Labelmaker for OS/2
Developer: Perfect Niche Software, Phoenix, AZ USA
Review Date: July 1998
Previous HQ Reviews/Ratings: N/A
OS/2 users have always been interested in getting the same quality "productivity" applications as their Windows-using counterparts have been getting for years. There are several cheap, "lite" labelmaking programs for DOS or various Windows flavors; however, OS/2 users have had no native products that were powerful and well-suited to labelmaking -- until now. With Smack!, labelmaking is easy and flexible. A wide variety of prefab label formats are included, covering about 100 Avery label catalog numbers. Users can create their own custom label templates using the built-in template generator.
While not yet in the league of a true desktop publishing application, Smack!'s rich combination of options and its extensibility make it more than just a simple label machine. I suspect that Smack! users will come to rely on this product for generating labels as well as other simple, everyday tasks such as making signs, handouts, and perhaps even invoices and other office forms.
Functionality (20%)Performance (15%)
Rather than try to be all things to everyone, a single-duty mini-app such as a labelmaker should be simple and uncluttered. Bells and whistles should be kept to a minimum; this kind of product is supposed to crank out results quickly and have a negligible learning curve.6
Smack! somehow manages to follow these rules and break them at the same time. If you want a quick set of labels, go to your favorite office products store, pick up a package of Avery labels, install Smack!, and you will have what you need in under five minutes. The text entry is "smart" in that each new line of label text becomes a new object that can be separately manipulated. Left-mouse selections can group objects for mass changes of font, color, or size, or just mass-deletions. Several types of images may be embedded on the labels as well. Color output is well-supported; users can use predefined colors or create their own using the built-in color wheel feature.
Each label on a sheet may be edited independently, or the Fill option can produce an entire sheet of identical labels for mass-output jobs. Fill is activated by simply using the mouse to drag-and-drop a label to a neighboring blank spot on the output label preview sheet, which is conveniently displayed as a Preview window next to the main Edit Window. (Did somebody think about what they were doing when they wrote this app? Yes!)
A few significant omissions mar what would otherwise be a world-class product. Bar codes and Postnet codes are not yet supported; the alignment grid function does not yet work. The cut-and-paste seems to only paste on top of the selected text, instead of in a conveniently offset position.
If your goal is to simply make labels, this is your ticket. And Smack! breaks the rules of simplicity by adding extra features such as REXX scripting and object rotation, but keeping them concealed just below the surface to prevent confusion. HQ score for Functionality:
Smack! requires less than two megabytes of hard drive space; the entire program ships on a single diskette. Memory footprint is apparently small; no slowdown occurred while surfing the Net or playing chess while Smack! was open in the background. A full sheet of labels will typically consume less than 50K of hard drive space per file. The amount of information that you can cram onto each label is seemingly unlimited.9
Double-clicking the Smack! icon starts the program in about one second. Data entry is reflected immediately on the screen of the Edit window. As soon as the Enter key is pressed, the new line of input is immediately reflected on the Preview window as well. Screen updates occur relatively quickly during the edit process; however, bringing in a complicated label such as a full-sheet price list or advertisement is somewhat slower -- say, three or four seconds at the most.
Sizing of input data is apparently constrained by the unlimited-undo feature. A "torture test" of designing a full-page advertisement sheet caused Smack! to degrade to scattering some of the text and falling back to Courier fonts. The printed output reflected this problem, but the screen image did not. A quick workaround of simply saving the file, closing the program, and re-opening the program was effective in restoring the file to clean, flawless output, but this is a nagging limitation. For people who simply want to make labels instead of using this product as a desktop publisher, this limitation does not occur.
