This introduction was not printed in the published version of the magazine. That statement alone should tell you of some of the differences between this "Web version" and the printed version. It will be here where you can interact with it. Through built-in links and e-mail options you can get a message to me or the magazine. I also hope to include more detailed information that may be important to someone doing research on the net.
Already you may have noticed that I said "hope." Writing a single story of this depth and coverage was quite a task despite the comments to the contrary I make in the article. (You know, never let them see you sweat.) Having two final versions is a exercise in logistics. Here's my first problem: Each document was going to be scanned and available for the viewer to look at or download. Well I guess my scanner is not up to it so there will be none of that. What I will do instead is present the info in tables.
One of the many pleasures of working for a magazine is the weight and integrity it holds. If I solve the recording of documents problem I will include them in future stories. This version will remain unchanged from its original posting. Another pleasure is the expanded space that the Internet allows me. Fear not though, I will not be wordy simply to have a huge story.
If you would like a look into the software side of window coverings, then this is the story for you. I have ripped off the shrink wrap of five different packages and put them to the test all for your reading pleasure. These programs are for window coverings professionals only. Programs that will help you calculate, estimate, track and/or visualize jobs you work on. Each will spend its time under the spotlight. This may be the first time you'll read about so many different programs up against each other in one place. There is no need to be a nerd to understand this review. Please feel free to follow the links any time you think you want more info. Each will have a back button to get you to the link you jumped from.
So how can the average window covering professional use this type of software in his or her business, and what's good out there? This assignment had me asking some very basic questions of the industry as a whole. The first query was "who is the average designer/window covering professional (WCP)" So far, in my travels around the country for different show events and assignments, I still have not met any two people who operate the same or run the same type of business.
There are many similarities and overlapping elements, but each one seems to be a little of "this" and a lot of "that" to make up very unique businesses. Even though I couldn't picture the average WCP I could paint a broad enough portrait in my mind's eye to address him or her. After all, it's the common elements that make a WCP. This brought me to my first declaration for this story. There is no one software package good for everybody. So with each program I reviewed I will try to describe the type of business that can use it best. You the reader, will need to draw your own conclusions about what, if any, software will fit into his or her game plan. All programs herein are PC based for a Windows 3.x/95 systems (Sorry Mac people.), and I am writing to someone who knows how to use his or her system fairly well. I have assembled quite a bit of information in doing this story. All of the programs were volunteered by the manufacturer/developer and sent to me free of charge to be returned at the end of this review, which now has been done. Lastly, my strength is in reporting, so I enlisted the help of two very experienced people in the drapery and window coverings field to help me with the reviews. With all that said let the games beginÍ
Our judges for tonight's contest are both from the Southern California area. First off, the co-owner of Grady's Draperies and Interiors, Michelle D. Griffith. She runs a retail storefront and a complete design center. With 21 years in the business, she stays at the forefront of both design and technology. Finding someone as talented as she and with as much digital savvy was miraculous. I was soon to learn of two other miracles during this story. The second one happened just after meeting Michelle, in the form of an innocent looking e-mail from a D&WC reader. Enter Ed Carman, a/k/a Mr. Creative Window Concepts himself. Ed certainly knows his way around a keyboard too. Like his father before him, Ed has always been in the window covering business. He has owned a workroom in the past, and claims 20 years in the industry. From a condo in Santa Monica, across the street from the ocean he typifies the power user: not only running his business, but designing a web site (actually writing the code himself) for the IIDA (International Interior Design Association, Southern California Chapter). Having designers that run successful businesses was important, but ones who really know how to use the tool we call a computer was going to make this gig too easy for me.
With all the calls made, it was time to sit back and wait for the entries to arrive. So soon did they get here that I hadn't worked out all the testing criteria for each. After all, as I said, what is good for a retailer is not good for a workroom. I will list them in the order I received each with a quick description.
Creative Imaging Technologies, Designer's Vision was the first on my doorstep. They bill themselves as "tomorrow's tool for today's professional". The company is now owned by the powerhouse software company Autodesk. Briefly stated, this system allows you to view styles and patterns of hundreds of fabric samples, wall coverings, and paint. Packaged on CDs, there is even a videotape to get you up to speed.
