Review of Sheetmate
Shawn M. Gordon
MIS Manager at Talin Tire Inc.
Have you ever wanted an easy way to get reports off of your HP and into some PC application like Lotus, dBASE, or WordPerfect? Well if you are anything like me, you usually just wrote a program that would parse the report file into a comma delimited format. It seems that we have all been wasting our time for the last few years, due to a little program called SheetMate, distributed by Hillary software.
This program will take data out of HP 3000 spoolfiles, MPE files and IMAGE data bases and make it available in Lotus, dBASE, Excel, Quattro, WordPerfect and various other popular PC formats for importing. Unlike creating your own delimited file, SheetMate actually creates a file in the native format of the program that you specify.
As stated in the opening paragraph, SHEETMATE will allow you to access your files on the HP, including spoolfiles, and format them into PC program file formats. The first thing you do is decide what you want to process, then run SHEETMAT.PUB.CIC. When you first enter the software you are by default in Expert command mode. This means the software assumes you know what you are doing. By entering Novice mode the software will display explanations of what your options are at every step. This, coupled with the function keys, makes the software fairly easy to use even from the command line.
A simple example from the manual of how to open one of the demo spoolfiles and just select totals from it and then output it as a Lotus 123 file, downloading it at the same time, is described as follows.
$IF (PAGE=1 AND COLUMN 4 = TEXT) &
OR COLUMN 2 BEGINS “*”
Since the software will allow you to automatically download as part of the OUTPUT command, I wanted to see what happened if I tried it off of a dumb terminal. Guess what? the software immediately sensed that this wasn’t a terminal emulator, and displayed an appropriate error message.
I hate to talk to much about the command interface since the new windows one is so much nicer. But if you want to use any IF statements you will need to understand at least part of it. What is neat about the IF statement, is the control it gives you over what parts of the spoolfile will get selected.
$IF (PAGE = 1 AND (COL 1 BEGINS “PART” OR COL 1 CONTAINS “–“)) &
OR COLUMN 2 BEGINS “*”
Would give you pretty much what you expect, if the above selection criteria is true, then that part of the report will be included in your output file.
Another way to control the way your output is formatted is using the SWITCH statement. This allows you to switch on and off output file generation at specific times based on logical parameters. So you have the ability to strip your report apart both horizontally and vertically. I understand that support for QUIZ subfiles will be coming around the 3rd quarter of 92.
I haven’t talked about how the software interfaces with other types of files yet. If you wanted to extract data from a data base all you have to do is hit the function key to open a data base. You will next be prompted for the base name and password. Now you can either enter the data set name you want, or have it display you with a pick list of data sets to select. You use the tab or arrow keys to select items in the pick list.
You could now modify your output columns and pick the items that you wanted and then generate a quicky report. This is a nice way to do simple reporting off of IMAGE based data. Just suck it out, put it in a PC file format, and report it out of there. I understand that they are even going to be adding the ability to join multiple data sets together. This could be a great boon.
You can build USE files for use in SHEETMATE that will contain all the commands that you want to process some spoolfile. This will allow you to set up some stuff beforehand for end-users so they don’t have to call you all the time to do it for them.
There are just so many little things that you can do and set up with this software it just doesn’t really make sense to get into all of them. All the normally used terminal emulators are supported and automatically sensed. All the popular PC file formats are supported. Logical constructs are supported for stripping reports apart. Various input sources can be used. An easy to use interface makes it all quick to get to. What else can you say?
Usability (also installation)
You get a choice of three ways to install the demo: by demo diskette from your PC, modem upload, or a tape. They make you build the accounting structure yourself, while I don’t like this approach it did only involve typing one line by me. The caveat for uploading from the PC is that you must have either Reflection from WRQ or AdvanceLink from HP. After that they support a variety of emulators to support the PC downloading function.
The install account uses less thank 3k sectors, which is phenomenal for a software package today.
The software performed reliably most of the time. I had a problem when I first used it on a 900 page spool file and it aborted after processing for 10 minutes. A quick call to tech support guided me to a parameter that I could tweak to accommodate larger spool files.
SheetMate isn’t mind numbingly fast, but it does format files in a respectable amount of time. As you would expect, the larger the file, the longer it will take. In terms of CPU impact, think of it as being any other program that has to read through a file. On my system it didn’t make a major hit on my CPU, and overall your not going to have users in this program all day constantly converting and downloading files.
Supportability (including Doc)
Tech support from Hillary was very prompt and informative. Their preferred method of giving a demo, is to upload the software and walk you through it over the phone. This has advantages for them, because then they know you tried the software. The current manual doesn’t cover the new windows interface, but should by the time you read this. The windows interface is so easy to use, that overall I found I didn’t really need a manual. You will need to mix the command line syntax with the windows if you want to create any sort of logic however.
There are a series of exercises included at the beginning of the manual to walk you through some of the basics. This helps get your feet wet with the command line version and get you on your way.
In my humble opinion this is a great product. Not everyone is going to have a need for this, or if they do it may not be a large need. But with a product like this out there it hardly makes sense to try to write formatting programs yourself. Besides the best your going to be able to do will be to make comma delimited files probably. Once you realize you have this sort of capability at your finger tips you may just want to take a cruise around your office and see how many people are manually taking data from your reports and either re-entering them into a spreadsheet or onto a manual ledger. Imagine how popular you will be when you suddenly are able to save them hours and hours of drudgery. I am not positive, but I think SHEETMATE is unique as a product. If you get the opinion that I liked this product, then you are right. The new window type interface makes it VERY easy to use now, the old interface (which is still available) was rather tedious, at least for me.
SheetMate version 5.0
Hillary Software Inc.
309 Morris Ave.
Spring Lake NJ 07762
Price dependent on CPU, $1500-$8000. Support is 15% of price
1-800-HILLARY FAX: (908) 974-0167
Call, write or FAX for a free demo
One 172 page manual with a new one due in September to cover the new windows interface.
Nice intuitive windows interface
Amazing number of native PC file formats supported
Manual is tedious to get through
Menu selections don’t wrap around