DATELINE: January 1999 Issue
File-Translation Utility no Longer FreeBy Christopher Breen
Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free? Although this bit of homespun wisdom most often pops up in late-night mother-daughter powwows, it has its place in the software business as well. Take DataViz’s MacLinkPlus, for instance. At one time, Apple Computer bundled a light version of this file-translation utility with new Macs and system-software packages. To no one’s surprise, few Mac users felt compelled to purchase the full retail version of MacLinkPlus-MacLinkPlus “lite” translated the majority of file types that folks encountered, so why pay for a few extra features and translators?
Well, the milk’s no longer free. Apple has stopped including MacLinkPlus, so if you want it, you’ll have to pony up for the complete cow: MacLinkPlus Deluxe.
Although the basic functionality of MacLinkPlus remains in the Deluxe version, DataViz has smartened up the interface as well as added a few new translators and features. To begin with, MacLinkPlus is no longer inexorably linked to Apple’s Mac OS Easy Open. In earlier versions, you simply double-clicked on an unknown file and Easy Open dutifully translated that file into a readable file type on your hard disk-maintaining most of the document’s formatting. In these light versions, MacLinkPlus supplied the translators and Easy Open did the work.
This technique remains in MacLinkPlus Deluxe, but the program offers other options as well. For example, you can drag and drop a collection of files and folders into the MacLinkPlus Deluxe window, select the ones you want translated, and click on the Translate button to start the process. Employing this method, you can easily batch-process files of different types. When batch-processing, the program translates files to the type you’ve chosen in MacLinkPlus’s Preferences window. Separate translation preferences can be set for word processing, spreadsheet, database, and graphics files.
As with earlier versions of the program, you can convert files from one type to another using the Document Converter utility. Make a copy of Document Converter, double-click on the copy, determine the kind of conversion to perform (convert files to WordPerfect for Mac, for example), and drag and drop files onto its icon to convert them.
Users with Mac OS 8 or higher can also control-click on a file to summon MacLinkPlus’s contextual menu. Using this method, you choose the Mac or PC format you’d like the file translated to-ClarisWorks 4 or the DOS version of WordPerfect, for example-and the MacLinkPlus Deluxe application launches, translates the file, and, on your command, quits when the translation is complete.
So What Else Is New?
The contextual menu hints at some of MacLinkPlus Deluxe’s added capabilities. Control-clicking on a file and selecting Recognize from this menu produces a dialog box that identifies the file type as well as offers translation tips. From here you can choose to send the file to MacLinkPlus Deluxe for translation or click on Cancel to dismiss the dialog box.
Another handy feature is the Quick Preview command, also found in the contextual menu. Quick Preview displays a portion of a file’s contents-text as well as graphics-and you can copy the preview to the Clipboard or send the file to MacLinkPlus Deluxe for translation. You can also preview files from within the MacLinkPlus Deluxe application.
Finally-and to be honest, insignificantly-the program expands .sit, MacBinary, Zip, Gzip, TAR, Compact Pro, and Z files and decodes UUencode, MIME, and BinHex files from within the MacLinkPlus Deluxe application window. Aladdin’s StuffIt Expander does the same thing, and StuffCM, David Catmull’s $9 shareware contextual-menu plug-in, gives Mac OS 8 users this capability from within Apple’s contextual menus. For many users, therefore, this feature may seem superfluous in MacLinkPlus Deluxe.
Not so superfluous, however, is the program’s inclusion of translators for the various components of Microsoft Office 98 and Office 97 for Windows. Macintosh users who eschew the Office suite can now easily open these common file types.
Room for Improvement
Not everything about MacLinkPlus Deluxe is sweet, however. Although the utility performs admirably, the interface could be a bit more elegant. For example, when invoking a translation from the contextual menu, users should have the option of translating the file in the background, bypassing the MacLinkPlus Deluxe application.
Background processing of multiple files and folders would likewise be more convenient. And surely there’s a more intuitive method for creating Document Converters than requiring users to duplicate the original file.