Hesperis from Wenzel Computer Services was the smallest of them all. The whole thing was on just three floppies with a brief eight-page manual. The instructions basically tell you to install it and get going. That's all you need, too. All other help was via a help button. Hesperis allows you to estimate soft treatment jobs and track client info; best for small to medium workrooms.
Next to arrive was The Reflective Designer's Showcase. Weighing in with four program disks, two library floppies and a 103-page Graphical Pictorial Book, of which only three pages are devoted to installing and using the program. The libraryof soft and hard window treatments allows the window covering professional to add visuals to proposals without having to sketch designs freehand.
Pictures and Prices came on 10 floppies! I would think that their next version should be out on CD just to cut down on install time and bulk. There is also a video and a 100+ page Users'/Training Manual. PnP, as it's affectionately known, is a catalog of door and window styles with overlays of soft and hard treatments to assist in visualization and assembly all the info needed to make theorder.
ProQuote from Aztec came on four program disks and four library disks or one library CD. The reference manual is 37 pages and covers quite a lot. I was inspired to do this story when I talked to these development guys last year at the Pacific Home Fashion Show in San Francisco, CA.
Here is a table of the most basic info.
ManualCreative Imaging Technologies/Autodesk Inc. Designer's Vision 1 CD None Wenzel Computer Services Hesperis 4 floppies 8 pages The Reflective Designer The Reflective Designer's Showcase 6 floppies 3 pages Pictures and Prices Corp. Pictures and Prices 10 floppies 100+ pages Aztec ProQuote 4 floppies 37 pages
Note: All have on-line help that ran great on each.
Michelle tried Designer's Vision first and I was glad. This package needs a real muscle machine and at that time my system just was not up to the task. She fired up her Pentium 200mhz system, installed the CD and was running within minutes. Installation was a breeze and the program maintained Windows standards. This is another point where I decreed a new category: Cool Factor. Designer's Vision was just short of singing. You will always need the touch and feel of fabric to sell, but this can really help sift through the multitude of fabric and wallpaper choices. This could have the potential of reducing the amount of useless sample books hanging around. You see a sample on the screen and order that sample right away. Not to say this is always the best method of selling but it does have its place. I left the software with her and not only did she run it through its paces but gave me a written report.
Designer's Vision minimum requirements: As taken from their sales flyer, a 486 or better (Pentium recommended), 16 Mb of RAM, 2 Mb of VRAM on your graphics card and set to display 16.7 million color at 800 x 600 resolution, 100 Mb free space, and at least a 2X CD-ROM driver (multiple drive recommended).
Please keep in mind that Michelle runs a retail store. With sample books packed to the rafters this could help a growing storage problem. Last year I was witness to my wife's "spring cleaning" of her sample books. Let me sum it up as not a pretty sight, I'm sure you know what I mean. By getting a jump on what the whole line looks like you can order only the samples you know you'll like. With this program, even if a client likes something different, you still can show it to them on screen and order it later. You might even find enough shelf space to put in another computer system. Be forewarned that what you save in real space you lose on the hard drive. This heavyweight moved into 53 Mb of hard drive real estate, and despite the cost savings, the individual fabric companies keep their CDs quite pricey. This is not Designer's Vision's fault per se, but unless they help to reduce the cost of a new CD every year I think designers may stay away. Between the cost of the system needed, the program, and the CDs, the investment may be more than some are willing to make.
Ed tried Hesperis from Wenzel Corp. This is what all programs should strive for in design. Elegant in its simplicity. Fast easy install. Small footprint on the hard drive only taking 5 Mb, and so intuitive that you could be running in minutes. Ed liked Hesperis so much he was upset that there were no hard window coverings. Still if you got this one, you would use it all the time; except for the sewing that is.
Hesperis needs a computer and that's about it. It can run on Windows 3.1 with as little a 4 Mb or Window 95 with only 8 Mb (although who's really running 95 on 8 Mb?) Something else of note, it came with an eight-page manual and the whole program was on just 3 1.4 Mb floppies.
