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Lab Report -
doc-U-meant (May 1999)
A product review from the Windows NT Magazine laboratories by Michael P Deignan.

Contact: Advanced Technologies International
Tel: 01754 631 121

System Requirements: Windows NT 4.0, Word 95/97

Does your company use a lot of pre-printed custom forms to support your business environment? Do you spend increasing amounts of money on these forms? Wouldn’t life be wonderful if you could get rid of costly pre-printed forms, and print forms natively on your in-house laser printers? Now you can, with Advanced Technologies International's doc-U-meant.

What does it do?

doc-U-meant is a forms design, management, and print system that lets you take raw data and mail merge the information into a series of output documents to produce professional looking forms. The product takes your raw data source and feeds it into a template using Microsoft Word, so you must have Word installed on your machine. The product consists of two components: the doc-U-meant Form Designer and the doc-U-meant Server. Using the Form Designer, you create a layout of the form you want to print. On this layout, you define which fields you want to populate from an external data source. Then, using information from job banners from your data sources, the doc-U-meant Server processes the data in the external file by performing a mail merge, and then prints the output to a predefined printer.

So what can doc-U-meant do for you and your business? Assume your company uses an accounting system that batch-prints purchase orders that you need to print on pre-printed forms, which cost a significant amount of money. Using doc-U-meant, you can duplicate the layout of the pre-printed form, and the server component will take the raw data you want to print on the pre-printed form and mail merge it to the doc-U-meant form. The result is professional looking purchase orders printed on blank paper stock on your in-house printers.

Install and Run

Installing the software was simple. I inserted the product’s CD-ROM into my Pentium II PC running Windows NT Workstation 4.0. The autorun feature started the set-up program. The install program prompted me for standard licensing information—name, company name, and serial number - and also prompted me for an installation location. I completed the installation in less than a minute. I was now ready to start automating my production processes. My first task was to configure the doc-U-meant server to define an input system. The input system defines how the server component will obtain the data it needs to process jobs. Three options are available: FTP Directory, Input Card, and Queue. The FTP Directory option directs the software to monitor a predefined directory for new files. When the doc-U-meant Server finds new files in the directory, the server reads and processes them. If you choose Input Card, the software monitors the Centronics input card for new jobs. Finally, using the Queue option, you create a Windows queue, and as you send files to the queue, the software processes the files. I used the FTP Directory option, which required me to provide a directory name for the software to monitor.

After you configure the server component, you have to create a new job using the doc-U-meant software. Creating a new job involves several steps. First, you must select and import sample data. Next, you create fields and define a job trigger so the doc-U-meant Server can identify the job. Then, you finish the document's layout to define how you want your form to appear, and save the job.

The product can accept data from three different sources: delimited files, fixed-length records, and ASCII letter data. In all cases, the data arrives in plain-text format. Delimited files use a field separator - usually a comma - to delimit fields. The fixed-length layout has fields arranged in a precise sequence so that each field lines up in the same position on each record. The ASCII-letter option delimits fields using carriage returns and line feeds.

Built for the Enterprise

Unfortunately, doc-U-meant's high price tag effectively eliminates the product from serious consideration except in large business environments where the company will see some payback due to the volume of pre-printed forms. Furthermore, several competing products are available for significantly less money.

I found that the product has a slight learning curve, which I felt was due in part to the documentation’s lack of concrete examples and accompanying screen shots. However, that still wouldn’t dissuade me from purchasing the product if I had a specific need for its features.