Also known as financial analysis software, this use of the personal computer is built around a table of rows and columns called a spreadsheet. The user enters values and labels into cells at the intersection of the rows and columns. Various relationships between the values in the table are then defined using formulas that are also entered in cells. Whenever the user changes a value, the package uses the formulas to re-compute all other values that depend on the changed value.
This sort of analysis allows the user to determine the effect of changing the values or assumptions in the spreadsheet. The capability of spreadsheet software to recalculate all values whenever a single value or assumption is changed is extremely important. A manager working with the budgetary or planning process can test many assumptions or scenarios by changing a few values or formulas and then letting the spreadsheet do the work. Most spreadsheets now also incorporate both graphics and data base management capabilities. One of the most popular spreadsheet programs is Microsoft Excel.
For businesses, accounting software is extremely important since the accounting function enables a business to keep up-to-date and accurate records of its financial position. Using the output from accounting software, a firm is better able to make both short-term and long-term plans. Accounting packages come in various levels of specialization, ranging from general packages to industry-specific packages and even firm-specific packages.
While it is unrealistic to think that a family needs full-scale accounting software, there are home budgeting software packages available that meet the needs of the average family. These packages allow a family to computerize its budget and to record cash inflows and outflows in a manner similar to business accounting packages.
Data Base Management Software
A common operation both at work and at home is that of storing information. This storage may be as simple as a 3- by 5-inch index card box of recipes or as complex as rows of filing cabinets containing personnel records. We may wish to rearrange the information or search for a particular element or group of elements that has specific attributes. With data base management software, a user can perform the same operations on a computer. In a sense, this type of package acts as an "electronic filing clerk." The term data base refers to a collection of information that is arranged for easy manipulation and retrieval. A good example of popular data base management software is Microsoft Access.
The simplest data base management packages enable their users to create a single data base file that can be rearranged or searched as needed. More sophisticated packages enable the user to work with multiple data base files to find and manage information. An important operation using data base management software is sorting. When a data base file is sorted, it is arranged according to characteristic, for example, in alphabetical order or in numerical order, depending on the user's need.
Another important operation in working with a data base is that of retrieving elements that match a given criterion. The user can also specify a second and even a third criterion, and the elements that match all of the criteria can then be output. Data base management packages are very important when an individual or a firm must manage large volumes of data in such a way that information needed to make a decision is easily found.
As personal computers have come to be used to perform word processing, graphic design, spreadsheet analysis, data base management, accounting users have needed the capability of moving back and forth between these and other types of packages. For example, a person using a word processing package to write a report may need to include in the document a table from a spreadsheet package or a bar chart from a graphics package. One way to handle this task is to cut the table or chart physically from the hard copy of the spreadsheet or graphics document and paste it into the hard copy of the word processing document. However, this can be very inconvenient and can result in a document with an unprofessional appearance.
What the user would like to do is electronically shift the table or chart from the spreadsheet or graphics package into the word processing document. This too can be a problem if the form in which a table or chart is saved is incompatible with the form the word processing package can accept. To provide an easy-to-use method for working simultaneously with multiple operations— that is, graphics, spreadsheets, word processing, and so on—integrated packages have been developed. An integrated package contains some or all of the most commonly used operations, with a specific procedure for shifting between operations. Popular integrated packages for personal computers include Lotus Works from Lotus, Framework from Ashton-Tate, and Microsoft Office.
The use of multiple operations and the capability to transfer information between operations are often tied together through windows. A window is a section of the monitor screen that displays the current status of an operation. For example, an integrated package may use a window to display the status of a spreadsheet while a word processing document is being edited. Windows may also be used to display the current status of multiple operations that are using the same data. For example, an integrated package may use one window to display a spreadsheet and another window to display the graph associated with that spreadsheet. Windows are also used with some operating systems to show the output from different packages that are running concurrently on the computer and to show full-motion video on the screen.
Integrated software is software for personal computers that combines the most commonly used functions of many productivity software programs into one application.
The integrated software genre has been largely overshadowed by fully functional office suites, most notably Microsoft Office, but at one time was considered the "killer application" type responsible for the rise and dominance of the IBM PC in the desktop business computing world.
In the early days of the PC before GUIs became common, user interfaces were text-only and were operated mostly by function key and modifier key sequences. Every program used a different set of keystrokes, making it difficult for a user to master more than one or two programs. Programs were loaded from floppy disk, making it very slow and inconvenient to switch between programs and difficult or impossible to exchange data between them (to transfer the results from a spreadsheet to a word processor document for example). In response to these limitations, vendors created multifunction "integrated" packages, eliminating the need to switch between programs and presenting the user with a more consistent interface.
The potential for greater ease-of-use made integrated software attractive to home markets as well as business, and packages such as the original AppleWorks for the Apple II and Jane for the Commodore 128 were developed in the 1980s to run on most popular home computers of the day.
Context MBA was an early example of the genre, and featured spreadsheet, database, chart-making, word processing and terminal emulation functions. However, because it was written in Pascal for portability, it ran slowly on the relatively underpowered systems of the day. Lotus 1-2-3, which followed it, had fewer functions but was written in assembler providing it with a speed advantage that allowed it to become the predominant business application for personal computers.
The integrated software market of today is exemplified by entry-level programs such as Microsoft Works which are often bundled with personal computers as "starter" productivity suites.