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Mesa 2 2.2 PreRelease 6- by Michael Semon

Mesa 2 2.1.6 is a nice spreadsheet program. It crunches lots of numbers. It's beautiful and classy. It's friendly for casual users and reasonable for power users.

Sundial Systems Corporation must have decided to modify the character of Mesa 2 when it set out to create the next version of Mesa 2, version 2.2. It's still beautiful, but the classy part has been partially replaced with elegance. The rest of it was translated into raw power. This is a sneak preview of what's coming in Mesa 2.

A New Level of Flexibility

A lot of improvements have been made to the Mesa 2 interface. There is a new look (.GIF, 18K) that's clean and free of frills. Almost every part of the interface was designed with flexibility in mind.

New Toolbars

The toolbars are new. I miss the rounded buttons from Mesa 2 2.1.6, but then again, I couldn't drag and drop the buttons to different places on the toolbars. Toolbar operations work by OS/2 conventions, and there's no need to open a Customize panel to move buttons.

The Setup Toolbar dialog allows me to assign buttons to commands or macros, then drag them to a toolbar. If I wish, I can use the bitmap editor of my choice to make new buttons. If I want to use large bitmaps for buttons, the toolbar will adapt to the new bitmap's size.

New Keyboard Handling and Menus

There is a new Shortcuts tab in the Preferences panel. The new keyboard handling is great and is geared toward freedom. You can assign any listed Mesa 2 command to a keyboard shortcut. I can assign Ctrl-Alt-Shift-Esc to something, or I can assign the 1 key to it. As long is it isn't already used by OS/2 (such as Alt-F4 or Ctrl-Alt-Delete), it will work. The only low point is that I can't seem to assign a shortcut to a script.

Mesa 2 comes with a basic menu editor. The menus work by the same rules as keyboard shortcuts. New menus, menu items, and separators can be added to Mesa 2. The menu editor can used on all of the menus, with the exception of the right-click menu for the status bar. This means you can edit the pop-up menus as well as the main menu.

These custom settings are meant to be stored for future use. Toolbars, menus, and shortcuts can be exported to files and loaded again. I can save my toolbars, etc., and use them on another person's installation of Mesa 2.

AutoEverything and SmartEverything

Mesa 2 is full of nice, simple, low-disk-space features. Here's the list of many of the new Auto- and Smart-Features:

There is a new status bar feature that shows, for instance, either the sum of the selection or the AutoSum for the current cell. It goes beyond the average status bar formula feature. In addition to Sum, Average, Minimum, and Maximum, custom formulas can be used. Something complex like '=VAR(SMARTRANGE("c"))' would be a good custom formula. I chose '="Howdy!"' for my Mesa 2 screen shot because, well, I can do it.

A New Level of Honesty

Mesa 2's formula entry tolerance has been expanded. The maximum formula length is now near 65536 bytes (65,530 works, 65,540 doesn't work). That's 64 times the Excel formula entry limit of 1024 bytes. It exposes a the ultimate test of the new Mesa 2: formula entry. The limit on base-level operators has been increased from 100 to 9,300. 'IF' functions can be nested 511 levels deep, making room for many logical decisions.

The text limits are equally large. In my tests with ridiculously long text strings, I managed to break Excel's word wrap free (Excel 97 doesn't have a 1,024-character limit on text) after a few lines. Mesa 2 kept going, giving a 20-second pause on my Pentium 100 test machine. When it was done, the text was wrapped, perfectly.

A custom cell format language has been introduced to Mesa 2. It's a lot like the Excel format language. There are some differences, though. It doesn't support some of the Excel 97 token, such as the * token that's useful in making accounting number formats. However, it does allow for more than just a handful of entries. This freedom can be of good use for lists, such as days of the week:

[= 1][RED]"Monday";[= 2]"Tuesday";[= 3]"Wednesday";

[= 4]"Thursday";[= 5][MAGENTA]"Friday";[= 6]"Saturday";

[= 7]"Sunday";[NUMBER]"Not a weekday";[ERROR][RED];GENERAL
With all of these things, if I make formulas and text extremely long, Mesa 2 will take a while to crunch them. However, it it's within Mesa 2's generous limits, the operations will finish. The answer will be correct, too. I like that spirit of honesty and determination.

