If one of your New Year's resolutions was to get organized, here's help. We've tested a bunch of programs that turn your IBM compatible or Mac computer into a first rate flow chart maker.
Flow charts graphically display a hierarchy, usually in importance or in time. The most popular examples are organizational charts. We've all made class charts diagramming the government or evolution or history. A common flow chart, the genealogy chart, shows lines of descent.To flow-chart the pecking order in your company or PTA, you'd put the president in a box at the chart's top or beginning. Lines from there would lead to second-tier boxes for VPs, and then perhaps lines to individual responsibilities.
Flow charts can show the march of events in time or the interrelationship between processes. A paper mill engineer might generate a flow chart using boxes of different shapes to distinguish the different processes.
For simple organizational charts, Corporate Ladder is quick to load and easy to use. It just makes traditional charts, the kind with lines and rectangles. In its simplest mode, you just put your cursor on the spot where you want the first box drawn.
When you type ALT and B, the box appears onscreen. Move the cursor to the next spot, ALT B again, and again you get a neat box the same size as the previous one.
You can type your data inside the boxes as you go or come back and type it in later. Unless you tell the program otherwise, your type automatically centers left-to-right in each box.
Typing ALT L draws a line connecting two boxes, or goes from one box to any unboxed spot. That's useful for connecting notes to specific boxes. When you start typing, the program senses that you're entering text. If you're not in a box, it assumes you want the type lined up at the left. At every carriage return, it drops down to just the right spot.
The program has some flexibility. You can make boxes with solid lines, double lines or dotted lines. Leader lines can be solid or dotted, light or heavy. You can vary the size of boxes. You can type some data and then put a box around it.
Once you're done creating a chart, the program takes over. It automatically centers the boxes and legends on your page or pages. It shows you what the finished print-out will look like. Now you can add headings or titles and put in dates. The program puts them where they belong.
You can print the chart to a wide choice in printers and plotters (computer printers that use pens to draw lines and letters). If you own a giant plotter, it can print a 3-by-41/2-foot chart. If your printer can't fit your whole chart on one page, the program splits it into pieces that easily paste together.
Corporate Ladder lists for $80. If your local dealer doesn't stock it, she can phone Bloc at (800) 955-1888. It's for IBM compatibles.
Chain of Command costs more ($150 list) and does many things even better. It comes with a small library of chart templates that can significantly cut chart-making time. It's made by Unison World, which specializes in PC-based publishing software. So, not surprisingly, it lets you pretty your chart up with many type fonts and sizes.
It also includes 50 business graphics you can add to the charts. It's an odd assortment, including such things as a gavel, truck, train, flag, clock, pencil, `OK sign' and stylized eagle. The program also imports scanned drawings and photos. But we warn you: It's easy to use only if you're a mouse fancier. Sorry: IBM compatibles only.Everybody's Planner runs on Apple IIs as well as IBM compatibles. It can lay out charts more flexibly than the two previous programs. For instance, you can set up overlapping linkages and loops within loops. But be careful using such tricks. If you don't know what you're doing, you can produce a chart nobody can figure out.
Happily, the program's manual does a good job of explaining many fundamentals of good flow chart planning. There are 20 box shapes, including computer programmers' symbols for such things as terminal and connector.
We like this program least because it makes us do a lot of the puttery jobs that the other programs automate. For instance, if - as an afterthought - we decide to add a new box on a line, we must position it very precisely. Also, its printing capability is minimal. It supports only the crudest modes of Epson and IBM ProPrinters. It costs $100 and is made by Abracadata (800) 451-4871).
For really superb flow charts, $200 Org Plus Advanced one-ups the rest. Available for Macintosh as well as IBM compatibles, it is sophisticated and well automated. It even lets you import a file of numbers - and moves them into flow chart form automatically.
We generated a product cost roll-up chart by importing part names, numbers and costs from dBASE. It also imports from Lotus 1-2-3 and similar software. You can edit the results, but you're likely to stick with what Org first offers.
The program can do math, too. If you tell the program to add the contents of boxes a, b, and c, it does - and makes a new box for the result. If you change some of the numbers, it can redo the math and change the results box.
The feature we like best is Org's "make fit" command. After we've crammed a chart full of boxes onto a page, it makes the page look neat and well organized. To find out where it's sold in your area, phone Banner Blue at (415) 794-6850.