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Integrated Software

Integrated Software

Much of the developed world's population now requires computer technology to perform a host of tasks. People rely on computers when they go shopping, schedule meetings, create presentations, balance checkbooks, make car payments, or seek entertainment. Many Americans use computers at home, at school, at the library, and at work. People expect all computers to "talk" to one another and allow them to transfer documents without errors between computers so that they can share their work with others. Integrated software makes it easy to do that.

One type of integrated software is the business office suite, which is now a staple in many home offices, small businesses, and large enterprises. These suites typically include word processing, spreadsheets, databases, e-mail, appointment scheduling, electronic slide capability, and web browsing programs, all of which can create and exchange information quickly and easily.

Another example of integrated software is the developer's office suite for those who create new software. These packages offer programs including word processing, Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) editors, web navigation tools, e-mail, bulletin board managers, application builders, scripting languages , directory browsers, help browsers, and program editors.

A suite of programs for home computer use can include software that a home user would find helpful, such as word processing, money management, e-mail, a web browser, an encyclopedia, and a dictionary. A lawyer's office suite typically includes a combination of word processing, proofreading, document assembly, research, web navigation, and e-mail programs.

A variety of manufacturers offer these integrated software packages, and each has its own unique advantages depending on the needs of its targeted customer base. This article describes the typical business office suite.

History

The integration of powerful business software occurred in the late twentieth century. In the early 1980s, Lotus 1-2-3 was the only software available to create spreadsheets; "gopher" was the single application to read e-mail; and there were only a few word processing options, including WordStar, WordPerfect, or a line editor such as vi. Overhead slide presentations could not be created on a computer. Appointment scheduling was done using paper and pencil.

At that time, each piece of office software was an independent entity. Files could not be shared across platforms or combined into one document without expert assistance. Therefore, users could not import WordStar documents into a Lotus spreadsheet, or access files on a UNIX operating system from a DOS (disk operating system). By the 1990s, however, a variety of software manufacturers offered business professionals complex integrated packages that gave them the ability to create complex, format-rich documents.

The first efforts to combine capabilities resulted in integrated programs, such as Microsoft Works and Claris Works. Each was a single program that combined several software functions, such as simplified versions of word processors, spreadsheets, and databases. Early versions of these programs created documents that could not be exported into more sophisticated full-sized word processing or spreadsheet applications. Their primary benefit to the user was that multiple office functions could be accomplished using one piece of software.

Microsoft Office 97 and Lotus SmartSuite 97 are both fully functional integrated software packages of several programs. When they were introduced, they were immediately adopted by many businesses because they allowed several applications to share data easily. Each suite included word processing, spreadsheet, organizer/scheduler, database, graphics, and e-mail programsall designed to work seamlessly together. They allowed users to create complex documents that incorporated information generated by two or more of the applications, such as a word processing document that included diagrams, graphs, spreadsheets, and hyperlinks.

Pasting, Linking, and Embedding

Integrated software offers users a variety of cut and paste tools to share data among applications. On the simplest level, information can be cut or copied from the source application (for example, a block of cells from a spreadsheet) and pasted into the target application (such as a word processing document). With the paste tool, a user can place a snapshot of the desired section of the spreadsheet in the document. The cutting and copying tools save the desired spreadsheet cells in multiple formats so that the paste process will be successful with a display of the added material in the format that works best. Although the cut, copy, and paste tools are the simplest way to share information, the data in the target document is not kept current if changes are made in the source location. The old data remains until the new data is pasted in its place.

Object Linking and Embedding (OLE) helps resolve this limitation by pasting an embedded link or object in the target application. This process requires the paste link or paste special tools, instead of paste. OLE works only with OLE-enabled applications. When a link is pasted into a target document, it becomes a compound document. All compound documents require the cooperation of all linked applications to create the final product and require that all source applications be kept in their original location. If one of the source applications is moved, or if the compound document is moved, the link is broken and the document remains incomplete until the link is reestablished. As long as the link is intact, all changes made on the source applications are displayed on the compound document.

For example, if the compound document is an analytical paper created on a word processor that includes links to a drawing and a spreadsheet, all three applications (the word processor, the drawing program, and the spreadsheet software) must cooperate to display and print the finished paper. Once the document is created, all subsequent changes made on the spreadsheet or drawing are tracked by a system of reminders. The next time the paper is opened using the word processor, the reminders deliver the changes, which then appear in the document.

A second kind of compound document is one that includes embedded objects, which are created by using the paste special tool. The successful use of embedded objects requires that all source applications remain in their original locations. Embedded objects can be edited directly from within the compound document, without the need to open the source document first. To make changes to an embedded spreadsheet, for example, the user first opens the compound document and then double clicks on the cells that are embedded on the page. This causes a small window to open so changes can be made directly on the page. However, these changes are not transmitted to the source document. Likewise, any changes made to the original spreadsheet are not reflected in the word processing document.

Another option, called paste as hyperlink, creates a hyperlink of the pasted object, such as the cells of a pasted spreadsheet. By double clicking on a hyperlink, the user opens the source application for easy editing. As long as the link remains valid, all changes made on the hyperlinked file are reflected in the compound document.

see also Database Management Software; Office Automation Systems; SQL; SQL: Databases.

Ann McIver McHoes and Judi Ellis

Bibliography

Blattner, P., et. al. Using Microsoft Word and Excel in Office 2000. Indianapolis, IN: Que Corporation, 1999.

Internet Resources

Microsoft Corporate Web Site. <http://www.microsoft.com>

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