New Features in MScript and Scripting

Mesa 2's scripting capabilities have been enhanced. There's a REXX Console now, so Mesa 2 is capable of properly executing SAY and PULL instructions. This is great when I want to output a debug variable while testing a script. It reports error messages, too.

The 'RUNSCRIPT' spreadsheet function and the 'SCRIPTQUEUE' MScript function have been expanded to accept function arguments. There's an added argument to determine whether the a queued script runs in line or in its own process. This can be very useful if you store scripts in the global script file, globals.m2.

There are about 100 MScript functions in the new Mesa 2. New functions are included to help automate complex actions like changing graphs, exporting files, and printing files. Many of the new functions are for simple queries and changes.

The lesser-used Mesa 2 actions were considered when making the new MScript functions. A new 'POSTMESACOMMAND' allows most things REXX (including the macro language in DBExpert) to send commands to Mesa 2. Functions like 'CLOSECONSOLE' and 'CLEARCONSOLE' help control the REXX Console and put it to good use. There are cute feedback functions like 'CYCLECALCINDICATOR', which cycles the abacus in the status bar.

The bottom line is that if you liked the 2.1.6 MScript functions but wish there one extra function to do task X, then 2.2 probably has that extra function. I like the REXX Console functions because they appeal to the command-line junkie in me.

New Palettes and OS/2 Integration

Sundial added four new OS/2 palettes for changing the appearance of items by drag and drop. The Line Width Palette, Line Style Palette, and Pattern Palette apply to cells and graphs. The Marker Palette applies to graphs. The Line Width Palette has a line width editor.

There are new drag-and-drop tricks. Worksheet layers can be dragged directly to a print object to be printed. Graphics can be dragged to most places in a workbook and can be used to place background bitmap in the application window. Graphics can be used as pictograms in the bars of bar graphs (.GIF, 17.6K).

File Enhancements

Mesa 2 has a new file format. Previous versions of Mesa 2 can't read it, but there are import and export filters for the Mesa 2.1.x file format.

There's a new Template file format. Mesa 2 comes with several templates, presumably to demonstrate the template feature. I never use the built-in anything samples that come with a program, so I appreciate the conservative use of disk space. Otherwise, I would have just not installed the samples and missed this feature altogether.

New import and export filters have been created to handle the Excel 97 file format. They work very well, grabbing a surprising amount of data and cell formatting. The Excel filters are much better than the 1-2-3 filters in Mesa 2 2.1.6. There are occasional aesthetic glitches in the export filter, but they're easily corrected after opening the file in Excel. Having moved from a job using 1-2-3 to a job using Excel 97, I appreciate the new filter.

An HTML export filter has been included, and it works. The text import/export has been made elaborate but still convenient.

The Files Tab

Preferences has a special tab that takes care of default directories. A separate directory can be chosen for regular worksheets, autosaved files, template files, and backup files. Because Mesa 2 can be started like "MESA2.EXE /INI:iniName", this makes it easy to separate two users' settings on the same computer.

This page also shows off several new features. Mesa 2 has new codepage translation, and it has settings to enable or disable it. There's also two different levels of file compression for worksheets. The maximum file compression is so good that on many files, using "zip -9" on a compressed workbook doesn't improve the file size by more than one or two percent.

Other Goodies

I still haven't described most of the new features in the new Mesa 2. There are many small optimizations throughout Mesa 2, especially the display refresh during recalculations. A few functions have been added, such as 'COUNTIF' and 'BESSELJ' kind of functions. There is now a maximum of 99,999 rows per layer instead of 32,768 rows. The program stability is still excellent for work, but it's now equally stable when brute force is being applied to it. A discussion of the little things could take another 10 pages of space, so I'll skip it.


As you can see, there are a lot of new features in Mesa 2. Some features were probably made because they sounded good and could help sell the product. Most features, though, were made for power freaks like me, who demand control over most parts of a program and don't want to pay for it in disk space. To that end, Mesa 2 still installs from two floppy disks. It occupies 4.7 MB of space after installation (Mesa 2 2.1.6 occupied 4.3 MB). It's awesome to have a huge number of feature enhancements and pay a mere 400 kB for it. I wonder how Sundial did it.

* * *

Mesa 2 2.2 PreRelease 6

by Sundial Systems Corporation
MSRP: Not yet released

Michael Semon lives in Ft. Pierce, Florida, and is the author of the Simple Guide to Mesa 2 web page.


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