Reviews Desk

Included in this month's desk are examples of vendor's listening to their users and the market. As Mesa grew in features, users wanted a basic version; Athena answered with a lower-priced personal iteration called Sunrise. Metrosoft gives us another round in the continuously improving MetroTools. The Northern Parallel dictionaries start where Webster's left off, and Rocks! is another entry into the games-starved NEXTSTEP marketplace. Dan Lavin

This month's gang includes Eliot Bergson (EB), Rohit Khare (RK), Simson L. Garfinkel (SLG), and me, Al Franken (DL).

Barron's Dictionary of Finance and Investment Terms

Oxford Reference Dictionary of Computing

Hacker's Lexicon

4 Cubes

$99 U.S.; $79 educational each for Barron's and Oxford; Hacker's free via FTP

The Northern Parallel Software, 8 Binscarth Rd., Toronto, Ontario M4W 1Y1 Canada.

416/928-5057.

NEXTSTEP users love the on-line Webster's, but that old war-horse of a reference hasn't been updated since it was introduced in Version 1.0 of the OS and it's little help for specialized information. So leave it to some canny Canadians to keep users up-to-date on the finer points of language with on-line versions of three name-brand dictionaries: Oxford for computing, Barron's for finance, and the Hacker's Lexicon for, well, hacking. Users can hunt for words or phrases by definition, all appearances in the dictionary, or matching terms, with the dictionaries offering possibilities if the original request isn't found. Unlike Webster's, the apps use smart hypertext buttons that let you jump quickly between related definitions, allowing you to exhaustively re-search a topic through related terms. (Some links were curiously absent in the version we tested.) If you're not sure of a spelling, there's an alphabetical listing of all terms as well. And like their venerable counterpart, these dictionaries allow you to look up a word in any application that uses NEXTSTEP's Services facility. For some fun, check out the animated icons or call up the Info panels. EB

ImageIt 1.0

4 Cubes

$249.95

BenaTong, 1057 Racine Ave., Columbus, OH 43204.

614/276-7859; info@BenaTong.com.

ImageIt, written by Vanguard Software, is the most feature-rich object for displaying images that we've seen to date. Fully compatible with DBImageView, ImageIt will display images any way you want: scaled, flipped, rotated, zoomed, or with a background. Images can be dragged in or out. What's more, the palette understands NEXTSTEP's filter services. The object's license grants un-limited internal use; use of ImageIt in a commercial application must be specially negotiated with BenaTong. We love it. SLG

Mesa Sunrise 1.5

3 Cubes

$349

Athena Design 17 St. Mary's Ct., Boston, MA 02146.

617/734-6372; info@athena.com.

Athena Design bills Mesa Sunrise as the "personal edition of Mesa," so Sunrise lacks Mesa's ability to access real-time data feeds and SQL databases (see "Dueling Spreadsheets," August 1993). Also gone is Mesa's AddIn feature, which means that you can't add your own functions, and the Mesa Object Library Interface, which means you can't build Sunrise into your own custom applications. That leaves you with a fast, traditional spreadsheet for considerably less money, which should be sufficient for most uses. Unlike Mesa, Sunrise comes with just four months of free technical support. SLG

MetroTools 2.1

4 Cubes

$89 list; $69 educational

Metrosoft, 740 Thirteenth St. #503, San Diego CA 92101.

619/488-9411; info@metrosoft.com.

MetroTools 2.1 is a collection of six basic utilities wrapped in a single application for anyone who'd rather not confront UNIX gremlins. Since we last looked at Tools in Version 1.1, Metrosoft has added features and addressed several of our concerns from earlier reviews. Enhancements include MultiModule and audio support in the screen-saver module. The Dock extender is highly flexible and exceptionally easy to use, and includes icons you can miniaturize for laptops. The File Locator actually works (in contrast to Workspace Manager's), but we did not see a big benefit in using the Archiver. Font Installer and Sound Importer work with NeXT- and Mac-style resources with grace and ease, while a future (free) upgrade will handle PC sounds and fonts. Metrosoft has provided updates for only the cost of materials and offers free technical support. RK

Rocks! 1.8

2 &1/2 Cubes

$35

SmartSoft, 2220 E. Linnwood Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53211.

414/964-8864, 800/424-8864.

Rocks! is an asteroids-type arcade game for the NeXT that has engaging graphics and a relatively large variety of hazards and special weapons that add interest for any computer-games player. Rocks! suffers, though, from fairly serious performance issues, ranging from sluggish controls to random changes in speed depending on how many objects are moving on the screen. (We found the same problems on both standard and Turbo NeXTstations; we didn't test the Intel version that was in beta at press time.) The game is playable and reasonably priced, however, and must rate among the best of the small handful of games available under NEXT-STEP. DL, SLG