Here are summaries of some recent Computing product reviews. Each product is rated on a scale of one to four, with one computer indicating poor and four indicating excellent:
Fractal Design Painter. $349. For Mac II or LC with 8-bit color or grayscale monitor (24-bit color recommended), 2.5 megabytes random-access memory (4 megabytes recommended) and a hard disk. Wacom pressure-sensitive stylus recommended, too. (There is also a $399 version for PCs running Windows. From Fractal Design Corp., P.O. Box 2380, Aptos, CA 95001-2380. (408) 688-8800.
Summary: Painter lets you "feel" your art by working with a pressure-sensitive tablet such as Wacom's. The program understands not only where you're drawing or brushing a line but how fast you're moving and how hard you're pressing. It translates those factors into different shades and sizes of computer "paint" on screen. Although it lacks text, image-editing and some other features found in most paint programs and can be annoyingly slow, Painter is unique. It may tempt even some committed "fine" artists to try a computer. It will certainly equip some commercial artists with wonderful new effects.
Fractal Design Painter
Performance: 2 computers
Ease of use: 4 computers
Value: 3 computers
These are reviews of shareware programs for IBM and compatible computers. The programs are available from bulletin boards and computer clubs. Users try them, then pay a fee to register if they decide to use them regularly.
If you're a real estate broker, a property manager or you're thinking of getting into the business, here are three updated programs that you might find useful, plus a hard disk menu program that children can handle.
Crisp. It is a menu-driven property-management program that keeps separate records (and accounts) for each piece of commercial or residential properties. It helps you figure out when rents are due and when they are paid or delinquent. A companion program, Crisp-R, allows you to keep funds for all properties in the same account, but will give you separate reports for each property. You can reconcile bank statements and get a good idea of how occupancy rates and finances are doing. Look for Crisp version 3.23 or higher and version 1.21 of Crisp-R.
Interest Analyzer. Whether you're a real estate broker or a shopper, Interest Analyzer will give you fast answers to tough questions about how much home you or your client can afford. Enter the amount of loan and term, and you get a payment amount instantly. Interest Analyzer also helps you evaluate annuities, track depreciation and print reports. Look for version 2.20c or higher on bulletin boards.
Toybox II. For kids, summer vacation means heavy-duty computer use. While almost anything kids do on a computer beats the zombie-like state they get into while they watch TV, you may want to protect yourself from unintentional messing with your corporate spreadsheet. At the same time, you'd like to give the kids a chance to get to their fun, games and learning programs without typing complicated DOS commands at the C prompt. Toybox II, described as a graphical menu system for kids of all ages, is as slick a menu program as we've seen. With its Windows-compatible icons, kids can click on the icon (or simply press a predefined key) representing their programs -- without using Windows. They don't even have to double-click the mouse button and they can use any mouse button to bring up their program. Setting up icons is child's play, probably the easiest we've seen in any program of this kind. But don't let the simplicity of this menu program fool you. Adults can hide programs and files they don't want kids to see, and they can set passwords so little hands won't start messing with their parents' programs. Look for version 2.02 or higher on bulletin boards.
For copies of Crisp, Crisp-R and Interest Analyzer, send $10 for all three; for Toybox II, send $4, plus tax, to Shareware, P.O. Box 7037, Long Beach, Calif. 90807. Phone (310) 595-6870. Fax (310) 426-0110. A catalog on a disk costs $2. Please specify 5.25- or 3.5-inch disks.)