OS/2 eZine - http://www.os2ezine.com
16 November 2001
Mike Engle is a cell biologist in his postdoctoral fellowship. He uses eComStation in his research on ADAMTS proteinases. He has been using OS/2 since version 2.0 and has never found anything better.

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Freelance Graphics

For presentation software under OS/2 or eComStation (eCS), the latest and greatest is Freelance Graphics which is part of the Lotus SmartSuite package for OS/2. I was excited that version 1.6 of SmartSuite came with eCS because Lotus said they worked hard to make the suite compatible with Microsoft's Office 2000. While that may hold true for 1-2-3 and WordPro, Freelance seems to have been forgotten by Lotus.

Until recently I have had to make 35mm slides for my presentations, which brings me to my first point. After installing eCS and SmartSuite 1.6, I could not get Freelance to run. All the other parts of SmartSuite worked just fine, only Freelance would refuse to run. I could get as far as the welcome dialogue window but after clicking on the Ok button, the program would just close with no error message. I finally was able to get it running by setting my default printer to PMPDF, which comes with eCS. The OS/2 version of Freelance is very closely tied to your printer driver. If you can't get Freelance to run, the first thing to do is to change your default printer.

Along with this gripe, there is also a problem actually making 35mm slides. On the Windows version there is an option under the File menu for 35mm slide setup. That option does not exist on the OS/2 version. In order to get a 35 mm format you need to install a printer that has a 35mm slide output. In the past I have used an Agfa postscript printer which has worked just fine.

If you need to shoot slides and you don't have a camera connected to your computer you will probably use a service to make your slides. First off, you need to find a service that can take Freelance files. If you find a service that accepts Freelance files they probably use the Windows version. Be careful, there is a bug when going from the OS/2 version of Freelance to the Windows version. When you create a line with arrows on the end(s) in OS/2 they look fine (see Fig. 1A). But when you open that same file under the Windows version of Freelance the arrows become huge (see Fig. 1B). There is nothing you can do under the OS/2 version to correct this. You must open the file under the Windows version and set the arrow size back down. I had assumed (hoped) that this bug would have been fixed in version 1.6 (Lotus said they made it more compatible with the Windows Millennium version of SmartSuite) but it is still broken.

Speaking of compatibility, if someone sends you a PowerPoint file, you are for the most part sunk. The latest PowerPoint file version Freelance will import is version 3.0. Interestingly the latest PowerPoint version you can save in Office 2000 is version 4.0. Not very Microsoft Office compatible, as Lotus said they had worked on for version 1.6. You can download the Windows 3.1 PowerPoint viewer from the Microsoft web site which runs under OS/2. But this program will only view PowerPoint files as if you are making a presentation. There is no edit or save option available. Under Office 2000 PowerPoint you can save in an older Freelance format which you can then import into Freelance version 1.6. Still this requires that you have Windows and a copy of PowerPoint just to load PowerPoint files into Freelance.

In case all you think I do is complain, there are a few things I like about Freelance. Just a few months ago I finally was able to purchase a laptop which enabled me to make my first "live" (laptop) presentation. I was thrilled when I plugged in the video projector plug in the back of the laptop and with no fiddling at all, the correct projection appeared on the large screen. This may have more to do with the hardware than the software. Since I have not needed to make slides, I still have not installed a printer driver for 35mm slides. (I doubt I could even find someone to shoot slides from a Freelance file where I work now). I made minimal use of the in-built animation of Freelance but enjoyed it when I did. Alas, I have only been able to find out how to make objects appear in various ways. I was hoping to be able to move objects from one part of the screen to another, but could not find a way to do it. I may need some other more advanced animation program to so that.

One of the reasons I still use OS/2 is that it lets me work the way I want to work. I save my data in various folders according to my research projects and not according to programs. As a result, my presentation was buried several layers down. No problem under eCS since I just made a shadow on the desktop and worked from there. You can even right (#2) mouse click on the icon and under "open as" is the option "Screen show". Selecting that option starts Freelance in presentation mode directly. Nice, but than that is what we OS/2 users are used to. Unlike OS/2 though, every SmartSuite program saves their file with a dot three extension. I have not found a way to turn this off. I suspect that this is a "feature" to maintain compatability with the Windows version.

When actually giving the presentation you use the mouse buttons to advance and reverse. I find this to be quirky. You use mouse button #1 (Left click for most people) to move forward and mouse button #2 (Right click for most people) to go in reverse. This seems backwards to me since I read left to right. Pressing the right mouse button should go forward not backwards. I know I could change the buttons around in setup but it seemed a bit much to do just for a presentation. Instead I adjusted myself instead of the mouse driver. PowerPoint works the same way except you can also use the arrow keys. Freelance does not make use of the arrow keys in presentation mode at all. It seems to me that this would not be too hard to program in but apparently Lotus doesn't think it important. With the arrow keys you would press the right arrow key to move forward and the left arrow key to move back. At least that makes sense to me.

Another gripe with Freelance but easily overcome is the SmartIcons. All of the Lotus SmartSuite apps give you more than one set of Smart Icons. One is called Universal and is visible at all times, the rest are "smart". Smart means that they change depending on what you have selected. For example click on a text box and you get text related icon buttons. Click on a drawing and you get drawing icons. The concept of smart buttons makes sense until what you want is not there. For example, I often make text labels for various figures in different text boxes. But when you click on the text boxes you don't get the alignment buttons. They only appear if you select a drawn object, like a square. To compensate, the first thing I do is add various buttons to the Universal SmartIcon bar. As you can guess from what I wrote earlier, I have added the alignment button icons to the Universal SmartIcons. While talking about alignment there is one option missing. You get icon buttons for Left and Right align, Top and Bottom align, and a Column center align but no row align.

[Click to view full size.]

As with all presentation software, text is restricted to point sizes. If you want your words to be taller but not longer, too bad. In DrawIt, (a native OS/2 vector drawing program) you can just drag the top of the font and it gets larger without getting wider. But then that is a drawing program not a presentation program.

A nice feature of Freelance is point mode, another button I added to my Universal button bar. In point mode you can change a drawing point without affecting the rest of the drawing. This is incredibly useful when you are drawing compound or curved lines. In addition, when you select a point you get two additional points you can change to adjust the angle of the incoming or outgoing line from the point.

Another thing I noticed while preparing this article was that in the Windows version you can save a slide as a gif file. In the OS/2 version, gif is not a save as option. This is strange to me since when you save it to an internet presentation the program creates a gif file for each page of your presentation. Even if Freelance could save PNG (portable network graphics) files, that would have been useful, but that format is not included either.

Hopefully you can see why I call Freelance the forgotten part of SmartSuite. Don't get me wrong, it is a powerful program and I use it for my presentations. It is just that it could do with a bit of updating especially in the compatibility area. Now if I could get people to stop sending me PowerPoint files.

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