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What’s new in PlanMaker 2010

PlanMaker 2010 is the most significant rewrite of PlanMaker since 2001. Internally, all data structures have been changed so that PlanMaker will be able to work with much larger data sets than in the past.

The first visible sign is that the row capacity is now set at 65536 instead of 16384 rows.

We will increase this even further (up to 1 million) when our XLSX export filter is done – the regular XLS file format cannot store anything beyond 65536 rows, and our own PMD format is a slight variation on XLS. It therefore has the same limit.

In order to handle these larger row sets, we had to bring down memory requirements and increase the speed of all sheet operations. This means that even now, while we are still at 65536 rows, PlanMaker 2010 should be faster and require less RAM memory than PlanMaker 2008.

Let’s look at some of the new worksheet features:

  • External references: This has been a longstanding wish from PlanMaker users. Finally, with PlanMaker 2010 you can link to other workbooks in your calculations. Like in Excel, you choose how and when those calculations are updated.
  • Select multiple sheets: With PlanMaker 2010, you can select several sheets in the sheet register and apply formatting operations on all of them simultaneously. For example, if you wish to change the paper format, simply select all worksheets and then call the File/Page setup command.
  • Formula auditing: When things go wrong in elaborate worksheets, you need a “debugger”. Formula auditing is such a “worksheet debugger”. It can be used to plot dependencies between cells, to mark invalid input in cells (cells containing values that violate their input validation settings), and trace errors.
  • A Repeat command: One nice thing in Excel is the Edit/Repeat command. It simply repeats the last operation on the current set of data. Immensely useful, and PlanMaker 2010 has it now, too. What we did not copy is the mysterious way that Excel uses to swap the Redo and the Repeat command in and out of the Edit menu. We simply have two separate commands without magic hide-and-seek…
  • Search on steroids: The Search function has been overhauled, too. You can now search across multiple sheets, and what’s even nicer is that you can choose to have PlanMaker display a “hit list”. All cells or comments or frames matching the search term are shown in a list, and you can jump between them by clicking in the list.
  • Paste special with extras: The command Edit/Paste special now allows you not only to paste data in different ways, but (like in Excel) combine the pasted values with the pasted-over values. We offer Add, Substract, Multiply, and Divide. Additionally, you can transpose cells, skip empty cells, and choose which part of the formatting (the number format, the character format, the shading etc.) to paste and which not.
  • A wizard for text file import: Now you can do nearly anything when importing text files. PlanMaker supports a large variety of character sets and lets you determine which columns are imported as text and which as numbers, currencies, dates, times, etc. Furthermore, you decide whether to import separator-delimited files (with freely chooseable delimiters) or fixed-width files. A preview always shows what the import will look like with the current settings.
  • A wizard for text file export: Same story when saving to text files. Here, PlanMaker’s preview will also display those characters from your worksheet in red that cannot be stored in the chosen character set.
  • Wizards for dBASE import and export: You can do similar things when importing and exporting dBASE files.
  • Scenarios are great for “what if” calculations. You can set up multiple scenarios with variable values and then “play” with the numbers to reach informed decisions.

In my next post, I’ll talk about the great charting features that PlanMaker 2010 comes with.

DOCX support that really works

Microsoft Word 2007 by default uses a different file format from its predecessors: DOCX. Our customers have been asking for DOCX import in SoftMaker Office for quite some time.

I am happy to announce that TextMaker 2010 comes with excellent support for opening DOCX files.

Some customers asked us what took us such a long time, when OpenOffice.org has been providing DOCX import for several months now.

I was always tempted to answer with a counter question: Do you want DOCX support, or DOCX support that works?

I am not trying to be cheeky. Earnestly, I am appalled at what OpenOffice.org does to even rather simple DOCX files.

Here is a small comparison between TextMaker 2010 and the latest version (3.1.1) of OpenOffice.org:

TextMaker opens a DOCX file...

TextMaker opens a DOCX file...

... and OpenOffice.org 3.1.1 tries its hand on the same file

... and OpenOffice.org 3.1.1 tries its hand on the same file

In fact, I had a hard time finding any DOCX file that OpenOffice.org 3.1.1 was able to import without problems.

But wait, there’s one more thing: TextMaker 2010 will also be able to save in DOCX format. This makes it the only word processor apart from Microsoft Word 2007 that allows you to create documents in DOCX format.

Good-bye SETUP, hello MSI!

The first piece of SoftMaker Office that you get in touch with is usually the Setup program. It guides the user through the installation and makes sure that everything is set up correctly.

I have to report one departure and extend one welcome greeting: Our existing Setup program will be officially retired with SoftMaker Office 2010. Farewell to you, we have been together for more than 9 years!

Setup is being replaced by an MSI (“Microsoft Installer”) archive, the Microsoft Windows standard for installation.

For a single user, the main advantage is that he or she will already know this installation program and feel familiar with it. This saves the user the time spent on figuring out options and lowers the barrier to trying out SoftMaker Office.

For corporate users who need to install the software on several (or many) workstations, MSI is a godsend as it allows you to deploy automatically across the network and use all the administrative tools that Microsoft provides for MSI-based installation, deinstallation, and software servicing.

Free upgrades, free upgrades :-)

As we are gearing up for the public beta test of SoftMaker Office 2010 for Windows, it’s time to make this announcement.

Anyone purchasing SoftMaker Office 2008 for Windows on or after October 1, 2009 at list price is entitled to a free upgrade to SoftMaker Office 2010 for Windows. This upgrade will be available by download, and there are no hidden “handling” charges. It’s really free.

