Computer buffs have thousands of exotic software packages to choose from, but most of them still use their machines largely for five basic tasks: writing, calculating, drawing graphs, organizing data and sending messages over telephone lines. Until recently, the biggest news in software was the arrival of programs like Ashton-Tate's Framework or Lotus' Symphony and Jazz that can do all five jobs at once. Now, however, programs designed for quite different uses have begun to catch on. Among them:
ELECTRONIC ART. MacPaint, which works on the Apple Macintosh, seems to have opened up a new artistic world on personal computers. Using only the Mac's palm-size mouse controller, the program gave chartmakers and would-be Picassos easy access to a variety of artist's tools, from an electronic paintbrush with variable-size brushstrokes to a computer paint can that pours out an infinite variety of patterns and shades. There is now a quiverful of MacPaint imitations that run on other machines, including Apple's MousePaint ($100) and Broderbund's DazzleDraw ($50) for the Apple II, Mouse Systems' PC Paint ($100) for the IBM PC, and IBM's Color Paint ($100) for the PCjr. If nothing else, programs like these make computers attractive to people who would never have dreamed of using an accounting software package or a data- base manager.
PSYCHOLOGICAL HELPERS. These programs borrow a page from the personality quizzes found in magazines like Reader's Digest and Cosmopolitan. In a typical program, the computer offers a list of character traits that might apply to a client, customer or business colleague. The program records which traits fit the subject and then, after a suitable pause for reflection, prints out concrete advice on how best to manipulate that person into making a sale, negotiating a contract or agreeing to hand out a hefty salary increase. Business-psych programs like the Human Edge series (Sales Edge, Management Edge, Negotiation Edge and Communications Edge) have been available for more than a year, although at $250 and up they have never sold particularly well. But Human Edge recently came out with a $50 program called Mind Prober that took the concept out of the boardroom and into the boudoir. When supplied with a few dozen descriptive adjectives about an individual, Mind Prober will concoct an instant character analysis that includes a report on his or her romantic attitude. Backed by some come-hither ad copy ("We'll get you into her mind. The rest is up to you"), the program quickly climbed into the software best-seller charts.
SIMULATION TRAINING. Educational software was once limited to electronic flash cards suitable for drilling students in math, spelling or Latin verbs. Now software writers are using the computer's capacity for simulating real-life situations to teach such subjects as anatomy and aviation. The method has proved particularly successful in the world of high finance. In Scarborough's Run for the Money ($80), PC users learn about business by competing in the market for synthetic bananas. In Harvard Associates' MacManager ($50), players run their own widget making companies. In Scarborough's Make Millions ($50), the simulation includes an office with all the trappings of a corporate desktop, down to a working computer, a telephone that never stops ringing, a plant that needs watering and an unending flow of memos.