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With all the fancy tricks expensive computer programs can do, sometimes they can't make the simplest financial calculations. We found a few that fill the gap cheaply and well.

QED calls itself The Ultimate Calculator. It's not ultimate, but certainly neat, nifty, and nicely programmed. The marketing people at DigiCorp, who make the program, tell us they've been selling the most copies to laptop computer owners who need access to fast and easy calculations on the road.After you part with $60, QED arrives set up to juggle financial or scientific numbers in much the same way as an advanced Hewlett-Packard

or Texas Instruments pocket or desktop calculator. Like those more

expensive calculators, the software lets you store results in memory

registers and reload them for other calculations. Typing ` loads

the previous calculation onto the active calculation line.

QED comes with well over 50 built-in calculations. You call up a function by touching the right key. Engineers, for example, need only type in a number and hit D to produce - instantly - that number's TAN. Hit S to get the COS, A for SIN, and on and on. For financial planning, hit F to hammer out instant Future Value, P for Present Value, I for Interest and so forth.

Not all the program's command keystrokes are that intuitive. It's almost impossible to match 26 keys with 26 useful calculations that begin with those letters. Not to worry. At the bottom of QED's screen there's always a summary of what each key does.

If that's not clue enough, hit a function key to see comprehensive

descriptions of each task. You'll be able to read the formula B uses

to convert numbers from base 10 to hexadecimals. Likewise for N, which converts the current real number to an integer, for W, which calculates for inverse hyperbolic tangent, and for A, which figures the Arcsine or inverse trigonometric sine function.

If a formula's missing that you use often, you can easily customize

QED to include it. You can use almost any programming language to generate custom calculating modules. The same simple one-key method works for these custom formulas, too. Experienced programmers among you can create modules in Pascal, C or almost any modern language.

For folks who've never programmed before, QED includes, as examples, printouts and disk files of some of its own modules. They're rendered in easy BASIC programming language. If you're reasonably motivated and able to follow the BASIC manual that comes with many IBM-compatible computers, you should have no trouble.

If you can't find the software locally, phone 801-562-2227.

Every one of the ten kinds of calculations Finance 10 performs can also be done by any major spreadsheet such as Excel, 1-2-3, Quattro Pro or SuperCalc. But lots of readers are too busy, too lazy or too intimidated to learn how to use one of those complicated spreadsheets. For them, paying $70 for Finance 10 is a lot saner and safer.

We recommend the program for even experienced spreadsheet users. The less complex the software you use, the more likely you are to avoid careless errors. Spreadsheets seem deceptively easy to use. But in one study, nearly half of all spreadsheet-based calculations contained significant errors.

Finance 10 comes set up with formulas that calculate depreciation, personal financial statements, bond yields to maturity, individual retirement account (IRA) projections, financial manager's rate of return (FMRR), internal rate of return (IRR), lease vs. purchase analysis, present value and future value .

If you're comfortable with your computer, you should be able to load it onto your disk and be up and running within 15 minutes. If you can't find a copy locally, call 213-931-1527.

Ratio Master, like Finance 10, performs financial calculations that anyone's favorite spreadsheet can also do. At $250, it costs as much as some spreadsheets, too. But for many situations, it's better than a spreadsheet.

To get error-proof ratios with a spreadsheet, you must thoroughly study how to use the built-in formulas and know which financial figures to plug into which formulas for the calculation. With Ratio Master, you select from a menu which ratio you want the program to find.

It tells you what figures it needs from you to do its calculation. It then selects the right formula to make the calculation. (We verified their accuracy with CPAs.)

The program is sometimes tricky to install and testy in use. With two of the three IBM compatible machines, we first had to remove network and memory-resident (TSR) programs.

But when it runs, it gives easy access to 60 financial ratios that measure company performance. It figures capital intensity, asset turnover and ratios of sales to working capital. It tests for liquidity and financial conditions such as quick assets, net working capital and inventory to working capital. Other

ratios include pretax profit compared to revenue, return on equity, return on assets and profit margin on sales. Capital structure ratios include debt to equity and cash flow to debt.

You can enter data into RM by typing directly into its input screens. Or you can import spreadsheet files in 1-2-3 format. RM analyzes the data, displays it in charts or graphs and saves it for later use. A menu of function keys at the bottom of every screen guides you from step to step.

If your favorite local dealer doesn't carry Ratio Master, call 617-449-6222.