Classes of Software

An attempt has been made to classify software into different types and we want to look at five classes of software and what we use each class for.

Presenting information for print media

Virtually all the applications described are designed to produce printed output except for graphics and web authoring which tend to be more visual.  However only word processing (WP) and desk-top publishing (DTP) are classed in this group.

The real differences between the two are that WP tends to be used mainly for generating text, while DTP tends to use pre-prepared text.  Although a package like Word has very good graphics facilities and can handle a mixture of text and graphics reasonably well, DTP manages to handle text and graphics far more easily. WP can deal with multi-page documents but when working with a large document it can take a while to move between pages and text tends to spill onto pages when you don’t want it to.  DTP handles multi-page documents far better with a display whereby a click takes you to a page and what is placed on that page stays there until you decide to move it.  DTP files tend to be very large especially if real pictures are used.

If an organisation is producing a brochure, magazine or catalogue that is created in PageMaker, commercial printers can use the file directly in their typesetting equipment.  This can cut the cost of printing considerably.

Presenting information for on-line media

Probably the largest growth area in personal computer applications recently has been in the use of software to create presentations and web pages.

Mostly the reasons are to do with cost and availability in that the cost of data projectors, used to project presentations on a screen, has tumbled dramatically in recent years to the extent that electrical retailers are aiming them at the domestic market.

When it comes to web authoring software, not only has the choice of packages increased and the cost dropped but many more people and businesses are connected to the Internet.  Also, many more people are good at creating websites so it is cheaper to have them built for a company (many companies employ students to build their websites).

Presentation software tends to allow the user to create a slide show.  Slides can hold a variety of multimedia objects, text, graphics (clip art, charts, real photos and animations), sound (noises like applause, etc., clips of speech or music, and full music files) and video (short clips can be incorporated into a slide). Slides do not have to be shown sequentially, but can be sequenced and jumped to directly using hyperlinks. Without doubt the most popular package is Microsoft PowerPoint, although other packages are popular in areas such as education, with HyperCard and HyperStudio being popular with Apple users.   PowerPoint, however, also allows slide shows to be saved as HTML and consequently attached to websites.

Web-authoring software allows users easily to make up web pages by dragging and dropping objects onto the screen, clicking on icons to link graphics and other media files, and deal easily with linking.  Underneath all this, however, the software is writing the file as HTML or XTML code.  There may be a menu option or tab on your package to allow you to see and edit the HTML code. When you see it you will be glad that the software did all that boring coding for you and you can use your expertise to add the little tweaks that will make your site different.  One example of this is copying in code (available on the net) to give cascading menus if the software will not allow you to create them directly.  Some packages such as Microsoft Front Page and Adobe Go-Live are very easy for beginners to use; Dreamweaver is probably agreed to be the most powerful package, but also the hardest to learn of the ‘big three’.

Data handling – spreadsheet

There is a separate unit on database software, so to avoid repetition here we will only briefly look at spreadsheet software in this classification.  Spreadsheets are probably the most important microcomputer class of software as it was the invention of a spreadsheet program (VisiCalc), which caused sales of Apple and Commodore computers to really take off worldwide.  Apple used the sales revenues for research and development with the Macintosh computer being unveiled in around 1983.  The success of Apple and Commodore caused IBM to rethink their Mainframe only strategy and the IBM PC was born also around 1983; the phenomenal growth of the computer industry then began, and it was the spreadsheet that started it all off.  Why?  Because it is a tool used by accountants and managers and the people with money to spend on these early computers.

Spreadsheet software is used in a variety of different situations in a business context, such as financial applications, modelling and simulating, and statistical analysis.  Spreadsheets are used extensively in education for recording and analysing marks and results and also keeping track of budgets and other financial information, and in a home situation people keep track of household expenditure, track share values and even keep track of contacts. Spreadsheet packages are very good at formatting output and many people use them for printing address labels.

We will now look at these areas of financial applications, modelling and simulating, statistical analysis, education and home use in a bit more depth.  We will also look at charting and the use of macros in spreadsheets.

Financial application – Common examples are producing cash flow forecasts, statements of accounts, invoices, sales orders, purchase orders, customer quotations, managing travel expenses, and project management.

Modelling and simulation – This involves creating a numeric representation of an existing situation (modelling) or predicting a new situation (simulation). In both cases the input data (variables) of the numeric representation can be manipulated to investigate different situations. This ability to experiment with the numeric model is often referred to as ‘what-if? analysis’.

Statistical analysis – All spreadsheets applications provide numerous features for the analysis of numerical information. Two main examples are Descriptive Statistics and Goal Seeking.

Descriptive Statistics are the functions built into the spreadsheet application that allow the user to summarise large blocks of data. Examples of these functions are: Average, Maximum, Minimum, Sum, Count, Standard Deviation and Variance.

Goal Seeking describes a way of automatically changing the values in a formula until a desired result is achieved. An example of this is when a formula is used to calculate the profit made on sales of various items. Goal seeking could then be used to calculate the level of sales required to produce a specified level of profit.

Education – In education many teachers and lecturers use a spreadsheet to record marks and results.  These can then be added to give reporting information and used as a mail-merge file with a word processor to produce pupil and student reports.  Heads of department may use a spreadsheet to keep account of their budget expenditure and photocopying or printing usage.

Home – At home many people use spreadsheets, primarily to keep track of household expenditure, both what they spend their money on and a record of money going into and out of their bank account so that they can hopefully avoid getting overdrawn and incurring financial penalties. Another use often made of spreadsheets by people who are not confident with database software is to keep name-and-address lists. They can enter the name and address into a cell, format it nicely, sort the cells alphabetically, easily amend data and format it so that it neatly fits onto an address label, and then print the file onto address labels.

Macro use – A macro is a sequence of instructions that can be used to automate complex or repetitive tasks. Spreadsheets were the first software packages to incorporate macro use within themselves and the preferred method of creating a macro is the ‘learn and use’ method.  A user switches on the macro recorder and follows the sequence of events through.  When the recorder is stopped the macro is saved with that data file; when the file is opened and the user wants to run the sequence of events they simply run the macro.  This can include selecting cells and all the functions of the package.

Project management

This is software used specifically to help manage a project: the planning, monitoring and control of the various activities or resources that contribute to its success.

Project management involves identifying and assigning the activities that need to be carried out to complete the project. Duration, cost, resources, employees, inter-relationships – all need to be factored in. The project leader can use the software to schedule the activities to ensure the project is as efficient and effective as possible.

Some examples of project management software are: Microsoft Project; CA SuperProject and Hoskyns Project Managers Workbench.

When a project is under way, its objectives must be closely monitored. This involves comparing the actual activities with those planned. This should happen on a daily basis for small-scale projects and weekly for larger projects. The software can be used to automate the collection of progress data and output progress reports.

Once all the activities have been defined, the software can output the project plan in a variety of formats. Two of the most common are Gantt and PERT.

Personal information management

Personal information management software (PIM) is a type of software application designed to help users organise random bits of information. Although the category is fuzzy, most PIMs enable you to enter various kinds of textual notes – reminders, lists, and dates – and to link these bits of information together in useful ways. Many PIMs also include calendar, scheduling, and calculator programs.  Microsoft Outlook is a good example; Lotus Notes is another.




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