WinTaper, TapeTracker and WinDead Ė A Comparative Review

 

By Jim Louderback

 

(copyright 1996 Ė feel free to distribute freely, but please keep it all in one piece)

 

 

Looking for a way to manage those huge volumes of tapes, trades and lists? Or are you simply looking for a quick and easy way to print out labels for your tapes. Perhaps, on the other hand, you want to publish your tape list to the internet. Luckily there are three different tape management programs out there for Windows, each offering a different set of features, and each appropriate for different audiences and different needs.

In this review we look at three programs, TapeTracker from Steve Zimmerman, WinTaper from Dan Tepper, and WinDead from Mike Geier. Weíll analyze each of the programs based on Ease of Use, Trade Tracking, Reporting, Internet capabilities, Show Databases, Stability and Extra Credit.

 

 

 

TapeTracker

WinTaper

WinDead

Interface

B

A

C

Tracking Trades

A

N/A

B

Reporting

A

B

C

Internet

B

A

N/A

Labels

B+

A

B-

Show Databases

A

D

B-

Stability

A-

A-

C

 

 

TAPE TRACKER

 

Although new since the last time we looked at this category, TapeTracker has swept onto the scene with an extremely well thought out, and powerful package. TapeTracker does just about anything you want it to do, and has hidden power besides. Itís built with Microsoftís Access 2.0, and is only a 16-bit program. Because of itís Access heritage, the program can be slow on older hardware, and thereís so much going on, it may be difficult for the casual user to master.

 

INTERFACE

 

When you start Tape Tracker, you see an 8 option menu, which takes you into each function of the program. The main module, Tapes, brings you to the Tape View Form, where you can look at a list of all of your tapes, look at the detail of a single tape, or add and edit tape data.

TapeTracker keeps track of lots of data about individual tapes, including generation, source, rating, SCMS codes, and even what microphones were used during recording. You can even mark off whether a show is a Favorite, or if you attended.

The program uses pull down boxes for most entries, but unlike WinTaper, you can easily update the options in those pull down menus. Want to add an A+++++ rating to the list? Just double click on the pull-down icon for the ratings field and add it in. The song entry screen is broken out into sets, and thereís room enough for three sets here. You enter songs in free form, separating each with a comma. Tape Tracker makes it very easy to import shows from databases, which helps ensure that all of the same songs in your collection use the same rendering (this helps when reporting). Thereís lots of room for notes as well.

Iím not wild about the freeform data-entry concept for songs, because itís often difficult to figure out where one song ends and the other begins. Both WinTaper, in which you put songs in separate fields, and WinDead, which uses a vertical layout with one song per line, works better visually than this format. One benefit, though, is the large amount of room for songs. You can basically enter in as many songs as you like, and the window simply scrolls down if youíve maxed out available viewing room.

At the bottom of the tapes window are buttons that bring you to most of the other functions in the program. You can go right to the J-Card printing module, and to the database of traders. Overall we found the interface busy, and difficult to get into, but full of power. Thereís a lot you can keep track of here, and a lot under the hood.

 

TRACKING TRADES

 

TapeTracker includes the best mechanism yet for tracking traders and information about who provided tapes in your collection. The add/edit traders module lets you capture 4 different phone numbers, internet address, and even a text file containing their tape list. You also get a memo field for more text information.

You can easily link traders to tapes within the Tape module, so that you can track who youíve received shows from. This comes in handy when you want to report on exactly who has given you your best stuff, for future trading.

The lastest version of Tape Tracker, which was released too late to formally review, takes the trader function to its logical extreme: Tracking actual trades. This module allows you to track trades in progress, both inbound an outbound, using both the trader file and the tapes file. With this function added, Tape Tracker really is the ultimate program for the serious trader with a large collection.

 

REPORTING

 

TapeTracker has a very good set of reporting tools. You can print both a detail and a summary report of your tapes, as well as produce reports on traders. . Reports printed out well on our test HP LaserJet 4P printer.

If you want text based files for trading, Tape Tracker gives you more power, and more control over fields, than either WinTaper or WinDead. You can select up to 12 fields, and print in a delimited, fixed width or even a special tape tracker transfer format. You can even save text formats for later, and the program comes bundled with export templates for email and HTML.

 

 

INTERNET

 

Tape Tracker has limited Internet exporting capabilities. You can produce any of the text export reports in HTML format, but that will only give you a single page worth of information for your web site. WinTaper does a much more exhaustive job of creating HTML output, especially if you want detail like song names on your web site too.

