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Product Reviews.gif (14305 bytes)
November 1998


VOS for Windows, v.6

Parity Software Development Corporation
One Harbor Drive
Sausalito, CA 94965
Ph.: 415-332-5656
Fx.: 415-332-5657
E-mail: web@paritysoftware.com
Web site: www.paritysw.com

Price: Ranges from $1,885 (basic system) to $4,070 (loaded with board, FlowCharter, and options) - call for details and a price sheet.

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Ratings (0-5)
Installation: 5
Documentation: 4
Features: 5
GUI: 4.5
Operational Testing: 5
Overall: A


Parity's VOS programming language, Graphical VOS FlowCharter, and powerful testing and debugging tools have simplified CTI developers' lives for many years. Today, VOS includes a 25-function IP telephony link, guaranteed Dialogic compatibility, year 2000 compliance, and more, and its core CTI functions are better than ever. VOS is generally known as an application generator (app-gen) package that makes creating software especially easy, even for non-programmers. With free lifetime support and upgrades, good documentation, and a competitive price, we expect VOS to be a major app-gen player for a long time.

INSTALLATION
Installing VOS and its related components involves configuring a Dialogic (or Dialogic-compatible) telephony board, attaching a "Sentinel" dongle plug into a PC's printer port and running the Install wizard from the "power pack" CD-ROM. However, the Sentinel has a throughput, so users can still attach a printer. And, Parity includes SimPhone software, which simulates a telephone and the presence of a Dialogic board. This reduced our installation chores to running the VOS Install wizard, which is as simple as installing Word or any other standard Windows application. We happened to use the 32-bit Windows 95 software, but VOS is also available in 16- and 32-bit DOS versions, as well as 32-bit versions for UNIX and Windows NT. We like that VOS runs in its own private memory space and does not use dynamic memory allocation. Theoretically, a VOS application could run forever without crashing. VOS deserves our highest grade for its installation process: Not only does it install well, it installs intelligently. Even installing the optional runtime link libraries is a tolerable process, which is more than we can say about other app-gens' .DLL add-ons. There are no special system requirements.

DOCUMENTATION
App-gens tend to be easy to use, but difficult to learn the quirks of, so documentation is more important here than for other kinds of software. VOS includes one printed manual, a pamphlet describing SimPhone and almost 100 useful help files. The manual itself is a brief 100 pages, but there are numerous screen shots in the "Getting Started with FlowCharter" section; in-depth examples in the sections about the VOS language and debugger; and good explanations for the functions, call control, logging, and devices chapters. The SimPhone instruction pamphlet is even thinner - just a couple of pages - but in this case, it is plenty to explain the simple yet invaluable application's installation and usage. Meanwhile, detail about most functions, VOS commands, and supported peripherals are found in VOS' online help files. We also found 24 tutorial files and 6 referenced applets. The only change that Parity desperately needs is a chart explaining each toolbar icon, which is conspicuously missing. Only by experimenting with each icon and their respective "What am I?" tabs were we able to decipher them.

FEATURES
The user interface and customization options are two very important features for a CTI app-gen, and we're glad to see that Parity engineers think so, too. Upon starting, the VOS GUI looks unimposing, with its plain white design area, innocent-looking toolbars, and normal pull-down menus. Even deep down within each function's icon, where options are set to control the source code beneath, the GUI and its numerous tabs and radio buttons remain clean and user-friendly. Just when you least expect it, a shortcut presents itself. For example, the menu cell has options for how long it should wait before repeating the request or before playing an "invalid digit" or "no digit pressed" dialogue. When values are entered, VOS lets you specify whether the value should be read and treated as a monetary figure, ordinal, string, date, or time. Other common cell elements include termination digits, prompts, digits to accept, "What am I," and "Things to do" - these last two are our favorites, not just for their simplicity and bluntness but for their usefulness. Choosing either tab on any function will tell the developer precisely what the function does, where to get more help with it, and what else needs to be configured to make it work. Consider it "spell check" for CTI. Overall, we feel that the Graphical VOS FlowCharter's combination of simplicity and power makes it the best GUI of any app-gen, and we've seen them all. With features like intelligent task linking and customizable toolbars - as long as they understand logic and basic software concepts - users don't have to know a single line of source code to compile a decent application.

Internet Telephony
Besides the typical call control functions that are requisite for a good app-gen, VOS includes several new functions designed specifically for Internet telephony and for Dialogic DM3 "IPLink" boards. These include 25 commands like IP getcalledid, IP getcallerid and IP getdisplay; IP getparameter and IP getuserdata; and IP senduserdata. The actual connection works, because, as explained by Parity, "The IP channel on an IPLink board is connected to a Network Interface Card (NIC) - sometimes they are on the same DM3 board. To place a call over the network, just route an IP channel to the appropriate SCbus device and then use the IP_call function to make the call." The degree of difficulty for this kind of implementation will vary depending on the scale, but VOS' ease of use makes it worthwhile and efficient to use in-house programming staff to develop IP links for your company's branches.

Other standouts of the VOS language's more than 300 features include an interface to C and C++, fast multitasking, improved call hang-up options, jump and barge-in capabilities, and interfaces for ISDN, T1, and E1 lines. Additional features of the program include a powerful debugger tool, built-in fax, task management, database access tools (in formats for .MDB, .DBF, Btrieve, Paradox, ODBC, SQL, Excel, Lotus, and plain text), and year 2000 compliance. The year 2000 compliance has one issue that bothers us, however: VOS will only accept dates from January 1, 1980 through December 31, 2079. Instead of using a four-digit year code, Parity chose to keep a two-digit code, but shifted to account for the turn of the century. We think this is a poor design decision, because it's very plausible that a database link or perhaps some form of age or credit card verification system might use a year that comes before 1980.

OPERATIONAL TESTING
Parity's IVR tutorial guides users step-by-step through a simple application, taking extra care to explain the nuances of each step, even when a step is repeated with only minor changes. In this example, the application waits for an incoming call, and when one comes, it's faced with a four-step menu. Users press 1 to leave a message, which links to a record cell and then ends. Users can press 2 to leave their phone number, which links to a cell that collects seven digits and disconnects. Users can press 3 to hear current stock prices, or 4 to end the call. Any of the functions will automatically cease via the "hidden" choice number 5, which disconnects if a choice is not entered within the given time frame or if choices entered are invalid after multiple tries. The application can also play a "goodbye" message before disconnecting. This kind of simple IVR application is a great tutorial because it illustrates several key points, including how to collect data, record it, take action on it, and wrap up the call when finished. This sample also teaches users the basics of how to layout items in the FlowCharter, how to connect cells, and how to view and edit cell properties and source code. Best of all, creating this application and learning its concepts only took about an hour.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT/CONCLUSION
Our two criticisms for VOS 6 are the lack of sufficient explanations for the toolbars and function cells and the pseudo-year 2000 compliance. Otherwise, we couldn't be happier. VOS 6 is competitively priced; even if you can find one its competitors cheaper, VOS has one of the best feature sets in the industry. The VOS language has always been considered credible and powerful, and we're looking forward to upcoming improvements in its fax and conferencing options, as well as continued guaranteed support for Dialogic boards and continued free technical support and upgrades. VOS 6 epitomizes the kind of product that deserves our Editor's Choice award without reservation. 

 







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