Soup KIDchen v1.1- by Doug Hicken

Since OS/2's inception, it has been considered an operating system for the "Power User", not for the average home user. Widdow Works, a small company started in early 1996, is trying to change that perception by introducing a program for children entitled Soup KIDchen v1.1. Soup KIDchen is an educational program for children aged 2 through 6 that helps them learn numbers, colors, shapes, and the alphabet by associating them with images and sounds included on the CD-ROM database. Soup KIDchen encourages parents to take an active role in their child's education and entertainment by allowing them to personalize the database with sounds and pictures of their own.

Installation

The installation of Soup KIDchen uses IBM's install program. Unlike my other experiences using this install program, no glitches of any kind were encountered. Because only five meg is required to install, valuable hard disk space isn't wasted. Since I had previously installed the shareware version, I was curious to see how the install would handle this situation. No problems were encountered; in fact, it used my icons from the previous install. Had I created a database while using the shareware version, it would have migrated the database as well. Soup KIDchen also comes with a CMD file to recreate the icons on the desktop should the Workplace Shell become corrupt.

Getting Started

When you start Soup KIDchen, you are presented with a window that greets you and tells you the basics of the program. This window only appears the first time you run Soup KIDchen. Then you hear the sounds of a kitchen and are presented with a fullscreen main menu (GIF, 27k) with the bluejam.midi file playing in the background. The main menu consists of a countertop that has crayons, blocks, numbers, and building blocks on it that represent the four learning areas or as Widdow Works likes to call them, modules. When the mouse pointer is moved over any of the above mentioned modules, it changes to a crayon box, the number one, a triangle, or the letter "A" building block depending upon the module selected.

Upon entering one of the modules, you are presented with the items of the module, jumbled up (hence the name "Jumble Screen" [GIF, 41k]). You can rearrange the items by clicking on the right mouse button, or as I found out, by pressing any key on the keyboard not associated with that screen. When an item is chosen, an entry for the item is displayed that consists of descriptive text, an image, and two .wav files. If sound is enabled, a description sound file is played. If the "Descriptive text" located at the top of the image is clicked on with the mouse, the description is played again. And when you click on the image, the "Effects Sound" is played. When the mouse goes over the "Descriptive text", the text changes colors. It's a great touch.

To cycle through the other images in the module, the user can simply click on the number, letter, color, or shape located on the upper left or right of the image. If you want to return to the jumble screen of a module, you can click on the space on any side of the image. However, I found it easier for my daughters to tell them to click on the Teapot (a "fridge magnet" beside the image).

The main menu can be reached from the image or from the jumble screen by clicking on the teddy bear in the lower left corner. To end the program you simply click on the stop icon in the upper left corner. As a finishing touch, a few soft bells ring on shutdown.

Configurability

Soup KIDchen's strength is in the configurability (GIF, 11k) of its database. By default Soup KIDchen reads a database named SoupKIDd.ini that uses the 95 entries that come on the CD-ROM. Most items have more than one entry and Soup KIDchen cycles through the entries for you. You can add entries to this database or use a different database by starting Soup KIDchen from the command line using the /database switch with the name of the new database you would like to create or use. Soup KIDchen has six command line switches: /windowed, /nomusic, /noaudio, /module, /configure and /database. If you decide in the future to merge two separate databases into one, a utility called multidb will do this.

Adding an entry (GIF, 12k) to a database is a simple, straightforward process using an OS/2 style notebook accessed from the Soup KIDchen Configuration object in the Soup KIDchen folder. Filenames can be typed in, selected from a file dialog accessed through a pop-up menu, or, in true Workplace Shell fashion, dragged and dropped! When you open the configuration notebook, a windowed version of Soup KIDchen is automatically opened so you can see the changes you make to the database in Soup KIDchen!

A nice touch that has been added to Soup KIDchen is the use of path substitutions. This allows you to move images and sounds that make up your database if they are all in the same subdirectory. You only change the path variable, not each entry individually. If you were to move your images or sounds to the hard drive and keep them in the same subdirectories, you would only have to change the values for the variables from e:\[dir] to c:\[dir] and Soup KIDchen would know where to find the images for each entry.

Performance

Unlike other OS/2 multimedia applications that I have run, Soup KIDchen doesn't drain my system resources. Even with the images and sounds on my CD-ROM, the delay from mouse click to audio or video response is barely noticeable. I normally run about 10 programs at a time, and my other applications were not affected at all. You can instantly tell that this is not a Windows port, but a true multi-threaded OS/2 application. If you wanted to improve performance even more, you could copy the images and sounds to the hard disk and change the paths to reflect these changes. I was highly impressed with Soup KIDchen's performance. If you still have an old 8 bit sound card, Soup KIDchen even has 8 bit sound files.

Documentation

When a program such as Soup KIDchen comes without hardcopy docs, I usually dread having to read the on-line help. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Soup KIDchen uses OS/2's IPF help system and that items were easy to locate. I did find a few holes in the on-line help, though. Nowhere in the documentation does it tell the user how to create a new database or how to record .wav files using OS/2.

Fortunately, technical support is excellent and very knowledgeable about their product. Soup KIDchen executives noted that wepm.exe in MMOS/2 is the best way to record sounds under OS/2 and that local print shops such as Kinko's can scan in family photos and put the images on disks for you, ready to enter into Soup KIDchen. Context sensitive help is also available in the configuration notebook to help you along.

Conclusions

Clearly, Soup KIDchen is a well thought out educational program. Most of the bugs were found and corrected in the shareware version hence the 1.1 designation for the commercial release. The quality of the graphics and sounds are impressive and configurability is second to none. Performance, ease of use, and documentation are superb. However, the addition of palette dithering would be nice as would be the ability to add .avi files to the database.

Widdow Works has presented the OS/2 marketplace with an educational program that is sorely needed. You can try Soup KIDchen in shareware form by downloading it from any major OS/2 shareware site. Soup KIDchen v1.1 with the complete CD-ROM database is available at major OS/2 vendors. Version 1.1 retails for US$40.


 * Soup KIDchen v1.1
by Widdow Works
download the shareware/demo v1.00s with 16bit sounds from BMT Micro (ZIP, 2.86meg)
MSRP: US$40 (CD version with complete multimedia database)
Doug Hicken is a Team OS/2 member that has used OS/2 since OS/2 for Windows. He owns and operates a Pheasant Hunting Preserve in Utah. Two of his children, Jessica and Chelsey, helped with this review.

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