 

 

LABELS

 

Tape Tracker has an elegant module for creating J Cards. You can create cards for Dat cassette and CDR. Unfortunately, the CDR module is somewhat incomplete, as you can only print out single sided slide-in inserts, not the inserts for the back of the box, which also would include those side titles.

However, Tape Tracker does make it very easy to change fonts, layout and look of your labels. Using a floating tool-kit and point and click interface, Tape Tracker offers the easiest way to get your labels to look the way you like. If you want complete power, check out WinTaperís Corel-Draw like module. But Tape Trackerís module will suffice for most DAT and cassette label needs.

You can also import graphics, although the interface is a bit confusing. You actually have to go into the customize portion of the module to bring in your graphic Ė you should be able to select your graphic from the main label interface.

 

 

SHOW DATABASES

 

Tape Tracker includes the most complete set of show databases of any programs. Full show and song lists are currently available for the entire run of the Grateful Dead, Jerry Garcia Band, Legion of Mary, Phish, Allman Brothers and Bob Dylan. More databases are rumored to be underway.

Adding a show from the database is easy. Just select the artist from Add/Edit tape window, put in the performance date, and import the show. If you collect shows from the aforementioned artists, Tape Tracker does the best job of all the programs.

 

STABILITY

 

During my extensive testing, Tape Tracker worked flawlessly. We never had a lock-up or a GPF fault. Everything worked as it should.

 

SUMMARY

 

TapeTracker is ideal for the power user with a fast computer. It takes up a lot of hard disk space (more than eleven megabytes) and can be sluggish on older hardware. If you've got lots of tapes and trades to manage, and want to be able to keep track of just about every piece of data out there, look carefully at Tape Tracker. It may not be the easiest program to learn, but thereís enough power for just about any user.

TapeTracker is available for a 30 day trial from the internet. You can go to http://tapetracker.com or contact author Steve Zimmerman at steve@netopus.com. If you like the program, it costs $60.

 

 

WINTAPER

 

Back when we did our first analysis, WinTaper was the pick of the pack, especially for beginners running Windows. WinTaper is still the easiest program to use for Windows natives, and now adds some key power features, especially for the internet and for printing tape labels. If youíre not a mega-taper, and just want to keep track of shows and print labels, WinTaper is the best bet. It is easy to use, and basically runs well. The new 1.5 version also includes a native 32-bit option for NT and Windows 95. WinTaper is written in Borlandís C++ environment, which makes it look like many other shrink-wrapped software packages.

 

 

INTERFACE

 

Unlike both WinDead and Tape Tracker, which start off with a menu of functions, WinTaper brings you right into your tape list via a fully modern windows interface. The main screen includes an icon bar, and a user sortable list of all the shows in your

collection. Tape detail, including song lists and other data, is readily accesible by double-clicking on the show entry, using a toolbar icon, or through a pull-down

menus.

 

Wintaper builds a handy list of songs dynamically from your tapes, so searching for a song is easy to do. I'd like to see this dynamic list taken a step further,

however, so that when songs are entered into a show, an intelligent auto-fill (like in the financial software Quicken) will offer the most likely fit.

 

WinTaper is much easier to navigate for the casual Windows user than either TapeTracker or WinDead, but you can, occasionally get lost when printing out tape labels. The constant stream of overlapping windows becomes confusing after a while. TapeTracker does a much better job making this process easy to understand.

The Dos user just making the big Windows transition may be confused by all the icons, menus and list choices, and may be more comfortable with the database oriented WinTaper or Tape Tracker. But for casual day to day use, WinTaper's interface definately has the edge over the others in this category.

 

TRACKING TRADES

 

Unfortunately, WinTaper does not include any feature for tracking trades. You can kludge the system via the comments field on tapes, but this is a glaring hole in WinTaper. None of the three programs does a good job tracking trades, but both WinDead and TapeTracker at least let you keep track of traders, and print shipping labels. Maybe we'll see this feature in 2.0

 

 

REPORTING

 

WinTaper 1.5 improves on its predecessor by including support for actual font sizes, and a slightly improved reporting feature. You can produce either a printed report, or a text export, with up to six user-defined columns of data. Six columns of data is nice, but I kept wishing for just one more. Unlike Tape Tracker, which lets you add in a header to your list, and even supports email, youíll have to play with your exported list to add in summary and other information at the top. Until one of these three programs includes a real WYSIWYG report painter, WinTaperís capabilities are passable.

