Review: Power R*N*D
J. Michael Farmer, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Recently I stumbled across an interesting little item in the pages of one of the major Mac software mailorder catalogs. Listed among bibliographic software such as EndNotes, the ad copy was mysterious and vague. Intrigued, I tracked down the developer and got a demo copy of the program.
The documentation for Power RND is nearly as vague as the ad copy, focusing on philosophical issues behind the product, and not on how to use it. The flyer entitled What is Power RND stated, "Power RND provides the learner with a distinctive tool to manage the acquisition, retention, retrieval, and synthesis of information." It also referred to Power RND as a Personal Electronic Library System, and Document Management System. The philosophy behind Power RND is to provide a system for managing data, and transferring this data in a contextual form. The documents provided with Power RND referred me to the online help, which then got me up and running.
So what does it do?
Well, Power RND is basically an interface for the Helix Express Database engine (included with PRND). It has three main interface windows: R: Reference, N: Notes, and D: Documents. I'll address each of these below.
The Reference module of Power RND is designed to collect reference materials and generate lists and bibliographies. To establish a reference, one merely enters the reference information into predefined fields. These fields include: Title, Author/Editor (First name Last name format), Publisher, Subject, Topic, Catalog number, ISBN, Volume, Number, Page(s), and Year. It also includes a Summary field. Data must be entered into the summary field, or the reference will not be included in the database.
A couple of gripes: 1). The Author/Editor field requires the First name be entered first, followed by the last name. This syntax just feels wrong in the academic environment. 2). The Title field cursor starts in the center of the field, and moves to the left as characters are entered. However, the entered text does not scroll, rendering the last characters of longer titles unreadable. They do appear correctly in the database, but this method makes it difficult to edit, since you're essentially typing blind with no way to proof or correct until you actually view the bibliography or list. Correcting a typo in this field could be a nightmare.
The Reference module allows the user to generate several lists, as well as a bibliography. The lists are based on the following input fields: Title, Subject, Topic, or Author/Editor. These summary lists are simply that: lists of items in the reference database that meet the selected criteria (specific subject, topic, or Author/Editor field). The Bibliography generated by Power RND is inflexiable. No standard bibliographic styles are supported. It serves merely to roughly document a reference source. This is another shortcoming of Power RND in the academic environment.
In Power RND's Notes module, notes and keyword phrases are linked to existing references. A scrollable field allows for notes of unlimited length to be entered. As in the Reference module, the Notes module can generate summary lists based on user-selected criteria. If a particular reference has ten associated notes, each note appears in a separate field, with the reference citation directly above it. The user can scroll down the main window to view all of the note fields. Individual notes can be displayed and edited by double-clicking on the item in the list. The Notes module also supports Publish & Subscribe.
Power RND's Document module seems most interesting. Power RND can import documents into the database, launch and edit them in the application that the doc was created in. For example, a translation done in NisusWriter can be imported and linked to a specific reference. By opening the document from within Power RND, it can be revised, etc, and the changes are saved in the copy within the database. If you keep a copy of a document outside of the database as well, the external copy is left untouched. Importing documents into Power RND can seriously bloat the size of the database. The demo version I examined did not support links to external documents, however, a planned upgrade this spring will allow the user to decide whether to import a document or merely link it to a Power RND reference.
I had a few problems launching documents from within Power RND. Nisus Writer constantly crashed on startup while trying to access a doc from Power RND. However, if NW was already running, the docs came up without a problem. I did not have problems launching applications/docs from Excel, MS Word, or WordPerfect.
Power RND's interface is simple. The online documentation is adequate. And the program is rather intuitive.
What I Think:
I'm not sure what to think about this product. It seems like a neat idea to keep references, notes, and related documents in one searchable database. But I keep related items in folders. The ability to search bibliographic data and notes can be done easily in EndNotes, Filemaker, or other programs. The lack of flexibility is a serious drawback. In all fairness to the developer, the product was designed for a more business atmosphere, where a references can be recorded as a *memory jogger* rather than in a strict style or format. The idea seems to be to keep data together and in a context. It also seems to be geared at users who do not want to take the time to set up and/or customize a database. It is simple and intuitive to use, and there may be some appeal to this among a number of users. As for use in a univerity-level academic environment, Power RND is too rigid to be of great use.
I'd like to see greater flexibility in the reference module. The ability to format and export citations according to standard bibliographic formats and styles. The notes module seems simple enough and adequate. The upcoming option of importing or linking notes will be a step in the right direction towards greater user customization.
The developer has been extremely helpful, and several early suggestions by this reviewer have been incorporated into the spring upgrade. Power RND is available to H-Mac members for a discount price of $49. Please contact the developer for more information. Power RND is made by Ansar Development. They can be reached at:
DSV0038@AppleLink.Apple.COM (The Ansar Group,K Abdul-Rahman,DSV)
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Last Update: 9 April 95