askSam Professional v6.1
Reviewed by: Howard Carson, June 2006
Published by: askSam Systems
Requires: A computer running Windows 95, Windows 98 SE2, Windows NT (SP6a or later), Windows 2000, Windows ME, Windows XP, or Windows 2003; 32MB free disk space; Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.01 Service Pack 2 or later
MSRP: US$395.00 (standard version available for $149.95)
It's nice to have a bit of extra time to review products I already use. The process of dispassionate analysis sometimes gives me a chance to step back and reassess the product. askSam is a productivity program designed to store a wide range of information which you receive, write, copy from web sites, and so on, including files, URLs, e-mail, text files, spreadsheets, databases, addresses and documents of all kinds. askSam presents all of the benefits of a powerful database, but hides much of the typical complexity of a database behind an non-intimidating user interface. askSam is designed for everyone from individuals organizing e-mail, addresses and research notes, to corporations and government organizations managing meeting minutes, regulations, policy manuals, corporate databases and extensive research.
I've been using askSam (along with several other key tools) intermittently in my research work over the past 10 years. Prior to 1996, my primary research tools were based largely on complex, mainframe database programs, mostly difficult to use and designed specifically for enterprise installations. Originally, askSam represented for me the simplest way to move many different kinds of small research projects into a desktop PC environment without sacrificing any of the search and retrieval convenience inherent in traditional database programs available at the time.
The user interface (UI), at first glance looks like nothing so much as Microsoft Word or something equally mundane. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The unassuming and familiar looking UI provides access to lots of shortcuts and automation including quick access to database templates, previously saved data entry forms, a selection of default templates, your own templates and of course your databases as you create them. The key to understanding askSam is simply to recognize that it does not really require a predefined structure or data entry fields, you don't need to learn a database query language in order to search for and retrieve data, and you can create authoritative reports without the need for any programming. askSam's intrinsic strength lies in the fact that you can combine a variety of free-form (unstructured) data along with fielded information in the same database.
Getting started with the software is not a dive-in and poke around type of process. If you are inexperienced with databases, simply diving into askSam may be frustrating for you. In that case, a couple of hours of reading and tutorial practice spread out over a couple of days will pay off in efficient and highly satisfactory use of askSam. No matter what your skill level, read the online help system immediately after installation because you'll find more than a dozen step-by-step tutorials to get you started with all of the major (and several of the more esoteric) features and functions. RTFM and do the tutorials. There are specific bits of operational information you need in order to get the most out of askSam without being frustrated in the process. For example, askSam's built-in word processor functions like any other competent word processor except that it has two modes, data entry and word processing, which function a bit differently. It's important to always be aware of which mode you're in to avoid wasted motion. You won't lose any data when switching modes, although a copy & paste may be needed in some situations. The tutorials will quickly teach you which mode is which and the situations in which you should switch from one to the other. Once you're familiar with the software, data gathering, searches and creating publishable reports and research documents is enjoyable.
askSam Professional offers some thoughtful features. The built-in spell checker is extensive and fast, and makes a sensible companion for the word processor which at least means your research reports will be properly spelled. Copyediting and proofreading of course remains your (painful) responsibility. askSam handles a wide range of documents including:
- Adobe PDF Files
- Text files
- RTF files
- HTML files
- Word processing documents (Microsoft Word and WordPerfect)
- E-mail messages (Microsoft Outlook, Eudora, PocoMail, Netscape etc.)
- Databases (Microsoft Access, dBASE, Paradox, ODBC)
- Spreadsheets (Microsoft Excel)
- Comma-delimited, Tab-delimited, and Fixed-position data
askSam Systems regularly provides access to new information databases. Looking for the entire Sarbannes-Oxley Act in searchable form? askSam's provides it as a free download along with a few dozen others. How about Hamlet or Leonardo Da Vinci's Notebooks? They're also available as free database downloads. The download list is eclectic and interesting.
Cons: The program has been around for quite a long time and has matured nicely, so we're mystified about the askSam System's reason for not incorporating web publishing into askSam Professional. Instead, the company offers askSam Web Publisher as a separate and expensive product. Online publishing is thoroughly integrated in other products (Word, WordPerfect, InDesign, Acrobat and competing database products as well), with more on the way. It's time that all software makers with internet related products stepped up to this particular issue.
Pros: Although askSam (the software) is a powerful tool for you and your research team to collect, search and organize data of all kinds, that hasn't stopped askSam Systems (the company) from putting together a few dozen free eBooks, medical, historical, legislative, political and legal databases. It's all wonderful stuff. As a research organizer, this version of askSam is another step forward for the software. It can be used creatively because of its ability to simultaneously handle freeform and field-organized data. If you're looking for a research tool which can handle a wide variety of data and information formats while also providing focus on finding, organizing and managing internet-based research, this is it. Recommended.
KSN Product Rating:
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