ProQuote was Ed's favorite. He could use it best with his business and do more with this package. Aztec, the developers, are striving to become major players in the window covering software game and this product is proof. They had great tech support, allowing me to call or e-mail and get a response right away. ProQuote starts off with a price list already in place so all you have to do is change the numbers as you go along, saving you big time at the start-up. It may not sing as much as much as speak in a monotone, but this package will get the job done. Of all programs reviewed, various window treatment businesses could use this. Running in a DOS-like window, Michelle found the "look and feel" unfriendly and cumbersome. I would have to say this is a very complete package from accounting and estimating to work orders. I have heard talk that there is a new graphic interface in the works, which would really help not only the look, but getting around the various elements too. The learning curve is a bit steep at first but well worth the time.
ProQuote is also very backward compatible in that it could run on a 386 with just 4 Mb and DOS 3.0 or higher. Just about any PC system you have could run this and it will move into a maximum of 25 Mb of your hard drive with the full install.
Pictures and Prices also was tested by both of my reviewers. Ed had been using this one already for some time and was well versed in operation. PnP has just as strong an accounting side as ProQuote, but excels in illustrations. In fact the illustration feature was all Ed used, showing his clients what styles would look like. Michelle was bothered by a limit of running feet or yards rather than inches and because of that found projects hard to calculate accurate pricing. She also felt the outputted quote was lacking in details, possibly raising more questions than answering them to a prospective clients. Here is the perfect example of the right software for the right person. An overall very good product but not for everyone.
PnP needs a 386 or better running Windows 3.1 with DOS 5.0 or higher and 4 Mb of Ram or Windows 95 system. All you'll need is 20 Mb of hard drive for this one.
Both Ed and I were undecided about the Reflective Designer. There is quite an illustration library and the bitmaped images were really very good. The software does a fine job of illustrating treatments and for the selling price is probably the best buy of them all. What we didn't like was that files were scattered all over the place, making for a sloppy install. Even though I talked to the main programmer himself, I still didn't feel good about the tech support.
This is a unique package in that it does things it's own way. From what I could tell the program didn't need much it the way of minimum requirements, but I could not find a list anywhere in the product info I got. It also installs its own way. Rather than making one sub directory and putting many subdirectories under that, I had more htan 10 directories created after the first install. If it were not for my UnInstaller program I could have been all day clearing it out.
What impressed me most about each company was that they were very personal. Sometimes companies behind the software can be cold and sterile. I found each of these developers to be just the opposite. All were willing to help very much. A valuable asset for any purchase. One of the most notable differences between all of them was the philosophy of work flow. That's a very personal thing too. Finding software that works the way you do is rare. There is always compromise between elements; what makes a great program for one person can be equally unmanageable for another. On the other hand, finding a new way to work can be quite enlightening. Each package could change your life, even if it's just in a small way. Nice, clean printed reports and estimates are the prize we all seek. Tracking cost and being able to get that information quickly is just as important. With Microsoft asking you where you want to go every day, it clouds the real questions: Will the purchase of this bunch of bits make me more money? Will it save me time in the long run? Would a standard printed estimate close more sales? Both Michelle and Ed looked at these questions for you here, but you'll have to take the plunge yourself. I'd dare say that in most cases it could indeed help.
Here is a short list of things we found in a table;Program Installation Space needed Space used Look & Feel Price Designer's Vision Fast and easy 100 Mb 53 Mb A+ $295.00 Hesperis 4 minutes unknown 1.7 Mb A $249.00 The Reflective Designer's Showcase Not so easy 25 Mb 757 Kb C $199.00 Pictures and Prices Long 20 Mb N/A C+ $395.00 ProQuote Easy 25 Mb 12.1 Mb B $750.00
Note: These were tested on my system and are by no means the final word. I wanted to see real numbers so you can know what to expect on your system.
With all said and done there was no bad product out there. Each did its job well. Each of them would go to great lengths to help you and should you not like the product, would refund your money. My thanks to Ed Carman and Michelle Griffith for a job well done. I also applaud all the companies that agreed to be thrown into the fray for this story; it shows character. I think we'll do this again to check on any improvements and new entries. Oh, that third miracle I mentioned at the beginning? During the review process my wife, Dian, (DianGar of DraperyPro) and I found out we're having a baby. I'm only hoping that there's a tech support line for diaper changing. I guess I'll be doing more than just sitting at the computer.
Rob Garbarini is a free lance photojournalist based in Southern California. He can be reached at RGarbarini@aol.com.