Printing occurs smartly upon pressing the Print button. An entire sheet of labels will emerge in about ten seconds for simple labels; however, over one minute per page will be needed for a complicated full-page design on a deskjet printer. HQ score for Performance:
A menu-driven interface with few or no icons is the most productive form of GUI, as tests have shown. Smack! avoids the glitz of cartoons and other fancy self-advertisement; this is a tool for getting work done quickly and without fun and games.7
As usual for an OS/2 app, there are several ways to do things. You can create new text or copy/paste the previous text and then edit; you can delete text as an object or character-by-character. Double-clicking a text object does not appear to be an option, however. Mouse clicks and/or keyshift selections can be used to operate the menus. The menus are neatly arranged to allow almost any option to be selected in just 3 or 4 clicks. Users will be able to pick up and use this package in under five minutes.
You can select the location to store or retrieve any label using the pop-up dialog that appears when the File Open and File Save options are selected. However, the default location for data files is the Smack! program directory itself, which cannot be changed. This is a little inconvenient for those of us who like to make a \WORK directory to keep our stuff separate from the program itself -- which also makes transporting our work to another machine easier. The cut-and-paste implementation is weak as well, since it does not paste properly. Finally, the font-change option separates font style from point size, and no preview mode is offered. HQ score for Usability:
Some early edit problems in the Beta have been resolved; this program is solid. No failures of either the application or the operating system occurred during testing. Bang away at it -- this one won't quit. The torture-test of massive input degraded gracefully by simply printing degraded output; the program did not crash. HQ score for Reliability:10
Data files are stored in standard text format, making edits and adjustments easy. However, this also means that no other application can use the Smack! labels as its own objects, unless that app has a REXX script to interpret the text. However, this is a minor issue for a standalone labelmaking program. Future versions that work with PIMs or other applications should allow selection of a variety of common file formats for both input and output.8
Smack! will print labels on any printer that OS/2 supports. Smack! does not place any .DLL file in the \OS2\DLL directory; no changes to Config or Autoexec were made. HQ score for Compatibility:
Smack! installs in about one minute, with a minimum of fuss. You can choose the drive and directory for installation at install time. This program does a complete install, as it is not a multifunction app such as a suite. Re-install is just as easy. Removing the program just requires dropping the Smack! directory folder and desktop icon into the shredder. HQ score for Installation:10
A written manual is provided with the application, which covers both basic Smack! operation as well as REXX extensions. The online help is extremely basic, but this is typical for a version 1.0 product. No confusing terminology was found -- anybody who can use a computer can use Smack! and its manual. HQ score for Documentation:7
Smack! has live phone support (toll call) six hours per weekday, as well as a Web site and a fax number. HQ called Smack!'s support line asking why v1.01 could not read labels saved during the Beta cycle. The support person answered the phone after approximately one minute and explained that the file format had changed considerably, but promished to call back if there were any quick workarounds available. Support was prompt, professional, and knowledgeable, despite a phone glitch caused by a prerecorded message. No serial number or other code was required for obtaining help. The POSSI discussion list and the Smack! discussion list are also useful for obtaining help. HQ score for Tech Support:8
Smack!'s developers are already busy on the next version. The REXX extensions and built-in label template make this product obsolete-proof. Perfect Niche is committed to the long-term strength of the OS/2 platform. HQ score for Upgradeability:10
Smack!'s retail price of $69 is a little steep when compared to entry-level DOS and Windows label applications. Street prices average around $55, which is also a bit high. However, this is not a wimpy application that will be trundled off to the discount bin; Smack! is a quality piece of workmanship. Considering the expandability and multiple uses for this product, as well as an anticipated discount on the next version, this product provides good value for users who prefer a solid, dependable native OS/2 application over the cheap leftovers found in many retail outlets. HQ score for Overall Value:8
Smack! Labelmaker Category Raw Score Weighting Net Score Functionality
6 0.2 1.2 Performance
9 0.15 1.35 Usability
7 0.15 1.05 Reliability
10 0.15 1.5 Compatibility
8 0.1 0.8 Installation
10 0.05 0.5 Documentation
7 0.05 0.35 Technical Support
8 0.05 0.4 Upgradeability
10 0.05 0.5 Overall Value
8 0.05 0.4 THE VERDICT
low 6, high 10 1.00 8.05