses the NeXT text object, using Spell is as simple as using the built-in checker: You just change a pull-down menu in the Spelling panel. Other applications, notably Write-Now, require that you use Spell from the Services menu. In our tests, Spell was superior to the NeXT English dictionary. The German dictionary we used correctly identified several subtle errors in spelling and capitalization. DL

SoundHouse

3 Cubes

$69

MIDIapolis Systems, 3208 W. Lake St. #133, Minneapolis, MN 55416.

612/822-1604.

SoundHouse, an inexpensive sound-recording program, is a welcome companion to NeXT's internal microphone. Recording is limited to 8KHz telephone-quality sound but you can also use the program for simple cut, copy, and paste editing of existing sound files, up to full-CD quality. Newcomers to digital audio will like the easy-to-operate transport controls. Professionals will appreciate the accurate sound meter; ability to adjust the volume of left and right channels independently; and information display about a sound's size, length, number of samples, number of channels, sample format, and rate. If you don't require the advanced mixing and effects capabilities found in higher-priced products, SoundHouse is a bargain. LS

VirtSpace 3.0

3 & 1/2 Cubes

$30

Pinnacle Research, 4725 E. Sunrise Dr. #435, Tucson, AZ 85718.

602/529-1135.

Desktop v1.1

1 & 1/2 Cubes

$30 Johnson Sieu, P.O. Box 367, Berkeley, CA 94701-0367.

Screen too small? These two programs each make your NeXTstation's MegaPixel Display a window onto a much larger screenscape. The more sophisticated of the two is VirtSpace, a $30 program from Pinnacle Research. VirtSpace creates a screen window filled with little rectangles that correspond to each window on your screen. By dragging these rectangles, you can drag your real windows. By default, the VirtSpace window is four times the size of the NeXT screen, but you can resize it to be as big as you want. You can also simulate a multimonitor system by setting up VirtSpace to automatically scroll or jump from screen to screen when you move the mouse over the edge. Desktop v1.1 is similar to VirtSpace but lacks many of its nicer features. The interface is clunkier and omits some crucial elements. Both these programs take some getting used to; many users will prefer to use NeXTSTEP's ability to hide applications and turn windows into icons. But for people who want to have a simulated larger screen, we can recommend VirtSpace. SLG

Wacom SD-431D Digitizing Tablet and Pressure Sensitive Stylus

3 & 1/2 Cubes

$1095

Wacom Technology Corporation, 501 S.E. Columbia Shores Blvd. #300, Vancouver, WA 98661.

206/750-8882.

For most NeXT users, the only pointing and drawing option has been the mouse. Successful on other platforms, Wacom is the only tablet available that boasts a combination of cordless stylus, pressure sensitivity, and battery-free operation. It changes the way you work by giving your illustrations a more natural, less-computer-generated feel. This 12-inch-by-12-inch tablet has a standard power cable and connects to your NeXT serial port. It comes with your choice of one point-ing device (either of two pressure-sensitive pens, two nonpressure-sensitive pens, or a four-button cord- less cursor). No software is needed, though it requires NeXTSTEP 3.0. The device is especially useful in conjunction with programs, such as Altsys Virtuoso, that are aware of its presence and can produce variable-weight lines depending how hard the user presses the stylus. RR

PageChain

3 Cubes

$129

Pinnacle Research, 4725 E. Sunrise Dr. #435, Tucson, AZ 85718.

602/529-1135.

If you routinely fax pages created in multiple applications, you'll appreciate PageChain's single-minded ability to merge documents so they can be sent in a single fax or e-mail session. The program accepts any TIFF, EPS, or PostScript file and spits out a composite PostScript file that can be viewed with Preview, faxed, or printed. You can't edit the resulting document, but it can be sent to others without worrying about whether they have the application required to open the file. The software works as advertised, but its bare-bones interface could be improved with the addition of more control over the scaling and rotation of individual pages. LS

ArtBursts: Icons+

1 Cube

$109

MIDIapolis Systems, 3208 W. Lake St. #133, Minneapolis, MN 55416.

612/822-1604.

ArtBursts: Icons+ is a collection of over 4000 icons in EPS and TIFF format that can be added license-free to your custom applications or simply used to personalize your workspace. There are a few gems in the rough but unfortunately the amateurish style used throughout is more suited to shareware than a commercial package, and none of the icons are offered in color (an oversight MIDIapolis says it will correct in a future release). In the hands of a truly talented artist, this could have been a treasure trove for NeXT developers. LS

Dark Forest

4 & 1/2 Cubes

Free

Found on archive servers and CD-ROMs by NeXT employee Garth Snyder

We don't normally review freeware, but the excellence of Dark Forest makes it an exception. This utility lists folders in a given disk or directory in descending size order, quickly identifying your space hogs and allowing you to delete or archive them. For example, it gives you the size of your active mailbox along with the size of enclosures, normally a tedious task. Though only a wrapper for UNIX commands, Dark Forest is nearly perfect in its implementation. Loses half a cube only due to support issues arising from freeware. Everyone should own a copy of this product. DL