For all other customers, there will be a reasonable upgrade price. Don’t ask me which one it will be, since I can’t tell you yet… :-)

Ten new mini-features in PlanMaker 2010

You probably won’t find these listed in any brochure from SoftMaker because they are considered “minor improvements” — here are ten useful new mini-features in PlanMaker:

  1. AutoFill for numbered lists: Type ’1. then ’2. — you can then use AutoFill so that PlanMaker adds 3., 4., 5. etc.
  2. Sheetwide “Hide zero values”: It was already possible to set “Do not show zeros” individually for cells. But PlanMaker 2010 also adds a sheetwide option that does it for all the cells on the sheet.
  3. When you select cells with the mouse or keyboard, the size of the selection is now shown above the sheet, for example as “5R x 3C” for five rows, three columns.
  4. The commands “Join cells” and “Split cells” are now in the context menu that is shown when you right-click in your worksheet.
  5. So is the option “Word wrap”.
  6. There is now a “scroll mode”: When it is active, moving the mouse up/down or left/right will move the worksheet. Ideal for browsing the spreadsheet’s data.
  7. Instead of =A1+A2, you can now also type +A1+A2.
  8. The toolbar now has a dropdown menu for different types of cell shading, very similar to the one for cell borders.
  9. Instead of 3^4, you can also type 3**4.
  10. If you don’t like the default colors for the little markers for comments and protection, you can choose your own.

A turbo boost for text file import/export

Sometimes it’s good to step back and think a bit less Euro-centric. Our software has long supported loading and saving text files in the standard character sets: Windows, DOS, Unicode, UTF-8.

Good enough? Yes, for a Western European or American user. But if you are from Russia, Ukraine, Japan, China, Korea, or several other countries, you are likely to have text files in a plethora of encodings:

  • The Russians and Ukrainians have KOI8-R, KOI8-U, code page 855, code page 1251, and ISO-8859-5.
  • The Chinese have GB2312, GB2312_80, Big5, and a few more.
  • The Koreans bring code page 1361, ISO-2022-KR, KSC5601, and EUC-KR to the table.
  • And the Japanese have legacy documents in JIS, Shift-JIS, EUC-JP, and a several others.

I won’t even mention what Greece, Turkey, Thailand, the Baltics, Israel, and the Arab countries have encoded their documents in… :-)

TextMaker 2010 and PlanMaker 2010 will come with big improvements here. They not only come with support for a ton of character sets, but let you also preview a file in different character sets – definitely a good thing when you have to guess the character set:

tm-import

And when you save a file, you can also pick the character set. Here, the preview will mark all characters that cannot be exported to the destination character set with a red question mark:

tm-export

PlanMaker 2010 offers the same, and a couple of things more:

  • fixed-width import or import by delimiter
  • choose the delimiter character
  • choose a text marker (single quotes ‘ or double quotes “)
  • resize the columns
  • and, most importantly, set the column type

Setting the column type lets you declare a column to be text, numeric, date, boolean etc. Through this you can enforce a column to be imported, for example, as text even though it contains values that look like numbers:

pm-import

Translation week

You may have been wondering why no new blog posts have been forthcoming from me. I’ll just say “translation week”…

As you probably know, SoftMaker Office comes with menus and dialog boxes in more languages than just English and German.

In fact, SoftMaker Office 2010 will reach 17 languages:

  1. US English
  2. British English (ok, not really a separate language…)
  3. German
  4. French
  5. Italian
  6. Spanish
  7. Portuguese
  8. Dutch
  9. NEW: Swedish
  10. Russian
  11. Hungarian
  12. Bulgarian
  13. Turkish
  14. NEW: Greek
  15. Simplified Chinese
  16. Japanese
  17. NEW: Arabic

Every time we add a new feature, this new feature needs some dialog boxes, some error messages, and menu entries. As soon as a sizable number of missing translations has been reached, our translators (freelancers across the world) fill in the missing translations. After quality control here in Germany, the translations are integrated into the software.

And this week was such a “translation week”. We had to integrate 13 different languages (German and the both Englishes we do on our own), which was quite a chunk of work. There’s your reason for me keeping mum.

Suppressing automatic hyphenation in a document

Several customers from English-speaking countries asked us to provide a global setting to turn automatic hyphenation off.

That’s a feature request that I, as a German, never really understood. We Germans have a system called “word compounding” that lets you invent words on the fly. Basically an adhocsystemforgeneratingnewwords. When a language allows for such long words, you definitely want your word processor to do the hyphenation for you.

English has much shorter words, and the need for hyphenation is not as present. And some people avoid hyphenation because it makes words harder to read.

Now, you have been able to change the hyphenation settings in TextMaker since the very first version. However, it requires that you learn about modifying paragraph styles. Paragraph styles are definitely worth the effort of learning. But when all you want to do is turn off hyphenation, there should be an easier way.

In TextMaker 2010, there is. Featured prominently in the Tools menu, the new command Automatic Hyphenation turns hyphenation on or off globally in a document. You still have the fine-grained control in Format/Paragraph and Format/Paragraph Style, but the Tools menu is your quick route to controlling hyphenation documentwide.

Assigning symbols to keys

One feature that users of SoftMaker Office have asked us repeatedly for indeed made it into SoftMaker Office 2010: the ability to assign symbols to hotkeys.

This means that you could, for example, assign the copyright symbol © to Ctrl-Shift-C or the “registered” sign ® to Alt+R. The same is true for any other character from the vast Unicode character table.

A Simple Descending Life Line

I am typing this from a hotel room in Korea. What caught my eye immediately upon entry was this:

Simple Descending Life Line

A “Simple Descending Life Line”? How reassuring that I will be able, in case of an emergency, to jump off the window from the 9th floor and use my non-existent abseiling abilities, trusting a thin rope that is who knows how old…

That is, of course, if I am able to smash the window first, because it is blocked from opening.