 

INTERNET

 

If you know your traders have internet access, you can use WinTaperís excellent HTML export feature to send out browser-compatible lists. You can also use the HTML export to create your very own web pages, so that others can peruse your list. If you plan on exporting to the internet, and want to create set detail, with songs and other information, WinTaper provides more than either of the other two programs.

 

 

LABELS

 

For power users, WinTaper actually provides the most power and control over your labels. Even the default, easy-to-use label printer is almost as good as that found in TapeTracker, and far better than the interface in WinDead. And WinTaper, like both WinDead and TapeTracker, finally supports CD labels, although the beta, like TapeTracker, only prints the front label. Dan Tepper plans on adding in support for the back label in the shipping version of 1.5

WinTaper has two label printing modules. The first simply prints a default label, with venue, songs, date, comments, etc. You cannot include any pictures or artwork here, but you do have control over fonts. You can also create your own font groupings for different groups, different moods or whatever, which makes it easy to assign a set of fonts that you know look great to your label.

But WinTaper also includes a label designer, which lets you create your own label layouts, and include artwork and anything else you can think of. This label designer works much like CorelDraw Ė you select what you want to print (songs, art, venue, etc.) and simply drop it onto a blank label template. The label designer gives you ultimate control over what your tape labels look like. You can put songs onto the spine, make the band take up the entire front cover, really anything your heart desires. The label designer currently supports CD, cassette and Dat. You can then save your custom labels, and use them with any of your tapes. If you are really serious about your labels, WinTaper is the way to go.

 

 

SHOW DATABASE

 

WinTaper comes in a distant third here. A third party has created four WinTaper files, which span only the Grateful Dead, and only from 1970 through 1995. A Dave Matthews Band list is also available, but very incomlete. Currently no other bands are available. If you want set lists for every Dead show, youíll be better off with either WinDead or TapeTracker. And if you want easy support for importing shows from other bands, TapeTracker is the only way to go.

It is easy to cut and paste from a show database to your own, though. I just wish more complete data was available.

 

 

 

STABILITY

 

Although we looked at a late beta, WinTaper was very stable. Past versions have been reasonably bug free, so stability should not be an issue with this program.

 

 

EXTRA CREDIT

 

Because WinTaper puts each song into a separate field, you can add song specific information to each song. WinTaper lets you select whether a song jams into another song, is cut, is an encore, or a specific note or reference. On your print outs, the program substitutes little WingDing fonts to indicate the field Ė a little pointing hand for jam, for instance, or a scissor for a cut song. WinTaper could make this even better, by letting you create your own reference codes and fonts, and by expanding the note and reference function with user specified text. But this is an example of what WinTaper can do, via its database design, which TapeTracker cannot Ė because TapeTracker stores all songs in a given set in a single field.

 

 

SUMMARY

 

WinTaper is still the all-around best program for the casual user that wants to track a few tapes, print a few labels and easily get from one place to the other. Itís also best for the artists among us that really want every J-Card or CD label to be a masterpiece. If it had better show databases and an ability to track trades and traders, I could easily recommend it for everyone. As it is, if you use Windows, and are not a power taper and trader, WinTaper is for you. And itís the only program to support native 32-bit operation, making it work just right in Windows 95 and NT.

WinTaper is shareware (nagware, in this case), which means you can download a fully functional version from (xxxx), and use it forever. You are required to send the author $25 if you use it regularly. Once you register the software, you are spared the annoying "Please Register" message that pops up every 10 minutes or so. You can reach author Dan Tepper at 75103.2616@compuserve.com

 

 

 

WINDEAD

 

Mike Geierís venerable WinDead, practically invented the computer based tape trading software category. However, even though version 4 fixes a number of bugs and adds a few new features, the program still shows its age. I still havenít changed my basic impression of the program: Use it only if you long for the days of DOS, or if you have a slow 486, with a small hard drive.

 

 

INTERFACE

 

WinDead started out as a DOS program, written in one of the dBase variants, FoxPro. And the DOS legacy shows. While the modern graphical interface uses drop-down boxes, pick lists, buttons and separately selectable overlapping Windows, WinDead simply paints itís interface boxes on the screen. The thoroughly up-to-date application ought to be navigable by mouse only; the keyboard should be used only for entering data. WinDead forces you to the keyboard in a number of places, for instance to select where a report should print and what song to search for.

When you start the program, WinDead presents you with a main screen that takes you to each of the four program functions: Tapes, Database of Tapes, Traders and Printing. The Tapes window looks like an older version of what you get with Tape Tracker Ė lots of places to enter data, but no pick lists or pull down boxes. You do get some nice features right on this screen, including the ability to search for a venue or a song, but overall this main interface is confusing Ė and it only lets you look at one tape at a time. This screen also only displays the summary data for that tape. You have to select the edit button to actually look at the songs contained in that show.

 

 

TRACKING TRADES

 

WinDead does include a decent feature for tracking traders, where you can add in all the relevant information about a trader. There is no way to track this information against either tapes received or sent, but you do get an almost unlimited area for notes. The careful trader can use this notes area to indicate what trades are underway or have commenced, but this is no substitute for a module to actually track trades. TapeTracker at least lets you assign a trader to a particular tape that youíve received, which WinDead does not do.

You can print mailing labels right from the Tape Traders window Ė a nice feature. You can also add in information on when you last contacted that person.

 

 

REPORTING

 

WinDead includes a rudimentary reporting module from the main screen, which lets you print out your list. You cannot select what data to add, nor, as far as I can tell, can you filter your list. however, you can enter in text at either the beginning or end of the list, which lets you customize the report somewhat.

Although basic, this main list report is well laid out, and looks pretty good both as a DOS file and when sent to the printer. I only wish there was more flexibility in what prints, and which data is included.

You can also print out lists of traders from the trading module. This report looks like a label printing routine, with each trader and address listed one after the other.

 

 

INTERNET

 

WinDead does not support HTML output.

 

LABELS

 

WinDead supports all the major media types, including DAT, CD and Cassette. The label printing module is not nearly as sophisticated as that found in WinTaper, nor is it as easy to manipulate as the one in Tape Tracker. However, because there are virtually no options to set in the label printing function, it is very easy to get good looking labels printed.

You can change fonts and include your own background art, but you must do that in the main setup screen, not from within the label printing function itself. This adds to the overall simplicity of printing labels, but at a great loss of flexibility. If you want a different font or a different picture, you must go back and update the global program options. I preferred the WYSIWYG approach of both TapeTracker and WinTaper to WinDead.

 

 

SHOW DATABASE

 

WinDead does have a very extensive database of Grateful Dead shows, from 1966 through 8/8/95 Ė this is another area pioneered by WinDead. Itís also very easy to add songs into your show record when adding a new tape. Unfortunately, WinDead does not have the range of databases that TapeTracker has. You can change band databases within WinDead, but its fairly difficult to do so. If you plan on tracking more than just Dead shows, and want to keep from typing in your own songs, TapeTracker has the edge here.

WinDeadís Grateful Dead database suffers from the whims of its creator Ė many of the songs have cutesy names that you may not want on your labels, including Dough Knees for Donít Ease Me In and Mighty Swell for Might As Well. Youíll have to explore the arcane dBase environment to do a global search and replace if you donít like those names Ė or change them in each show.

 

STABILITY

 

Users of WinDead 3 will be glad to know that WinDead 4 is much more stable than its predecessor. During extensive testing, the program only crashed once or twice. However, we did manage to completely destroy one of our test installations Ė and only by reinstalling the software could we get back close to normalcy. WinDead needs a database rebuild function to help users through database problems Ė we were unable to rebuild an index that got corrupted during testing. Without that index, the program would not load. Only by using dBase itself were we able to get our files back.

 

 

SUMMARY - WINDEAD

 

WinDead deserves kudos for creating this software category, but unfortunately the program is still stuck in the past. The outdated interface will please only the hard-core Dos and dBase fans, and the limited functionality makes this program unsuitable for all but the most casual user. If you have a prior version, this upgrade is recommended. In addition, if you are working on an old 386 or 486, this is the only option. Otherwise, look at one of the other, newer programs

 

WinDead costs $60 and is not available in a downloadable version for you to try. Although author Mike Geier claims a money back policy if youíre not satisfied, some users in the past have been unable to return the software. You can contact Mike Geier at DeadHed@Well.Com

 

 

the author is Editorial Director of PC Week (but all opinions expressed are his own, and have no sanction by his employer) -- check out our top five list: WWW.TopFive.COM, or our web site WWW.PCWeek.Com.